Why Twitter Gets More Airtime than it Deserves

I love an ironic post title!

Twitter is not something that has made any impact on my day-to-day tech life.  It just does not provide me with any appreciable value.  The signal to noise ratio is just too high for me, and what it does offer for me I can do through other means.  It seems that I am not alone in this regard with Nielsen today re-affirming their estimate that the drop-off rate for Twitter is around 60%.  This recount factored in the use of Twitter based applications and websites that might have been clouding the results.

So Twitter seems to be gaining a lot of new people to it, unsurprising given the buzz it receives, but is not providing enough value to keep them.  Despite this the pundtry seem to have a facination with the world changing ability of the platform.  I do not mean to be derisive of the technology, I am more interested in the disconnect.

The opinion I have come to is that the Twitter model offers specific value to the celebrity-fan relationship.  I am using ‘celebrity’ a bit broadly here to represent anybody who has extensive one to many communications with a regular audience.  In these relationships the fan has a greater interest in the individual activities of the celebrity, whereas the celebrity is more interested in the aggregate activities of their fans.  While new media might go some way to correcting this imbalance, is is not practical for most celebs to have that personal relationship with their fans.

Twitter becomes a method for a celebrity to approximate a more personal relationship with their fans.  They can offer more of themselves easily and get a relatively concise subset of what their fans wish to tell them at any period of time.  The fan gets a chance that the celebrity might actually reply to them and the 140 character limit prevents the whole thing from getting out of hand.

The information communicated in this medium is by no means only of a superficial or personal nature.  Having the stream of communication open also allows the celebrity to get information to the fans they might not get through other means.  Whether this is a spontaneous appearance, rallying them to an action/cause, directing their attention or correcting a false rumour/report.  This is why the appeal stretches to more types of people than would typically be covered by the term celebrity.

So if you are a Todd Cochrane, a Leo Laporte, a PUSA or an Oprah, there is a much greater value to Twitter than if you are a generic user of the product.  This value also exists, although to a much lesser extent, if you are a fan or interested observer of one of these people.  Which does suggest that to get money for their value, Twitter should charge for accounts that have high numbers of followers.

The people who get the most value out of Twitter are then precisely the same set of people that are most visible reporters of technology trends.  If they see much more value than the average user does it stands to reason that the focus they give the product will be higher than their audience would expect.

Do you think I am on, the money, on the right track, or way off base with this?

I am starting to see some very interesting uses for Twitter.  I won’t link to it as it is not child safe, but the No Agenda stream uses Twitter as a control mechanism.  News stories, requests and listener comments come in via Twitter and are automatically inserted into the stream.  I do feel though that Twitters value to most users is when it is coupled to some other communication method.  If messages can be direct, personal, narrow cast, or broadcast, Twitter is an option for broadcast.  Whether it has the strength to thrive with such a narrow focus remains to be seen.