Yesterday (March 21, 2009), Twitter, the microblogging service, turned three years old. I've been twittering for two years now, watching the evolution of social networking and the nature of the participants. (Yeah, I had a Blackberry back in 2000-2001, long mobile email became an international addiction, but then I'm a gadget geek.) Twitter is now growing exponentially according to Nielsen Wire, with unique visitors up over 1000 percent since one year ago.
Twitter would not have been possible in the U.S. a decade ago, as we lacked the ubiquitous smartphones and broadband coverage needed for mobile access. However, if one recalls the popularity of the short message service (SMS) in Europe and Asia, Twitter could easily have appeared as a value-added service long ago. After all, GSM has been around since the 1980s. It remains an open question, however, if Twitter can be a profitable business.
Like its big brother, Facebook, Twitter has gone mainstream, with attributions and social discussions in the popular press. Indeed, some have argued that Twitter is the new Facebook, favored by the digerati. All of this reminds me of Yogi Berra's famous remark about a restaurant, "Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded."
In both the Facebook and Twitter worlds, it does seem crowded. I am now being "friended" by some people I barely know, and by others I do not know at all. (I am sure many of you have had the same experience.) I am not complaining; rather I have realized that friend in this context is a very elastic thing, ranging from long-time personal friend to an extended network of business acquaintances. Who would have thought one would need information visualization tools like Friend Wheel to track one's "friends"?
Like web search engines and the social insights one can glean from tracking queries (e.g., Google's tracking of flu trends), analyzing and visualizing tweets can illuminate social dynamics and behavior. Watching Twittervision, Twitter StreamGraphs or TwittEarth can at times be fascinating but can also overwhelm one with the minutia of daily life. (A trip to the gas station is not an event of historic proportions.) Such is the nature of a global social dynamic.
I also find it interesting that these extended social networking sites are themselves increasingly interconnected. For example, my Twitter updates appear on my blog and my Facebook page. Conversely, excerpts and links from my blog posts appear on Twitter via TwitterFeed and are also replicated on Facebook, LinkedIn and FriendFeed. In between, there's microblogging (a tumblelog) with Tumblr – hpcdan.tumblr.com).
Perhaps in the limiting case, all of my social networks can simply chat about me among themselves. They are probably more interesting than I am.