The Tyranny of Twitter

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I am not claiming that the leadership of Twitter are tyrants, quite the opposite.


Tyranny of Twitter

Instead I got the idea for the title of the post, reflecting on an old concept that Eckhart Walther told me about when I was at Yahoo!. Walther used to talk about the tyranny of the majority in reference to web search. With search the relevance or order of a search engine results page is dependent on the the back-links and content provided on other people’s web sites.

This means that whatever is considered most relevant on the web is decided by the small proportion of the population who own a website of some sort, these people have more control over search in many respect than the search engine does. Think of these website owners as a jury and the search engine results page as a clerk of the court who reads out the verdict handed to them by the chairman of the jury. The social search projects that I worked on at the time looked to democratise web search and help counter the inherent tyranny in algorithmic search.

I was thinking about the way some people in the industry have lionised and developed a deep focus on Twitter, when I remembered Eckhart pacing a conference room in building B of the Yahoo! campus in Sunnyvale, California getting the concept of tyranny of the minority out of him in an ‘almost’ stream of consciousness.

I am increasingly seeing in social media a ‘tyranny of twitter’ in the way that agencies and experts think about the online world. Twitter is very easy to get started, its limitation of 140 characters is an advantage when a blog seems too long. Add to that the range of tools available in the eco-system from free to paid tools to monitor, measure and syndicate content.

It is no accident that Econsultancy and bigmouthmedia recently announced in their Social media and online PR report that 78 per cent of company respondents and 74 per cent of agency clients had adopted Twitter as a social media tactic. This compares to 60 per cent having an online press room, and 65 per cent creating and managing a social network profile.

Twitter is being focused on at the expense of taking a more holistic approach. If you take a holistic approach you can see conversations unfurling across media. For instance, I posted on the PR Week blog that I write and Neil Major responded on Twitter to the syndicated RSS feed postings on my Twitter account. On the other hand that response also goes the other way: my Twitter feed is syndicated on Facebook is where David Pincott typically responds to my tweets.

There is something at the core of my beliefs that goes against the deep focus that many companies are giving to Twitter. Some two and a half millenia ago, Sun Tzu looked at a plethora of elements regarding the environment on which a battle would be fought including weather, the nature of the ground and topology. Secondly, I don’t buy the ‘everything changes’ routine. I had heard it during the first dot com boom and didn’t believe it then I certainly don’t believe it now. It makes even less sense when you realise that social media requires human interaction, everything else is just wrapping.

Or as Hugh MacLeod tweeted at the beginning of this year: “People matter, Objects don’t”. That’s all you need to know about social media.

The smartest companies take a wider pragmatic approach; Radian6 has Twitter support and displays it as part of a wider viewpoint across social media services. is made up of a series of input modules including Facebook, Twitter and more traditional data gathering for CRM (customer relationship management) systems. On the free tools point-of-view Socialmention is a great example of a more holistic dashboard.

Finally the content on Twitter just may not be as valuable. Russell Davies developed Tom Coates thoughts on this:

But we were seduced by the speed and reach of twitter and started putting our fragments there instead. But bits of thought on twitter are ephemeral, they slip away from us. Whereas on a blog a fragment of thought is pinned down, tagged, permanent and can become part of a larger body of accreted thinking. On a blog the fragments can become part of something larger and slower, on twitter they get swallowed up by something bigger and faster.

Ultimately, the tyranny of Twitter is a tyranny of our own desires. Our desire for simplicity, for easy concise answers and for understanding. But life isn’t like that, its messy and complicated just like our interactions with each other.