November 6, 2013

User burnout could threaten Twitter's prosperity

The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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The Twitter bird logo is on an updated phone post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Wednesday Nov. 6, 2013. Twitter's initial public offering was priced at $26 a share, Wednesday evening, and is expected to start trading on the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday.

AP Photo/Richard Drew

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Prolific tweeters stay engaged partly because there are real benefits to a big following, which usually requires tweeting a lot.

Journalists who have large Twitter followings have used them to land better-paying jobs because every click on stories can make more money for their new employer. Actors can land roles on TV or the movies if their digital audience is expected to tag along.

Matt Lewis, a columnist with The Week magazine, says his Twitter following is like "portable equity" that gave him an edge over more established writers earlier in his career. He's now got nearly 33,000 followers.

Even so, one of Lewis' more popular stories is titled "Why I hate Twitter." It goes into why the social network became, for him, "a dark place" overrun by "angry cynics and partisan cranks." He became demoralized by the criticism, but he couldn't pull himself away.

"It's also like a prison. You can't check out," he says.

Today, Lewis rarely interacts with his followers and hopes the service will come up with new ways to filter out the hate tweets. "Why should I be harassed if I look at my @ button?" he says.

But he remains amazed at how Twitter has helped him reach new readers, and after some 67,000 tweets, he isn't giving it up.

Others find that as more people join the service, the deluge of tweets can drown out individual voices.

So says Bob Lefsetz, a music industry analyst who writes an email column titled the Lefsetz Letter.

Twitter, he wrote in July, is "toast." ''Over. Done. History." His follower count isn't rising as quickly as before, although it's still a respectable 57,000-plus. And his tweets don't see as much action as in the past, which he attributes to too many people tweeting "too much irrelevant information."

"In the old days, I'd get 20 retweets. Now I'll get none," Lefsetz says. "It makes me not want to play."

Along with the potential for burnout, there's also the risk that Twitter becomes uncool to the younger generation, especially when services such as Pinterest and Instagram are a tap away.

Devon Powers, an assistant professor of communications at Drexel University, says many of her students have moved on to Snapchat. But there can still be pressure to keep up with the other services.

"There's all these new obligations to update and report and check in," she says. It can make dropping offline feel like a relief.

"If I get really busy, the first thing I stop doing is checking Twitter," she says. "I'm living my life. I'm not having a commentary about it."

 

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