Is Twitter Overhyped? A Debate. (Please Join It!)

By  |  Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 4:18 pm

T-Debate[A NOTE FROM HARRY: Introducing a new Technologizer feature–T-Debates! In this inaugural one, Dave Worthington and I have at it about the value of Twitter–he’s doubtful it has much at all, while I’m a Twitter optimist. But we’re mainly doing this in hopes that you’ll continue the conversation in comments, whatever your stance.]

David Worthington begins:

The Twitter fad is so oversaturated that someone has to say “enough already.” Twitter must either make money and prove that it has a viable purpose, or accept a fair market valuation to be acquired and become a part of something that’s more interesting.

There are times when Twitter is useful, and it unquestionably has millions of users who do like it. It is a handy tool for journalists who cover events, it helps companies and celebrities connect with people, and can wrap multiple parties into a conversation.

Beyond those few use cases, I question what’s the point? It solves a question that nobody asked, and feeds the narcissism that pervades our culture.

Twitter has been over extended and over used. George Stephanopoulos’s gimmicky Twitter “interview” with former U.S. Presidential candidate John McCain was especially pointless.

While it could be argued that Twitter offers a messaging platform, microblogging is a feature of sites including Facebook. I recently organized a house party on Facebook, enjoy seeing when my friends post pictures, and am able to use Facebook to extend my social network. Twitter only does one thing.

Twitter has become fodder for satirists that adeptly point out how life’s mundane activities are just not worth hearing about. And frankly, there are some things that just should not be shared with others.

A pet project can be cool, but in today’s economy, cool is just not good enough. Twitter has already raised over $20 million in private equity from venture capitalists without demonstrating that it has a sustainable revenue model.

In February, Twitter disclosed that it was “considering” charging for commercial accounts, because companies are using it as a marketing tool free of cost. And earlier this week, press reports disclosed that it was entering into an advertising agreement with Google. Those are the types of deals it should already have in place in today’s economy (and that argument is not limited to Twitter by any means).

My feeling is that Twitter’s best opportunity to cash in is for it to be acquired. However, it is not worth the nearly $500 million the Facebook is reported to have offered to buy it out. Founder’s bravado and modest brand recognition does not merit half a billion dollars. Either way, it’s time for Twitter to explain how it will earn its keep.

Harry McCracken responds:

First, I agree that there’s an element of faddishness to Twitter’s current popularity. It’s a lousy place to interview a former presidential candidate who’s famously non-geeky. Lots of businesses seem to be jumping on the bandwagon before they’ve figured it all out. (Shameless plug: I’m helping to put on a conference about Twitter for business next month in San Francisco). It’s not going to kill Google.

But Twitter is important–and if the folks who run it have their act together, there’s no reason why it can’t grow even more popular and stick around for a long time to come. (As plenty of fads manage to do–bicycles, for instance.)

It’s standard practice for new forms of communication to be accused of encouraging narcissism. (Blogs and previous social networks such as Facebook have suffered similar criticism, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were cavemen who maintained that stone tablets would never be good for anything but telling the world what you had for breakfast.) But all media formats are quality-neutral–they’re only as good or bad as the purposes that people put them to. And as with any social network, Twitter is only as good or bad as the people you encounter there.

The Twitter I spend time in is low on narcissism and high on interesting opinion, fun chatter, and helpfulness. (I’ve taken to turning to Twitter for assistance with everything from tech troubleshooting to thorny trivia questions.) In an odd way, it reminds me very much of what CompuServe forums were like back in the 1980s and early 1990s. It’s an ongoing conversation between lots of people (including ones you know, and ones you don’t know) on almost every imaginable topic. It’s just that Twitter moves a whole lot faster, and the 140-character limit keeps the discussion short and to the point.

I’m not claiming that my Twitter is the same one everybody else experiences–in fact, one of the best things about Twitter is that it’s different things to different people. I mostly hang out with people I’ve never met in person; other folks I know largely use it to connect with friends and family. The multitude of clients and sites enabled by the Twitter API let every user customize Twitter to his or her liking, and allow the service to be used in ways that its creators never envisioned.

