The Politics of Twittering

I have moved from thinking that Twitter is merely cool to thinking that it’s very cool, and that there may be more real world uses for it than I originally thought.  There will be challenges, for sure.  But the potential to create a new communication medium is huge.

There are a ton of people using Twitter, and more sign up every day.  I know from our early ACCBoards.Com days how hard it is to keep up with a ton of new traffic.  We started out as a little message board for ACC sports fans.  Suddenly, we were on the local news, then we got mentioned on ESPN, then players and high profile recruits began to post messages.  Traffic went off the charts and our servers crashed.  And crashed.  You hope the traffic explosion will happen, and you think you’ve planned for it.  But when traffic starts growing geometrically, you end up throwing your assumptions out the door and just try to hang on.

Managing the traffic load will be a problem for Twitter, but not the biggest challenge.

The biggest challenge for Twitter will be figuring what it wants to become.  With traffic comes the opportunity to make good decisions, and the opportunity to make bad ones.  And a lot of people will come out of the woodwork to help you make bad ones.

Will Twitter be happy being a popular and useful communication tool?  Or will it try to recreate itself as some sort of business tool in the hopes of attracting some business dollars?  I hope the former, but history tells us there will be pressure to try to become the latter.

If I owned Twitter, I’d stay the popular and useful communication tool course until I slayed the competition – much like Google did with search.  The first rule of interactive online communities is you have to own the space.  Once you own the space, you can worry about rule number two.  TechCrunch is the blogosphere’s best example of the application of the first rule.

Along the way, I’d periodically add new and complimentary features to keep Twitter on the minds of the technorati and on the pages of Technorati.  Private Twitter groups, for sure.  Perhaps topical groups.  I’d add a photo feature, maybe by teaming up with up and comer Zooomer.

Mostly, I would concentrate on doing a few things very well and avoid the dilutive urge to add new features for the sake of adding new features.

Twitter users will face challenges too.  The biggest one will be deciding how to use Twitter.  As a mini-blog, as a shared IM substitute, as a message board.  Or as some combination of the three.  With traffic and popularity will come the disrupters.  The spammers.  The foul, cruel and bad-tempered rodents.  Tim O’Reilly to tell us how to deal with them.  How will we deal with those problems?

The only captcha for that sort of thing is a healthy combination of common sense and self governance.  If someone treats their Twitter account as a billboard for spam or self promotion, users will have to decide whether to stand by and watch or vote with their follow list.  Ideally, one’s follow list will eventually equate to one’s eBay number.  But for this to work, we have to make Twitter a different place than the blogosphere at large.

If Twitter becomes nothing more than a pocket sized version of the blogosphere, everyone loses.

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