When social media experts talk about Twitter and its future, there is usually a time frame attached to qualify their statements. “It’s big and growing fast, but should lever out in 12-18 months before fading or becoming obsolete.”
For many in the industry, timeframe qualifiers are normal and expected. The Internet is fickle. Hot today, gone tomorrow is both common and expected because meteoric rises to the top are almost guaranteed to deflate. Most popular websites eventually “jump the shark” and become punch lines describing yesterday’s fads.
Keep it Simple, Stupid
Twitter is the exception. Unlike Second Life, AOL, and most recently MySpace, Twitter is simple and appears to be willing to stay simple indefinitely. They are focused on allowing the users to create the content, spread the word, and build the communities within and outside of the site. They are trying to improve on what they already have rather than add more functionality.
One of the biggest separators between Twitter and other sites is that that they are focused on conversation and engagement. As soon as you add something to the site that brings the focus away from engagement, you add a distraction to the conversations that have built Twitter into what it is today. So far, Twitter has avoided the “expert-advice” from last year when many were asking for more features. They’ve kept it simple and they’ve grown as a result.
“Real-Time Web” – The Buzzword Leading Us Into 2010
With the “Real-Time Web” being the buzzword that has plotted the course for companies small and huge, Twitter is positioned as the central hub for this trend. They are improving their search feature and have recently highlighted it on their homepage for those who are new or not logged in.
While Google would never admit it, they are both excited and terrified by the prospects of Twitter becoming a force in the search market. The excitement comes in the form of fulfillment of one of their ultimate goals: to present the web as it happens. To Google, the web is the world in a box. If they can integrate with (or buy) Twitter in the near future, the sheer mass of data flowing through it can help to enhance their usability immensely.
The fear comes from the outside chance that Twitter will be able to figure it all out on their own and become an actual competitor to search engines. Today, it would be impossible to imagine using Twitter as a search engine because it is raw, unfiltered bursts of words and links that offer little value to someone searching for a “Los Angeles Honda Dealer”.
Soon, that may not be as far-fetched as it seems.
The data is there. The possibilities are nearly endless when it comes finding the right answer, the right website, or the right piece of media to answer any question that someone would want answered through a search engine. The problem is in the filtering, ranking, and distributing this data in real-time without being a victim to the loopholes that spammers and SEO firms would exploit.
Still, it isn’t impossible. The race is on to make this a possibility. Google is excited because they are the odds-on favorite to put the technology together. Twitter is trying as well, but will likely defer as soon as someone else masters it.
The Real-Time Web will be a reality within 18 months.
Sticking to the Conversation
It’s hard to get banned on Twitter. You really have to be a major spammer to be able to pull it off. Some see this as a flaw for Twitter, but in reality the open-nature of the platform is what will eventually lead to its greatest strength.
What’s the least expensive way to develop a new technology? Let someone else do it. Just as Twitter is aware that they will likely need to integrate in some way with a search algorithm powered by Google or someone else, they are also savvy enough to know that by allowing developers to play with the API and create amazing tools, they will save money in the long run by eventually buying the best of the best.
Sites and applications like Tweetdeck, Tweetmeme, and Tweetafile have enjoyed tremendous success on the back of the Twitter API. While all offer ways of “gaming” Twitter, they are also developing products and services that could eventually become a part of Twitter in the future without damaging the simplicity of the platform.
As long as Twitter sticks to the conversation and allows others to run wild with their API, they’ll be positioned to continue to grow both in users and usefulness without having to invest in the research, development, implementation and testing. They have allowed the creativity factor to flow freely. Others who have done this, namely Facebook and Apple (through iPhone apps) have enjoyed success as a result. Twitter could eventually see better success.
Here’s a not-so-bold prediction. Other than enhancements to search and cosmetic changes, Twitter will function just as it does today. The only real difference is the size. By 2011, Twitter should achieve their goal of having over 1 billion users worldwide. At that point, they may end up jumping the shark.
With 1 billion users, they could jump an ocean of sharks and still come out on top.