Twitter is an awesome service. It’s one my regular sites which I always login to as soon as I start a browser. But I have doubts that it will be in its current form a mass communication tool such as Email.
I think Twitter has three main use cases:
a) For broadcasting: because you don’t have to mutually agree on friendship the resulting graph is more similar to the media industry where it is possible to publicize a news and opinions in a one to many approach
b) For trends/analytics: if you really want to know what people are thinking about your product create a Twitter search. You will find out quickly what’s wrong and can engage directly with you customers
c) Hand curated discovery: Yahoo ultimately declined in search because the web grew faster than Yahoo’s ability to hand curate search results. Twitter kind of brings that back in a crowed sourced way. They’re taking it from a slightly different angle because you d on’t have to search, the information “finds” you. Of course you can manually maintain an RSS feed use TechMeme, StumpleUpon or good old browser bookmarks, but Twitter allows to filter news by the interests of the people who you follow. As a consequence it is also able deal with news which is normally not in one’s core interest areas would pretty quickly come through if it’s important enough like a natural disaster.
Why media and tech love Twitter
Many argue about how similar or different Twitter is to Facebook by pointing out the use cases implied by the underlying 1 to many graph. Few doubt that Twitter will become a universally used service (in the way that email, Facebook or Amazon are used).
I am not so sure to be honest. I see why the media, tech enthusiasts and Venture Capitalists love Twitter. Most Top 20 users on Twitter are from the media industry or politics.
And the tech community is always hunting for the next big trend, so for them it is a fantastic long tail analytics and curation tool (as well as a very promising investment opportunity). See here or here.
In my eyes Twitter faces a classic crossing the chasm problem. Twitter has successfully scaled through the innovators and early adopters, but the majority are pragmatists. If I look at the use cases above and at the non-tech group of family and friends, I don’t see that they find the same things equally appealing.
This group values opinions and updates by friends and the ability of instant delivery of messages and that’s why Email and Facebook are tools appealing to huge masses. These friends may read some journals which provide job related information and get general news from the big news sites on the web or TV. In my understanding this satisfies their need for information. They don’t have a “customer problem” in terms of that they don’t get enough news.
So what could Twitter do?
- voting up/down for posts to improve the signal/noise ratio?
- allowing more than 140chars so it doesn’t feel like a 1990 style mobile text anymore? You don’t need to go for the other extreme, but how about 50 words?
- the above would require a more powerful and easier to use tagging system to foster better categorization?
- use an app store approach to centralize all twitter add ons and make them easily accessible for main stream audiences?
Unfortunately, I think it would involve adding features (it’s pretty hard to remove anything – that’s for sure) and I am sure that this has been intensely discussed internally. However, I have never heard of an innovative market leader who stayed in that spot by moving nowhere.