The biggest question in the technology world these days is who will buy Twitter? The leading contender is probably Google, since the search giant has what seems like an unlimited amount of money and a history of scooping up interesting products. Facebook is a possibility as well, since the audience for Twitter and the overall ‘cool factor’ it has going for it fit most obviously within the social networking universe. MySpace, Microsoft, and Yahoo! have all been floated as possibilities too, probably because they are desperate to find ways to compete with Facebook and Google. And I could also imagine a media giant like NBC Universal or Time Warner (their own financial issues aside) making a play, figuring ownership of the leading micro-blogging platform would make them an instant player in the online world (and conceivably enhance their other entertainment and news products).
My question is this: why does anyone have to buy Twitter anyway? Biz Stone said “Our goal is to build a profitable, independent company, and we’re just getting started.” I believe him. So, why can’t that be how this story plays out?
– Twitter can make money on its own. Twitter is more than just a company — it represents a significant shift in the way people communicate and an evolution in the way information travels and communities gather. It has successfully balanced mass adoption (the numbers are fuzzy, but estimates are that Twitter currently have between 15 and 20 million users, and growing by the minute), while also creating a base of loyal, passionate users. When you are that successful, and by extension, influential in the shaping of how people communicate with each other, there is plenty of money to be made.
(A side thought – the ways that people have traditionally made money online – through advertising most notably – are clearly not working as well anymore. Rather than try to put an existing revenue model into Twitter, the Twitter team should be looking for new opportunities to generate revenue, things that nobody has ever thought of before… kind of like Twitter itself. Additionally, the Twitter folks are going to need to step up their customer service if they want to continue to grow and build loyalty – technology alone doesn’t make people feel like they are a part of something special, and the larger they get, the harder it will be to demonstrate a personal connection to their audience.)
– When companies are acquired they lose their soul. Think about it: when NewsCorp purchased MySpace, MySpace changed (and not for the better). When Time Warner bought AOL, AOL changed (and not for the better). When Facebook tried to make itself even more desirable to a potential buyer (by forcing an ill conceived advertising model onto users), it nearly imploded. The list of such failures is long. For Twitter to be successful, it has to maintain its independence, and keep focused on what it has done well. If they need to hire, or work with smarter people to keep moving towards their goal, that’s fine — but they should resist the option of being absorbed (even if the money is totally ridiculous).
– There are plenty of ways to grow, and get investments. In the past, investors had only one goal – to get their money back. In today’s world there are social returns that carry equal, or at least, significant weight. Twitter can qualify as a social venture. There are plenty of investors out there who believe in Twitter and its potential to not only become profitable, but to change our society. One of the reasons Twitter might sell is to satisfy the needs of its investors, to give back a quick return on their initial investments. But they must resist that urge.There are plenty of investors who will be will be patient while Twitter figures out its future, knowing that their return, over the long run, will be far greater (financially and otherwise).
It can’t be easy to pass up millions, maybe even billions of dollars — but its the right thing to do in this case. Twitter has a brighter future, and greater potential, if it resists the opportunity to join a larger company and instead continues to look at ways to grow and evolve on its own. And to help them, the Twitter community should band together and be a part of the process of figuring out how to help Twitter succeed on its own.
Or, in twitter speak: @biz don’t sell. stay the course. I am here to help, and there are others. We can make Twitter great if you just stay focused on your goals.