Twitter isn't mainstream yet, but it will be



Kara Swisher took a swipe at Twitter today, claiming that no one outside the 'Silicon Valley echo chamber' knew of the service. She apparently bases this assumption on polling attendees of a wedding where no one had heard of the site.

First, let me say that the blogosphere/twittersphere is notorious for going apeshit over the 'shiny new toy'. Anyone that's been on Twitter in the last 24 hours is likely already sick of hearing the word 'brightkite'. And I'll agree with her that FriendFeed will likely never appeal to anyone outside the 1 percenters.

But I think Twitter has legs. Last week at SBMU, I saw many attendees that had never heard of Twitter, or that were skeptical of its utility, pick up the service and dive in. By the end of the conference, it seemed that about half the people at the event were on Twitter, and I would bet only about 15% were prior. A few friends I met there have since joined in the last few days.

I think the reason why is its simplicity. It's basically a chat room, with some filters built in. You only follow the people you want to follow, and they only follow the ones they want to follow.

IOW, it's not that complex. And it excels at real-time communication. If there is breaking news, you will find out about it on Twitter first, before the blogs and definitely before the mainstream news catches up. As the SBMU attendees found out first-hand, it's also excellent for sharing information at conferences.

Twitter's biggest hurdle is probably its own scaling issues. TwitDir is claiming that Twitter has now crossed the 1 million user mark. Still, that's obviously not mainstream. Twitter is making new hires and getting more rounds of funding, so hopefully the API issues will be addressed soon.

But the next time there is a major news story that affects the majority of the country, it will be broke/discussed first on Twitter. That will suddenly make the mainstream media seriously take notice, which will make the service relevant to a lot more people.

I say Twitter has 5 million users by this time next year. What say you?



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posted by Mack Collier @ 11:47 AM,

30 Comments:

At 9:55 PM, Blogger Ricardo M. said...

I bet more... like 10 million. But, will be there active users? I don't know. But a twitter passive user could have a great service too (following Mr...).

Is a great tool, with a great potential. Sadly, at first time, some people (not a few) only look the glass half empty and say that twitter is only for voyeur, "geeks" and leisure.

Some day, in a not long future I hope to prove they were wrong.

 
At 10:11 PM, Blogger Jonathan Trenn said...

I say, if Twitter now has just over 1 million, a year from now it will have somewhere between about 2.5 million.

It's a great tool, but it gets some getting used to and it competes for mindshare with Facebook, MySpace, and other social networks. The early adopters are now and now it's the followers turn. It will be slow and steady.

My 2 cents.

 
At 12:16 AM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

Ricardo, I think the "What are you doing?" positioning also puts off many people that are new to Twitter. They think 'Why would anyone care what I am doing?', but don't realize what a robust tool it can be.

But I think it goes back to ease of use. Any social tool that provides ease of use and utility, has the potential for mainstream appeal.

 
At 12:21 AM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

Jonathan, I think you've hit on a big reason why Twitter has such potential; it literally owns the microblogging space. It's not really competing with Facebook and MySpace, it's competing with Pownce and Jaiku. I think Twitter co-sponsoring SXSW last year really set them up. It was the perfect way to get in front of the perfect audience.

 
At 6:21 AM, Anonymous Steve Woodruff said...

Twitter will succeed because it is an active, personalized, real-time community-building tool. It goes beyond "What are you doing?" by allowing users to reveal, as much as we wish, "Who are you?"

 
At 6:54 AM, Blogger Sara said...

I use Twitter, not from Cali, but Indiana. In fact, it was the first place I found people's reactions to the 4:30 a.m. earthquake we had a couple of weeks ago. I am surprised how quickly she dismissed it.

I think you're probably right on as far as the growth rate goes.

 
At 7:52 AM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

Steve I think people quickly realize how Twitter is really a communication and connecting tool. And even a sharing tool, I've noticed that many bloggers (including myself) are sharing links more in Twitter now than on their blogs. It's just so much easier.

 
At 7:55 AM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

Sara I still remember Armano Twittering a few months ago about seeing some kids helping an elderly lady out of her car that was stalled on railroad tracks. They got her out, then the train crushed her car. CNN reported on the story like 4 hours later. But since Armano was there, he could almost tweet about it as it was happening. And as more of us access Twitter via our smartphones, the ability to give 'live' reports is magnified.

 
At 8:39 AM, Blogger Li said...

How Timely Mack!

This morning Hitwise is showing some figures on Twitter's growth - pretty interesting stuff!

http://weblogs.hitwise.com/us-heather-hopkins/2008/04/twitter_gaining_momentum_but_s_1.html

 
At 9:03 AM, Blogger Ivana said...

When I ask non-online marketing professionals how they would like to share experiences and ideas with other professionals like them -- say a group of scientists who are working on a similar technology - their eyes and ears perk up. I think that the reason "outsiders" don't get it is because there aren't enough of their peers using it. Then finding and convincing non-internet based peers to use something with a small community is difficult. Twitter (or something like it) will be as common as a cell phone or microwave. But it will take time. Look at HDTV.

