As usual, there were a large number of posts about Twitter this week. I am sure you already realized that I am going to add to this number as well. I have talked about Twitter as infrastructure before. I think it was fairly obvious with so many early adopters enamored with Twitter that it was going to be bigger than a normal startup. The important thing is that it sounds like Twitter itself feels the same way. In a quote from CNET, Jack Dorsey alluded to this:
“I think Twitter’s a success for us when people stop talking about it, when we stop doing these panels and people just use it as a utility, use it like electricity,” said Dorsey, who was on a “Future of Media” panel here Wednesday as part of Internet Week New York. “It fades into the background, something that’s just a part of communication. We put it on the same level as any communication device. So, e-mail, SMS, phone. That’s where we want to be.”
We already have a vibrant ecosystem of third party applications, but many of these applications were simple statistic trackers or other smaller features. However, the third party clients are taking on significant complexity with multiple account management, user lists and integrated searches. This is not something that is undertaken lightly. However, few people were able to make money due to Twitter. There are some reputation management tools that use Twitter as a data source, but typically it is only a portion of the overall solution. More recently, we have seen real-time search explode. However, search still has monetization problems outside of Google. In order for people to care about Twitter really becoming ubiquitous, more than some reputation management tools needs to be created. An application ecosystem is a very good thing for a system, but an entire economy is a different problem.
The Twitter economical benefits are starting to appear now. Fred Wilson has a post about how some companies are starting to use the data from Twitter for marketing and research:
While the data in and of itself is interesting, I am more intrigued by the idea that Twitter can be used as a panel that once it is large enough (and maybe it is already) that can produce much of the same data that is currently locked in set top boxes and controlled by the cable companies.
Analysis and market research is a big business. Even the major tech blogs, like ReadWriteWeb and GigaOm, are getting into publishing analysis and white papers. Brian Solis talks about the business aspects as well, referencing another research report, ThinkTank’s “Engaging Users”. There are two really good nuggets of information in Brian’s post. First, why are businesses starting to use Twitter:
The consensus defined engagement as a way to join the conversations that were transpiring around their brands – with or without them. The need to not “miss out” and also attempt to steer perception was critical and pervasive. For the majority, ROI would come later.
As with much in the marketing world, ROI can be difficult to measure, but the growth of the Twitter tools ecosystem will help generate those measurements. Another interesting point is a highlight from the research report:
Twitter users are super engaged consumers.
Twitter is still in an early adopter mode, though it is getting later in that cycle. Early adopters tend to be fanatical about things that they like. They are a huge segment of people that can be your free product evangilist. They talk about the products and tools that they use constantly. Some of these people have a significant reach compared to your typical consumer. Even someone like myself, and I do not have a huge social media presence, can talk to and possibly influence about five thousand people. I am just looking at the simple numbers, and not including the potential network effects. If I have two thousand subscribers on the blog, Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook, the number of unique people could be around 5000. That is direct contact, and the network effects could create an audience much larger.
So, why is marketing and economy so important to Twitter becoming infrastructure? Without an economy building on top of Twitter data and functionality, Twitter would just be a toy. With people researching the data that is generated from Twitter, it becomes much more important. In order to monetize the system, they can sell the data, but monetization becomes much easier when you become ubiquitous.