With Twitter all the rage as a marketing tool, Stephen Fry gave a stern warning this morning to businesses not to turn the mirco-blogging service into something of their own. The actor, writer and self-proclaimed "twillionaire" was speaking at the 140 Conference today at the O2 in Greenwich, attended by a large number from the corporate world and those looking to start-up businesses when he said:
"So many of you are here to talk about your strategy and your selling and so it's up to you to understand the nature of the phenomenon [Twitter]. It is human shaped, not business shaped. It's up to you to remember the shape of it, not for Twitter to shift for business. If this happens the great buzz of Twitter will be removed".
In a speech which compared the power of the social network to the huge impact on politics of the first magazines when the printing press was invented, Mr Fry emphasised the need for Twitter to remain about the conversation, the prattle, the idle chat for it to continue.
"These first publications, many of which still continue, had names like the Idler, Rambler, Tattler, Spectator".
"We are human beings. We shouldn't have to justify something by what function it has. It is simply a way of getting people to babble inconsequentially to each other. It's called Twitter. Not Serious Debate or Marketing Tool. If you forget that, you forget the purpose of it".
Only a matter of weeks since Mr Fry threatened to quit the service after some negative remarks about his tweets being boring, the national treasure also took the time to highlight Twitter's darkside as much as a reflection of the Internet as a whole, describing the online world as a city.
"Just like a city it has its art galleries and museums but it also has its slums and its red light districts. It has an anarchy and a liberty and sometimes we don't want to be in these cities anymore, but cities aren't places that we allow corporations like Apple and Microsoft to come into and redesign at will".
Mr Fry also took the time to outline his distaste for the section of the press he described as "dead wood journalists" making reference to those comment columnists who originally slated Twitter and now use it to push their stories. He also described a shift in power away from the hacks who no longer sit as the gate keepers to PR. With so many followers, who needs to give interviews to promote their books any more?
Interestingly the epilogue to the speech was delivered by the subsequent speaker, Andrew Keen, long after the awkward moment when Mr Fry was crowned king of Twitter live on stage with a very real, or unreal as it were, plastic crown.
Keen pointed out that the new order may have cut out the power of the companies who cannot stop their customers talking to one another and the power of the journalists as Mr Fry demonstrated, but it's not as if that power has gone. In fact it's only shifted and condensed in a more potentially dangerous way by being handed over to the twillionaires like Stephen Fry who can trash products such as Vista Vaios and the BlackBerry Storm or anything else with a single phrase of less than 140 characters.
Fortunately, there's no doubt that Mr Fry is a thoroughly honourable man but it's an interesting by-product of Twitter to be pointed out. One can only hope that someone who would abuse such a position would not be the kind of person to attract so many followers in the first place.