The State and Future of Twitter 2010: Part One

The State and Future of Twitter was revealed to the world at the Chirp Conference. Developers, futurists, reporters, investors, stakeholders, and businesses convened at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, making the journey from all over the world to witness history in the making.

My experience at Chirp was in a word, profound.  I sit here, right here, right now, attempting to distill all that I heard and learned and its true effect on the general public.  The volume of ideas and insight is implausible to capture, analyze, and share in one post. Hence, what follows is Part One of The State and Future of Twitter, beginning with an answer to the question that Twitter never asked of us, “What moves you?” While some of what you’ll read addresses the initial question, “what are you doing” and also the current question, “what’s happening?”

Prior to the opening of the show, tensions arose between Twitter and the developer community following the news of Twitter’s acquisition of Tweetie to become the official iPhone app for the company. Suddenly developers felt abandoned or threatened by an ominous competitor, Twitter itself.

On the eve of the conference, Twitter was faced with one additional objective for its monumental event. In addition to illustrating its future, Twitter now desperately needed to win back the support and dedication of its developer community.

“Twitter has always been about developers,” asserted Twitter co-founder Evan Williams.

Williams continued, “Twitter is the ecosystem much more than any other Web service that exists. You guys have not only made Twitter better, you’ve helped shape it, you’ve helped define what it is for us and millions of users.”

In truth, the stories and events that played out paint a brighter future for all involved, including consumers. What was clear, however, is that the days of straightforward and spiritless applications would no longer command the value and attention they once boasted. It was clear that Twitter is rapidly emerging as a sophisticated social operating system (OS) and its prospective is governed by the applications and the users who adopt them.

Follow Me on Twitter!

Since 2006, I’ve explored the promise and impact of Twitter on media, marketing and popular culture. At times I’ve openly questioned decisions or the lack thereof to diagnose complications with Twitter’s market position as compared to its promise. Reality eventually proved blinding. Consumers were and are unabashedly exposed to Twitter at almost unprecedented and incalculable conditions.

Follow us on Twitter…it’s suddenly everywhere. Whether you’re watching the evening news, your favorite program or the commercials that support them, the request is clear. However, what was unclear, especially for the everyday consumer, were the steps necessary to find meaning in the Twitter experience and direction in its personal application in a world where Facebook and other social networks offered far more definitive and self explaining advantages.

As Evan Wlliams demonstrated through a live Google search, it’s clear that they’re listening. Mainstream consumers do not understand Twitter.

“Getting users from awareness to engagement–this is something that we weren’t doing very well. This is a really tough problem because Twitter is different things for different people.”

Indeed.

Most importantly however, what it isn’t for most people, is clear in its day-to-day application and benefits for the investment one makes in learning, contributing, and overall engagement.

Twitter has tried, albeit incrementally as well as restricted and perhaps without clarity, to improve the experience.

In the last year, the company has…

1. Re-designed its home page twice to more effectively depict the value that lies beyond registration.

2. Created a series of guides designed to help businesses understand the potential rife within its ecosystem

3. Analyzed and published data to humanize the trends beyond the tweets

4. Continually spotlight the clever accounts finding success

At 175 employees, Twitter might now finally realize the strength in its own numbers.

Tweet by Numbers

It would take almost four years for me to witness the day that Twitter would convincingly recognize its calling in life and as a result, take the wheel of destiny to steer a historic, yet seemingly meandering movement toward relevance and prevalence.

On April 14th 2010, Twitter made history…again.

The news, ideas, and conversations erupting from the conference was positively overwhelming and promising, almost as if the team at Twitter suddenly awoke in the middle of the night to seize the revelation that presented its destiny, mission, and the course towards pervasiveness.

On the first day of its first official conference, Twitter intentionally positioned Chirp as its shot across the bow of skeptics and critics while simultaneously rekindling the flame of loyalists and luminaries.

A community once plagued by user acquisition and retention challenges, Twitter disclosed information absent since its debut in 2006, numbers.

It turns out, Twitter is much larger than many predicted. According to co-founder Biz Stone, Twitter maintains a user base of over 105 million. To be clear, registered and active users are two very different things. But even speculating at a 50% retention estimate, just over 50 million active accounts would warrant significant respect and attention.