There’s no question that Twitter moves in mysterious ways. The company’s managers clearly has a grand strategy that it chooses to not fully articulate. That’s okay by me, and I cheerfully leave it up to them to figure out how to make money and when to cash out. Mostly, I hope that they continue to make the service both easier to figure out and richer in functionality; until recently, it’s seemed a little stuck in time, but recent interface tweaks and new features like saved searches are a good sign. And it will be a great day, of course, when Twitter figures out how to banish the Failwhale once and for all.

Even if Twitter thrives, Dave, you may still prefer Facebook. If so, you’ll have lots of company–one of the great things about the Web is that it’s got something for everybody, and there are few instances in which anyone has to be a reluctant user of anything.

David Worthington counters:

You’re correct in saying that the Web has something for everybody, and that’s great. Twitter has provided an innovative new paradigm for messaging, as earlier applications like ICQ did for instant messaging. But what Twitter does is a feature–not the basis for a lasting business.

My Facebook love was part of a broader argument. Facebook is just another example of a product that integrates microblogging, and it will not be the last.

Laconica, an open-source Twitter clone, essentially does the same thing. Its APIs (application programming interfaces) are consistent with Twitter, so applications that work with Twitter feeds could work with it as well. Throw a little bit of scaling behind a server, make the search a little more robust, and you’ve got a Twitter.

Twitter has started something, but it could very well find itself being the next ICQ–an innovator turned wallflower. CompuServe’s forums no longer exist for a reason, and when was the last time that you used ICQ?

Harry McCracken concludes:

Listen, I’m not claiming that Twitter has a lock on long-term success. ICQ is a good object lesson, since it created a category and was beloved by nerds–but it stayed too nerdy even as AOL, Microsoft, and Yahoo introduced similar services that were easier to figure out. But if I had to identify a current service as today’s ICQ, I might vote for the possibly-too-powerful FriendFeed.

At the moment, Twitter is so white-hot that Facebook is trying to reinvent itself into something that looks a lot more like Twitter. I’m not sure if that’s such a good idea, and a lot of Facebook fans seem to agree. Facebook’s appeal comes in part from all the stuff it lets you do; Twitter is about keeping things really simple. (I like Twitter in part because I can dart in and out in a couple of minutes when I’m taking a break from work, but two minutes isn’t enough time to do much of anything in Facebook.)

Mark Zuckerberg and his compatriots at Facebook are at least as smart as the Twitter guys, and they’ve got far more users–if Twitter should worry about any rival rendering it irrelevant, Facebook is probably the one. But I think it’s telling that a bunch of services have set out to be a more powerful Twitter alternative, and none of them have truly caught fire. To grow, Twitter is going to need to maintain its appealing minimalism while adding more functionality and making it easier for new users to get started. Oh, and making money wouldn’t hurt, either. It’s going to be a major challenge for sure. But I think the company has as much chance of striking the right balance as anyone out there.

Okay, we’ve had our say. Please jump into the debate…


Read more: , ,

35 Comments For This Post

  1. vrypan Says:

    Twitter, the service, is overhyped. Twitter, the activity and user base, not, it’s not.

  2. Mark Bean Says:

    If you like to talk about yourself – choose twitter. If you like to talk to others – choose FriendFeed.

  3. Andy Says:

    No doubt Twitter is overhyped by media coverage and web fanboys alike.
    I bet no one’s gonna pay to send some tweets, but what else is there to make a buck? Sure there’s no worries now with a new VC round and the media coverage will continue. But how to make a business out of microblogging. Honestly that isn’t much more than gossip.

  4. Toby DiPasquale Says:

    Worthington’s base assumptions are invalid. Nobody’s ever made money from running an IM network and yet none have ever shut down. Twitter will persist whether or not they ever make money because netizens find value in it and that value can be leveraged in other ways to generate revenue. Remember that Google had no revenue stream for a very long time, as well. Also, the state of the overall economy matters little as $25MM is basically nothing; Facebook has raised 10x that amount and they have the same $0 revenue stream.

