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Apr. 23 2009 - 4:31 am | 263 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Twitter Adds ‘Poking’ to Trump Facebook

San Fransisco, CA – Twitter CEO Evan Williams announced today that Twitter will add a ‘poking’ feature to its popular micromessaging service, enabling people to communicate using even less effort than before.

Williams, or ev as he is AKA’d on Twitter, broke the news via a 140-character ‘tweet’ to his more than 500,000 followers around the world. He then gave the inaugural Twitter-poke to dating columnist and New York-based social climber Julia Allison, who immediately gushed on her lifecasting blog NonSociety, “That’s hot.”

“People have been complaining for some time now that 140 characters is just too long to convey some thoughts,” William said in a later interview with Sarah Lacy of BusinessWeek (AKA saracuda). “People’s tweet streams have long been clogged with brief quips like ‘Thanks!’ and ‘OMG ROFL’ – we decided to offer our users the opportunity to replace words of questionable value with a poke. We strongly believe that this new feature will grow to be loved.”

For social media mavens, poking has been a controversial feature of social network Facebook for quite some time. There, people can see friends’ profiles that often include contact information, photos, events, and other personal information. But people also had the ability to electronically ‘poke’ people they weren’t friends with, expanding their networks in unanticipated directions.

A source inside Facebook who spoke with us on condition of anonymity shared internal research showing that 14,478 relationships – of varying length and girth – and as many as 125 marriages have resulted from pokes.  Nevertheless, ‘poking overload’ has resulted in many extremely attractive people blocking people from poking them, continuing the co-evolutionary battle of the sexes.

A discussion about poking quickly took place on Twitter, although influencer Robert Scoble (AKA the scobleizer) chose to debate complete strangers on FriendFeed (which doesn’t allow poking, incidentally). In one highly retweeted tweet, lethally generous industry analyst Jememiah Owyang commented, “because poking is free, Twitter users are likely to abuse the new feature.” In response, Williams tweeted, “We’re all about loving our users and giving them a platform to love each other, not about making money. Oh, and I heart Zappos.”

In a 5,352-word article posted today on his website, NYU professor and new media guru Clay Shirky commented that, “The problem isn’t poking overload, it’s filter failure.”

Not unlike Blair and Serena scheming for optimal prom dates, Twitter and Facebook have been mindfucking for quite some time. Facebook, holding a beautiful bouquet of red roses, politely asked to buy Twitter, but gold-digger Evan totally dissed Mark. Mark, feeling hurt, then did what any fresh-faced, innocent young man would do in this situation – visit Oprah. And then my friend Jenny told me that she overheard Mark totally say to Oprah that he’s copying Twitter, so he doesn’t need it anymore.

In the drama of adding poking to his site, and indeed, visiting Oprah himself last week, Evan could now be turning the tables on Mark. But what if the new Twitter feature backfires with massive overpoking? And what if Mark and Evan have adjoining VIP tables at Mighty??

Celebrities have differing viewpoints on poking. Ashton Kutcher (AKA aplusk – get it?), a major adopter of Twitter and yet another Oprah BFF, had no immediate comment – but his fans did. “I’m going to poke the shit out of him,” shrieked a tweenager wearing a Gossip Girl t-shirt. “He’s so hot and I want to let him know it.”

Other celebrities such as Juliet Landau, perhaps most famous for playing Drusilla on Buffy: The Vampire Slayer from 1997-2003, are reportedly expecting a poke-driven positive surge of renewed interest.

Williams for his part says there are no immediate plans for poking safety features like blocking, either, because the poke was made available as a ‘beta’ product.

“Perpetual beta is common in the Web 2.0 world,” commented Pete Cashmore, CEO of Mashable, one of the most popular sites for news on social networking technology. Personally, he enjoys poking a lot: “Poking helps me connect with a whole new group of people who have nothing whatsoever to say to me, but still want to get in touch. And developing and nurturing these kinds of relationships is the cornerstone of social platforms like Twitter.”

Williams hopes to monetize just these relationships. Cashmore: “Any small edge that a company like Twitter can get could make a difference in this competitive market. Poking is a feature of necessity for Twitter to create economies of scale for global gossip networks.”  A skeptical viewpoint was expressed by Pulitzer Prize-winning “long form” writer Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, however. “Why did they reinvent a poke with a poke? Just more evidence that all the really creative people on Earth live in Manhattan between Grand Street and 23rd.”

An employee of Twitter familiar with the company’s financial situation told us that Twitter had a good chance of being profitable by 2014. When asked if poking was part of a move towards a more concrete business model for the company, he looked right into our eyes and answered with complete seriousness, “Absolutely.”

Yammer and Present.ly, competitors in the Enterprise 2.0 microsharing niche, did not immediately respond to questions about whether they would provide poking to their corporate clients.


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    About Me

    I'm a biological scientist by training with eclectic interests in politics, government, technology, and pop culture. My writing has appeared in diverse publications: PBS MediaShift, TechPresident, Mashable, Nature, Genetics, Genome Research, Defense and Technology Papers, Defense Horizons, The Washington Times, and The New York Times. Besides writing for True/Slant, conducting public policy research, and working on a book, I'm currently a regular columnist for O’Reilly Radar (social software and society), Federal Computer Week (emerging technology and government) and soon, DC Examiner. Because of all the above, I stare at books and computer screens too much, and at girls too little.

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    Location:Washington, DC