FTW Media

Thoughts about New/Social Media

Looking beyond Twitter

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lolcatAs the legendary New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra was rumoured to have said about a restaurant: “Nobody goes there anymore because it’s too crowded.” The same can be said of Twitter’s entrance into mainstream media.

With Oprah joining the Twitter community, and the ridiculous Ashton Vs CNN race, the end of the buzz is near. The cool geeks that first adopted it are now fed up of the constant stream of news about it. Mainstream media knows about it, and can’t stop yammering on about the dreaded microblogging service. While it’s adorable to see how big celebs like Oprah start stumbling around Twitter in the same way an adult watches a toddlertakes his first steps (“aww, look at Oprah twittering — how cute is that?”), the novelty dies out rather fast.

The entrance of the mainstream celebs into Twitter also changes the dynamic of the social network. Where once the sphere was dominated by eager geeks, now it’s become increasingly crowded by a bunch of marketers, brands, gurus, and celebrities that don’t really give a crap about whether you’re the 100,321st or 100,322nd follower. It’s as if Cheers became the watering hole of a bunch of big-talking “I make bank” douchebags and advertising execs.

The backlash against Twitter is not unexpected, if one were to follow the five steps of the hype cycle. Early adopter geeks, while happy to see the Twitter’s growth, are inwardly depressed that they’ve lost some of their ‘Net cred, much in the same way that Indie-rock kids pride themselves of knowing the next big band, only to ditch it after Hitz.FM plays it.

As  tech columnist John Dvorak succintly put it, “Twitter’s a good tool to connect with your audience, share links and start discussions. Now let’s move on.”

The Next Cool Thing

This begs the question then, of what’s the next cool thing? The evidence is anecdotal, but I’ve been noticing that many in my Twitter circle have started new Tumblr blogs (“Tumblogs”), including Jay Rosen, the prolific NYU Journalism professor. His thinking mirrors mine in evolving beyond the micro-blogging platform: Twitter’s 140 characters is great, and it should stay that way because it’s what Twitter does best. But what if I want to post beyond that limit? Or embed pictures, audio clips and videos?

One could reason that there’s a blog for such a purpose, but believe me when I say that jumping from Twitter to WordPress is a dazzling big leap. Which is where Tumblr comes in. On the surface of things, Tumblr is to WordPress what Megablocks is to Lego: its emphasis lies in simplicity, big fonts and bright colours.

Which is all great and is a big part to Tumblr’s appeal, but there’s one killer function that makes it fundamentally different from traditional blogs — you can follow fellow Tumblrs in the same way you follow Twitterers. Tumblr’s user homepage mirrors that of Twitter’s in that you’re presented with a “stream” of posts by people that you’re following, and it has a “reblog” button on the top of each post, which is similar to (and was developed before) the retweet function on Twitter. This function enables ideas, news, and memes spread across the Tublrverse very quickly. 

This social element to Tumblr has created a unique tumblr community that to me, echoes the early days of Twitter. Like many early adopted social networks, it’s full of passionate, cutting-edge, and outsider geeks who share similar contentof interest, so much so that it’s how I keep track of new trends and emerging sites on the Internet. If the Tumblr people says it’s cool, it’s probably cool by me. 

As proof of its burgeoning community, Tumblrs have spawned their own culture and lingo (some of which can be found on Tumblepedia). There’s GPOYW (Gratuitous Picture of Yourself Wednesday): wherein a Tumblrs posts a picture of themselves on a Wednesday and labels it with said acronym; Unfollow Friday, where Tumblrs  post annoying or disgusting things on Friday to see how many unfollows they can get. There are also Tumblr meetups happening across the world, although with much less frequency than Tweetups.

And then there’s the  single-serving tumblog, where a tumblr blog merely exists for one ridiculous purpose only, like baconbaconbacon, which only lists things bacon related. This is very unique to the Tumblr environment, made possible thanks to its simplicity in setting up a tumblog. Tumblr hasn’t yet fulfilled its potential as a social tool, but they’ve been constantly adding in new functionalities like the “Question” module that works in a similar way to Yahoo! answers.

