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May 5, 2009

Can Twitter Really Dethrone Google & Email?

I recently read an article where the author proposes the idea that Twitter could dethrone MySpace, Google & email. While I think the author’s title is exaggerating to grab attention, I do believe that some of the authors theories have some merit. Is Twitter going to dethrone Google and email?

One of the factors I think gives Twitter an edge is the fact that it’s real time, it’s short and frequent. We are quickly becoming reliant on “constant connectivity” and Twitter provides that, Google doesn’t. With regard to email, there are some many things during the day that we could share with a friend or colleague but just wouldn’t be appropriate for email. Things like, sharing a picture of something that just happened, had a quick thought and wanted some feedback but not from any one person. I think all of these new ways of communicating are benefiting from a human attribute that has changed drastically since the internet has come into our lives.

What happened to our attention spans? In my inbound marketing consulting business, I see that people’s attention spans are growing shorter and shorter. They’re communicating in much shorter formats. It started with texting, then Facebook’s status update and now Twitter. One of the attributes that’s making them so popular and viral is the fact that the messages are short and frequent. When we know that the message is not going to be long and drawn out we tend to engage more with that channel of communication.

Think about when you text someone, don’t you sometimes text someone instead of calling them because you know you can get the core message across while limiting the amount of time and interaction? I also notice that I’ll text someone several times during the day but I would never call them that many times. Facebook has a limit of 160 characters which is the limit for a single SMS or text message, Twitter has a shorter limit of 140 characters and Windows Live messenger has yet an even shorter limit of 128 characters. people are reading less books and reading more blogs, why, could it be because blogs deliver content in shorter more frequent formats? Online marketing companies are learning from this behavior and anticipating it when they design advertising campaigns.

I have a hunch that one of the biggest factors that has driven us to such short attention spans, seeking short and quick bursts of information, is the enormous amount of information being thrown in front of us because of the internet. I think our psychological answer to the world’s information overload is “give me what you got but keep it short and sweet”. I don’t know who came up with the character limit first and whether it was based on any psychological data, however, I have a feeling it will be looked at as revolutionary.

Maybe we’ll settle into a “standard” number of characters that people respond to the best, who knows? So, is all this short quick fire communication helpful or harmful? I’m going to say it’s neither. The harmful argument might go something like this, “when a person is not getting a thorough version of the story, whether it be a news story, a product review or a personal reference, they cannot form an accurate opinion”. The helpful argument might go something like this, “when a person is getting input from their Facebook friends, their twitter followers or their 10 RSS blog feeds, they are benefiting more from the increased number of information sources than they are being hurt from the lack of depth in the information”.

A good example of this is Wikipedia. Some argue that Wikipedia is “non-authoritative”, which is a way of saying they’re not entirely accurate. Some also argue that the entries lack the depth of explanation that a traditional encyclopedia offers. However, the fact that there are millions of additional entries and the entries are constantly updated make Wikipedia, as a whole, a much better information source even with the inaccurate entries. It operates on a “probabilistic system” which is based on “likelihood” instead of “certainty”. But our brains are not wired that way, we want to know if a certain piece of information is right or wrong, we want to know that our information came from an authoritative all knowing source.

The fact is, these sources can be inaccurate and therefore providing a false sense of security. In spite of the fact that Wikipedia is totally comprised of entries that anyone on the planet can author, a 2005 study by nature, the scientific journal, reported that in 42 entries on science topics, there were an average of four errors per entry in Wikipedia and 3 in Britannica. the funny thing is that right after the report was published the Wikipedia entries were corrected while the Britannica entries will have to wait for the next printing. Wikipedia also benefits from what some call, “the wisdom of the crowds”, Wikipedia has input and expertise from millions of people compared to the traditional encyclopedias which are limited to the editorial input of hundreds not millions. The same argument could be made for receiving information the way we do today.

So, as we begin to communicate in these new ways are we moving is a positive direction as human beings or negative…only time will tell. Let me know your thoughts Here’s the post that inspired this post.

Jim Mueller has over 20 years sales experience, 15 of which have been in the telecommunications industry. More recently, Jim has gained valuable experience in the internet marketing/search engine space. As the VP of Sales/Business Development for a VoipReview, Jim helped grow the company to become a leader in their industry and an attractive acquisition which transpired in 2008. Jim has caught the entrepreneurial bug and is currently managing partner of a new joint venture called ReignNet.