  5. thinksketch Says:

    I think Twitter as a concept is extremely important. I don’t know if Twitter itself will necessarily be the platform to stick around as THE talk of the town, but the things that are happening on their platform have only begun to make history.

    Here are two of my essays that offer examples of why I think Twitter is important:

    AlphaTweeters “sell out” for free cars?: How to save social marketing from spam:

    From microblog to Network Protocol: How Twitter will redefine the Internet:

  6. David Worthington Says:

    @ toby AOL made a lot of money off of AIM. The guy that accomplished that works for Facebook now.

  7. PEZ Says:

    Corporate Twitter accounts sounds like a great idea. A bit like a Product page on Facebook. I’m sure companies will be wanting to pay for that.

    Twitter is underhyped still I think. The revenue streams are there for anyone who can grow this fast. No worries.

    I really don’t see the comparison to ICQ or the explanation for what it was that happened to ICQ. To me what killed ICQ was that the ICQ client leaked memory like hell and rendered the computer useless. You simply couldn’t use it for many, many versions. That won’t happen to Twitter for sure. This or that client can start misbehaving, but people will have plenty of clients to choose from if so.

  8. Tom Cummings Says:

    Twitter is the Friendster of microblogging.

  9. wildweb Says:

    Everybody claims to be so damn busy. But somehow in the world of Twitter, people seems to make time to read Tweets that have no relevance or value. Economists like Adam Smith who wrote about the labor theory of value would likely contend that the effort required to read inane Tweets will eventually sway “followers” away from those who post them. Smith would likely contend that after the fad aspect passes Twitter could thrive as a communication medium if we all develop socially acceptable ways to PUSH BACK on the ego-driven, annoyingly irrelevant Tweets. An “Invisible Hand” so to speak.

    I propose that the Twitterazzi (you and your followers) come up with a Tweeting mechanism to employ social pressure to lessen the number of pointless or narcissistic Tweets. For instance, if David Worthington posts something like, “Hey, I’m having hot cocoa with my Captain Crunch,” those of us who follow David could reply, “WC?” or “WGAS?” “WC?” might mean, “Who Cares?” and WGAS? might translate to, “Who gives a sh**? Or “TFWMT” which translates to “Thanks for wasting my time.” The idea would be to NOT tell people what these acronyms mean. Rather, just let people figure it out. The same way many parents figured out that POS means “Parent Over Shoulder.” Over time, as we demonstrate that we don’t want our time wasted with pointless banter, the Twitter “market” will correct this inane behavior.

    Anyway, I gotta go. I need to go Tweet about something really important: Peeps! (


  10. Seth Says:

    Twitter is just misused — the technology itself cannot be blamed. This Web site, Twitter Backlash, chronicles all the abuse of Twitter by celebrities and politicians and people trying desperately to be “cool”.

  11. photohand Says:

    Twitter has been hijacked by marketers – corporate and SOHO types. Fast Company gave a funny example of this. Wachovia Twitterer responded to the Starbucks Twitterer. Starbucks had said, “It’s possible to make a Vivanno with soy, but there is dairy in the whey base. Nutritional info is for standard drinks only.” Wachovia replied, “On behalf of my fellow bankers, thanks for keeping us moving along!”

  12. Rich Naran Says:

    I feel it’s overhyped because much like when blogging caught on many people don’t know how to leverage it positively in their lives. Now you have every huckster crawling out from under a rock offering to teach how to leverage Twitter for business and life. Of course lets not forget the how to get thousands of followers. As if I am going to sit and read all of those tweets.

  13. michaelsicurello Says:

    Are you a Twit if you use Twitter?

    Is twitter wearing any clothes?

    My Mom told me not to twitter my life away.

    These are VERY IMPORTANT issues that MUST be explained if I am going to be able to continue my existence!

    Or I could watch another episode of American Idol.

    Golly jeez this has turned my whole day upside down.

