Twitter Democratizes Social Networking (Opinion)

Although Twitter promotes vanity, it also gives everyone a say.

by / July 6, 2009

Twitter co-founder Evan Williams told New York magazine in February that his company "lowers the bar." Generally that isn't a description the suits over in marketing would like assigned to their brand. But what Williams was getting at, I believe, is that Twitter lowers the bar for entry into the social networking phenomenon, which is for many people increasingly important. Sure, the whimsical Web site and its 140-character limit also lowers the bar on reading, writing and grammar. And sure, it perpetuates the revolting inhumanity of actor Ashton Kutcher's celebrity status. But it also gives everyone a voice.

For a long time (in Internet time), I loathed Twitter for being just another digital popularity contest. Today I merely dislike it. What moved me from hate to mild disdain was when Twitter actually proved useful. Somehow former astronaut Bernard Harris ended up following me on Twitter. Harris is active in renewing enthusiasm for science and math education. Through my Twitter feed he connected with Converge, our sister magazine that covers education.

I've also found Twitter to be moderately successful at driving traffic to Occasionally I'll post a link that takes readers to one of our stories with an appeal that extends beyond the public-sector IT audience, since my list of followers is growing eclectic.

But I still think Twitter is akin to shouting in the wind. The only people making any money from Twitter are snake oil salesmen, who are hawking books and strategies on how to make money. If the fellows who founded Twitter have figured out a way to cash in, they ain't sayin', though according to, they have enough in venture capital to keep them comfortable for the time being.

But Twitter is much more -- or much less, depending on how you look at it -- than meets the eye. Twitter is a digital reflection of our modern selves. Many of us have grown accustomed to the notion that the world is eagerly waiting to read our next pithy blog post. But we have so much to occupy and distract us that really, who has time anymore to write a reasoned, multiparagraph blog? So, since we're all in a hurry, but all have very important things to say, we end up with Twitter, where anything worth saying can be said in fewer characters than are in this sentence.

It's easy for me to knock Twitter as being a little more than the latest way for each of us to reassure ourselves how important we are. But that's a little disingenuous, since you and I both know I'm going to post a link to this column on my Twitter feed. So I'll leave you with this: If you want to use Twitter to make a difference, follow Sockington the cat. Help him get more followers than Ashton Kutcher because if that guy should be famous for anything, it should be for being less popular than a housecat.


Chad Vander Veen

Chad Vander Veen previously served as the editor of FutureStructure, and the associate editor of Government Technology and Public CIO magazines.