Google is going to acquire Twitter. Or Google is just feigning interest in
the leading microblogging network. Or, perhaps, the world is just looking to
further legitimize the home of the Tweet. Regardless, the hype engine is in
overdrive to pronounce Twitter the indispensable, must-see social network of
the Internet. And for that reason, let’s pronounce it dead on arrival now and
be done with it.
Not a day goes by anymore that I don’t receive a call from some vendor or
public relations firm saying that they’ll be tweeting from some event or, as in
the case with Salesforce.com, talking about the integration of Twitter with
business applications to monitor customer feedback.
In my beloved security community, the upcoming RSA
Conference in San Francisco is
providing ample backdrop (and excuses) for vendors and their
hired-microblogging guns to warm up their fingers to tap out the happenings and
occurrences 140 characters at a time.
But I must ask why the sudden surging interest in microblogging and,
specifically, Twitter? I would argue that we, the members of the online world,
are crowd-sourcing an heir apparent to the reigning king, Facebook.
The logic goes like this: Facebook has morphed from the coolest and hippest
social network on the old InterWeb to a trailer park backwater. Facebook was
really cool when all your college friends were linking up to coordinate parties
and share music. But how cool is it when all of a sudden the kids you went to
kindergarten resurface after a 35-year absence from your life and your
grandmother has her own fan group. Recently, techno-blogger Mark Arrington
declared Facebook dead, ironically on Facebook.
Worse yet, for Facebook, it can’t make money. It’s trying to find ways to
raise money and stop the hemorrhaging of cash (Fortune reports that Facebook
burns through $20 million a month to support its operations). Its once nonintrusive
ads are become readily apparent to not-so-glossy-eyed users, and they do not
like the Madison Avenue invasion.
The Facebook community is powerful. In fact, the Facebook community is so
powerful that it has the ability to destroy their own network. So far this
year, Facebook users have successfully revolted twice against Zuckerberg
tyranny. First, they forced Facebook to reverse changes in its terms of service
and content ownership policies. More recently, Facebook conceded to reverse
several design changes to its profile homepages.
What Facebook users proved is that Facebook, the company, is powerless to
make changes necessary to transform it into a real business. And why Facebook
management wrestles with how to take the company to the next level without
alienating users, users are hopping off in droves to the next big thing.
Don’t believe it’s happening? History is on the site of this argument.
Before there was Facebook, there was MySpace, which has been reduced to a
music file sharing service and returned to its prepubescent roots. Before
MySpace, there was Friendster, which remains missing in action. And before
Friendster, there was America Online, which hosted many of the features we
enjoy in Facebook today—chats, profiles, people searches, instant messaging,
e-mail and personal musings.
Social networks don’t become obsolete, but rather irrelevant. The major
social networks share many things in common—functionality, features,
presentation, etc. What they also share is that they wither if they don’t
attract enough users and they fall out of favor once they exceed a critical
mass of users. MySpace peaked when it signed more than 75 million users.
Facebook is done now that it’s approaching 200 million worldwide. As they’d say
on "Happy Days," Facebook and MySpace still do what they’ve always
done—they’ve just “jumped the shark.”
But we need a new place to call our online home. We need a new place that
everyone considers the “in” place. That place is apparently Twitter.
Go ahead and race to create your own Twitter account. Even follow me, if you
like. But I will hazard to guess that you’ll quickly start asking why everyone
is so crazy for Twitter. Yes, you can follow people’s musings in near real
time, but how much of this micro information can you absorb? If you have
hundreds of follows, as I do, are you really looking at all the updates? Will
you really put a widget on your desktop to feed a constant stream of
microblogs? It feels as though Twitter does well for a small group of friends
or small workgroups, but doesn’t scale well into enterprise environments or
Ultimately, Twitter will likely not survive its own hype. Given its current
form, success will bring the same problem that early intrusion detection
systems brought us: so much information with no ability to absorb, process and
prioritize into meaningful use.
So I invite you to become my Facebook friend, connect with me on LinkedIn
and follow me on Twitter. I will be in all these places until the next big
thing comes along, which by my calculation should be shortly after Twitter is
crowned as the new king.
Lawrence M. Walsh is vice president and group publisher of Channel Insider.