Is Twitter Passé?

I have noticed a decline in the usefulness of Twitter over the years. At one point near the beginning, I was one of the top 20 users with something like 10,000 followers. And the service was actually more useful back in the day.

With 10,000 followers, I'd mention something using a traceable link and perhaps 3,500 people would have clicked it. Seldom was it less than 1,000. Now I have over 85,000 followers, which is a blip on the radar as A-list movie celebrities have millions. When I tweet a traceable link, it will maybe get the attention of 500 people.

So, while my numbers are bigger, my impact is far less. There are a few possible reasons why this is the case. First, newer followers are less inclined to click on links. The original followers may have bailed out and are now ghost followers with no current interest in Twitter. Perhaps most of the newer followers are ghost followers, too.

Second, there is the crowd sourcing aspect to Twitter. I use Twitter as a virtual search engine to find something that may be quite obscure. When I had 10,000 followers, they were very on the ball. Now when I crowd source a question, most of the followers who reply have nothing to suggest but say, "Let me know what you find out and repost it please!"

This tells me that the tech nerds who scoured Twitter in the early years have lost all interest and fled back to specialty forums like Slashdot. I can still get answers, but not like before.

The boots-on-the-ground reporting that is prevalent on Twitter has changed it for the better, though. I think the death of Michael Jackson first broke on Twitter, as have many other news stories.

The trending topics list often shows breaking news items long before they hit the real press. It doesn't cover every story in the world, but it does break enough to make it interesting. Last week, for example, I made the discovery that Digg was finally bought out for a mere $500,000 (£320,000) before most got wind of it.

Curiously, Digg parallels Twitter insofar as its timeline is concerned. Twitter began in March 2006 and Digg was started in late 2004. When you look at the sales figures versus the costs for Digg, for every six million that came in, 10 million went out. This is not the ratio you want.

But it was the waning interest in Digg and its social network model that was the problem. People just got tired of it for whatever reason. One possibility was the continual changes made to the original idea – constant tweaks that changed the nature of the service. This happened in an extreme fashion at Digg.

And it could be happening to Twitter. The company has been catering to shallow celebrities who will quickly get a few million followers, and then never tweet anything. Others just tweet news about their shows incessantly. This quickly gets retweeted by fans, and it then becomes spam for other Twitter users.

None of this is helped by outside websites that use Twitter as a mirror for the stupidity on their own sites. In this case, I'm referring to foursquare. Every idiotic check-in is reposted on Twitter to people who do not care that you've just gone into McDonald's for lunch.

So, we may be seeing a confluence of trends in and around social networking that bodes ill for all these platforms, including Facebook.

Digg had early opportunities to sell out for perhaps $100 or $200 million (£64 - £128m). Twitter did, too. It will be interesting to see where Twitter ends up as the scene further deteriorates.