Twitter's transformation: Ugly duckling is now Internet swan

On eve of its IPO, it's easy to forget how far Twitter has come -- and how much it's changed our dialog

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Beware the Twitter traps

Yes, Twitter can be annoying. I learned over time to unfollow anyone who used the term "social media guru" in a non-ironic fashion, as well as those obsessing about their pets, food choices, or appearance. For a time, the Fail Whale made regular appearances on my desktop, though I can't recall the last time one swam by. Though my tweetstream was at one time overrun with fake accounts, spammers and frauds are now quickly dispatched, thanks largely to Twitter's extremely efficient reporting tools. (Facebook could learn a few lessons here.)

I've also learned to try and avoid getting in Twitter debates -- it is not a medium for serious discussion of any topic. All I can say is that it's a good thing that you can't shoot someone over Twitter, or the body count would be worse than Chicago's.

Yet, if you ask me how Twitter is going to generate bundles of cash for its new investors, I come up blank. Sure, there's advertising. There are promoted accounts, sponsored tweets, commercial hashtags, yadda yadda. But I can't see anyone ever buying anything because of a tweet. For managing your digital reputation, Twitter is vital -- as companies like McDonald's have discovered to their chagrin. But for selling stuff? I'm dubious.

Twitter is forecasting that it will pull $200 million in profit by 2015. In Wall Street terms, that's nothing. It's what the financiers leave on the table for the busboys at Le Cirque. As with Facebook and its botched IPO, the pressure to squeeze every last drop of revenue out of Twitter will be intense. That's almost never good news for the people who actually use the thing.

GigaOm's Om Malik observes: "Twitter is a random series of events posing as a corporation." That sounds about right to me. But now that it's reached the age of maturity, those days may soon be over.

Precociousness can be charming in a child, but it can turn into raging megalomania in an adult. I guess we'll soon find out what kind of grownup Twitter becomes.

What's your prediction about Twitter's IPO and the aftermath? Share your random speculations below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This article, "Twitter's transformation: Ugly duckling is now Internet swan," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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