Monday, June 1, 2009

Why I Love/Hate Twitter!

Anyone who knows me, or reads this blog, knows that you can rely on reading several posts a day from me on Twitter (@molex). I love reading Tweets from developers like Jeff Atwood(@codinghorror) , writers like the great William Gibson (@GreatDismal), famous geeks like Felicia Day (@feliciaday) and great radio personalities like Peter Sagal (@petersagal). I enjoy letting strangers into my daily life and talking about even the most mundane details of my life. I love being able to help someone find the answer to an annoying computer problem or where they can find a copy of an obscure book or movie. I like being able to ask the community at large for help on similar things. Hell, The other evening, I had a conversation with William Gibson (@GreatDismal) about a mundane thing like wallets (and why I can not use a money clip). It was awesome and might I add a personal honor as he is not only one of my favorite writers of all time but a personal hero as well. The lack of a wall between yourself and anyone else using the service, means that there is nothing stopping you from being able to tell your favorite musician that you would like them to play in your city (I'm talking to you @jonathancoulton).

While all of this may seem great at fist glance, there is a price to pay. The hate portion of my relationship comes from the fact that Twitter allows for all types of marketing. Now that Twitter is getting more popular, there have been more spam and malware attacks. During the course of any given day, I will be followed by at least 5 different spam bots. See picture below:

All social web sites are pretty much the same when it comes to malware and spam (although Twitter is pretty good at removing these accounts pretty quick). The one thing that can not be controlled is the attack mode that seems to come from some of the marketing companies that are not spam and malware. I'm talking about viable companies that use the service to their advantage in a way that makes the service less fun for the rest of us. Suppose I mention a Ford truck in my tweet (even in a bad way, like "Ford sucks"), within 5 minutes, I will be followed by someone name JoeLovesFords (this is of course hypothetical). If you choose to follow that person, you will be inundated with tweets about Ford, how awesome they are and how you should buy one right away. You quickly realize that this is not a real person but a marketing bot.
This is a trend that is only going to continue. As I was reading in an article today (on CNET), marketing companies are really beginning to take hold of Twitter:

"Twitter dominates the news, but clearly we're only touching the surface of its potential as a marketing vehicle," Participatory Media Network co-founder and chairman Michael Della Penna said in a release. "This is a classic 'glass half full' scenario for Twitter because it's clear that Gen Y has an appetite for social networking, but still hasn't fully embraced micro-blogging. There is a tremendous opportunity now for marketers to develop strategies to get this important group active on Twitter too."

There seems to be a point in every social networks life where it becomes so popular, that no one uses it anymore (that sounds like something Yogi Berra would say). I am afraid that this will eventually happen to Twitter. When the service gets so overloaded with marketing, spam, and real users, it will become almost impossible for people to keep track of everything. It will also kill the greatest part of Twitter. That is the lack of separation between people. It will be next to impossible to talk to one of your hero's if they have to wade through 1,000 spam tweets first. How many people will continue to use the service then?

I would hate to see a service like this be reduced to nothing but a marketing campaign for large corporations, but I fear that it is inevitable!