Is there a rule in technology development not to name things after yourself?
UK Conservative backbench MP Louise Mensch claims there is no pun on her surname as she launched Menshn.com this week.
Teaming up with a former Labour Party digital adviser, prolific tweeter Mensch said the site was a reaction to the “frustration” with 140 characters and its “randomness”. So instead, Menshn.com has 180 characters and gives you 100 random followers when you sign up.
Former chick-lit author Mensch told the Guardian: “This is an idea that I’ve had since Christmas. I’ve been a passionate user of social media since the days of AOL chatrooms, and that was the inspiration really.”
Menshn is initially operating just in the US, driving at catching the obsessive addiction to politics in the run up to the November presidential election. It will apparently expand in time, but personally I think it is a mistake of any site to corner itself into one market, even from day one. For two Brits to launch something in America and do interviews about it in the UK, without making it even visible from the UK, is unnecessarily limiting.
Mensch’s business partner, Luke Bozier, said: “We were both frustrated at the way Twitter doesn’t focus on topics. We both love Twitter, but if you want to focus on the [US] election there’s no obvious place to do that online. Twitter is just too random. We wanted to encourage people to have conversations rather than broadcast their thoughts.”
Bozier is correct in highlighting Twitter’s flaws, but perhaps wrong in saying another version of it is the solution.
In many ways Menshn sounds like it’s trying to take the net back into the world of chatrooms, which haven’t ever left anyway. Twitter has always had a problem of, by its nature, limiting conversations through characters and the ever increasing numbers of people tweeting. If you try to have a discussion on a popular topic, you can easily lose track of who is saying what in reply to whom. As I have always said, Twitter is like having 100 people in a room all talking at once – nobody talks to each other, they just talk.
Even increasing the character limit to 180 and striving to keep discussions on political topics, however admirable, will still struggle without heavy moderation I suspect.
The old fashioned chat rooms with a limit of, say, 40 people per room, was my first exploration of social media back in 2000 and it led to meeting diverse Canadians and one particularly close friend. It allowed focused discussions and debate without needing to second guess how you fit all the words in your head into 140 or 180 characters.
Chat rooms haven’t disappeared of course, but they don’t get promoted in the same way by media as Twitter and Facebook as the buzz words of the current decade.Best wishes to Menshn if it can find success, but the experiments upon the ideas of yesterday to take politics into tomorrow still seem elusive.