UPDATE: November 12, 2009
Has the Twitter brand death-spiral begun? ComScore today released numbers showing that visits to Twitter.com declined eight per cent. Why visit Twitter.com when its API lets anyone access tweets from anywhere? Has the death spiral begun?
Perhaps the most difficult part of forecasting technologies’ pace is discerning which technologies will be short-lived fads and which will become ingrained in our lives. Often, millions of dollars are at stake — should the I.T. department hold steady or invest in a promising solution that may indeed become the next Pointcast. It’s not an easy game and for that reason many technology commentators steer clear of any kind of forecasting.
But despite the infrequent unpredictable breakout hit, technology’s growth curve is actually quite predictable. (The oft-misquoted Moore’s Law is probably the most well-known reliable long-term trend in computer hardware. ((Moore’s Law, which has proven very accurate, supposed that the number of transistors that could be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit will double about every two years. It is frequently misquoted as suggesting that the price of technology will halve and the processing speed will double every two years.)) )
There is indeed a tipping point in technology timelines — the moment when a fad evolves into being a secure part of our lives — and it is the point at which a technology becomes invisible. Not literally invisible, of course, but practically invisible in our day-to-day lives.
The Thermostat Test
Think about your home thermostat. When you actually stop to consider what it does — measure the room temperature and automatically adjust the heating/cooling automatically — it’s actually quite an amazing technology that’s had a large impact on our standard of living.
One can imagine the attention the invention received when it was first in use in the late 1800s. Today, though, it’s pretty much invisible in our lives. Sure, you can see it, but when was the last time you actually thought about your thermostat? Nobody has come to your place and stopped to remark about “that awesome thermostat” of yours. It’s simply slipped into the wider growing conscious of the technology around us.
This, then, is the litmus test for tech fads and technology’s influence in our lives. When a technology blends effortlessly into our daily living and becomes essentially invisible to us, it secures a permanent place in our environment.
And this is how Twitter will die.
I’m not suggesting, of course, that we’ll be without the ability to tweet any more, just that the mechanism by which we do so will become so ingrained in our lives that we may not even know it as “Twitter” in the future.
Consider the ways Twitter has evolved beyond being a hyped-up web site:
- Facebook completely redesigned its site to become more “Twitter-like” (much to the chagrin of its user base)
- Hundreds of thousands of Twitter users interact with their Twitter followers only though mobile-phone text messaging
- Dozens of mobile applications exist on nearly every cell phone to provide direct access to Twitter’s functionality
- Long-term Twitter API holdout LinkedIn has caved into member pressure and, as of today, now provides a way of tweeting directly from its site
As more developers take advantage of Twitter’s API, the need for anyone to go to Twitter’s actual web site lessens. Now, we access through phones, airport and mall kiosks, and even toilets. A small industry is developing around linking ‘real life’ to Twitter. An inexpensive do-it-yourself kit hooks everyday appliances to Twitter so they can tweet about their daily energy consumption. And, in what screenwriters would call a beautiful “envelope ending,” modified thermostats can now tweet their average temperature points.
The Looming Death of the Twitter Brand
Contrary to the opinions of most tech pundits, in the coming years I expect the Twitter brand will decline in mindshare. Consider that most venture capital money is historically speculative and short-term in nature; V.C.s quickly grow tired of funding rounds devoted to building mass brand awareness, a very expensive strategy. This is partly why many buzz-attracting tech brands of the past today operate happily in the background, quietly earning consistent returns without the brand front-and-centre.
In fact, this trend toward invisibility is already happening to Twitter — newscasters tell viewers to “send a tweet” today, not “Go to twitter.com and send a message” as they used to. The act of tweeting will stay with us now, even if the brand fails.
As Twitter becomes less a web site and more simply a platform for short messages, the more its brand will recede from our mind. If history is any guide, this will be the point at which Twitter, as we know it today, will disappear. Its feeder parts, like cell phone apps and social networking sites, will then devour its functionality, pushing its growth into the stratosphere, making it immortal.
Twitter will die. And, in so doing, will live forever.