How Much Longer Will Media Shine a Spotlight on Twitter?

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The Twitter microblogging service has received an absurd quantity of press in the mainstream media lately. Everybody has been talking about it, from CNN, which has built entire shows around it, to The View, where each host tries to out do the others in how clueless she is about Twitter. And now, the inevitable "Twitter backlash" has begun. What does it all mean?

In a word, nothing.

The so-called backlash is just the media's knee-jerk pseudo-contrarianism, right on schedule. Obviously Twitter has been clearly overexposed and overhyped in the media, and now reporters and commentators are both slamming their own hype, and, inevitably, attacking Twitter itself.

My advice: Don't take any of it too seriously. The media does this with every truly major Internet phenomenon that comes along. It happened with the Internet itself, then e-mail, then the Web, then the tech bubble, then social networking and now Twitter.

Here are the 6 stages of media coverage hell that the press and the TV networks are putting us all through:

1. Ignore

Even though Twitter was clearly an interesting service with fast growth and very enthusiastic users, the mainstream media pretty much ignored it for the first year and a half. It simply didn't exist on TV or in the newspapers.

2. Dismiss

Say, six months ago, when Twitter did come up in media stories, it was largely belittled as a dorky, obscure nerd thing.

3. Introduce

Once discovered, the media spent six months "introducing" Twitter over and over as if every mention was the first time anyone had ever heard of it.

4. Hype

This is where the media echo chamber really comes into full force. Every media outlet talks about Twitter, and talks about talking about Twitter. Even luddite reporters work in mentions of Twitter to create the impression that they're in touch with trends. Any story with a Twitter angle becomes automatically newsworthy. Coverage is overwhelmingly positive.

5. Criticize

Once the media is itself deafened by the echo chamber, it turns on itself and starts slamming Twitter as an overblown, overhyped fad -- never admitting that the media itself was the one overblowing and overhyping it all along. Coverage is overwhelmingly negative.

6. Ignore

Once Twitter has been thoroughly overexposed and discredited, the media will ignore it once again.

What makes this a media echo chamber is that none of this really has anything to do with Twitter itself, or the communities growing there.

As the media labels, pigeonholes, stereotypes, lionizes, belittles and condescends to the people on Twitter, real people on Twitter remain pretty much everybody and anybody. As the media ignorantly mischaracterizes what happens on Twitter, and what people do with it, Twitter remains a service that people do an unfathomable number of things with.

In all the hype and counter-hype, it will be utterly forgotten that Twitter is nothing more than a service for sending messages that lots of people find useful.

Because people can involve Twitter in a huge number of activities, and can say anything, reporters looking for certain kinds of stories good or bad will always find what they're looking for.

To misuse a metaphor -- just because you find a needle in a haystack doesn't mean it was really a stack of needles all along.

Anyway, we're transitioning now from stage 4 to stage 5, so brace yourself. The good news is that the echo chamber cycle is almost complete. Before you know it, the media will go away and leave us alone again.

This story, "How Much Longer Will Media Shine a Spotlight on Twitter?" was originally published by Computerworld.

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