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Twitter's Longevity: Is John Battelle Right?
Posted on August 9th 2011
A few days ago I read John Battelle's thoughtful piece:
Twitter and the Ultimate Algorithm: Signal Over Noise (With Major Business Model Implications)
The post is mostly just John cogitating without having talked to anyone at Twitter, but a lot of what he brings up really speaks to very large task at hand for the company.
Twitter sits on a tremendous amount of data. Data that give insights into our very lives, the decisions we make, the products we use, the people we like.
"I find Twitter to be one of the most interesting companies in our industry, and not simply because of its meteoric growth, celebrity usage, founder drama, or mind-blowing financings. To me what makes Twitter fascinating is the data the company sits atop, and the dramatic tension of whether the company can figure out how to leverage that data in a way that will insure it a place in the pantheon of long-term winners - companies like Microsoft, Google, and Facebook. I don't have enough knowledge to make that call, but I can say this: Twitter certainly has a good shot at it."
There's no arguing. Twitter is a goldmine of useful information. But how can the information be fed back to the user to help enrich their experience? It's pretty noisy out there.
John suggests that maybe Twitter themselves need to come up with a way to cut through the clutter, to reduce the Twittersphere noise. But I think Twitter has bigger fish to fry.
Twitter can leave the dissemination of the information to the robust 3rd party development community, a growing sector including Paper.li, Buffer, MarketMeSuite, Hootsuite, and a lot of other services that give users the power to tailor their Twitter experience.
One commenter put it best:
"The eco-system positioning is still murky. Dick was hard pressed to find more than 2 examples of eco-system added-value: CRM & Analytics, and he repeated these examples. Twitter needs to describe a more rich and inspiring eco system. They possess the most intelligence on what users are asking and they know where the holes are from the inside. Why don't they lay out a great vision for it, instead of leaving us to guess what the next move might be?"
If I Ran Twitter
If I ran Twitter (dream big, right?), I'd ring fence my dev community and make sure that they are kept warm and well fed and happy. I wouldn't try to infringe on their territory because it's these hardworking developers who keep Twitter relevant. They do the legwork for Twitter, they make sure people think Twitter is important, and they keep the data rolling in.
If I ran Twitter I'd be looking at this data and seeing what I could do to target messages and sell the opportunity to large companies. Promoted tweets is a very good idea, and the development community is happy to work with Twitter to help push out a monetization strategy. Hootsuite is already supporting promoted tweets in their free version. But I wouldn't count on promoted tweets as the main revenue model. The same commenter quoted above puts it best:
"Twitter has to grow beyond 'the tweet'. I'm worried that they may be too focused on Ad sales as the key revenue element. Costelo said 'Ad platform is organic to the Twitter platform', as they are focused on selling Ads to the world's top brands where they charge by 'engagement' (which is innovative). But these Promoted tweets and Promoted trends seem like old school of 'interruption marketing'. There must be monetizable value beyond 'the tweet'."
If I ran Twitter I'd keep pushing things out to the open. I was pleased to read the announcement about Storm coming, Twitter's real-time data processing tool. Twitter is doing a lot of things right. And John is correct in saying it's a hard problem to solve. "In short, it's a really, really, really hard problem. But it's a terribly exciting one. If Twitter is going to succeed at scale, it has to totally reinvent search, in real time, with algorithms that understand (or at least replicate patterns of) human meaning."
I think how they work on this problem with the ecosystem they've built, their army of developers who eat, sleep, and breathe the Twitter API, will be necessary to Twitter's longevity and relevance moving forward.