Go back far enough & you’ll find I was an avid user of IRC. It’s where we, as devious teenagers, would plot & execute silly hacks, especially on Dublin-based radio station sites (I think the statute of limitations has passed).
Later, as I grew ‘old’ (read as: 17) I started writing ‘long form articles’ (read as: vitriolic political rants about George Bush) on various platforms. One such platform I recall was called Bloopdiary, which was mainly a home for angry teenage goths. But it had a community that commented on each others’ work, direct messaged each other and it had a vibe. Kind of like a pre-pubescent Medium.
Over the years I dropped in-and-out of true social networks. Most notably there was Bebo, which was big during the college years. Then there was MySpace, which was the big dog at the time but I never really got into it. It just never appealed, and I think mostly that came down to it never really being all that popular with my “crew” on IRC, or even my real life friends.
IRC always stuck, even when Bebo grew in popularity. IRC was where we were honest with strangers. Bebo was where we lied to each other about how great things were; particularly with college exams, relationships and fake holidays.
On IRC, everyone was known by a pseudonym. Despite that, it felt more personal, at least to me, than Bebo. I would direct message people I had (albeit through digital means) personal interest in. And they had personal interest in me. We cared. Sometimes, just sometimes, where possible we would meet up and chat about things over beer. On Bebo, and I imagine MySpace was the same, there was no shared community. You already knew these people, and didn’t really care. Bebo was all for show with college mates. It was a temporary location for what should have been useless, ephemeral updates.
Today, I find the social landscape to be the exact same. I’m on Facebook, but I certainly don’t use it. My friends & family are there, but we don’t interact on Facebook save for the occasional ‘like’ or ‘comment’ on a picture or check-in notification. We use Facebook Messenger a bit, but lean into WhatsApp more (which, granted, is owned by Facebook).
On the flip side, I’m on Twitter. And I use it. I joined in 2008. That’s about 8 years of being on Twitter, fairly persistently. Of 8 out of 10 years of the site’s existence I’ve been there. It’s through Twitter I met friends, colleagues & cohorts in the real world, in various locations. It’s through Twitter I have Twitter-only friends whom I direct message regularly and chat. We chat about life, politics, love, coffee, beer and work.
For me, Twitter has a bigger emotional draw because it reminds me of the good old days on IRC. It’s the same thing. Sure, I have Slack now. But Slack is more for work. Twitter is divorced from any particular natural state or topic of discussion. Twitter’s ecosystem fits right into IRC. Hell, hashtags are a hangover from IRC channels. The @ symbol is a hangover from usernames. Twitter is IRC for me both in terms of how the technology works, but also in terms of the ecosystem it provides.
And Twitter’s weird. Really weird. The company history is fascinating because I bet if IRC was a business the same awkward structure, in-fighting and power brokering would happen among haphazard entrepreneurs stumbling onto an awesome communications tool. For some reason, weird appeals to me.
Right now, Twitter is at a crossroads. It’s a public company with a strong public image. It’s being measured on ROI; which means how many ads are being seen or clicked on. And the problem Jack Dorsey, the returning CEO, has with the company is there’s not enough growth in the user numbers. Twitter’s a community. A very active one. People who love it, like me, are really heavy users. But new user adoption is low. In many respects, it’s the same as IRC. New users had no idea what to do after they downloaded an IRC client. But the experienced old heads logged in daily, even if they didn’t contribute to the discussion.
And so for 8 years I’ve gotten a lot of ROI out of Twitter in my personal escapades. Here’s to 8 more. And hopefully 10 more for Twitter.
If you want to follow me on Twitter, hit me up: @kev_d.