It is a fact known to all that use Web 2.0 tools and services that one day they will no longer be flavour of the month, or will be swamped by spam, cons and hustlers. We have just seen the death of Geocities and services such as Friendster and Friends Reunited are not once what they were.
The same will, one day happen to Twitter!
One day we will no longer be using Twitter and when that is, no one really knows, but if it continues along it’s current roadmap it will be sooner than we think.
Why do I think that, well here are the ten reasons (in no particular order) why Twitter will eventually wither and die…
Spam is already an issue on Twitter, though it doesn’t generally affect the majority of Twitter users, only those who use other tools such as Twitter Search,Twitterfall and any tool which you use to search the Twitter stream.
From what I have seen at recent e-learning events and conferences, the conference or event tag has become a trend on Twitter (I would suspect partly down to the number of Twitter users at the event or conference and the fact that most of America is asleep when the conference starts here in the UK).
What you see happening is that initially the only Tweets you see are from conference delegates or interested parties elsewhere, but before long spammers come along and corrupt the feed of Tweets containing the conference hashtag with lots of spam. I am surprised that this doesn’t happen more quickly as I would have thought the process was automated, but if your conference hashtag trends on Twitter, expect spam to follow.
The spammers realise that people use these tools to see what people are talking about on Twitter and then they “flood” Twitter with their postings which contain a link (usually to an undesirable site) and all the keywords which are trending on Twitter.
You can see this happening already on Twitterfall.
The spammer “floods” the stream with their posts containing their link and trending hashtags.
As this starts to happen more and more, we will find that searching for keywords or hashtags on Twitter will become a waste of time as the only stuff we will see will be spam and at this point we will start to look for other tools.
2. Terrible Jokes
We all like to have a laugh and one of the attractions of Twitter can be the humour that you find there. However some people takes jokes a little too far and this can annoy people, especially conference organisers who don’t want their Twitter stream “corrupted” by inappropriate humour.
This actually happened at the JISC Conference 2009, within the stream of #jisc09 tweets were a few from a Twitter user called Misc 09, who posted a series of (quite vulgar and infantile) joke postings.
Some people smiled at them, others got annoyed.
One of the issues with joke postings like this, especially if they get out of hand, is that conference organisers will stop using and publicising Twitter, so the usefulness of Twitter as a back channel at a conference will be diminished and other tools would probably start to be used such asCoveritlive or Etherpad. As a result Twitter will become less useful as a business or learning tool and will remain in the realm of the joker.
3. Fake RTs
Hasn’t happened to me, but did happen to @billt (the real Bill Thompson). To RT or to re-tweet means to completely copy and post what someone else has posted before. Generally a way of getting information around Twitter quite fast and for highlighting important information or sites.
So how does the Fake RT work, basically someone posts a tweet like this RT @jamesclay Found this really interesting site http://youknowit.is/spam others who respect @jamesclay then follow the link or even worse retweet (RT) the spam tweet.
Your reputation on Twitter will then start to fall, and as a result you may start getting blocked or ignored.
Not only will people get annoyed with the RT spam, they may start to “block” you if you RT to avoid it, so the whole benefit of the RT will be lost due to the Fake RT.
4. The Hustle
One of the disadvantages of Twitter is the 140 character limit means that posting long URLs or web addresses is generally out of the question and as a result either Twitter will reduce the size of the URL using TinyURL.com or as is happening much more Twitter clients or Twitter users are using other services to compress URLs. Personally (for example) I use is.gd to shorten the URLs I post.
However there is a problem with shortened URLs and that is you don’t know where you are going as the URL gives no indication. This unknown factor will allowunscrupulous Twitter users to send other users to spam sites, or more worryingly phishing sites or sites with a virus or trojan download.
Once this happens to too many people then people will stop clicking links and the value of Twitter as a way of disseminating good blog posts, news articles will diminish.
It has to be said that some Twitter clients will automatically decipher the actual location of a web site from a shortened URL, or people can use a URL shortening service which previews the site you are going to, it has to be remembered that one of the biggest cause of viruses is people clicking links in e-mails or on websites, just because you are careful doesn’t mean everyone is, and if they get bitten they may well stop using Twitter. Once too many people stop using Twitter, the less useful it becomes.
