The future of twitter and the unpopularity hypothesis

There’s a lot of murmuring these days about whether or not Twitter’s days are numbered. It’s flattening adoption curve has started buzz about it’s future.

The latest I’ve seen is this opinion piece by David Carr of the NYT arguing that Twitter will survive. He asserts that Twitter is useful for getting near real time alerts from luminaries in many fields who closely follow daily developments and fire off personal bulletins via Twitter. Or sometimes you can get quick useful answers to posted questions or consumer reactions to something you’re thinking about buying. Interestingly, Carr doesn’t suggest it’s really satisfying to know moment-by-moment the doings of pop celebrities ( Ashton Kutcher, et al.) or even your buddies. His argument is essentially that Twitter is too useful to die.

The utility of Twitter is arguable, but the reason I’m writing this is that just minutes before I read Carr’s article I had coincidentally come across a press release  from a few months ago on Physorg.com about how things become unpopular. Studying baby names,  American and Spanish researchers found that the faster a name rose in popularity the faster is was likely to decline. Conversely, the slower a name became popular the slower it declined in popularity. The authors maintain this phenom extends across cultures and to other things such as music and products. One author says:

Managers often want their products to catch on quickly, and conventional wisdom would say that products which catch on quickly should be more likely to succeed…Our results, however, show that the exact opposite can occur. Fast adoption can hurt success. We think these findings extend to a broad range of areas where choices signal identity. People often join social movements, choose products, or wear styles because of what it communicates about them to others, and in these domains of life, adoption speed should influence cultural success.

So here we have an opportunity to do some first-hand evaluation of the unpopularity hypotheses and to play the fun game of speculating about the fate of Twitter. Nothing has had a more rocket-like rise than Twitter. Will it plunge to Earth in a spectacular, symmetrical descent? Has a fatal meme been implanted, a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Stay tuned, er, logged-in.


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