I don’t care if you were on Twitter before Oprah

Posted on April 22, 2009 9:17 pm by | Twitter

If you stick around long enough, you get to see history repeat itself. Since history repeats itself when nobody learned from it the first time around, it’s usually not a pretty sight.

The latest example of this is all the righteous indignation by users of Twitter over the surge of newcomers to the service joining in order to follow celebrities like Shaq, Ashton Kutcher, and Oprah Winfrey. With her media power, Oprah has motivated more than 1.5 million people, by some estimates, to sign onto Twitter just since she mentioned on her TV show that she has started to use the service, all before she sent her first tweet. The day she referenced Twitter on the show, 37% of visits to Twitter.com were from first-time visitors and overall traffic surged 43%, according to a USA Today article.

Buzzfeed actually proclaimed that all dates after April 17 shall forever be known as TAO—Twitter After Oprah. Somehow, I doubt that. But of all the ego-boosting nonsense surrounding the objection to the mainstream public joining Twitter, the “Here Before Oprah” website is the most pathetic. Seriously, just how desperately do you need to stand out? (Besides, why isn’t the same crowd whining about Sony’s use of Twitter as the platform for a game in support of its new “Terminator” movie? Could it be because they’re all playing the game?)

Incidentally, you can also use the “Here Before Oprah” site to see if your Twitter account predates anybody else you know, which might, I suppose, possibly have some minor uses.

Shel Holtz

I do not care who was here before Oprah. I do not care whom I beat to Twitter, or who beat me. It does not matter. The only thing that matters is whether your tweets are interesting or valuable. If they’re not—at least to me—I will not follow you. If they are, I will. Whether you were here on the day of Twitter’s launch or joined yesterday is irrelevant. Only the quality of your content matters. Period.

(Please don’t be offended if I’m not following you. I’m about 1,500 new followers behind in my should-I-or-shouldn’t-I assessment, and I don’t foresee catching up any time soon.)

I can’t possibly be the only person who remembers the same angst-ridden chest-thumping that took place when AOL users began migrating to the Web. “It’s all over,” the early adopters sobbed. “The unwashed masses will forever ruin our pristine geek clubhouse.”

Of course, what the influx of all those AOL newbies really did was create the critical mass that enabled the growth of ecommerce, online communication, and even (dare I say it?) social media. But even that wasn’t the first time the early adopters resisted opening the doors of their cherished private domain to outsiders. When Canadian online expert Michael Strangelove began publishing his (print) “Internet Business Journal” back around 1990, he actually received death threats. That’s right, people would rather send death threats than acknowledge that the Internet might someday play host to anything so base and undignified as business.

These are history lessons from which today’s generation of early adopters clearly have learned nothing. While nobody will ever commemorate the day the first banner ad appeared, business and the mainstream public both proved to be boons for the Net. Many of the online innovations we take for granted were developed to support business’ efforts to reach consumers, after all.

So here’s my advice to everyone wringing their hands over the intrusion by Joe Beercan into the Twitterspace: If you don’t like it, don’t follow them. Other than that, take a deep breath and crack open a history book. Maybe you’ll learn something.



  • 1.Fra Shel Holtz: I don???t care if you were on Twitter before Oprah: Were you on Twitter before Opra.. [link to post] - Posted using Chat Catcher

  • 2.I don???t care if you were on Twitter before Oprah: Were you on Twitter before Oprah? Well, ain???t you .. [link to post] - Posted using Chat Catcher

  • 3.I couldn't agree more.

    More people on Twitter mean more (and varied) people to follow and discuss with. My best conversations on Twitter now are with people far outside my field of communication -- yesterday with the Anglican Bishop of Buckingham, last week, with fellow innkeepers.

    A year ago, my choice was pretty much limited to techies and a few PR folks (good people, though).

    What people -- even long-time Twitter members -- forget is that you don't need to follow anyone on Twitter. And if the MLMers keep trying to follow you, well, there's the block button. Use it.

    If I have a concern about TAO, it's the burden on Twitter's backend. But that's Twitter's problem (and opportunity).

    Anyway, thanks for the rant -- saved me the trouble. And thanks for recalling Michael Strangelove: hadn't thought of him in years.

