To Twitter or just copy Twitter?


In technology there are few more important questions than “What’s going to happen with Twitter”.    As with many early adopter issues, only the digerati and a few smart marketers understand how profoundly and importantly Twitter is reshaping the online landscape, giving a voice to millions who want to interact casually and superficially with … millions more.

This spinoff effort will be very interesting to watch as it’s a successful niche website that is  establishing a Twitter like interface:
http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2009/03/27/a-twitter-spinoff-launches-for-moms/

The challenge here is that if every website you go to has it’s *own* chatting interface you’ll either 1) get ticked off or 2) spend the rest of your life interacting with people at all these sites.

The answer is not individual site chat areas, rather we need to integrate the real Twitter with websites.  (or some other chat standard,  but Twitter seems to be the right choice given it’s ease of use and exploding subscriber base)

Open ID, Facebook connect and Google Friend Connect and open social and Disqus (for blog questions) and many other applications  have the right general idea but nobody seems to be able to integrate all this across the board.   We need to be able to seamlessly move from site to site, carrying our identity along with us so we can comment and interact easily.

Google & Facebook & Twitter, oh my!


Silicon Alley Insider is discussing an interesting analysis suggesting that Facebook could be a “Google Killer” thanks to Facebook’s greater rate of growth and the suggestion that Facebook now accounts for 19% of incoming Google unique user traffic, up from 9% a year ago.

My intuitive take on this is that the analysis is misleading and seriously flawed for several reasons:

1) Rates of growth will tend to be vastly larger as sites approach the market saturation levels we have with Google and I think we may soon have with Facebook.      The new 800 pound Gorilla on the social scene is  Twitter which is growing at over 1000% last year.   You can’t 10x your current traffic for long without exhausting all people on earth, so all these rates must slow, and soon.     e.g. at 1000% annual growth with 5,000,000 unique users you’ll exhaust earth’s population in about 3 years, 2 months.

2) Twitter will chip away at Facebook user’s time online, and fast.    No major application has grown at the rate we see now at Twitter.    For many reasons we’ll see Twitter continue to grow explosively for at least a few years and I’ll be surprised if it does not rival Facebook within 3 years in terms of use.    Most high tech early adopters are tending to move away from time on Facebook and towards time on Twitter, and major media is showing a huge enthusiasm for promoting Twitter feedback on TV to mainstream America.   Twitter, not Facebook, is the application with the most disruptive potential.

3) Monetization of Social Media sucks, and will continue to suck.    Google can easily monetize searches for things where Facebook continues to struggle to find ways to turn the vast numbers of views into big money.   Although they are likely to make modest progress,  I do not see social networking as potentially all that lucrative where keyword search, almost by definition, remains the best high value internet monetizing framework.

4) The claim that 19% of Google uniques from Facebook  seems very, very dubious.    This number appears to be from Comscore and does not even make sense.   Facebook searches do not generally direct people to Google, so presumably this is suggesting that a staggering number of people leave Facebook to go do a  search at Google?    I’m trying to find more detail about this but it does not pass the sniff test even if they are simply stating that people tend to jump to Google after visiting Facebook, which is correlation and probably not causation.
This suggests that Facebook’s 236m uniques drive  (.19 x 772m) =     146m uniques to Google?         Something is  Facebook fishy here.

I am confident that all three of these applications will continue to thrive because each is filling a different online need and doing the job well.   There is no need to converge online activity more than has already been done.   For example it’s not inconvenient to switch to your banking or travel booking website for those tasks, and many probably prefer this to having a single “one stop shop” for all online activity.     Ironically Facebook’s attempts to imitate Twitter may actually accelerate the growth of Twitter which seems to be a better way to communicate quickly and effectively and superficially with many contacts.      Facebook, however, has been making good progress with their “open social” efforts that allow users to log in to other sites easily and then post blog comments and other activity to their Facebook account.     Facebook will thrive but as the recent revaluations / downward valuations suggest Facebook is no Google and will never be Google.    Search trumps social in terms of making money, and the mother’s milk of internet growth and to some extent  innovation is …. money   (though I’d say innovation is fueled by the lure of wealth as much as real wealth).

John Stewart Hates Twitter?!


Hey, John Stewart *hates* Twitter, falling for the correct but misguided criticism that  “it is superficial” .   News flash John – try watching your own network.   OF COURSE TWITTER IS SUPERFICIAL – that’s why it’s exploding in usage!

