I’m going to just come out and say I think Twitter is really flailing for relevance and, indeed, a future. Sandwiched between Facebook’s existing social presence and Google’s “slumbering dragon awakening”, I think it is time to seriously consider their future. In particularly, three big choices they’ve made stand out to me as warnings signs about their continued viability and relevance.
If you’re a casual Twitter user, you probably haven’t heard a lot about this, but over the last two years Twitter has engaged in a policy of alienation (and in some cases, outright hostility) to the once-rich community of developers that had emerged around their API. The lucky ones like Tweetie were acquired, while less fortunately ones were shut out, made obsolete by pilfering features & blocking or subjected to legal harrassment. The debatable message, has been clear… Innovate so we can pillage.
Biting the Hand
Google’s move to incorporate the social signals from it’s Google+ service into its core search results brought harsh criticism from Twitter and other social networks but the REST of that story has been strongly down played by Twitter. Google and Twitter used to be great friends, and the search giant incorporated powerful search functions to the Tweet stream… and then Twitter decided to re-negotiate. Apparently the price and conditions that emerged would fundementally alter Google’s business model, so the search giant declined. This, along with Facebook’s increasing social signals, were no doubt huge motivators to Google’s decision to really get into the social game. The end result is that Twitter’s boat has probably sailed as a first-tier signal source in search results.
As significant as these are, these first two issues didn’t really directly impact the Twitter user base. Then came Twitter’s move to support country-specific censorship of tweets. After it’s powerful use in recently political unrest and human rights issues around the world, many are feeling like they’ve had the rug pulled out from under them. Some even pointed to the $300 million dollars Saudi investors injected into Twitter (Saudi Arabia has taken a big interest in suppressing social unrest in the Middle East). Twitter has moved hard to spin this as a positive thing for users in “non-censored” geographical areas (a case-by-case basis), but in an era were snuffing out global awareness of an issue is almost as good as snuffing out the message, the Interent community doesn’t seem to be buying it.
So are these three nails big enough to quality for coffin makers? Are we looking at MySpace v2.0?