I’ve been a huge fan of Twitter. I attended the first ever Twitter conference in LA, as well as the first ever Twitter sponsored developer conference in San Fran. I Tweet often, and while Twitter isn’t going anywhere right now, as I think five years down the road, I foresee several challenges surrounding Twitter’s long term growth.
1) The Lack Of Usage
A concerning development for Twitter is the reports that state the percentage of users who sign up for Twitter that actually turn into daily users. A recent article on BI discussed the fact that only 15 million people in the US use Twitter. Twitter has said it has 65 million US users. That is a huge gap, and this discrepancy comes from people trying out Twitter but never becoming a frequent user. There are also tons of dummy accounts which were never intended to be real Twitter accounts. It’s not sign-ups what is important, its usage – and Twitter has a solid 6% of the US using it – but that’s not the market share that Twitter has envisioned. And while Twitter clearly doesn’t have to be anywhere near as big as Facebook to be successful – it will be difficult for it to continue to grow if such a large percentage of Twitter accounts are dormant.
2) One-Way Communication
Twitter often acts as a one-way communication platform. Many Twitter accounts, in fact, are setup to be this way with automated feeds that post content or links. Many other accounts, such as verified celebrity accounts, have other people Tweeting on behalf of the celebrity and attract so much noise that the celebrity could never respond to most responses. In the instances when Twitter is being used by celebrities, TV shows, companies, and websites to simply get the word out or to promote links – it isn’t being used for relationship building. And, when you have one-way communication – the users aren’t as invested into the service. So, if another comparable site was introduced, but had benefits that Twitter didn’t, the switching costs for many users wouldn’t be insurmountable. As long as someone’s followers could be transferred over or notified of the new platform, a migration wouldn’t be impossible.
3) Focus On Money Or Focus On Users
There has been a tremendous amount of buzz surrounding the struggles between the Twitter business team and the Twitter product team. This company needs to implement its revenue model and more often than not, growing revenues will be at the expense of functionality or user experience. The fact that there are highly publicized struggles is not a great sign for Twitter because if the product team is unhappy with what the business team is doing – the users are likely to be unhappy too.
4) Real-Time Search Competition
I’ve always argued that one of the greatest assets Twitter had was its real-time search engine. By being able to search what’s being said right now, users can perform a different type of search that allows them to tap into the consciousness of the public. This real time data will continue to be an asset both for Twitter and its network of developers. However, there is one company which can compete with Twitter in terms of real-time data, and that company is Facebook. Historically, Facebook has not implemented an easy to use real- time search product at Facebook.com and it hasn’t granted full access of its real time data to its development partners. However, Facebook has continued to improve its product and developers have begun to become savvy at displaying Facebook status updates within their search results. So, while Twitter remains the leader in real-time search, they aren’t the only large viable player in town.
In summary, Twitter is awesome and I’ll continue to use it for years to come. However, these four issues that I outlined communicate some challenges that Twitter has on it’s road ahead.
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