Let’s see how long Stewart can dodge the Twitter bullet that is becoming almost an essential piece of the interactive media landscape.

I’m having trouble embedding the Daily Show Video because the Daily Show and Viacom are not hip enough to allow YouTube to run these, giving them far more advertising and exposure than they get by restricting the clips to their own site. However, here’s the link if the videos does not appear below:
http://www.thedailyshow.com/video/index.jhtml?videoId=219519&title=twitter-frenzy

The Social Networking Generation(s) enter online “adolescence”


Although Social Networking has been around for some time it has not seen anything like the widespread use until fairly recently.     Where technologists and early adopters are trying to figure out the importance of the  Twitter explosion to the social networking landscape, millions of regular folks are just now starting to come to grips with how social media is changing our relationships and our personal identities in ways we’re only beginning to understand.

Peggy Orenstein has a thoughtful article at the New York Times today about the how Facebook social networking has affected her and also her concerns about how it will change the way kids grow up.    She notes how a Facebooker’s post of a picture of her at 16, and her own Facebook account, brought up many items from her past, even including what appeared to be an inappropriate encounter with a high school teacher who now wants to be a Facebook friend.

She asks:

As a survivor of the postage-stamp era, college was my big chance to doff the roles in my family and community that I had outgrown, to reinvent myself, to get busy with the embarrassing, exciting, muddy, wonderful work of creating an adult identity. Can you really do that with your 450 closest friends watching, all tweeting to affirm ad nauseam your present self?

The answer, as anybody who has been socially networking for long knows, is “sure, Peggy, no problem”.      I’d argue that the benefits of what we might call socially “‘transparent living” probably far outweigh the costs, though it’ll be years before we understand how all of this will shake out.     From a sociological point of view the most intriguing aspect to me is that the technologies are allowing us to expand our “social networks” well beyond the limits that nature intended.

Evolution works too slowly to anticipate most technological changes so our “tribal” genetics has prepared us well to deal with “hundreds” of personal associations rather than the “thousands” we have with even a modest level of socializing online.      I suppose you could argue that a “letter to the editor” in a local paper reaches thousands of people, and in this case can even label you for some time depending on how you express your concerns, but most people don’t write these letters where even in rural communities there are many thousands of people using social networks, creating huge numbers of individual interactions every day.

If biological and social evolution really do limit us to only about 150 close personal associations as some have suggested we’ll probably see that social networks will eventually sort of “implode” as people reduce their connections to more manageable numbers of friends.  However I don’t really see this – my guess is that we’ll see humans expand their numbers of  contacts well beyond the 150 number, reaching a new plateau that will likely be defined as much by our personal history of real associations as by any biological limits.    In fact there’s a lot for the Facebooks and Twitters of the world to do to make it easier to manage our growing social networks, and I’d guess we’ll soon see a lot more slicing and dicing of contacts than we have to date into “close friends”, “family”, “business associates”, etc.    As in real life we’ll eventually want to control access to our information from different groups in several ways.

Another intriguing aspect of social networking is what we might call the Social Networking  “all your base are belong to us”  problem.    Even if a person despises the internet, social interaction, and everything technological they are already likely to appear in some internet venues and will eventually appear in many social networks.    Phone records, your home and real estate, business associations and records, permits, and most importantly photographs and videos are flowing online at a rate of billions and billions of bytes per second.    This information is increasingly  “tagged” by people you may not even know with information about you, usually without your consent or even your knowledge.    Reclusive old curmudgeons beware – you could be all over the place in no time by simply owning a home or phone or  attending a family function, Community BBQ, or Shriner’s parade.

Assume that a person on Facebook or Twitter has 200 people who read about them and who they read about.     Assuming each person in this network creates a *single item* for *private* review – a photo or short comment.    This small level of activity – under a minute of action per person – in one sense explodes to generate 200 x 200=40,000 different personal interactions.      Although obviously every participant won’t review every possible interaction which would not be possible without a rash of exploding heads, the total amount of interactions in the total  Social-Network-O-Sphere is, literally, mind boggling.

How this will affect our feeble human condition?    I don’t know, but you can bet your Twitter we’ll all be dealing with it for some time.

Why Twitter matters … a lot. Clue = Soylent Green.


Twitter is moving into the mainstream faster than any major internet application in history, and is redefining  online behavior as we continue to  move away from “internet as information” and into the era of “internet as people”.

Obviously both information and socializing will play a huge role in online behavior for the duration, but like the ubiquitous and mysterious food source in the old Charleton Heston Movie, Soylent Green

solyentgreen

Twitter is especially  important because ….  “Twitter is People”.

