Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
8/25/2009
11:10 AM
Michael Hickins
Michael Hickins
Commentary
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Twitter's 'Inglorious' Summer

Stonie, you're doing a heck of a job. Today is the anniversary of the first day of the 2008 Democratic Convention, which is arguably the first day of the rest of Twitter's life; Biz Stone, Evan Williams and Jack Dorsey have to be shaking their heads in disbelief at the sensation that their creation has created over the past twelve months.

Stonie, you're doing a heck of a job. Today is the anniversary of the first day of the 2008 Democratic Convention, which is arguably the first day of the rest of Twitter's life; Biz Stone, Evan Williams and Jack Dorsey have to be shaking their heads in disbelief at the sensation that their creation has created over the past twelve months.In the past year, Twitter has gone from an apparition in the country's collective consciousness to a full-fledged phenomenon, complete with almost Apple-like devotion from its fanbois and as much derision from its detractors.

Twitter has in the past few months transcended mere technology to become part of our culture's social fabric; this summer alone, Twitter has become a force for communicating political resistance in Iran, the swine flu, the death of Michael Jackson, leaked documents, celebrity tweets, malware, the health care debate and now the fate of movies like Quentin Tarentino's Inglorious Basterds.

Twitter is also being discussed as a way for doctors to communicate with their patients, government officials to broadcast emergency information and even for people to sell their homes.

Yet Twitter is still awash in uncertainty, as it has yet to show either that it has a sustainable business plan or that it can sustain the kind of ecosystem necessary to support all the different uses to which the service is being put. The latter is especially crucial as Twitter has almost certainly surpassed the wildest imaginings of its inventors.

It's still their business, of course, and I've argued in the past that no one has the right to tell Stone, Williams and Dorsey what to do with it.

On the other hand, no one should make long-term plans with Twitter at its heart. Twitter is incredibly popular, but popularity doesn't pay the bills. And it's not as if another service could easily replace it: Twitter is nothing without the millions of networks linking thousands of people together into mini-Internets, and those relationships can't be transferred to another service should the need arise. That's an incredible competitive advantage for Twitter but a serious drawback for anyone trying to come up with a back-up technology for a post-Twitter marketing or communications strategy.

The alternative for marketing and communications executives, of course, is to focus on Facebook, which is already close to being profitable and seemingly has no shortage of money-making schemes.

The longer Twitter remains an almost dreamlike phenomenon, an ephemeral service that exists at the whim of its creators, the less marketers will have confidence in its long-term viability and the more they will build a future that excludes it.

It's been quite a year for Twitter. But as the Obama phenomenon shows, the bloom comes off the rose rather quickly. If Twitter is to enjoy long-term success, it's going to have to show a long-term plan sooner rather than later.

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