Twitter, R.I.P.? Or Is There Gold Buried in Them Thar Tweets?

The Culty Microblogging Service Says It Will Finally Figure Out a Revenue Model ... Next Year. No, Really!

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As the future of Twitter gets cloudier and cloudier, I keep thinking that it'd be really sad if Twitter died, because there'd be no way to Twitter its funeral.

Last month, in one of the most idiotic and shameful moments in "journalism" this year, a Rocky Mountain News reporter used the culty microblogging service -- which allows users to blog in 140-character bursts (often via cellphone) -- as a way of covering, in real time, the funeral of a three-year-old.
Oh, yeah: A lot of media types have been drinking the Twitter Kool-Aid.
Oh, yeah: A lot of media types have been drinking the Twitter Kool-Aid.
As little Marten Kudlis -- killed when a car smashed into an Aurora, Colo., ice cream shop -- was mourned, News reporter Berny Morson pecked out dispatches ranging from "people sobbing" to "Rabbi says Marten is close to God now" to "family members shovel earth into grave." (Astonishingly, in the wake of outcry from readers and not a few press critics, Rocky Mountain News Editor John Temple ended up defending the idea of Twittering as appropriate "coverage" for a funeral.)

The Twittered funeral just underscored the extent to which a lot of media people have been drinking the Twitter Kool-Aid. Last week's coverage of Twitter's abrupt replacement of its CEO suggests the Kool-Aid drinking continues unabated (although perhaps no longer in gulps but in steady sips). The New York Times, for instance, used the management shift to offer these deadpan lines about the notoriously business-model-free Twitter (which has somehow raised tens of millions in venture capital): "Early next year, Twitter plans to introduce several ways to bring in revenue. One idea is to charge companies that want to use Twitter as an official channel to talk with their customers and monitor what they are saying." (Oh, really, now? Cash-strapped companies are going to want to pay to annoy their customers? Customers are going to want to be monitored?)

The last time I wrote about Twitter in depth in this column, in the spring of 2007, I was accused of being a fuddy-duddy (by various Twitter fans who slammed me in e-mails, blog posts and tweets) because I was skeptical about its business prospects. (Hello! The company's been around since 2006 and only now is it rethinking its management and considering possible revenue models ... for 2009?) The truth is I think Twitter is pretty cool. It can be a great way for certain people and companies with something (hopefully) interesting to say to stay "top of mind" with their audiences. I've Twittered myself (among friends), and there are definitely Twitter feeds from a handful of individual media operations and media people I know that I can actually count on to be genuinely meaningful and insightful. On the other hand, I'm seeing a lot of really smart writers and thinkers devoting way too much time to Twittering -- and to me it's akin to convincing yourself that constant gum chewing is as good as preparing, or consuming, a gourmet meal.

Either way, though, I continue to maintain that Twitter is, for the most part, an unnecessary distraction in an already information-overloaded age.

A year ago, I was basically called a Luddite for questioning Twitter's future. Now, post-financial apocalypse, I'm seeing more and more stories like Rafe Needleman's "11 Troubled Web companies: The next Kozmos?" (on CNet), in which he pleaded, "People want to see the company make some money. Please, Twitter, turn on the revenue before it's too late."

But what if it's not only too late, but it was never time? What if not everything that flits across our screens -- computer or cellphone or whatever -- can be contorted into serving as a profit center? As I've said before: I don't think every tweet or blurp or bloop or fart that emanates from a human can or should have ads sold against it or be otherwise monetized.

That last sentence, by the way, was 144 characters long. Clearly I've said too much and should just shut the hell up already.
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