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.”
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.
– 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.
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.
The influence and promise of Twitter is only now starting to materialize. Everything that occurred prior to Chirp has lead us to this moment and as such, is almost worthy of categorization as BC (Before Chirp). Everything that happens now, is almost symbolic of a new movement (AC, After Chirp) and as such, it essentially starts a new chapter in the evolution of Twitter.
To truly capture the State and Future of Twitter and all that was revealed during its first official conference, requires additional time and space. In Part One, we examined the sociological impact of Twitter on society, the true size of the network, as well as equally exploring its challenges and opportunities. In Part Two, we’ll review and interpret streams, interest graphs, and Twitters new advertising platform.
Streams Define the New Web
At the focal point of the entire event wasn’t just the developer community; the real beneficiary of all that was introduced, was us, as users as well as individuals soon to be introduced to Twitter. We took center stage as information and details of the “new” Twitter visualized new realities and brought the future of our experiences to life, today.
As Chris Messina, Kevin Marks, Stowe Boyd and others have long signaled, the Web is becoming less about pages and more about streams. Our behavior on the Web today places the power of content discovery and consumption firmly in our grasp. We decide who we follow. We choose which links are worthy of clicking. We determine the information that’s worth reading and more important, worthy of sharing.
The feeds to which we subscribe, channel activities of those we follow in our social graph funnel into the streams that flow through attention dashboards, TweetDeck, Seesmic, HootSuite, PeopleBrowsr, et al. The attention dashboard is how we learn. It introduces us to new discoveries. We’re gifted the insight to see what moves and inspires those we follow. It is also where we earn relevance and hopefully prominence, as what we share in turn, determines its visibility, engagement, and reaction within the attention dashboards and ultimately the streams of those who follow us and who follow them.
The Ties that Bind: Interest Graphs
Social networking is evolving beyond the mere connections to other individuals. We are forming contextual networks by linking to those we know as well as the people we’d like to know. These direct and indirect connections introduce value to our routines, aspirations, and missions from a distance. The most fascinating aspects of contextual relationships is that they mirror our patterns of behavior in real life, however, the interactions we form and cultivate online cast traceable imprints and they define our actions, interests, and alliances more effectively than we may realize.
As we are complex creatures, we are captivated by an incalculable amount of pursuits. While we may follow and are in turn followed by many, the inbound and outbound relevant networks we consciously and unknowingly cultivate expand, contract and reshape based on keywords of interest.
In the era of the real-time social Web, there are already tools in existence with many more to appear that can immediately analyze online activity to summarize your interests and the social graphs formed as a result.
As we learned at Chirp, Twitter’s COO Dick Costolo refers to the idea of themed connections as an interest graph, the linkages of Twitter users who form connections and host conversations around common subjects. It is these inbound and outbound relevant networks that lay the foundation for Twitter’s monetization strategies.
Twitter’s Business Model: Relevance
Prior to the dawn of Chirp, Twitter introduced Promoted Tweets. Much like the ads that appear in Google Search, Promoted Tweets will appear at the top of Twitter search results and the company promises that they will be “useful to you.”
Among the first to adopt Promoted Tweets include Best Buy, Bravo, Red Bull, Sony Pictures, Starbucks, and Virgin America—with more to come.
Promoted Tweets are clearly labeled as such, but their promise lies in the ability to look and act similar to regular Tweets, meaning that they retain all the functionality of a regular Tweet including replying, Retweeting, and favoriting.
Perhaps the greatest value in Promoted Tweets is their ability to remain atop the stream of relevance. While each of the initial companies experimenting with Promoted Tweets maintain Twitter accounts, the volume of content flying through the attention dashboards of followers inherently buries the most attractive of offers posted by any business.
According to Twitter, Promoted Tweets will also be timely. As much of Twitter’s activity takes places outside of the dotcom, developers can choose whether or not Promoted Tweets are integrated in their apps.
As the company defines, the connection between Promoted Tweets and individual interests provides a powerful means of delivering information relevant to you at the moment, in real-time.
Brands aspire to earn attention and reactions in the streams of both social and interest graphs. If consumers share information related to the brand, earned media then becomes the word of mouth catalyst that then spreads the information across the Web. Organic Tweets that mention companies and their services, offers, value, etc., are considered earned media. Promoted Tweets create a hybrid of paid and earned media, something I refer to as sponsored media. Promoted Tweets begin as paid media and transform into earned media with every ReTweet.
