It's About People, Not Technology

I don’t post much about Twitter even though I think about it a lot. First of all, being an investor and board member makes it complicated. Second, there’s way more chatter about Twitter than is necessary, and if anything the hype machine should crank down, not crank up even more.


But I saw this slide in a deck this week and it struck me as so right. Twitter has never been about technology, certainly not during its fail whale period, and not even now when the tech team at Twitter is doing a great job. Twitter, like all social media, is about the people who use it.

Dan Frommer has a post up on Techmeme this morning where he talks about the great citizen journalism that produced this photo yesterday.


And in the comments of that post, there was a discussion between Nicholas Carson (another Alley Insider blogger) and some readers. One of them, Ari Herzog, wrote this:

Ari Herzog


Surreal stuff, Janis.

And Nicholas, I’d argue Twitter isn’t awesome. Rather, it’s the
combination of people using it, services supporting it, and buzz about
it that make it awesome.

You can follow me @ariherzog.

That’s the same point the slide I saw this week is making. Sure the technology allows all of this to be possible, but the technology behind twitter is not what makes it special. It’s the people who are on it and the way they use it that delivers all of the value.

It’s also, as Ari points out, the services that are supporting it that make twitter what it is. Twitpic, which Janis Krums used to post that photo to twitter, is a great service that I use from time to time. And there are literally thousands of other services built on top of twitter that we can use to do things that the twitter service itself doesn’t do.

That’s the trick, an open social platform that allows people, including developers, to do what they want with it. And that is what allows for the triumph of humanity that is twitter.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Steven Kane

    Amen, brother.

  2. Dean Thrasher

    To paraphrase Clay Shirky, an innovation doesn’t become socially interesting until it becomes technically boring. Twitter is a great example of a service whose technology roots are well understood by the geek community. That means that it can stop being about the gee whiz technology and start serving the wider community.

  3. Mark Drapeau

    First – It is so obvious that “social media” is not about technology, it is about people sharing information. Everyone who has thought about the field knows this. This is not news. Not even worth sharing on Twitter. I heard this almost a year ago, and I am far, far from an expert. Big deal.Second – You say, “there’s way more chatter about Twitter than is necessary”. No. There is precisely as much chatter about Twitter as people want there to be. It’s like saying that someone paid too much for a house. No, they paid precisely what it was worth to them at that time. Lots of people want to chatter about Twitter at this time. The “conversation market” will decide how much is necessary.Third – You suggest that, “if anything the hype machine should crank down, not crank up even more” No. Should, according to you perhaps. But everyone working with social media knows that no one can control the conversation. People will talk as they please, and hype it when they like, and criticize when they like as well. They will hype Twitter until the nanosecond they get bored with it, or a superior competitor comes along. Kind of like an actor in his hey-day.

    1. Gabe da Silveira

      Are you so in love with the status quo as to have no opinion on anything? Yeah, people should pay what they pay for a house, but I’ll be damned if I’ll agree that the government should bail out the banks who gave them loans they couldn’t afford, in order to prop up the bubble which prevents me from being able to afford a house, because what people are expected to pay is inflated by greedy fat cat money shufflers getting extremely rich making terrible decisions, and the government waving fear of another depression in our face to justify protecting everyone who fucked up at the expense of a meaningful market correction and, of course, future generations opportunities. Free markets are nice in a lot of ways, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that there are many.

  4. bijan

    I love that slide.

    1. markslater

      why? you honestly really believe that statement? how on earth does Just in timing a terror attack where hundreds die a triumph? because you got the info and gawked quicker? its a dis-service to humanity that there be a value placed on getting and gossiping tragedies – simply because they come quicker.i would seriously take that slide down.

  5. whitneymcn

    That was the pull quote I was pleased with from my NY Tech meetup pres. a week or two ago: “code doen’t create community, code supports community.” Twitter is the perfect example.

