opinion In April 2009 it seemed that Twitter was everywhere. Showbiz mogul Oprah Winfrey joined on to the service and millions of housewives around the world followed suit for a piece of the Ashton (geddit?).
Almost 18 months later, and the cracks have not only started to appear, but have now become yawning chasms. Oprah may now have over 4 million followers, but after a flurry of activity she hasn't tweeted anything for three months. Of course, cynics out there — also known as "social media strategists" — will say that she was only jumping on a bandwagon, and got tired of her new plaything.
It's not only showbiz types who are tiring of social media's inadequacies. One of its staunchest advocates, broadcaster Leo Laporte, seemingly denounced everything he had ever written since joining Twitter in 2006 with one line: "Social media, I gave you the best years of my life, but never again."
As a fellow tech journalist Laporte said he signs up for every new social-media platform that comes along, with the latest being Google Buzz. The reason for Laporte's ire? He found out that 16 days worth of "Buzzes" had simply not published and neither he, nor any of his followers had even noticed. A "rare bug" meant that all of the messages Laporte had meant to appear on Buzz simply never materialised.
He said it was then that the realisation hit him: "I was shouting into a vast echo chamber where no one could hear me because they were too busy shouting themselves," Laporte said.
This is one of the problems with social media: while it can be used as a way to share ideas and join conversations, most often it becomes a giant megaphone, with the loudest people's shouts repeated by other people with more megaphones.
At its worst it can resemble a scene from Finding Nemo, where a flock of seagulls make the same "mine" noise and beg for the hot chips of visitors (which is either the attention of famous people, or simply more followers).
Twitter has a lot of positives, and we all know what they are or else we wouldn't use the platform. For myself as a journalist, it helps me perform my job as a news-gathering and information tool. One of the major negatives, though, is that each tweet has equal standing, whether it's "Mmm that pasta was so good, I'm so proud of myself" or "The President has been shot". Only until you read each one can you determine the relative merit of the message.
It's not only Twitter that suffers from this, however; I'll confess that the most addictive part of Facebook is not catching up on what others are saying, but what others are saying about us. It's the little red "Notification" flags that keep us coming back to see if people have commented on things we've posted.
But does it all relate to self-esteem? A recent study linking Facebook and narcissism says that low self-esteem leads to "greater Facebook activity as well as more promotional self-content". And yeah, I admit it, I use Twitter and Facebook a lot.
While I believe social media is here to stay it's difficult to say whether it will be the platform we use today or brand new ones unheard of. Facebook, in its infinite wisdom, is anticipating a change to more "location-based" interactions with its Foursquare-like Places app. Whichever platform proves enduring, you can bet it will be the seagulls with megaphones who remain the loudest.
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