Why is Twitter such a Big Thing?

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase

David Weinberger just wrote a blog post that I think does sum up well why twitter is such a big success from a technological view. I’d like to add my thoughts to this and show my reasons why Twitter is that big and why it “won’t go away when the hype is over”.

First Weinberger writes about people, who think Twitter is not a big thing because you are not interested in knowing when somebodies cat just rolled over. Either these people are right and twitter is pure nonsense (this assumes that twitter users are stupid) or these people are wrong – mostly because they don’t know what they’re talking about. It doesn’t need rocket science to know the answer. Twitter has value, otherwise not everybody would be using it.

Secondly, Twitter is very simple. This makes it get adopted by the people very fast. Usability is the most important factor in technology adoption – and signing up for twitter is easier than creating an average e-mail-account. Then sending messages is easy, shouting out your thoughts to the world too. These simple 140-character-messages and the twitter API amke a lot of software possible, that builds upon that. “RT” means re-tweet, hashtags define the topic of a tweet. Twitter-clients were born, 200+ websites rely completely on twitter doing its work. Twitter gets built in in blogs, Facebook, online-magazines and everywhere else.

SMS message received on a Motorola RAZR wirele...Image via Wikipedia

3rd, Twitter fulfills a lot of needs. Its a all-in-one-device. Some people talk about their cat rolling over, but most use it to share interesting websites or to communicate to other twttier-users in an SMS-style (again, no big learning-curve as everybody knows how SMS are used). Some only use it to get these informations. Some use it for advertisement (amazon for example) or SEO-like to attract readers. It also directly competes with Digg, as people built layers of software that count the re-tweets of URLs – which defines their importance.

4th, its social. The web is primarily used by “ordinary people” for social interactions. As you can connect to your friends, easily set up a profile that satisfies the human need to represent itself (or “to put yourself in a box” as I like to see it with most online profiles that mostly tell people what you are not opposed to what you are – malicious sidenote over), all of that what many people seek in the internet are found in this one place. I even referred to David Weinberger by linking to his twitter profile – as you can get all infos you need about him on that page or on his homepage that you can find in his Twitter-profile. Maybe Twitter will be the centralized info page about yourself someday. Or is it already this way? Damn, I need to rework my crappy profile page!

Don’t also forget that you can easily connect to people that you would never know how to connect them if they weren’t on twitter. Companies can give support for their products with a twitter account – or gather feedback. This direct communication to the people you want to address is an important social factor.

5th, Twitter has dominance. As all social websites, the ones where your friends are attract you, or vice-versa. Therefore, the Twitter-clones have lost the microblogging-war (as I would like to call it), as most users are on Twitter. This is the same with all those social websites that keep dying – why would I want to join a new social website, if Facebook already does far more than the new one? Even if it has a nice feature, Facebook is extensible, so that feature could be added to Facebook pretty easily.

After all, Twitter has the potential to just replace SMS and services like Digg. It already is dominant in terms of microblogging. Twitter will also find a financial model to make them last – they generate enough traffic to be able to raise more than enough money with ads, but they decided they don’t need to do that.

A last mention in terms of Twitter-usability: Last week I talked about the_gman being a Twitter-spammer because he uses a lot of short answers that don’t help anyone else following his twitter stream. There was a misunderstanding that a lot of people showed me in their comments. What I learned is that you can set an option in your twitter-settings that let you only see the tweets with @username in them if you follow the other person (in this case @username). Twitter SHOULD set this in the beginning. If you are getting a lot of these @replies, get to http://twitter.com/account/notifications and set the @Replies as you want them.

, Posted Monday, March 23rd, 2009 under Philosophisches.


  1. The nice thing about Twitter is that it is so open ended. Meaning there are many different ways it can be used. i.e. one person can use it for social interaction while a company can use it as a way to address customer concerns about a product or service and so on. The possibilities are so limitless which is one of the things that makes Twitter so innovative and cool. You can read about some of the creative things people are using Twitter for in an article from my blog 10 Creative Twitter Uses

  2. I don’t think twitter “won”. Social networks and services always rise and die. It’s simple:
    The “cool kids” use a service and make it popular. Then the masses invade (this is where twitter is now). Soon it gets too crowded and the cool kids find a new way to distance themselves from the masses.

    Twitter has done a few things right (as you said, it’s simple too use) but it also does not have a business model. Putting ads on your site might bring in some money but not the kid of money twitter costs.

