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Twitter and The Great Unwashed: how “normal” people ruined The Internet for the rest of us.

This article originally appeared in the Lawkit #4. Read more at

Once upon a time, everything was simpler.

A friendship was a construct based on shared memories and experience. The web was one of many, and it hung between idle walls. A tablet was something that came in a packet of 16 and the internet was the demesne of nuclear scientists and the military.

The Commodore and Atari era eluded me, too young and more interested in working out how to stand on my bike while stationary and climbing the horse chestnut tree. A green screened Amstrad was my first computer. It was used for accounts, not mine, and writing. Two front-loaded disks and a distinct lack of entertainment ensued. To play a game it had to be ‘loaded’, not by disk, not by air… a different experience to the application store process of today. A few hours of typing left you with a glitchy but functional circa 1990 version of Donkey Kong without splashing out on the original Nintendo… which eventually was bought.

The darling of 2010, Angry Birds, this was not. There was no point and click, and drag and fling. This took effort and you earned reward. Auto-save did not exist.

Fast-forward a few years to the beginnings of the web. The actual Internet, this time. It has been said that technology loses its capitalisation once it reaches mass appeal; we’re nearly there. The web itself is 20 years old this week, the original document still exists. By the late nineties websites were bright, garish and their contents moved around too much. Where hamsters danced, badgers followed a few years after. Floppy disks started to die out. You remember it. That’s probably when you Got The Internet.

The Internet: Normal People need not have applied.

A “Web Community” was an ecosystem fostered by people who while separated by distance would be the sort that would interact in real life. University researchers, the military, scientists and, let’s face it, fans of primitive text-based computer games. You can’t see the bytes past the nerds.

What am I getting at here? Well, in the Old Days communities were fostered by benevolent dictators. Bulletin Boards (the pre-cursors to forums) had the moderators and if you stepped out of line or acted like a troll you got warned or banned; mailing lists were the same. Access was for the few, and it was earned.

Early adopters of services like Twitter ‘got it’. There was no celebrity and none was required. The groups who formed on Twitter were like those from the early days. Your circle of followers was related to a real life concept. Of the first thirty people I ‘followed’ twenty five were members of a website hosting company’s community which continues to this day. The other five were Mac Rumours, Dave, Ruth, Andy and Alan. Four local web people, friends or acquaintance in real life. See?

Soon, entertaining and intelligent celebs like Stephen Fry arrived, John Mayer came and left, and Ashton Kutcher was one of the first to break the million mark. All three gained huge numbers of followers and engaged with their fans. The latter I don’t know about, but Fry seemed to nearly have a twitter breakdown, and Mayer eventually left because he felt it inhibited his creativity. A case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater perhaps, but anyone with RSI (Refreshing Stream Injury?) will tell you—sometimes switching off is the best way to let yourself think.

Trolls. Keyboard Warriors. Lowest common denominator idiots.

Not the stars, not even loudmouthed (and entertaining) characters like Piers Morgan, but the normal people. The fans who clamour for attention and recognition from their heroes. The masses who pester the footballers and TV stars for retweets of their charitable or vain causes. The many who believe for some reason that a retweet or a shout out will bring them some fame of their own. It only serves, in my humble opinion, to irritate the aforementioned famous folks to an extent where Twitter will probably just become a PR tool and not something they engage in.

How do you weed the wheat from the chaff? Unfollow after mentioned Famous People. Which is a shame.

An option for users to be able to tick a box and instantly ignore all those who have ever used the phrase “please RT” — it would probably make the world a better place. I’m sure.

The Great Unwashed

Every technology changes once it reaches the mass market. After the early adopters have helped mould a product in the form they desire: Facebook added Apps, Twitter recognised that users were “retweeting”, “@-replying” and “DMing” and updated their platform to make these features.

The public, however, have a habit of ruining the fun for everyone else.

This article originally appeared in the Lawkit #4. Read more at