    Allan Jenkins | April 2009 | Copenhagen, Denmark

  • 4.Enjoyed this blog post by @shel [link to post] --Really puts into perspective the future of Twitter and addresses some concerns. - Posted using Chat Catcher

  • 5.RT @karinhoegh: RT @shel I don???t care if you were on Twitter before Oprah [link to post] - Posted using Chat Catcher

  • 6.Well, although I did the whole beat Oprah to Twitter tweet, now I feel like an idiot. But in hindsight, I completely agree with you.

    As usual, thanks for the education Shel.

    Aaron Hughling | April 2009 | Temple, TX

  • 7.Amen, Shel. I am really enjoying the take that you, Danny Brown, and Sonny Gill (and I'm sure many others) have on this. I don't want to call this a non-issue, but to get all worked up because Twitter may become more popular seems a bit misplaced. If SOCIAL (hint hint) media tools are working for you, then all should be well. On to the next.

    Bryan R. Adams | April 2009 | Greater NYC Area

  • 8.Shel,

    I'm glad you said it. Most of knew this would happen and called it several years ago. Being an early adopter doesn't come with entitlement.


    Rich Becker | April 2009 | Las Vegas

  • 9.for this brilliant observation, you will receive the drink of your choice next week at http://www.newcommforum.com I buy.

    Israel will get one too, only a day later :>)

    Albert Maruggi | April 2009 | St. Paul, MN

  • 10.Do you remember when AOL changed their pricing from '$ by the minute' to a flat fee of $20? The influx of new AOL customers was too much for AOL's infrastructure. I remember many nights as a high schooler attempting to log on to AOL over and over and over always getting the busy signal. I literally spent hours doing this I'm ashamed to say. Until AOL could meet the demand, the experience was awful - heaven forbid if one of your parents picked up the phone to make a call and you got kicked off and had to start the process over again.

    I'm not so worried about the types of people flooding Twitter, because there were a multitude of weirdos HBO (here before Oprah)... I'm more worried about the influx of additional requests. I have a feeling we'll be greeting the fail whale a lot more lately - and that brings more pressure on Twitter to figure out a way to monetize.

    Christy | April 2009 | Columbia, SC

  • 11.Shel,

    Great Post. Just yesterday I was at Lingba Lounge ( Thai Food )in San Francisco and I decided to send a tweet asking what I should order, within seconds I was flooded with replies. It truly is the closest thing to tapping into real time thoughts, with a privacy policy of course!

    BenBehrouzi | April 2009 | San Francisco, CA

  • 12.Shel Holtz - I don???t care if you were on Twitter before Oprah - [link to post]. - Posted using Chat Catcher

  • 13.I wonder if early readers claimed "I read the Bible BEFORE Gutenberg printed everyone a copy."

    Casey DeLorme | April 2009 | San Diego

  • 14.The great thing everything online is that it is on demand and becoming more customizable by the second. Think of earlier television--for a long time people were sort of trapped by commercials because it was too much to get up and stand infront of the box and change the channel to see what else was on while you waited for the commercial to be over and resume watching your show. Then remote controls came along and surfing the channels became a sport. And then the Tivo services came along and everyone just jumps over the commercials.

    Just because a sudden influx of people have accounts on Twitter, doesn't mean you have to deal with more noise. Don't follow people if you don't want AND... remember, there are a small number of people who drive conversation online and only a slightly larger group of people who Participate in the conversations. The vast majority of people are just Listeners--they go online to read, hear, watch what's going on and that's it. No noise comes out of Listeners and even if there are more participants in the conversation, those with nothing worth listening to can be "turned off" or "tuned out".

    Christine Fife | April 2009 | San Francisco, CA

  • 15.While the numbers of people Oprah brought to Twitter that day are impressive, about the only thing Twitter can say about them is they are registered users. Many came and looked and left. Many came, signed up, followed Oprah and Ellen, and left. Few remain.

    I just went thru some of Oprah's followers starting at page 20000, and most have no image, one 1 post "Hi Oprah" and have not been back since.


    Ray Sola | April 2009 | Tucson, AZ

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