The big Twitter debate

Over the last two years, Twitter has taken the Internet by storm. Early adopters (myself included) saw it as just another method by which to communicate to your network, and dismissed it on this basis. However, as celebrities such as Britney Spears and Ashton Kutcher started to jump on board, Twitter slowly started to become more of a mainstream media tool. This was further enhanced by events such as the River Hudson plane crash and the terrorist events in Mumbai. Now Twitter is seen as a fundamental broadcasting medium by many to obtain relevant news.

However, the problem with Twitter is that there doesn’t seem to be any obvious way to monetise their service. They have a massive subscriber base, all of which obtain a free service. Now they even have a large enterprise and corporate client base who use their service not only to promote their brand and products, but also to connect with their client base. Due to the size of Twitter’s user base, the temptation is always there to sell out to a larger player, and there has been a lot of speculation relating to an acquisition by Google. Real time search is the one area within their portfolio that they’ve had problems coming to terms with. However, with Twitter’s real time feed suddenly Google would have specific relevant information about up to date trending topics, of which to target their adverts too. The immediate benefits of this are there for all to see. Google can instantly monetise a service that currently does not have any obvious income stream. Whilst for Twitter, they have direct access to Google’s massive resource pool to be able to compete against the likes of Facebook, who with the acquisition of FriendFeed are slowly encroaching into the space of real time search. Also, Google’s track record of amalgamating newly acquired assets into it’s estate is strong, as is shown by the success of both YouTube and Blogger being able to keep their brand identity and prove successful in their respective markets.

However, Twitter does have an ace up it’s sleeve. With the use of hashtags, Twitter has a direct way of keeping a handle on the latest trends being discussed. They have large investors behind them providing them with the capital to increase their infrastructure. Also, despite the fact I mentioned earlier that their lack of an obvious business model was a problem, it definitely constitutes a nice problem . Currently their valuation is built solely on their subscriber base and their infrastructure. The minute they disclose their intentions, their value would rocket to potential investors, and may well even see them go down the IPO route. Remember that the guys behind Twitter are also the same guys that started Blogger, and sold it successfully to Google.

For my two pence, I think that Twitter would be silly to ignore the threat of Facebook, and sell in a hurry to the likes of Google and Apple. They have an extremely strong brand and an even stronger user base which they can use to their advantage. And just as Google did with the implementation of Adwords, if they can find a way to monetise the mammoth amount of hashtags flying around, I think they would stand a good chance of seeing off the combined Facebook/FriendFeed threat.

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