What Twitter Needs To Go Mainstream

Posted By on Nov 18, 2008 | 8 comments

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBaseI can never explain it and I am always asked.

Public: “What is Twatter? Wait. Is it Twittered. You sure? No.. it must be Tweaker.”

Me: “You mean Twitter? Oh it’s just a micro-blogging network where you post information and updates in 140 characters or less.”

Public: “……… So… It’s like a Facebook Status Update”

Me: “Kind of but people use it for all types of learning, sharing, and development.”

Public: “… I don’t want to know or let people know I am taking a shower, seeing a movie, or eating corn puffs.”

Me: “It’s not really….. just try it. If you can’t figure it out for yourself in 30 days …move on.”

This is an example of conversations I have on a daily basis about the use of Twitter and the definition of this awesome tool.

This problem might be a good thing for the current users of Twitter who would rather not have to deal with millions of people. On the other hand, the developers of Twitter have a slight problem with identity that needs resolved (in my humble opinion).

You cannot achieve growth without some semblance of an identity, a universal definition of the tool. Is this right? Are we seeing a shift from a centralized definition of the tool to a massive brand with hundreds or thousands of identities and definitions? Is this a good thing for growth?

The question I have is this:

Do you think the slow mainstream adoption of Twitter is the direct result of our inability to truly define the tool?

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  1. Definitely , I think Twitter is evolving into something that maybe was not it’s original intent therefore a definition is difficult at this point. Having said that , boy do I wish there was a succinct explanation because trying to explain makes me just sound silly sometimes! Especially when trying to explain it to a group or firm we’re trying to engage in social media!

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  2. I think the difficulty here is that Twitter is a tool, and so it is merely a means to an end. What would you say to someone who asked, “Why should I buy a hammer?” The wise-@ss answer would be, “In case you need to hammer something.” And so it is with Twitter and other social media. It’s a tool with which you can engage others for whatever purpose you may have. It could be to satisfy a social interaction “itch”, or to gather information from others, or to establish a platform for delivering your message, or all of the above and more.

    It’s the same with most Web 2.0 tools… because by its very definition these things are user-generated they can morph into pretty much anything the users’ imaginations can conceive.

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  3. I am not sure that Twitter needs anything now. I just wrote about this two days ago because my brother asked. Twitter is used by CNN while on the air and a growing number of other mainstream media sites and well known brands are moving there. Twitter is rapidly going mainstream, regardless of what the adopters do at this point.

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  4. Years ago, we gave my mother-in-law a microwave oven. A gourmet cook, she couldn’t imagine ever using the tool to cook a Roast or bake a cake. And she was right, the microwave was not the right tool for that type of cooking.

    However, she did discover, over time things the Microwave did extremely well. Today, at 79 years old, the microwave is the most used device in her very active kitchen.

    She still bakes and roasts in the traditional oven, but she defrosts, boils water, parboils vegetables, reheats and steams in the microwave.

    Lesson: Tools become mainstream, when we figure out how to use them as part of things we already do.

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  5. Part of the problem is that the definition is too technical. The general public has enough trouble with the term “blog” let alone a micro-blogging platform. Nearly every description of Twitter also comes with the 140-character limit and I think that throws people into a tizzy as well. “What do you mean, I can only type 140 characters. That’s dumb.”

    I think Lorraine has hit the key point: The tool needs to become part of what we already do. The cell phone has jumped the chasm, and the smart phone is nearly there. Perhaps when the smart phone has made the leap for the general public, Twitter will too.

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  6. Twitter: Succinct Communication

    I would suggest that your description of Twitter not be over 140 characters.


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  7. Kyle-

    It’s difficult to define Twitter as it’s not a tool that most can imagine a good use of their time. When I talk to people about Twitter the conclusion we generally come to is, “Who has time for that?” I ask myself this everyday. Just last night I was talking to a group about Twitter and the only way I could justify it was that I no longer watch TV, or I only watch shows from my DVR so that I can watch them simultaneously while on Twitter or on my own schedule.

    For me, Twitter has been a great tool to connect with people I maybe would have not otherwise. However, I do know that every moment TweetDeck is open on my computer it takes away from my productivity. As I follow more and more people, I have more and more tweets to scan through. This makes it even more of a challenge for productivity.

    Just as I asked awhile back on my blog, I wonder what the sustainability is of social media sites? I think platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, etc. have peaks and valleys for engagement from each user. While I may be in a period where Twitter is exciting and engaging at the current time, I may also just lose interest, not check it as frequently, or just decide not to participate as I am already saturated with TV, blogs, websites, radio, iPods, telephone calls, text messages, email, etc.

    I actually don’t think Twitter will ever catch on with the mainstream. I believe it is a tool for the information hounds, the early adopters, and the evangelists. Facebook and Linkedin work because you don’t have to constantly use them. You can go away for a month or log off and on whenever you want. You won’t miss much and there is a benefit to having open accounts and those connections when you need them. However, if you don’t use Twitter on a regular basis it’s more challenging, if not impossible, to truly benefit from use of the tool. In the end, it’s just that, a tool. Just as some people still don’t have cell phones, PDAs, iPods, computers, etc., there are plenty of people that just don’t need to communicate in 140 characters or less. There are others that will think Twitter is one of the most powerful tools in their arsenal.

    For now, it is “time” that holds Twitter back. Until the users of Twitter can have a conversation with non-users and express to them how Twitter has saved them time, the mainstream will not adopt it.

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  1. Rob Diana - Web Apps Should Keep It Simple For Success « Scott Purdie - [...] written “what application XXX needs to go mainstream” posts as well. Kyle Lacy wrote a “What Twitter Needs” post …

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