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Twitter Should Take The Offer

The blogosphere was all atwitter over the weekend with news that Google is close to offering a lot of money for Twitter. I know I'm going to get dinged for saying it, but I think the company's founders should take the offer, whatever the price.

The blogosphere was all atwitter over the weekend with news that Google is close to offering a lot of money for Twitter. I know I'm going to get dinged for saying it, but I think the company's founders should take the offer, whatever the price.I get the pitch: people linked to one another, free from the filters and qualifications of the institutions upon which we once relied, which have been revealed as incomplete, trending toward insincerity, and often times amounting to outright lies (or simply been some brilliant branding, which is a creative combination of incompleteness and insincerity, most of the time).

A few companies have taken the plunge, and used Twitter to catch customer complaints offered up to the ether. This is the slightest hint of an incomprehensibly potent, exciting future: people linked to information, and to one another, in a manner that's localized, mobile, and real-time. Imagine the power of giving them (and/or enabling them to give to one another) updates on lines at restaurants, reviews of items on sale at a mall, traffic updates, where products were manufactured, or whatever. Arguably, every experience could have a ubiquitous search/social component.

But is Twitter the tool that will do it...and thus warrant a purchase price of a rumored $750 million to $1 billion in cash from Google? I know it's heretical to even suggest, but what if it isn't the answer?

To many would-be or recovering users, it's a glorified IM distribution list. The messages are short, and often-times pointless. For every customer feedback "success" noted by its advocates (or even the proactive promotional use, however furtive), there is usually an established, more robust mechanism that had to fail first: for instance, shouldn't complaints get handled by customer service departments like, er, directly, instead of relying on the impromptu magic of Twitter? Aren't there any number of other, different, and better ways to distribute information (and promotions) that marketers have just forgotten how to use effectively?

I'd argue that what's broken in communications these days isn't a mechanism issue, but rather a content issue.

And, when matched against the potentially cosmic implications of ubiquitous social/search, Twitter might be only one mechanism in search of an issue (or issues) to resolve. Sure, it's immediate and quick, but what exactly does Twitter really own?

The idea that lots of people are willing to use it when it's free is not the most encouraging business model. Those of us who are old enough to remember the Internet Bubble know that it's pretty difficult to monetize something in the future that seems to be worthless in the present. In 2009, shouldn't the fact that it doesn't make any real money be a big, fluttering red flag?

So if I were running Twitter, I'd look at any offer as pretty tweet, and walk off into the pantheon of Internet start-ups that cashed-out when they were still 100% promise. If it turns out to the a game-changer, there's nothing wrong with having invented it...and sold it for a cool billion.

Jonathan Salem Baskin writes the Dim Bulb blog and is the author of Branding Only Works On Cattle.

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