5. Identity Theft
We know out there there are real celebrities and there are fake ones. For whatever reasons some people like to pretend they are a celebrity and post as though they are that celebrity. Now in terms of someone like Darth Vader it can be quite amusing, however for others including you, having someone post as you through a fake Twitter account could cause damage to your online reputation. It could also result in damage to your offline reputation.
6. Cons and Scams
There are some unscrupulous people out there and it won’t be long before there are lots of them on Twitter trying to con you out of your money. We already know about the 491 scams out there, the lottery scams, the freeipods and other cons that we get in our e-mail. True most sensible people know that these are scams, they ignore these cons, but unfortunately enough people don’t, so thescammers and con artists keep trying. Once they “discover” Twitter expect to see the 491 cons, the lottery scams and all similar things start to appear in your Twitter feed. Either we’ll get fed up with the stream of pointless cons and scams and leave, or weaccidentally get our fingers burnt and never trust Twitter again.
7. Trojans and Worms
As with the hustles, it won’t be long before more unscrupulous people start populating Twitter with links to malware, Trojans and video sites which require downloading a codec (which as it happens is a nasty piece of malware). Or infecting profiles with worms and other nasty things…
Well I say it won’t be long, we’re already there!
Over the Easter weekend as reported by ZD Net
During the weekend and early Monday, at least four separate variants of the original StalkDaily.com XSS worm hit the popular micro-blogging site Twitter, automatically hijacking accounts and advertising the author’s web site by posting tweets on behalf of the account holders, by exploiting cross site scripting flaws at the site.
What this shows is that Twitter is already under attack from worms and trojans.
As Twitter becomes more and more popular, it won’t be long before it gets swamped by worms and trojans. Once we’ve been infected we probably won’t go back and one day it might be too much for us all and we’re all go and leave and move onto the next thing.
At the moment young people don’t get Twitter and use Facebook instead. But we don’t have to go too far back when they were all using Bebo and it was the older generation that were using Facebook. Once the Google Generation (I know I shouldn’t use that term, but it fits here) got hold of Facebook, it all went a bit pear shaped. As a result I am seeing less and less people use Facebook for professional conversations and support their work and more of them using Twitter. But soon that Google Generation will “discover” Twitter and move enmasse to this “new” service and swamp it.
What does this mean, well look at Digg. When the social bookmarking site Digg started, the real focus was on tech news, though you could find the odd story here and there. As Digg got more popular and more successful, many felt that the “quality” of the front page stories was diminished and swamped by “popular” stories. Many Digg users moved on and the teens moved in. Once you start looking at the comments in Digg you start to realise the age of the users and feel old. This could happen to Twitter, as it becomes fashionable, the teens move in and the core users move out. What then happens is when the teens move on to the next fashionable site, well there’s no one left using Twitter.
9. Feature Creep
One of the reasons I started to dislike Facebook was the feature creep (I know some would argue that this was the reason for the increase in popularity of Facebook). I found the increase in social, gaming and downright weird features and applications made Facebook less useful as a communication and networking tool. After having had too many zombies thrown at me, poked to the point of pointlessness, asked to join obscure groups and fan pages, requested to take the same Quiz on Indiana Jones at least a dozen times; I took the decision to useFacebook less and less. I probably now log into Facebook about once or twice a week.
So what has this got to do with Twitter, well one of the reasons as far as I am concerned that made Twitter successful was the simplicity of the concept. Post what you’re doing in 140 characters (or less). No zombies, no poking, no quizzes, just plain communication and conversation.
However this is not enough for some people and we’re starting to see added features, though these in the main don’t come from Twitter but come from third party developers. We had Twitter Groups and I like others felt that this was an extra “feature” that we didn’t need, others disagreed. Problem was that my Twitter stream started to fill with requests to join various groups rather than the conversation I was use to. As we get more from third party developers (over 600 Twitter tools out there now) we start to see a large number of tweets within the Twitter stream which are not presence statements or conversations, but purely automated postings from third party tools that say one thing or another…It’s not just third party tools, it’s also services that people use that automatically post to Twitter, for some this is signal and for others they’re noise, but we can all agree that if that was all we ever saw in Twitter we might as well not use Twitter and use a proper RSS reader.
