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Monday, Jul. 20, 2009 at 5:05 pm

Is Twitter ‘Digg’ing Their Own Ditch?

By Jeff Sexton
July 20th, 2009

So here’s the 5-step scenario I keep seeing repeated:

Twitter Ditch1) A new technology or application comes out.

2) It actually gives us a reliable signal. Something closely correlated with how things actually are.

3) The technology or application catches on and gradually becomes a social force of its own – or at least a social force amongst early adopters.

4) These next two happen more or less simultaneously:

5) Either the technology adapts, or people adapt and social conventions adapt, or the “thing” takes a massive nosedive in importance.

A closer look at Step 5

Google is a good example of technology adapting. Say what you want about the peculiarities about page rank and Google’s secret algorithms, people still use Google because it works (that’s why Bing will bomb).  Even still, the plight of the link-rich getting progressively richer while the link-poor get consistently buried has at least partially contributed to the appeal of Twitter’s radical democratization of link juice. You tweet – you got juice! (more on this in a minute)

Blogging is a great example of people and social conventions adapting. Ask people who were blogging circa 2003 and are still at it today – the blogosphere has radically and totally changed. What it takes to succeed as a blogger has radically changed. And while there’s never been a shortage of people looking to declare blogging dead, the experts will tell you that blogging has always managed to evolve and adapt.

And DIGG or Technorati are pretty much an example of the “Thing” taking a nosedive. Honestly, does anyone reflexively check out Technorati anymore? Does anyone care? Of course not. Once getting dugg became an organized team sport, the quality of what appeared on DIGG started to suck, and the jig was up.

Which brings me to Twitter.  While I’m no Twitter expert, in my eyes Twitter quickly became a sort of “reverse Google” and a self-QA-ed version of DIGG. Let me explain:

  1. You type your search term into Google and a refined set of results are spit out.  The raw data/pagrank factors, and linkjuice behind those results are invisible to you, effectively hidden behind an algorithm.  You get the results, and if you’re an SEO expert, you have to then interpolate all the behind the curtain stuff.
  2. You type a search term into twitter and you see the raw data.  You see people talking about your search term.  It’s all right there for your review.  Except that you now have to abstract out the overall patterns for yourself.
  3. Because in Google-land the link-rich often just continually get richer and the link-poor get buried, what you see in Google when you type in most established and competed for search terms represents basically the Web’s “establishment” for those terms.  Usually that’s a good thing.  But when it comes to catching up-and-comers within a more established field, well, then it kinda sucks.
  4. With Twitter, your search results are nothing if not an instant snapshot of what’s au courant for that term/field/industry.  It’s literally what people are all a-twitter about.
  5. In Google, the paid searches are separated from the organic search results.  Plus it costs money to place them.  In Twitter, it costs you nothing to spam the stream and place your add into the twitter feed of anyone searching on that particular term.  As an example, check out what happened when I searched on iPod from within TweetDeck: Twitter Search
  6. Because of all the link sharing on Twitter, it’s also a new-school form of DIGG, except that your personal Twitter reputation is riding on your tweets. Constently tweet and re-tweet crap, and I’ll drop you from my twitter feed. No offense, I just want to keep a high signal to noise ratio.  That way I can reasonably effect to open TweetDeck and find a steady stream of cool stuff, without having to winnow through chaff.

Unfortunately, Twitter is now on Step 4 of my “grand scenario,” as recent offerings and news items have confirmed we are in the midst of several concerted attempts to manipulate Twitter’s signal.

The only question is, what path is twitter likely to follow: Google, Blogs, or DIGG?

Oddly enough, I think the answer is up to us and our own user behavior, which leads me to hope that Twitter will go the way of blogs.

What do you think?

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Comments (38)

  1. Well said, and I understand your points fully. I’d say Twitter is going to take the route of blogs in that it will be constantly evolving and changing, but for the most part, I agree with you on the dead part. Twitter is dead in a way, but what can I say with trends? (imo, wished they stayed smaller though…) ;)

  2. [...] Is Twitter ‘Digg’ing Their Own Ditch?…   Conversion Rate Marketing [...]

  3. One thing I’ve heard said a lot of Twitter is that it’s more of a protocol that an app. Which leaves me thinking that we have a lot of say in how we use it and what we get from it. The spammers and marketeers are getting busier by the day, but because we shape our own streams it’s possible to avoid their impact in many ways.

    All of which boosts your hope that Twitter and similar might persist and evolve like blogging.

