Tuesday 30 June 2009

Is Twitter a dead duck?

(Or "Oh No! Not another blog about Twitter!")

Do you tweet? Compared to the usage in other parts of the social web, not a lot of people do. In fact a lot of the people who have signed up with the so-called "mini-blogging" service don't tweet any more - if they ever did - and are now dormant accounts. Or so we are told.

They have discovered something fundamental: it is boring - despite all the efforts of the Silicon Valley gurus and marketeers to talk it up with their puppy-like enthusiasm and hyperbole. And Twitter is time-consuming. Not as hard and as time-consuming as full-blown blogging, but time-consuming nevertheless. And as everybody should know, the two most important words in the social web are 'time' and 'content'. Just like real life really.

Twitter is boring for a lot of people because they quickly discover that they haven't really got anything interesting to tweet about, and once they have got over the initial titilation generated by the pornographic and voyeuristic sensations which can come very close to stalking, then interest quickly evaporates. Rather like more traditional pornograpic material: at first it titilates, but in the final analysis it is hollow and fails to deliver.

And Twitter is boring because there just isn't time. Time to sleep; time to eat; time to work; time to watch that TV prog taped three weeks ago; time to answer emails; time to walk the dog; time to read those interesting blogs; time to read the news - from whatever source. Time to read a book, for goodness sake.

In fact I believe Twitter is maturing. The honeymoon period is over. You can tell this by the amount of pond life which is now attempting to make a dodgy buck. Just like penis-extension or you-must-tell-me-your-bank-details-because-I'm-Nigerian emails. Or sexycanella751 trying to contact you on Skype. Believe me, if she, and many others of that ilk, hasn't tried to follow you on Twitter yet, she will do.

What will a mature Twitter look like? Well, first off, people will stop blogging about it(!) and it won't be mentioned every two lines in the smarter newspapers. In the honeymoon period, half the tweets generated seemed to have been incestuous - tweets about Twitter: Twitter etiquette; Twitter adeptitude; 10 reasons to use Twitter; 10 reasons not to use Twitter; 20 best tweeters; 30 best apps to improve your tweeting; top 40 celebs on Twitter; 50 ways to leave your lover. Hopefully this will stop too. And hopefully people will stop being obsessed with their number of followers and followed. (These sheep really do need to get a life - or perhaps answer that penis-extension email.)

And we promise we won't blog about Twitter again, either! (Er - not unless it's an emergency...)

A mature Twitter will exist like a glorified news feed. People who get the best out of being a Twitter consumer already follow the news feeds they might have previously fed into their home/start pages. These Twitter users might never tweet themselves - they simply use it as an alternative news and updates source. Nothing wrong with that.

A mature Twitter will exist like a glorified news feed. People who get the best out of being a Twitter broadcaster already tweet what amounts to a news feed about their chosen subject. This could be about the political situation in a country undergoing serious upheavals, through snow and skiing reports from a particular resort, to the contents in the latest issue of a magazine or a link to the latest online reviews of wizzo new gadgets. In other words, tweets with genuine, defined content. Amateur, or business, it doesn't matter.

A mature Twitter will be used, as it is already, by business to engage with customers as an alternative to the conventional helpdesk, as well as directing followers to the latest offerings in their shop/magazine/blog.

A mature Twitter will not have the (now) mythical tweet "Got up this morning; went to the toilet". But the pond life will still be sniffing around trying to feed on your curiosity and greed. That just comes with the territory. Ask email.

So is Twitter a dead duck? No. It is evolving. It is beginning to shed the hype and the wide-eyed youthful inanity and voyeurism. It is getting middle-aged. Boring. Once upon a time people sent their friends emails - just because they could. Now email is boring. But it works. It does what it says on the tin. Email won't disappear. Nor will Twitter.

Monday 15 June 2009

Do your 'suits' lack adeptitude?

If they do, then it is very unlikely they will be reading this, so I can be as rude about them as I like.

I have the authority to be rude about executives with a serious lack of adeptitude because I am really one of their generation - although I shrink from the suggestion. I am nearly 56. The history of my relationship with computers is typical for someone my age. When I left at 18, my school had just acquired a machine, but I never saw it. Only whispered about and jealously reserved for those doing Maths A level, as far as I can remember, - not my subject. I was luckier than most: my school was private and well-financed. Most schools at that time hadn't even considered computers. They still had their knickers in a knot about battery powered calculators, and slide rules were still considered a little risqué.

