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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