The long trial of Twitter – will it really achieve mainstream success?

picture-51There’s nothing quite like an outrageous and entirely unqualified headline to irritate people, especially when Twitter is the social media equivalent of Ron Jeremy right now, stripped naked and humping its way through a gaping media orgy that will continue for several months to come.

Day by day, disaster by disaster, the general public is becoming more aware of Twitter, but beyond its basic functionality I’m still not sure a significant percentage of the population will fully embrace it.

Why so pessimistic? Don’t get me wrong, I’m completely besotted by it. I’ve all but abandoned Facebook in the past few weeks; it’s now TweetDeck I’m eyeballing every other minute of the day. The power of Twitter is eye-wateringly staggering – it’s a social club, newswire, group hug, business support network and a human search engine. All of them, all at once.

But.

That’s the case only if and when Twitter clicks with you, when the lightbulb above your head sparks into life. There’s a specific moment at which Twitter makes absolute sense and becomes indispensable. Before that, it doesn’t really seem anymore useful or original than Facebook’s status updates.

From my experience and comparing notes with others, if you want Twitter to become infinitely more valuable than just another way to avoid your work, the following needs to occur:

– you need to follow at between 50 and 100 people

– a similar number, or more, should be following you

– both groups should be a mix of individuals from your social circles, people living in the same town or city as you, professionals in a similar line, people with similar hobbies and interests, newsfeeds from magazines, newspapers and websites etc;

But while it’s very easy to follow lots of random individuals, it doesn’t necessarily provide you with interesting or relevant information. Unless your Jonathon Ross or Stephen Fry, acquiring a Pied-Piper trail of followers takes time. And unless you cultivate a nest of Twitterers from all aspects of your life, you miss the additional dimensions that set it apart from Facebook and its peers.

It can take weeks, even months to reach the point where you understand Twitter, and it’s this long trial that will deter plenty of mainstream use.

By comparison, the likes of Facebook, MySpace and Bebo can immediately offer features that users can quickly assess and value; as soon as you open an account, you’re prompted to upload photos, share videos, add profile information. These services enjoy a very short trial; the benefits of regular use are plain to see.

Another issue is that Twitter is less a website, more an infrastructure; most moderate and heavy users utilise third party applications to enhance their experience. But you only discover the benefits of applications like TweetDeck and TwitPic through regular use, once you notice other people are using them.

Twitter is already enjoying mainstream exposure and will clearly see a corresponding increase in sign-ups. The question is how many of those joining will become medium-to-heavy users? The service needs to begin generating revenue sooner or later, and what it won’t want is millions of activated accounts, the majority are dormant or scarely used, because inactivity can’t be monetised.

Plenty of people will jump on the Twitter bandwagon in the days to come, but the long trial may mean that only a small proportion stay long enough to see the point of it.

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