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Social Media

I'm going out on a limb: Twitter may still be rising, but before long it'll be on the way out. By Jan 1st, 2011, Twitter will have fewer active users than it does today. Maybe even sooner than that.

Why? Because of the main findings of a surprisingly insightful guest post on Techcrunch by Geoff Cook, CEO of myYearbook. He pulls together the best available evidence on the question of why "Teens don't Tweet", and combines it with his own survey data. The nutshell is: Teens don't tweet for the same reason that most people don't tweet. Twitter doesn't provide much that other services like Facebook and MySpace don't already provide.

Twitter was itself pretty much a clone of earlier services such as Jaiku, recently acquired by Google, then open sourced. When people ask me what Twitter is, I say "Well, it's like Facebook status updates, but without all the other stuff on Facebook." Twitter won't last because its value proposition isn't large enough to sustain a user base beyond the initial fad-driven period. And that period is almost over. Yes, there really is a segment of the market that is hip-deep in micro-blogging, constant sharing. And I think Twitter will live on as an aggregator for news and updates from companies, celebrities, news outlets, and the like. But as a broad-market tool, it's 15-minutes are almost up.

I'm not even sure that Twitter sees Facebook as a direct competitor at the moment, but it ought to, because it's getting out-innovated by them left and right. Facebook's new iPhone app. is fantastic. They're expanding features and APIs, becoming a platform for gaming, for social organizing, for direct communication. Facebook Connect is getting traction, and threading Facebook into a whole network of external sites.

Facebook will survive for the same reason Wikipedia does: it's rich and diverse enough to foster a whole ecosystem around it. That's *very* hard to do, but once you've got that kind of diversity, you've got staying power. In the academic world, Facebook and Wikipedia are called public goods. In many cases, with public goods we're looking for the relatively few individuals who have so many resources, and who benefit disproportionally from the provision of the good, so much so that they're willing to provide the good on everyone's behalf. We called these people 'privileged groups.' The reason that diversity makes Wikipedia and Facebook so stable is that they don't attract just one privileged group, they attract many. There are so many ways to benefit, so many ways to engage, and for each one there's a privileged group. The interests of these groups overlap and enforce each other, together synthesizing a product that's much more valuable. Twitter just can't compete with that.

Southern Gentleman

The Southeastern Conference (SEC) in NCAA college football is run, I'm guessing, by some good 'ol boys in linen suits who split their time equally between mint juleps and spitting contests. They've tried to ban fans at any SEC football game from using Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media during the game. They also want to ban cell phone pictures or videos. It's no surprise what's going on here – the SEC has a ginormous ($3 billion) contract with CBS and ESPN, and the guys with the cee-gars are getting nervous.

But that was yesterday. Today, someone pulled those guys' heads out of their asses, and they've done a (partial) about face. Tweet away, but still no cell phone video. I'm sure that many words have been spent talking about how backwards and out of touch these guys are. Social media doesn't replace traditional media. Embrace social media, and it can enhance traditional media. The notion that fans with cell phones are the competition, the enemy, the revenue-killers doesn't have much of a future.

What I wonder is: who's giving these guys advice? Or rather than bad advice, are they just getting no advice at all? This is hardly the first time a large corporate entity or conservative institution has utterly failed to grasp what social media is for. Has no on realized that, at the very least, they need to talk to a consultant who was born after 1975? If an idea (social media) is a technology, then I suppose we'll just call these guys the laggards. But it's hard to believe that anyone in the big business of football has missed the last two years so completely that they still revert to a protectionist attitude. Huge market for new consultancy!