I feel Twitter is on the verge of being something very useful that will pay for itself or make some people rich although Friendfeed and Facebook may beat Twitter to that "liquidity event" as Mitch Kapor once described the thing the backers of Second Life were working toward.
"Distracted from distraction by distraction," T.S. Eliot once wrote. The interesting and useful use of Twitter isn't that surgeons are partializing their attention while they hack at you by Twittering about it (aren't they supposed to turn off all the cell phones in the hospital?!) or that kids don't do their homework while they Twitter or that legions of bloggers released into the economy, as @amandachapel keeps reporting about the newly-unemployed, are now able to use Twitter to de-monetarize their time by not getting paid for their attention -- and wasting yours.
No, there will be uses to Twitter but they will be more complex. Obviously, some companies will make bank tapping into the rich scrum of all those tweets with compelling ways to search through the firehose. It's instruction, that valuation of the firehose. @ev and @biz used to offer it for free for the viewing, on the home page. Now, they don't offer it and say it's for "legal reasons" (er, privacy? or because it's their main asset lol?). You can no longer see the Public timeline streaming, only a kind of snapshot of it as you refresh the page (does anyone know of any utilities that make it stream live? Probably they've been cut off).
So what Twitter will do is let companies tap into that pipeline of stream-of-consciousness (or unconsciousness) on the planet and let marketers or researchers or governments do whatever they do with all your scraped data. At the lower end of the food change, this will involve things like @arthritispain friending me and pushing some pharmaceuticals in Canada. At the higher end, it will be -- oh, I don't know. Getting deals on laptops? Having the makers of a baby stroller reach you in person just when you're looking? (that's that Scoble wants it to do). Having Skittles or Amazon retool their PR or campaigns after being absolutely scorched by angry mobs?
Scoble has a very interesting video up where instead of interviewing people, which is usually what he does, he muses to himself for awhile about how the whole Twitter and Friendfeed thing works. It's worth checking out. I finally understand, after seeing his link to his FriendFeed beta, and thinking about what he's saying, why FF is 'better" at least for him.
See, if you have 70,000 odd followers, as he does, and you swarm them through Friendfeed, often attracting them with a link that you "like" which then posts that link to Twitter, then you create little magnetic filings. These filings make some people "stick" -- let's say it's the usual power curve of 2 percent or even 5 percent who post on forums. They "like" what you like, or they argue with you, or they post other stuff. So there you have this little nonce magnetized grouplet, magnetized around an idea, a debate, a picture and they constitute a kind of node, or let's say lodestone, if there are enough of them, that draws others.
If you only have 1200 followers like me, you will find there just isn't enough of a database of people to generate enough comments to make FF interesting. Either you have to be very famous and have people drawn to you from RL fame, or have LOTS of followers to be able to work the statistics to make someone post and collect the magnetic filings of magnetized meaning. (Or, it occurs to me, you have to be willing to suffer through a very, very chatty group of friends all day, such as on Plurk, to glean the gold.)
Let's leave aside for a moment the problem of whether that magnetization really has meaning. Of course, on FF, even with Scoble, it often doesn't. It's somebody raving about a camera or a picture or a new widget and that leaves many people unenthused. Those aren't their topics. Still, Scoble talks about "high value" that you begin to get when the signals outstrip the noise. By using Tweetdeck, putting people into groups, even with his firehose, where he can see a lot of noise, he can still collect meaning if people talk *to him*. The @ is already a magnetizer. I much more look forward to whatever "@" I have on my Twitter page than the flow of largely junk streaming by.
Even more of a magnetizer is if a conversational magnet forms and filings attract as people argue or chime in or add stuff about something they care about. Twitter isn't so good for seeing those, although quite frankly, it's good enough, and I like it better than FF, because you can search and see "conversations" connected to tweets. I realize that on FF it's better, because you can add pictures, videos, have longer convos and they are all threaded and concentrated -- magnetized -- into one spot. Scoble says this is a public database anyone can search. I'm not sure it's so easy or rewarding to search 1,000 little conversational filing collections. They are ephemeral; most of the time not memorable.
Scoble talks about the inability to flag content as "high-value" except for the "favourite". But nobody uses "favourite" much (I do, but only for actual "favourites"). He forgets to use it. We all do. And hashtags are now so overused and so lacking in uniformity even for shared events (people don't stick to the #amazonfail but start writing junk like #glitchmyass) that they are useless. I don't get them, myself, because whether I search for "amazon" or #amazonfail in Twitter search I get exactly the same thing. The tracking function of the hashtags if you follow all mentions of a hashtag and if track worked might be useful -- but that's not on now, as far as I can see -- they shut it off, probably too dbase intensive.
So Scoble stresses the need to be able to mark content ("liking" or "responding" or "tagging with a category" or whatever) not just inside the tweet, which is all you can do with Twitter, but on the wrapper outside, which is what he says you can do with Friendfeed and Facebook -- by that I guess he means that you can respond to someone else's post or add to your own post on a meta-layer on the same platform on Facebook on the "wall," and on Friendfeed in the comments and liking functions. On Twitter, if I see a tweet I want to answer, I have to write a new one with an @ that is separate in time and space and view from the original tweet, but on the Facebook wall, I patch in my response right in the same field of view. Ditto FF. Still, the endless scroll of these services, that fall out of view after awhile, present a problem in magnetizing the content to make it useful. You can't save it anywhere except by cutting and pasting it into notepad or something.
