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1 million reasons why Twitter is no better than a street corner call box

Friday, 17 April 2009 — by

Some celebrity challenges someone else to a good-spirited, very public charity face-off, where poor / sick people win. Thankfully, such events aren’t rare, often seen on TV, heard on radio, or read about in a magazine, or on the web, and now on some social network — so why all the fuss for Twitter?

Twitter logoI’m making a departure from a long-standing policy of mine, which is to not comment or write about meaningless, internet soap opera sagas and similar popular digital drivel. However, this latest syrupy plot development in Twitter’s odd and at times bizarre short life really needs some perspective, because if what I’ve read so far is anything to go by, perspective is sadly lacking.

I had to do a little research to find out who this Ashton Kutcher is. On balance, I think that ensures there’s a certain threshold of impartiality being met here.

According to various sources, he challenged CNN to see who could get one million followers on Twitter first, saying he would donate 10,000 mosquito bed nets to charity for World Malaria Day in late April if he won. All very charitable and noble.

So why is this even remotely significant? In short, it isn’t. Not in the least. Let’s be clear about what’s going on here; Kutcher is getting a huge amount of mostly free publicity, none of which will do him any harm whatsoever. Quite the opposite in fact.

Now, I’m not dismissing his charitable intentions. I think they’re excellent. But why does Twitter continually get lauded as being bigger than Jesus?

Apparently, it’s because Twitter saves lives, in reference to people using Twitter to raise awareness and alert others about earthquakes, tsunamis and other such disasters. But haven’t we been doing that with telephones and print media for many decades? Why don’t we praise the power of the telephone or the printing press?

We don’t because people have been sucked into the Twitter reality distortion field, whereby everything Twitter does is somehow exceptional, or unique.

Twitter is not unique, nor is it a life saver.

As for Kutcher, yet another celebrity on Twitter, many times more people have seen him in his various movies, so the fact that one million people are following him on Twitter doesn’t mean anything.

Consider what we’ve learned from Guy Kawasaki and Stephen Fry; do you really think you’re connecting directly with these people? Sometimes perhaps, but many of their updates are being managed by their publicists.

What really galled me was someone comparing the one million follower non-event to putting a man on the moon. In one fell swoop, the efforts of thousands, including engineers, designers, trainers, a standing army of support staff and crew, not to mention the astronauts themselves, was immeasurably diminished.

Few things are comparable to putting a man on the moon and Twitter is not one of them. Twitter is more like putting a man on your front porch, sat there sipping lemonade.

My mother dying in 2003 is significant. Twitter isn’t. And that’s where we get some perspective.

I’ll be honest, the thought of Twitter riding on the success of a charity event is quite sickening. If I was the guy behind Twitter, I would be very careful about how I position myself.

Using any media channel to promote a charitable cause that helps save people’s lives is significant, but that significance is not transferrable to the media itself, or we would have people hailing the video camera, the telephone, the radio and the television as some kind of magic-like marvels.

Technology is simply an enabler. And sadly for all those people who followed Kutcher, Twitter is no better than a street corner call box.

Do you want to know what’s really significant about all of this? Our intentions to do good, not how we choose to good, or by what means…

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Comment and be known

Peter Fletcher → Friday, 17 April 2009 @ 13:41 BDT

Hi Wayne

Just thought I’d chime in to avert a possible misconception.

You state: “What really galled me was someone comparing the one million follower non-event to putting a man on the moon”. I believe that person was me in a tweet earlier today and in which I also mused “[I] wonder how often that will get quoted.” The “man on the moon” quote – “It is like putting a man on the moon. This is changing media forever” – was verbatim from Kutcher who made the statement in a video of his “victory” and in which he questioned the ongoing dominance of old media.

As you rightly point out comparing Twitter with putting a man on the moon is indeed a stretch of the imagination. But what I took Kutcher as meaning was this event should be seen by old media as the day when new media arrived as a force to be reckoned with. Whether or not he’s correct I guess only time will tell.

Andrew Burnett → Friday, 17 April 2009 @ 14:56 BDT

Celebrities on twitter, don’t get me started!

If Kutcher really wanted to he could donate 10 times as many mosquito nets and if he was truly charitable he’d do it without any fanfare. Charity has been a huge part of my life as my father was a fundraiser for Barnardo’s, the missuse of charity for personal promotion never ceases to sicken me. I didn’t even hear that Kutcher had any charitable intentions in doing it which further proves it was secondary in the whole plot.

I’m sorry to read about the loss of your mother Wayne, I lost mine in 2001 & it is the singlemost significant event of my life.

MK → Tuesday, 21 April 2009 @ 20:57 BDT

I was skeptical of Twitter for over a year until I began using it. I’m a developer and many developers are on it – posting great finds, tutorials, links, observations too small to blog about.

With Twitter I can ask the question to the massive company like Microsoft or Adobe and they have people manning the ‘twittersphere’ for such questions.

I have found it to be an invaluable learning resource as well as flat out real-time 2-way entertainment … something the phone, TV, print cannot give me at this point.

Is the technology new? Not really, but previously SMS’ing 50K or 5 million at once was something only the phone companies could do. Not anyone can. If you cannot see the power for learning, marketing and the potential for this technology to make people themselves the “content” you will one day in the near future.

Sorry Comments are close. Quite possibly for a good reason. Share your thoughts on some of my other posts or contact me directly.

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