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Ed Driscoll

“Can Twitter Survive What is About to Happen to It?”

March 15th, 2009 - 2:41 pm

Hey, it’s survived me being on there, so I’m guessing it’s somewhat bulletproof. But still, Nova Spivack has some interesting questions about Twitter’s future. In my “All You Need Is Tweet” video, I compared Twitter to a combination police scanner and Internet chatroom; Spivack has an equally viable analogy:

Twitter reminds me of CB radio — and that is a double-edged blessing. In Twitter the “radio frequencies” are people and hashtags. If you post to your Twitter account, or do an @reply to someone else, you are broadcasting to all the followers of that account. Similarly, if you tweet something and add hashtags to it, you are broadcasting that to everyone who follows those hashtags.

This reminds me of something I found out about in New York City a few years back. If you have ever been in a taxi in NYC you may have noticed that your driver was chatting on the radio with other drivers — not the taxi dispatch radio, but a second radio that many of them have in their cabs. It turns out the taxi drivers were tuned into a short range radio frequency for chatting with each other — essentially a pirate CB radio channel.

This channel was full of taxi driver banter in various languages and seemed to be quite active. But there was a problem. Every five minutes or so, the normal taxi chatter would be punctuated by someone shouting insults at all the taxi drivers.

When I asked my driver about this he said, “Yes, that is very annoying. Some guy has a high powered radio somewhere in Manhattan and he sits there all day on this channel and just shouts insults at us.” This is the problem that Twitter may soon face. Open channels are great because they are open. They also can become aweful, because they are open.

Which also dovetails nicely with Compuserve’s groundbreaking CB chat application, which, in the early 1980s, along with regional BBSs, was one of my very first online experiences. (Yes, I had to walk a mile home from school barefoot in the snow to get to my computer, and we needed tin cans, strings and stone knives and bearskins–or at least TRS-80′s–to connect. In those primitive days, 1,000,000 years B.C. (Before Cable-modem), life online was a constant struggle to survive–and pay the connection fees.

I don’t think Twitter is as susceptible as Compuserve’s CB was to a high signal to noise ratio, simply because it’s possible to filter much of the spam and noise out of a conversation. But Spivack has some additional suggestions that might help to ameliorate the impact of a sudden rush of new tweeters.

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