The flurry of news surrounding the theft and publication of internal Twitter documents will inevitably engender even more goodwill for the world’s favorite social messaging platform. No betrayal of Twitter strategy short of implicating them in slapping babies with puppies can dent their supernova ascent into global stardom. Their current soap opera seems to bring them more sympathy than concern over their strategic objectives. In all likelihood, the player with the most to lose is Michael Arrington who’s managed to come off as a bit of a bully barely restrained by his own self-interest to secure future access to Twitter insiders.
The most interesting bits are related to features. The revelations concerning Hosebird, Tweet Rank, Google Syndication, and a “secret project with the X-Box” do more to allay concerns over Twitter’s monetization strategy than reveal any lack of ideas or sinister motivations. Their goal of 1 billion users is handily sugar-coated by the suggestion that they are building a global nervous system, drafting on the oft-quoted predictions of the emergent Global Brain. If anything, these leaks, like the way Apple deftly foreshadows it’s own “super secret” Skunkworks product releases, will add even more drool to the salivations of the user base, the dev ecology, and 3rd party interests eager to have more access to the Starchild. In fact, it seems that, if anything, Arrington is doing Twitter a huge favor.
Disclosures of ongoing talks with Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Amazon, et al, while not especially new or surprising, underwrite the seriousness of Twitter’s enterprise and reinforce the fact that aside from the wall of hype & buzz permeating the media Twitter is one of the Big Boys now. If not yet in valuation, then certainly in it’s seriousness and capacity. Remember when Google was just this new, simple searchbar competing with WebCrawler & HotBot & Lycos? Twitter’s ability to keep the likes of Diddy and Marissa Mayer at arm’s length underscore the strength of their organization and the confidence they have with their status and strategy.
Another tell lies in the notes about Twitter’s future with respect to possible acquisitions. A line within the context of the failed Facebook acquisition and attempts by other would-be suiters states “it can give us understanding of what we are worth”. This is like when you go on job interviews so your current boss will promote you. By courting acquisitions Twitter gets hard numbers to reinforce what their real value is in the competitive marketplace. The inevitable press surrounding these offers gives them huge leverage for partnerships, funding, free press, and growth. Conversely, they admit that they may not be able to meet the scaling requirements of their exponential growth. These two statements together defend Twitter’s authority and secure it’s need to stay firmly in the driver’s seat if they enter into any merger or acquisition with larger suitors.
Of course, search is the big deal here. Twitter must either fiercely defend its data and analytics against Google or cut a tight deal that serves their interests effectively without diluting their brand. As they admit, Google can do search much better but Twitter controls the stream. Clearly, Google is afraid of losing ad share to Twitter, yet is salivating at the chance to sink their searchy incisors into their data as deeply as possible. Indeed, “Twitter the product is a vehicle for Twitter Search” and “Twitter is an economy of information”.
Ironically or not, the release of these internal documents and the ensuing public discussion of their contents will empower the Twitter community even more to be the stewards of their pet. Recall that Twitter’s genesis was far simpler and less ambitious. As the user base swelled and began to co-opt it’s use pulling it far beyond a fun SMS “What Are You Doing” billboard, they had to quickly re-architect their infrastructure to support a global messaging system. Recent challenges brought by Twitter’s utility as a disaster reporting tool, an emergency service coordination network, and a significant threat to oppressive regimes further reinforce the sense that the service only partly belongs to its creators. These disclosures are not only harmless to Twitter’s goals, perhaps even furthering them, they are appropriate to the era of transparency and connectivity that it has helped create.
To invoke the Global Brain myself, Twitter will get it’s 1 billion users and more (unless they piss off Goldman Suchs), and the weight of these sources and the connections they are weaving will continue to re-engineer the collective experience of information and sharing that humanity is engaged in. In the sea change waves of the new Information Economy, amid all the challenges the democratized landscape of free services pose to existing monetization strategies, something new is emerging and it’s increasingly less and less concerned about funding and valuation and far more invested in utility and humanity.