October 26, 2008

Twitter - the Portal of Web 2.0?

By Jesse Stay of Stay N' Alive (Twitter/FriendFeed)

A lot of discussion is going on around the blogosphere right now about whether Twitter may not be around much longer, because they have not yet implemented a business plan and have no immediate plan for enabling access to the "firehose" of data. It's a valid concern - yet at the same time, it's beginning to go "mainstream", with the adoption of sites like CNN.com and by pop figures like Britney Spears, people and businesses are really beginning to rely on this service. Will it have been in vain?

I asked on Twitter, "How many of you use Twitter as your sole update source? (e.g. you don't update Facebook with it, you're not on FriendFeed)". Surprisingly, of the responses I received, not one of them used Twitter as their sole update service. Here are the responses I received:
@bethevans: Not me. On FriendFeed.

@Bwoolley: Primarily Twitter, some Friendfeed

@shylie: I only update through twitter. I have it linked to Facebook and I have Pownce, FriendFeed, etc. accts but I rarely use them.

@jojeda: I use all, but most with effort and reluctance; only Twitter feels easy and fun.

@kenburbary: On FB, on FF, but use Twitter to update them for me. Twitter is the dashboard

@AgentJon: I use twitter to update my facebook, that is all...also when i send a twitpic i also send to facebook as well...

@erikmagraken: I use Twitter along with LinkedIn

@tatango: I have facebook also

@mclaughj: I'm on FriendFeed but the only thing I update is Twitter, not sure how that fits in...
As you can see, every single person responding was using Twitter as a gateway into some other service that they use. Some were using it to update their Facebook. Others FriendFeed. Others use Twitter, but at the same time they use a service such as LinkedIn, which has its own status feed. Not a single person was using Twitter as their sole source for networking and updating friends. No one seems to be completely reliant on Twitter, but they all seem to think they are.

Back in the late 1990's, when I was working tech support for my Uncle's Freeservers.com, at the time a fledgling startup in the back room of an old skating rink trying to compete with the likes of Geocities, it seemed that the topic of portals would come up regularly. Back in the day, before the "first bust", everyone predicted the future would be full of "portals", where people would come to one or two sites to get all the information they needed. Everyone wanted to be that site, and advertising was going to power it all. Unfortunately many of those portals did not succeed, and we saw sites like AOL.com and Netscape.com quickly fail as users wanted content from the source, through means such as search and RSS.

What this study on Twitter has made evident to me is that, whether that vision of portals ever really came true or not, Twitter itself has become one of those portals in regards to community. While each individual has their own community on Twitter, it would appear, were there a way to organize that community into groups, each individual on Twitter's network is nothing but a set of fragmented communities from other sites. Twitter has built a portal around the combined communities. No other community considered "mainstream" out there is so fragmented such as this.

It's an interesting concept, but as technology evolves around this concept will better ways of managing those communities come about? I'm worried that Twitter is in a fragile state that, while it disguises the whole community as its own, seems to really have no unified community in reality that can truly say they only care about Twitter. Having each user on Twitter belong to a subset of multiple other communities seems like a fragile state to be in.
Read more by Jesse Stay at Stay N' Alive.