- 19 Apr 08, 09:42 GMT
Suddenly everyone is talking Twitter. Just as Facebook hit the mainstream a year ago, so the short message social network has become the media flavour of this month - to such an extent you can even find me talking about it on the Today programme.
But I'm not convinced that Twitter is really going to spread in the way Facebook did, beyond the digerati into millions of people's lives. What's more, I'm struggling to understand the business model.
The appeal of Twitter - and the thing that has persuaded me to spend more time there than on other social networks - is that it distills the essence of Facebook and chucks away most of the annoying stuff.
I'd long tired of all the poking, vampires, SuperWalls and countless applications which cluttered up what was once a clean interface. What I still value is the status updates which allow me to see at a glance what my friends - and distant acquaintances - are up to, and that is what I get on Twitter.
I first joined a year ago, then ditched it after protests from a wife driven mad by my constantly tweeting phone. I've reactivated it in the last month after noticing how many Facebook friends were linking to their Twitter updates. This time around, using a desktop application called Twhirl, and another Twitter app on my phone's browser, has made the whole service more flexible and attractive - and less noisy.
Mind you, the only people I'm really finding there at the moment are what you might call the hardcore technology crowd. I've just glanced through the list of 50 Twitterers I'm following right now, and they're almost exclusively other technology journalists, bloggers, entrepreneurs, BBC colleagues and other vaguely techie types. So I'm still visiting Facebook to keep abreast of what the rest of my social circle is doing.
Unlike Facebook, whose tipping point came as students left college and spread it through the workplace, Twitter shows few signs of breaking out of its core demographic. The non-tech people I talk to about it still don't get the point.
Now this may not matter if the million or so regular users (that's the best guess I've seen) make up a prosperous, focused community who can be served targeted advertising. But so far Twitter has not pushed any advertising at its users, and it is difficult to see where - on a service which is all about using limited space to communicate - it will find the real estate to place marketing messages.
Now despite the chillier wind blowing through the technology investment scene, Ning, a site which enables users to create their own social networks, has just raised new capital at a valuation of $500 million. It has apparently found that targeting advertising to its myriad of micro-communities is a lucrative path to follow, with each of those networks sharing in the revenue.
Ning had an advertising-based business model from the start, but it's far more difficult to introduce ads to a bunch of people who've grown used to a nice clean service, where they can concentrate on communicating. Just ask Facebook.
Apparently Twitter's managers are indeed wary about antagonising users with advertising, and are talking instead of marketing premium accounts to businesses who would use it to communicate with Twitterers like me. I don't think that is going to be any more attractive to the community.
I shared a communal cold shiver with a fellow technology journalist the other day when a PR firm started "following" both of us on Twitter. It's the eternal problem for social networking entrepreneurs. The minute they start to try to "monetise" their users, they risk eroding the very thing that this community values - clean, noise-free communication.
So I'm sure we will be talking about Twitter a lot in the coming months. But unless its founders find a way to make money from all that twittering by the end of this year, the conversation could die.
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