Has Twitter Lost its Mojo?

The controversy over Twitter’s suggested users list reported by LA Times last month, was re-ignited today by Dave Winer’s post “Why it’s time to break out of Twitter”.

Winer, a pioneer in the blogging and social media space suggests that there’s no fairness to the suggested user list and all it takes is being connected to the Twitter management,

I pour a lot of effort into Twitter, and while I wasn’t in the top tier of users, I was solidly in the second tier. I wasn’t doing the things you have to do to get the most followers, or I didn’t have a powerful media presence like Leo or Shaq to get me up there. People like Scoble, Guy Kawasaki, Jason Calacanis all viewed being at the top as a competitive thing, so they did what it took. Me, I just poured a lot of energy and creativity into it, and got the number of followers that comes from doing that. It’s now approaching 20,000, which I am proud of, but it’s not very much compared to the numbers of some people who did nothing other than be friends of Evan Williams to get hundreds of thousands of followers. Permalink to this paragraph

Twitter has a strange assortment of celebrities and companies on its suggested users list . It’s not very transparent as to why these folks were selected but one thing’s for certain, being on the list considerably boosts one’s “popularity” on Twitter.

Lately, Twitter Co-Founder Evan Williams has been making the talk show rounds, to discuss Twitter and its phenomenal growth. Twitter founders/management invariably come up blank on two topics: Reasoning behind Twitter’s growth  and (Lack of) Twitter’s revenue model.

So let’s take the first one for the purpose of our discussion today. 

Twitter is largely community-driven and the management’s role seemed to be limited to making sure the site doesn’t crash. Recently, Twitter management has gone gangbusters in their quest to monetize the site and everyone from the founders to the investors are talking about it. In their grand mission to woo the “normal” people (as Evan Williams referred to them) aka the masses, is Twitter management alienating their key constituency?

The innovators and early adopters have started voicing their frustration with the Twitter management. As Robert Scoble , the popular blogger and tech-evangelist, vented on Friendfeed,  

Saying “normal people” will be on the service in five years is stupid. Why? Because it’s calling current customers who are on the service “not normal.” I find I’m hearing more and more arrogance toward Twitter’s existing user base from its management. That arrogance is stupid. Facebook already has normal people, as Ev puts it, and is far more “sticky” than Twitter is. Twitter is actually becoming harder to follow as more “normal users” come on the service. – Robert Scoble via Bookmarklet

As Scoble points out, Facebook is already mainstream and Techcrunch reported Facebook’s recently announced changes to the homepage as a direct threat to Twitter. 

In his follow up post, Winer has alluded to switching to a competitor’s site and has also started his own,

If a real competitor came along that would create one possible answer, some of us would move there. Probably everyone would instantly get an account, if it were done right, some large number would stay there. If it had features that Twitter didn’t have that were high value then it might suck a lot of the life out of Twitter. It might mean lots of little Twitters. I’m starting one here on scripting.com, and in the first few hours of use it’s already interesting. It wouldn’t in any way be a replacement for Twitter. But it offers an alternative. Sort of like the difference between a blog and a big website, when blogs were just booting up in 1999 or so.

So where does all this leave Twitter? Here are 3 critical questions that Twitter management has to ask itself:

  1. Can Twitter survive the exodus of the pioneers who made the site what it is by using and evangelizing it?
  2. Will it be able to counter the competitive threats in the form of Facebook and other social sites?
  3. Can it come up with a monetization plan that doesn’t alienate its user base (assuming they can identify which user base it wants to focus on)?

It’s obvious that Twitter management (including the founders and investors) don’t have a plausible explanation for Twitter’s stunning growth. So given that they don’t know what made it such a success, can they crack the code to keep it growing?

This is an interesting time in Twitter’s history, it will either go down in annals of history as a truly great company that revolutionized the way we communicate or might end up as a case study on how to kill a social phenomenon.

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One response to “Has Twitter Lost its Mojo?

  1. Pingback: Hot News » Mojo

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