Costolo shared the love, positioning the new revenue model as helping “the entire ecosystem making money.” Therefore, the company is splitting promoted tweets revenue 50-50 with distribution partners.
Relevance and Resonance
Promoted Tweets are perhaps less controversial than what the immediate future beholds. Today, Promoted Tweets will appear only in search results. Once the system and the culture of the community is tested and immersed, paid Tweets will then enter the streams that connect interest graphs to topics of interest. Again, the value to the advertiser is that these Tweets will appear in the streams of individuals who have repeatedly demonstrated and communicated their interests through their actions and reactions as representative in the Tweet history.
However, with opportunity, new challenges face advertisers. Promoted Tweets force relevance into their campaigns in order to trigger positive responses and ultimately word of mouth and measurable activity. Twitter is not only changing communications between users, it also represents the impetus for contextualizing and humanizing advertising, in real-time. Without the ability to connect to and inspire people, campaigns will fail miserably. Those that appeal to the emotions and interests of consumers will spark a social effect that reverberates across the social graph online and eventually into the real world.
Dick Costolo shared a tangible example, “If I tweet a lot about coffee, I could be a great target for Starbucks ads, for example.” And, it is Starbucks that appears to fully embrace the notion of the real-time interest graph.
Not only is Starbucks among the initial adopters of Promoted Tweets, the company is also running an innovative outreach program with influence measurement startup Klout. Klout provides everyday marketers with the ability to identify influencers who actively tweet about related topics and also maintain a level of measurable stature with Twitter. These influencers were recently offered a free sample of Starbucks Pike Place Roast because of their earned authority on the subject of coffee.
In many ways, Twitter’s Promoted Tweets mirrors this strategy, but now extends it from individual influencers to anyone interested in coffee, not necessary influential on the subject.
Two words that were repeated throughout the conference, resonance and relevance, underscored Twitter’s commitment to creating an advertising platform that would earn the support of the community.
As Costolo noted, “Tweets that don’t resonate with users will disappear.”
Resonance is the reinforcement or prolongation of social objects. A Tweet, whether it’s paid or earned, represents a social object as its introduction and exposure possesses the ability to spark conversations. The extent and volume however, are determined by relevance and the shareability of the social object however.
Twitter is using resonance as a metric as it measures all the different ways people engage with Tweets and as such, produces a resonance score that determines the effectiveness and overall lifespan of Promoted Tweets. Resonance examines the visibility of a Tweet and actions surrounding them including how often they’re retweeted, favorited, etc.
In addition to developers, Twitter seems to truly believe that the user experience is the source of Twitter’s past and future. As such, it is the experience that is also the inspiration behind Promoted Tweets. Initially these paid opportunities will be based on a CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions or 1,000 qualified individuals exposed to the Tweet). What caught my attention however, is that as Twitter learns about the performance, accuracy, and possibilities orbiting resonance as a metric, the cost model will migrate from CPM to a ROI model…yes, Return on Investment. Details on the ROI model weren’t discussed, but I can assure you, anything that is introduced into the real-time Web triggers a response, even if that response is nothing. Advertisers will need to not only get creative, but also ensure that Promoted Tweets are both actionable, Retweetable, and, let me say that again, AND, advantageous.
Twitter’s metric could be applied to all forms of social media, from Twitter advertising to Tweets produced by its users to updates and postings across the entire social Web. Without relevance, we cannot trigger resonance, and without resonance, we cannot establish significance.
In social media, we earn the relationships, responses, and trust we deserve.
In Part Two of The State and Future of Twitter, we reviewed Promoted Tweets and the new advertising platform and metric system that will test and hopefully strengthen the “interest graph” that connects individuals around relevant subject matter and eventually the ads that they might find relevant. In Part Three, we are going to review the news and ideas that erupted during the Chirp conference as well as the new features that position Twitter as “consumption media” and how it will earn new users and simultaneously increase the activity and contributions of everyone.
Twitter COO Dick Costolo defined Twitter as a consumption medium, “Millions of people might read tweets either on the site, through clients or through widgets on external sites, but they might not author tweets.”
If Twitter adheres to the Technographics or Socialgraphics analysis of Social Media, Costolo is not only correct, but also vocalizing what many researchers are leaning about social media: even though it provides a democratized platform for participation, most registered users of social networks read updates and content instead of updating or posting content. Therefore, one could deduce that social media is, for the time being, in a state of mass consumption and not mass creation.
