When you haven’t seen something fast growing for several weeks such as a child or Russian vine the temptation to say, ‘my haven’t you grown!’ is very great.

This urge should be avoided as it annoys those concerned, by patronising kids or rebuking gardeners. Yet returning from a short tweet break this morning I muttered these very words on reading about the fifth anniversary of twitter so breaking this rule of the blindingly obvious.

Yet leaping to my own defence it is not just the speed of growth with twitter that is dramatic. It is the manner of its growth and what it has done to the way internet-based opinion and influence has developed that is very interesting, and weirdly so. A really interesting post on Elise’s Review prompted this thought with the question ‘Is social media becoming more about mass broadcasting than conversation?’

Twitter’s growth has been about amplification of opinions, influence and conversations. At times this has made it appear more like broadcasting and certainly it has made the conversation louder, shorter and less genteel. Yet in interacting with media and blogs I would argue that twitter is amplifying and sharing ideas that often start in long form in other media platforms. This is different from broadcasting although it does make the conversation less sophisticated in many cases. I would describe it as a broader conversation rather than a broadcast.

Indeed as twitter grows its ability to amplify grows too so amplifying the amplifier. Some bloggers who began as highly focused ‘Influentials’ talking to only niche groups have become stars and engaged in very broad conversations. They often start to post less frequently but when they do they reach bigger, much bigger numbers.

The post pointed out that now more people get news from the Internet than traditional newspapers. This too is a part of the amplification process with e-zines merging with communities and a more dialogue driven view of the news.  The key dynamic here is the way twitter helps ideas and stories leapfrog between niche communities.  Again this seems to be of the great strengths of twitter it takes news from niches and can make them part of a broad community.

As it grows this does not mean twitter is all about these broader conversations. Clearly there a niche areas such as middle aged cycling that have drawn together quite large but discrete groups who don’t make it as trending topics. But even these conversations have become broader. So back to the blindingly obvious not always being easy to adopt I quote one point in the Elise’s Review below:

If Your Blog Doesn’t Have A “Tweet This” Or “Like This” Button On It, It Means That You Are Not Cool.

And yes – we know ours doesn’t. yet.

@Naked_Pheasant

You wouldn't though, would you?

You wouldn't though, would you?

It’s not an original observation to say that the rise of social media and networking has paved the way a breed of self-obsessed, self serving, egoists. And whilst that might be the extreme end of the spectrum, it’s hard to deny that we have adopted a culture where we are continually encouraged to ‘broadcast yourself’.

We all know why it has proved to be so popular, we’re inherently nosey and want to know instantly what our family/peers/crushes are getting up to, wherever they happen to be and vice versa. Social networking is the perfect tool to do this.

Plus, it has also given people the chance to move out of obscurity and into the limelight. Scantily clad girls and women are plastered across profile pages everywhere – social networking sites these days often look like the equivalent of a third division Miss World contest. The words of Bros, ‘when will I be famous’ ring in my ears…

What are the consequences of this self promotion? One is to give airtime (and I’m sure a huge pay packet) to the likes of Tila Tequila, ‘the most popular artist’ on MySpace. Tila’s antics I’m sure will inspire other young ladies to follow her example in bid to be recognised as a sex symbol on a global level. Sadly, these D level celebrities used to be confined to their national borders, but we have technology to thank for their springboard to stardom. Social media has the ability for an individual to reach people across the world and make them an international phenomenon.

But even if fame isn’t on the agenda – what is? Why are people so willing to be poked by people they don’t know? Technology has given us a new forum to meet people, and social networks are a safe haven to promote our better assets and also hide our unattractive traits. Let’s hope there aren’t any nasty surprises when you take things offline and into the real world! For 2009 the online dating industry is expected to top $1.049 billion and is likely to grow at a rate of 10 percent. These stats support that technology has opened the flood gates for singletons, ready to find love, or simply get a leg over.

Recently asked in the Evening Standard– respondents were asked if they would you use Facebook to get sex – where a number of them answered yes. It begs the question, has technology made us more daring, or simply more desperate?

Against our better judgements, it’s not uncommon to befriend people online we don’t know- the caution we would use in our everyday lives is somehow forgotten. Maybe it’s the stroking of egos, or just the fun of flirting, but striking up ‘friendships’ with strangers online is a growing trend. But all this talk of me, me, me, means that actually you might be playing into the hands of someone more sinister. When you think of online predators, we can be quick to dismiss that we’re not at risk. But, the fact that sex offenders in Illinois have been prohibited from using social networking sites goes to show that social networks are places where victims are identified, targeted and also where personal information can be obtained and used against you.

From a personal experience, posting even the most minor piece of information duped me talking to someone I don’t know online. I thought I knew ‘John Taylor’ who befriended me on Facebook, through university. We shared the same city and some friends, so when he struck up a conversation I assumed we might know each other. It didn’t take too long for me to find out actually, I had no relation to this person at all – and in fact – he was messaging me from a prison cell!

Despite technology giving us the chance to bridge the physical distance between people, it also gives people enough distance to do things they might not dare to do when face-to-face. Would John Taylor be so brave to start chatting to me online if we met in the street? Doubtful given his current housing situation…

It’s scarily easy to obtain personal information through social networking sites, and then be duped into believing you know whoever approaches you. Tech News World reported that if you’re not careful, scammers can obtain enough information about you to rip you off. And according to research from PC World, it is estimated with free dating sites at least 10 percent of new accounts created each day are from scammers.

The secondary consequence of all this self promotion means that cyber-criminals can easily find out where you live, where you work, what tube you get, what parties you’ve been too – all making a very believable story that a stalker could actually know you.

There are some things you can’t control about the internet; the rise of talentless, fame hungry, desperate and horny people are some of them, but something you can control is what you post online about yourself. It’s just a matter of modesty – broadcast yourself, but just not too much.

Pam Chowdhury (currently not on twitter… yes, yes we know… we’re working on that)