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Why Twitter will soon become obsolete

Why Twitter will soon become obsolete Jason Clark

"Social networks" may be a popular buzzword these days, but the whole concept of the internet was based on social networking from the start -- going all the way back to bulletin boards, email, and forums right up to today's blogs, social networking sites, and, yes, Twitter. As far back as 1978, bulletin board systems were essentially doing the same thing that modern networks are doing. The big difference now is that the usability and usefulness of the newer networks are infinitely better.

I guess we don't have to go into how much publicity Twitter is getting these days. Twitter's microblogging strategy is a huge paradigm shift, and the effect on communication is massive. But Twitter's fame and glory is not going to last.

I must preface this article with the caveat that I am a Twitter user -- I don't hate Twitter at all. But I do see it as being overhyped on a massive level and predict its obsolescence in a year or less. In this article, I'll tell you why.

In predicting the future of Twitter, it helps to put it into context with its predecessors in the social networking landscape.

(click to enlarge)

Friendster arrived on the scene in 2003, and it quickly became a popular site for the younger crowd that, which immediately saw the benefit of hooking up with friends, family, and acquaintances online, and sharing communications, photos, and the like. Unfortunately, almost immediately after the launch of Friendster, a group of employees at a company called eUniverse saw the potential, launched MySpace, and within a short span of time were able to convert all of Friendster's users and a few million more onto their own social media platform. By June 2006, MySpace was the leading social networking site in the U.S. Fast forward a couple years, and Facebook has done the same thing -- only in a shorter period of time.

At some point during the advent of these new social media websites, marketing and advertising agencies found a new way to advertise to their demographics. The current definition of "social media marketing" was born. All you need to do is create a profile, round up a few thousand "friends," and you have an instant platform on which to market your products or services. This has been a godsend for both individuals and companies. Companies can target people that actually are interested, and individuals can keep up with their brands.

Twitter's functionality is infinitely simpler than any of the previously mentioned sites, but its simplicity is what seems to be exciting to its user base at this point in time. No one has to be a profound -- or even good -- writer to be a popular Twitterer. Repeat the formula in the previous paragraph, and you have an instant way to market with little overhead. Signal-to-noise ratio on Twitter is also fairly low, so marketers hopping on the bandwagon now are almost guaranteed a modicum of success using the platform.

As with any internet "gold rush," as soon as others demonstrate success, everyone moves in, and the "next big thing" is born. This is exactly how email spam happened in the first place. Email was a great way to market the first few years it was around. No one even knew that it was inappropriate to send unsolicited messages. Granted, the new paradigm is to choose which companies you'd like to follow -- but the signal-to-noise ratio becomes unreasonable at some point, and the medium loses viability. Take MySpace, for example. I have not logged onto the site for months now, but I know if I do, I will have dozens (if not hundreds) of friend requests and invites to things I have 0 percent interest in. The time spent truly using the site is not worth the time it takes to deal with the spam.

Twitter is fast approaching the same situation. All I have to do is mention QuickBooks, and I have 30 QuickBooks "experts" following me in hopes of getting business. How long will it take to wear people down dealing with these kinds of requests? There are already services offering to monetize your tweets by injecting "relevant" ads. Not a happy way to spend my social time online, I must say.

I predict Twitter will find its social media and marketing niche, but I cannot see it being nearly as important as some marketers are making it out to be. The retention rate of Twitter is said to be only around 30 percent, which means seven out of 10 people try it out once and don't come back.

Twitter's model
Twitter seems to be proud of the fact that it has no profit model. I'm imagining that the company will want to keep the hype building long enough to sell the company for a few billion dollars. This is great for Twitter, but when the platform becomes obsolete and goes the way of Friendster, the marketing folks that are evangelizing Twitter now had better have an alternative.

I also cannot foresee Twitter's user base growing too much higher than it is now. The limited and obscure nomenclature (RT, @username, #, etc.) will confuse the masses. The simple functionality of Twitter will also lead to a glut of competition in the next few months, with companies duking it out for the best implementation of the microblogging model. There's not enough to Twitter to keep it on the top of the heap. Being first in this case, as we've seen, is not a guarantee that you will have longevity.

