Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
7/30/2009
02:40 PM
Michael Hickins
Michael Hickins
Commentary
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Microsoft Is Following Me On Twitter

I'll admit to experiencing a tiny ego frisson upon reading the email notification that Microsoft News is now following me on Twitter (and since I'll be Tweeting this, I assume someone at Microsoft News will feel the cool pleasure of a python having taken the measure of its prey).

I'll admit to experiencing a tiny ego frisson upon reading the email notification that Microsoft News is now following me on Twitter (and since I'll be Tweeting this, I assume someone at Microsoft News will feel the cool pleasure of a python having taken the measure of its prey).But that's not why I'm writing this post; this is just the most recent and overt incident that represents a trend in Twitter usage.

Another example: Network Solutions, which didn't respond to an email requesting comment about its data breach last week, tried to explain itself over Twitter.

netsolcares@Michael_Curator We took help from an outside data forensics team and closely with law enforcement see http://cli.gs/g7Sy7A #sb

I'm also getting an increasing number of reactions to my blog posts via Twitter (although I don't include my Twitter handle) as opposed to in the comments section or via email. Likewise, most of my interactions with tech company spokespeople had been via email or over the phone, and this is changing over to Twitter as well.

Maybe I shouldn't be, but I'm surprised, not so much at the phenomenon itself, but the speed with which it's being adopted.

It's been fairly well established that the rate of technology adoption has increased significantly over the past 100 years. As this chart of technology adoption rates from Argonne National Laboratories shows, it took about 50 years for the automobile (introduced in around 1900) to reach 50% penetration of U.S. households, while the clothes washer (1925) took 40 years and the color TV (1960) around 12 years.

There are several factors you can chalk up to this:

  • our overall familiarity with technological products in our midst,
  • the relative drop in the cost of technology,
  • increased availability of credit to the middle and lower middle class,
  • consumer goods industry's improved communication techniques (including better advertising), and
  • shortened lifecycles of product improvements (i.e., how much better was a washing machine in 1945 versus the improvement in color TVs from 1960 to 1980).
  • However, even the increased speed of adoption of the Internet compared to PCs ( 10 years versus 25 years) is dwarfed by the apparent rate of adoption of Twitter, which will have 25 million users by the end of the year. (I say apparent because Twitter isn't included on this chart, which was made in 2005, while Twitter wasn't invented until 2006, hard as that is to believe).

    This can perhaps be explained by looking at who were the innovators -- the first class of individuals to adopt this innovation (to use the terminology of Everett Rogers, who wrote the seminal Diffusion of Innovations in 1962).

    In the case of Twitter, the innovators were in fact bloggers -- the class of folks most likely to communicate their own adoption and thereby drive it to mass consciousness very quickly.

    You add to this the serendipitous adoption of Twitter as one of Barack Obama's principal campaign tools (also widely reported by a Twittering media) at a very early stage in Twitter's existence, and you have the confluence of technology, journalists, and politics at a particularly crucial point in history (you could say that Obama did for Twitter what You've Got Mail did for the Internet during a landmark election, a landmark recession, and landmark foreign crises).

    Back to my original premise. Twitter usage is growing phenomenally fast (David Letterman excepted), and the changes are immediately obvious. One thing I wonder, though. We were able as a society to learn the pitfalls of new technologies before they were very broadly adopted (don't dry your cat in a microwave, don't hit reply when you meant to hit forward). What are the pitfalls of Twitter, how quickly will we learn them, and at what cost to our reputations and self-esteem?

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