Could Twitter really become 'the consciousness of the planet', or is it merely 'this year's Facebook'?
In November 2008 a total of 40 articles appeared in British local and national newspapers that included the word "Twitter". Though a quarter of them were published by the Guardian, this paper's technology correspondent nonetheless found himself explaining to general readers that "Twitter, a mobile social network, has generated lots of buzz". The Daily Telegraph, quaintly, was still using the word to describe a way of talking.
The following month, 85 articles appeared on the subject. By January 2009, it was 206. But those were still the dark ages. Hot on the heels of the Twitter plane crash came the site's first live action celebrity lift catastrophe, when the actor Stephen Fry, a tweeter so prolific that one hopes he still eats, offered breathless updates from the stationary elevator in which he briefly found himself marooned. (His followers total is now 350,000).
Before long the mainstream media had spotted that countless celebrities were taking time and effort on Twitter to reveal themselves every bit as witless as their PRs took time and effort to conceal. Jennifer Aniston dumped her boyfriend over his Twitter habit. Ashton Kucher posted a picture of Demi Moore's bum. Madonna announced on Twitter she was no longer dating a man called Jesus who was young enough to be her son. (Though signs are now emerging that even this is too arduous for the celebrities themselves to undertake without assistance.)
But it was, perhaps, the Guardian's revelation this week of government plans to teach young children about new media tools, including Twitter and Wikipedia, that tipped the site into the mainstream consciousness. "Over the centuries, mankind has developed thousands of ways to communicate eternal truths," the shadow education minister Michael Gove wrote in the Daily Mail. "The complex interplay of voice and orchestra in classical opera gave full rein to Mozart's genius. The delicate rhyme scheme of the 14-line sonnet, in Shakespeare's hands, produced some of the most sublime poetry ever written ... [But] instead of teaching our children the glories of the past, or introducing them to the best that has been thought and written, ministers want our children to 'Twitter'."
Gove, who helpfully described the service as "a new form of texting", appears not to have noticed that the Daily Mail itself is now an enthusiastic Twitterer, using the site to offer an automatic running feed of headlines and links. "Attorney General orders unprecedented Met police probe into Guantánamo prisoner's allegations of torture against," it offered today - those 140 characters are a challenge. The Conservative party is also, as it happens, sending its 4,600 followers a link to Gove's article this morning, in case any of them need a Twitter reminder of what Twitter is.
In an act to rival in tastefulness the US paper which offered minute-by-minute updates of a three-year-old's funeral, Sky News recently Tweeted from inside the court in which Josef Fritzl was being tried for murder, rape and incest:
9:29 juliareid21: [Austrian TV] now have a shot of the back of his head - thinning white grey hair but he won't speak
9:29 juliareid21: huge moment for ORF reporter. Watch this live on Sky
9:31 juliareid21: Interviewed LIVE in a courtroom before a trial! Imagine!
So is the Daily Mail's Twitter feed the equivalent of your dad dancing in public to your favourite nu-acid-crunk band? Does a government decision to "teach Twitter" represent the site's ultimate shark-jump into banal unfashionability?
"All new technologies hit this point," says Mike Butcher, editor of the new media blog Tech Crunch Europe, who has been using Twitter for almost three years. "You always have these old crusties who have been on it for a while, and then a generation of 'newbies' turn up as if it's something they have just invented." The scale of the exponential boom in Twitter's popularity, however, is "really unusual", he says. Far from killing off the site's popularity among early adopters, he argues that "the power of any network grows exponentially as the number of people using it grows." A world in which many more people are tweeting, and those tweets are fully searchable, would potentially allow a real-time search facility of "the consciousness of the planet".
In the meantime, though, we will have to be satisfied with the knowledge that Andy Murray is having steak for his tea, North Lincolnshire council has been presented with Member Development Charter status, and one of Jonathan Ross's dogs threw up last night.
Meanwhile, so far in March, 684 articles have been published about Twitter. Truly it is, as the Bristol Evening Post put it in a helpful explanatory note to readers, "this year's Facebook".