Friday, June 12, 2009
Twitter Takes On Facebook
According to the cover story in this week's issue of Time magazine by Steven Johnson, Twitter is "changing the way we live, and showing us the future of American innovation". In this age of short attention spans, Twitter is the one social networking site that adapts perfectly to our fast-paced lifestyle, and is adaptable to most mobile devices. Twitter is gaining on social networking sites like Facebook because it is quicker and more efficient. The 140-character limit allows users to publish "tweets" from anywhere using their laptops or Blackberrys. Although Twitter still trails Facebook, the Nielsen ratings service shows that it's usage has grown by 1,298% since last year. Indeed, Facebook has grown by 217% in the same one-year period, and Twitter is still way behind, with 17.10 million visitors in April of 2009 compared to 71.29 million for Facebook. Because there are so many demands on our time, and many different ways we can spend it on our computers, hooked up to the Internet, Twitter is growing precisely because of it's limitations. Originally, people scoffed at the 140-character updates that limited people to just a few short sentences. But, according to Johnson in his Time article, "hearing about what your friends had for breakfast is actually more interesting than it sounds." Instead of one "tweet," we end up with an endless stream of small messages that can add up to a media event. For instance, Britain's oddball talent show sensation Susan Boyle gained Internet acclaim largely through Twitter chatter, with links to her YouTube site, where views reached record numbers. As it turns out, with millions of people using Twitter, the way it is being used is changing constantly, and it's the users themselves who have been redesigning the site. For example, the grouping of a topic or event called a "hashtag" (#inauguration, for example), the use of the @ symbol for replying to one another, and the ability to search a live stream of "tweets" were all developed by users, not Twitter itself. Thanks to these innovations, following political debates or discussions about our favorite TV shows have become commonplace. "It's like inventing a toaster oven and then looking around a year later and seeing that your customers have turned it into a microwave," wrote Johnson. Twitter is still evolving, and whether it continues to grow at the current astounding rate is not what's important. The fact that such a simple idea can create such a powerful form of communication shows us that anything's possible. In this economic climate, when banks and car companies are going bankrupt, an idea as simple as Twitter is an example of thinking small and making it big. The founders of Twitter reportedly turned down a $500 million offer from Facebook to purchase the site and they may be waiting for a more lucrative offer. Who knows, it might be worth a lot more. I'm just trying to figure out how to put all my ideas down in 140 characters or less.