PR COG'S GEAR GRINDINGS

July 2, 2009

How Twitter will die…

(Thank goodness I don’t need subheads – not sure I can be that optimistic twice in a row…. ;) )

No, I don’t mean the company, I mean how it will die for each of us individually.

As a number of you know I’m an old-school hacker (in this sense). Everything from spending hours tinkering with the order of loading up TSRs in my autoexec.bat and config.sys files to get the most from my 2MB of RAM to coding HTML in DOS ‘Edit‘ before there were any worthwhile HTML editor applications. Back in the day this kind of thing went hand-in-hand with message and file boards to trade secrets, tricks and hacks.

And so, for many of us it all really begins with the BBS. Like so many to-be hackers of the time I was hooked from that first time I heard my 2400 bps modem connect to a BBS (a WWIV system I’ll note). It only took days until I began saving up for a 14.4k bps ….

This was still back in those precious days when BBSes, Rock music and staring at a computer screen were all the cause of angsty and withdrawn teenagers in the mass media. Anyone who participated back then surely recalls their parents asking

  • “What do you talk to ‘those people‘ about?”
  • “Why would you send messages to someone you don’t know?”
  • “It must only be perverts and criminals – you will stop now or [Insert threat].”

Yes, it’s the same questions we get now from the luddites – why would someone I don’t know care about what I’m doing or what I thought of a particular movie?

And it’s the same reason – we’re social creatures and for some of us this is a preferred way to connect, for better or worse … but that’s a post for a different day.

Since then, so for nearly 20 years, I’ve pretty much done it all:

  • ran (or as they would’ve called it then – SysOp-ed) my own BBSes, Co-SysOped others; even posting against myself to build interest in the system (Hmmm, maybe I should talk to someone about this MPD ;) )
  • played in aol chat rooms
  • admined IRC and other live (actual live – no APIs and no fail whales) chat systems
  • organized and promoted listservs/mailing-lists
  • and the list goes on….

I’ve avoided playing with online communities (or as we’re now calling them – social networks) for the last few years since I’ve seen how it works and with the assistance of my crystal ball know how it’ll end and had little reason to rejoin the fun…

(Disclaimer – this applies to the ‘everyday’ users, not writers/journalists/bloggers or Sm. Businesses who use the service to ply their wares. It’s for those of us who discuss booze, dinner plans, work, yoga classes, what our kids are up to, etc. The “real conversations” on the service – where you can figure out a user’s top “friends,” recommendations, potential FollowFridays simply by looking at their last 40 tweets or their stats. Take a look at my most frequent @’s – I couldn’t even begin to dispute the conclusions that can be drawn from it in terms of who I speak to, or have spoken to, on a regular basis historically).

And so, one day, it’ll happen a few years down the line – you’ll come back from a business trip, long vacation, or sick leave and simply not have the time or energy to login to twitter and your life will continue with no (or minimal) negative effect.

Out of a distorted sense of obligation you’ll eventually login, but won’t participate like you did before – conversation threads will be lost, the tweeple you only chatted with occasionally will be lost in the static, and your ‘regulars’ will even be logging in less or their conversations will become diluted as more people join. Then you’ll go for weeks without logging in….

Notices of DMs will skim by in your email (assuming you’re even signed up for the notices) unless it’s from someone you’ve taken the care to trade actual emails with and even then you’ll find yourself replying to them in email. A relationship growth to be sure, but not twitter based which is the topic of this post. Eventually you’ll simply not bother to login except when bored on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon with a good drink to see what’s going on and even that will stop at some point…

Fast-forward a bit more and…

One day, 5-10 years in the future. Any loosely knit circles of friends you’ve developed have spread to the four winds and something will spark a memory – A new coworker with a less common spelling of Erik/Arik, mention of a Cog being broken on a gear or someone using the word twitter to actually refer to what birds do and you’ll recall a tweet, incident (perhaps a public tweet meant to be a Direct), or maybe even this paragraph.

A smile will pass over your face and for a moment you’ll pause. You’ll wonder what happened to all those people you ‘knew’ and spent hours, days even, talking to…and the-then real life will catch up and time will move forward once more.

