Tim Bray tells a story about a joke that went flat (the audience had no idea what Twitter was):
In March, I gave a keynote at Web Design World in San Francisco. Frankly, it did not go that well; in particular, the crowd didn’t laugh at my jokes. Here’s one of them, more or less: “Being a Web Guy at Sun is a little intimidating. At high level strategy meetings the Chip Guys talk about what they’ll be shipping in 2009, and both the OS Guys and Java Guys talk about things a year or two out. As for us Web Guys, well... three weeks ago, I didn’t know that Twitter would become the Hot New Thing.”
Going on, Tim asks the obvious question: if Twitter is experiencing massive scaling issues (tens of thousands of hits per second! at times), then how do we square that with the "no one has heard of it" problem?
I think what we have is a large niche of social software users. Periodically, I ask my daughter (age 13) or her friends about things I'm seeing or working with : Blogs, RSS, Twitter, social networks. The funny thing is, most of them are heavy users of IM, but very few of them have gotten past the "I've heard of that" stage with things like Xanga, MySpace, etc. Before I brought it up, none of them had even heard of Twitter (and they all declared it "stupid" upon seeing it).
The web, and social software in particular, allows for something unique: shared interests that extend far across geographic boundaries. So in a town of 100,000 people, it may well be the case that "no one" has heard of Twitter - but that lots and lots of like minded people across the planet (at least, in the connected parts of it) have. I don't know how big the net connected population is, but even a small fraction of it can add up to a fairly large number of people - especially when they all try to jam their way into the same doorway.
Update: Jon Udell adds some thoughts.
Second Update: "The Last Podcast" adds some further thoughts - this is probably a lot truer than many would like to believe:
As an aside: There seems to be this general idea that kids in college are at the forefront when it comes to technology. I say: BS. Most of my students can hardly get a photo off their digital camera. They don’t know how to use their computers beyond AIM and most don’t know how to even change the margins of a document in Word.
That would not surprise me a bit. I think us tech folks assume a wider usage of a lot of niche things. Most people are interested in utility, where we get interested because it's technically cool. Most people just want to use tools, not obsess over them.
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