I was wondering if this could be achieved by simply having another column in Twitter (yes, I'm magnanimously offering the coders' time and dbase resources for all this LOL) that enables you to mark things "HV" and then have those run themselves as a ticker somewhere (this could be a third-party API). Twitter might compete with FF at some point with such a "like" function but what I want isn't just "like" which is sort of sophomoric, I want a tag that means "high value". I don't have to "like" it or agree with it but just find it hard-packed with news or useful views. Maybe that's a social adaptation to the term's meaning. On FF, I can cull out all the likes for my feed of friends and their news, and that can be useful.
The services that show trending topics, or even Twitter showing its top searched words aren't of value to me, however. I don't care about the magnetic filings that come out of peering into an 8 million-strong system and retrieving from it a high occurrence of "#SusanBoyle" or @aplusk and his million followers (I never heard of him before). These are just boring to me.
So, how can I get Twitter to yield high value for me? And here, I haven't come up with anything yet except the concept of the avatar. Dusan Writer has talked about the avatar as a "repository" that holds various experiences, content, friendship cards, etc. And that's exactly how I've always thought of avatars, or personas on blogs, or handles: channels where you fit certain content so all the filings go together. The Twitter account itself is the magnetizer.
My SL and RL Twitter accounts operate very differently. One is for a huge inrush of tech and social and political info and vigorous and even contentious debates that I think need to be had. I don't have many news feeds on that one from news outlets because they tend to hog the screen with 10-20 posts at a time travelling in bunches like the herds of New York City buses. I get rid of some of them even for that tendency. The other has mainly those news sources, however, and I find about every 3rd week, watching even sporadically that feed I actually pluck off something that is really useful for work that I can really use in a publication that I wouldn't have found in Google reader or email news services or surfing the news sites because of the "real time" quality it has.
There's something much more valuable though that is the magnetism of Twitter and that is the expert who is willing to talk about what they are doing. For almost a year, I've been running searches on Twitter or Twitter plus Google trying to see if Twitter would yield anything useful in my field of RL work. It didn't for the longest time. That's my test. It was too filled with early adapters yapping about the tech itself, and not content. Then, when it filled out some more, it was still too filled with marketers, ad pushers, geeks, goofs, etc. who were pushing commerce with Twitter itself or popular culture or nuttyness. Still not the mother lode.
But finally, as it became more mainstream and mentioned in the New York Times, the experts or just simply people knowledgeable who happen to travel, speak languages, watch foreign news, etc. began to crop up and talk. The kind of people who have no more than 50 or 100 or 500 followers at the most, as they are really more like an old-fashioned alt news group on the old Internet or an email discussion list than a Scoble type of Twitter. So by using search, I turn up these people, and I find certain very useful things in real time from informal sources which often have more proximity to the news than the journalists or bloggers because they really go to places, talk to people, find out stuff.
Those three things: going to places, talking to people, finding out stuff -- aren't usually done by bloggers. Bloggers sift through all that stuff from *other* people. Journalists are supposed to do this, but they don't do enough, given the 24/7 exigencies. They cut and paste off local news or out of emails they shoot out hastily to interview people; they cover a story when it's hot and then move on, uninterested to follow up because their editor doesn't want old news followed up. So it's only the experts and hobbyists who really go places, talk to people, and find out stuff then that have "high value" at least in my field. (And I would think for Scoble, too, in his, as he would go a company, look at their widget, examine it, kick the tires, and vlog about it).
So for me, the mother lode of Twitter is still people who are experts, but perhaps broadened out a bit from the traditional university expert to include various strands of other people "in the know" because they are practitioners. The kind of sources that are often only "on background" for a journalist following news, but who are now tending to come out of the wordwork and speak in places on Twitter where they leave filings that you can magnetize -- using search, or using a friendship connection, which in the Twit-o-sphere is low-friction because you don't need an old-fashioned Victorian introduction and leaving a calling card on a silver plate in the foyer, you can just click "follow".
Experts and their networks in various fields then constitute the mother lode of Twitter, or at least the magnets that magnetize the iron needles in the haystack of data. Looked at one way. But looked at another way, the "experts" don't have to be university professors and government officials, they can just be your cousins or your friend from college or something who you turn to to get stroller or baby feeding information, I guess. Magnetizing is magnetizing, it happens if the filings are attracted, and it doesn't matter what kind of filings or why they are attracted, it's the attraction that matters and makes Twitter useful. That's why all those net nannies publishing hectoring blogs about how you "should" use Twitter by not getting a lot of followers, or conversely, following all who follow you, or whatever the PC thing is, don't get it. Attraction just "is," you can't manufacture it.
