In the old days of Twitter — at least ‘old’ by Silicon Valley 2.0 standards, which is anything over five years — you could count on a couple of things. First, Twitter would go down almost every time people started really seriously using it. There’s a reason ‘fail whale’ is still part of our vocabulary.
The second is that every time that there was a major event during which Twitter’s construction-paper servers managed to stay up, Twitter PR would break coverage records of Twitter records. Most tweets, most re-tweets, most memes, you get the drill. And, like clockwork, Twitter PR would bash out a blog post describing the new peak and why it was so awesome and fantastic.
A Google search for the last couple of years returns hundreds of news articles related to record Twitter moments. Or you can just ask anyone covering the space how repetitive it’s gotten — Twitter record pieces fit in the journalistic lexicon somewhere between momentum number posts and X site is down posts.
Yesterday, another record was hit during the absolute massacre that was the Brazil v. Germany match at the World Cup. Twitter says that 35.6 million tweets were sent about the match, with a peak of over 580,000 being sent as Germany scored its 5th goal. There. Now I’ve contributed to the colophon of Twitter record news, a long and illustrious journalistic centipede of regurgitated statistics.
Those numbers, if you’re tracking, are also bigger than the Super Bowl’s number of tweets (24.9 million) earlier this year — and Twitter growth only accounts for part of that differential, as it’s been growing but not that fast. We can attribute that to a few things, but the fact that the World Cup is actually a real international championship is probably one of them. And Twitter’s international user base is actually growing a ton faster than the U.S., with over 78 percent outside its borders by recent count.
And, let’s not forget, more people watched the World Cup online than the Super Bowl, too.
The brutal dominance of Twitter over live events like sports is evidenced by the sentiment that was attached to this tweet I sent yesterday:
Twitter is indubitably covering the BRA v. GER match better than ESPN.
— Matthew Panzarino (@panzer) July 8, 2014
A football-themed tweet by my co-editor Alexia also provoked a similar response:
Only thing missing is Brazil scoring a goal on itself. #GERvsBRA
— Alexia Tsotsis (@alexia) July 8, 2014
I joked yesterday that the perfect combo for watching the World Cup was Univision’s live stream (I am not a Spanish speaker) and Twitter. The combination of the raw enthusiasm of the channel’s announcers and the running commentary on Twitter produced a potent cocktail that matched, for me, the kind of thing that happens when my fantasy (American) football league gets together to watch a game we all have skin on.
It all blends together in a Sporgy of trash talk, context, banter and enthusiasm that makes for the next best thing to being there.
Anecdotally, the World Cup feels like a big moment for Twitter and sports. I’ve seen more uptake of the personalized profile makeovers than I’ve ever seen by a promotional Twitter effort before, for instance. And surprisingly few grumpy ‘ugh sportsball’ tweets.
The narrative, especially over the past couple of years, has always been ‘Facebook vs. Twitter’. And many of Facebook’s product decisions certainly seem to reflect that the network views Twitter as competing for time that could be spent on Facebook.
But everything competes for time. This is the truth that the best product designers in Silicon Valley, and the best people in media and publishing etc., know: There is only one finite, precious resource and it is not money. It’s time.
Twitter’s pry bar, its tool to lever away a few precious minutes of your attention span each day, is the fact that it provides a continuous stream of crowd-generated context.
That’s what I meant by “covering it better than ESPN.” Broadcast-only mediums like TV are at an immediate disadvantage when things are happening in real time. Not only are they rarely up to the second (not minute, second), but they’re also lacking any context that isn’t provided on the screen or via an anchor or commentator.
Given a source of immediate news, I would take Twitter over television any day.
But the fact that it’s ‘faster’ is just part of the equation. As I mentioned earlier, it’s about the amount of context that’s provided. There’s a reason that people scroll to the bottom of an article about a game or movie or football match to read the comments — they want to know whether other people have the same opinion they do, or something to add that will put it in context for them.
Twitter isn’t just ‘stuff, quickly’, it’s a human-powered difference engine that quickly churns through fact and fiction to produce a rough cut of the truth.
That doesn’t eliminate the need for deeper thought or other kinds of media, of course, but it is completely unique. There is nothing else like it, for sporting events or anything else that’s happening in real time.
I don’t know whether Twitter will be able to make a go of it in a business sense, though its ad department does seem to be doing well by Wall Street standards. But the mere fact that it has existed means that, in one form or another, it will always exist.
There is no such thing as the future web without a mechanism for the real-time flow of information. And, for now, Twitter is that mechanism.
And a pretty good way to watch fútbol.
Image Credit: Jorge in Brazil