[Viewpoint] Hell in 140 characters

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[Viewpoint] Hell in 140 characters

Recent statistics tell us that there are some 130 million Twitter accounts in the world with that number increasing by 300,000 per day.

A quarter of people who sign up sadly haven’t a single follower. Even so, each day Twitter’s search engine gets 600 million queries, and 55 million tweets fly around the world.

A lot of people share a lot of intelligent information and opinion via Twitter. You don’t catch social media gurus Brian Solis or Guy Kawasaki telling us they’re stuck in a queue at Starbucks or have come down with a slight chill.

Businesses, big and small, get some impressive results and reaction on the Twitter platform. In the U.S., in particular, many companies are giving Twitter an increasing role in marketing, customer service and trend-spotting.

Some, like Dell, attribute significant direct revenue to Twitter. Still, for every expert who says Twitter’s commercial impact will grow exponentially, there is one ready to give it the bird.

Much of what is tweeted is inevitably, even necessarily, banal. Kids share gossip and nonsense, while celebrities’ Twitter-twaddle is what their fans crave.

But that doesn’t explain why many otherwise smart and business-minded adults - people who should be focusing on Twitter’s real potential - feel compelled to disseminate the mind-numbing minutiae of their lives to friends, colleagues and even clients.

It’s networked narcissism and it’s really, really annoying.

The most followed person on Twitter may be the American actor Ashton Kutcher who is famous mainly because he married someone much older than him (tweeter No. 16 Demi Moore). Or it could be Britney Spears. It all depends on what day you check the statistics on this important breaking story.

U.S. President Barack Obama recently ranked No. 4 - sandwiched somewhat improbably, especially if you extrapolate, between Ellen De Generes and Lady Gaga.

President Obama obviously doesn’t get his own hands dirty but the brief to his Twitterer-in-Chief is obviously to share only policy-related stuff; hence, his followers are unlikely to be tweeted about the quality of the pizza the First Family had during White House movie night.

Clearly a lot of people value this more mature output - indeed, the stats suggest that only the views of Ashton, Britney and Ellen are more important than those of the leader of the free world.

So it’s a mystery why so many reasonably educated grown-ups - people with proper jobs - have a mental meltdown when their fingers and thumbs do their talking. They tell us stuff that, shared face-to-face, would have people fleeing the water-cooler.

When American actor Dennis Hopper died recently, I’m sorry but I snorted with laughter when I heard a TV news journalist seriously utter: “Celebrities have been tweeting their condolences.”

Hollywood folk are famously shallow - so for every tweet of a genuine tribute to Hopper, there were probably several opportunistic ones from bad actors simply wanting to hitch their reputation to a departed good one. Otherwise, at the very least, most tweets should have been private, not public.

That a reporter chose to highlight those Tinseltown commiserations that had been tweeted rather than “sent” - thereby discriminating against the classy few who may have dispatched flowers or written a nice private note, even an e-mailed one - just made the issue more irritating.

There’s only one genre of techie as irksome as self-indugent Twitterers and that’s people who specify “I’ll call you later on my iPhone.”

Like we need to know. I’m tempted to respond, “Yes, maybe when it’s about 8 on my Rolex. I should have arrived home in my Mercedes by then.” I don’t own either so that should help them get the point.

It’s easy to ignore/delete e-mails with subject titles like “this one’s really funny” because you know it won’t be funny at all - but tweets can catch you off-guard when someone who, in person, seems balanced, entertaining and humble becomes unfathomably self-absorbed on Twitter.

The most tweeted hour is between 10 and 11 at night so, for some, alcohol could be a factor - but, while we’re all entitled to occasional inanities, most are serial offenders; is it really possible they can review their past week’s tweets and not be embarrassed?

Most analysts see the next couple of years as make or break year for Twitter, the time for it to build out its tangible business model without alienating its core user base (many addicted to those tweet nothings).

There are lots of fascinating permutations on Twitter’s future. Can Twitter alone take itself to the next level or does it need to sell out to someone better equipped?

Does it have the edge over Facebook as a promotional/marketing platform rather than just a competing social platform?

I’d like to give these issues serious consideration - but too many clever people who should be sending me knowledge, just send me nonsense. For tweet’s sake, stop.

*The writer is a Founding Partner at WATATAWA, a strategic communications and investment firm. www.watatawa.asia

by Bryan Matthews
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