In the 1970s I worked overseas in hotel management where all stock control and accounting was still manual and hard copy. Although we usually had a desktop electric adding machine, mental arithmetic was king - just as important now as then, despite it being out of fashion. There should be no conflict between modern adeptitudes and ancient but vital skills like mental arithmetic. The former are complimented by the latter, rather than rendering them unnecessary.

In the 1980s I wrote articles for magazines using a cheap typewriter from W.H. Smiths. Ink ribbons, carbon paper, real mechanical carriage return, Tippex and all that. Steampunk by today's standards. At the end of that decade, a friend, an engineer already in the IT world, was horrified to see my plight and got me a secondhand PC on which I ran a word processor and a simple CAD program. That was 20 years ago and was my first contact with computers.

Unfortunately some of my peers have hardly progressed beyond that stage of development. These are the potentially capable but lazy and complacent persons who still fill some of the senior management and executive posts in business (and dare I say it - in governments, civil services and the academic world). They have managed to sleepwalk through the last 20 years, just paying enough attention to the new communications revolution to get by in their careers. Now they see themselves as too senior to bother with it all, because the higher they have risen the less need there has been to grasp the nettle. Afterall, they have minions to do it for them. They are part of the Silver-Surfer generation, but they are not actively engaged.

A cheap caricature? Yes, of course. But who doesn't recognise somebody or something in the above? Remember the British politician who not so long ago got caught out when she inadvertently claimed expenses for a couple of porn movies her husband had paid to download? What a wonderful example of lack of adeptitude!

So what is adeptitude? What is this thing that (mercifully few - I hope) executives lack? It is not in a dictionary - yet. It should be. It might be a surprise to read that the earliest record in print that I can find is from 1835. And that is only after a few minutes on Google. The word appeared in the second part for 1835 of The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal in a piece called The Red Man. It was published by Henry Colburn, 13, Great Marlborough Street, London. On pages 196-7 the following passage appears, here thanks to Google Books' new embedding facility:

Those goths and ghouls among you might like to read the whole of The Red Man.

Meanwhile, search results in Google Books suggest that the next use in print was at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. There appear to have been three:

"In the end, even Laura Jewett, who scoffed at her mother's adeptitude, swings into the procession, and she it is who carries off Sir William..." [The Cyclopedic Review of Current History,‎ by Alfred Sidney Johnson, Clarence A. Bickford, William W. Hudson, Nathan Haskell Dole, 1903. Page 745.]

"He adorned it with an imposing presence, varied adeptitude, and a ritual instinct. The small soul restricted his influence among the chiefs, ..." [The Master of Life: A Romance of the Five Nations and of Prehistoric Montreal. By William Douw Lighthall, Toronto, The Musson Book Co., 1908. Page 117.]

"Probably it was within these very temple fastnesses that Yoshisada himself
achieved the adeptitude that enabled him afterwards to enact the part of Moses!" [The Way of the Gods in Japan, by Hope Huntly, Richard G. Badger (Firm), Gorham Press, Morrison and Gibb, 1911. Page 156.]

Apart from an occurrence in The Indian Philosophical Review, by The Indian Philosophical Association in 1920, we jump to the 1950s, and from then on there is a steady flow of examples. One to be most respected I feel, is from Norman Suckling in Paul Valéry and the Civilized Mind, Oxford University Press, 1954. Norman Suckling was lecturer in French at King's College, Newcastle upon Tyne in the University of Durham. On page 89 is the following phrase:
"...was perfectly aware that this is the automatism of one who has attained a high pitch of adeptitude..."

On page 59 of Power Spells for Teens, 'Alyra', Citadel Press, 2005, a children's book, the author states:
"... Adeptitude is the opposite of ineptitude."

Well not quite. Adeptitude is more than that. It is aptitude, but combined with attitude and adaptibility to give confidence and competence to acquire and command targetted skills to engage with and understand the ever-faster evolving world.

To be in possession of adeptitude is surely the opposite of suffering from Alvin Toffler's Future Shock.

So does it matter if your 'suits' lack adeptitude? Yes it does. These people are the ultimate decision makers in all aspects of our lives. If they lack adeptitude, how can we possibly trust them to make the right decisions and correctly judge the advice they are given? Through their lack of adeptitude they are irresponsible. Think of the billions wasted every year by governments on half-arsed, over-ambitious, wrongly focussed digital projects. A bit more adeptitude at the top might prevent some of these white elephants ever breaking loose.

Know an executive without adeptitude? Well, perhaps you should print this out and slip it in their intray when they are on the golf course... ;-)