Twitter is like modeling clay

Simmering underneath the web 2.0 surface for a couple of years, over the past month or so, Twitter has seemingly surged into the everyday vernacular. Nearly every major and minor news outlet is now peppering us with attempted explanations, predictions of faddishness or cries of an information overload-related doomsday fast approaching. The ‘I publish therefore I am’ meme is neatly packaged and easy to digest. It goes something like “if today’s ‘kids’ don’t fill the interweb with constant updates on what they’re up to, their friends will think they’re not up to anything”. But interestingly the average age of users is 31 and if you read through random bits of content, you’ll see that more often than not the discussion is about Twitter itself (about who gets it, who doesn’t, who’s FAIL-ing etc). Although not um.. research, I like charts like this:

(from twist.flaptor.com)

What could be more important than the economy or the climate? That’s right: me and Twitter. Easy swipe, I know but fun.

But aside from the sport of trying to understand what actually motivates people to Tweet, there are a couple of other interesting aspects to the service. Firstly, it strikes me as the kind of platform that will have much it’s value driven by uses away from it’s own domain at twitter.com. I don’t have the current stats on this, but given the ways people are using the API to create new features and applications for Twitter on top of what it already offers, you can see how the collective usage of these might have us visiting the site less and less, but becoming increasingly reliant on the data. When you break it down into its micro pieces, the millions of people and their millions of updates are fascinating raw materials to work with. You can slice n dice em, aggregate around topics, build chat rooms around hashtags, create and foster memes and, of course, buzz track to your heart’s content.

And this is my favourite thing about Twitter. Because it’s so raw and open and indexable, the audience is deciding what it’s good for (TED talk). By providing the building blocks for a short messaging service that can do content distribution and create ambient awareness, founder Evan Williams is, in his words, “following a hunch” that this is going to be something special. In the talk linked above, Williams admits that him and his team are constantly surprised by uses people are finding for Twitter. By not prescribing a real purpose, they’ve actually encourage its many and varied user groups to play with it and adapt it. So in attempting to forecast where Twitter will head, it may pay to look more carefully at what is being created with it, rather than what it is. As the title of this post suggests, Twitter as a service is a bit like modeling clay waiting to be messed with by sculptors. Keep an eye on how people shape it because things are just starting to get interesting..