From 1980 onward, conversations were happening on a broad scale online. First on Usenet, then on IRC, then AIM chat rooms, and then Internet forums. And now Twitter. At each evolutionary step of the meta-conversation, previous incarnations die off in favor of newer, better features. Right now a lot of people are asking if Twitter is a fad. And it probably is. But it has all the makings of the perfect fad.
I call Twitter the “perfect fad” because it brings together three elements that have ideally aligned: Digestibility, Search, and Scale.
In Twitter’s effort to support the lowest common denominator of text messaging, it established a 140 character limit. In addition to extending support to the most prevalent screen in the world (the mobile phone), this limit enforced a no-fluff approach to the content. Tweets need to be direct and short, and as a result, are easy to read and understand quickly.
In addition to generating easily digested content, Twitter is indexing all of that content and the conversations around that content for search. Conferences, TV Shows, holidays – each of them have a “hashtag” that helps organize searches around that content. In some cases these tags are officially sanctioned and promoted, but in many cases they are grassroots initiatives by people interested in participating in a broader, topic-based conversation. In the Twitterverse, connections are based less on relevancy of interpersonal relationships, and more on relevancy of content.
The final element that sets Twitter up as a perfect fad is their scale. Twitter’s growth is the envy of every new media company in existence. Most of this growth has happened in the past few months in fact, their growth chart currently resembles an exponential graph. In truth, this rapid growth is less due to new media as much as a testament to old media. It’s been the viral nature of the term in mass media, from newspapers to TV news broadcasts, that has created a “Twitter rush” reminiscent of the California Gold Rush. The advantage this scale brings to the table is best highlighted by the systems hooking into Twitter’s open API. For example, the interactive New York Times Super Bowl data visualization showing a geo-relevant popularity of terms live over the course of the game. Or the artistic implementation of emotional action words and search used in Twistori.
By now the implications for marketers, advertisers, and brands have been discussed nearly ad nauseum. In essence, there is a powerful thing at work here, and it is wise to get involved. There are considerations that need to be sorted out, as a recent WSJ article on SEC disclosure issues highlights. But while this perfect fad lasts, it’s worth jumping on the bandwagon. For those that have yet to hop on, or are still getting their feet wet, the Lab has put together a handy “Tweeting for the Man” strategy guide. For those currently on Twitter, come check out our tweets at twitter.com/ipglab.