The Future of Twitter

I had lunch earlier today with my friends Dave Gray of Xplane and Bob Logan of sLAB (previously the Beal Institure for Strategic Creativity). The food at “Le Pain Quotidien” was great, the ambiance cozy and surroundings not too noisy. The conversation drifted to Twitter, its future and what its potential could be. Dave encouraged me to blog about this conversation (hopefully not out of concern that at my age I’d forget the content soon if I didn’t! Lol). So here are some highlights of that conversation.

I am not sure why, but
we did not talk about the traditional advertisement business model. Perhaps it was our aversion to ads interrupting our experience, whether on TV (if you’re still watching any!) or online, and we just couldn’t imagine our current Twitter experience poisoned by pop-up adds driven by parsing the last tweet we received. Perhaps it’s an obvious model that many are practicing and we felt we were in a more “innovative” conversation.

The most obvious value of Twitter to us is in the communities it helps creating and enabling. One of the hypothesis about the business models of the web 2.0 world is that accumulating substantial numbers of “customers” or users of your service even at a loss could have value for others by reducing their cost of access to such group. That was the favorite hypothesis when eBay acquired Skype for $2.6 billion in order to gain access to Skype’s 54 million users.

With the gradual realization that modern brand management hinges on the involvement and active engagement of brand related communities, the business value of such communities as well as of its venues and communications platforms continues to increase beyond the traditional value of a company’s customers database.

Another aspect is Twitter’s value to individuals as a convenience tool. It can act as a filter between the ever noisier outside world and the individual’s interests and preferences. Dave refers to Twitter as his personal “info shield”. By developing more sophisticated and slick applications to manage your “shield” Twitter’s tools would become more desirable by its users… and consumer desires can always be monetized!

I recently blogged about how micro-blogging, the type pioneered by Twitter, is supporting a new type of learning, which I called micro-learning. After some more thought I prefer to call it now agile learning, a way to learn in small incremental steps driven by your own needs and preferences instead of a rigid curriculum formulated for a broad population. My Twitter friends are really a growing network of scouts hunting for information and knowledge and tweeting about their findings, out of which I can then select the gems most interesting and useful to my learning. By the same token the drive (or at least the peer pressure) to have followers encourages me to be a good scout for my followers. This makes Twitter a prime platform for the new agile micro-learning that is emerging.

The ultimate value of Twitter, however, is in the data it collects and aggregates from all the tweets of its users and in its ability to mine such data for useful practical purposes. Technology, even the coolest one, is just a tool. The data is the ultimate treasure. Google, arguably one of the most innovative technology companies around, demonstrated in November 2008 what you can do with such data through their Flu Trends tool. Flu Trends was not only able to deliver estimates of flu levels in each state that were consistent with CDC’s results based on field data, it was also able to do so in near real time (i.e. faster than CDC!).

There are many visualization attempts and experiments of the Twitterverse. For example: 17 ways to visualize the Twitter Universe. Visualization is but one way to uncover inherent structures within the data that are otherwise not visible. The key for a successful business model, however, is to extract knowledge that is usable for a number of applications and industries. There are a number of companies starting to explore these avenues, but to my knowledge Twitter is not strategically pursuing any of them. One such company that I personally find exciting is Canadian. Unfortunately I am bound by an NDA and must defer more details to a future blog once I get the approvals to share their information.

If you know of companies doing something in this direction please let me know.

Leave a Reply