BTW - much easier to leave a comment now - thanks for doing whatever you did.

 
At 12:32 PM, Blogger Eric Gonzalez said...

Great post Mack. Here's another reason Twitter has legs - it's become a verb and a synonym for microblogging.

For years, people used "xerox copy" for photocopy. Same with "windex" for window cleaners. My mom still says "your brother is playing nintendo" when he's on his Xbox.

You get the idea. Twitter is the new Xerox.

 
At 1:04 PM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

Li, Hitwise is saying traffic month to month is up 60%! That's pretty damned beefy! Thanks for the link, very interesting!

 
At 1:07 PM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

Ivana that's another key point, as more members of your community join Twitter, it's value increases exponentially. When I arrived in Austin last month for SXSW, I was having trouble with my phone and got on Twitter and told everyone to please EMAIL me if they wanted to meetup and gave out my email address. What happened? Everyone DMed me via Twitter, no one used the email.

 
At 1:08 PM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

Eric I agree, Twitter=microblogging. But then again, to many of the non 1-percenters, blogging=social-media.

 
At 2:32 PM, Blogger Lewis said...

Mack,

Without knowing how you define mainstream, it's impossible to agree or disagree. Whether or not the current user number is one million or 10 million, that's a huge leap to mainstream in a world of four billion people.

Here's my take: It really doesn't matter to me whether or not Twitter becomes mainstream. What I care about is its potential in the business and non-profit worlds. I think a Twitter-like tool has possibilites both internally and externally. In fact, I write about that for the next Age of Conversation.

Mainstream? Does that mean it appeals to the vast middle of society? If that is what it means, we likely are talking about another reinvention of e-mail and/or IM. That is much of a technological leap nor do I find it very compelling.

Why? Because by the time it becomes mainstream, if ever, we will be using tools not even imagined yet, and some one will be talking about those tools becoming mainstream and Twitter will be old technology.

Yet, I find your post compelling because it energizes our thoughts and dreams. Good post, Mack

 
At 3:06 PM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

Lewis says: "Here's my take: It really doesn't matter to me whether or not Twitter becomes mainstream. What I care about is its potential in the business and non-profit worlds. I think a Twitter-like tool has possibilites both internally and externally."

Yes but, I think Twitter has more potential in both areas, if it has a larger user base. It's MUCH easier for a corporation to use Twitter as a customer service tool when 5% of its customers are on the site, as opposed to 0.0005%.

And I think the reasons you stated are exactly why it will go mainstream. As I said earlier, it's basically a chat room where you control who you read. That simplicity will make it a hit with mainstream online users, IMO.

But we'll see. I still think this is a year or 2 (or 3) away, even if Twitter does go mainstream. Thanks for chiming in Lewis, as always!

 
At 3:32 PM, Blogger John said...

I'm gonna sound like a curmudgeon here but I just can't envision Twitter becoming "mainstream" popular. By the time Twitter ever reaches the masses, the people on Twitter now will have left for the next new thing long before the masses adopted it.

Twitter has reached the mainstream for the Internet elite. I'm not questioning that. I just know my circle friends that live outside of the blog universe will never groove to Twitter.

 
At 3:45 PM, Blogger Lewis said...

John & Mack,

That's my point. By the time it goes mainstream, the next Twitter-like tool will have been created. But that doesn't diminish Mack's point (mine and John's). Because whether it's called Twitter or something else, the concept will grow out of Twitter.

 
At 4:05 PM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

"I'm gonna sound like a curmudgeon here but I just can't envision Twitter becoming "mainstream" popular. By the time Twitter ever reaches the masses, the people on Twitter now will have left for the next new thing long before the masses adopted it."

Don't think so because so much of the value derived from Twitter is in the people you follow and that follow you. And for me, that community is increasingly being composed of NON techies. In fact I purposely try to avoid the 'shiny new toy' syndrome, in fact that's why I resisted using Twitter for so long. I added about 15-20 people from the last small business conference I attended, and most of them had never heard of or used Twitter a week ago.

I think Twitter is too firmly entrenched now for the 'shiny new toy hunters' to leave it and move elsewhere. It offers real utility for too many people, and that number is growing rapidly.

 
At 4:08 PM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

"That's my point. By the time it goes mainstream, the next Twitter-like tool will have been created."

By the time MySpace went mainstream, Facebook was starting to gain steam. Now both are mainstream, and both are still going strong.

It's not about the next shiny new toy, it's about the next shiny new toy that IMPROVES on the experience that Twitter currently offers.

There will always be a new toy, but a new one that improves upon the old one, that's MUCH harder to find.

 
At 10:24 PM, Blogger John said...

Mack ... MySpace or Facebook never tipped to people I know in non-Internet elite circles. That's why I question the mass appeal of Twitter.

Kudos to you for impacting 20 people to open a Twitter account.

Again, I could be a big-time curmudgeon but until my twin sister gets hip to twittering (or blogging or MySpacing or Facebooking), I'll doubt the enduring quality of Twitter.

