Can Twitter Survive What Is About to Happen to it? I think that is the wrong question…

The explosive rise of Twitter in the last couple of months is giving rise to a couple of phenomena, and to some these trends are harbingers of doom: More than a few people are asking if Twitter can survive what is happening to it, in it’s current form. And the answer is surely that it can, at least from an infrastructure perspective.

I would pose the question differently: How can Twitter continue to deliver value as a meaningmaking and sensemaking tool for its users?

A couple of examples that illustrate what is happening:

Tweepme, a ponzi-like scheme that would have you pay for followers, in return to following everyone else, is causing a lot of controversy with its concept: Ultimately with this concept everyone would follow everyone else, and this becomes meaningless very quickly. Cheryl Harrison writes in her blog that Twitter is not a numbers game:

Is there value in having a large, worthless network on Twitter?  While I might not agree with it 100%, I can see the value of connecting with everyone on LinkedIn – in the most direct benefit, this lets you contact other people to whom they are connected for free, without having to pay for InMails and whatnot. But on Twitter – you just crank up the noise and turn down the substance.

At the SXSW conference in Austin Texas, the traditional paradigm of having a Twitter based backchannel to find interesting topics and keep up with what was happening was made meaningless by the sheer volume of tweeps coming through the service. Stacey Higginbotham writes in her piece Forget the Fail Whale: Twitter Jumps the Shark

Twitter is still up and running, but the idea of generating a real time picture of what folks are doing, and extracting relevant information from that picture, is kind of like trying to pick out your grandma at the Washington Mall on the satellite image taken during President Barack Obama’s inauguration. It’s easy to see that a lot of folks were there, and hard to find that one thing you’re looking for.

The trend is apparent: Twitter, as we know it, is about to change. And, to use another shark metaphor, it needs to “keep swimming”  to stay alive; it needs to keep evolving in order to provide meaning to its users.

So the question raises itself: How can Twitter continue to provide “meaning” for its users?

To one degree or another, it has been a sensemaking and meaningmaking tool to its user base. It may be worth to explore the principles of how such “meaning” is derived, in order to suggest where the focus for survivability could be. I suspect it has to do a lot more with disciplined and focused clarity of use and the building of strong networks and relationships by its user base, than with technology and infrastructure enhancements.

Since @robbiecat and I are in the sensemaking and collaboration business here at Positivity Strategist, we are pondering this aspect and are working on some future posts on the topic together. We are exploring how twitter use can fit into the “Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom” hierarchy…

Source: “Information as a Resource”, Harlan Cleveland

However, in the short term, one thing painfully apparent is that Twitter, or its ecosystem of supporting apps, needs better filtering concepts to help its userbase focus and customize their incoming data, glean information within it, translate it into knowledge and ultimately derive wisdom from the entire joint experience with each other.

Ideas to ponder regarding better conference filtering:

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Introduce location based filtering for mobile apps:
In another trend observation, it was widely reported that SXSW conference attendees preferred and chose mobile devices (well, mostly iPhones) as their primary computing devices during the show. So, if your iPhone app was able to filter tweeps based on location, you could reduce the volume of #sxsw hashtag traffic to display local tweeps only, and block incoming tweets from marketers all over the internet trying to take advantage of the popularity of this topic.

“Tweetdeck Mobile” or something like it:
The advantage of Tweetdeck is the ability to track multiple twitter groups, filters, hashtags, etc. While it is unlikely that the iPhone 3.0 software will do background tasks, at least a single iPhone Tweetdeck-like app could provide the ability to follow and filter multiple streams. Given the fact that SXSW seemed to indicate increased mobile device usage, conferenceware should definitely target the iPhone.

Hashtag local restriction:
Create a special hashtag for the conference that can only be used by conference attendees in a radius of 50 miles or so, and have local events, parties and the like take place there. Create another hashtag meant for external conference attendees to participate in actual sessions.

Hashtag weighting:
Allow weighting of hash tags filter to prefer tweets from people you are following, without completely shutting down tweets from people you are not following; this would allow throttling of the hashtag traffic to be more meaningful.

Multi-Hashtag setup per conference topic:
Conference providers should pre-set up multiple hashtags by topic, before the conference, and have a live directory with current sessions. Possibly partnering with some of the emerging “twitter group” sites to have users register and sign up for certain events.

These are just my ideas off the top of my head,  I have to believe that a lot of talented people are giving this thought, and recently launched services like Microplaza indicate a trend to increase relevance to the twitter user base, I believe the beginning of a welcome trend…

Would love to hear your thoughts.