Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Twitter: Where Nobody Knows Your Name–The Sequel

BoomTown’s been just one week gone and yet another goofy, traffic-generating debate “erupts” in the blogosphere, involving the usual suspects.

(Hey, it’s Loïc Le Meur and Michael Arrington again, fresh from their equally meaningful Are-French-folks-lazy-or-what? debate!)

This time, while the Mideast burns and the economy continues its meltdown, they and many others are going at it about the favored hyped Silicon Valley company of the moment, Twitter.

The new bone being gnawed on is something I can hardly grasp the point of–some drivel argument about what constitutes the authority of a tweet.

While tweet status would seem only important to, say, a Warner Bros. cartoon character like Sylvester, all I can think is: Who cares?

While I know I seem to say this a lot these days, I guess I am not really clear why people can’t use these various Web tools in any way they like, without a bunch of tech pundits pushing their self-aggrandizing agendas.

You want to rank tweets? Fine–knock yourself out! You want to use tweets to tell your family about your trip to Buffalo? Maybe not so much, but what the heck!

I think, though, the real story is the endless echo chamber of Silicon Valley that seems to persist in overestimating the meaning of Twitter, especially compared to so much more that is going on in the tech industry.

With only about six million registered users (with a much lower number of active ones), Twitter gets written about as if it were a mover and shaker extraordinaire, instead of just being what it is: An interesting status-alert start-up that makes zero revenues and turned down a very large buyout offer from another once-too-overhyped start-up (Facebook).

Well, after yet another week in the real world, I am here to tell you, precious few people still have any clue what Twitter is or how it works.

This is not to say Twitter is not useful or cool or that its growth is not impressive. All that is true about the service.

But the fact remains that Twitter is simply an unknown to most average people in a way other tech trends have not been.

The last time I did a What-the-Heck-Is-Twitter? experiment was in April and it went as follows:

So I was in Washington, D.C., this past weekend for a lovely wedding, traveling back to a city where I started my career and worked for 15 years after college.

And I conducted a little experiment among the more than 100 folks gathered for the wedding, all of whom were quite intelligent, armed with all kinds of the latest devices (many, many people had iPhones, for example) and not sluggish about technology.

They were also made up of a wide range of ages and genders, from kids to seniors.

And so I asked a large group of people–about 30–and here is the grand total who knew what Twitter was: 0

FriendFeed: 0

Widget: 1 (but she thought it was one of the units used in a business class study).

Facebook: Everyone I asked knew about it and about half had an account, although different people used it differently.”

This time, I asked yet another group of about 40 folks, in New York, Scranton and Buffalo, many of whom were young people and all of whom used the Internet regularly.

Those who knew what Twitter was: 3 (two only because they’d read about it being used in the Mumbai terror attacks).

Those who could actually explain how it worked and had used it: 1 (a journalist, natch!).

Friendfeed: 0 (even my family had not bothered to look at my recent post on the cool start-up).

Widget: 25, except most people now call them apps and are talking about using them in an Apple (AAPL) iPhone or an iPod Touch. Everyone was surprisingly knowledgeable, especially younger people, about apps for smartphones.

Facebook: 40–a perfect score, and almost everyone I talked to had a Facebook profile, which accounts for its huge growth to more than 140 million users worldwide.

You get the idea–while the digerati have moved away from Facebook as an important trendsetter, I am thinking that perhaps its time has just started.

Not that I have the tweet authority to say so or anything.