Twitter Should Think “Buy” not “Sell”
The recent buzz about Google buying Twitter has generated lots of conversation and opinions on what @ev and @biz will and should do. Clearly they know best and will do what is best for the company, their employees and investors, but I would encourage them to discuss buying not selling. Specifically, I believe they should be paying attention to another conversation streaming across the web right now on the merits and capabilities of URL shortening services.
In 2006 I spoke at an innovation conference for American Express and my talk followed a panel that included Bradley Horowitz, then of Yahoo. He was discussing the keys to a successful Web 2.0 service and he emphasized the need to have “every act of content consumption serve as an equal act of content production.” He pointed to Flickr as an example of this balance in practice and I believe Twitter is close to achieving this web zen. However, while Flickr was able to achieve this content production and consumption balance around images within the service, Twitter is on the way to platform nirvana across the web as a whole. Retweets, #tags, @mentions, @replies and via@ all reference content created within the ecosystem but the tweets that include a link, via a shortened URL, expand the content production and consumption available to Twitter users to include the entire web and suggest the possibility of a new form of indexing and search. As Josh Kopelman pointed out in his recent post, the world may have called the search game over much too soon and while start-ups like OneRiot, Aardvark and Social Mention are working on real-time and social search. I hope Twitter does not participate exclusively in the plans of an incumbent because they have the ability to lead this evolution (as discussed here and here) with a defensible position and favorable network geometry.
The conversation platform is in place and the relationship with the consumer is strengthening by the day. The tools to enable the reach of content production and consumption to include the entire web and the monetization possibilities that lie in the indexing and surfacing of content based on the conversation can be built or acquired. A search interface is already being tested and with search comes sponsored links and monetization. As Om Malik points out here, we are witnessing “the complete disaggregation of the web in parallel with the slow decline of the destination web.” As this trend progresses, Twitter, with the addition of indexing and search tools, is capable of creating new temporal and social metrics that can deliver a re-imagined Pagerank optimized for the disaggregated web. This capability makes them an appealing target for any of the large players in the search space, but given their team and current traction, I would bet on their ability to execute and hope they choose to compete rather than participate in the strategic efforts of others.