01 June 2009

Twitter: A Gem or a Jason?

Its UK traffic is up nearly 1,000% year-on-year, and it was mentioned more than 3,000 times in news stories during a single five-day period last month. But the jury remains out on whether Twitter is a gem or a Jason (Just Another Social Network), Sarah Hughes writes in today's Guardian.

For instance, Nielsen reported recently that while U.S. user numbers are growing, 60% of people are Twitter Quitters who end up abandoning the service after a month.

"Twitter is definitely an important tool, but it's also important to note how fast this technology can change," says Charlie Beckett, director of the media thinktank Polis. "In five years' time, sites such as Twitter or Facebook may not exist at all - something else will have replaced them."

Facebook is still the social media king. But many articles now hail Twitter as pretender to that throne, though the two do different things and increasingly are used in tandem. Facebook was the site that newspapers and broadcasters spent most of 2007 and 2008 being excited about, Hughes points out.

Before that, attention focused on MySpace, sold to News Corp in 2005 for £365 billion; it now appears to be in freefall, with page views reportedly dropping by as much as 0.5% a week.

But the media's fixation with the latest digital trend is not just about hype, Beckett says. Rather, they are "one way in which the mainstream media is attempting to understand how this new technology works. There is no doubt that social networking is changing journalism."

Last week, even the staid New York Times finally appointed a social media editor to concentrate "full-time on expanding the use of social media networks and publishing platforms."

Still, Hughes writes, "something of a love/hate relationship continues to exist between the mainstream media and social media. On one hand, newspapers are increasingly desperate not to be left behind in these fast-changing times, yet at the same time that very desperation can see them grasping at what seems shiny and new, only to see its essence slip through their fingers."

"Certainly, mainstream journalists are often torn where new technology is concerned," says Mike Masnick, editor of the technology blog, Techdirt. "It's easy to jump in feet first and say that every new social media site is the next big thing, because if you get it wrong then it doesn't matter because the next big thing has replaced it, and you can talk that up."

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