  14. Roshini Rajkumar Says:

    I’m about 6 weeks in to my Twitter experience. After thinking this was just one more thing I didn’t have time to do, I jumped in. I admit now I may be more into Twitter than I care to admit. I don’t Tweet all the time, but I love checking updates from “out there.” I am even planning an “Ode to Twitter” blog on my website.
    That being said, the main thing I love about Twitter is how it makes the global reality more personal. I’m following people on the other side of the world, and they’re following me. Truly awesome how this is broadening the world to me! Twitter helps to attack ignorance by giving each of us a very focused and personal tool to learn about people next door even better and people in other countries on levels we might not have imagined in the past. Hard to measure the huge value Twitter brings to expanding our knowledge base.

  15. dalsr Says:

    twitter is a VERY powerful tool. and it could be used to PERFECTLY target peoples interests .

  16. Marc Says:

    Yes of course it is over hyped. Those who think it’s not are probably new to the Internet, i.e.e they got a broadband account sometime within the last 5 years.

    The rest of us, who’ve been online from 1998 and earlier know that this is *yet another* fad.

    It went like this.

    < 1998: BBS systems, IRC and Usenet and Email allow people to communicate instantly. This is going to spell the end of international phone calls, and probably phones altogether.

    1998 – 2001: Build your own homepage – wow everyone can be a content provider! It’s the end of magazines and TV!!!
    Geocities (got bought by Yahoo)
    Tripod (now owned by Lycos)

    2001 – 2005: Blogs arrive. Online diaries. Again the end of journalism, the average man can have his voice heard! The reality is now the most popular blogs are professional enterprises. (now owned by Google) (now owned by Yahoo)

    2005 – 2007: Social Networking. Yes the next big thing. Who needs friends? Lets all have a less in how NOT to design a web page. Lots of annoying background music, wow. (Now owned by Newscorp) (now owned by AOL)

    2007 – Now: Facebook, Digg and then Twitter. Who will pay loads of money to own them before the users eventually get bored and move on? I wonder!

  17. Taff Says:

    Twitter is on the whole a forum to promote oneself and for people who have nothing better to do. What happened before Twitter? Nothing really different, apart from people had more time to interfae with actual people. When Friendster first started it was like Twitter – a ne phenomenon, but look at it now, a site for social pariahs. I enjoy reading that Twitter will overtake newspapers…well likes of the WSJ and the NY Times have professionals working there rather than bloggers – who are in truth people who think that the world wants to know what they think – they dont – and when Twitter starts to charge, a new Twitter will emerge, and then another one. Facebook was designed for people to connect with REAL friends, and the people who are no wbored with FB are those who probably dont have that many REAL friends and want another forum to bore people with their day to day goings on. 140 characters to tell me that they love their cat – seriously!

  18. kittiegeiss Says:

    what i’ve observed over a few years consulting businesses on their brand strategy is that the #1 key to success is utility, followed by service.

    clearly twitter offers a utility – it couldn’t have grown so fast if not – even if that utility is still in the early childhood stage of development. so there’s nothing but potential there. as for service, this too is constantly being improved – by twitter, as they improve functionality and availability, and for twitter, as developers create new ways to interface with the service.

    as long as they continue to focus on utility to maintain and grow relevance and improve service to reduce complaints and even delight their users, i have no doubt that twitter will be around, and be valuable, for many years.

  19. Jason Moffatt Says:

    Twitter just made me some scramble eggs, poured me some Sierra Nevada Pale Ales, and sprung $200 for a call girl.

    Hype or not, similar to a Doobie Bros. song…

    “Twitter Is Just Alright By Me, Twitter Is Just Alright Oh Yea!”

  20. Melanie Says:

    The only way Twitter is overhyped is the way people are analyzing it SO much to the nth degree. Lighten up people! Why does everything have to have some deeper meaning or money making mechanism? wildweb- so what if David Worthington posts that he likes having hot cocoa with Captain Crunch? what if someone following him reads it and wants to try it…and ends up liking it. Communication between people on the internet does not have to be on topics that are considered “important”, and just because you are sharing what you are doing/eating/thinking with other people does not mean you are narcissistic. The world is becoming less and less concerned with the simple things in life, and Twitter helps us to realize these things and take joy in them. As long as these tweets have value to the person writing them and to the people reading them, then I don’t understand what the big deal is. I guess some people just think too much about everything to enjoy the simplicity of a simple microblogging tool.