  4. I reflexively block spammers of all sorts. I figure that’s my contribution to “shaping the stream.”

  5. Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, just internet fads. It’s great until the next buzz site comes along. When was the last time you herd someone talking about MySpace? My point. Twitter among other networking sites are a complete waist of time. Look at how many friends I have! I have more tweets then you! Get a life.

  6. I’m rather unsure that MySpace could be entirely written off as moribund, but for the sake of argument, let’s grant that its day is over. So that would leave: FaceBook, which is only gaining strength; YouTube, which is now actually showing a profit; Flikr, which is alive and well; Blogs, etc.

    At any rate, all of these applications represent tools. They may not be the right tool for what you’re looking to do at any one moment, but that doesn’t mean that they are useless, nor that they are a waist of time. They only become that when people act as if these things are a replacement for something they can’t hope to replace, like traditional media, a sound marketing and sales strategy, etc. But plenty of people DO use them intelligently and to great effect. Not nearly as many as claim to be “experts,” perhaps, but plenty all the same.

    - Jeff

  7. Funny, I was just talking about this very thing an hour or two ago with a friend.

    The one thing about Twitter is that with tools like TweetDeck we have a lot of control over what we see. If someone is spamming us with links we unfollow them.

    We’ll still see those links when we search though so it can still be a problem and something Twitter or the Twitter tools need to work out.

  8. @Mark – you’re entitled to your opinion, but I get a lot of very tangible value from Twitter. I’ve made (and continue to make) a lot of real world contacts, gained actual paying clients, and managed to keep up with conferences I’ve not been able to attend. The problem (and strength) with Twitter is that the benefits are not obvious to start with, and there is not much in the way of instant gratification. Like the best things in life, you get out what you put in.

  9. I think if Twitter was smart they would take the Google approach and change and adapt to what people want so they don’t turn into a Digg. If they want to be strong and powerful and around for a long time they will adapt. If they are too proud to change than eventually people will get bored and move on.

  10. For a general tool, not a marketing tool, I think twitter has good initial tools for fighting spam for the average user.

    From that end I think the community can be kept alive and give time for the other types of spam to be curbed and the for community to thrive.

    I certainly hope it sticks, this isn’t just about twitter. It’s about a “new” type of communication that can’t really be easily replaced by a similar product. It’s hard to flock to a second option if “everyone” is on the first one.

    I hope twitter remains a success.

  11. The separation of Twitter from other networking sites as an ‘app’ somewhere else is what I’m troubled by. Blog’s become a kind of website/microsite, but I fail to see how Twitter will reach that and if we should even want that, since it makes it all the more rigid. Yet on its own I’m still not convinced and no user except for the odd visit. Why? Because the most important aspect of Twitter is already integrated in most other social networking sites. I think social networking sites have a long way to go and will definitely become more thematically oriented and differently organised (data- and search-wise) and similarly I think Twitter might disappear into the multi(thematic)functionality of social networking sites or grow to be a specific type of networking site alltogether.

  12. @Mark Gibbens,
    I’d have to agree with you. It’s obvious that the other “Mark” just doesn’t get it.

    Like you, I’ve gained paying clients, met people who were able to help me move forward in my other ventures (music), that I would have never have met, don’t write off something just because your understanding of it is limited.

    A carpenter can do a lot more with a hammer than the average person.

    Twitter is just a tool.

  13. Hi,

    Insightful post. I agree that Twitter is headed to a spork in the road. I am composing a blogform reply to this over at (Yalebot). Thnx.

  14. [...] I read this bloggung by Jeff Sexton at GrokDotCom, identifying a Twitter crisis (essentially, spam) and laying out three [...]

  15. I understand where you’re coming from but I can’t say I totally agree with you. Sure, the information that comes up is “raw” but don’t we appreciate people’s opinions rather than a company profile? They’re even coming up with a referral engine (something like a search engine, but the ranks are based on what people say about the product/service). That in my opinion is great. But to each his own.:)

  16. Marcy,

    In calling Twitter a reverse-Google, I was not — in any way — criticizing it for that; I was simply drawing a series of distinctions between the two. In fact, as a copywriter, I LOVE the fact that the results are raw. Raw gives me context!

    The point of the article was not that Twitter was bad, but that it has now achieved a level of participation and maturity wherein we can expect to see increasingly sophisticated and sustained attempts at manipulating it for profit.

    - Jeff

  17. Actually Jeff,there are two types of users.One who use an opportunity and the other who misuse an opportunity.It is correct that the users need a sense of maturity.Social networking sites are there for use.They are powerful marketing tools if you use it right way.Twitter will come up with some measure to combat spam and maintain that high signal.

