Tuesday, January 06, 2009

It’s Twitter’s Turn

Every great new social phenomenon has a "fad" phase, where zillions of people join in because, well, because zillions of others are joining. A few years ago I suddenly reunited with my old friends at Apple Japan because suddenly it seemed like they all were on Orkut. That died down after a few months, and then (with Japan) it was Mixi, and a little later it resurfaced at Facebook. Now the same thing is happening on Twitter. It's fun! Every day somebody new is "following" me, and I hear snippets of updates in the lives of people who I enjoyed working closely with but for various reasons have moved on to other things and I don't keep up with as much as I wish I could.

Part of the fun is the newness of it all.  You reconnect with old friends who, unfortunately, life hasn’t permitted an easy way to stay in touch with.  And along the way you run into brand new people who are interesting and suddenly become

But we are all limited by a fundamental problem that humans can only develop so many relationships at a time.  People living in the wild usually travel in bands of 50 or so, with 150 being roughly the maximum size of the extended “band”.  Your “nation” may consist of a few hundred more than that, but it’s just not possible to be close to too many people, not at one time. Whatever you do on Twitter comes at the expense of what you do on Facebook and ultimately what you do in real life.  I’m a technology fan, so I don’t mind these other media having as much play as the real world, but still, I can only be in a few places at one time.

I’m not sure how long the Twitter phenomenon will last.  To me, it’s a basically a huge, open version of IRC or Instant Messenger—things that have been around forever and were looking for something like Twitter to take it to the next level.  I’m wondering when the commercials will hit it—you see hints of it already—and you start getting distracted from your friends by all the compelling and professionally-created content (like real-time news updates).

But meanwhile, go ahead and follow me:  http://twitter.com/sprague.  I’m there now, running Thwirl and Tweetdeck, having the time of my life sending and receiving 140-character updates to great friends I haven’t seen in ages.

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