Twitter’s rise up through the social media rankings has been nothing short of phenomenal. Backed by a plethora of tech savvy celebrities, the take-up of the micro-blogging service has touched every corner of the globe. But is it an empire built on sand?
From the outside everything seems to be ticking over quite nicely. The site continues to earn new users and is now ranked the 19th largest on the Internet (according to Alexa), so on the face of it everything is going swimmingly. But there are undoubtedly issues, some that could ultimately undermine the service into obscurity.
The first of these is spam. Anyone that has used Twitter will know that ‘spambots’ make up a large proportion of the social networking site’s community. Whilst we all have the choice of who we follow and who we block, the frequency with which a spambot will latch on to your profile is tiresome.
In fact a recent study found that 4 out of every 10 Twitter Tweets were complete and utter nonsense. That’s 40% of all messages being circulated offering absolutely no value. 3.75% of messages are purely attributed to spam too, which doesn’t offer much in the way of an incentive to most online users.
All of these negative statistics paint a very different picture of Twitter. It also raises questions about the validity of site statistics and how they are measured; after all, how do you determine what visits have come from genuine community contributors and what have come from faceless bots?
But the spread of these automated tweeting services is far from ceasing. As highlighted in an article on Econsultancy, there are sites springing up right left and centre helping to profligate these spamming services. This of course is hugely damaging in a number of ways, not least because it is affecting the day-to-day Twitter users’ enjoyment; which could ultimately lead to an exodus.
This potential exodus has long been mooted but has so far remained only a hypothetical theory. However, the emergence of Facebook Lite appears to provide a very real threat to the Twitter model. FriendFeed followed a similar model to that of Twitter initially, but never had the same level of publicity or userbase. Now it has been swallowed up by Facebook, changes are already afoot to strip down the top social media site and optimise its real-time capabilities – thus providing a direct challenge to Twitter.
Twitter have never faced this kind of direct competition, or at least not from a site that is already significantly larger. Facebook is still undergoing one of the most prolonged and impressive popularity explosions the Internet has seen. It’s now the fourth most accessed site in the world and is growing by millions of users each month.
Social media aficionados will, in all likelihood, have a number of different subscriptions. If Facebook Lite takes off, which we can only assume it will, does that make Twitter effectively redundant? Of course there will always be situation where some friends remain dedicated to one site, making it essential for users to maintain Twitter accounts along with any others. Plus Twitter will always remain popular with advertisers, as it is a quick and easy way to gain instant traffic and generate a real buzz.
The saving grace could very well be the celebrity endorsement that Twitter continues to gain. From politicians to Hollywood stars, Twitter has become a forum for discussion between people from all walks of life and of any standing. As long as the big hitters, Ashton Kutcher, Oprah et al. keep with the service, they will have a guaranteed fan base. Lose these though and you may well see popularity going the same way.
But is that enough? Does Twitter now have to start thinking about ways to provide something new and original? Or is does its beauty lie in its simplicity? There’s no doubting its widespread popularity, but the social media crowd can be fickle. The relative demise of previous forerunners such as Friends Reunited, Friendster and MySpace (the latter two still command healthy top 100 positions it should be noted) should serve as ample warning.
Twitter doesn’t appear to be in any immediate danger, but with the data pointing towards a plateauing of popularity, a new impetus could well be needed. Whether that will come in the form of significant investment from another site, perhaps in the mould of previous interested party Google. Real-time is the future of online communication, Twitter just need to make sure they’re still relevant when it finally reaches its peak.