Nielsen Online released a report in late April, in which it argued that usage rates for new Twitter users dropped precipitously after the first month, and that this meant its growth didn’t match the early adoption rates of Facebook or MySpace.
Reaction to the study predictably fell into two groups: those who’d given up on Twitter (or avoided it altogether because of its reputation), and those who were offended that anybody would even suggest that it wasn’t something truly great. The critics seemed cool and smug. Its defenders were passionately insulted.
So I’ve got it: Twitter isn’t a technology, or a service, so tracking the numbers really won’t add up correctly. After reading all of the commentary, I understand that numbers will never capture the meaning of the phenomenon.
Twitter is more like love: you either feel it, or you don’t. Here are six reasons why they’re one in the same:
First, they’re best described by analogies that far surpass the inadequacy of the literal descriptions. Literally, Twitter is "a 140 character message distribution platform," and love is "the positive feelings two people have for one another." But the descriptions that mean more to folks are Twitter’s ambient awareness, and love’s eternal bonds. Or whatever.
Second, those amorphous descriptions are also utterly unknowable. I use Twitter for reasons that are mine alone, just as my experience of love is very personal. We might think we share an understanding of what we’re talking about, but we really only share the desire to share it. And we share our knowledge that we get it; you have to tweet to understand Twitter, just like you have to love to truly fathom it.
Third, our feelings are mutually-exclusive; technically, you can’t use Twitter like I do, because you’re not me. Ditto for my expressing love the same way that you do. This is because, fourth, our experiences are self-referencing. The most productive conversations via social media are conversations about social media. Similarly, love is best described as a thing, almost a state of being.
Fifth, both Twitter and love are about breaking rules. Twitter works because something doesn’t work (like customer service), so it strikes out on its own, making up new rules as it goes along. Sounds like the technical corollary of "…wrap[ping] your legs around these velvet rims, and strap[ping] your hands across my engines," doesn’t it? Both let users skip out on humdrum, everyday life.
Finally, love and Twitter aren’t easy. You have to try and fail at both to really comprehend what they mean. Both involve breakups…Twitter with followers who are stalkers, and followees who just aren’t interesting, and love with, well, you know the deal, most probably.
So I say we stop all this nonsense about metrics and the other frail, limited attempts to constrain our experience of Twitter.
A fad by any other name would smell as tweet?