It finally happened. Last week, Twitter, the social networking site where people share bits of their life 140 characters at a time hit the mainstream. The reason? Ashton Kutcher. You know Ashton Kutcher as that guy from “That 70’s Show”, “Punk’d”, and more recently as the husband to Demi Moore (also on Twitter). It’s not entirely Ashton’s fault though, he had help from Oprah.
It has long been said that it would take someone truly famous (not web famous) to bring Twitter into the mainstream. Last year, Britney Spears signed up for the service but used it more as a public relations tool rather than actually using the service herself. Spears’ use of the service didn’t really attract the mainstream audience, probably because her popularity had faltered some by that point. Ashton Kutcher seems to have been the star the service was looking for. As since his involvement I have seen people who I would never think to look for on the service sign up and begin following me.
But what does all this mean for Twitter? Well for one, they need to handle the new load of users coming on to the service. Twitter has a reputation for instability when a large number of people are using the service at the same time. The “Fail Whale” is often referenced and has even become something of an internet meme when a service or website fails consistently for a period of time. But I think that we’ll have a while before this truly becomes an issue since it takes people at least 3-6 months to really understand and find a way to use Twitter that suits them. But the fail whale will probably be making regular appearances again soon.
Twitter will also, more than likely, become a haven for spammers. There is already a decent amount of spammers on the service and Twitter has done a decent job of keeping the spam cleaned up. They routinely deactivate accounts and remove followers from people when spammers are found. As the service increases in popularity, you can expect this to become an increasing problem and a longer turn around on the spammer clean up.
As the service continues to grow in popularity, I think that early adopters are going to be looking for ways to keep their following list cleaned up. The great thing about Twitter is that as a user, you control the flow of information you see. For example, I don’t follow Ashton, and probably never will. You can control your noise level by simply not following people that follow you. One thing that I think Twitter might want to look into doing is to add a way for a user to group their followers. I follow different people for different reasons and there would be a benefit to being able to turn off certain groups at certain times, thus controlling the stream more.
What we saw last week was just the tipping point. The point at which a service becomes know to a wide range of folks. We’re still a long way from a true mainstream adoption. Several people are just signing up to see what all the hype is about and many of them will probably never update more than two or three times. But as more people start seeing how it can be used, Twitter will definitely see an increase in traffic, and users can (at least for a short time) expect the “Fail Whale” to make frequent appearances. Now that a large number of people know about the service, what do you think will happen?