Eight Years Ago, The Iowa Caucus Convinced Me Of The Power Of Twitter… Today? Not So Much

from the things-change dept

I first signed up for Twitter in March of 2007, but I’ll admit that I barely used it for about nine months. There were two events in early 2008, however, that convinced me of Twitter’s power. The first was that I logged in and saw someone who I only knew online, but not in person, mention a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in NY that I really liked, and because of that, we actually arranged to meet up there for lunch a few weeks later when I was in NY. That ability to connect people was really powerful. The second, though, was much bigger, and it was the Iowa caucus in 2008. It was in January in 2008, but I’m thinking about it today, obviously because (in case you haven’t heard), today is this year’s Iowa caucus that officially kicks off the Presidential silly season, known as the Presidential nominating process.

As the caucuses ramped up in that evening in 2008, something kind of fascinating happened. I saw someone (again, someone I knew via Twitter, but not in real life), retweet an account that someone had set up solely to retweet in person tweets from within the various caucuses. I quickly followed that account (which I long ago unfollowed, so I don’t even remember the account name or even if it still exists). And it kept popping up first person real life reports of what was happening with the various caucus gatherings. And then I started following some of the mainstream news coverage of the caucus as well. To be honest, I didn’t really care that much about what happened in Iowa, but the tweets from inside caucus gatherings seemed… unique. It made it more real and more personal.

And here was the real kicker: almost every retweet showed Barack Obama beating Hillary Clinton and John Edwards (the two other “leading” candidates) sometimes by a large margin. And yet every single mainstream news report claimed that based on their “exit polls” or whatever the hell they were doing, all three candidates were stuck in a statistical dead heat 33/33/33. But as the evening wore on, and more and more of the Twitter reports showed Obama winning caucus gather after caucus gathering, the mainstream media reports finally started showing some separating between the candidates, with Obama finally winning with over 37% of the vote (Clinton and Edwards each had about 29+).

lists of people to follow on Twitter to “get the full story” on the Iowa caucuses, and the list is mainly made up of professional journalists. And, at the same time, the company continues to try to reinvent itself to make itself more acceptable to Wall Street investors. The company stupidly shunned the developers and contributors who made the service so powerful in the early years, meaning that it’s getting increasingly frustrating to actually use Twitter. It’s been adding in “features” that the company thinks will benefit advertisers, but seem to negatively impact its best users. And there are all sorts of questions about how Twitter will survive (though it has a ton of cash on hand).

For a long time I’ve argued that Twitter made a big mistake in focusing on being a platform instead of a protocol, and the struggles it’s facing today are just some evidence supporting that concern. As a “platform” they’re so focused on building the business, rather than being useful. And in scaring off or simply blocking or killing their developer community, the fact that the service has gotten more annoying than useful lately, is a real loss. If there were a thriving developer community there would be ample opportunities for those innovations to make the service better. But instead, it’s been left to Twitter alone, and the company is failing (badly) in that role.

Eight years ago I saw the power of Twitter. And today, I’m really missing that unique power. I hope it can return soon.

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Comments on “Eight Years Ago, The Iowa Caucus Convinced Me Of The Power Of Twitter… Today? Not So Much”

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Whatever (profile) says:

What you say 8 years ago was Twitter before everyone had figured out how to manipulate the black box to get the desired results. It was before the bots, before the spam, and before the commercialism settled in.

We all know how twitter works now. So do the spammers, jammers, scammers, and general idiots that clutter the online world with spam and such. Twitter long since fell into that pile, and it’s unlikely to ever make it back.

Wendy Cockcroft says:

Re: Re:

That can be said of any online platform. Hell, we even get “the spammers, jammers, scammers, and general idiots that clutter the online world with spam and such” right here on Techdirt. It’s not Twitter thing, it’s an internet thing.

Twitter needs to let the developers back in if it wants to stay relevant, says Mike, and I think he’s right. If it’s not the most useful sharing platform on the internet, we’ll vote with our feet and Twitter will go the way of MySpace.

Anonymous Coward says:

Twitter search sux

I am a complete novice at Twitter, but I must say it is nearly impossible to find local tweets. They bought and killed of Tweetdeck which made that easy.

On top of that, the majority of trending tweets are frickin celebrity gossip and teens/tweens asking bebop bands to follow them.

I am sure there is good stuff there, but it is not really worth looking for.

TKnarr (profile) says:

Twitter underneath the interface can’t be that complex. The two hard parts would seem to be the search function (given keywords, find relevant tweets or accounts to follow) and filtering out the spambots (I’d love to have a big enough unfiltered dataset to see how Bayesian filtering would work on it, and I wonder if just a delay between sign-up and activation (ie. you sign up today, your account will be approved and activated tomorrow) would be enough to discourage them).

Anonymous Coward says:

This year the Iowa caucus convinced me:

That the DNC is willing to burn its house to the ground in order to put HRC in office.

6 coin flips, ALL went to HRC? Really? How many people are never going to EVER give money to the DNC again because of the blatant corruption it has demonstrated so far this year?

My guess is 2020 is going to be good for the greens and the tea party.

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