Google Wave
Just in the time that it has taken to scope out this article, Google announced its next big initiative: Google Wave. Wave is an open source initiative that promises to overtake both email and social networking. I would encourage anyone interested to view the demo

Wave seems to be another paradigm shift in terms of online communication. Emails, tweets, and communication within social networking sites could all quickly be replaced by what Google is calling "waves." This is the type of innovation that will fold all communications into an easier-to-manage package. As much as I enjoy my time online, I do not enjoy logging into five different sites and an email client to manage my communications.

Social media marketing is a viable and necessary industry. I have many clients that are now intimate with their Facebook, Twitter, and Vimeo accounts. There is value in establishing good communication with customers through these tools. I do believe, however, that strong branding and general communication is still the No. 1 tool in the toolbox. Have a consistent message. Present yourself appropriately in all media. Have a well-designed and responsive website.

Test different media, but let's not get caught up in just one. Twitter is not the final answer to social media marketing. Staying aware, good writing, and good communication will always be more important. Think "writing" instead of "blogging" or "tweeting."

Be aware that tactics change based on the tools available. In the days of MySpace, it was enough to set up a bot to friend anyone you could. Now, with Twitter, you can search for particular keywords people are using and follow them, hoping they'll follow you back. When Twitter becomes obsolete, how will we reconnect to our audience? No one has that answer until the next big thing comes around -- but I can guarantee it's not far away.

There is a strong contingent of people intent on making online social media marketing a viable industry. This is a good thing as long as we aren't using this as an excuse to surf the web all day, trying to find ways to mention our products or services. Participating in the social web will be helpful for the success of businesses, but not vital. The online community is hyper-sensitive to marketing tactics, and as soon as a social media marketing tool becomes spammy, it immediately becomes irrelevant.

You can send a tweet to author Jason Clark at @clarkster  ;)

Jason Clark is VP and creative director at VIA Internet Studio.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Jason Clark is VP and Creative Director at VIA Studio. In his role as VP, Jason ensures that all clients have a solid strategy, both on and off the web, before tactics are planned. As Creative Director, Jason is responsible for maintaining a unique...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Max Sanna

2009, August 04

This article is an interesting insight, which I share to a certain extent, although I can't help but wonder how can you predicate against annoying marketing techniques, when this website itself is literally full of bad marketing practices.
Examples? The fact this very article is split in 5 pages to pump up ads impressions (it could perfectly fit in one page, couldn't it?), the fact it requires registration to post a comment, tracking cookies, etc.

Commenter: UrAdGinny Incorporation

2009, July 02

What will be the next level in the world of social networking. We have seen social networking websites with features, application.... what next ?

Commenter: Mark Mayhew

2009, July 01

you are a journalist who supposedly "gets" Twitter, yet you don't sign your posts with your Twitter handle/url?

Commenter: Mark Mayhew

2009, July 01

is it *hype* when a former Bush advisor mentions that the guys who started Twitter should win the Nobel Peace Prize (for how Twitter was used during Iran's crisis?

Commenter: Connie Giordano

2009, June 29

Bless you for making the one point that gets lost in the daily hype--concentrate more on writing and less on the platform! Good content and well-planned execution are foundational. Twitter, Wave, and who knows what's next platforms are tactical, and knowing the latest tactics is important, but without a solid foundation are pretty irrelevant.

Commenter: Jason Clark

2009, June 23


"Besides, it's the execution that is successful, not necessarily the platform on which it is executed."

Words of wisdom!

Commenter: Nicole Rawski

2009, June 23

Jason, I think you make some very great points in your article. As with any fads, there is a bell-shaped curve and once it hits that peak, it's only a matter of time that it will just fade away. Social media is definitely a medium that has these platforms that continually go through these fad type of phases. I try to remind those interested in social media not to get too attached to the platforms because there will be something better that comes along next. Besides, it's the execution that is successful, not necessarily the platform on which it is executed.

Look forward to seeing more articles.


Commenter: Jason Clark

2009, June 23

@jenharris09, Thanks for the reply. As VP and Creative Director of my company, I do not use Twitter for marketing purposes, and I do not seek new business from Twitter, so no, you would not expect to see much there. We run social media campaigns for our clients that are well branded and run as they should, but not through my accounts.

