Twitter turns five today, spurring a whole lot of analysts, writers and users to take a look back. But I'd like to use the opportunity to look at the service in the here and now, and maybe even into the future.
Despite the emergence of the term "social media" to describe a whole array of sites that somehow connect us -- from FourSquare to LinkedIn to Tagged and so on -- for most people social media means Facebook and Twitter. They are the two 300-pound gorillas in the space, and all the other players are just hopefuls.
But for as often as these two services are lumped together, the pace at which they are diverging can only be described as break-neck. These days Twitter behaves much more like a broadcast medium than an interactive platform, with a small minority responsible for the lion's share of the content. More specifically, 22.5 percent of members generate 90 percent of the tweets, according to a report last month from eMarketer. And if you drill down into the statistics even further, it becomes clear that a tiny minority of power users produce a tidal wave of output. It's wall-to-wall coverage just like a 24-hour TV news channel. And just like a news channel the source is a mere handful of hosts, Twitter's power users.
Today, to celebrate turning the big five, Twitter is touting a nice little celebrity-laden video. Notables from Snoop Dogg, who raps elequently about Martha Stewart, to Martha Stewart, who raps not at all about Snoop Dogg, talk about how they use the micro-blogging service. But the most telling quote comes from someone who is more Web celeb than household name. Wine guru Gary Vaynerchuk's kicker quote says it best: "I use Twitter to listen."
I got the idea for this post from a conversation I had with an old friend, Steve, who said he really preferred Twitter to Facebook. He said he liked the way people were more prone to share information on Twitter, where on Facebook it was all pictures of his friends' kids and a line about what they ate for breakfast. His comment took me aback a bit, because being more of a Facebook user myself, the pictures of kids are what I like about the service. I get the news from news outlets like the L.A. Times website, and I turn to social media for news about my friends. Clearly, Steve, like millions of Twitter's members, relies on Twitter as a source of news and information. I began to wonder if maybe my love of Facebook was just a girl thing.
But in reality, it's not fair to say Twitter is a just a guy thing. In fact both services are dominated by women, though Twitter slightly less so than men. That said, I mentioned we might look into the future with this post, and so we do. If the two social networks continue on the divergent courses they've been on in the past year, then perhaps my headline will prove prophetic, and whether it's Facebook or Twitter that dominates your life will depend on the status of your Y chromosome -- or lack thereof.
Or maybe another service will emerge that appeals to both genders.