How long has Twitter got?

18th Mar 2010 | 14:55

How long has Twitter got?

Why the service should learn from mistakes made by others

What next for Twitter?

Twitter, launched in 2006, has become the web's hottest property.

With celebrity endorsement from the likes of Oprah, Lindsay Lohan and Stephen Fry, it now has 75 million very active users. But haven't we seen this all before?

The here today, gone tomorrow fickleness of the web's every shifting demographic has embraced, chewed up and spat out a legion of other services, from ICQ to MySpace. Once favoured toys, they're now forgotten and dusty, languishing at the back of the cupboard.

If we were to assume the same trajectory for Twitter, that would give it a projected lifespan of three, perhaps four more years. On the other hand, it could be one of the lucky ones - a Google, an Amazon or an eBay. It could a transformative service that changes the way we do things.

The consensus among the experts we spoke to is that while everyone believes the microblogging paradigm is here to stay, Twitter as a name is quite another matter.

"Twitter as a company has a limited life, but the spirit of Twitter will live on," says Steve King, Technical Director at digital agency Jigsaw, "Everyone now has a status: 'I'm in freezing Chicago' on MSN and 'Looking forward to the weekend' on Facebook. Soon, my fridge will be able to tell me when it has no milk..."

Paul Bates, UK Managing Director at marketing mavens StrongMail agrees, "The idea of sharing short updates to people you are connected to online will continue to gain in popularity, but whether we do this through Twitter or some other platform remains to be seen".

How will it make money?

The real problem seems to be one that bothers many web services; how will Twitter make money? Without cash Twitter will simply stop tweeting. Experts have plenty of suggestions. The platform itself is one route - and a popular one at that:

"What we find interesting is all the ways that Twitter functionality has been extended across platforms. For example, Twitterific for the iPhone, DSTwitter for Nintendo DS, OpenBeak for BlackBerry..." saysAdam Boyden, President of Conduit, an outfit specialising in online app distribution, "All this development bodes well for the Twitter platform."

"[Twitter] is well placed to extend its already strong APIs, enabling new services and applications to be built on top of it," saysMark Walton-Hayfield, Senior Enterprise Architect at technology consultancy Capgemini, "Essentially the APIs will become the business model."

Firehose

REAL-TIME SEARCH: Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have struck deals with Twitter to access real-time search results. More solutions like this are needed to fund the service

Paul Beadle, Account Director with Brazil PR, suggests another route for Twitter: Acquisition; "[Twitter's] real time search and trending are vital. My bet is that eventually somebody like Google or Microsoft will buy it". The flipside of that is that the Twitter brand may not survive a buy out, like Netscape before it.

One thing's for certain. The traditional route for web services, advertising, would be a hard sell for customers. And as for premium accounts... "Monetising Twitter is a real concern," says Alex Morris, head of User Experience at Enable Interactive, "People are unlikely to pay for it and ads are about as welcome as a fart in a lift". Charmingly put and 100 per cent spot on.

Over the page, we look at some services that rose to the top of the online pile, only to tumble back down again - and consider the lessons that Twitter might learn from them as it gloomily contemplates monetisation.

Sites we've loved and lost

Some sites and services go on and on forever. Others are like shooting stars; a brief flash of light before they descend in flames. Twitter should avoid the same mistakes this lot made.

Friends Reunited

At its peak, in 2005, Friends Reunited was a five year old social media pioneer with 15 million members chatting with old school pals. By 2007, after a change of ownership, the site's growth had stalled significantly - with a drop in active usage of 47 per cent.

Friends reunited

UNWANTED FRIENDS: You have three unread messages from people you didn't even like when you last saw them fifteen years ago. Would you like to make a WeeMe?

The service's mistake? Other, better sites were offering for free what Friends Reunited forced punters to pay for. That, and the site design remained resolutely Web 1.0. One of those flaws has since been fixed - membership is now free - but Facebook now dominates the space.

The Lesson for Twitter: Be free at the point of access.

Friendster

Another early social media experiment, Friendster peaked in 2004 when it was ranked by Neilsen Online as the most visited site of its kind. In April of that year, MySpace toppled it from that spot. With friend networks, internal messaging and user profiles, its influence on Facebook is clear.

Friendster

INTRUSIVE: Advertising became a bit of a problem for Friendster's userbase

Unfortunately, in the years following this peak, the site adopted increasingly intrusive advertising strategies, with pop-ups and banner ads. A refocused Friendster remains very popular in Asia though, and was recently acquired, overhauled and relaunched by a Malaysian based company.

The Lesson for Twitter: Don't spam your users.

MySpace

What is MySpace? A social networking site? A music download service? A place to host video or tout your nascent stand-up comedy career or play games? Once the online destination for wired teenagers, MySpace has had its moment.

MySpace

MOVING ON: Concentrating on the teen and tweenie markets, MySpace became unfashionable when its first wave of users moved on and their Mums moved in...

The service announced layoffs of 30 per cent of its workforce in 2009 after being taken over by News Corp. Its primary purpose among users now is music promotion, but instead of fully capitalising on this good fortune, MySpace continues to be a jack of all trades.

The Lesson for Twitter: Focus on your unique selling point.

ICQ

If there's one start up story Twitter should learn from, it's ICQ. In 1996, it was one of the first instant messaging clients around and swiftly became popular. Current owners Time Warner claim there are still around 100 million accounts registered.

ICQ

Compare that with Microsoft's Messenger service, which has over 330 million active users. And there's the rub. ICQ were first, but Microsoft nipped in soon after and did it better. As they so often do.

The Lesson for Twitter: Being first is not enough.

Netscape

Poor Netscape. Poor, poor Netscape. It went from being one of the web's best known brands to nothing more than an also-ran in the space of a few short years. Its flagship web browser Navigator was acquired along with the Netscape name in 1998 by AOL.

Netscape

DEPOSED:Once it was King of the web, now Netscape's just a footnote in the history of the browser wars - and a generic AOL portal page

A long gestation period for Netscape 6 allowed Microsoft's Internet Explorer to rise to prominence in its place. After a series of increasingly ineffectual attempts to exploit the brand, AOL announced it was stopping support for all Netscape products in March 2008.

The Lesson for Twitter: Capitalise on your name while it's still known.

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