Monday, April 20, 2009

Twitter is the 21st century's CB radio

I have never felt that Twitter has that "aha!" feel that one blogger claims is ever-present with successful new technologies. I have always felt that Twitter was destined to be a very successful, but short lived, fad, just like . . . I could never figure that last part out. I have even twittered my thoughts about Twitter's eventual demise, but without the analog to its failure.

Then it hit me a couple days ago. Twitter is the 21st century equivalent of the 20th century's CB radio. Let me illustrate.

CB radios were the tools of over the road truckers. They allowed them to stay connected with their peers where other communication methods were inefficient, or non-existent. The CB was the domain of a small group of people who's business depended on it.

Twitter has always been intended for any user to post short comments about whatever they wish. Twitter did not have a small targeted audience like the CB radio.

As CB radios gained in popularity, more and more users from outside the trucking industry began using CB radios to talk to each other about nothing important. Sure, you would hear about the occasional speed trap if you were monitoring truckers on the highway, but there wasn't much riveting or valuable content on the CB for the regular citizen. Yet the lack of content couldn't counter the influences of C. W. McCall and B.J. and the Bear in the mass popularization of the CB radio.

While Twitter was always intended to be a mass market service, the popularity of Twitter mirrors the CB in the way that the media has driven its popularity more than the service itself. Twitter milestones like Ashton Kutcher's million followers, Shaq's mid-game tweets and U.S. Representatives who were caught twittering during the President's State of the Nation address, brought enormous exposure to the service. Twitter is now as overpopulated as CB radio channels were in the 1970's. Old boomers like me may remember when CB radio's went from 23 channels to 40.

So both services started small, had explosive growth because of the media and became overpopulated with "chatter". More evidence of the parallels of the two technologies can be found in their creation of community.

Many sociologist will look to a unique language when defining a community. CB radio users had slang and 10-codes. Twitter users have their own shorthand and hash codes. CB radio users were identified by their "handles" while Twitter users are also identified by their "handles" or "aliases".

Where most of the CB's public traffic flowed over channel 19, groups of friends would avoid the chatter on lesser used channels. This would be similar to creating a friends list in Twitter and only following them.

So, there is a lot of common ground under the CB radio craze and Twitter's recent popularity surge. Are they destined for the same fate? I believe so, and that is not a bad thing in my mind. The public got tired of listening to kids constantly breaking in on the CB with "What's your 20?" As for Twitter, I am already hearing from regular citizens and many news outlets that they don't care that the neighbor kid sneezed or what Shaq had for breakfast. I give Twitter 3 to 6 more months before the chatter causes the popularity to plateau. Twitter will remain relevant in the mainstream while celebrities continue to broadcast their lives to their fanatics (yes, fan is short for fanatics). As celebrities move on to some other fad, which always happens, so too will the everyday user of Twitter.

The good news is that like the CB, the user base will shrink but the content value will rise. Twitter may return to its original roots as a micro-blogging service with valuable content worth sifting through. Only time will tell.

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