Some Twitter enthusiasts wrongly suggest that Twitter is important because it is breaking a few bits and bytes of news in real time (e.g. Hudson Plane Crash, CA Plane Crash) or providing a platform for discussion of pressing social issues (e.g. Gaza War).    Meanwhile Twitter critics very foolishly point to the obvious about Twitter’s superficiality as if this was a defect.

Twitter is certainly largely superficial in terms of how people chit chat on the service, but this is the reason for it’s spectacular success.  Humans by nature – ie by millions of years of evolution – are not designed well for thoughtful, reasoned discourse.   Instead, for much of evolutionary history we were very UNintelligently designed by trial and error and random mutations to survive in sometimes hostile environments.     This makes us a short term, superficial socializing thinker more than a long term planner.    Sure, we sometimes  do that long term stuff but if there are any lessons we can derive from history  it is how poorly humanity has optimized our long term well being.    One need look no further than the ongoing global financial crisis, global terror threats, tribal disputes across Africa, or global religious intolerance to see how poorly we cope with situations that would probably respond well with even a modest level of long term, optimal  planning rather than the short term knee jerk nonsense that often stains our  local and international finance, politics, and social relationships.

Twitter’s simplicity and superficiality are exactly why it will continue to thrive, diving into mainstream use faster than you can Tweet  Ellen Degeneres, who yesterday challenged her viewers to become “followers” of her Twitter account.    Although her goal of a million followers was not realistic, Ellen rose from zero to over 110,000 followers in a single day – perhaps a Twitter record and certainly a demonstration of a significant convergence of Television and internet audiences.

As internet activity stabilizes I think we’ll see people relying more and more on Twitter as their socializing platform of choice.    There’s certainly room for many social networking sites,  but I think Facebook needs to worry that Twitter may diminish the time people spend at Facebook in favor of the simpler, more intuitive interactions at Twitter.     Twitter has done for social networking what Google did for Search – they created a super clean interface and made it extremely easy to participate, building a large and happy user base in a very short time.     Unlike Google, however, Twitter will continue to face challenges monetizing their success, for as we’ve learned from Facebook’s experiences with ads and advertising fiascos it is not nearly as easy to make money in social networking as in information searching.    I predict it never will be as easy and Twitter is likely to face some interesting challenges as they try to bridge the gap between user enthusiasm for Twitter and aversion to advertising.      However Twitter will be a spectacular success with even a fraction of Google’s adverising revenue, so I see them thriving for some time.

TechCrunch’s Erick has this

Facing Facebook Friendships, sociologically speaking


In a  recent interview with The Economist called “Primates on Facebook” Facebook’s resident sociologist (hey Mark Z, got any more Sociology jobs at Facebook?)  reports that even though we have a lot more projection of our stuff out to the web people continue to maintain the fairly small circles of friendships that characterize offline behavior.

The  author Andreas Kluth has more at his blog

If this holds across social networks it’s very important, suggesting that we are likely to struggle or fail to cope with the level of social interaction we set up online at sites like Facebook and Twitter.

I remain skeptical and would argue that the Dunbar number (about 150,  suggesting the maximum number of people a single person can manage) will be increasing as we learn to cope with more online relationships.     I simply cannot believe this is a physical constraint – my guess it that it’s more an artifact of our tribal evolutionary primate past than a determinant of our future.

The Economist notes:

An average man—one with 120 friends—generally responds to the postings of only seven of those friends by leaving comments on the posting individual’s photos, status messages or “wall”.  An average woman is slightly more sociable, responding to ten. When it comes to two-way communication such as e-mails or chats, the average man interacts with only four people and the average woman with six. Among those Facebook users with 500 friends, these numbers are somewhat higher, but not hugely so. Men leave comments for 17 friends, women for 26.   Men communicate with ten, women with 16.

… people who are members of online social networks are not so much “networking” as they are “broadcasting their lives to an outer tier of acquaintances who aren’t necessarily inside the Dunbar circle,” says Lee Rainie, the director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a polling organisation.  Humans may be advertising themselves more efficiently. But they still have the same small circles of intimacy as ever.
Sure I have room for more Facebook  friends, just tweet me at Twitter!

Twidiots of the World, Unite!


