It seems a milestone has been passed. Just three months ago, Rory Cellan-Jones and – it seemed – half the professional journalists out there who were aware of teh internets (both of them) were upbraiding me for my “pompous” invasion of poor Rory’s privacy by quoting one of his tweets on my blog. Yet last week, Rory himself thought nothing about “invading the privacy” of Stephen Fry and his 20,000 close personal friends on Twitter by doing the exact same thing.
Suddenly, everything seems to be happening at once with Twitter, with Stephen Fry’s genitalia coming in for some exposure in the Metro. Meanwhile, Greg “Parkman from Heroes” Grunberg, arguably ill-advisedly, semi-offered Wil “Wesley Crusher from Star Trek (and let’s not forget the whole leeches thing)” Wheaton a part in Heroes, which Tim Kring later went on to semi-endorse. Not surprisingly, Wil Wheaton is now trying to dampen speculation about this serious departure from the usual let-my-people-talk-to-your-people convention.
All this brouhaha appears to have caught the attention on one Tony Benn (a keen Heroes fan, I’m sure), who this evening started tweeting himself. It seems, somehow, that the tool has finally reached another level in terms of public awareness. I expect it to explode in popularity now. Mark my words; if you don’t already have a twitter account, there’s a pretty high chance you’ll have one in six months. Remember back when you used to assure people you would never set up a Facebook account?
Ironically, many (including myself) would have predicted Twitter’s death, at least in the UK, back in August when they suddenly stopped offering their free SMS service (in the US, as I understand it, phone owners pay to receive, rather than send, SMS, which means the service was always more sustainable there). The opposite appears to have happened. Looking at my own experience with the benefit of hindsight though, it is perfectly understandable. I walked away from Twitter on two seperate occasions because I found the barrage of SMS was getting too much, yet using it via an app such as TwitterFox and TwitterBerry gives you the best of both worlds – all the brevity of SMS but without the obtrusiveness. Using it as a social bookmarking tool was also not obvious in the early days, but this has become ubiquitous (to some people’s dismay). Finally, I started to see its true potential as a communications tool.
So where does it go from here? Well, it sort of all depends on whether the lynchmob mentality which predominates comments on YouTube starts to take hold. If the celebs find themselves having to wade through thousands of comments about their parentage each morning, they are likely to walk away. Thus far, this doesn’t seem to be happening, although there have been some grumblings amongst the golden people. At some point it has to pay its way and there is already talk of Twitter adding ads to the service. Will that kill it? A lot of people seem to think so but I doubt it. Once the excitement dies down though I suspect it will mature into a system for chatting with friends and accessing newswires, helped along by third party services like FeedBlitz.
For the time being though, it is a pretty remarkable phenomenon to be witnessing in real time. Come and join us!
UPDATE: It turns out that the Tony Benn who started tweeting earlier this week was a fraud. Benn has apparently now started a twitter account himself, but it was all lies. Mea culpa – I shouldn’t have been so naive. But what is the point of impersonating someone when you aren’t even being satirical?