Waiting for Twitter to Grow Up

All of us love Twitter because of it’s simplicity. It is a great example of a massive public and private text messaging business. Nothing more, and nothing less. It is not amazing technology. The people behind are not whiz kids. They came up with the right idea (a very simple one – a chat room via text messaging) at the right time – when all of us were ready to accept a chat room as a normal non-geeky thing to use on the internet. And it has taken off like gangbusters. They deserve congratulations for their work because the VCs are “making it rain” at Twitter right now. Are we in a dot-com bubble? We’d like to think not. But that is not the discussion point for this post.

As much as you, I, and the CEO of Twitter would like to deny it it is time for Twitter to grow up.

I don’t mean this in an immature insulting way. What I mean is that all software products mature and add features. Allowing people to exchange unorganized text messages is not a long-term revenue generating business model. If I were CEO I’d be fighting to keep Twitter as simple as it is. But that will have to change. Like I’ve said before – Twitter needs to do something to increase it’s value. The backbone is completely unorganized, and there are entire businesses built on figuring out what people are trying to say, and how they feel in their communications while using Twitter. The hashtag was born out of desperation because of the lack of organization, and it is a poor solution. Even worse – you can “buy/sponsor” a hashtag now to try and get your marketing message in front of people. The backbone needs structure to separate what people are talking about. Anybody with geeky street cred falls back to how IRC works: There are organized rooms where everybody in that room knows the topic and is a willing participant. With hashtags if I start talking about #purplemonkeybutts, all of my followers that don’t care about that topic (probably 95% of my followers) have no choice but to watch me talk about it or unfollow me.

Here are some of the cool things that I see us eventually getting:

  1. Organized rooms or topics where we can join and leave discussions at will without bothering the rest of our friends who don’t care about the topic. Call them what you want: Groups, Fan Pages, etc. There is so much traffic there right now that it really needs to be segmented. The world cannot live on hashtags alone.
  2. Knowing when people are online or offline. One of the challenges with Twitter is that if you use it to communicate with a tight knit group of friends you have no idea when people are going to read your updates. 1 of 9 might read it immediately. 5 of 9 might not see it for a week. Maybe this would be just a cool thing to have.
  3. Applications: Something more to do than just text. This would be big and would give even more people to join and participate in the framework. As much as you hate it the games on that other huge social network keep the people coming back.
  4. A formal advertising framework instead of “sponsored tweets”. Even better – a clear way to know when something is an advertisement, or just something that is from our friends. That whole trying to show sponsored tweets as part of our normal stream thing is an attempt for you to advertise to me and have it just seem normal. They need ads. That us why they are going out of their way to control the clients. The clients are what you use to see your tweets. They need to control that environment so they can put advertising on it. We are going to whine when the ads hit us, but expect more of them and they will be more in your face.
  5. The ability to send a message as long as you want if you are using a computer-based client. If I am sitting at my desk there is no reason for me to be restricted on how long an update can be. This just came in the last version of Tweetdeck. Once you type past your limit it turns it into a longer updates and shares it on a 3rd party service
  6. The ability to upload and organize media. Twitter has text, and nothing else. Several 3rd party tools have an entire business model based on allowing us to share media on Twitter. I would not be surprised if one or more of those companies are in secret discussions with Twitter right now about being acquired.
  7. Giving a place for business to do their thing. All of us preach about using a fan page for your business on Facebook. This is not what Fan Pages were created for. But that is what they have morphed into. It is now understood that everybody that logs into Facebook should be a living, breathing person. That person can then control one more Fan Pages which represent a company or brand. On Twitter we are still wrestling with accounts being create to give a company it’s voice. That is why I have @patrickallmond and @allaboutfocus. I hope that companies eventually get a formal home on Twitter.

In two years I don’t think Twitter is going to look anything like it does now. We are going to playing Farmville via Twitter. I am going to be able to have the “Focus Consulting” private room where I can invite people for company update. I am looking forward seeing these changes and everything else they have coming.

I just wish it would grow up faster.

  • http://www.itinerantentrepreneur.com/journal/ Robert Dempsey

     Great ideas for Twitter Patrick. A number of the ones you mention – adding more media, longer tweets – we part of Pownce, a competitor that did that and more, came before Twitter, and lost to Twitter. People wanted simplicity. Perhaps that scared Twitter into adding features at a much slower pace and going the API route so other services could pop up.

    Having said that…

    You bring up a huge question – will Twitter evolve with the desires of it’s users, or will it continue to stay the course. 37 Signals rarely adds features to their apps and aren’t losing any business, but they have a paid app, so different story perhaps.

    I also think a word of caution is warranted. You, I, and other readers of this blog might be power Twitter users, however there are a world of people out there that have no idea how to use it. We could attribute that to the way it’s set up – show a never ending stream of Tweets – or that they’ve come in after we marketers have really started using it :)

    Perhaps some of the additions you mention would help people understand how better to use it. While Twitter started out as a “what are you doing” app, it’s now way beyond that thanks to the users.

  • http://allaboutfocus.com Patrick Allmond

    Thanks Robert. I think you hit the nail on the head the comment about 37 signals being paid. They can afford to sit around and not add features. They also provide a real business value for the b2b market. I see Twitter as more entertainment that all of the power users are trying to use for business.

    Facebook was very simple in the beginning also. Now they have their own programming language :) I think that as Twitter adds features we will not go anyplace. 

  • http://www.tonyjalicea.com Tony Alicea

    Your first sentence is the very reason why none of your ideas will ever come to pass. Twitter was designed for maximum simplicity. If it started adding all those features, it would end up like the bloated social network that is Facebook.

    K.I.S.S.

    • http://stopdoingnothing.com Patrick Allmond

      I appreciate your point Tony, and I can see your perspective. But remember – Twitter wasn’t “designed” for anything in particular. It was a fun weekend project that got popular. Once it got popular it picked up a huge user base, and as a result picked up investors. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been sunk into Twitter. It has no choice no but to expand it’s feature set to generate useful ad revenue. If Twitter is around in five years it will looking nothing like it looks right now. 

      • RWC4520

         This is the grammar police! “It’s” means “It is”. You used it several times when you meant “its”, which is the possessive of “it”. And, I agree with Tony: if Twitter did everything you say it should do, it would just be another Facebook.

        • http://allaboutfocus.com/ Patrick Allmond

          It’d be nice if you had used your name so I could address you :) But none of the “free” social sites have remained the same. This is not really a matter of “if” it happens but when. And it will not be another Facebook. It will be a Twitter with more features. 

  • Kriss

    I will be very disappointed if Twitter adds games. I love the simplicity as it is now. 140 characters is enough. Fast and to the point. Private messages shouldn’t have the 140 rule, but I don’t send private messages through Twitter or Facebook (which I deleted because it got to big for it’s britches) I send emails. I also enjoy other peoples hastags. I often find myself clicking on them to read other related tweets and end up finding someone I’d like to follow. As I only use it for personal use but I see the added value to spread word about your business which I hope to make use of soon. I love Twitter and I hope it stays the way it is. To me it’s not broken so why fix it? I left Facebook for a reason, Twitter has been my salvation. If Twitter grows an ego too, then I’ll have to leave and I really don’t want that to happen.