I'm usually behind the times when it comes to adopting new technology. I've never owned an iPhone. I didn't have a gaming system until Halo 2 came out. I didn't own Bitcoin (or even a fraction thereof) until the buzz had truly gotten started.
But I am proud to say I was an early adopter of Twitter.
I joined in early 2008 on the invitation of a friend who, ecstatically sent me a "welcome to crack!" tweet as my very first message. The new platform was addictive and, as I didn't have a smartphone and received all updates as actual text messages, incredibly intrusive in my life.
Over time, my interest in the platform evolved from a quick way to broadcast notes to friends to a real-time collaboration tool with people I'd never met. I credit Twitter with helping me to get started in open source development; it served as a rapid networking tool amongst our community.
The 2011 earthquake in Japan was one of the first times I personally experienced the use of Twitter as a real-time, unfiltered source of news. Thanks to friends and colleagues living in the island nation, I learned about the event hours before anything had surfaced on CNN.
Twitter was a great way for me to keep track of my friends and tap in to a constant stream of information without waiting for mainstream media to catch up. It was glorious!
I also met with a few other developers who were using Twitters' firehose API to scan for various events on the network before they were reported. Tracking the overall sentiment of the content of tweets over time helped pinpoint certain world events before they'd tripped the sensors of larger media bodies.
What was once a quick group messaging platform became an efficient, real-time news gateway!
The Wane of Twitter
Current Twitter, however, is losing on both fronts. I follow less than 300 people, but am followed by over 2,000. The idea of using Twitter as a way to broadcast to a small group of people is laughable. Twitter is a megaphone, not a group chat.
Likewise, the "real-time" nature of the platform has been destroyed by those seeking to better monetize and game the idea of "timeless content." Yesterday, while perusing my feed, I noticed #pdxtraffic called out as a trending topic.
Traffic in my area only trends on Twitter when there are major accidents on the freeway. We've had semi trucks turn over, farming equipment become wedged under overpasses, and protests block lanes of traffic during rush hour. Seeing this hashtag on the "real-time" network that Twitter purports to be was disconcerting.
So, too, were the first messages I saw when drilling into the tag:
Except … all of the "top tweets" in the feed were for traffic alerts from last week. There were no major incidents. There was no traffic to speak of at all – my ~45 minute commute took less than 20 minutes! Even the "latest" tweets in the feed were several days old and irrelevant to my commute.
Add this lack of timeliness with the fact that "likes" on Twitter are now used to serve content the same way as "retweets" and the stream of content the platform used to be is gone. The Twitter I joined died out ages ago for a more powerful media platform. Unfortunately, that new media platform has now also died out for … who knows.
Twitter itself was groundbreaking. But now the ground that Twitter stands upon can use some breaking of its own.