Twitter Is So Anti-Social, Microsoft Should Invest!

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The Twitter service is not a social network. It’s profoundly anti-social, says Joe Wilcox. That’s why it’s important to Microsoft to invest, and break any Google purchase

Robert doesn’t think much of Twitter as a Microsoft product:

Microsoft, on the other hand, doesn’t deserve to get Twitter. Microsoft has totally screwed up its online branding and search. It’s pretty incompetent in those areas and has been for years. Yeah, I know that Microsoft has thousands of employees who’ll call me names on their blogs and yeah I know that Microsoft has thousands of fans, er, MVPs, who’ll tell you at length why I’m wrong.

Twitter this, Robert: Perhaps Microsoft would do everyone a huge favour by screwing up Twitter so badly that it goes away. I’m quite serious in calling it the anti-social network. Twitter is like a crowded room, where everyone gabs about themselves and there’s so much raucous talk no one can really take in what anyone else is saying. Twitter is very impersonal. Twitterfights—cankerous arguments by 140-character tweets—show just how impersonal is the service. Twitterfights are very public, but often tweeters don’t act like they are. That demonstrates just how impersonal, how really unsocial, Twitter is.

Search This, Google

Henry contends that “Twitter is a hell of a lot more relevant to Google’s business than other big Google ideas,” which I agree with. “Twitter is also about communications, which is the one part of the content-communications-and-commerce Internet tripod that Google is still weak in,” Henry continues.

He’s right that Google is weak on this tripod, but wrong that Twitter is about communications. The service is about anything but communications—at least the interpersonal kind. Be honest. How many of your Twitter subscribers are people you know or have come to know through the service?

Twitter is about noise. People wanting to be heard, whether or not they have anything relevant to say. As for the business model, last week’s ExecTweets portal with Microsoft is dumb and the Google AdSense deal for aggregating tweets is dumber.

Henry gives other reasons for Google to acquire Twitter, one of which should interest Microsoft. He writes:

Twitter could conceivably threaten Google’s cash cow—search. This ‘real-time search’ meme is actually a compelling story-line. If you want to know what people are talking about right now, you go to Twitter, not Google. Twitter hasn’t figured out how to make bank off that yet, but it may well do so. Remember how much ridicule was heaped on Google’s worthless ‘search engine’ in the early days?

Right you are, Henry. In terms of search taxonomy, Twitter is similar to YouTube. Both services are about self-aggrandising, whether with mundane tweets or video diaries. Both services are about me—no, I. I am this, or I am that. Please care. But there’s something else: Twitter is already moving down a similar path as YouTube: commercialism. YouTube is more than a service for self-broadcasting. Much of the content was professionally produced, regardless of who posted it. Businesses have YouTube channels, too, where they post videos about their products or brands. Microsoft has many. Twitter already is filling up with celebrities and marketers.

One-way traffic: just right for celebrities

Twitter is rapidly moving in the direction of commercial/marketing communications. It’s there that Henry is right about what Twitter could do for Google or how the service could hurt the search giant. For starters, why search when you can feed? When you search, what will you look for? Specific content or people, just like on YouTube. Around feeds or search, the marketing potential is simply staggering.

Hypothetical: Suppose Mountain Dew (should I use Mtn Dew, now?) sponsors a Winter Olympics 2010 Twitter feed. Perhaps for the US ski team or one skier. Followers are sure to come. Celebrity is a pheromone. The skier(s) can tweet about the preparations, the tension, the excitement of winning or the disappointment of losing. People will follow the feed(s). Every so often, Mtn Dew inserts an advertisement into the feed(s) or offers promo codes for free Olympic logo gear to the first 20 retweeters.

People are interested in people, which is Twitter’s allure. Personality, celebrity or banded celebrity feeds will bring followers. The service’s impersonal character makes it better suited, in the long term, to commercial and celebrity feeds. I present one example, but I easily could write about a dozen more.

There are many ways Twitter could profit from commercialised feeds.
Meanwhile, with growth, Twitter would bleed search traffic from Google. Would Twitter undermine Google’s core search business? Of course not. Google search is better off with YouTube, but not necessarily harmed without it. Likewise Twitter. But as part of Google, Twitter could open up more search traffic and more ways of generating online advertising revenue.

I want to believe that Microsoft could similarly tap Twitter. But I agree with Robert. Besides, I stopped believing in the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus long ago. And Twitter marketing doesn’t fit Microsoft’s business model. So what should Microsoft do about Twitter?

There is an option other than acquisition, and one that could benefit Microsoft while hurting Google. Microsoft could invest in Twitter, like it did with Facebook, to make the startup a more costly, and so less desirable, acquisition. Through the investment, Microsoft could give Twitter time to grow, to expand search and to tap advertising possibilities. Twitter as a Google competitor could be good for Microsoft, which would be the better long-term technology partner for Twitter than Google. Microsoft and Twitter have fewer competing business interests than will Google and Twitter in 12 to 24 months.

You can tweet that.