Peter Kafka has a nice post up this morning pointing out that Twitter’s reluctant transition from platform company to media company is now obvious. I couldn’t agree more. As with many successful companies, they were shown the way by their customers. Twitter began life as a hybrid platform (Twitter network and messaging infrastructure) and toolset for using the platform (shortcode and website). As they grew, thanks to a healthy ecosystem of developers making better and better tools/interfaces for the platform, they were pushed to improve their user experience for the 78% of their users who engage with them directly (i.e., not through third party apps). In some ways, this is a failure of the ecosystem they created, because consumer awareness of Twitter is enormous, but awareness of the dizzying number of third party apps is relatively low. When people hear “Twitter” mentioned thousands of times a day in the media, they indulge their curiosity at twitter.com, not by first downloading and installing TweetDeck.
So, as Twitter looked at their new/basic user experience, they saw large holes that needed to be filled. I think they are filling them fantastically well. The Twitter for iPhone and Twitter for iPad apps are elegant and valuable experiences. I think the Twitter for iPad app is the best experience I have ever had consuming real-time web content. I can’t stop using it (and I have a wish list of features longer than this blog post). The newly designed twitter.com, which incorporates the multi-pane approach they pioneered in the iPad app, is also fantastic. All of these improvements increase our engagement with Twitter the company, Twitter the platform, but most importantly, with Twitter’s owned and operated properties. And that is important for Twitter’s monetization strategy, largely centered on advertising and not on, say, monetizing the API by charging developers for access to it. For this reason, Twitter really is a media company, in the same way that Google and Facebook are too. They all operate a platform, but the overwhelming majority of our engagement with those platforms is direct with the company itself. We find their utility useful, but they also get our eyeballs and attention. And advertisers pay for that. (Yes, Twitter will export ads into the feed to third parties too, but I think the lion share of their ad revenue will come from the usage of their O&O properties.)
There will remain a vibrant app ecosystem around Twitter, but as Twitter gets more and more serious about improving their O&O properties, we will spend more time with them directly. And I think that is exactly what Twitter should be doing.
The bigger issue here, of course, is that so many of our social and information platforms are now real-time and we don’t interact with just one. You can argue that Facebook has prepared itself to be a distributed platform, much like Twitter already is, by opening up its newsfeed to third party apps. So has LinkedIn, Foursquare, MySpace, and many others. So, aren’t aggregators needed to combine our real-time feeds into one place like TweetDeck has done? Honestly, I think the biggest value will come from a company who curates these multiple feeds and presents them in digestible ways as opposed to just simple aggregation. But in the meantime, the new Twitter experience (in mobile apps and on the web) is the most exciting thing the company has done in some time and I applaud them for it, even if they don’t like to admit that they are ultimately a media company.