I also feel that your reaction was somewhat knee-jerk from the admittedly sensational headline. My article put Twitter in context to other online communication outlets and acknowledged it's usefulness at this point in time.

Twitter has definitely changed the communication landscape, but I guarantee that the next paradigm shift is just around the corner. Will Twitter be able to survive? Probably, but not with the hype it currently enjoys.

Commenter: Jen Harris

2009, June 22

I do believe that there will be bigger & possibly better "things" that happen in the future...but to say that Twitter will go by the wayside is a reflection of the fact that you don't use it.
You talk about banding, yet you still have a teal background, your avatar is ????? and you only have 152 followers which you are only following 39 of them. Although I do believe something else will eventually come along, I would believe you more if you actually used Twitter like those you talk about who are fanatical about it...or talk about those that have made their mark on Twitter (in a good way...like Dell or DirecTV or ChrisBrogan).
Twitter has changed the way we dialog, communicate, sell, be sold to, help, trade, set appointments, get jobs (yes, I have found 2 due to Twitter), rally, gain acceptance, network, learn & research. It changes the way we find info: $5 if you can guess how I found this article?
Remember, Mikey didn't like Life until he tried it!

Commenter: Alexander Baar

2009, June 17

This article was excellent Jason I'll probably start waving soon thanks to you. Keep up the good work and in the future I will only use your company VIA for all my internet needs. I have a small start up on E-bay, but not showing enough profit to go global and need your experience. I will keep you in mind for the future I have you bookmarked. Thanks Alex

Commenter: Calvin Lee

2009, June 16

Great article, Jason. Though I must add that Friendster is still popular in South East Asia- Malaysia and Singapore in particular.

Tweet till the next Wave washes the birds of the trees ;)

Commenter: Alec Green

2009, June 15

Great post Jason. So much of the hype on Twitter seems to be the result of the makeup of Twitter's early adopters. Twitter seems perfectly suited to anyone looking to share their opinions, insights, rants, agenda, or content. It's not about fostering connections, it's about generating publicity. Journalists, writers, bloggers, pundits, politicians, and celebrities thrive on Twitter. And with so many influential people promoting the technology through all forms of traditional media, its popularity becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Commenter: Patrick Boegel

2009, June 15

It will only be made obsolete if the users collectively make it obsolete.

Where Twitter has an enormous advantage over Facebook and certainly over the extremely untested Wave is its simplicity makes it very mobile friendly. Facebook is annoyingly rigid on a mobile device, and Wave, well lets just say I really enjoy the functions of FriendFeed but using it on mobile is nauseating.

Commenter: Eric Yaillen

2009, June 15

Twitter has evolved and has shown itself to be meaningless as a social platform, but meaningful as a business alert model.

Because it is simple functionality, it is unlikely a newcomer to the scene can get any advantage over the original (far unlike the shift from friendster, to myspace, to facebook where new more sophiticated functionality is king). First rule of brand awareness is usually that FIRST wins! Just look at Kleenex, Coke, Xerox whose brand names are emboddied in the dictionary as generic terms...something Twitter and Tweat have quicly become.

Commenter: Brent Billock

2009, June 15

Great article, Jason.

I'm a pretty big Twitter fan, so I'm hoping you're wrong about its pending demise. If it does go away, I doubt it will be Wave that does it in.

Wave is absolutely brilliant, and I think it is going to swallow up a huge chunk of internet communications (as I said here: http://shar.es/r0Jp ). However, I don't think it will do Twitter in. Wave still exists as a mainly private medium for invited guests, though it is extensible enough to interact with more public platforms like Twitter, Facebook and personal blogs.

That extended outreach to other platforms is the right road, though. If one web service can offer a reliable interface to interact with all of your friends no matter what platform each of them has chosen, and no matter what type of content you are posting, that could be the first step toward becoming the Twitter-killer you're predicting.

Commenter: Todd Farrow

2009, June 15

Agreed, Twitter has it's place but I find it highly overrated. Unless you follow it religiously if you are following too many folks and vice versa, the tweets get lost in the mix and become spam IMO. I know you can dictate who can post on your page, but it seems redundant to me.

Great story.

