Monday, 31 August 2009

Why Twitter might die and Rupert Murdoch is right

Some topics have been bubbling away in my head and I have been slowly writing them up. Robert Scoble's post today 'Why Google won't create the next Twitter or Facebook or Posterous' has prompted me to now just go for it and hit publish. Am sure it's not finished, but it's ready enough. Look forward to your thoughts.

I think there are some dots to be connected. Am not claiming omnipotence and am being quite general below, for example I know specific types of content will behave differently. Ultimately I just wanted to start some conversations on these key themes which to me seem fundamental to the future of how we all behave online.

No Twoogle?
I believe Google chose not to invest in Twitter or Friend Feed (or even Facebook for that matter). No balls were dropped and no boats were missed. I suspect Google think that the true value of Live Search & the Social web lies in mobile. The fact they acquired Dodgeball and are investing in Wave & Latitude confirms that for me. Imagine blending those three concepts together and then adding PPC and so on? Google can create something amazing, usable, ubiquitous and still tie-up (power their revenue streams?) with Twitter, Facebook & Friendfeed etc, get all of the value from them without having to buy any of them outright. Always the much smarter play to be the network.

Follow the money...
The buzz around Foursquare (Dodgeball 2.0 interestingly) seems to further confirm that we, as consumers and surfers are heading live, mobile and social (LMS). And no doubt Google gets that too. To be honest, I'm not even saying its news really given the presence of social mobile for a good couple of years. And if that's where we as consumers/surfers & Google are heading then business will follow. Logically therefore, a % of our ad spends are heading that way too.

You don't have to be faster than the lion... just have to be faster than one other person running away from the lion, goes the saying. I think that Twitter occupies an awkward space in the middle of the LMS battlefield between Facebook/FriendFeed, Foursquare & Google. It's going to get messy in the middle whilst those three squeeze in on Twitter increasing revenue & share.

Could Twitter die?
Twitter has two choices as I see it:

1) Push outwards and take on Facebook/FriendFeed, Foursquare & Google but thats a big ask of Twitter and requires them to become much more than they are about. Ultimately I just don't think Twitter could integrate location and profile as well and fast enough to compete with the others.

2) Focus and stay simple and pure. Be the sane, easy-to-use, calm space in the madness that will no doubt descend on us when LMS hits. Be SMS 2.0!

For me Twitter etc is great for conversation & engagement and that of course 'might' lead to sales. But it's blurry really and surely not many would, on measuring ROI from Twitter (if they are even measuring it), stop using Twitter etc as a comms tool if the return advised otherwise? Presence in the conversation for any brand (and each of us is a brand now of course) is a pre-req a la Cluetrain. So what choice does a business really have?

If I were Twitter etc I would go for door number two and focus on becoming a simple, ubiquitous utility facilitating conversation. I would productise the simplicity, offer a freemium approach, upsell to business, add loads of valuable functionality around that and maybe offer more granular subscription levels etc. You could then brand extend into video-twitter (30 sec clips?), twitter live events, meetups, networking etc.

What about non-Live Search?
If the revenue future of search is turning its eye to LMS then does that have an impact on the rest of search? I just can't see Live and non-Live search working side by side. They are so different to me. So I am assuming they won't integrate when I say the following.

It could be that if enough consumer behaviour and corporate budget moves to LMS search that the cost of PPC/SEO on non-Live Search might start to make the return less favourable than the same investment might in LMS search. Peak PPC? There is a finite pie to play for in non-Live search of course and I see LMS & non-Live search therefore in a head-on collision.

It's all a big fat juicy if of course but a good set of ifs to start thinking about. Relying on huge volumes of traffic, both paid and organic, to generate revenue at increasing costs may well cause a slow down in our commitment to non-Live search. Imagine that for a minute. Anyone in SEO tempted to prove me wrong might be better spending the time assuming I'm right and preparing some clever moves.

No flies on Rupert!
So if that is all the case then I imagine many will be tempted to divert investment from PPC/SEO, slap a pay-wall in front of everything, offer great value-added content etc and rely on word-of-mouth alone. Less paid marketing, more purple cow marketing. Just enough quality either way to convince enough people to pay enough. Which is interestingly what Rupert Murdoch seems to be doing. Whether it is right or wrong is debatable of course.

Zappa, eyebrows & ... soup?
So content may have been King but I have the feeling it just got slapped back in to its rightful place behind the throne occupied by the genuine king, the rightful ruler: the editor!