The expertise feed is what most people find of high value in Twitter, but the entertainment feed is of course another thing, the endless Internet stream of cat pictures, obscure rural ladies from the UK with three chins and one eyebrow, as the wit put it on Raph's blog, who make it big in front of the judge Simon, the "bottom of the news" and "odd tales" and such like Octomom.
It's hard for me to see where the monetarization climbs into the feed where I magnetize my own filings of expertise through search and friending and avatarization -- by having the avatar as the repository of that content collection (and that's why FriendFeed had the "invisible friends" function where you could set various alts out there to be collecting a feed for you that you had no time to look at...except when you did, then you could log on and look -- it doesn't seem to have gotten used much, but then, maybe I haven't understood it.)
The motherlode is rich when I have enough tools of real time flow, search, friending, meta-dating marking but it's not something where an ad can find a toe-hold.
That's where adsters are trying to find other ways to inject their stuff "into the conversation" but it almost always looks bogus and still feels as annoying as a Kotex commercial interruption your TV show.
There's still some missing puzzle pieces to see how this can be monetarized, and not only by subscriptions. Perhaps the devs can sell offshore drilling rights, or form production-sharing agreements with other third-party extractors of their data desposits, enabling you to tap in, for $5 or $5000, to the stream for particular purposes of data gathering, finding prospects, contacts, or bits of feedback or useful bits of commentary and expertise. I don't see how drilling rights can replace the organic formation of magnetic nodes, however, which are live people drawing others to themselves because of the attractiveness of who they are.
There's of course the option of making Twitter, or Facebook, or any of them, like a game, with points -- reputation points or traffic points or "like" points. So everybody buys a purse of $10 and distributes it with their likes or their supports or their traffic. Obviously, like any democratic stock-holding system like this (the Russians tried this after the collapse of the Soviet Union), it will be gamed by large holders, i.e. people with big followings collect a lot of cred, or certain companies buy into the system with a lot of cred to be able to buy their influencers, or the people advertising their wares. But like the gaming of Second Life traffic in search/places with bots, this need not concern us inside our own networks, where we don't have to follow the paid influencers if we are bothered by them. We can stay in our little nexuses of 100 or 500 and pay out at that level.
Twitter could have a model like the Lindens' tier, whereby you have to pay for your account each month, but if you collect enough cred points, that offsets your bill. I personally think such a system should cash out to real money -- I think any system that takes in real money should freely cash it out as well and I think the Lindens have paved the way in showing that it isn't THAT hard to do and that problems can be overcome.
What does it mean to have a world of paid sponsors, where big companies will be able to spend more than individuals in creating the value of cred? Scoble with his followers and his companies that buy ads on his page will clean up with tens of thousands of dollars, and I will be left with $17.32 each month.
But that's ok, he would be doing that anyway. He already has more blog traffic and more ad revenue than any of us second-rate or third-rate bloggers and there's no need to be egalitarian about this. One could have the corporate account cred weighted so that the individual isn't overwhelmed, or even show them as two different values on the profile.
I think the moral of social media and socialware has been that if users cannot get paid with it, devs and VCs cannot get paid. I have no way of getting paid on YouTube even if I make a tube and put it up or curate a set of interesting tubes, let's say. Google burns through $2 million a day on this hole in the Internet and tries to push ads in the interstices of people trying to watch the tubes. That's not working, I don't think.
Facebook, unless it introduces Facebux that gives me some kind of power of the purse and power at least for devs to make money from customers, if not me, too, as an amateur, is unlikely to make money off ads, either.
The model of Second Life is that it has indeed enabled the user to make money, and therefore enabled itself to make money, too.
I don't know how much FB makes on virtual sales -- I've heard $50 million a year (people buying those little gifts to send at $1 a piece). That seems like chump change given the 300 million users, when you think 11 million Haboo users generated $174 million in virtual sales without any user generated content, with content sold by the company, and Second Life, with only 1.5 million 60 day uniques (or less) generates a whopping $450 million last year. So that tells you that if you want to make money off these things, you have to enable users to get paid, and that means enabling users to have a virtual currency system.
Imagine if the Twitterbux were convertible to newyorktimesbux and what I could do with the bux would be all kinds of things, reward individual journalists, reward other commentators, save the clippings to a briefcase (a sink to be able to justify the dbase costs), be allowed to comment, etc.
The newspapers need a New Economic Plan after the technocommunists finished gutting them out, and here's how they could do the equivalent of letting the peasants sell food again to the cities at market prices -- having virtual currency for micropayments.
One of the reasons Clay Shirky hates micropayments is because he hates capitalist commerce. He thinks it won't work. But he also never conceives of it as fun, as a game. People love collecting airline miles or coupons or whatever, they are collectors by nature. Imagine if supermarkets awarded you on your discount card mediabux that could be used on virtual worlds or media, or gas stations gave you mediabux points each time you filled up and the credit card company held them for you.
Ultimately, because I get value from Twitter, I have to pay. The idea that you just make it all a hippie collective gift economy and pay it forward and all that crap isn't going to pay for servers, electricity, staff. So Twitter has to see what it is people value, which isn't only information but magnetized filings of expertise and market tastes around information, and charge for that, and make a currency system for people to spend and earn on it.