So, the data is in and it turns out that, at least in terms of traffic, Oprah has been good for Twitter. According to Hitwise, traffic increased by 24% from Friday, April 10th to Friday, April 17th, which will hereafter be known as The Day of Oprah's First TweetTM.
But, despite this good news, by the end of last week, I thought the old-timers on Twitter were going to have a nervous breakdown. Bad enough that Oprah should open, embarrassingly enough, with an all-caps tweet that called everyone on the service, "TWITTERS," but then there was that cringeworthy race to a million followers between cult leaders @aplusk (that's Ashton Kutcher in case you didn't know ... sniff!), and @cnnbrk (CNN's breaking news feed).
But you knew that already, because many among us were also those who were having a nervous breakdown. Some "Twitters," who shall remain @nameless, began to act as though we were in the year 1979 and someone had suddenly let riff-raff like Oprah and Ashton and Larry King into Studio 54, due to some lazy bouncer who was sleeping on the job. The club is ruined, I tell you! Ruined! I am never setting foot in there again!
Enough already. The Oprah and Ashton-i-zation of Twitter is good, if you believe, as I know many of you do, that the more universal Twitter becomes, the more indicative it is of what is really going on out there. And the data from that stream, whether it is used to form a real-time search ad model upon which Twitter can make oodles of money, or simply serves as a powerful database for brands, or as a way for people to tap into the zeitgeist, is all good.
My Studio 54 analogy aside, I wonder if another reason there was so much antipathy toward Twitter's sudden transformation into a supermarket tabloid last week is that all of this new activity seems to hijack it, to make it less representative. If you've checked out the flood of direct messages directed at @aplusk, you'll see what I mean. Suddenly, not only do we have people tweeting endless pleas to Kutcher to have a nice Earth Day, but a raft of stumbling newbies are now on the service ... and they don't even know what RT stands for! God forbid!
But that will die down. Ashton and Demi and Oprah and Shaq will always have more followers than most of us who've been on Twitter for awhile -- but they have more followers than us in the real world as well. As newer celebs get on, like Beyonce and Bono and Rihanna, that fascination will ebb, reverting back to the natural (albeit high) level of celebrity worship that is in the culture already. In fact, it's impossible to really ruin Twitter, because each of us makes it our own. Follow who you want to and don't follow who you don't want to. Making your own club is what Twitter has always been about.
I've been even more flip than usual in this column, but it's because what I saw on Twitter last week is indicative of an ongoing problem with technology culture. We are all guilty of being on a constant hunt for cool, just as though we were trying to find the next great club after Studio 54 started to let the riff-raff in. But sometimes the old clubs, like Twitter, have undeniable value. If Twitter ever does go to seed, I hope it's not because Oprah sent out a few tweets.
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