Along those lines, two major announcements hit the Web during the Chirp conference related to mass content consumption.
The Library of Congress
As Twitter so cleverly titled its blog post, “Tweet Preservation,” it was announced that The Library of Congress deemed that the history of public tweets is worthy of preservation. There, the repository of conversations that defined a new medium, going back to the very first Tweet, will now reside at The Library of Congress.
To date, billions of Tweets have contributed to the evolution of online societies and the digital cultures that would inevitably impact our culture in the real world. From global celebrations to controversial elections to natural and heart-stopping catastrophes to local events and personal achievements, the archive of Tweets indeed represents a generation fueled by the “me” in social media. And, with every Tweet and ReTweet, human communications, the way we form relationships, and media itself was and continues to be redefined. Twitter has evolved into a lens into popular culture that not only reflects behavior, but also influences it.
As part of the contribution, The Library of Congress can only include Tweets in its internal library for non-commercial research, public display, and for preservation, after a six-month delay.
A few examples of important tweets that are now on display include the first-ever tweet from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey (http://twitter.com/jack/status/20), President Obama’s tweet about winning the 2008 election (http://twitter.com/barackobama/status/992176676), and a set of two tweets from a photojournalist who was arrested in Egypt and then freed because of a series of events set into motion by his use of Twitter (http://twitter.com/jamesbuck/status/786571964) and (http://twitter.com/jamesbuck/status/787167620).
Google paid to receive the full real-time Twitter firehose in December 2009 and since then it has expanded the feed to 40 languages and introduced a top links feature to help users find the most relevant content shared.
In conjunction with the announcement by The Library of Congress, Google announced Replay, a new feature that combines the public archive of Tweets with an interactive timeline that unlocks the history of conversations to revisit any point in time to discover, study, or reminisce.
Now you can zoom to any point in time and “replay” conversations that reflected sentiment and the state of conversation, steering perception with every Tweet. To replay history, run a search, click “Show options” on the search results page, then select “Updates.”
The first page reveals the most recent Tweets combined with a new chart at the top. The chart, in a sense, is a virtual time machine that allows you to specify the year, month or day, to view the tweets from any given point in time.
Data already shows that searches within Social Networks are already rivaling traditional search engines in certain cases, with some major online destinations already reporting a majority of referral traffic stemming from social media over the biggest search engines.
At Chirp, Twitter reported that it fields roughly 19 billion search per month. Twitter co-founder Evan Williams also disclosed that Twitter performs 600 million queries per day, many of which are individuals searching for conversations containing their @ name I’m sure. However, neither number is easy to disregard.
Danny Sullivan, Editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land, dug a bit deeper to place these numbers into perspective to compare Twitter search to other traditional and social search activity. Using comScore numbers published in January 2010, Sullivan created a baseline using Twitter’s reported numbers:
Google: 88 billion per month
Twitter: 19 billion per month
Yahoo: 9.4 billion per month
Bing: 4.1 billion per month
We were initially surprised when YouTube consistently ranked behind Google, but ahead of all other search engine engines for total search queries performed each month. Looking at the numbers above, YouTube contributes to Google’s 88 billion total. But, according to Sullivan’s math, for total searches run on search properties, Twitter would technically rank ahead of Yahoo and behind Google.
Sullivan explains his caveats…
Now for the caveats. For one, we’re comparing Twitter’s self-reported figures to comScore’s estimated figures. To date, comScore hasn’t reported Twitter figures. Twitter doesn’t even register on the radar screen.
This is most likely because of the second caveat. Most of Twitter’s traffic isn’t happening at Twitter itself. Instead, it’s happening through API calls — a system for partners to send a search to Twitter and get the info back. Ratings services like comScore typically don’t include such queries, instead focusing on traffic they can monitor happening at specific web sites.
As Twitter continues to grow, so do its search numbers. During Chirp, Sullivan spoke with Twitter’s director of search Doug Cook. According to Cook, Twitter’s daily search queries have reached highs of 750 million and as he told Sullivan, Cook expects Twitter to channel 1 billion searches as soon as May 2010.
As we discussed extensively over the years, one of the biggest hurdles contributing to troubling user acquisition and retention was the experience from the point of introduction, “follow us on Twitter” or the recommendation to do so and every click that forced users to manually visit Twitter, create accounts, and then somehow miraculously induce an epiphany about how to use Twitter as an everyday communication and discovery service.
