Twitter’s popularity has exploded, which can only mean one thing: The End of Twitter.
First, I should state explicitly: Twitter is great. I love the fact that I can hear from (and even talk to…) well-known people like Jamie Oliver and Mark Bittman and Howard Rheingold, and that I can have lots of fun conversations with the people I’ve met on Twitter. (Mostly, we talk about bacon.)
It’s actually not a bad thing that so many people have found out how great twitter is. The problem here is not that the celebs have invaded (Britney? Really?), or how the journalists can’t stop livetweeting from pressers. Though that is part of it. As I’ve said before, Twitter kind of feels now like someone invited all our parents in…it’s no longer a thing that makes people think I’m weird when I’m talking about it.
The real problem is that when Twitter appears in The New York Times on a weekly basis — as it now does — or when NBC’s David Gregory is teaching people on the air how to use twitter — which he did — or when MC Hammer is on Good Morning America talking about his tweets — which he was, these kinds of cultural events mark the fact that Twitter is officially mainstream, and because of that, there will be even more pressure for the people who run Twitter to monetize our tweets. That’s the problem.
This is the same pressure Facebook is under, which is why you saw the second major take-your-users-for-granted privacy outrage committed by Facebook this past week, as they attempted to use their Terms of Service to claim ownership of everything you ever do or say or post on their site. Forever.
Because how else are social networking sites going to make money? Clearly advertising isn’t going to pay the bills — from a recent CNN/Money piece on Facebook:
Online advertising growth is expected to decelerate in 2009 from 17.5% last year to just 8.9%. And historically most of those ad dollars have flowed to portals and other online destinations, not experimental sites and social networks like Facebook…attempts to sell traditional online ads on Facebook and other social-networking sites have failed miserably: Banner ads can sell for as little as 15 cents per 1,000 clicks (compared with, say, $8 per 1,000 clicks for an ad on a targeted news portal such as Yahoo Auto) because marketers know that members ignore them.
So what’s the alternative? We probably don’t know yet, but certainly copyright claims like Facebook’s are going to be part of any corporation’s market plan.
And, even though it’s not a money-maker, we’re still going to see more advertising. The folks who run Twitter have admitted they have no idea how to make money off it (or have implied that…), and are toying with ideas such as charging companies who use Twitter for marketing and customer service. But I find it hard to believe that we’re not going to eventually end up seeing ads as part of the twitter stream that comes through. (Third-parties like Twitterific already do this — why would TwitterCorp just give that away?)
The exploding popularity of Twitter isn’t really a problem from a day-to-day usage perspective — with Twitter, you’re not forced to listen to anyone, and you can tune the list of people you follow to hear from only people who interest you. In fact, Howard Rheingold recently remarked that “Twitter feels like the early days of the Well — sense of community, reciprocal knowledge exchange, group formation.” And I would agree — it’s a great place to connect with people, to share ideas, to debate politics. (And to tweet about food!)
But from a business perspective, there will be more pressure on the company to turn a profit, which will likely lead to the same kind of take-your-users-for-granted decision-making that we saw in Facebook last week.
So I think at some point, we’re going to need to find the next big thing. Hopefully it will be something that incorporates the notion of FOSS. Or FLOSS.
Or whatever you call it.