You couldn’t seem to throw a rock in 2009 without someone discussing Twitter. It was on everyone’s minds, even people not in to all aspects of the Internet. At least twice last year I was in doctor’s offices where the physicians ended up asking me the moment they saw me, “What’s this Twitter?”
As we enter a whole new year we have to ask ourselves though, is Twitter a fad?
Pretty much since the launch of the site people have been asking this question, just go to Google and search on “Is Twitter a fad?” and you currently get 1.36 million results. It seems pontificating over this subject is almost as popular as the service itself. And therein lies the rub: the site is super popular at this time. If you go on Twitter itself and ask this question, I’m willing to hazard a guess that you would get an overwhelming reply of “no!”, but I’m not brave enough to do so myself.
Why would the answer be “no?” Simple, because the people that would answer you are currently using the site.
A lot has been made of the fact that traffic to the site seems to have flat lined over the past several months, but my feeling is that isn’t exactly the best metric to judge it by. Thanks to the very robust API (application programming interface), a plethora of third-party applications have popped up on every platform imaginable. Using Twitter in its native habitat of the Web interface is actually quite painful, but when using apps such as TweetDeck on your desktop, it becomes a joy. You can sort the people you are following, you can quickly scan the columns you wish to pay more attention to than others, you can make sure that the news is always where you want it, when you want it, you can filter out the hashtags you have no desire to read and so on. While the Twitter site itself may not be enjoying continuously growing traffic, the apps are where the party is at, and that leads to less traffic to the actual Web site.
I could pull out an endless stream of numbers and charts to show you how Twitter is growing, and possibly falling flat now, but that has been done to death. I think it is more telling when you judge who it is that is discussing a subject. While it is obvious that the tech blogosphere loves discussing the 140 character messages, it isn’t just us that are pondering the future of Twitter. David Carr of The New York Times wrote a piece on Jan. 1st entitled “Why Twitter Will Endure”, and if the newspaper that is known for its motto of “All the News That’s Fit to Print” is willing to say the service will endure, who are we to argue? Mr. Carr does point to an article that ran in Time in 2009 by Steven Johnson where he said, “The history of the Internet suggests that there have been cool Web sites that go in and out of fashion and then there have been open standards that become plumbing. Twitter is looking more and more like plumbing, and plumbing is eternal.”
Perhaps Twitter won’t be “eternal” as Mr. Johnson suggests, but it is certainly becoming a communication platform. Just as email and instant messaging have become mainstays of the Internet, Twitter may very well be the next great communication protocol. Perhaps it won’t be Twitter itself, it might very well be a service we have not even heard of yet, but it does seem likely that the concept of “microblogging” may be with us for years to come.
What do you think?