  21. Eddy Burnett Says:

    Twitter is at fork in the road. It’s time for them to focus on monetization or else they will eventually become irrelevant. The reason is that they don’t have the necessary infrastructure to keep their product stable. Yes, marketers and the like have been trying to monetize Twitter(example: TwitterHawk). But even those products end up incredibly limited due to connection timeouts(Fail Whales). Over the past month I have been involved in writing a .Net wrapper for the Twitter API and trying to come up with new ways to use Twitter to develop a business. Frankly, until you can get consistently reliable connections to Twitter, do anything along those lines is a pipe dream.

    Without monetization, how are they going to upgrade their infrastructure?

    That being said, the same holds true for Twitter itself. There are ways Twitter could monetize. If they took the Twitter concept(Keep it simple) and applied to different web concepts that are already in place, they would see money returns. Take for example, online auctions/classifieds. Twitter could easily build a simplified version of ebay that could include real time auctions. Simple listings and flat rate fees would be a huge hit. Although the world is ever more technically savvy as a whole, for the majority of users, ebay is a maze and selling is has a steep learning curve.

    Twitter already has an audience, they need to take what is popular, simplify it for the user, and add it to the Twittersphere.

  22. someguy Says:


  23. Charles Penoi Says:

    Twitter could evolve its own aesthetic to become a kind of global haiku. Observe the efforts of the professional mononlogist, Josh Kornbluth.
    joshkornbluth::: Must : Escape : Intense : Gravitational : Pull : of : Apartment :::

    I love this guy.

  24. Matt Moggridge Says:

    It’s one of those ‘who cares?’ answers as far as I can see. Yes, it is useful for journalists and it’s quite interesting following the odd celeb (odd being the operative word) but, like most things (except for water, food and oxygen) we could do without it. I think the name, Twitter, is the most irritating thing about, er, Twitter. The idea of ‘twittering’ conjures up old women gossiping behind the net curtains, and the fact that there’s now the ‘Twitterati’ implies that there might also be an electronic Twitter underclass in the rest of us. But then the internet is full of stupid names: Google, for heaven’s sake! Yahoo! What the hells’ going on. The internet and the nerds behind it like to be considered trendy and of the moment. I used to think that the trendy, upbeat words were simply there to conceal the innate sadness of being sat in front of a computer screen, as I am now, answering a question about a website called Twitter. Oops! I’m the sad one! Hell, we’re all sad! My suggestion? Log off. Now. Go get some exercise. Roger and out.

  25. Janet Hulstrand Says:

    I think tweets are almost always approximately as interesting as the people who post them.

    Which in some cases is not at all. And in others, very!

    I love Twitter, and I hope it stays alive and well, as a useful tool for millions of good people who are trying to get worthwhile messages out to their neighbors and friends around the world. (Those they know, and those they don’t know yet.)

    One of the many things I love about Twitter is that it is one very effective and easy (for us) way to make our big and overwhelming “global world” feel, and function, more like a global village.

    As in all villages, there are some neighbors you love. Some neighbors you hate. And some you learn to just ignore.

  26. Karl Foxley Says:

    I think Twitter has a place but it is way over-hyped! and for those that use it in a way that is to my liking are welcome interruptions to my day. However, I have just as many people that add nothing to my day and send me very badly disguised affiliate links for all sorts of ‘Get Rich On Twitter’ and ‘Get Thousands Of Twitter Followers With This Trick’ type trash.

    My point is, who am I to say how people use it… for example, should you auto DM or not,? I don’t have the answers but I do know that if I don’t like what someone is doing on Twitter I can simply stop following them with just one click…

    There are better ways to build a brand and make money online than Twitter… it has it’s uses but is seriously over-hyped.. (my opinion is Tumblr is a much better platform).