One of the features that Twitter doesn’t have is a filter, you can either block someone or not, no way to filter your stream easily (there are third party tools that do allow you to do this).
Once too many people start using these tools, you may find that your Twitter stream becomes just a stream of announcements from people using these tools, and as a result you may well stop using Twitter as it will have outlived its usefulness.
10. Spam Followers
Though some of us are more discerning about who we follow, a lot of users on Twitter are not. I discussed in a previous blog post about whom and why I follow people. However there are lots of Twitter users who if you follow them, they will follow you back.
Spam Followers know this so follow lots and lots of people, knowing that a fair few will automatically follow them back. Of course what they then do is start posting their spam links to their Twitter stream, this appears of course in the stream of the poor Twitter users who follow the Spam Follower and before they know it they are clicking spam links.
Another problem with Spam Followers is they start to send lots of direct messages to you as well, again with links to spam sites.
Part of the issue is the current focus on the number of followers that you have, it would appear that people feel the more followers you have the more kudos you have on Twitter, it has become competitive even outside the celebrity circles.
So will Twitter fail and disappear completely?
Eventually, yes Twitter will go the same way as other services have in the past, some diehard users will continue to use the service, but doesn’t mean it will always be there. Where is Geocities now?
None of the above are the result or fault of Twitter itself, just the result of a great and popular service. The time it will take will depend on how Twitter can slow down or stop any of the above happening, but it is not a question of if the above will happen, it is a question of when.
49 thoughts on “Ten reasons why Twitter will eventually wither and die…”
All agreed. Only thing I’d add is that much of this is also true for email too and people stick with that. It really comes down to the simple question of “where is the conversation happening” – wherever that is, most people will live with the foibles until enough people move to a different place. Nothing specific about that with twitter and that’s the point – twitter is not a panacea, it’s a conduit of the moment. It might continue, it probably won’t beyond a year or so longer would be my estimate, although like geocities, the venture capital etc would probably keep it on life support for 5-10 years after that…
Well, my scepticism has been prooved too harsh with Twitter still growing (more slowly) a year on. 🙂
I’ll avoid making a new prediction as my crystal ball is clearly fake, but there is a reason missing I think from the list-
Something better comes along
could also add
company makes financial mistakes especially in conversion to a new business model to make money, and goes belly up
Another, more technical, reason Twitter will have to change if it is to be sustained, is that it is currently not a distributed means of communication. Right now, we all send messages to a centralised point (Twitter’s API), which then sends them on. Which is why we still have outages that affect the entire service. If there’s a problem at Twitter, the communication stops.
Look at any successful, sustained method of communication such as the phone system or email; in fact, think about any effective utility, like electricity – they are all based on a distributed model that guarantees service to the majority of users even when a single or even multiple points fail.
Identica and the Open Micro Blogging specification are a better model of this than Twitter.
Interesting post, thanks James.
I am currently using Nambu (Mac Only) as my main twitter client and it features a URL preview – you hover over a shortened url and it will show the full web address.
This takes care of number 4 . . .
Briliant post, James, thanks. Have been pondering much of this myself but your arguments are convincing. Perhaps a campaign to move to preview tinyurls might be a little positive step, but it won’t halt the decline.
All very valid points, James.
This makes it very important, I feel, to ensure that when we encourage students to use tools, we encourage them to think about what they’re using a tool for & the features they value, so that as one tool starts to get spammified, they can recognise those features they felt were valuable, & move on, rather than focussing so much on the name …
My best guess is that twitter growth will tail off. Its user base will change, but twitter will eventually find its audience and its sustainable community.
Users will stop mass following but will build small and discrete groups of followers. Number of weak network links will decrease in favour of fewer strong network links.
Nature of the conversations will change.
I do a bit of RT-ing, usually for a contact or a twitterfeed type thingy. As you see I am not well up on PCs or internet really, I fumble my way around. (Like many people I would think). So how would an unaware tweeter on twitter know when it was a fake/spam RT? The example you give did not mak it clear to me. Maybe I should stop all RTs. I do usually visit the RT addresses, so does that cover me? Life on twitter becomes more complicated by the day, all the spammers and worms etc. Is it worth the bother I wonder. Follow Friday is a pain in the butt these days also.
The last thing I want, being an ordinary person, not business or celeb, is a string of tweets trying to sell or advertise anything, I have facebook for that. Also ‘google’ if I did need anything.