  6. Drama 2.0

    The triumph of humanity? Sorry, but humanity triumphs when real people interact with each other in the real world. Humanity triumphs when one human being assists another human being in need. When two individuals sit down and have an intelligent discussion about an important topic. When someone improves his or her thought through real world experience and introspection.A bunch of twats sitting around on a website gawking at unfolding events (usually tragedies) and then patting themselves on the back for gawking first is NOT humanity.

    1. Harold G.

      Drama 2.0, I could not agree more. The seduction of technology breeds this self-congratulatory wank-fest of those fortunate enough to have the social capital to be wanking in the first place. What exactly did Twitter allow people to triumph over? Judging by that slide humanity triumphed (where technology failed) over horrific terror attacks, volcanoes, and broken concrete .More wanking after the jump…

    2. markslater

      amen to that. – i find that slide actually offensive. how on earth is gawking at the human condition in any way a contribution to our society. i completely agree with the need for us to re-emphasize the importance of human interaction in light of digital window tints like twitter. there is infinite value taken from seeing the color of someones eyes. there is value destruction when methods of circumventing this are created.Great citizen Journalism? what a bunch of tripe – if the outcome was different and resulting in a tragedy i wonder what picture would be zipped around by the idle Twitter PAPS.honestly – what really value does this provide – ask yourself if you want your kids growing up behind digital tints or really growing as people and benefiting from real interaction – even if it means you forego the ‘just in time’ value this service purports to provide.i am having a bad twitter day for a bunch of reasons i guess

      1. Lloyd Fassett

        Amen to that amen to that.The key phrase in Fred’s post I thought was “It’s the people who are on it and the way they use it that delivers all of the value.”That made me wonder from my entrepreneurship class 101, ‘what’s the problem you’re solving?’. It seems that for people wanting to gawk about being the first to know a tragedy, Twitter is great. I found out about the plane crash yesterday when I check Google News after dinner, which took me to the New York Times, so I checked other content a bit to check out their video services/navigation/suggestions as they continue to search for a key piece of real estate in the New World. I found out about Mumbai on Twitter. It doesn’t matter how you find out about these things. I found out about 9/11/01 on My Yahoo Page and that hasnt’ helped them.I have found new geographicallly close friends on Twitter, but that seems to be a function might be better filled by geo-location services like Loopt etc.Twitter’s role will increase, but the data flow from it is more determined in my existing off-line relationships than the information I get from it. That’s useful in a way, but I need a better edited flow of information that’s really just related to what I do for a living or what I’m interested in. Maybe they’ll get their, but I think it’s been a company born of a technology in search of a solution. Maybe that’s not bad. It worked for Google. It’s an investment theme for USV too and they make good bets. But Twitter’s not doing too much for me today.It would sure be nice though if they could please make money to increase everyone’s valuation in social media.

      2. fredwilson

        You sure areWhy do you read blogs, comment on them, use twitter?It¹s about connecting to people, discussing issues, and buildingrelationshipsThat¹s all about humanity

        1. markslater

          maybe i was being a bit harsh.i actually dont really use twitter – simply because i have not found a real world use for it as such. i do manage a page of a football company i am involved with ( and i have a tweet up there – but frankly have not figured out its use or usefulness yet.and as the toronto example clearly shows – there are infinite ways that twitter may be of real use to people and yes to humanity – i guess my comments were aimed at the twitterrazzi element.but come on fred – ‘triumph of humanity’ is a bit strong by any measure. It comes off to me as really cocky.

          1. fredwilson

            That¹s a valid criticism

          2. markslater

            seth godin helped me understand my issue – i think its to do with the digital ‘rubberknecking’ that twitter enables that i don’t like -…

      3. leigh

        Just an FYI Mark – there was a power outage in Toronto for 24 hrs (temp hit -30) Twitter was used by many people to disseminate info (like keep tap running to stop pipe from freezing) and share ideas about how to keep warm or where to go while they waited for the hydro to go back up. I offered my house to someone affected who lives in my area. I think you are missing the point of what the service can enable. Can it be used by gawkers for bad? Well sure…but that isn’t Twitter’s fault.

