I’ve been thinking a lot about Twitter’s impact on society, and wondering exactly why it’s so popular. Now, I’m not a “Twitter critic” by any means – I used the service for years, after it’s initial launch, and loved every minute. I’ve since quit to focus my energy on more productive things (among a few other reasons).
So, here we are today with (how many Twitter users?), and celebrities signing up for the service left and right.
And what exactly does this service do? (I’m thinking abstractly, apart from my own knowledge and experiences.)
It literally just stores text. Just short snippets of text submitted by users. It also distributes that text through various notification channels, like SMS, IM, RSS, etc.
This is the future?
Some would call it a “social network,” but what we really have here is a mass text distribution system. A paradigm for communication.
Twitter is just architecture, like phone lines or network grids. What you pass between the communication channels is entirely up to you.
Remember the old cup on the end of a string – and how two cups enable multiple parties to communicate from a distance? (Whether this is true or not, I don’t know, but the image is a popular one so it fits my analogy.)
Twitter is those cups, and string.
You don’t go to Twitter, like you would go to Facebook or any other social network. Twitter comes to you.
But what is this architecture that’s so unique? Can’t Facebook and [insert any other social network] do the same thing?
Certainly. But since Facebook, and most other social networks, are inherently more complex and involved, efforts to emulate the same architecture won’t be as successful because they were not initially defined as architecture-only services.
Forget that Twitter has a website where you can update your profile and interact with the service. Twitters’ website is merely an extension of the “Twitter architecture.” It’s just one avenue of input/output.
Facebook and [insert any other social network], on the other hand, require interaction through a web browser, or another third-party software application (iPhone app, email client, etc). Their interaction is limited to whatever the service decides to provide.
Whereas Twitter, I believe, is striving to be more of a content-relay system, by allowing input/output from just about any source.
I heard a quote once – I believe it was a Twitter employee, or one of the founders – and it went something like this: (in regards to Twitter) “We’ll be successful when people don’t even realize we exist. When we just slide to the background.”
So, Twitter is not striving to be “the hottest social network around.” It’s striving to be what all other social networks require to function, and what it means to be connected and social, in the first place.