Why Twitter Has Staying Power

Yesterday Fred Wilson put out a Tweetstorm about Twitter.  I thought a little bit about it.  I recall an article in Barron’s back in 2007 or so.  It was about Twitter and an executive said, “Twitter is like a river.  You put your pan in, mine for some gold and what you don’t want you throw back.”

The first piqued my interest about Twitter as more than just saying you went to the store to get donuts.

Then, when the earthquake happened in Washington DC, people in NYC found out about it on Twitter, before they felt the vibration under their feet.  Okay.  When stuff like that happens, you have a business in there somewhere.  Fast forward to today, and Twitter has done an IPO.  The business has not performed post-IPO like a lot of people would have wanted it to perform.

It seems lots of Twitter users have opinions about what they can do to improve Twitter.  Sort of make sense when you think about why it exists in the first place.  A lot of people think Twitter should be bought by another company.  Perhaps, but is that going to change the fundamental parts of Twitter?  Not really.

When I was trading on the floor, we had Newswire services piped in.  Essentially, that was Twitter without all the social.  Reuters would pipe out line after line of news.  Most of the time, we’d ignore it.  Occasionally, it became important. On Unemployment, we’d eagerly wait to see the number on the Newswire and react.

Today, there are machine learning companies that scrape Twitter and give the news to whomever wants it faster than you can blink your eye.  News breaks on Twitter.  If I want to find out anything, I don’t look to any other media.  Sidestream companies like Stocktwits have popped up specializing in certain streams of news.  Twitter isn’t going anywhere.

Here is a link to a stock chart so you can see Twitter in all it’s ugliness.

The critical question is how does Twitter expand it’s business.  I am not exactly sure about that but yesterday I shared a bottle of wine with a good friend.  Stuart has been in marketing his entire career.  He’s pretty genius at it and now runs a consulting business around marketing.  Our conversation drifted to confirmation bias and how to get rid of it when you are analyzing things.  He made a great point.

Suppose you are a business and you take a survey of your customers.  You get data back.  You’d prefer your customers go left, but they are telling you that they want to go right.  However, you think you can educate them to your point of view, and show them that left is the better direction.

Your business won’t sustain itself, and it will always need capital to educate those customers.  If customers never catch on to turning left, and inherently want to go right a competitor will take your business.  You are putting your own confirmation bias ahead of what the customer really wants.

To me, Twitter’s management seems to want to impart their values and vision upon the customer.  Sort of a top down approach.  “Let us, the managers of Twitter tell you how to use it.”  It seems to me that Twitter’s management has tried to manipulate a lot of Twitter-what you see, when you see it etc.  When it comes to politics, they censor certain people and let certain people proliferate.  Some see Twitter as undertaking a witch hunt.

I think Twitter needs to figure out what the bulk of it’s users want and build it for them.  It needs to follow the old Marshall Field dictum of “Give the lady what she wants.”    Those great businessman of the past didn’t get lucky.  They knew how to put the customer first, and take care of them.  That’s how great businesses get built and sustain themselves for generations.

Twitter is like a river.  Norman Maclean might have put it best in his book, “A River Runs Through It”, Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.