Ten years ago I was basically saying: 'if information is ubiquitous then access will be less valuable than navigation.' That means having a website for its own sake is of course pointless if you are not helping people find what they are looking for. In the early days the web navigator was search and more recently and specifically, it was Google. However as Google itself has become synonymous with the entirety of the visible web so a more granular navigator has become neccessary. The value of search is not therefore cast in stone. And Google, no matter how good the algorithm is, can never do trust. As Zappa said: The computer can't tell you the emotional story. It can give you the exact mathematical design, but what's missing is the eyebrows.

So we find Google et al trying to combine both taxonomy & folksonomy to compensate/evolve but it doesn't seem to be working as far as I can tell. And as for the symantic web, well, if you believe it's really doable, check out the Zappa quote again. People are just not that structured. Computers cannot be anything else. And ne'er the twain shall meet. Perhaps its time to stop trying to force that marriage?

So, as the uniquity of information and access neccessitates that trust is now again part of the picture who better to help us navigate through a topic than a trusted human editor? No matter how good the soup, one still requires a spoon. Yes you could smash your face into the bowl and lap it up without any other tools but that gets messy and is more akin to how we have used information on the web for the last decade than how savvy users genuinely use the web. Blogging itself is proof of that point.

Somebody wipe the grin off his face, please?
All this means that the value of editors has gone up as the ubiquity of content has increased. People are looking to trust a filter/editor due to the sheer volume of information out there. And we are all editors now potentially. Scoble is proof of that surely. Editorial brands seem to therefore be making a comeback. Some new, some old. Great news for publishers who have for the most part, had a bad decade digitally speaking.

I suspect we are at the start of a period of 'niche power' on the web into editorially-led niches that are ultimately charged-for one way or another. Content may be great marketing for any business but if your entire business is content then the missing piece is either a new business model alongside content or value-added chargeable content. The latter seems logical for most publishers.

The world is not better off without filters. Blogs et al were just the first free phase. Just as we saw magazines and niche take over the world of print, we may well be on the verge of a paid-for editorially-led web; a massive shift in search and finally, goddamn it, a smug Rupert Murdoch.


Sep 10 2009
RT @JayOatway: Can Google Checkout Save The Newspaper Business? Why 'Open' doesn't need to mean 'Free' --

SEP 9 2009
Great debate about Daily Mirror 3am site's 'Search v Loyalty as traffic builder' move over on NMA

SEP 2 2009
No sooner had I posted this than news broke on Sep 2nd via the Guardian that a
Pittsburgh paper launches online charging scheme - hate to be right so soon ;)

Paul O'Connor has written an interesting related piece titled: The Future of Real Time Search – Twoogle? I have commented ... which hopefully adds some value he he he - however they are pre-moderating comments [sigh] so have reproduced my comment here in case it does not make the cut or ever get published etc.

Great article Paul.
I know it’s an odd question but I feel its one worth asking. Why do we need to combine live search and original search? Are they really a good fit? To me we don’t need to as they are not actually a good fit.
Tax & Folk rarely seem to work well together both in terms of society, -onomy’s (both search and categorisation).
Most content on twitter is commentary. Some tweeters have authority clearly and so perhaps there is a meme tracking value for search engines to make their results more dynamically impacted upon by social activity i.e. this link tweeted 100,000 times in the last day means its pagerank should be increased and so on.
But are the everyday thoughts we might have about Michael Jackson really relevant to a search for Michael Jackson? What about in relation to ‘Pizza New York’?
Until we can apply a sense of authority to live search I just cannot see it working.
Using live search to impact on PPC campaigns is a brilliant idea. However leveraging PPC with live search is going to be costly as the context for purchasing that is found on live search is wrong imho. The noise to signal ratio is too high and so the CTRs will be low driving PPC costs up and returns down.
Twitter is a place I go to communicate not shop. But take live search and make it mobile and social (LMS) and I think the context then could often be people seeking pre-purchase recommendations etc which would be ripe for offers etc.
So in that case PPC will need to intuit those opportunities and make more direct offers to keep the CTR up and costs down. I think you kind of make that point above.
I am sure I heard this week about Facebook trialling offers and this is a great idea and supports my point about context. Am unable to find out more about it at the mo though sadly.
I have written a post titled ‘The Death of Twitter & Why Rupert Murdoch Might Be Right’ which I think you might enjoy as it shares themes with the above.
Would love to hear your thoughts…


  1. Eyebrows - It certainly is the person that for me generates the content worth following. Take all these RSS and re-tweets etc that are auto generated without the "owner" putting their eyebrows across it. My time is best used following info filtered by people. Thanks Al for allowing me to follow your eyebrows.

  2. LOL no problem Merrin, my pleasure :)