  27. Srijata Chakravorti Says:

    If I step away from the impersonal strictly into the personal, common people like I can have no use for twitter. It’s for celebrities, journalists and companies to improve contact with fans, and the only other thing it needs are gushing fans who would waste their bandwidth checking what their favourite filmstar had for breakfast. Now that Facebook has included status updates through mobile too, it makes a whole lot more sense to share my life through that.

  28. PEZ Says:

    Janet, “tweets are almost always approximately as interesting as the people who post them.” Word! I retweeted it: =)

  29. Joan Weinberg Says:

    Twad nauseum and twamen.

  30. Esther J. Williams Says:

    To David, Harry and all commentors, thank-you very much for enlightening me on Twitter’s value. It really helps to read what others are saying, it widens my scope and inserts some sense or logic into this new form of communication. I have been beginning to wonder what the hell I got addicted to it for. Twitter is addicting. It steals valuable time away from my day, I see a Failwhale pop up constantly during heavy use and the tweets are full of SEO and MLM fiends trying to make millions off the internet. I am an artist, I like to make posts about art in the world and show my latest art and discuss philosophy of life. That’s just me, I use Twitter to hope to connect with people on a lighthearted basis and learn some technology or bit of news in the world. Twitter has become a porthole to see the world from our monitor and to keep a pulse on the current events. Beyond that, it is a place to chatter even if it is what color underwear you put on today. Now, I feel silly saying that, but the users of Twitter don’t give a damn about the implications of what they said does to others. It’s a form of expression to many and it’s a form of seeking money to businesses plus it’s a form of helping with valuable advice to many also. I do think Twitter is a pulse rate of people’s thoughts and if you read them, you get a feel of how the world is doing today. I think I will go check it out right now, I need my fix!

  31. Georgia Librarian and doctoral student Says:

    I will say this…for all of the attention it’s getting,Twitter is a seriously limited app. I think that within those limits, a lot can be done, but it is not really worthy of all the hype.

  32. Greg Says:

    @David Worthington, Twitter does not have to move to a revenue model any faster than it’s VC’s and management want it to. It’s their cash, they are extremely extremely smart, very rich and are experts in their fields.

    If they want to concentrate their resources in expanding Twitter’s reach before they implement one of the many revenue generating models available to them then that’s great(and their choice).

    You trying to tell them how to maximize their returns on capital is very ignorant.

  33. Sean C Says:

    All hype is over hype

  34. marshal sandler Says:

    In many respects I think all micro-blogging apps are over hyped-they seem to be a play-toy for the Tech Community without a real appeal to the general public they may just become a widget on the desktop, spitting out nothing but a head lines no deck no real content-i think it is easier to monetize 70 well written articles from A Seth Godin than 140 “Character’s !” from people like myself-HEH

  35. Feexslelp Says:

    Good day gentlemen !

    As I see , we have here discussions on
    various methods of making money . I’m a rich person, and
    I’m in one theme for a long time –
    it is a high yield investment program. To tell the truth, I do it successfully.
    I guess this topic is ambiguous , and it may raise a flame.
    If I fumbled , please, admins of this forum, transfer my posting to the correct place.

    But the anyone who are interested stable high income please may visit visit my web site .

3 Trackbacks For This Post

  1. Top Posts « Says:

    […] Is Twitter Overhyped? A Debate. (Please Join It!) [A NOTE FROM HARRY: Introducing a new Technologizer feature–T-Debates! In this inaugural one, Dave Worthington and I […] […]

  2. Amazon Launches a URL Shortener | Technologizer Says:

    […] have argued that Twitter is overhyped, but I acknowledge Twittering as an activity will continue to be influential on how people the Web. […]

  3. Facebook to Implement User Names | Technologizer Says:

    […] Facebook. I get spammed on Twitter, and now to a lesser extent, Myspace. Adding user names is that latest of many smart decisions Facebook has made to evolve itself. Share/E-Mail |  Read more about: Facebook, […]