Twitter, as the latest social networking fad brilliant microblogging innovation, is attracting a huge following.    The appeal of Twitter is hard to explain until you’ve actively participated for some time, but I’m finding it’s a very enjoyable distraction from more pressing concerns.     Not only can you eavesdrop on usually intelligent tiny written conversations going on all over the world, through the “following” and “followers” features you can filter those conversations and control what you see and send to others.    Arguably the most important feature is that you can link out to blog posts or other URLs of interest, making Twitter a way to filter the increasingly overwhelming stream of data a bit more coherently than otherwise.    Twitter’s most practical application is probably simply “keeping in touch” with others both when they are distant and when you find common ground (e.g. at a  conference).   Tweetups are real life meetings where people who gather online get together for real – usually at a conference or in a city such as the one scheduled for CES 2009 in Las Vegas.

Loic LeMeur, the very popular Seesmic Founder, LeWeb Conference Organizer, and Twitter guy suggested improvements to Twitter search that would rank the material by the *authority* of the person writing, and this sparked a nice debate about how to assign value to the massive and constant stream of human commentary at Twitter.     I didn’t like that idea:

NO.   I’m OK with Scoble’s approach but I think the search by “authority” will deliver the same problems we have now with blogging – the best posts about a topic are not generally surfaced by authority measures. Instead, we get the most algorithmically appealing posts which are usually either a product of old A list bloggers sticking together and linking very opportunistically or overly SEO’d posts that suck but do a great job fooling the algos. Mostly ranking is now a combination of those two factors (old stuff and SEO measures).

One of the *great* things about Twitter is that it limits exposure fairly democratically. Authority search will help the twitter “rich” get richer, but I hardly think that’s a noble objective – it’s the same problem we have now where early adopters with a superficial voice are elevated above quality journalists.

Unless I’m missing something it sounds like you and Mike want to make sure Twitter does not threaten the status quo with more democratic ranking. I think it’s a great idea. In fact I think it would be interesting to *reverse* the algo you suggest – I’d rather hear from some Grandmas in Peoria about their iPhone experiences than from Jason Calacanis about [groan] the wonders of Mahalo.


Mike at TechCrunch
had a somewhat opportunistic take on the situation saying this was a fine idea.   I didn’t agree with him either:

Mike my beef with the idea is the notion that popularity or even authority *in any form* is something we should work hard to protect and promote. I’m tiring of a mostly regurgitated news stream and increasingly I want to know what Peoria is thinking as much as what Mountain View thinks.

Even though Peoria is rarely as interesting or well articulated or technologically sophisticated, it’s far more *representative* and if I’m looking for business ideas or social trends…I’d like to hear from Grandma as much as from you and Loic.

The game as it stands mostly retains the status quo and limits the debate. There’s a much better way and, collectively, I think we’ll find it soon.

Scoble was getting closer but still missed the key point here that we need to work *away* from the elitist “my speech is more valuable than your speech” nonsense that somewhat ironically now drives many of the Web 2.0 debates:

Robert I appreciate the fact you are arguing against something that would benefit you far more than others. However my beef with Loic is the idea that popularity or even authority *in any form* is something we should work hard to protect and promote. Call me a digital anarchist, but I’m tired of TechCrunch’s often regurgitated news stream. I find that increasingly I want to know what Peoria is thinking as much as what Mountain View thinks. Even though Peoria is rarely as interesting or well articulated or technologically sophisticated, it’s far more *representative* and if I’m looking for business ideas or social trends…I’d like to know that.

Twitter? Priceless. Dell makes a million on Twitter? Meaningless.


As usual there is an *extraordinary* failure in the blogosphere to apply even the simplest reasonable business metrics to a minor event, in this case Dell’s million dollar Twitter “success”.

I’m a big fan of Twitter and think it’s great, but can’t abide the absurd valuation metric du jour which is hyping Twitter’s value based on Dell reporting that they had a million in revenue from activity via their Twitter presence.     Excuse me, but this is *trivial* news, suggesting if anything that Twitter is probably *not* a good base for  transactional economies.

Why the contrarian conclusion here?

People too often view revenue numbers as if they were profit.   Revenue is easy.  Profit is hard.   A million in revenues for a company that does many billions in revenue each quarter is not very significant – that million probably represents something like $50,000 in profit even if we assume the cost of the social media campaign was *zero*, when in fact it was likely … more than the profit from it.   Even if the ROI was positive companies like Dell can’t mess around with many new technologies if they only make Dell a few thousand extra in profit.