    3. fredwilson

      If you think that¹s all that goes on via twitter, then you are rightBut I¹ve met more people who I end up having real relationships in the realworld via twitter than any other source, including blogging

      1. Drama 2.0

        Fred: I think that says more about you than it does about Twitter. While it’s great that you’ve built new real-world relationships through Twitter, Twitter is a small world and the way it’s structured is less-than-ideal (social media twats interact with social media twats, etc.).When was the last time you made a new friend at the airport? When was the last time you started talking to a complete stranger at a coffee shop, bar or sporting event that turned into a friendship? Have you stopped to “engage” somebody on the street in the past year because they were doing something interesting, looked like they were having a good time or just felt like making someone’s day?At the risk of sounding pretentious, I’ll say this: if you’re meeting most of your new friends in a single place, let alone on a website, you might want to consider expanding your “social presence” in the world. Variety is the spice of life and it sounds like your spice rack has but one type of spice. How can you cook a flavorful meal with that?By the way, since I’m not a Twitter user, I don’t know what goes on via Twitter first-hand. I only know of what Twitter users themselves promote. And by that measurement, inane and insensitive gawking and self-congratulation seems to be what you and your peers find to be most deserving of promotion to the rest of the world.

        1. fredwilson

          Of course I meet people in the real world. Last night my wife and I metthree women from indiana who were in NY for the weekend at a wine bar in theeast village.Something like that happens to me every day.And exactly why are you talking about a service you¹ve never even used?

    4. bernardlunn

      I do share a concern here. The people who rushed to get people out of the plane on the Hudson did not waste time impressing their friends that they were eyewitness to history

      1. Harold G.

        David,Thanks for injecting some information into the discussion. Illustrating positives rather than claiming them is always fruitful.Thanks, Harold

  7. jeffstern

    Great point. I was just thinking about the community on twitter and the culture that has been created there. While the culture may change if/when twitter sees the levels of adoption that facebook currently has, I think that a couple of the key conventions that the twitter community has emphasized will stick: authenticity and attribution. The emphasis on personal authenticity (e.g. if you MUST use twitter for marketing, at least market as a real person) and attribution through the convention of Re-tweets (now emphasized through such add-ons as tweetbacks) are an integral part of twitter’s appeal.Also, @Dean – I love your comment

  8. planetrussell

    Fred, I think Dr. Mark Drapeau’s point about the inherently self-organizing nature of social media is well taken. By definition, there can never be “too much” or “too little” discussion of Britney Spears, quantum mechanics, how to make noodle kugel, or anything else. Rather, there’s exactly as much as the marketplace wants there to be, irrespective of whether you, I, or any other single individual may have interest in any given topic at any given point in time. Of course, *conversations* between free people are the marketplace — the agora of ideas, if you will. That’s the fundamental idea behind work like The Cluetrain Manifesto, and social media itself.It’s like the classic confrontation scene between the Emperor Joseph and Mozart in the film Amadeus. There can never be “too many notes.”

    1. BillSeitz

      Perhaps there can never be too many notes in a composition by Mozart…

    2. fredwilson

      Great linkI watched it yesterday but forgot to come back and thank you for it.

      1. planetrussell

        You’re more than welcome. Actually, the spirited exchange here has prompted some additional thinking about this topic for me.I’ve written (or should that be composed?) a new blog post which may be of interest: – If social media is “music”…Can There Ever be “Too Many Notes?”

  9. Scott

    Exactly. If only one person was using Twitter, it would be worthless. But the world is on Twitter, and that gives it value..Your point: “Second, there’s way more chatter about Twitter than is necessary, and if anything the hype machine should crank down, not crank up even more.”I totally agree with you here… While I think unveiling API was a good move, it’s been rather annoying. Everyday you see 8-10 new Twitter apps popping up on KillerStartups, Mashable or Tech Crunch. They end up crowding out the real innovations that take place.. The leading blogs need to make it a point to cover revolutionary products (Twitter), not evolutionary products (Twitter Add-ons). It’s wearing people out.2009 is going to be a big year for Twitter. From a growth perspective and a revenue perspective. It should be a fun year for you, as you’ll be experiencing this change with the Twitter team.