Biz also shared that Twitter.com receives over 180 million monthly unique visitors with 75% of Twitter traffic sourcing from outside applications. Currently, Twitter is adding 300,000 new users daily, experiencing 1,500% growth over last year.

Twitter search is also becoming a contender in the overall market. While still far behind Google and even YouTube, Twitter is fielding over 600 million search queries with 3 billion calls to its application program interface (API) per day.

Snapshot:
- 105 million registered users
- 180 million monthly unique visitors
- 75% of traffic sourcing from outside applications
- Adding 300,000 new users daily

Twitter: A Cultural Catalyst

Over the last few years, Twitter users publicly explored and defined the role of the fledgling platform as a technology, a communications medium, and ultimately as a catalyst for societal evolution. At a minimum, Twitter has represented a collective collaboration that manifests our ability to unconsciously connect kindred voices through the experiences that move us.  While Twitter both spawned and symbolized the pulse of the real-time Web, Twitter itself emerged as a human seismograph, providing us with a window into the reverberating events, themes, and trends that captivate digital civilizations.

In March 2007, Twitter tasted mainstream attention when it earned the spotlight at SXSW.

In 2008, a journalist was arrested in Egypt and his Tweets that alerted followers to the event and broadcast his cry for help would ultimately serve as the key to his freedom.

Just over a year ago, Ashton Kutcher challenged CNN to a Twitter race to become the first person to reach 1,000,000 followers.

In June 2009, the Iran election and the following political unrest were globalized through Twitter.

From its inception to its current state is entwined through countless human experiences and events ranging from earthquakes to plane crashes to triumphs, losses, and everything in between.

The Twitterverse represents much more than a social network. It personified our aspirations, giving millions of people a stage for which to earn untapped recognition. Whereas YouTube inspired so many individuals willing to brave the lens of a Web cam and the resulting activities that ensured from friends and strangers online and in the real world, Twitter gifted a microphone, a stage, and a captive audience to those who could enchant our heats, minds, and attention in 140 character proclamations.

Twitter did not invent social networking. Nor did it create the @ or # signs that have become pervasive not only in Twitter and other social networks, but also in real life. What Twitter did however, seems to have a much more profound effect on humanity.  As a noun and a verb, Tweets unlocked and emancipated our inner extrovert and social commentator, easing our concerns over privacy and consequence, instilling confidence through our participation and contribution with followers, responses, retweets, favorites, and ultimately a network of contacts that would prove invaluable in all things we do online and offline.


#Hashtags

I’ve spent countless hours analyzing how the “me” in Social Media affects us individually. And while many have criticized blogs, Twitter, Facebook and other social networks for fanning the flames of egotism and narcissism, I truly believe that Twitter empowered a new generation of individuals to listen, learn, and communicate with vigor, consciousness, and passion. And every time we update our status, we earn status at varying levels that reflects the caliber and breadth of our investment and intention. As such, we are encouraged and rewarded by the deliberate unfastening of”self” from self interest to play a part in producing a vibrant and enriching civilization that transcends its populace from denizens to bona fide benefactor and stakeholder.

Twitter is what it is because of us. And, where it is going and its true impact will too, be defined by us, the very people who form the democracy of Twitter. As good friend and digital raconteur Stowe Boyd observed, “It is our dancing the makes the house rock, not the planks and pipes. It is us that makes Twitter alive, not the code.”

Twitter has flourished into a living and breathing organism whose characteristics are dictated and personified through our Tweets and the Tweets of those we follow. Its soul however, is defined by who we are and who we want to be. Twitter is becoming a part of our society and it is changing how we form relationships and introducing new patterns of communication that link us to one other.

It is no longer a question of “to Tweet or not to Tweet.” Tweets are now artifacts of our culture and as such, they symbolize a chapter in societal evolution.

Next: Part Two – A review of Twitter’s new monetization strategies. Part Three – A look at the new features, technologies, and partnerships unveiled at Chirp.

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Please consider reading my brand new book, Engage!



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ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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