Interesting post. I would add one item to consider. Just read an article that said that Gen Y adoption of social networking and social media has hit a plateau…and now the majority of the growth is among the boomer set.
Could it be that we are coming to a point where even the most “connected” and least “privacy concerned” subset (the Gen Y-ers) are feeling swamped with info and overextended in their cyberspace presence?
Will Twitter become a victim of this? Maybe.
There are days when I love Twitter for the information I can take away…but there are others where I feel like I am clinging to a lifeboat in an ocean of tweets…
Thanks for the post.
I’m not so sure of some of your conclusions. Comparing Twitter to GeoCities is a stretch — GeoCities withered because there were other, superior ways to achieve the same results without using the service. The same could happen to Twitter, but that assumes someone else will develop a superior Twitter-like service – and that Twitter will not evolve itself to become that service.
The rest of your points all sound like the things pundits were spouting off about the internet in the mid 1990s: “It is a fad, it will pass, once the novelty wears off this internet thing will just fade away.”
As someone else has pointed out, experts are continuously claiming eMail is dead. Yet eMail is still widely used. In fact few internet users could get along without it, since almost every secure site or e-commerce transaction requires a valid eMail address to register. Know anyone that doesn’t have at least one or more eMail addresses? Not bad for a dead technology.
Yes, Twitter will change over time and it may be replaced by some new technological advance. The essence of Twitter — the ability to instantly exchange information and ideas with others — will continue for a very long time. Once you “get” Twitter, it becomes so ingrained that not having the ability to stay in communication with friends and strangers becomes very frustrating.
Twitter — or something very much like it — will be around for a very long time.
Good article. IMHO many ills arise from what I think is “follower collectors” …those who see the NUMBER of followers as more important than the QUALITY, and the audience more important than the conversation. Should this continue, Twitter may devolve.
I agree Twitter is the next big thing and may flounder or flourish depending upon how Twitter addresses these and other issues mentioned in your article.
The ability for Twitter members to have multiple accounts is an open invitation for abuse by some twits, especially spammers and snake-oil salesmen.
Twitter “follower collectors”, as fjpoblam writes, is a hot topic as some new Twitters may indeed feel that a large number of followers somehow equates to quality. Numbers equals quality is often not the case from the little experience I’ve had on Twitter.
I’d rather follow 100 good ones, whether they follow me back or not, than have 10,000 or 100,000 followers having nothing of interest to say or just twittering for their ego.
An excellent article providing good discussion and information. Thanks, James.
Good overall piece. Couple of points I’d like to address. The ‘fake RT’ thing is such a non-event that I don’t think it’s even an issue. I’m sure it’s happened and I’m sure it’ll happen again, but it’s never happened to me and I’ve never seen it happen to anyone else. Moreover, as you say later in your piece, there are a number of URL expanders that can take the surprise out of any shortened URL.
And even if somebody DID fake RT an account – say a name like @problogger – one click later you’d realise there’s no way Darren Rowse would have linked that, so you just block and @spam the fraudster, and life moves on.
Additionally, for this reason, surely fake RTs don’t get re-tweeted more than the once? Who would click on a spam link and then re-tweet it? If they do, it supports my theory that most people don’t read the shared links of the top names before re-tweeting them… 😉
I think a more realistic concern on Twitter regarding re-tweets is the mass re-tweeting of bad information. I saw this a lot during the recent worm exploits, with one or two power-users sharing REALLY PANICKY STUFF IN CAPITAL LETTERS THAT WAS COMPLETE RUBBISH, which was then lapped up and re-tweeted en masse by their followers.
Sites like Valebrity.com do a fantastic job of vetting celebrity accounts. Follow @valebrity for the latest updates.
I also don’t think spam is an issue – the reasons you list are valid but they don’t effect most users – and while I share your concerns about the network being Bebofied, I’ve got a feeling that Twitter might just be different enough to keep those pesky young’uns uninterested. Some will sign up, sure, but the lack of media-rich features like music support, videos, etc, means that they have to rely on their prose, and ‘Hw u doin 2nite m8s?’ only goes so far on Twitter.