  18. [...] Posted July 27, 2009 by Bob … Tweet and you …? OK. I’m twisting the old saying to a different purpose than the original. Regardless of what you think of my weak humor, I do hope you’ll take a moment to click through to this excellent commentary by Jeff Sexton about Twitter. [...]

  19. [...] Posted July 27, 2009 by Bob … Tweet and you …? OK. I’m twisting the old saying to a different purpose than the original. Regardless of what you think of my weak humor, I do hope you’ll take a moment to click through to this excellent commentary by Jeff Sexton about Twitter. [...]

  20. It would be so easy for Twitter to weed out spam. Use google page rank methodology. If people retweet, they get points. If people follow, you get points. if people unfollow, you lose points. This way, the spam and ads are burried and the really useful items appear in the top of the results.

  21. Does anyone know how to spell waste? not waist when they talk about wasting time? Has twitter & text killed out spelling skills?!

  22. Uh, you forgot to capitalize “Not” at the beginning of your sentence Guru.

  23. I’d have to agree with Guru, that Twitter and texting are slowly killing our writing skills. Without capital letters to start sentences or periods to end them, it becomes very difficult to read people’s thoughts … unless you’re into stream of consciousness reading and writing.

    I wonder how people in the future are going to discuss serious issues when they cannot spell or punctuate to save their lives, and thus may have difficulty getting their points across and having them understood.

    But that was a huge diversion from what I really wanted to say. I feel that Twitter is the online equivalent of teenage diary writing. And in many cases, tweets almost become a form of voyeuristic exhibitionism … everyone wanting to expose what they’re doing, and everyone else wanting to find out what everyone else is doing. It reminds me of teenagers getting caught up in social pressure.

    Instead of writing about what you’re going to do or did, or what someone else did, why don’t people get a life and take action – instead of endlessly writing about it!

    Twitter Quitter and proud of it,


  24. Jeff: Since this is more of a well presented opinion on marketing and marketing spin, I will share what I said on my blog post (Barrads Blog) last week: Do you Twitter, Blog, Facebook, or Digg? Not the question to ask. Do your clients Twitter, Blog, Facebook or Digg? Your business leads should come from where your customers are looking. In marketing it is known to – always be testing – always. While we marketing professionals do see the Twitter might crash and burn EVENTUALLY, it would not be wise to make a tweet the ‘it’ in your marketing, but it should be a part of it ESPECIALLY if your customers are requesting coupons or sale info by phone and not email.

  25. This sounds very much like the talk I gave at Wordcamp Chicago, I included RSS in that list.

    Unless Twitter authenticates users, it will like go Digg rather than Google using your terminology.

  26. [...] Is Twitter ‘Digg’ing Their Own Ditch? [...]

  27. I’m seeing this topic come up a lot just in the last week or so. I think people are burned out. Facebook and Twitter are like over-exposed celebrities, the way they are covered/used in/by the media/marketers.

  28. [...] some very interesting musings on twitter’s future, such as Jeff Sexton’s piece asking is twitter is digging its own ditch?  He says some of the web’s bright and shiny new things (he mentions Digg and Technorati) [...]

  29. i like this topic
    it is an incredible post
    I think twitter has good initial tools for fighting spam for the average user.
    thanks for your sharing

  30. Twitter has still great value to quickly communicate with your followers and get your message across. Although it seems that the majority of followers rarely login to their accounts. It has probably all to do with what messages you sent them and how valuable this message is for your followers.

  31. Thanks for this great article.

  32. In opinion Twitter has already lost some of it’s luster, at least to me. Rumors spread like wild fire and I think people are starting to realized the comments are not a reliable as you would want them to be. While Twitter does offer some positives, like finding out the minute things happen, there is a lot of negativity that goes along with it. I think Twitter has a place in the online world, I just don’t think it is going to be as big as people originally thought.

  33. I think that this is going to be the year Twitter really starts to dwindle away. I am not saying “the end”, but I think the beginning of the end is a fair judgment.

    There are simply to many average people out there that do not see the benefits as apposed to Facebook, or somewhere else that they already feel comfortable.


  34. It’s impossible to make sales on twitter nowadays.

  35. step 5 is so true, that is how everything seems to go.

  36. #

    I would second Walter’s comment:

    “I reflexively block spammers of all sorts. I figure that’s my contribution to “shaping the stream.”

    The stream is what we make of it.

  37. Twitter contributes to the open source community through various projects that emerged out of the challenges they faced.

  38. [...] [...]

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Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

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