Is Twitter More Like Top Chef, BSG or American Idol?

Categories: Internet TV

Written By

April 18th, 2008

Twitter.comIn this week's off-topic post, I will turn back to my one true love (and no, I don't mean Summer Glau), online products and services.  Or in this case a commentary on the current state of buzz surrounding some social networking services.

But so as not to be absolutely and completely off topic I bet most of you had no idea that Bravo's Top Chef crushes Battlestar Galactica ratings-wise.  Wednesday night's airing of Top Chef drew nearly 2.6 million viewers and had a 1.4/4 rating in the 18-49 demographic. 

I am a guy who likes relative comparisons using data, sometimes any data.  There are about 614 stories in the Google News index for "Top Chef" over the last 30 days.  Fewer people in the US actually availed themselves to the initial Friday 10pm airing of BSG last week than Top Chef (by about 45%) and yet BSG has about 45% more stories in its index over the last 30 days with 1,036.   But as we know, buzz does not always turn into advertising dollars.

I bring any of this up because there are more stories over the last 30 days about Twitter than either BSG or Top Chef with 1,561 stories.  I understand in a way why's Jason Calacanis wants a Twitter board seat.  And I understand why venture capitalist Fred Wilson (whose VC does have an investment in Twitter) is so big on it too.  On the Internet, if you have a hot product with buzz and you time it right, somebody will pay you a lot of money.

As for Jason, there are about 150 stories referencing Mahalo in the Google News index over the last month, but around 25% of them are just stories from Hawaii with the word Mahalo or mentioning the band "Hello Mahalo", but from a buzz perspective, Twitter has more than 10x the buzz of even without taking out the 25%.   Kind of sad really, because Mahalo is targeted at the mainstream.  BTW, the mainstream isn't dead from a buzz perespective.  American Idol has over 14,000 entries in its news index over the last month and there are almost 125,000 items mentioning Obama.

But it all looks very familiar.  Like a remake of a movie with different actors and slight tweaks to the storyline, but basically the same movie.  Communication services are always hot.  But I'm not as optimistic for the likes of Twitter and FriendFeed over the long haul as I am even for Facebook, MySpace or potentially even Mahalo -- and I'm not really sure what those products long term prospects are.

Why?  I know already that Facebook and MySpace scale to the mainstream.  Whether that's sustainable or not, is a different animal.  Mahalo, without a doubt theoretically scales to the mainstream. The question is can it do that organically as Facebook and MySpace essentially did, or will big marketing dollars (a bad thing) be required.  I'm not sure yet.

As for Twitter (and FriendFeed) I'm pretty sure they will not scale to the mainstream at all, but that doesn't mean they won't hit the eject button in a timely fashion and sell the company for half a billion dollars.  I've seen crazier things happen on the Internet.  Much crazier.

The problems for these services - services loved by the digerati (and even me) is they go south fast when the mainstream arrives.  I saw this happen with things I loved from the 1980s and 1990s.  I used to love the Usenet discussion groups.  They were effectively rendered useless by the arrival of the mainstream. 

But the thing Twitter perhaps reminds me of the most in a way is a service called The Well.  I guess in some fashion it may even still be around for all I know, but I can say with great assurance that if it is, it has zero buzz going for it.   The trend with these services is always the same.  The early adopters get kind of addicted to them.

Then the shenanigans begin. Like what happened with Hugh Macleod - he pulled a stunt I saw happen dozens of times on The Well (and other services you've never heard of).  He quit Twitter because it was, I suppose, too much of an unproductive waste of time only to return because "too many people I do business with are also on Twitter..."  I wish I had an archive from The Well from the early 1990s.  I've seen this part of the movie more than once.

There's always some kind of a backlash as these services grow.  For instance -- it turns out Robert Scoble is not a terminator or a Cylon after all, but a mere mortal who loves himself some early adopters.  He of "it's not how many people you have following you, but how many people you follow" on Twitter fame has cried uncle!   He can follow no more. And I give him credit for at least being explicit that he ONLY wants to follow other early adopters.  New stuff is his thing.  Can't fault a guy for that.

But it does all look very, very familiar to me.   I know Fred Wilson is way smarter than me about being a venture capitalist, and everything else too, really.  But it's easy to get caught up in the buzz, and even become...a part of it. I know Fred really - and I mean REALLY - does love, and use these services.  But I still hope he pushes the eject button at the right time.  If he, the other investors and the founders of Twitter make a lot of money in the process, good for them!  But I'm pretty sure this stuff doesn't scale to the mainstream.  Because it it does, people will get Twitter-spammed with requests to watch Gossip Girl.  I don't see that going over too well with Scoble.  Or anyone else, really.

We'll see.

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