Internet plumbing explained in 140 characters.

by Scott Douglas

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

Internet plumbing?

A version of this post first appeared in the Daily Record’s Edinburgh Now supplement.

New media darling Twitter has announced plans for $1 billion dollar flotation, a story which attracted an awful lot of old media headlines.

Yet if Twitter’s still around in 10 years, it will be virtually invisible. Certainly far too mundane to attract much in the way of coverage.

While the 140-character messaging service is likely with us for the long haul, it’s destined to become part of the plumbing of the internet. And plumbing – even a billion dollars of web pipe work – isn’t the kind of thing that captures the public imagination or inspires headlines.

It doesn’t seem long ago the news was regularly full of stories about another, exciting new communication technology. It was called email. Almost certainly our forefathers had a similar fascination with revolutionary ways of sharing information, like the phone and the telegraph.

Now phones and email are so embedded in our lives they are humdrum. No stories about high profile users, no frenzy to dissect their usage. 

Do you use Twitter? How many people do you know regularly Tweeting? According to its own figures, there are around 1.5m users in Scotland. Twitter says 40% of them don’t even Tweet, just follow other people to gather news and gossip. For those people, it is already a utility.

Yet people who aren’t using it now will sign up at some point – imagine trying to navigate today’s world without a phone or an email account.


Although just seven years old and having never turned a profit, the social media titan’s global tentacles see it valued at £9.3 billion. Contrast that with the 497-year-old Royal Mail, which is about to be flogged off for a mere £3 billion. Funny the way things work out, eh?

In the meantime, it’s fun to watch Twitter wriggling and worming its way into every conceivable aspect of our lives. No area seems immune.

Over the past weekend two major figures fell foul of Twitter. First, Sir Alan Sugar was investigated by cops for an allegedly racist Tweet. Meanwhile Labour was threatening legal action against Tory Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, claiming he libelled Andy Burnham in 140 characters.

Virtually every topical TV or radio show will now quote Tweets from the audience, commentators, celebrities, eyewitnesses or authorities. No self-respecting drama or entertainment show is complete without the real time, second screen experience via the Twitter “back channel”.

Along with other social networks, reach and influence on Twitter will be vital in the independence referendum and the next general election. Via Twitter, leaders are forged, revolutions are brewed, businesses are built – or brands are ruined, criminals caught and scandals exposed. No service is too shoddy, no cat too photogenic, no sandwich too tasty, no witticism too pithy and no passing though too trivial to Tweet.


Whether you love it or loathe it, now is the time to celebrate the microblogging platform in all its crazy and riotous colour and variety.

Before it slips into mundanity, like those marvels of earlier eras: piped water, efficient sewers, street lights and moving images on a screen.

IT WASN’T only Twitter cutting up rough for Lord Sugar over the past few days.

His Apprentice show, along with the combative Dragon’s Den programme, was slated on two separate fronts. Tehy were  criticised for portraying would-be entrepreneurs as dim backstabbers, while celebrating the kind of vicious put downs that can deter young people from starting out in business.

Social entrepreneur Mick Jackson told how he’d seen a troubled-but-entrepreneurial Scottish teenager avoid job interviews, because he feared he’d be humiliated by potential employers behaving like Lord Sugar or ‘Dragons’ such as Duncan Bannatyne. 

Jackson, branded the programmes “corrosive and deeply damaging” and insisted the values of the Apprentice were to “lie, cheat and stab your friends in the back”.

Meanwhile think tank The Centre for Entrepreneurs, in partnership with successful businessman Luke Johnson, has weighed in with research that shows the two programmes have a negative effect on audiences.

Johnson said the Apprentice deliberately portrays contestants as “greedy, self-regarding and a bit dim-witted”, while Dragons’ Den treats aspiring entrepreneurs as “lambs to the slaughter”. 

It’s hard to argue with the business record of Lord Sugar, Duncan Bannatyne and the rest. Despite their corporate successes, I’ve always felt this lot are desperate, wannabe luvvies and their hearts are more showbiz than new biz.

How else can you explain the apparently fabulously wealthy and successful Dragon Peter Jones agreeing to front those adverts?

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