Thursday, August 20th, 2009
Any other social networking/social media affectionados out there? Y’all should read this very interesting post by Cody Brown that talks about the difference between how Twitter, MySpace and Facebook scaled, the identity crisis of the former two, and what all that likely means for the business. And then, if you really want to geek out, read this article from TechCrunch that walks through some leaked confidential documents from a Twitter insider. (Way far down in that article, if you get that far, they talk about the Twitter employee “Happiness Committee” which made me LOL.)
The Coles Notes gist is that, while Facebook started small and with a particular focus (ie: connecting real life identities online as a way to keep in touch with collage friends), Twitter and MySpace created a basic tool and tried to grab as many users as it could as soon as possible. Where Facebook’s slow growth allowed it to closely watch how its users were using the site and begin tailoring and tweaking the features to make it easier to do those things, MySpace and Twitter both grew so quickly that they couldn’t keep up with the different ways their tool was being used in any meaningful way. The ReTweet and hashtag phenomenons are not and never were something created by the company, but rather something created and distributed across Tweetdom by the users as a simple way to credit other people for the content of a Tweet or tag Tweets for easy searchability on a platform that offered no formal tagging system. Similarly, MySpace never envisioned itself to be a home for blossoming indy musicians, but that group of people started twisting their profiles for that use and now MySpace has a rather large swath of users it’s not entirely sure what to do with and a profile system that’s been hacked almost beyond recognition.
Having never used MySpace myself, I have only a vague, academic understanding of how the service is used. I do know, however, that Twitter was designed initially as a mass SMS texting service and, yes, it does still do that sometimes, but has morphed through exponential, frantically-paced growth to be something far, far different. In the past six months Twitter has almost single-handedly reversed the way news online (and offline) is distributed, putting the public in the know (for a given, rumour-like value of “in the know”) before mainstream media’s had a chance to put its boots on. Trending topics on Twitter house meme and news items alike, and it’s often difficult to tell which is really which (see exhibit Michael Jackson). Users are linked in directly to a mass public consciousness that shifts and splits and reforms around news and ideas, and memes replicate themselves at a faster rate than ever before. (For a really interesting talk about memes, check out Susan Blackmore’s TedTalk on the subject. Very relevant to Twitter and more than a little prophetic given the February 2008 date of this talk.)
Reading through the company’s meeting notes, it’s plain as day to see the business is trying to figure out how to lead the masses it’s hosting, how to deal with the celebrity presence that it largely owes it’s massive user adoption to but sees as a “distraction”, how to deal with the threats of Google real-time search and Facebook’s aggressive campaign to adopt those features that make it’s service more like Twitter, and is still floundering trying to sort out a way to make money off the whole thing. (Sidenote: I get why Twitter’s all freaked out about Google search, but I’m not sure why they’re bothering trying to compete there. If I was them I’d be way more concerned about Google Wave than search, but that’s just me.) My guess is Twitter will flounder on for a while yet, and may ultimately have to break down into two or three separate services, but only time will tell. Twitter has spun so far out of its own control now that there’s no telling whether it will fall to earth, find a stable orbit, or fling itself completely out of the atmosphere.