Twitter can win or lose only against Twitter


As a part-time blogger and long-time internet enthousiast I am starting to make up my mind about Twitter.

Twitter happened. Why?

Twitter as a tool to broadcast to the world – it works

Because Twitter allows anyone to say something to The World. And believe me, there are millions of people who think they have something to say to the world (me included, if you’re reading this). Some do it because they love to be listened to. Some do it because they hope someone will listen to them, if not now, some day. Some do it because they really have something important to say and Twitter is a useful and simple medium to broadcast information.

Now try to think outside of twitter: think real world. Who likes to have an audience and be listened to?
Here is my list to help you: journalists, reporters, bloggers, celebrities, any company that has something to sell, startups, politicians, poets, writers, big mouths, institutions and to a certain extend any sort of artist. It’s not a surprise it has become the dream tool of many of the above categories. In particular mainstream media (press or TV) have created such a big buzz about Twitter, after all, to promote themselves.

Twitter as a tool to keep in touch with friends – it doesn’t work

Twitter can also be a useful tool to simply keep in touch with ordinary (no pun intended) friends in a simple way. I am traveling to Boston, I’ll tweet and my friends will be informed all at once. Why not. However…

However, I don’t want The World to know I am going to Boston, just as I don’t want The World to see my pictures or to know that I am on vacation. All of this information is managed on my closed group social networks.

  • My personal family updates are on my non-public Facebook page where I decide who can see what.
  • My professional updates and news are on my LinkedIn or Viadeo page where I carefully craft what I want others to know (family pictures here would be noise).
  • My scuba diving discussion and updates go on a closed group scuba diving community where I don’t want to mix neither work nor family (for the divers this would be noise).

In Twitter, everything is mixed up. Unmanageable.

In 2001 a leading professor at a leading business school published research (that I shamelessly forgot to bookmark) about teenagers usage of email. It turned out that teenagers had on average 5 different email addresses. Each address was used as a proxy for one of their relational groups: one for family, one for the best friends, one for the other best friends, one for dating, one for summer trips friends and so on. Isolating relationships on different accounts was a way to manage different coexisting identities.

On Twitter, everything is mixed up. Not only anyone can see me, but also, I receive updates from everyone about anything. It’s frankly a big mess. Lists can help to sort out spearate spheres, temporarily. The frequency of updates on Twitter makes it tough to follow anything. It’s mostly uninteresting information with a few interesting bits here and there.

I am almost certain that any of my updates, whether important or not, will not be ready by 90% of my friends who are not connected in the 10 minutes following my tweet. If I have something important to say, I might remotely think to use Twitter just in case but most certainly I would email or SMS.

I don’t want The World to know.

As an ordinary person do I want to become popular? Fame and pride have hit the street: the self-fulfilling race about your own popularity, whether measured by followers or by RTs, only concerns the above mentioned categories who “want an audience”. When I am informing my friends about my trip to Boston who cares how many followers I have or how many RTs I get? I don’t want to be more popular with my already-friends.

The friends-connect value of Twitter is limited.

Tweets are a trivial technology with plenty of easy copycats

It’s so basic that it’s almost laughable. Someone up there must have super good patent lawyers to have found something worth patenting. In fact, with some friends we had invented a Twitter-like environment a few years ago when we were updating our Skype tagline several times per day to tell others what we were doing. I am sure we were not alone. This was useful for many of the reasons I mentioned above, but let’s not forget that Skype is a closed environment where only my approved contacts can see my status. It is not public. Just like Skype, there are plenty of other tools that allow to update friends: anything that has a social graph can be used for that. We’ve all noticed the new Twitter-like status updates layout in Facebook and the “stop following” function in LinkedIN right?

The friends-connect value of Twitter is not sustainable.

Twitter is not in the race against Facebook

From my points above, it is clear that Twitter is a fantastic broadcasting tool but it will never be the mainstream tool used by hundreds of millions. Its friends connect value is dwarfed by other networks. Twitter is running its own race, and opening up its API is currently giving it a great boost thanks to all the other applications and sites that are integrating tweets in creative ways. It will saturate as soon as the few hundred thousands people with something worth listening to will be on board, as well as the tens of millions who want to listen to them despite the noise. It will not become mainstream like email, SMS or even Facebook.

Twitter can become the defacto personal micronews subscription platform

In a planet on its own, Twitter can easily lose the race against its own cacophony. Too much noise, spam, crap, irrelevant and trash content diluting the few interesting, valuable, bits of intelligence. Or, it can find a model where it maintains its usefulness and extract value where it really helps: here is how.

There is scope for Twitter to create a business model where “People who have to say something” can connect with “People who like to listen to them”. I can easily imagine a subscription model where I can pay 10 cents (you chose the currency) to subscribe to updates from my favourite 5 bloggers. I might even pay a bit more to subscribe to updates from Bono as a tribute to many unforgettable life soundtrack moments. I might even pay, but a bit less, to read updates from a couple of journalists I trust. Twitter would pass my subscriptions to these guys, taking a cut out of it and facilitating subscriptions and micropayments.

  • People with valuable things to say will receive more real followers, thus more subscription revenues.
  • People who want to listen to celebrities can subscribe to quality content (quality being a relative term).
  • Authors could set their own subscription pricing according to how much valuable stuff they think they can communicate.
  • Some authors will provide free subscriptions sponsored by brands. Or viceversa, brands can offer users to pay for their subscription to their favourite authors.
  • People who spam or write boring stuff will immediately (real time!) lose subscribers and will think twice about
    posting noise.
  • Brands and spam followers will think twice about following randomly everyone posting relevant keywords if there is a cost to it.

Twitter should close their eyes and do it

Introducing a tweet subscription fee will raise noise and complaints. Paying for what was free until now? eBay went through the same process, it’s a necessary evil and that will certainly reduce users and accounts in the short term.
Only once the platform will be clean and sanitized, it will have a chance to attract new listeners in hundreds of millions.

It can become the first ever thought marketplace.