The first thing Amanda Mooney, 22, does when she wakes up in the morning is fire up her laptop. She opens "a crazy amount of tabs" and checks in on her Facebook, MySpace, Flickr and YouTube friends. A self-described "digital native" who graduated from Emerson College in Boston this summer, Mooney contributes her thoughts to her new employer's blog at Edelmandigital.com, as well as at Americanshelflife.com. She chats on AIM, publicly bookmarks favorite posts on Digg and Del.icio.us. And, of course, she twitters. And twitters and twitters.
On Twitter, the service that lets you keep the world abreast of your doings in 140 characters or less, "you post a thought and you never know who is going to jump in and join that conversation with you," says Mooney. "You sort of forget that it's a really, really public form of [instant messaging]." She's reviewed the new movie "Wanted," shared a dream about standing in line to buy the new iPhone and sent out links to new sites she has found interesting.
For Mooney and the million-odd microbloggers out there, no thought, however trivial, goes undigitized. First there was Facebook—where members are able to share instant thoughts or whereabouts with their social network by writing a pithy "status update" (Example: Brian is writing a story about microblogging). Now there is a rash of new self-publishing tools that seem to launch on a weekly basis. In the last few months alone, services like identi.ca, Pownce, and Plurk have popped up. Arguably the hippest is Tumblr. Launched last year, it allows people to subscribe to—or follow—each other's "tumblelogs" and netted a bit of microfame for the odd vapid oversharer and facilitated the expression of at least one Garfield fan's flash of inspired genius.
The new kid on the block is Posterous, which made its debut last week and is already making Tumblr seem archaic by bypassing the need to go to a Web site to write a post—or even embed a video. On Posterous, users start an account and publish new posts entirely via e-mail. All you need to do to launch a new blog—and update it—is send an e-mail to email@example.com. In its first week 6,000 bloggers registered with Posterous, according to cofounder Sachin Agarwal.
Posterous's initial popularity may be good for the company's investors, but how many blogging services does the world need anyway? "The problem is that people are launching a whole new service based on one feature," says Sean Bonner, who co-publishes Metroblogging, a large network of local blogs. "The reason Twitter is useful is because all your friends are there. If it was just you, it would be as useful as a piece of paper you write notes to yourself on."
Indeed, for now, Twitter appears to be winning the microblogging arms race. The service boasted an estimated 1.2 million unique visitors in May alone, and may be valued in the eye-popping neighborhood of $100 million. This all suggests that an instant 140-character "tweet" meets some communications needs better than a fleshed out blog post. (In April an American journalism student was arrested in Egypt for photographing a demonstration, his tweets alerted friends to what had happened—and ultimately got him sprung.)
Perhaps given the success of Twitter, it's no surprise that there is a new wave of clones: venture capitalists smell money in the water. "If you look at any technology trend of this sort that is developed by technologists, put forward through startups and funded by venture capitalists, you're going to have a shakeout and you're going to have winners," says John Palfrey, coauthor of the forthcoming book "Born Digital." "I'm not surprised at all to see a series of copycat services emerge and get funded."
Still, even Twitter can be just more digital noise. Who has the time to check in on even one single BFF's doings at Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and even Netflix in any given afternoon? And, really, who cares what you just had for lunch? "It's allowing for more conversation, social, business or otherwise," says Chris Brogan, a social-media consultant. "But I'm suddenly tending to a lot of stores." Enter the aggregators: one-stop Web sites that let you see what your friends are up to in their various Web travels. "As people are rapidly moving toward [services like] Twitter and Tumblr, it will force us to a mode where the consumption tools need to be on a separate platform," says David Karp, the wunderkid founder of Tumblr, which has 315,000 registered users. "What we're doing now is agreeing to use one tool that allows us to be in the same place."
For example, FriendFeed, Swurl and Spokeo are slightly creepy new tools that allow users to see a wide swath of their friends' online activity in one place. Users allow these sites to pull their most recent activity from an array of Web services, and then invite friends to monitor and comment on each update (a new photo at Flickr here, a new blog post there), all on a single page. But read those last two sentences—we just mentioned not one, but three aggregators. How long before some enterprising developer builds an aggregator that aggregates the aggregators? No one ever said sharing was easy.