Four Reasons Twitter Could Tumble
Twitter's ascendancy from Web 2.0 curiosity to essential tool isn't a sure thing. It could still be tripped up in several ways, assuming that it isn't snapped up first by an industry biggie like Microsoft, Google, or Facebook. It faces at least four pitfalls.
1. Too Darn Popular
Too often Twitter users log on, only to see the "fail whale"--the cetacean icon Twitter shows when the volume of tweets overwhelms the site's ability to keep up. The site claims better than 99 percent uptime for the previous three months, says Biz Stone. That's with an estimated 3 million users, per the Twitdir user directory. (Twitter doesn't release actual subscriber numbers.) What happens when the user number reaches 30 million?
2. The Evils of Crushing Banality
Does anyone else really care what your cat ate for lunch? Whether the shampoo you just tried out makes your hair oh so shiny? As Twitter continues to grow, the volume of self-indulgent tweets may drown out more-useful information--and drive more productive tweeters to other venues.
3. Spam and Scams
Twitter spam is already a depressing reality, though the company has dedicated staff to eradicating the fake profiles that spammers set up. "Spam is an ongoing battle, and we're not backing down," says Stone.
4. Business Model? What Business Model?
"Spam is an issue for Twitter, but the lack of a business model is or should be of far greater concern with respect to Twitter's viability," says Kevin Restivo, a senior analyst with IDC.
The flip side of the issue? An advertising-based model might turn off people drawn to Twitter because it's both free and ad-free. Stone says Twitter has experimented with advertising on its Japanese site, but he won't comment on future plans. AMR's Yarmis believes that ads or fees are probably inevitable.
"I think we're getting to the point where Twitter will offer privacy for sale," says Yarmis. In other words, if you don't want to see ads, you may have to pay for the privilege or get a less functional version of the service.
Three Ways You Probably Shouldn't Use Twitter
Birth: Ah, the miracle of birth, filled with joy, wonder, screaming, and blood. And yet, Carmen Leilani tweeted it all. As she notes in her blog, "Some people think it's insane that I was updating my Twitter stream throughout my childbirth/labor experience--as in during my contractions, from the hospital bed, through my water breaking, my epidural, and immediately after pushing out the Pod." What's worse, we wonder--obsessively announcing how many centimeters you're dilated, or referring to your newborn as "the Pod"?
Death: Reporter Bernie Morson of the Rocky Mountain News probably thought he was being cutting edge when he tweeted the funeral of a three-year-old boy, but it was just morbid. Let's hope we never have to read "family members shovel earth into grave" on Twitter again.
Therapy: In September, licensed clinical hypnotherapist Wendi Friesen launched "hypno-twitter," which she says "will use my hypnosis skills to give my tweeples an instant hypnotic boost of confidence, stress relief, focus, and mental toughness during their day." Right now, we are feeling sleepy, very sleepy. Soon we will submit to being called "tweeples."
Twitter by the Numbers
- Total Twitter accounts: 2,980,083
- Most followed: Barack Obama, 79,693
- Most tweets: Internet Radio, 511,402 updates
- Average tweets per hour (3 pm UTC): 27,000
- Number of Twitter tools and add-ons: 140+