You’ll make vain attempts to reach out to a few of them, but alas cell phone numbers and email addresses change, people become impossible to find, and even if you do find them after half a decade what do you have to chit-chat about that was so special back then in ’09? The feeling won’t be anything easy to express – just a feeling of a deep (now hollow) friendship, memories of fun, and a sense of loss.

For anyone who was using technology to connect 5-10 years ago – AOL chat rooms, message boards, forums, etc. – Do you still go to the same haunts? Do you have any connections from those prior platforms that moved on with you to twitter and facebook (excluding maybe pre-existing real life connections)?
If yes, then you’re certainly a better man than me.
Conclusion – I don’t have a real one….
It’s up to each of us to make of this what we want. If it’s deep relationships, continuing friendships, lasting connections – then make it real. Meet your people, email with them, let them in and buck this trend. If this is just a game, a time-killer, or something to do during calls – then continue on, but one day you will know you’ve lost something.
(And yes, before the comments begin I do see the irony in this coming from me — the one who doesn’t even post his real name).
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9 Comments

  1. Great post once again! It's so true…the social networks aka online communities tend to lose their magic after awhile. Either it's because life gets in the way,interests change or you simply just don't have the time for it. I used to also frequent chat rooms "back in the day," specifically band chat rooms. To this day, I'm still friends with a couple of folks I spent hours discussing song lyrics with. If the connection is real or a friendship worth extending beyond the web, definitely make the effort.

    Comment by Marie — July 2, 2009 @ 2:30 pm

  2. I guess in that respect it's just like real life – we make friends, we keep some, we lose some, we learn from nex experiences, we move homes and either continue or start again.

    I know what you're saying re. Twitter use and I agree to an extent – the majority of people we're talking with now may or may not be there in 5-10 years time. Maybe Twitter will, maybe not, in one form or another.

    But I think you can keep the relationships alive that you want to survive. I know I still have friends from the old ICQ days (and beyond!), and I make sure I have all the contact details for those I really want to keep in touch with should Twitter (or Facebook or anywhere else remotely social) ever die all of a sudden.

    I gues sit's called growing up. :)

    Comment by Danny Brown — July 2, 2009 @ 3:40 pm

  3. I have some fabulous friends I met through social networking… don't imagine those relationships will fizzle out any time soon. Whatever the vehicle, the connection is sustained because we care about each other. As to the rest, I think it's pretty true that the interest level decreases over time.

    Comment by Vikki — July 2, 2009 @ 3:48 pm

  4. Great read Cog. I definitely agree with this because I remember going through a similar process with LiveJournal, Xanga, MySpace, even IRC and writing for music websites. It's like anything else…if you do something EVERY DAY, you're bound to get sick of it. Although it does make me sad to to think that something similar will happen with me and Twitter.

    Comment by jess — July 2, 2009 @ 3:50 pm

  5. I've had some of these same thoughts, I too remember those early days and truthfully don't have any contact with anyone from back then. But the social networks of today are a little different then back then, they are a little more involved with the links, pictures, mutual causes. Agreed, as Danny said, it's like real life and things change. But I think whether twitter will be there in some form or not, it's a different experience than the old bulletin boards. And there is a much wider range of people using them, not just us 'geeks'. I expect years down the road I still will be in contact with many friend I've made online.

    Comment by booksbelow — July 2, 2009 @ 3:55 pm

  6. I think you may be right, but I'd like to believe that real relationships that transcend #140 characters (like ours – meeting in real life and determining we do, in fact, enjoy each other's company outside the grid) find their ways into real life may continue in some capacity. But it may not – I don't find myself keeping in contact with 99 percent of people I went to high school with. I guess we will find out!

    Comment by Rachel Kay — July 2, 2009 @ 3:56 pm

  7. Wow, that just depressed me.

    But Danny’s right — it is called growing up and it’s on scary thing. So what do you do in the meanwhile?

    Make it worth it :)

    Comment by sashahalima — August 20, 2009 @ 8:31 pm

  8. […] Interestingly enough, at the same time that this went down I was on the illustrious @PR Cog’s blog and came across a very stimulating read, “How Twitter Will Die.” […]

    Pingback by Little Pink Book PR » Blog Archive » Facebook killed the MySpace star and now it’s after the Tweeple — August 21, 2009 @ 7:01 am

  9. […] I’ve previously mentioned I’ve been in e-communities in one form or another for a very long time (way before it was […]

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