The Long and Short of Twitter

Twitter remains a key narrative for several reasons. First, it is a case study in achieving a tipping point. When you talk about over 300m users, it sounds odd to say Twitter hasn’t reached a tipping point but that is indeed the case. Twitter has a great business, one fundamentally worthy of taking public. It is a top 10 global destination and seems ingrained into nearly all public media. It’s hard to watch TV, listen to the radio, or visit a website and not see or hear something about Twitter.

Twitter is also a case study in growth many investors look to today. How did Twitter get to where it is and how can it be duplicated? How will Twitter “cross the chasm” so to speak and break out fully into the mainstream consuming public? Twitter has a classic “growth is over” or “growth is just beginning” narrative, which makes it fascinating to observe.

The fundamental question in my mind has less to do with the actual people running Twitter, and more to do with whether they understand what Twitter is or why it has been successful up to this point. I’ve always believed Twitter is like the air waves. It is essentially the next broadcast platform as radio, TV, and newspapers were before it. Twitter is also stream of conscious, in ways we could never experience on any broadcast platform before it. We can see world events play out in real time. I witnessed this with the events of Ferguson, Missouri, and was glued to Twitter in a way I had not been with TV since the 2001 terrorist attacks on the US. Twitter is both able to be a platform to broadcast a world event and also observe a stream of consciousness from those you follow. But Twitter is also a conversation in a way radio, newspapers, and TV never allowed because they were static platforms. They were a one-way broadcast, for the most part, with talk radio being an exception. The consumers of the content could not participate or interact with it. Twitter adds all these elements into the experience and it is a key part of what makes it sticky.

Yet Twitter’s problem is the mass market are not news junkies, a demographic key to Twitter’s growth to this point. In fact, when we filter out the hardcore Twitter users from our global research panel, we find the most common motivations for “normals” to get on Twitter is to follow celebrities. I believe Twitter knows the type of consumer they are going to have to pursue is a fundamentally different customer than those who drove their growth in the prior stage. In fact, it is very much like the problem facing Google with Android, where the next user group to come onto the platform is going to nothing like the first. Twitter seems to understand this, which is good, but can they succeed at serving two customer bases? This is they key question.

Enter Moments. Moments seems to be designed to address the core problem with Twitter, which is, for a new customer just coming onto the platform, they have no one to follow, and therefore, Twitter is not interesting. In reality, Twitter gets better and becomes invaluable the more you invest time to build your social graph (people you follow). Moments is a first step in the directions of solving this by surfacing some of the most interesting things happening on Twitter at the moment. While it is far from perfect, it is encouraging to see this effort and I believe it is born out of a solid understanding of what is needed to grow. Moments will evolve, and more features like this will emerge. Twitter may not get it right the first time, but the point is, they are trying and I believe trying the right things.

When I was at CodeMobile last week I heard Kevin Weil, an SVP of Twitter, articulate quite well the challenge facing Twitter and how they are thinking about solutions. He said two things I thought were interesting and which clearly are themes within Twitter. He said, “Everything in the world happens on Twitter.” I interpret that as any major world/current event happens on Twitter and it’s true. But he also said, “Everything happens on Twitter 15 minutes before it happens anywhere else.” I thought this point was worthy of reflection. It’s true the news breaks first on Twitter. However, it is interesting to think about the vast spectrum of things which take place on Twitter beyond news events. But this point that it all happens on Twitter first is interesting, especially in light of how fast news travels. It may travel even faster on Twitter.

I believe at a fundamental level, Twitter will become deeply ingrained into society and culture. It will be a primary source of news, entertainment, conversation, networking, and many more things. It’s unique in this offering and why I’m bullish on its future.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

7 thoughts on “The Long and Short of Twitter”

  1. One thing that seemly goes unnoticed about Twitter is that the English speaking community is not dominant in any way, and that different countries may have a different use for the same product. It’s really hard to understand what Twitter actually is, and I suspect that Twitter itself may not understand what it’s product is.

    A few data points;

    A bit dated, but shows that only 34% of tweets are in English. 16% are in Japanese.

    My own blog where I look at a survey on Twitter usage which shows that Twitter in Japan reflects the Japanese cultural tendency to manage multiple personalities, and that it is used as a group messaging app, a frustration vent, and a source of news.

    I suspect that in other countries and languages, Twitter is being used in even more intriguing ways that reflect the culture and social pressures.

    Twitter continues to be the most fascinating and mysterious of social networks.

    1. That’s a great point, and likely one contributing to why they hit a 300m user ceiling.

      Ultimately, I am not not sure how big Twitter can actually get given the dynamic you mentioned and that local players may have a play here. I’m also not convinced they grow a whole lot more with more entertainment/rich media experiences. I think Instagram is on a tear for the simple reason it is more visual. Visual experiences are much easier to understand, and invoke more emotion than text.

      I do think Twitter has room to grow but I don’t believe its scale could be anything like Facebook or even Instagram, for now at least.

      1. I too would like to see Twitter grow, but I question whether it will grow in the same way as the other social networks. Instead, I think it might be interesting to consider if Twitter can disrupt social networks by being modular.

        Consider Periscope which taps into Twitters social graph or Meerkat a few weeks before it. It might be possible to add a rich media experience on top of what Twitter provides. Importantly, by having a multitude of third party apps each providing a different experience, Twitter might morph into Facebook/Instagram/Whatsapp/Snapchat/Whisper or any other social network.

        Just a thought, but Twitter seems to be well positioned to be a modular component of a plethora of social network apps.

    2. It seems along the way that the Twitter-user culture always seems at odds with how Twitter sees itself. The simplest example that comes immediately to mind is how to retweet. A “true” Twitter user used to never use the retweet button. Twitter, often like Facebook, does not seem to want to be defined by their users.


  2. Another thing that I think is problematic for Twitter in getting past 300 million (which again harkens to the twitter-user culture) is its lack of intrinsic reciprocity. Once you are connected with Facebook and Linkedin, it is a two way connection, no additional work needed (except maybe filtering after the fact). That’s why early adopters, like Guy Kawasaki, use to suggest if anyone takes the time and effort to follow you, you should follow them in return. Don’t be a douche.

    This makes Twitter _very_ elitist. That’s a big turn off.


  3. I am a huge fan of twitter. For anyone who’s a news junkie or professionally dependent on the news (I’m both), it’s unique and invaluable. However, I question whether they will be able to move beyond the core user base. Moments is a good example. I think it’s well designed. But, I’m doubtful there will be much uptake. Doesn’t twitter aggregation already essentially through established sites? Yes, everything happens first on twitter. Then experts or established media sites, whether niche like Techpinions, or journalists and commenters at ESPN, the NYTimes, or People Magazine take that info and weave it into their stories. Twitter may be able to make a nice looking aggregator (just as Apple News, Flipboard, and others have). But, will they be able to shape what comes through the Twitter feed into something meaningful compared to what already exists and is tuned for specific audiences?

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