I agree with Sheamus, young people will get no joy on twitter. I always look at profiles before following back, if they are young I would ignore or block them right away. Same with spam followers. I got a few last week, but they all had a common link in the names, so I blocked them right away. (after seeking advice from the internet hero, known as @Sheamus) ! 😉
One thing twitter excels at is helpful people. There is always someone to ask specific question to, or you can throw out a general question and get your answer more often than not, whatever the subject.
Nice piece, but I think that the Twitter community will weed all through and the cream will rise to the top. This is still very early days and eventually all the crap messes it up right now will disappear. I still believe that Twitter is the future of the Internet and will be the major paradigm shift in the next three years, just like when we said things like Amazon, YouTube, Google and Facebook will also wither and die.
Yes, Twitter is in trouble, and gossip, which has the same problems and more, obviously doesn’t stand a chance.
The demise of twitter might well be the business people taking it as a marketing opportunity, or the celebs and their huge followings. I am sure there will be other platforms for social networking, if/when this might occur.
While i think all points are valid & good, I don’t see them adding up to twitter’s demise. Like every growing site, and trend, twitter has its +s and -s, and some problems it needs to work on. Geocities went down, because they made some bad decisions…there are tons and tons of sites like geocities still doing well! But then, there are so many new social networking sites coming up so fast, and people don’t mind jumping bandwagons. For example. Hi5 had started gaining a little bit of popularity couple of years back ( especially overseas..), but now..i don’t think anyone uses that anymore!
Tom said it well. “Twitter — or something very much like it — will be around for a very long time.”
It’s not Twitter itself that is important, it’s the communication model – the river of information. What we need are better filtering and sorting tools but the present lack is not a vital flaw in the model.
The beauty of twitter is that it is entirely self organizing. You follow who you want and block who you want. You are in total control of the information you see. If your search results throw up unwanted posts, refine your search. Granted, twitter does need to stay ahead of spam in the stream but remember that 5 years ago email spam was a major annoyance and now I rarely see it anymore (at least in gmail) because anti-spam technology has gotten very good.
Finally, consider what we just witnessed in Iran and the immense resource that twitter turned out to be for citizens and journalists.
Hmm… like we move form one watering hole to another round the physical University I attend, always staying on step ahead of the younger ‘Google’ generation. I agree it is a case of ‘who is there’. If I pop my head round the door and there is nobody I want to know I move on.
Its difficult to disagree on the long term – change is almost inevitable. However, The problems you describe are the same for almost any participative system I can think of – twitter is no different.
Email is so useful that we continue to use it despite all the problems.
I think that twitter, like email, will take a lot to “kill off”
Twitter will die.
A micro-blogging service will live.
Think of it like this.
GeoCities is dead.
Websites live on…
I am also concerned that, as with Friends Reunited, the success of Twitter means that it needs to make money. As soon as it starts this, it stops being this “wonderful little (free) thing we use” to network and work, but becomes this monster that takes all your time and gives you adverts and corporate followers.
Twitter needs to be very careful on how it grows; to make sure it isn’t adding features for the sake of it, rather because there is a need to enhance the existing Twitter-experience.
This is why, if Twitter aims for paid services it will fail.
Personally I hate twitter, with a passion. But regarding point #2, conference organizers shouldn’t be using twitter as a “back channel” and then expect complete order and privacy. If you want a method of chatting, use a professional service instead of expecting everything for free!
I have been at conferences where this has happened, but the problem was that the community was using Twitter and didn’t want to use or sign up to another service. So during one of the keynotes, there was all this fantastic back channel activity on Twitter, however the official channel (being shown in the auditorium) consisted mainly of people asking why wasn’t Twitter on the screens? Of course the reason was probably #2 in that the conference organisers were not happy with profanity or spam appearing. It’s a difficult choice for conference organisers to make, but it’s challenging when the community want Twitter.
Wow. Amazing read. Thank you.
I don’t know if there will be a downfall of twitter, they have too many celebs for this to take place. They will get the spam dealt with pretty soon I think.
I tweet regularly, not too many people listen to me but some do, so I think I will continue using it. I’m glad myspace is over though. Well not over but the hype has gone. I think thats when people move on is when the hype ends.
When twitter becomes like that then we will see the celebs going somewhere else.
And what do you think about facebook? It is huge! with all the apps, I think they are going to survive.