Monday, October 27, 2008

Twitter: potential terrorist tool, mainstream media marvel, or still just web wankers wasting time

For some reason, mainstream media's got some kind of cyber-woodie on for Twitter with several stories appearing in the mainstream in the last two days. This got me wondering why there was so much ado about Twitter and if our mainstream media outlets just might be jumping on a new Twitter hype bandwagon. But why?

It started innocuously enough with this crazy little article in the The Wall Street Journal that declared "Twitter Goes Mainstream." Funny thing about the article though--it's pretty much San Francisco-centric in its view of what constitutes "mainstream," esp. as it tries to advocate business uses of Twitter. For instance, both Zappos and cable service provider Comcast are discussed. O.K--these are like the "early adopters" and in one case, Comcast, it's a no-brainer why they would early adopt, since they provide services to the San Francisco Bay area!

For Comcast, it makes great business sense to be in the medium where a lot of your customers just might be complaining--esp. if the complaints start after they cannot get through on your regular telephone-based customer service feature!

Still, just because an online shoe company (who might want to put some resources into their website as well--bad time on it last time I was there) and an SF based cable provider are on Twitter, it's a bit of a stretch from there to the "mainstream..."

Yet it may be even more of a stretch to claim that Twitter has the potential to be a tool for terrorist attacks--or so it's claimed in a recent draft report from Army Intelligence, and reported in Spy Fears: Twitter Terrorists, Cell Phone Jihadists on the ABC News Science and Technology page (after it appeared Friday in Wired.) According to the report, military intelligence has been monitoring "chatter from Al-Qaeda-affiliated online forums" and finding that these potential/would-be/wanna-be terrorists have been trying to figure out how to use GPS devices, cell phones, and other electronic goodies to commit terrorist acts....

But the weirdness comes in when the report states that: "Twitter was recently used as a countersurveillance, command and control, and movement tool by activists at the Republican National Convention," the report notes."The activists would Tweet each other and their Twitter pages to add information on what was happening with Law Enforcement near real time."

So, now activists at a convention are now the same as Al-Quaeda affiliated terrorists.

Let's just call this one Twitter Stretch Number Two then. You'll have to read the article for the scenarios where Twitter might be used effectively by terrorists (hint: it might have more to do with cellphones than Twitter itself...)

So, of course, when I woke up yesterday, and saw this report on the CBS Early Show, I really had to think about what the heck was going on with mainstream media and why it's now rushing out to do these goofy little reports on Twitter:

Watch CBS Videos Online

Which really didn't impress me all that much, albeit that it does manage to make Twitter look like everybody might be doing it--if you're a marketing executive or some other media person (hint: lots of people really don't have time for 20 tweets a day about minutia.... or for "lifecasting" something else that the report mentions...)

One glaring thing that appears to have been left out of all these reports: Tweets are public record. Not too many people understand this aspect of social networking....

Wading in among these whacky reports was Simon Dumenco's insightful (yet slightly cranky) Twitter, R.I.P.? Or Is There Gold Buried in Them Thar Tweets? The opening salvo:
As the future of Twitter gets cloudier and cloudier, I keep thinking that it'd be really sad if Twitter died, because there'd be no way to Twitter its funeral.

Dumenco points out that even though it enjoys great popularity (albeit perhaps still among only a particular set of people) its business model remains among the missing--and what's being offered by Twitter's new CEO is a revenue model that may be based, in part, on charging companies to have Twitter streams for conducting customer service. To this, Dumenco sez "Oh, really, now? Cash-strapped companies are going to want to pay to annoy their customers? Customers are going to want to be monitored? and I have to agree. There's definitely the potential for a Facebook-style backlash among customers, and a dismissing of Twitter by businesses (which will just find a way to get around this...)

And what if Twitter can't make any money? What if, in these bad economic times, the idea of generating revenue from some kind of ad scheme, is now a dream that isn't going to come true? Dumenco brings up another point that plays to the old "we'll monetize UGC!" revenue generating (or not) model: What if not everything that flits across our screens -- computer or cellphone or whatever -- can be contorted into serving as a profit center? As I've said before: I don't think every tweet or blurp or bloop or fart that emanates from a human can or should have ads sold against it or be otherwise monetized.

Which makes me wonder: what might the CPM be on a Twitter page? How many followers must one have in order to generate sufficient return for Twitter? Will Twitter then be supported by power users who have scads of followers, and the rest of us will have to rely on their largess? Then will there be more hype about how we have to get every single connection we've ever made in our entire lives on Twitter to help support Twitter?

Or, when all is said and done, is Twitter, perhaps, just the world's biggest, geekiest online cocktail party where they forgot to charge for the drink tickets?

Just a thought....

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