May 31, 2009
Twitter's Ev & Biz on NOW and the Future
The buzz of the conference following their appearance were filled with comments like: "yeah, the press are having a love fest with Twitter right now" and "it was so cool and authentic that they admitted that they just don't have all the answers figured out yet," to people throwing their own ideas out about what 'they think' Twitter's new business model should be.
Other visionaries just shrugged it off saying the business model will come - there's tons of opportunities to make money. Focus on organizational structure and get the team and strategy right. As for the strategy, clearly there is more than one for the taking. But isn't it all about apps, Walt and others wanted to know?
Third-party apps are already out there in abundance. Having gone through the search for simplifying my day on Twitter more than once, I've played with the freebies and questioned some that charge $100 or more for something I could get an intern to do in an hour.
Those who don't want to take the time but are 'hooked' are signing up to play however, even if they become one of thousands of Twitter quitters a couple of months later. No one wants to be left out of the 'trend loop,' even mainstream folks who are being pressured to get an account in the same way I was pressured when an industry friend over 50 finally pushed me to jump on the Facebook bandwagon. He said, "Renee, this is the one."
Twitter can become an addictive drug. For some, its about compulsive tweeting. My addictive drug with Twitter is less about the tweets and more about the fascination with how people present themselves in their profiles and frankly, why they're there, and what they want people to know. Before I switched to Marketing, I was deeply baked into the world of anthropology so for me, its one giant anthropoligical study that constantly surprises screen after screen.
I was one of the few that joined Twitter at SXSW a few years ago when the A-list tech bloggers and early adopters jumped on board. They went straight for mobile device use first which ended up wasting so many cycles in the first month, I had to take it off and desktop alone simply wasn't a productive solution.
I've changed handles a few times since then and dabbled with the pros and cons for my own business as well as what my clients can gain -- short and long term. There's no question that the marketing value is there. Still in its infancy however, the big issue that remains is the ROI for how much time my team has to commit to get that gain. It's significant.
Being part of the conversation, whether its on a blog, social network or Twitter is an incredible time sync if you want to engage, engage, engage the way the social media crowd dictates you need to. Hence, the Twitter quitters and hence the other stats, i.e., more than half of those who sign up for Twitter only use it once a month.
Ev agrees that Twitter is still in its infancy and yet even with the quitters, the growth of users is staggering. “19% of Americans use Twitter once or more a day,” Walt says to Ev who responds with a grin: “if we’re still in our infancy, then those numbers aren’t too bad, don’t you think?”
And, let's not forget the Twitter users worldwide....I know, countless non-native English speakers are following me across several categories.
And for this staggering growth, they only have 43 employees (doubled since January) doing 'it all' despite their recent investment, which now brings the total to $55 million.
Says Biz on the beginning of their relationship and how things started, "Jack Dorsey who had a history writing software for ambulance and dispatch had an inspiration."
(I actually remember Jack telling me about his early inspiration a few years ago in a dark bar where some Web 2.0 hard-to-pronounce start-up was having a networking shindig in San Francisco).
He was fascinated with short messages. Biz recalls Jack's inspiration in the early days - “I have this idea – it's like a buddy list, but you can look at their status through quick messages. It’s interesting to me and he said to us, what do you think of this?? Not just when you’re tethered to the computer, but from a mobile device.”
Ev pipes in, “Biz and Jack developed a prototype of Twitter and we started playing with it and realized it was fun. At the time, Biz and I were still at Odeo and we didn’t see the bright future of it……generally because I’m not good at market research if I’m not using it myself….”
Biz adds, “that was the great thing about Twitter, even when we were prototyping it, we realized it was fun, so we got fired up.”
Walt was curious about numbers, whether they were at 32 million yet, but Ev replied with his renown boyish grin, "we don’t release numbers.”
The features are pretty simple, but frankly some of the best products keep it simple. Look at Apple's success as a prime example. And, nearly everyone I know uses Twitter through a third-party app, not through Twitter's own interface. I've tried three so far and am still exploring.
Walt asks the crowd how many do the same and roughly a quarter of the room raise their hand. I was surprised it wasn't more, but then again, they could have been tweeting or doing email like nearly everyone does at these conferences, so perhaps they didn't have enough time to respond to the question.
Ev says, “we’re going to try to make our UI as good as possible, but it's great that others are building third party apps…..we’ve never built an iPhone app but there are dozens of others who have built great ones. Open culture is part of the Twitter culture. You can’t win by trying to corral people and things in. Lots of these things create value. Some people live in TweetDeck and others live in their iPhones.”
Adds Biz, “openness is a huge movement. We’ve noticed that people are moving their communications into the blogging realm, sharing photos on flickr and YouTube and moving this communication into this public forum, and they’re getting a lot of value from it. You can take a tweet that is valueless or meaningless. The tweet in itself has very little value but it can turn into something of value if it resonates with someone else. It’s about companies interacting with each other. There’s a ton of value of being open.”
Kara wants to know what's important for them to own and build and keep. Says Ev, "because of the openness, we’re able to offer so much value. We plan to work on search and add more than just social connection.”
