Image by Matthias Töpfer (license cc2.0)

The proof that Twitter is dead

How kids riding snowboard made it clear to me that Twitters time is past

Twitter has been heralded as more than just a social network, but instead a fundamental part the communication infrastructure of our society. The lack of clear revenue models has not hindered the company from a public IPO nor from it being something assumed to be present forever.

The service which offers only 140 characters per message still managed to become the worlds go-to place during Arab spring or when the Boston bombings happened. All other media outlets had to accept that they were second on the ball and adjusted their strategies to incorporate Twitter instead of competing with it. It has in only a few years gone from being a tech insider secret handshake to a tool where a single individual with a mouse click can make a whole nation furious and demand public apology.

With the raw, uncensored and flat communication structure Twitter offer it didn’t just fill a previously empty gap, it changed the game. But new rules bring new set of challenges and here Twitter has failed to act fast or thoroughly enough. A torrent of abuse and harassments has plagued the service with the climax being dubbed “Gamergate”, which also has been used to showcase Twitters deafness to the problem.

The tech- and media world that has made Twitter so successful also seem very keen to declare it dead. They are however getting a lot of help from the company itself. With Twitter Inc. having top executives jump ship, problems with their valuation (dropping almost 50% in just the last few months) and constant revising how the service works (identity crisis?).

The very symbol of Twitter is the chronological stream of events never longer than 140 characters. This is now changing to a out-of-time order stream and messages at almost any length.

Twitter is doing everything it can to ensure the world that they are more than alive, that they are in fact still relevant and until recently they had me fooled.

Then I watched Burton US Open 2016 and everything changed!

If you want to know where the future of tech lies you shouldn’t just look at its industry leaders. They tend to say how they want the future to look rather than what is actually going on. Instead it is wise to look at users in marginalised countries and Teens, they are after all the user base every company say they will secure. It’s hard though as the task is infinitely more complex than just to ask a teenager for a answer. Often they don’t care the way the person asking does or they lack incitement to understand the context of the question.

Burton US Open is one of the oldest snowboarding competitions in the sports fairly young history. During the sports shy 30 years of existence it has however secured a spot at the olympics which speaks volumes of how much relevance it has. Like most extreme sports Snowboarding has a very big following among youth and a large amount of the current “trend setters” can be found among the athletes.

This year two noteworthy things happened (that I want to highlight, of course the return of Shaun White is a story in itself left for another blogger).

First, a 14-year old unknown boy named Judd Henkes not only won the youth competition securing him a spot in the adult finals, but he almost won the adult competition too (finished 5:th). The “ticket to ride with the adults” you win in the youth competition is supposed to be a nice way to inspire kids beginning the sport. Never did anyone foresee actual competition come from this. He didn’t just ride on par with the rest of the athletes, he destroyed the competition. Not to mention that he did this while sporting a nice blue buttoned shirt!

So what does this has to do with Twitter?

After Judds first run people were completely floored. Everybody felt like they had witnessed history in the making. As Judd reached the bottom of the giant super half pipe he did not stop to take in the crowds cheers. Instead he threw his board up in front of his face to show the camera a piece of text scribbled on the board. To be absolutely clear he also pointed at it several times. It was his @-handle! (@juddhenkes)

I laughed, screamed and shouted in the sofa. This kid was just unbelievable! At one point he was 22 feet OVER the edge of the half pipe, which in itself is another 20 feet high. He sweeped the floor with the professionals, made it down alive and the most important thing for him was that we follow him on Twitter. I reached for my phone and figured I should give him what he so much seek, attention.

As I opened up Twitter and entered his handle I realised something was wrong. The account had almost no followers and the tweets written didn’t mention anything about snowboarding. I paused the TV to ensure I had it spelled correctly which I had.

Judd must have spelled it wrong then, what other explanation could there be?

Later that day the tweets mentioning his handle started coming in from other adult couch potatoes like myself. Finally the actual owner of the Twitter handle @juddhenkes tweeted:

Judd Henkes never meant for us to look for him on Twitter. The fact that Judd Henkes only pointed on a @ name made me assume that he meant Twitter, what other default service is there? Turns out 14 year old Judd Henkes doesn’t even have a Twitter account, who knows if he even cares. Instead he meant Instagram. Judd was trying to get followers on his Instagram profile which also was @juddhenkes. He didn’t even bother to clarify the service he meant because to him there is no other place to be!

Instagram is the new default!

The second noteworthy thing happened right after Judds second run. The Red Bull stream decided to cut to a short interview with the winner of the US Open Ladies Chloe Kim. A 15 year old girl that earlier that day did what Judd was doing in the Mens section now, killing the competition and stunning the world!

Chloe Kim in her winning run at Burton US Open 2016

Instead of me trying to recapture how the interview went, let me quote it here:
Interviewer: She [Chloe Kim] won women's finals. Has it settled in yet? 
Chloe: No not yet, its wild! Can’t believe it at all.
Interviewer: What surprised me was a lot of people before their run is up, they are stretching, trying to visualise. You however were looking at instagram! 
Chloe: …
Interviewer: @instagram tagged you in a photo, was that as big of a accomplishment today for you as winning US Open?
Chloe: It was insane for sure!
Interviewer: How does it feel to be trending [on Instagram] right now?
Chloe: It’s a crazy experience to be trending right now
Interviewer: You got 1000s of followers from that
Chloe: weeeeee!

Chloe Kim celebrating being trending on Instagram

(1:42:00 in http://www.redbull.com/en/snow/stories/1331779995205/burton-us-open-2016-free-live-broadcast-and-vod )

Let me spell this out. This 15 year old girl has just won the biggest competition in the world for snowboarding. The thing she is most excited about however is that she is trending on Instagram.

Chloe compared to Judd does have a twitter account which seems to be handled by some manager of hers. This is understandable with only a mere 4638 followers, this is not where the audience is anymore.

On Instagram however Chloe is very active supporting all her 119 000 followers!

While we in the media and tech industry were busy discussing whether Twitter still is as relevant today as yesterday the world moved on. Someone else that saw the writing on the wall, but not as late as me however is Twitters head of products Kevin Weil. He decided to quit his position at Twitter to begin working somewhere else. Where you wonder? @instagram of course!