Thank God Loic Doesn't Run Twitter
Another weekend, another blog post where I disagree with Loic LeMeur. I swear, I really do like Loic and think Seesmic is one of the last original Web 2.0 ideas of the Web 2.0 wave. But he's completely wrong in this idea that you should rank search on Twitters based on "authority," i.e. how many followers you have. So wrong that I'm guessing this is another stunt to gin up "controversy." No one could be this nakedly egotistical and self-serving. Ok, no one would admit to being this egotistical and self-serving. From Loic's post:
"We're not equal on Twitter, as we're not equal on blogs and on the web. I am not saying someone who has more followers than yourself matters more, but what he says has a tendency to spread much faster."
That's actually exactly what you are saying. "Not equal" pretty much by definition means "one matters more than the other." Others have already blogged about why this is inherently anti-Web. And Scoble had a nice piece on how it's not even helpful when it comes to functionality on Twitter, with the great ending line, "Since when did 'authority' have anything to do with 'popularity?' "
But my point is it's also bad for Twitter as a business. Why? It keeps the service wedded to the Silicon Valley echo chamber, which has always been one of the biggest knocks on Twitter. The people who have the most followers on Twitter now aren't by default the most interesting or influential people, because the service is simply too new. Frequently, top Twitterers are people who already had a big platform in the techworld or were just early adopters. Twitter is far too young of a service to lock in advantages and set up fiefdoms based on that, especially now that mainstream media, actors and non-Web celebrities are just starting to discover it. Guess what Valley hoi palloi? Not everyone in the world who is searching something on Twitter cares what we think or knows who we are. Yes, as someone with nearly 7,000 followers, I include myself in that. If someone wants to know what only the most followed people think, he or she can just follow those people. That's how the service works.
The beauty of Twitter is the same thing that created some of its famous technical problems: No one's Twitter stream is the same as anyone else's. We all pick and chose who we want to follow for a variety of inherently individualistic reasons. For some people it's news sources, for others it's just their close friends, for a PR person it may be all journalists. More than any other communication and information tool, on Twitter "authority" is completely in the eye of the beholder. As we've glimpsed already with disaster coverage, the Tweets of people on the ground-- who may have no followers -- are far more powerful, informative and moving than a newscaster who may have the traditional media imprint of "authority." This is why the acquisition of Summize was so transformative for Twitter. No longer are you tied to who you follow, you can just watch trending topics and get a real time stream of what everyday people are thinking about, well, anything.
And as Twitter seeks a way to make money, it's paramount that the voice of "real people" continues to be front and center. Why? Because Twitter is likely going to develop premium services based around how companies like Zappos and Comcast and JetBlue and Dell are using Twitter now. The entire point of "ComcastCares" isn't just saving Michael Arrington's cable, but making anyone with a cable outage feel "cared for" at the moment they are most angry. My guess is Dell doesn't care how many followers you have; "authority" to them is whoever wants to buy a PC at that second. Loic's description of Sprint responding to him and not someone with fewer followers doesn't prove his point. It proves Sprint doesn't get how to use Twitter as a customer service tool. For Twitter to grow in importance as a tool companies want to pay for, it needs to become more mainstream and flat, not less.
I think we can all agree that there needs to be better filters on Twitter. Twitter CEO Evan Williams included. We're going to see that. And you know what? I'm not worried it'll go the direction that Loic suggests because Evan has shown time and time again he's more loyal to the democratic spirit of Twitter than what Valley early adopters say. He's already refused to add other features the likes of Scoble and Arrington suggested. And more to the point, he's just a better businessman than that.
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