Wednesday 5 August 2009

Internet Co-operating beats Competition and ensures Twitter Will Last

Twitter is such a silly word, better suiting teeny birds. Silly little ultra cute vulnerable ones that you might step on by accident. It reminds me of a Tweetie Pie and Silvester Looney Tunes cartoon. Poor ‘ittle Tweetie Pie. And it looks like silly software too... with people ‘tweeting’ where they are, what they’re doing and what they’re thinking to those who are following them. ‘Followers..?’ I hear you say. ‘Sure, who’d want to follow me and what would I ‘tweet’? If I want to ever talk to someone there’s mail, or SMS, or, God forbid, why not just pick up the blasted phone?’

I have to admit, the first time I saw twitter, I didn’t get it either. Why would anyone bother programming such a piece of software and why would people use it? And, when I looked at the updates from some big digital computer company boss saying ‘Hey, I just met Brad Riprock at Digi 3D Valley Conf Q1/07,’ I thought, this is software for geeky sycophants. Nonsense! Not for me. I didn’t ‘update’ and as I’d no ‘followers’, I didn’t read other updates, and all of this served the not-getting-it problem. Then, because someone said I should, I started following Stephen Fry.

This was the real Stephen Fry. The Peter’s Friend’s/QI/Fry and Laurie Stephen Fry. He’s brilliant. So, what’s he doing on twitter? Someone must be doing it for him. But then Stephen got stuck in a lift. He posted photos and was typically amusing, and without noticing, I was starting to get some of what twitter was all about. Real-time multi-media updates from the very famous or interesting. Immediacy!

It’s obvious now that the reason I didn’t get twitter is – I wasn’t using it. I reminded me of my lovely late Gran who owned one of the first rotary Bakelite telephones. She never used it, never gave out her number and as a result, didn’t ‘get’ the whole telephone thing. Not very social really. Twitter, similarly, is merely a communication platform that is part of the social media phenomena but talking and engaging with others is the point. So, if you’re not feeling social like my Gran was, it’ll make absolutely no sense.

The phone analogy over simplifies things considerably, but makes an important point for the newbie or Luddite. It over-simplifies things because, unlike a phone or email - twitter carries other media. All sorts of messages are carried via twitter, in different formats. Yes, short text messages (140 characters) not unlike SMS, but also links to video and TV, audio and radio, news articles, blogs, podcasts, adverts, sound files, pictures and even links to software. And mainstream news too. Good professional stories from SKY news, the BBC and the Belfast Telegraph indeed are tweeted around the web. In fact, many more Wall Street Journal news articles are read via twitter than by people going to the Internet homepage.

This diverse multi-media content would not be likely to be consumed by you - the twitter user - if you didn’t have a twitter account, because no one would be sending you the links to this Internet content. If, for example, you are following the BBC on twitter, they are sending links to you like an RSS newsfeed. But the people who you are following on twitter are the real boon. They are the ones sending an endless stream of their own news and views and the fruits of their own net surfing. They act as a special interest filter for the hobbyist clique. They are sending links to a like-minded group of which you are a member. They’re posting to people who are following them because these are interested in similar stuff or they wouldn’t be following in the first place. Twitter chat is fun too, because people can be very funny. Banter to lighten the day. It’s all excellent stuff to be honest, but the best part of it all is - I think twitter will last, and here’s why.

People often see business and technology in Darwinian terms. Something new is born, so the old stuff dies out. In fact, this rarely happens in a digital world and those who enter it with this attitude are the ones with the short life. Rather, the technologies that work together with other technologies, co-operating rather than competing, are re-born as part of a larger more efficient entity, which is more resistant to the mores of social and technological change. The Internet ecosphere has more in common with the Gaia philosophy view of reproduction than the ‘Survival of the Fittest’ one. In short - co-operation and inclusion is more effective for survival than competition. Bebo, for example, is made up of lots of existing bits of older software, like flash, website development wizards, blog hosting etc... I’m sure there is some bespoke software somewhere, but it hides, permitting the user to organise all the bits of their existing information and favoured formats in one space. It is the fact that it works with what people already know works that makes it work so well. Twitter steps back even further, providing the simplest platform possible, before formatting. Text and links. That’s it. It’s what the earliest HTML provided. It’s not about content formats, like YouTube, or your profile, like Facebook, or your CV, like LinkedIn. It’s about what you think, have to say, or what you’d like to read, see or hear. It’s about ideas - looking out, rather than people and personalization - looking in. And twitter users form an infinitely richer idea and creativity cloud together than they could ever embody if its members competed. A symbiotic relationship full of idea buzz that is quite addictive to be part of. Something new and hundreds of times more efficient, richer and more resilient than its constituent parts could ever be. But it’s only a talk platform but this simplicity is its strength. Twitter will become obsolete, perhaps, when a simpler platform exists, but with a similarly open API, (application protocol interface), which permits anyone to design software to run on the platform. Twitter is co-operative to its philosophical core and is likely to last, or become part of something else – and that will last. The people who use twitter and their ideas are its life and its longevity rather than the platform upon which those ideas are expressed.

The uses of twitter are similarly diverse, and should not be seen in a vacuum. Initially, tweeting may not work for you! For example: did it work for your marketing campaign? Well, if used in a vacuum, probably not. Especially, if the message was given to a profile with very few followers, or it was not compelling enough to be sent on or ‘re-tweeted’. If it was used with other formats and media, with whom it could share a healthy symbiotic relationship, it probably had a good chance of being effective. It’s common sense really.

But, to gain its full marketing potential, I feel twitter should be acknowledged as a platform that requires a level of skill and technological literacy and fluency that is perhaps in inverse proportion to the apparent simplicity of its appearance. When it works well it’s amazing, if you consider the Obama election, but when it’s done badly, it’s a total, if seemingly inexpensive, flop. In fact, a bad campaign could raise the ire of the addict/geek who feels (s)he owns the space and is insulted by the presence of the offendingly disingenuous ad message, and could, in fact, do considerable brand damage. Twitter is easy when you know how, so, until you do - give it to someone who does.

The number of twitter apps that exist has grown at a similar rate to its usership. Hundreds of apps and sites that interact with, measure, map and monitor twitter and other social media messages seamlessly on PCs, phones, desktop widgets and GPS or location logging gadgets of all description. Again, this is co-operation and not competition.

Emmet Kelly (twitterID: emmetkelly)