I think this signals a "game over" for Twitter for several reasons. I'm not saying they're going under, but the site will never achieve the sort of growth MySpace or Facebook have, and without a suitor it's unlikely they'll ever become profitable or sustainable. Aside from "No reason to join Twitter now", let's get to 5 reasons why I feel this way:
Twitter's site has never changed. It's a linear, hard to follow, gigantic message board thread. Sure, they acquired Summize to provide a basic search, and there are tons of third party apps like TweetDeck that may help you get a little organized, but I'll ask you this: What's the first thing people say when you tell them what Twitter is?
"I don't get it."
And therein lies the problem. If I describe a message board ("A place where people with common interests gather to discuss that interest"), a blog ("A publishing tool with an author or author's point of view on topics where you can comment") or social network ("A virtual place for your real life friends to stay in touch") they all make sense. When people explain Twitter ("What you're doing in 140 characters or less") the first response is "Why would anyone care what I'm doing?". Even more poignant is "Why would complete strangers care what I'm doing?"
On top of the "Who cares?" question, the best solution for categorizing topics and information is through the use of hashtags. Ma Bell would be proud.
2. Friends vs. Followers
I have friends. You have friends. I have readers. You have blogs you like to read. And then there's Followers. I'm not saying that I haven't met my Followers in real life, but of the roughly 1,300 Followers I have on Twitter I've maybe met 100 in person. And of those 100 most of us are friends on Facebook. Real friends, mind you. I'm not discounting that people think I'm funny or interesting or look like a good candidate to start a MLM business or need a life coach, but the reality is that there's a mutually beneficial relationship, much like in business, for following and return following people on Twitter. Which brings me to my next point:
3. Facebook isn't about self-promotion
Check out the bio of the folks you follow on Twitter. I'd wager dollars to donuts that they have a URL they're promoting somewhere in there, whether it's their blog, their company or their MySpace music page. Look at their tweets and you'll probably find links to their posts and press releases. Hell, there are even companies that will help you monetize the truncated URLs you're sending around. And while we're at it, there are also services that will help you gain 10,000 followers overnight. Talk about authentic.
Facebook, unlike MySpace or Twitter, isn't about a self-promotional game or race to the most followers. It's about hanging out with co-workers outside of the office. Or connecting with childhood friends. Or college classmates. Or people who live down the street. You typically wouldn't add someone as a friend on Facebook you didn't know, well, because that's where your private life is kept. Sure, there are privacy features to limit your profile, but aside from awkward employer/employee, ex-boyfriend/husband/wife/girlfriend and parents "friendings" the content is your private information that you choose to share with people you know vs. broadcast to the world.
We're all familiar with the Twitter cast of cartoon characters, in particular the Fail Whale and 404 upside down bird. Recently Twitter's had to add a more ominous friend to the tribe that I call the Spam Owl. The Spam Owl is what appears when a Twitter account becomes suspended due to "suspicious activity". I'm not sure why they don't just say "We caught the spammer!" and instead present it like there's an FBI investigation for money laundering or a TSA security breach like a forgotten backpack in an airport crowd, but I digress.
Spam has become so prevalent on Twitter that several A-list bloggers have quit using Twitter or reverted to dropping everyone on their "friend" list and only adding the people they know in real life. (The other reason is that they found it impossible to "follow" tens of thousands of people and conversations, which speaks to the lack of usability and impersonalization of the tool). And much like email spam, there's no way outside of a CAPTCHA to stop it. Even with the best intentions, a n00b might not know this unspoken "Twettique" that says you shouldn't add a ton of people and let your following grow organically.
Facebook has had its share of virus attacks, but nowhere near the volume of spam that one gets on Twitter on a daily basis.
Argh, this pesky one keeps coming up, doesn't it? Just over a year ago Jason Calacanis gave Twitter three ways of monetizing the service, none of which have come to fruition. Twitter hired a biz dev guy back in December to look at monetization of the tool, and one rumor has it that businesses would have to pay for corporate accounts. As I tweeted, I'm not sold on that idea unless they provide metrics and better functionality.
On top of this problem, the company has been funded handsomely but is bleeding so badly that they shut off outbound messaging in the UK.
Facebook, in comparison, had an estimated revenue of $300MM and is innovating new platforms for brand engagement, including live streaming (Obama, NBA All-Star game) and targeted ads. They built mass, allow you to keep your network small, and offer brands the opportunity to engage through earned and paid methods. All they need to add is an e-commerce platform and they could literally become your own private internet.
But, what about all that press?
Techcrunch recently was startled at all of the press Twitter gets. I'm not. The boys at Twitter do a remarkable job of pimping their service to the media and did a phenomenal job of getting influencers and early adopters on board. But let's call it what it is - an RSS feed with a personality. Remember, this is a microblog,
Twitter wanted press and that is exactly what it got. The site is now filled with marketers, promoters, PR people, brands, journalists, publishers and programmers. As a PR tool it's wonderful, as Frank can attest to. And as a cable news channel, it makes you feel you're more relevant.
Before you jump into the comments and start bashing because TechCrunch covers it every other blog post (ok, not every other, but come on), let's put all of this hype into perspective outside of the echo chamber. Here's a breakdown of unique visitors to Facebook and Twitter via Compete:
Like it or not, Facebook is still eating everyone's lunch. And by changing the status updates to become a more usable, functional, dynamic, personal version of Twitter they're likely to have everyone's dinner too.
3/25/2009 Update: This video from Current captures Twitter perfectly: