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Twitter is doomed

Summer 2011

I have been musing on Twitter; I think it’s doomed.

For those who don’t know, Twitter is a means of broadcasting your thoughts, however banal or brilliant, to anyone who cares to read them, for nothing.  It also works the other way around, allowing you to read the messages posted by people you chose to “follow”.  All messages (“tweets”) are limited to 140 characters.

Self-publishing is not new; many millions of unreadable books have been printed at the author’s expense.  The internet then created the blog, the personal website where people could publish their thoughts, however ill conceived, badly written and lengthy, at little or no cost.

For a few people, these blogs turned  out to be  an internship;  anyone who is actually any good at this sort of writing is often picked up by a real publisher (newspaper, magazine, TV) and offered a real job – and suddenly, guess what,  the desire to work for nothing fades away.   As Dr Johnson rather harshly said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”

However, blogs still overrun the internet, and that’s fine, provided that those writing them don’t actually expect anyone to actually read them.  They are almost all unedited, except by the writer, and the writer who is his own editor, like the lawyer who does his own legal work, has a fool for a client

Blogs are scattered hither and yon all over the internet, unlike Twitter, which publishes all the tweets on a central website for all to see.  It would be impossible to read all the millions of tweets every day, so what you see is filtered by two things: the other “tweeters”  you choose to “follow” (that is, have all their messages presented to you) and any subject you may want to pursue at any moment.  You might enter “The Oldie” in the search box, and you will see all the messages that include those words.

This is all well and good, except that for most of what is posted is of no value whatever, merely gossip, drivel or worse.  However, I must not be too grumpy, as one can usually filter out all such nonsense.    There are thousands of groups of perfectly normal people within Twitter who have very specialised and narrow interests – perhaps they are all obsessed by the same film star, or steam trains, and they have found each other through Twitter and exchange happy jargon filled gossip.

That’s perfectly healthy, and to be encouraged; not much different from going out once a month to your investment club (as I do) or to your pottery classes.

Where it becomes worrying is when Twitter users lose a sense of proportion, and become keener to know what is happening in the seductive world of Twitter, where nobody may be who that say they are, or ever tell the truth, than in their real life.   This is a growing problem; the trouble with the internet is that it is too available; just switch on your computer, and there it is; and you can easily dive into a fantasy world and ignore what’s really going on around you.  For easily lead people, it can become all consuming, and might even seem a better place than the real world.

In the long run, I’m not concerned; Twitter will probably go bust in due course because no one has yet worked out how to make any money out of it; my bet is that if they announced that it would cost £10 each year to take part, or 5p per tweet, about 90 % of users would abandon it, and the rest would go soon after, once they realise how few people are left.

If it has a commercial future, it is as a rather efficient notice board which companies and organisation who want to reach people very quickly can use effectively.  Some airlines already use it for instant flight information, for example.

So that’s my theory.  Twitter will die, or at least change into a commercial noticeboard; and those who use it as a hideaway will have to return to the human world.  They might not like the real world, of course, but sadly it’s all we’ve got.