  10. @colin

    Would you say this is a shift we’re seeing across the entire tech industry?In my opinion, throughout the 90’s and early 00’s technology was compared by a lengthy feature-set, but not necessarily by accessibility — the human factor. The entire PC industry is losing ground to gaming consoles and Apple for a fundamental reason: it’s not what the product can do as a whole, but what it can do for ME as efficient and perfectionate as possible. Technology has been over-complicated in many instances, the people & companies that can humanize it are going to win in the next era. my 2 cents.PS. I have this taped to my monitor and live by it: “Brands can’t be commoditized, and features inevitably are.” – Jason Calacanis. Twitter has become a lifestyle brand… it’s unstoppable.

    1. markslater

      what? you have to be kidding me.twitter is a crowd sourced iteration of SMS technology. it just blows my mind that this thing has created the sheep around it.Go to a truly mobile aware country – where devices, and networks are really free – Europe or parts of the third world. ask about twitter. Seriously.

      1. @colin

        Why on earth would I care about what Europe thinks about twitter? I think you’re missing my point. Just because it’s not a globalized brand, doesn’t mean squat. Most Twitter users check their stream before email and a morning cup of coffee. It’s only a matter of time… concept is proven.

        1. Harold G.

          If every Twitter user gave you $1, what percentage of money would you have vs the total of the amount given to you if you received $1 from everyone in the world who had $1 to give you?

          1. @colin

            Why don’t you ask that to Facebook, who I believe got too caught up in globalizing their product, staffed up with 700+ employees, and will have a very difficult time in 2009-2010 getting into the black as ad budgets are significantly retracted.With Facebook Connect, I do believe they are in a much stronger position to prevent a “social flight” as experienced by Friendster and MySpace — but I don’t believe it’s something they’ll be able to monetize on with much success.They should have taken the Flickr route and created premium services instead of whoring themselves out just so they could claim #1 social network. “I’m CEO bitch.”

      2. fredwilson

        Mark ­ twitter is a global phenomenon.It¹s very popular in india, phillipines, UK, and other countries wheretexting is big

  11. example

    Twitter is about the triumph of people to lazy to blog.Twitter is about the triumph of cellphone providers restricting communication to 140 characters.Twitter is about the triumph of closed, centralized systems replacing open ones (like email)Twitter hype is about the triumph of valley types who insist on seeing every minor change as a revolution leading us to a new light (and lots of dollars to their pockets along the way, of course)

  12. Jim Kerr

    Fred,I think you’re spot on, and the reason is that Twitter is fast becoming the way people interact casually on the Internet. It is bigger than what nearly anyone thinks for that reason. The concept of Tweetbacks should make Cocomment and Disqus at least a little bit afraid. I’m watching NFL game chat–normally on forums and chat rooms like Meebo–taking place on Twitter.But it even goes beyond that because it is also a media platform. News is breaking on Twitter. Games are taking place on Twitter. There are polls, marketing, brand exposure, and even more via links to extended content that starts on Twitter.The whole Twitter ethos is as big as the Internet, with the limitation in that it is “only” involving people communicating.I continue to be completely boggled by people who see no business model. I think the real problem for the Twitter team is wading through all the monetization possibilities to find the ones that make the most sense while giving the highest return.

  13. TC

    “the great citizen journalism that produced this photo yesterday”Uh, yeah, sure. If great journalism is being in the right place at the right time. Is that really your definition of great journalism Fred? Do you think that is all the world needs in terms of its journalism? A bunch of people getting lucky and uploading fast? Will that give us the next deep throat, Pentagon Papers, Barbarians at the Gate, etc?

    1. fredwilson

      Yes, the best photo came from someone who was at the right place at theright time and the top news organizations weren¹t there. He was.

