Social media is dead; film at 11

To hear some people tell it, social sites like Facebook and Twitter are on the wane. Cringely thinks they're just getting warmed up

The death of social media is upon us. How do I know this? I read it on the InterWebs.

Let's start with a report by the BBC about a study of random tweets by Pear Analytics, which shows some 40 percent of all content on Twitter is "pointless babble."

[ Also on InfoWorld: "Twitter harpooned, Internet survives (just barely)" | Stay up to date on Robert X. Cringely's musings and observations with InfoWorld's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]

To which the obvious reply: Only 40 percent?

Pear conducted this study by dipping into the tweet stream every 30 minutes over a two-week period, and then placing each tweet into one of six categories. Number two behind "babble" was "conversational" (37.5 percent), as in the "I just had a tuna melt and it sure was yummy"; in the third slot at just under 9 percent were tweets containing useful info or links, followed by self-promotional (6 percent) tweets and spam (4 percent).

Think about it, though. Compared to every other communications channel in your life -- phone conversations, email, SMS texts, newspaper articles, blogs, TV newscasts, political speechifying, and so on -- Twitter's pointless babble ratio isn't that bad. Can you honestly say that almost 10 percent of any of those things contains useful info? (If so, maybe you hang out with smarter people than I do.) And who wouldn't kill for a spam rate of only 4 percent? I'm sure that won't last.

Still, I hear from a lot of Cringesters who say they find Twitter 100 percent pointless. I maintain it's something you have to use for a while before you understand it.

Just today I was talking to an analyst at Forrester who covers CRM and customer service issues. She told me what a lot of people have told me about Twitter: At first she pooh-poohed it, thinking it a stupid waste of time. Then she realized she had to start using Twitter because the companies she's been analyzing all were relying on it for customer service. Now tweeting is an essential part of her day. She doesn't think it's stupid any more.

My sermon to the residents of Cringeville today is, if you don't use social media tools like Twitter and Facebook, you're falling behind. You are at least two steps closer to the junk heap than everyone else who does. You're like the crotchety old folks who refused to use touchtone number pads on their phones because, dammit, a dial was good enough.

Take, for example, the crotchety old George Simpson, writing for Online Media Daily's Over the Line blog, who declares that the sun is setting on social media:

It is no secret that more and more folks on this side of the ocean are giving up on Twitter. It is perhaps too soon to say I told you so, but what the hell, "I told you so." ...I said early on that I thought social media was overrated .... Yes, teens will flow in and out of Facebook-like social media for a while, but only until they get their mobile legs. Older folks who set up shop on Facebook need desperately to get a life.

How did I find this article? I didn't. The Twitter machine that is @guykawasaki tweeted me about it. More and more, that's how I find out about stuff on the Net. (Not just from Guy, though he and his Twitter minions spew out more useful tweets than virtually anyone else out there. You start to wonder if they ever eat or sleep.)

Interesting in giving Twitter a whirl? TechRepublic's Jason Hiner has an fascinating (but deeply flawed) list of the 100 top technology experts to follow on Twitter. (Deeply flawed = I'm not on it.) Meanwhile, those jokers over at eSarcasm have published a nifty chart on how to pick whom to follow and not follow on Twitter. (I'm not entirely sure I trust their methodology, though.)

In other words, don't knock social media until you've tried it. And if you still don't like it after that, well go ahead knock it to your heart's content. I bet you'll use some form of social media to do it, though.

What's your verdict: Are Twitter/Facebook et al totally pointless? How about blogs like this one? (There, I've given you an opening wide enough to fit the Goodyear Blimp.) Post your thoughts below or e-mail me: cringe@infoworld.com.

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