diamond geezer

 Thursday, January 29, 2009

Jumping the whale

Oh my word, what's happened to Twitter in the last month? Or, indeed, in the last week? Twitter used to be a semi-obscure micro-blogging platform on which bloggers, geeks and socialites indulged in occasional interaction. People like you and me, mostly. We used it to share our woes about work and to moan about idiots on buses. We scrutinised the thoughts of acquaintances in far flung locations and responded instantly to their emotions and enquiries. We revealed our innermost anxieties and spewed forth a dribble of heartfelt irrelevances. In short, Twitter was both intimate and trivial.

And then Twitter changed. People started broadcasting less and conversing more. A greater proportion of messages were directed not @everyone, but @someone. Twitter became more of a public email service where online friends chatted openly, and the rest of us saw only half of their conversation. Meanwhile marketing gurus recognised the usefulness of an unregulated social network and moved in to groom advocates for their products and online services. Twitter became less parochial, more worldly-wise, and activity ratcheted up a level.

Last Friday Stephen Fry blew the doors wide open. He blustered briefly about Twitter on Jonathan Ross's inaugural post-scandal chat show, and suddenly the entire UK took notice. Anyone could be Stephen or Wossy's friend, or link up with an increasing number of savvy celebrities, and everyone it seems was interested. Boom! The Twitter phenomenon exploded as the previously ignorant or unwilling signed up in droves. It's just like Facebook updates, innit, only without the poking, Scrabble and drunken photos. With Twitter you can become close friends with the rich and famous without relying on them wanting to be friends back with you.

Twitter's now changed, perhaps irrevocably. It's not a secret any more, it's gone mainstream (Last year I averaged 25 new Twitter followers every three months - this week I've accumulated 25 in three days). There's a lot more tweeting going on, so fresh screenfuls of messages wheel past in minutes rather than hours. The latest tranche of new recruits are most likely here to network, not narrate. And Twitter's stream of mundane chatter is slowly becoming diluted amidst a rising tide of obsequious star-gazing. People are increasingly preoccupied with nattering to celebrities in the vain hope they'll answer back, because sometimes they do, and maybe the lucky one in ten thousand could be you. Twitter's becoming more a measure of social success than a simple communication platform.

But hey, I still rather like Twitter. I've been on there since 2006, intermittently spouting forth, and I still treat the service with the cautious curiosity it deserves. I know far more about a handful of global citizens than I could ever find out otherwise, and feel closer to them as a result. I can stalk people I've never met, and control how far I allow other people to stalk me. I can publish irrelevant phrases at irregular intervals and wonder why quite so many people find them of interest. And, if necessary, I can vent my despair via text from a rush hour tube carriage and know that a distant audience shares my pain.

I hope that Twitter doesn't evolve into something too vacuous and unwieldy as 2009 passes, full of tedious dialogue and irrelevant bluster. Or maybe all you newbies will get bored after a few weeks and go back to Facebook or real life or wherever, and leave the rest of us to it. Hey, @stephenfry, what do you reckon?

20 genuine Twittercelebs: Stephen Fry, Jonathan Ross, Russell Brand, Phillip Schofield, William Shatner, Neil Diamond, Neil Gaiman, Britney Spears, Richard Branson, Demi Moore, MC Hammer, Mike Skinner, Lance Armstrong, Jamie Oliver, Charlie Brooker, Andy Murray, Dave Gorman, Danny Wallace, Yoko Ono, Prince Charles

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