Twitter is going mainstream. Who would have thought it?
Count me among those who believed it would be relegated to the self-satisfied social media elite, with no chance of catching the attention of people who didn't work in technology for a living, or at least analyze and write about the people that do.
I couldn't have been more wrong.
This a good thing, however. Although the curmudgeon hold-outs bent on the sake of dismissing Twitter for the sake of dismissal will disagree, Twitter changes the way we communicate, consume and manage information overload. It has popularized the notion of streaming technology, the idea that information becomes less structured as it "flows over you" rather than being packed into neat, tidy folders.
On one hand, the statement that Twitter's technology has become broadly popular could be disputed since Twitter has just 5 million or so users, but Facebook's decision to adopt Twitter's streaming look into its latest redesign effectively brings the technology to 175 million more people.
How did this happen? For starters, the mainstream media found itself enamored with the company and the technology itself from day one. That, in turn, has allowed Twitter, which hasn't yet devised a sustainable or even discernible business model, to enjoy success in the public eye.
Everywhere, it's Twitter, Twitter, Twitter. Mainstream cable outlets like MSNBC and CNN frequently take questions from their audience by utilizing the technology, a process that Daily Show host Jon Stewart all too happily satirized in this funny segment. Celebrities — Dave Matthews, John Mayer, Lance Armstrong, Shaquille O'Neill — all keep accounts.
My dad joined Twitter. My old college friends who don't work anywhere near technology but are heavy Facebook users — and whom I've personally used as a barometer for whether or not a technology such as Twitter would take off for real — have begun joining the service.
Internally at CIO, the biggest holdout is my colleague and friend Tom Wailgum, who has wisely worried about the time waste when other more pressing technology matters should be on businesses' radar screens. Well, mark my words, he will cave soon.
Of course, just like the hardcore fans who follow an underground band and become indignant after it goes mainstream, many hardcore Twitter users will lament and even bemoan this phenomenon. As one Twitter blogger wrote, the service, by its very nature, will become more commercial. Twitter will begin charging companies for their Twitter presence (as they should), but with that will come more aggressive spamming, marketing and product pitches.
The other issue at hand will be what happens if Twitter is bought, and by whom. On one hand, a Facebook acquisition offer seems even more sensible now that the world's largest social network has designed its homepage to mirror that of Twitter's design.
Google and a couple other internet giants would have the money to purchase Twitter, but that seems like a "don't let Facebook buy it" bid rather than it actually making sense for them to bundle it with any existing social network they own (Okrut anyone?).
So for you Twitter aficionados, be careful what you wish for because your evangelizing has begun to pay off. For everyone else, welcome to the Twittering world. It will be what you — not the early adopters (i.e., us nerds) — make of it.
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