When I was a boy growing up in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. in the 1970s Krispy Kreme glazed donuts were sold in the grocery store, in a box. Right next to the Entenmann's donuts and Danishes.
Fast forward around 30 years to circa 2000 and an amazing thing happened. Those same old glazed donuts had become something of a phenomenon. When I was working for Charles Schwab, I had a pretty good gig but part of the gig required lots of meetings. I'd hold weekly staff meetings and one of my staff would bring in Krispy Kreme donuts, and some people would just rave about them. I'd shake my head and say, "these are the exact same donuts I could buy six to a box when I was a kid for $.99!"
It was here I formed solidarity with my fellow Schwab alumni, and now ex-MeeVee CEO, Mike Raneri. Mike would sit in those staff meetings and shake his head with me and say, "It's *just* a f---ing donut!"
Another few years pass. I'd already been about eight months into what I've now stretched into a 5+ year semi-retirement, but I'd agreed to participate in a brain storming discussion for a good friend, and one of my bosses at Schwab. The meeting was hosted by the ad agency in Austin, Tx., who at that time, and during the heyday of Krispy Kreme held the KK account. They had put some amazing spin on Krispy Kreme: "We're not selling donuts, we're selling ‘joy'!" The response in my brain was along the lines of: OMFG. Unfortunately Raneri was not there so I had no one to commiserate with.
I have no problems with marketing and advertising - it works. But at the end of the day, they really were just the same old f---ing donuts I'd eaten as a boy. Our brains like sugar. Not much mystery about that.
I bring this up because there really isn't anything new under the sun. The actors and the titles of the movies may change, but the stories - they're always the same. I went through and somewhat heavily participated in the "rise of the internet" from my earliest days with a modem in 1983 through some point in 2000. From 1994-2000 I chronicled a bit of it via an electronic newsletter. From about 2000-2005 I didn't follow it so closely. It had all become fairly mainstream and while I used it in my regular life, I was not constantly checking out new technologies, installing new software, or playing with new products.
As a part of launching this website with Bill, I re-engaged with a lot of the technology. I do look at a lot of it with great wonder. So many products and services, so much content - mostly free or very cheap. The cost to provide this website beyond our time, even with hosting fees and everything baked in is almost $0.00. It's not quite $0, but it's very, very close. I think the tools and services available are awesome.
Today I read a blog post by Steve Rubel. He's considered an Internet marketing wonk. But he made me laugh. He wrote a post about whether there was going to be a mass exodus from an internet service called "Twitter", a service most readers of this blog have probably never heard of, because some user of the service you've also probably never heard of decided to give up Twitter. Note to Steve Rubel: you can't have a mass exodus without...mass.
I've played around with Twitter. Basically twitter is instant messaging except rather than being one person messaging one person, Twitter gives you the ability to broadcast short messages (140 characters) to everyone. It's all the rage among the digerati. But talking about mass exoduses is as ridiculous as it would have been to discuss whether 10,000 people cancelling Prodigy in 1990 spelled doom for the online industry.
The Krispy Kreme analogy, I believe, is a good one for this reason: the days of Krispy Kreme joy are over, but Krispy Kreme still provides a lot of utility. It's food. It's sugar and it tastes good. If you're hungry and need a snack to tide you over and give you a little energy, it still definitely provides that utility. But the days of people thinking "it's not a donut, it's joy!" have passed. But it's still a donut, and even Homer Simpson knows donuts can be useful.
In the end, the question for Twitter is, how much utility does it provide? It's still early days but I believe no matter what there will be a use for such services and they will provide utility. Right now, though, there are some people who are turning to it to get their joy. Some are discovering, just like people have done with e-mail, instant messaging, internet chat rooms, MySpace, etc, that while those services are useful, they probably shouldn't be things you lean on to get your joy. People backing off of it is indicative of absolutely nothing other than the normal cycle of the nature of things.
Many will still try to shiny services like Twitter up as "joy" and as super cool. But I wrote ten years ago about "cool" being overrated and how pretty much everything we wind up using regularly - we don't think about in terms of being cool. Real-time sports scores were cool as hell in the early 1990s. Now? I totally take them for granted. The power of the Internet is, has been and always will be in the ways it enables all kinds of communication. You can try to shine it up, put whatever spin you want on it, but at the end of the day if you build a useful communications tool, people will use it. Whether it's cool or not is completely irrelevant. But no matter, it's the cycle of things. No matter how many times I've seen this movie, I will ultimately be subjected to it again.
The reason I'm writing about any of this on TVbytheNumbers instead of my personal blog is because I thought about how I wished Hugh Macleod, the aforementioned guy who deleted his Twitter account, would someday draw up one of his cartoons for another movie I'm going to have to see over and over again. That's the movie where anytime a show gets cancelled based on Nielsen ratings, some crazed and outraged fans are going to lash out about a Nielsen conspiracy with the broadcast networks. It's completely irrational, but it's also kind of funny.
Nielsen isn't a perfect system. It has its flaws, and it's definitely a de facto monopoly, but it's not going anywhere for now, and it's not so horribly flawed that one viewer of a show that got cancelled somehow winds up equaling thirty-six CSI viewers! Bill Gorman refers to such thinking as "the tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy theorists". Someday I'd be honored if Hugh Macleod would draw a "tinfoil hat" cartoon for Bill.
Probably should've included when I originally posted: @seidman on Twitter.