Walt asks, “when you say you’re going to work on these things, are you going to work on web pages or are you going to have clients?” Again, the response is back to Twitter's open culture. "Everything goes back in to nurture the ecosystem,” says Biz.
Kara eagerly tries to get them to reveal a business plan. “Real time search is the big one,” says Kara. “Sometimes its valuable and sometimes its not. Is it monetizable or not?”
Ev says with a smile, “We just want everyone to get along. Real time search on Google is web search. Twitter is Twitter search and there are links to the web in there, but what we’re doing with search is really trying to give people better ways to filter within Twitter. It’s different than what other people are talking about when they talk about real time search.
It has low latency but there’s a lot of value in the speed of Twitter. It’s a great way to share things in real time. People out in the world can see that. Twitter is about real-time information discovery.”
Then they move into advertising which was bound to come up in the heals of search. It begs the question: is advertising the future business model for Twitter?
Biz says, “when I think of search, I think about a box and a button. When I think about what we’re doing at Twitter, I think about discovery. When there’s a structured intent, there’s a great opportunity to make introductions to people. Did you realize that this information is on Twitter or that you can meet this person on Twitter? It’s about creating more opportunities for discovery.”
The WSJ did a poll and some of the results were displayed on a screen during the interview. The poll was centered around what people would be willing to see on Twitter or used by Twitter's management. I didn't catch them all but here are some of the results:
Banner advertising: all 30%, male 34% and female 26%
Professional accounts for companies and power uses which come with enhanced capabilities for several hundred dollars per year: all 24%, male 28%, female 19%
Text advertising which displays in between the tweets I follow: 22% all, male 29%, female 15%
Pop-up advertising: 17% all, 25% male, 11% female
Require all users to pay a modest monthly subscription (up to $5 a month): 14% all, 18% male.....
Too high in my opinion, if you had more than one account, you'd be up to well over $100 a year to add to the ecosystem. Remember that we don't pay anything to play on Google.
READ What Would Google Do? Think free baby and how to make money through the side door, not through the consumer, at least not for your primary 'value-add.'
They then moved onto the topic of corporate use.....there's a ton of corporations using Twitter already. They're not 'yet' being creative in my opinion, but many have accounts and are adding new followers every day.
Dunkin Donuts is using Twitter to communicate with fans. I came across Dunkin Donuts the other day and my first thought was "is this the real Dunkin Donuts?" How many Oprah, Paris Hilton and Tony Robbins accounts are there? Haven't I come across more than one for nearly every celebrity?
You want to make sure no one else is interfering with your brand. They said that one thing they could offer is an authentication service for companies and perhaps charge money for it.
Surprising to many that when asked by Walt whether they would both be still running Twitter in five years, they both said yes. "We want to build an innovative company." Even if that's true, Walt followed up with the real question, "does the board feel the same way?"
While they won't sell today, it would be interesting to see how much $$ it would take for them to sell early and not build that innovative company. I hope they go the 'creation' route rather than flipping it since flipping really great ideas too early often ends up killing the sauce that made them special in the first place.
On their next big thing? Scaling the company, they say. Says Ev, "we need to be a lot bigger. We need to make the product much much better. There’s a ton of stuff to do to improve user experience and to help users become more engaged. We want to deepen the value proposition for existing users and of course, monetize the business. Our big focus is building the value of Twitter for users.”
Hear hear. Make a better product and the addicts will stay on board. They're already there and the user base is growing, so continue to innovate and we'll all stick around.
What I'd love to see them add is a filter for my top-tier. If I'm following more than 1,000 which most will over time as their participation grows, how do you keep up with key people you need to read rather than those who simply interest you. There's maybe 50-75 people who need to be on my radar a few times a day....give me another window that displays my top 100 and let me personalize it.
Another filter I'd like and maybe its a drop down menu that people tick off when they tweet: indicate whether you're tweeting about what you're currently 'doing' OR what you're currently 'thinking.' I want to know what the people who inspire me are thinking and the creative things that are on their mind for the day. It's a way to make me smarter and Twitter could be a remarkable tool for that alone......I'm longing for that filtering capability.
Now that the money is there and they're adding more people, here's a plea from at least from one early user who's not a tweetaholic or a geek who cares about people's every move.
One more plea: if there's porn in the profile, include a box I can check off that says block porn stars from following me or me following them 'by accident,' - seriously, it can happen by accident.
Twitter can make people faster and smarter but it needs more filters and capabilities to turn things on and off. I also want categories since I have so many interests and topics that I need and want to follow, yet don't have the time to create and manage multiple accounts to keep on top of it all.
Another theme in what they both want from the company is to create things that compliments what people already do. They don't want to offer things that don't offer real value. As for the longer term future with the money they now have to build: innovate, improve the interface, get bigger and then monetize.
While they may not have all the answers figured out yet, they're young entrepreneurs who have a track record of doing innovation things. And there's a lot to love about these guys. They're authentic, genuine and really want to build things that help people and offer value.
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i gust want to say some thing "great job"
Update your Twitter randomly according to your intrest Or, from Rss Feed Or, from your own tweet message list Or, Any combination of the above three http://feedmytwitter.com
Posted by: srdha | May 31, 2009 10:26:34 PM
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