Will Twitter Become The Next Friendster In 2009?

Remember when Friendster was the bee’s knees? Then it was beaten out of the market by MySpace. Facebook and YouTube fever came next. Now it’s Twitter - the micro-blogging platform has revolutionized the way over 3 million monthly users and businesses communicate online and build relationships with their customers, friends, and colleagues.

Twitter=Friendster Twitter is teaching corporate America how to build social capital and empowering their consumers to help build their brand. It’s giving everyday people who are quite knowledgeable on topics ranging from the latest tech gadgets to parenting a platform to share their expertise with the Twitter world and gain some fame. And it’s not just the Guy Kawasaki’s of the world who have thousands of followers. While Twitter has had a great run, 2009 will be the year that Twitter gets it together or falls. Let’s face it, Twitter has weaknesses and it goes beyond the fail whale that pops up daily.

Customer support needs to be overhauled. Granted, when there is a major tech catastrophe that poses a security risk (such as the recent phishing scams and celebrity Twitter accounts hackings) to the Twitter community, the Twitter team is quick to respond and fix it. However, if you have an issue with your Twitter account, good luck getting it fixed in a timely manner or having someone respond to your inquiry.

The competition is creeping up. Now that the online world has seen how successful Twitter is there are other tech savvy, businesses who are preparing to give Twitter a run for their money. They recognize Twitter’s weaknesses and are working on providing an even stronger platform that allows users to group and categorize their followers, easily integrate microblogging onto users own sites, etc. For example, Laconica is a open-source microblogging software that allows anyone with a webserver or hosting account to set up their own microblogging system using a stable platform. Since it’s open-source, you’ll probably see a host of add-ons incorporated directly into it rather than having to rely on third-party sites using Twitter’s API.

Twitter as a company is not accessible. Since they don’t really have a communications department it can be a challenge to reach anyone at Twitter since there is no contact info listed on their site other then their street address. Their "Press Inquires" email link has not worked in a while and brings you to an "About Us" page. E-newsletter updates are infrequent. Twitter’s blog is the only tool staff uses on a consistent basis to provide updates to the Twitter community. However, the blog does not allow user comments.

How is Twitter building community as a company? For a company whose mission is to build a platform to create community why aren’t employees engaging the Twitter community? For example, founder Biz Stone is the public face of Twitter. He authors the enewsletter and main blog, is profiled by the press, and has close to 30,000 people following him on Twitter yet he is only following 168 people back. With all of the Twitter tools on the market such as Tweetdeck that allow you to sort your followers and group them, you would think Stone would carve out a little time to get to know the community he built Twitter for. And yes he’s busy and in demand but as a business leader it’s important to engage your community. Zappos is a perfect example. Now this is a company that gets online community building and it trickles down to the employees. Perhaps, Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh can mentor Twitter. He’s started a consulting firm called Zappos Insights to help businesses gain insights on how to successfully manage a company in a Web 2.0 world.

Allyson Kapin is the Founding Partner of Rad Campaign and the Founder of Women Who Tech. You can follow her on Twitter.

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  • Rasul Sha'ir

    I think what's being overlooked is that the whole premise behind twitter is problematic. If you take a look at their mission statment - "to build a platform to create community" as Allyson stated, my question is this - build a community around what? Affordable housing? Shoes? Computers? Shoelaces? What? Let's say its "people". Facebook is already doing that (and well). Does twitter have the potential to be better than Facebook? Bottom line is that business development questions 101 aren't being discussed here. Things like are they cool, can they build a community, or their employees aren't engaging the community are being discussed which are off the mark - at this stage in the game. Focus on some fundamental issues (who's your target market, what's your value proposition, who's your competition, what makes your product better than what's in the market now) and you'll find yourself in a better place to make better business decisions.

  • Tony Ruiz

    Keane, Friendster is a social network site just like Myspace. Friendster had some flaws that Myspace recognized and capitalized on. Basically Myspace took the whole Friendster audience.

    Allyson, Great article I posted the issue on my blog.

  • Keane Li

    Facebook is still my central hub for sharing photos and keeping in touch with "regular" people. Most of the comments I get on my Tweets are from Facebook anyway (when it updates my status).

    Also, what's "Friendster?" :-P

  • Shaun Dakin

    Good post. Twitter is cool now. When the "mainstream" gets in, the cool people will move to another "cool" platform and we'll be talking about the next cool thing TBD.

    Friendster had massive tech problems as I remember and it was hot to sell and did little to fix the issues.

    Twitter had massive tech problems (i.e. the FAIL WHALE) that hit the application about 6 months ago.

    Until the hacking issue this weekend, the tech had been scaling fine and all was kosher.

    We'll see, right now the strategy of "we are holding back on monetizing / putting ads up so that we can evaluate" seems to be working.

    Users like the "no ads" policy (unless, of course, you get a Magpie stream and people go crazy about that).

    Users like the "let's see where this takes us" attitude of the leadershiop.

    But.. Twitter will need to make money.

    They are afterall a Biz.

    Shaun Dakin
    @EndTheRobocalls (biz)
    @IsCool (personal)

  • Kathy Foster-Patton

    Allison--great article. I think lots of us are going to be watching to see how things go with Twitter and if they are going to be able to capitalize and hold on to all of those users, and especially if they will figure out a way to monetize their service.

  • Allyson Kapin

    Thanks Anne, Chris, and C Haro. The 1.2 million monthly users is a stat from a Compete study written up a few months ago. I just updated the article to reflect Compete's latest stats for Twitter dating back to November 2008.

  • Chris Harper

    Twitter's growth is pretty amazing right now. Your points are valid, but it seems to me Twitter has time to overcome each one. The competition is nowhere near right on their heels, but if they fail to see what you see. Who knows?

    By the way, hopefully more than "over 1.2 monthly users" are on Twitter.

  • Anne Dougherty

    I think you've hit the change points right on the head, Allyson. Twitter has the potential to challenge Facebook: It has all the best of FB (updates from your posse) without any of the disadvantages (no ads telling you to lose weight or try our dating service; no one asking you to plant a rose bush). What Twitter doesn't seem to have is a coherent business plan. I don't see installed software going anywhere (maintaining your own servers is so 2002!) but there's definitely a null space for another tool to develop. Definitely interesting times.

  • Allyson Kapin

    I hope so too Suzi! I want to see Twitter get it together and survive. It's such an amazing community.

  • Chris Harper

    Twitter's growth is pretty amazing right now. Your points are valid, but it seems to me Twitter has time to overcome each one. The competition is nowhere near right on their heels, but if they fail to see what you see. Who knows?

    By the way, hopefully more than "over 1.2 monthly users" are on Twitter.