Having said all that, I don’t think Tumblr ever be as big as Twitter, but it will continue serve a small audience that will remain tightly knit and very like-minded.

Seesmic

I’m surprised many haven’t heard of Seesmic yet, including those who are in the social media field. Launched in 2007 by Loic Le Muer, Seesmic can be roughly defined as Twitter on video; it’s a similar concept to the newer 12seconds.tv, except that it doesn’t impose a time-limit on the video.

Like other Twitter-like social network services, things look similar on the surface. Under the hood, however, the social dynamics are very different, and because of this, Seesmic will take on a different evolutionary path from Twitter and may well be the next big thing next year.

From the start, Seesmic poses the point “Start a new conversation”, as opposed to the “What are you doing right now?” question posed by Twitter and Facebook. As a result, you’d often Seesmic users posing questions (“So what did you think of Star Trek?”) or getting a point across (“I think it was crap”) to get a discussion going, instead of the narcissistic and inconsequential “I’m eating a cheese sammich” post.

This fundamental difference makes Seesmic a great tool for crowdsourcing and getting a roundtable discussion about a topic. Alpha Geek Kevin Rose, author Paolo Coelho, and professor Jay Rosen are among the early adopters using it, and a quick glance at the responses proves how effective it is.

In the few times I’ve used the service, I get the impression that though its audience is smaller than Twitter, it has a very welcoming and global community — think of it as a steroid-pumped pen-pal service for the 21st century. These are the reasons why, in superficially comparing the two video microblogs Seesmic and 12seconds (I haven’t tested out  the latter yet), Seesmic holds more value as it can grow in a different direction away from being a video microblog. 

So that’s my couple of cents on these two services. In my next post, I’m excited to review two new sites which you should check out: Hunch.com, Flickr cofounder Caterina Fake’s new crowdsourcing project; and PicoCool, a digg-like site  for cool and arty stuff.

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Written by John Lim

April 28, 2009 at 3:12 pm

Posted in Social Media

2 Responses

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  1. Nice article Oon. Personally, my problem with all these new sites is that who has the time to follow all these? It is also questionable whether these sites get enough users and continue to get them to spend time on the site. My own experience is that I got invited by friends to join Friendster and Facebook at around the same time – about 1.5 years ago. For the first 12 months I barely logged on to either site, then something happened, more and more of my former classmates signed up on facebook, and start updating their status and posting new stuff, to the point where I log-in almost every day and I’ll see 10-20 updates, and I start commenting on their status and start conversations. My friendster account, on the other hand, has been dormant. I attribute that to the network effect, there more users there are, the more active they are, the more valuable the service. However, except for teenagers, there’s only a finite amount of free-time out there. Will these new sites be more like Friendster or Facebook?

    Sam

    Sam

    May 2, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    • Hey Sam,

      Thanks for the comment. The issue you outlined — “who has the time?!” — is certainly not new, and has its own name: Continuous Partial Attention, which former Microsoft VP Linda Stone outlined neatly in her talk that you can find on IT Conversations.

      On the surface, it does look like a difficult question to tackle: just how do people find a time to manage all their social networks? But that’s the wrong approach to answering the question. It’s not a matter of time, but a matter of purpose.

      If people find a purpose and value in contributing to these social networks, these networks will continue to flourish. In the case of Friendster vs Facebook, these two sites occupied similar niches in the Social network ecosystem, and Facebook won the war because it was able to scale to a large audience, had better functionalities and had social third-party applications that encouraged users to return.

      As long as social network services — Seesmic, Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook — distance themselves from each other, they would find their own social niche and thrive. You could glibly say that it’s a Darwinian process of evolution we’re seeing on the Internet.

      John Lim

      May 6, 2009 at 5:47 pm


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