As it approaches its 11th birthday, Twitter find itself in an unusual position. It’s only stretching a point a little to suggest that you might see it as being in early adolescence – the stage where the voice cracks, limbs become gangly and cosmetic blemishes come to the fore.
A very public sale process last year left the company painted as a wallflower lacking suitors; there were no takers, although powerful companies such as Salesforce.com certainly ran the rule over the microblogging pioneer. Twitter doesn’t even have a full-time CEO as Jack Dorsey also runs payments company Square. Embarrassing stories seem to follow it around with the latest being the forced march of @POTUS followers to Donald Trump’s account. Executive departures have become an unwanted characteristic and the firm’s share price remains depressed.
Twitter is the subject of criticism at every turn and yet it remains one of the great achievements of the World Wide Web. Rarely has a company been so misunderstood: once it was deemed the medium of those who could only manage to communicate in monosyllabic words and the maximum of a few sentences. It was also viewed as a service for narcissists who imagined an abiding interest in their most quotidian activities.
But what is interesting is that Twitter has emerged as the playground for intellectuals and debate. Trending topics often surround the world’s greatest writers, scientists, academics, philosophers, thinkers and others. It excels as a real-time breaking news aggregator and generator of expert comment. It is also the ground zero of political protest and dissent with an inherent abhorrence of censorship. Meanwhile, a “grown-up” social site, LinkedIn, is full of banal content and used largely for scraping profiles.
The writer Nicholas Carr once described Twitter as “the telegraph system of web 2.0” but it has become much more than that – an essential and democratic service that gives us all a voice in the wilderness. A modest proposal: if Twitter continues to provide such a valuable utility it should become a public service supported by governments or media organisations that help to ensure its prosperity.
Is this the promised end for Twitter?
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