    I’d love to see digg die, it’s really destroying more good stuff than it’s helping to promote, but twitter will not be what kills digg. Twitter right now just has one asset and that the walled garden they have. They have many users and since they hold your data and your contacts hostage you stay. Technologically they are not really impressive (ass their downtime records show).

  3. Just look at their used numbers, they gained more than 1000% usergrowth over the last year. They hold my data like any other internet service. And I don’t think about coolness when I speak about Twitter being a big thing But about traction and mainstream :-)

  4. They gained more users, absolutely. Which is their problem: The “early adopters” will soon move on, tread Twitter like a legacy thing, has happened with every “big thing” and will continue to happen. Some people are starting to move to friendfeed already and other services will find their niche. More users will just mean a lot more costs for Twitter who still don’t have a business model except being bought by someone. But they definitely have reached the mainstream. Which is exactly why the early adopters will move on.

    Apart from that, there are web services that allow you to keep the rights to your data and give you access to it (like ident.ica for example).

  5. Well, the question is: Did they want market penetration? Answer: Yes. Did the early adopters help drawing more people on twitter? Yes. February 2008, the early adopters might already have left the bandwagon when twitter reached 500k users, but as they were on 7 million one month ago, the early adopters don’t play a big role here anymore. In fact, Twitter becomes a mass medium and even has the power to replace SMS. Its possibilities are big.

    And why should they even leave? Most of them have thousands of followers and they can speak to a big audience. If they pose a question, many will answer. If they post a link, a lot of traffic will be generated. I don’t think that you leave a social platform if more and more users are attracted to it – because if you only use this social platform to be one of the few cool guys who use it, its not a social platform anymore that you want to use. Going over to use a more sophisticated service that includes the functionality of Twitter via the Twitter API or its feeds doesn’t stop you from using Twitter.

    The rights-issue is a thing that I don’t fully get. Why should I be concerned the someone steals the ideas I put in my Tweets? Or should I just be concerned that I gave away one of my e-mail-addresses to an internet-service?

  6. The problem with rights is simple:

    You create content (blog posts, tweets, whatever) and therefore you should be the one to decide what happens with that content. With Twitter you give twitter every right to do whatever they please with your tweets. It’s not about money, it’s about them being allowed to lock _yourself_ out of your data. They could easily set it up in a way that, when you want to look back more than 20 tweets, you have to pay 5 Euro monthly. You gave them that right.

    It’s not so much about your personal content, it’s about Twitter having a handle to legally battle services they don’t want: Because every tweet belongs to Twitter you cannot just mash it up in creative ways without being endangered. Because the content is not covered by a license that allows you to do that.

    The whole shebang about your tweets being used as advertising slogans for twitter, even if you don’t use Twitter anymore, is just the icing of the cake.

    People often think that rights are about “oh they take my content and sell it, bu-hu” when it’s not. It’s about allowing people to do creative and cool stuff with data that has been put out without putting people in danger.

  7. Thanks for the clarification – I can see that problem now. Perhaps you should give a little tutorial how to get on identi.ca while still posting to twitter and getting your twitterfeed – that would solve the problems and let you interact with other twitter-users still.

    Uuuhm… just took a look at the Twitter TOS. Exerpt: “We claim no intellectual property rights over the material you provide to the Twitter service. Your profile and materials uploaded remain yours. You can remove your profile at any time by deleting your account. This will also remove any text and images you have stored in the system.”

    Anyways, I’m not that negatively thinking. When Twitter charges money for anything you now get for free (and that is not a bonus premium upgrade), there would be too many “freetwitters” to take away its market share. They also thought about using Ads, but decided they didn’t need them. They get investor money from everywhere. They could even get money for placing someone on their suggested users lists who you could follow. I think Twitter might become a monster like Google – perhaps not so big, perhaps not that influencial – but certainly used by everyone. And I think this is where they want to be – the company that makes money with a new kind of internet-SMS.

  8. The only way twitter can implement ads is by putting them into the lifestream (cause website ads won’t work when everybody uses a 3rd party client). If that happens “little twitters” will get more attention. Identi.ca (or laconi.ca the software that powers identi.ca) works federated like email or Jabber. That’s what we’ll have in the future: Federated services so that one Apple Keynote does not kill the service for all the normal users who don’t give a shit about that. Twitter will never really earn any money and personally I think that the whole “awareness” talk is basically just the last few remains of the web2.0 bubble that is collapsing with the collapsing advertising business.

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