On July 15, Twitter will complete five years of being open to public. At 65 million tweets a day currently, it produces, taking even a modest 15 words per tweet, wordage for about 2,000 copies of Tolstoy's War And Peace every day.
It is another matter that according to a 2009 US study, 49.8 per cent of that is "pointless babble", self-promotion and spam.
That babble bit was later refuted by social networking researcher Danah Boyd who respectably called it "social grooming" and "peripheral awareness", or people "want[ing] to know what the people around them are thinking and doing and feeling". And Harvard law professor and Internet expert Jonathan Zittrain has been quoted saying: “The qualities that make Twitter seem inane and half-baked are what makes it so powerful.”
In spite of the millions of jerks, junkies, weirdos and celebrities hanging out there all day, it would now be impossible to bring out future editions of A Brief History Of Time without a mention of Twitter. Eminent scandals and revolutions have brewed over its glowing charcoals of conversation.
But where is Twitter going? I can only take a few guesses, without attempting a smokey and staggering larger picture.
Rise of the Evolutionaries: While we celebrate creation of revolutionaries from Tehrir Square to Jantar Mantar by Twitter, there is another phenomenon quietly playing out on the social network. The coming of the Evolutionaries. A number of people, often not prominent figures, are reshaping our morality, taste and general outlook with their fresh and unique perspectives on an issue. They present important counterpoints. They are irreverent. They may not have the most followers, but their views are retweeted more often than others'. These are today's 'ordinary influentials', whom no media other than Twitter could have spawned or given so much space. They could some day, unknown to even themselves, go on to change the face of popular cinema, or put forward accepted versions of adultery or genetically modified food.
From Closet to Open Privacy: One might think social networks make extroverts of us and make us open up our private worlds — breakfast cereal to toilet thoughts — but Twitter is different from a Facebook or Orkut in this. On Twitter, one would discuss in embarrassing detail love or lovemaking, but not one's lover. Usually. On Facebook one posts copious photos of friends or family, but on Twitter, many do not introduce even spouses other than as fellow tweeple. On Twitter, who you are because of your circumstance often stays under the cover of electronic silence, while what you want to be becomes what you are. It is a new, open privacy in which you discuss the abstract in great detail, while the specifics remain abstract.
Danger of Adversements: One of the biggest concerns of the Twitter team has been how to earn without letting advertisements piss off users. Companies and products have not got much space to say good things about themselves, but that may not stop them from saying bad things about rivals. There is a huge possibility that companies will, if not already, plant tweeters to say unflattering stuff about competition, whine, damage reputations using the power and legitimacy of word-of-mouth which Twitter offers, apart from being a breeding ground of bitching and rants. Such subliminal 'adversements' could sometimes work better than ads worth millions of marketing dollars.
Paid DM, Subscribed Tweets:Q While it would be foolish to make the service paid (more than half the users will immediately opt out), nominal pay walls could be introduced to interesting but non-essential parts of Twitter such as direct messages. Even if 100 million users swipe their credit cards for two dollars each a year to send DMs, Twitter's topline would take a leap. Micro-endorsements have started, but these have a serious potential of upsetting users if done without subtlety.
Twizines and Twapers: Vibrant, riveting and incredibly fast news platforms can be created just out of tweets. People are trying personal dailies, but it wouldn't be long before media uses Twitter's speed and reach on a far grander scale. Those papers will break the news of a coke-puffed sports administrator's rant against a minister faster than television, or flash news of an earthquake while photos on the wall are still swinging.
Gigs, Campaigns, Other Events: Video and audio tweeting would of course bring with them gigs, premieres, curtain-raisers, historic speeches and suchlike. These events will be announced and advertised, and tweeple around the world can log in to attend, participate.
It is debatable whether in a few years we will recognise Twitter in its current form, but it is certain that it will help make a lot of stuff around us unrecognisable. No piece of recent technology has been a closer accomplice of history, and at five, Twitter is just getting into primary school.