April 6th, 2011 by Niall Harbison in Twitter
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I’ve been waiting for Twitter to have that big wow moment for a couple of years now when they switch the revenue on, get lots of business customers interested and prove that they are a long term viable business. For want of a better saying to “do a Facebook”. Sure the growth has been impressive and I like many others rely on the service on a daily basis as everything from a news source to light entertainment. The service is however 5 years old and apart from stuff that others have built on top of Twitter the core product has changed very little which makes me wonder where the innovation is coming from. Where are the business solutions? Where is the self service advertising platform? The new features? I know they have had huge challenges scaling and coping with their growth but to become an internet giant of the future (which they certainly have the potential to do) they need to start pushing new ideas and stop standing still…
Users And Developers Defined The Service
There is no doubting that what Twitter developed was genius in it’s simplicity and has changed the way that we all communicate. Once launched though some of the best features have come from developers and users. The Hashtag was developed by the community and now sits at the core of all search queries. Twitter search was developed by another company which Twitter then bought. Most of the best apps for using Twitter like Tweetdeck and Seesmic have been built by others. The Retweet button? Nope somebody else built that too. Now I’m not saying it’s not a good idea to buy up companies around you because Google and Facebook are masters of that trick but precious little innovation seems to be coming out of Twitter itself.
Just over the last couple of days Twitter have started rolling out their new homepage and it puts a huge focus on being a media company. They want people to use Twitter to find the news and information based on their interests. While this is incredibly useful as a consumer like myself who relies on Twitter for information it’s a lot harder to monetize. Put ads in my stream after I haven’t seen any for 5 years and I’ll get very annoyed. To date Twitter is something that I expect to be free and to change that will be very hard.
No Revenue Or Product Vision
What new useful features have we seen on Twitter in the last couple of years? The only ones that I can think of are a couple that have massively annoyed most users, the new Retweet button and the new Twitter design which I still refuse to use. It’s been 5 years but still there is no business dashboard. Still no insights. One of the best most useful things about the site was Twitter Search but that has stayed pretty much stagnant since they bought it from summize. Revenue is the biggest question of all and even though there have been some good early signs and some efforts the killer format just doesn’t seem to be there yet. I certainly don’t think things like promoted tweets or Earlybird are going to be the worldwide sensation that Twitter thought they might be.
Trouble At The Top?
There has in recent times been trouble at the top and it’s a pretty well known fact that Jack Dorsey and Ev Williams do not get on. Williams was in charge for a while and directing product but he has since moved on to create a completely new start up. Even Jack Dorsey who is still interested in Twitter is only there part of the time with a huge amount of his attention still directed at his other start up Square. As an outsider it feels like there is no real driving vision at Twitter (unlike say Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook) and I think that shows through in the product.
The Future Is Still Bright
Twitter have so much data that they will certainly make money. It’s core users find it so useful that they couldn’t imagine a life without it but making money (which will have to come from advertising) while not annoying those users will be a balancing act. Twitter’s growth has been spectacular but they are 5 years old and burning through cash. The fun times and the media frenzy are over…it’s time to start innovating with new product and features and making cold hard cash.