Kara Swisher needs some new friends

I’m merely referring to Kara’s post in which she talks about informally polling some friends outside the bubble of Silicon Valley (where she lives and works) regarding their awareness of Twitter and some other services that, well, a few of us use obsessively but that haven’t reached a level of awareness — even a level of obscurity — among “real” people. Says Kara: “I conducted a little experiment among the more than 100 folks gathered for the wedding (in Washington, DC), 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.

I’m sorry. The title of this post is a joke. I’m merely referring to Kara’s post in which she talks about informally polling some friends outside the bubble of Silicon Valley (where she lives and works) regarding their awareness of Twitter and some other services that, well, a few of us use obsessively but that haven’t reached a level of awareness — even a level of obscurity — among “real” people.

Says Kara:

“I conducted a little experiment among the more than 100 folks gathered for the wedding (in Washington, DC), 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

As I’ve blogged here before, I’ve given up on trying to explain Twitter. I know how I use it and why I like it. But, as with most of the social media or gizmo-technology I experiment with: I really don’t care who uses — or doesn’t. I’m not going to attempt to convert anyone — although, I guess adding my Twitter account to my business card is an implicit act of network-effect evangelism and endorsement.

Over the years, I’ve learned that when it comes to certain types of new media, the gap between geek adoption and “real people” adoption is typically wide.

I’ve mentioned on this blog that in 1996, I gave a presentation about the Internet to the 300-member Downtown Nashville Rotary Club. I asked for a show of hands from the audience filled with civic and business leaders: “How many of you have your e-mail address printed on your business card?” I recall precisely that six people raised their hands. Six.

Two years later, I gave a similar presentation to the same group and asked the same question. Nearly everyone in the audience raised their hands.

One of the reasons (one among several) I register on new “social networking” services is to watch their adoption rates — often there is no adoption rate, but almost always there’s a long lag time between geek and real-world registrations. For example, I registered on LinkedIn on February 3, 2004 — over four years ago. For a year or so, I had a grand total of 3-4 contacts, all geeks, and probably all of them personal friends of the creators of the service.

I had nearly forgotten that I’d registered on the service when, a couple of years ago, I started getting a few more connection requests when they added a feature that allows users to upload their contact list and bounce it against a database of LinkedIn users. (I’ve written before about this use of e-mail as a means to assert identity and serve as a rudimentary precursor to some way in the future where we can all easily migrate our “connections” from service to service. In the past month, I’ve received more LinkedIn connection requests than in the previous 3 1/2 years combined — and they’re all coming from my off-line connections. But still, a poll of my offline friends would probably still reveal that few of them have heard of LinkedIn.

So, as for Kara’s friends. Mine are the same. I regularly ask people if they’ve ever heard of Twitter. I then work my way up to services like Flickr. (They’ve all heard of Google, for the record.)

Kara is correct. No real person has ever heard of Twitter.

Sidenote: About two months ago, I spent a 30 minute cab ride from Baltimore (BWI) to DC explaining my use of Twitter to a commissioner of the FCC. Later that day, I spent 15 minutes in a similar discussion of Twitter with 12 CEOs of business-to-business media companies who were perplexed by my use of the service — as they were with my early blogging many years ago.

As I listen to myself explain Twitter, I’m surprised anyone uses it. However, as I discovered just yesterday, using Twitter makes solving problems a snap if you happen to ask a question that someone who’s following you can answer.

Frankly, I think it’s a good thing that Twitter has not gone mainstream yet. But that’s another post for another day.

Later: I believe that Twitter — or something like it — will go “mainstream” one day. It’s just not going to be “soon” in geek-time.

Note: I’m stepping on a plane and will check back in later to edit this post.

  • Very interesting post, Rex. I’m definitely in the same boat you and Kara are in. I work in an office full of intelligent people (engineers, designers and CAD technicians) and not a single one of them has heard of Twitter. The looks I get when I mention Twitter or ask someone if they know of Twitter are priceless… 🙂

  • Rex, I’ll borrow your oft used fax machine analogy here – I have a twitter account, but I never use it and I’ve never really even set it up, because very few people in my otherwise technically savvy world would be able to receive my faxes, er, tweets. To complicate matters, twitter is not based on a common format or means of communication people are familiar with (even fax machines use something we all know about – a “phone number” to reach it). It still requires “explaining.” I update my facebook status and find out what other friends are doing through there facebook updates all the time, however.