Waiting for Twitter to Grow Up

All of us love Twitter because of it’s simplicity. It is a great example of a massive public and private text messaging business. Nothing more, and nothing less. It is not amazing technology. The people behind are not whiz kids. They came up with the right idea (a very simple one – a chat room via text messaging) at the right time – when all of us were ready to accept a chat room as a normal non-geeky thing to use on the internet. And it has taken off like gangbusters. They deserve congratulations for their work because the VCs are “making it rain” at Twitter right now. Are we in a dot-com bubble? We’d like to think not. But that is not the discussion point for this post.

As much as you, I, and the CEO of Twitter would like to deny it it is time for Twitter to grow up.

I don’t mean this in an immature insulting way. What I mean is that all software products mature and add features. Allowing people to exchange unorganized text messages is not a long-term revenue generating business model. If I were CEO I’d be fighting to keep Twitter as simple as it is. But that will have to change. Like I’ve said before – Twitter needs to do something to increase it’s value. The backbone is completely unorganized, and there are entire businesses built on figuring out what people are trying to say, and how they feel in their communications while using Twitter. The hashtag was born out of desperation because of the lack of organization, and it is a poor solution. Even worse – you can “buy/sponsor” a hashtag now to try and get your marketing message in front of people. The backbone needs structure to separate what people are talking about. Anybody with geeky street cred falls back to how IRC works: There are organized rooms where everybody in that room knows the topic and is a willing participant. With hashtags if I start talking about #purplemonkeybutts, all of my followers that don’t care about that topic (probably 95% of my followers) have no choice but to watch me talk about it or unfollow me.

Here are some of the cool things that I see us eventually getting:

  1. Organized rooms or topics where we can join and leave discussions at will without bothering the rest of our friends who don’t care about the topic. Call them what you want: Groups, Fan Pages, etc. There is so much traffic there right now that it really needs to be segmented. The world cannot live on hashtags alone.
  2. Knowing when people are online or offline. One of the challenges with Twitter is that if you use it to communicate with a tight knit group of friends you have no idea when people are going to read your updates. 1 of 9 might read it immediately. 5 of 9 might not see it for a week. Maybe this would be just a cool thing to have.
  3. Applications: Something more to do than just text. This would be big and would give even more people to join and participate in the framework. As much as you hate it the games on that other huge social network keep the people coming back.
  4. A formal advertising framework instead of “sponsored tweets”. Even better – a clear way to know when something is an advertisement, or just something that is from our friends. That whole trying to show sponsored tweets as part of our normal stream thing is an attempt for you to advertise to me and have it just seem normal. They need ads. That us why they are going out of their way to control the clients. The clients are what you use to see your tweets. They need to control that environment so they can put advertising on it. We are going to whine when the ads hit us, but expect more of them and they will be more in your face.
  5. The ability to send a message as long as you want if you are using a computer-based client. If I am sitting at my desk there is no reason for me to be restricted on how long an update can be. This just came in the last version of Tweetdeck. Once you type past your limit it turns it into a longer updates and shares it on a 3rd party service
  6. The ability to upload and organize media. Twitter has text, and nothing else. Several 3rd party tools have an entire business model based on allowing us to share media on Twitter. I would not be surprised if one or more of those companies are in secret discussions with Twitter right now about being acquired.
  7. Giving a place for business to do their thing. All of us preach about using a fan page for your business on Facebook. This is not what Fan Pages were created for. But that is what they have morphed into. It is now understood that everybody that logs into Facebook should be a living, breathing person. That person can then control one more Fan Pages which represent a company or brand. On Twitter we are still wrestling with accounts being create to give a company it’s voice. That is why I have @patrickallmond and @allaboutfocus. I hope that companies eventually get a formal home on Twitter.

In two years I don’t think Twitter is going to look anything like it does now. We are going to playing Farmville via Twitter. I am going to be able to have the “Focus Consulting” private room where I can invite people for company update. I am looking forward seeing these changes and everything else they have coming.

I just wish it would grow up faster.