TECHNOLOGICAL FADS come and go as quickly as David Beckham's haircuts it seems, and in the world of Geekdom, any company that finds itself being labelled as 'the next big thing' had better beware.
The problem is that tech nerds are a fickle bunch. This month's killer App is next month's trash can content as the unfortunate owners of Friends Reunited will certainly attest. It's true that the outfit that once rode high on the wave of fashion for middle-aged divorcees cyber-stalking their ex-boyfriends and girlfriends is still limping along, having expanded into the family tree and dating fields. But the arrival of Myspace - which was in turn kicked into touch by the young upstart Facebook - put paid to Friends Reunited's all pervasive dominance in a matter of months.
The British broadcaster that had snapped up Friends Reunited ended up with some very expensive egg on its face when it was forced to sell the company, which had cost a reported £120 million, for just £25 million a short while later.
The problem was that Friends Reunited was invented and developed by a nice young couple from Barnet. Steve and July Pankhurst charged a few quid a year for what was a revolutionary service in the UK, although the model was heavily copied from a similar site in the US called Classmates.com. And people were happy to pay it. Then the money men stepped in and, unfortunately, huge numbers of subscribers stepped out and into the arms of the likes of Bebo.
Last year's digital vogue was, without a doubt, Twitter. The short message social networking tool became synonymous with media darlings and hip young things throughout the world. Cramming your every thought into 140 characters became the Haiku of the 21st century, and Stephen Fry, the undisputed King of the Twits, could barely blow his nose without letting his legion of sycophantic followers know all about it.
As with anything vaguely interesting or popular that grabs the public imagination, it's never long before Big Business is eyeing the prize and desperately trying to turn a buck. Twitter spam - should that be 'twam', or maybe 'spitter'? - is already clogging up the Internet and every corporation with a PR department worth its salt is tripping over itself to jump on the tweeting bandwagon.
A recent report on the übercapitalist website Bloomberg crows about PC box builder Dell clocking up $6.5 million worth of sales directly attributable to corporate tweets sent to the 1.5 million followers of its 35 channels. Even though that's a tiny fraction of the company's $61 billion in revenue last year, it's still a worrying development for Twitter and its waning street credibility.
The simple fact of the matter is that, once the corporate world gets its claws into the kind of social phenomenon that Twitter has rapidly become, those in the know will rapidly move onto the next new thing, one which has yet to be mired in intrusive advertising and corporate nagging.
Could Dell have signed the death knell for Twitter? Only time will tell, but we'll certainly be looking elsewhere for our celebrity-sourced chit-chat fix sooner rather than later. µ