 
At 11:06 PM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

"Mack ... MySpace or Facebook never tipped to people I know in non-Internet elite circles. That's why I question the mass appeal of Twitter.

Kudos to you for impacting 20 people to open a Twitter account.

Again, I could be a big-time curmudgeon but until my twin sister gets hip to twittering (or blogging or MySpacing or Facebooking), I'll doubt the enduring quality of Twitter."

It wasn't my impacting people to join Twitter, it was when those people saw *how* myself and others were using Twitter, that they got excited. We spent the night before and morning of the conference opening evangelizing Twitter, which was met with a 'yeah, whatever' reaction. Then they saw how we were quickly and easily trading information and conversation, and got excited. The utility and value was easy to see and it was easy to use.

It sounds like your definition of 'mainstream' is 'everyone'. I would say that MySpace and Facebook are 'mainstream'. Most people either are on these networks, or have at least heard of them. I think you'll see Twitter get to that same level eventually. It's not a social network, it's a social utility, and it's got a virtual deathgrip on the microblogging space.

And to me, mainstream doesn't have to mean 'everyone'. There's still plenty of people that have no desire to stop using AOL for their internet connection. Many of these people have likely never been to, or heard of MySpace or Facebook.

No matter what our respective definitions of 'mainstream' are, I think Twitter's user base is going to expand significantly in the next 2-3 years. Right now it is the only player in a thriving social media sector.

 
At 11:27 PM, Anonymous Connie Reece said...

When I read articles like this one -- The Revolution Will Be Twittered (http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/Story?id=4740861&page=1) -- coming from ABC News, I have to agree with you, Mack.

 
At 6:33 PM, Anonymous Becky Carroll said...

I am torn on this one. There are certainly many, many people who are using Twitter and getting a lot out of it! However, as I interact with the traditional corporate world, there are still quite a few who don't even know or care what a blog is.

In fact, on my weekly radio appearance yesterday, the host of the business show asked me what "social media" is when I used that term.

Those reactions tell me we have a long way to go before Twitter will become "mainstream".

I love the thought-provoker, Mack! You rock, as usual! :)

 
At 10:13 PM, Blogger Mitch said...

I signed up for Twitter today, but to tell you the truth, I'm not quite sure what to do with it just yet.

 
At 11:02 PM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

"Those reactions tell me we have a long way to go before Twitter will become "mainstream"."

We do, but how many people will be using Twitter in 2010? I think the member base for Twitter will have expanded significantly by then.

Many companies take their cues from what the 'big boys' and their competitors are doing. I think that many companies are quicker to try out Twitter because they feel like they 'missed out' on blogs.

Either way, I think Twitter is going to continue to expand, the only question is for how long and by how much.

 
At 11:07 PM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

"I signed up for Twitter today, but to tell you the truth, I'm not quite sure what to do with it just yet."

Mitch in general, the value you get from Twitter increases as you follow more people. I would start out by following a few of your favorite bloggers (you can search and see who is on Twitter), then spend some time observing the conversations that happen. Then from there, you will likely see the people you follow talking to other people that you'll want to start following as well.

My advice is to dive in, and it's better to follow more people than less. You can always go back and unfollow some people if you find it hard to keep up.

 
At 11:22 PM, Blogger Jim Spencer said...

A few ideas.

Twitter's initial appeal is delayed, which deters adoption. You need to follow and have followers in sufficient volume to make it interesting.

If we see the seesmic to qik type migration to the next micro-bloggin tool, twitter could suffer.

However, Twitter will grow exponentially in the coming 12 months blowing away all estimates found in this article and comments.
This is not linear growth.

I see increasing adoption and rapid development of supplemental tools daily.

The train has left the station and nothing but the finicky tastes of tech insiders can throw it off track. Well, and maybe another year of crashes and other misbehavior.

See you in a year!

 
At 11:32 PM, Anonymous Steve said...

I am slowly posting more and more on Twitter. Part of me second-guesses myself on whether other people want to know this stuff about what I'm reading, doing, listening to, thinking, etc.

I have enough friends that use the status update function on Myspace & Facebook that the transition should be easy. Unfortunately "should be" doesn't equal "is".

Following people that have a lot more social media knowledge than I has helped me immensely though (Thanks Mack!).

 
At 5:56 AM, Blogger Rilinho said...

Interesting post, though I am still a bit skeptical at the future of Twitter...

first of all, I think that it is essentially an extension of two things (SMS and blogging) and while it is a simple dynamic that doesn´t have much of a learing curve, its hard for people to realize the value of using a hybird service, especially when other services can creep into the same "mindspace" (like facebook status, for example).

A services is only as strong as its network, and many other companies have stronger networks already: The problem is there isn´t much of a barrier to entry for twitter. And I dont see it becoming that much of a "mobile marketing tool" when it has one foot in this so called "silicon valley echo chamber".

I think it may have a future if it becomes more visible in the common mobile market, the best idea may be to integrate the service itself into smartphones (as has been suggested). It seems easy enough to post something, but the trick is to start bringing new people to read it.

 

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