  14. brooksjordan

    Taking in the tension this post is creating . . . between those for and against.I’m certainly more in the “for” camp because it is about the people, not the technology, and yet look at what the technology is enabling.And if I had to summarize what the “against” camp is saying it would be: it’s about people (and modern craftspeople like journalists), not about the technology, which ain’t enabling anything all that impressive.So, I think we all agree that it’s about the people.The difference in opinion seems to be about what the technology is doing for those people.

    1. brooksjordan

      An example of Twitter and medicine from Shel Israel’s post:”He put me in touch with Bill Ferris, manger in the Henry Ford Medical web services department, who explained that the procedure would be performed in Detroit and the Tweeting would be directed at 450 medical professionals attending a robotic surgery conference at the Hotel Bellagio in Las Vegas.”

  15. Brian Newman

    Agreed, but it’s always the humanity. What this proves to me is the old marketing adage – people never go to the store to by a hammer. They go because they want to hang a picture, and the hammer is the tool that helps them put a nail in the wall to hang the photo of their kids. It’s never about the tools but always about what people want to get done! Twitter and other tools are just finally giving us better ways to do what we wanted to do all along.

    1. markslater

      great analogy

  16. dmg

    Are you sure that Twitter isn’t more about the triumph of inanity?Ha, I had to say that.

  17. Jeff Slobotski

    Such a great post…I am finding more and more people to be “convinced” that Twitter actually does have some value. The issue I’m concerned about is if Twitter will get “overloaded” with junk similar to what you see on Myspace and even Facebook to some extent.There will always be value and there’ll always be worthlessness…

    1. Scott Prock

      I agree there is a growing concern with spam on Twiiter, but the great thing about Twiiter is you can unfollow anyone with the click of a button. There’s no fear you’re going to be placed on some list for unfollowing etc.You can unfriend people on Facebook too, although you will need to clean out some of the spam on your profile so that can become a chore, but Twitter makes it so easy to stop the spammers.If someone posts something I don’t like or I don’t want to hear about, i just hit the unfollow button and they’re gone.

  18. Meryl Steinberg @meryl333

    The astonishing ease and conciseness of connectivity most appealed to me when I started tweeting. I so enjoyed being able to keep up with the latest news while “personally” meeting the people in this growing social media community. Today, I still follow the thought leaders and talent in the community as well as some offbeat, creative and socially/politically active sorts with whom I resonate. Time has brought change to the intimacy of the small, intimate room where I was having those quirky conversations that mixed business, politics, spirituality with what was cooking for dinner. Today, my twitter stream feels less personal and more like a cocktail / network party. More and more measurement has become an annoying part of twitter consciousness. People are assessing who is worth following by twitter grade. So to be worthwhile, one must have “x” number of RTs @ or whatever. When authenticity suffers, humanity suffers. Our short-term focus on measurable gain over authentic content ruins has an unseemly effect on our humanity. Our humanity cannot be measured… it must be experienced.


    ♥ twitter & stocktwits … ♥

  20. stoweboyd

    Who’s the creator of the slide? Link?

  21. Rich Becker

    It has always been about people. Where technology comes into play, especially social media, is that it accelerates the message and allows people to connect regardless of physical limitations. It’s works together.If the programming wasn’t right, then Twitter would be Jaiku.Best, Rich

  22. Fraser

    I remember a few amazing posts from Chartreuse about this very topic. It’s a lesson that I preach everyday at work.

  23. marshal sandler

    I think the real value in Twitter shall be when it is a subscription service with subscriptions offered in certain categories ! I read a lot of books and would have not problem paying for a Literature Category ! Yes the Free service could be kept alive but the interface could have other paid categories we could subscribe to ! Business exists for profit and if Twitter had a few million people paying $1.00 per month per category Twitter could build a profit structure to add more features ! I think the paid categories should add larger tweet sections ! Hard to do a book review in 140 ! Many are not interested in Tech, Movies Books Television Art have a larger audience ! The free Twitter could be an engine to expand our interestsI am sure a Tech Person does not really want me to tweet about The Anatomy of Melancholy but a Psychiatrist would ! Micro Blogging is a tough call !

