Like it or not, Twitter’s spectacular and explosive growth is unprecedented and in my opinion may herald something of a new era in broad based social media participation. Unlike Myspace and Facebook, Twitter appears to be popular pretty much across the entire US demographic landscape and is making significant inroads into foreign markets. Perhaps most significantly Twitter is doing this pretty much by word of mouth and huge free exposure on network news and celebrity TV. Twitter is growing rapidly without spending more than a trivial amount (if any) on marketing.
TechCrunch is citing Compete.com statistics showing 19 million vistors to Twitter last mont, up some 95% … per month. At that growth rate the service could surpass *all other applications* within a year. The recent increase was fueled by a celebrity onslaught of Oprah’s Twitter debut and the hugely popular Ashton Kutcher vs CNN Twitter duel and this is unlikely to repeat every month, but even at last year’s growth rate of very roughly 1000% Twitter will be very huge very soon. Facebook and Google continue to remain very solidly in control of much of the online landscape with hundreds of millions using those services but it’s now very clear that Twitter is in the social media game in a big way.
With a simple and intuitive interface, a 140 character limit on comment size, ten second sign up, celebrities, and superficial content, it’s easy to see why this service is popular among mainstream users as well as businesses who want to be able to push out content to “followers” quickly and easily.
TechCrunch has a good report here
Via this Forbes article we hear from Joshua Michel-Ross at Oreilly Media that the internet is transforming social activity into what he calls “The Rise of the Social Nervous System”. It’s a provocative concept that is appearing more and more in the technical and sociological literature. Although clearly part of the comparison of the collective mental activity to a “hive mind” stems from Science Fiction such as the Borg in Star Trek, it’s also true that human social relationships are of profound importance to the species. Online social networking has clearly reached a high enough level of use and social interactivity that “virtual socializing” is poised to eclipse “real socializing” in terms of how many hours we spend with each in a day. Although I’m sure on average we still spend more “real time” than “virtual time” with friends and family, I’d predict this will change within a decade or so, in part as passive TV viewing habits shift to more interactive online social activities.
As I noted over at my personal blog, Twitter is very important as its simple intervace and explosive growth bring millions of mainstream users into the social media maelstrom. It’s certainly not clear when all this socializing is going to take humanity, but I’d argue it’s already clear that human relationships are undergoing one of the most significant transformations since the rise of the types of social interactions that came about as cities began to replace rural living, and associating with others of like interests became more important than associating with your neighbors. On balance these changes are not necessarily good, but I think they are inevitable as people tend to flock most easily to those of like mind who share the same general sensibilities about the world. Ironically the very technologies that are theoretically connecting us to billions of others may also serve in part to advance our tendency to practice “group think” and only associate with the niches that suit us. On the optimistic side we may find that the global social network and ubiquitous interactivity will – for the first time in history – present us with opportunities to collectively solve problems we could not possible solve alone. As with most technologies it’s up to us how we choose to use the power, so let’s use it wisely.