Even more importantly this silly “Twitter Revenue” metric is almost completely bogus.    This appears to be a count of sales that came in via Twitter rather than sales that were the result of some extra advertising activity at Twitter.   By this type of metric we’d value email infrastructures like Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail in the hundreds of billions or even trillions since so many economic decisions and transactions happen via email.  When GW Bush emails Henry Paulson to say “Hank,  throw 15 billion at the Auto Makers” do we chalk 15 billion up to the “email economy”.  Of course not.

Communication paradigms are very important but their economic implications are not to be exaggerated or conflated with real monetization programs – few of which have proven even modestly successul in the social media world.

Partly it’s simply because I’m being honest and not trying to hype the value of microblogging to advertisers.   I’m just calling this analytically which leads us to wonder how they could have done so poorly when Dell’s demographic matches Twitter’s suberbly. Dell’s volume is huge.  Dell’s got  a huge number of  Twitter Followers.  They are preaching and selling to a choir filled with existing and potential customers.

It appears the usually-insightful-but-in-this-case-opportunistic Fred Wilson has been trying to bump this “Twitters Millions” article around, perhaps because … he owns part of Twitter.    But I think Fred knows better  – if anything this is such a trivial sum it implies that Twitter – like most social media operations – is probably already overvalued by the Silicon Valley hype machine that you might remember suggested huge valuations for hundreds of companies that are now … gone and worthless.

Twitter’s here to stay and certainly has great value, but I’m skeptical they’ll find a great monetization model for the same reason Facebook is failing to find one – social media is almost exclusively about socializing where search media has a very large component that is very advertising friendly.    If you are shopping for cameras you are likely to go to Google to find out more information and you *want* to find camera ads in your search event.     This fact cannot be underestimated and forms the basis for most successful forms of internet monetization.   Perhaps a holy advertising grail will be found that’ll work for social media and/or video media but I continue to be as skeptical as I have been for years.

Disclaimer:  I sometimes write for Dell at the TechDirt Insight Community.

Twitter Ads: Magpie “offers” Scoble “up to” $30,646 per month to run Magpie.


There’s a lot of buzz about Magpie, the new Twitter based advertising system that matches up twitter folks and those who follow them with advertisers.  Jeremiah O has a good test and expresses reservations that Magpie is “self diminishing” and I think I’m inclined to agree.   For most Twitter folks the money will be small and the distraction to users high enough that I think many would drop folks who use this to the extent their other social media efforts – and possibly their credibility – will be damaged.

I’m actually a big fan of the idea of targeted contextual ads, but skeptical that Magpie will be prudent enough to make this a truly “helpful” system for the viewers, whose only advantage is the prospect of a wonderfully targeted ad.   Google and most sites, by contrast, allows you to *ignore the advertising area* where my take is that Magpie ads will appear in the twitter stream.  They’ll be tagged “Magpie” so you could ignore all but the first line, but part of what makes Twitter enjoyable is that you generally do not have to filter out commercial content – if somebody is always posting commercial promo stuff I just dont’ follow them.  Magpie makes that … hard to do.

That said I’d like to see somebody with a huge Twitter footprint try this out and then broadcast all the commentary.    Hey Robert!  Magpie is offering you big money based on their revenue calculator

I’m skeptical that Scoble would see even a tenth of the 30k+ Magpie lists but I promise not to stop following you _and_ if you donate some to charity I’ll match up to $500 of your first month magpie proceeds to help justify the experiment.

Twittering Thanksgiving?


Like most folks who spend a bit too much time online, it’s always odd trying to explain things to folks who … don’t have an online life outside of the weekly checking of the email or surfing for a cranberry recipe.

Over Thanksgiving in Minnesota I was asked to explain what Facebook was and got in some trouble for suggesting that it’s more of a “coastal thing” which was in fact probably wrong anyway but also seemed to imply the heartland wasn’t up to snuff on digital happenings.    Interestingly though Craigslist was well known and loved by all even as the social networking tools were largely unrecognized.

I’ll definitely want to wait until next year to explain Twitter, but when I do I’ll have them read Tim O’Reilly‘s insightful post where I think he correctly observes that Twitter has moved from something that didn’t have obvious relevance or usefulness to an almost indispensable part of the work life of many onliners.

In some ways Twitter has replaced both email and blogging as the tool of choice for the digitally obsessed, and this has come about from it’s usefulness combined with the natural problems that have cropped up with email (spam, attachments, delays, lack of brevity, timing, etc, etc) and with blogging (surfing issues, navigation problems, wordiness, unequal playing fields, comment moderation, etc, etc.