    1. Harold G.

      Marshal,I like your ideas. The convention right now is to link your review with a quick tag. Your quick Tweet (“Read more about the Anatomy of Melancholy in my new blog post”) catches the eye of your audience and leads back to a substantial non-twitter system for distributing anything you care to distribute.I can imagine the worth of a tiered system for convenience, but it is hard to imagine people adopting it when there is already a free way to conveniently move all the data you like.

  24. Yule Heibel

    A couple of comments question Fred’s use of the expression “citizen journalism” by asking whether being in the right place at the right time is enough to qualify as journalism. I’d argue that it does – if the persons who are there and take photos then also take the extra step to produce the content online (i.e., post it). It’s all about whether or not someone moves from consuming an event to becoming a producer/ contributor.I live in a much much smaller city, which incidentally is filled with all sorts of quirky, creative people, but it is HARD to get folks to produce in a socially shared space in which professional identity is more fluid. It’s hard. You’ll find many more consumers than producers any day.One reason for this could be that people are still so married to categories: “I’m a writer,” “I’m an artist,” “I’m a journalist” – all professional categories. And somehow I’m supposed to leave the writing to the writer, the art-making to the artist, the reporting to the journalist. The artist sees something interesting, the writer witnesses an event – and they don’t post their product (a photo, an account) online because that’s the purview of the professional journalist.But the journalist wasn’t there.Half a day later, the journalist writes up a third-hand account. It’s good, but what’s missing? The people who were there first hand.If Twitter helps to dissolve the inhibition to wear the other guy’s hat from time to time, that’s not gawking or exploitation, that’s human growth, isn’t it?Anyway, major news events are exceptions – but think about all the ways that participation (moving from consumption to production) can enrich community life at the local level, where people actually live? Ask yourself how many times you’ve heard about an interesting event in your city / community days *after* it happened, and how much better served you would have been if you had known “just in time” (perhaps so you could have attended it, in the case of a concert or lecture or political meeting)?One of the only ways we’ll see things change is if many, many citizens (citizen journalists) overcome their hangups and shift from being mere consumers of news to becoming producers, too. If Twitter or any other online tool / service helps to make this happen, more power to it.PS: I also really liked what Marshal Sandler suggested, re. parsing out the various streams into subscription(s).

    1. marshal sandler

      Thanks for your kudo’s , I am 72 years old and can only be guided by an index ! I follow Mr Wilson’s projects as a book reader I now use a Firefox Browser Add on from Adaptive Blue -Glue ! As a book addict I have been able to post on Glue my recent list of re reads-from the past like Naked Lunch that predicted the rise of Drug Addiciton, and the book by Robert Burton Anatomy of Melancholy possible the original book on psychiatry. It described one of our great social problems Depression, but was written in 1620. Since in fact Social Media as well as Microblogging are in their infancy Twitter and Glue have a real shot at defining social media! To read older great books is not ot live in the past but give us a reference point for the future ! Kids today are becoming tech addicts I hope some day the Kids will find a Kindle in every home and they will become Kindle Addicts and lay off the French Fries ! Puede Ser

    2. fredwilson

      Great comment Yule, as usual

  25. pruett

    Twitter’s simplistic take on social media is absolutely brilliant. The future of the “real time web” has a lot to owe to Twitter :

    1. fredwilson

      Great story about the cricket toy

  26. fredwilson

    Don¹t think so.

  27. John Sjölander

    I would love to see that deck on slideshare. No links from either you or the commenters. Is it available?

  28. fredwilson

    At least it doesn¹t slow down the traffic

  29. Ari Herzog

    Thanks for the shout-out, Fred. I’d heard about it via a follower on Twitter, of course, but I was on the road for the weekend and my BlackBerry, oddly, couldn’t view or respond to Disqus. (Which says something else about technology.)

  30. bayu

    technology is good he can help , but technology can kill you too

  31. kuya

    how can sharing information if technology can’t using to be full