Monday, February 16, 2009

Twitter: can chaos be a business model?

Lev Grossman, explaining in Time why “Facebook is for Old Fogies,” writes: “We don’t understand Twitter. Literally. It makes no sense to us.”

It makes about $35 million worth of sense to Benchmark Capital and Institutional Venture Partners, who led the latest round of funding for the microblogging platform. If co-founder Biz Stone can be taken at his word, Twitter wasn’t even looking for another infusion, but, well, opportunity knocked. And in today’s climate I don’t imagine it took long to accept the cash.

Twitter does make sense to me. Literally. And I’m an old fogie. Months ago I quoted a New York Times Magazine article, Clive Thompson’s “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy,” in which he described a stream of Twitter and Facebook updates as creating a new sense he called “ambient awareness”:

Each little update — each individual bit of social information — is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting…. The ambient information becomes like “a type of E.S.P.” … an invisible dimension floating over everyday life…

That is well and good, and I get it, I use it, and I have Tweevangelized, but along with foginess comes diminished tolerance for chaos. And it’s not hard to find younger Twitterers who agree that it’s chaotic. In fact, for me Facebook’s apps and content structure work well to create that ambient awareness, but on Twitter, as your follower/following count rises, that pointillist painting starts to resemble a Jackson Pollock. For users, that may be the main issue; for the company, the questions becomes how to pull revenue out of chaos.

Tom Smith on SocialMediaToday stuck his neck out and listed “The 12 Major Problems with Twitter and the Stephen Fry Backlash,” the gist of which is that most of what you think you’re doing on Twitter is illusion and a waste of time. Smith say’s you’re just deceiving yourself if you think you have an audience, have something interesting to say, or are connected. He’s also frustrated with functionality, including the tools built around Twitter that are “a pile of poo that regularly breaks.” Moreover, says Smith, Stephen Fry doesn’t give good tweet. From the considerable amount of frivolous tweeting by some, Smith generalizes that all of it is worthless, illusory, flawed, boring, and trivial: “Nobody is listening, even fewer people care.”

Enough. Twitter is working for a lot of people, so let’s look at the other side of the coin, or Twelve Good Things about Twitter, and Never Mind Stephen Fry:...

Continue reading this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.

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