Commenter: Dimas Begunoff

2009, June 15

I agree, that the signal-to-noise ratio gets a little overwhelming when you are following a lot of people (which to me seems quite ridiculous) ... but twitter as newsletter type platform is brilliant, allowing faster cycles when promoting your site/etc with less room for error (if you've done newsletters at some point i'm sure you've had long nights making sure the links are just right for tracking, quite stressful if you have not evolved to using some sort of a tool) ... Like you, I view twitter more of a platform, a concept, a new paradigm ...

Commenter: Peggy Dolane

2009, June 15

Twitter has one advantage over other platforms, it has a lot of outside people invested in it being successful -- all of the app builders (ex. tweetdeck, peoplebrowsr, tweetgrid, mr. Tweet, etc) who have their whole business model built around Twitter being in existence.

That said, thanks for pressing me to check out Google Wave. I've been ignoring it and need to better understand it's potential.

Commenter: Stephen Riley

2009, June 15

You make some valid points; it is a bit overhyped and new users don't get much guidance overall -- its a bit like getting thrown in a giant pool without knowing how to swim. Myself and a few other passionate users are working on hopefully a helpful solution to this.

But really, Twitter isn't for everyone; like anything it takes real work to get it to work for you. The advantage it's had since inception has been flexibility; the "obscure" language you referenced was invented by users to make it more of the kind of functionality they needed.

As long as this evolution continues to happen, Twitter will stay around. However I agree its role will most likely shift, but still filling a functionality void people need.

feel free to reply me with feedback or questions! :)

Commenter: Greg Padley

2009, June 15

Thanks, Jason. Sounds like soon we'll all be surfing the Wave!

I like your concept of the History of Social Networking chart and wrote something based around similar logic a few weeks ago - http://5691gerg.com/?s=twitter

Around our office we've been talking about 'tag clouds' and connecting people's personal tag clouds to each others learn and communicate.

Regardless, you hit the nail on the head with your paragraph- "Test different media, but let's not get caught up in just one. Twitter is not the final answer to social media marketing. Staying aware, good writing, and good communication will always be more important. Think 'writing' instead of 'blogging' or 'tweeting.'"

Commenter: Jason Clark

2009, June 15

Thanks for all the great feedback so far! I'd like for my next article to discuss a solid communication strategy that does not rely on any one (over)hyped tool. I missed too many deadlines getting this one out, and didn't want to scope creep my own article. ;)

Commenter: JR Hopwood

2009, June 15

THANK YOU Jason!! I have been saying this for months now while lemming-marketers continue to hype. No doubt, Twitter has it's place, but not in every genre. I almost see it more as a Customer Service tool in the future. What better way to help out customers getting frustrated (see HR Block during tax time). However, the one-hit wonders online don't last that long. I too have not logged in to MySpace in months and, besides getting the vanity URL I wanted, who knows when the same fate will happen to Facebook. The reason Facebook will stay current and Twitter won't is that, by golly, you can do the exact same thing you do on Twitter on Facebook. In fact, there's an app that posts your Tweets on Facebook as your status. So what makes Twitter any better than Facebook? Facebook and Wave will be the leaders in Social Media because of their multi-faceted architecture. If all I want to do is Tweet, I can, if all I want to do is connect to family, I can, if all I want is to use it as an e-mail tool between friends, I can. Marketers need to ALWAYS look at the medium before investing time and money... I think now would be a good time to sit back, relax and ask yourself, is the time Employee-X spends on our Twitter account "really" worth it? Sometimes the answer is yes, but more often, it's probably no. However, since you have the account set up, why not send the login to your Director of Customer Service, now THERE'S a marriage made in heaven!

Commenter: Carol Phillips

2009, June 15

Very insightful article, Jason. This is the first time I've heard a reasonable explanation of why Twitter has no plan to make money. I think you nailed the reason why Twitter is so popular - and at the same time why is it is likely to be overtaken by another even simpler platform, most likely Google Wave. In the meantime, I don't mind evangelizing for Twitter as it is the most useful platform to date.

Commenter: todd meadows

2009, June 15

Remember BBS Fidonet? Very social and useful back then for showing guys how to date (before Mystery) and develop quick seduction. If only I had known how that subject would grow. ;-).

Commenter: Vincent Amari

2009, June 15

You may want to add FriendsReunited and LinkedIn to your 'History of Social networking' chart?