To hopefully contribute to a more meaningful experience at inception, Twitter introduced @anywhere, which to quote Twitter, quoting Foursquare, makes Twitter “aggressively simple.”
@anywhere is a service designed to enable partner websites to easily integrate Twitter functionality into the site experience. Twitter’s idea or better said, hope, is that visitors to partner sites can then engage with existing Twitter features as well as hosted Twitter personalities, without having to leave.
Among the most cooperative examples for the @anywhere platform are of course, traditional media properties. In many ways, big media brands such as CNN, New York Times, MSNBC, et al, are finding their stories permeating the streams of Twitter users all over the world. Instead of indirectly benefiting from this activity, why not harness and thus, inspire it…direct, at the source.
News no longer breaks, it Tweets, and as Chloe Sladden, director of media partnerships at Twitter shared on stage, “@Anywhere is a way to shift a page view into a relationship.”
The loved (if you’re on it) and hated recommended user list that greeted new Twitter users is on the way out in favor of an experience driven model, now placed squarely in the hands of those who ask us to “follow them on Twitter.” For example, if you as a visitor decide that you’d like to follow a particular reporter based on a story, you can do so on the spot and, you can also review a list a other reporters on Twitter who might write about content that you would prefer to follow.
Citysearch used @anywhere to help users get a complete real-time snapshot of a merchant and, when they’d like, engage that merchant via Twitter directly from CitySearch.com.
The Guardian uses @anywhere to connect readers with those running for public office. According to the UK publication, “Now, from within our pages you can ask questions your prospective parliamentary candidates and of our journalists. This is a clear indication of how we’re trying to lower barriers between our audience and those who hold power or seek to hold office, and between our readers and our journalists.”
The full list of sites using @anywhere include AdAge, Amazon, Bing, Citysearch, Digg, Disqus, eBay, Foursquare, Gawker, Google, Gowalla, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, Hunch, Mashable, Meebo, MSNBC.com, The New York Times, Salesforce.com, WSJ.com, Yahoo!, and YouTube.
Ryan Sarver, Director of Platform of Twitter, announced that it now boasts over 100,000 registered apps…all the more reason for a service such as OneForty.com to help you. Note, I’m an advisor to the company, but the reason I’ve joined, is because of this information. With so many apps, we essentially need an app store for Twitter.
As 75% of Twitter’s traffic sources from external apps, Sarver expressed his gratitude and devotion. “Twitter is the way it is because of the ecosystem,” said Sarver. “There is no way we can be successful without you guys.”
Yes. The developer community did much more than “fill the holes,” the developer community stitched personal relevance and ambition into an otherwise ambiguous network. It is us who attracted mainstream attention. It is us who lured brands into the community. It is, in fact us, the users, who adopted these applications to help us use Twitter to learn, share, connect, and grow.
At Chirp, Twitter introduced what Robert Scoble might refer to as the “Super Tweet.” However, its name is a little less super, but these Tweets are rich with information.
Annotated Tweets, for developers, was perhaps the uppermost news to receive stage time.
Many refer to Annotated Tweets as “invisible hashtags,” but even that reference might not convey the capacity and potentiality of what it represents. When Chris Messina introduced the concept of hashtags, they were indeed, designed to integrate contextual references to each Tweet as well as for organizing and locating conversations as needed. However, Annotated Tweets, when they do officially launch within 60 days or so, will enable the incorporation of data behind data (metadata), beyond what’s already captured. This new Tweet framework will package and reveal the specific information that creative developers designate.
Twitter is a Global Phenomenon
Finally, I will share a bit of information that hit the Web one week prior to Chirp. I share this with you because I believe that Twitter and social networks overall, represent the bridges that make the world a much smaller place. When we think back to the contextual networks or interest graphs discussed in the earlier segments of this discussion, geography slowly dissipates. We are connected by the very things that captivate and inspire us and when we peer into a monitor we are essentially gazing into a window that looks upon a landscape populated by those we choose to follow and those who choose to follow us. We form a new information democracy that is representative of the stake in which we invest and nurture.
Twitter documented its growth as a “global information network” with a user base that’s geographically diverse. In fact, 60% of registered Twitter accounts live outside the United States.
Certainly, it’s a small world after all…