Twitter and ‘Bursts of inconsequential information[iii]’
Twitter is fascinating for many reasons. When you think about it, its founders – Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams and Biz Stone – have one true perpetual beta. It started with traditional blogs through blogger, which they sold to Google. Then they moved to podcasting with Odeo. Then you had twitter. Shortly after, they added integrated photo sharing. They acquired Posterous last year, and rolled out Vine early this year.
Long-form, audio, short-form, pictures, long-form, short-video. These are fundamentally all experiments with form and style in communication. Where Facebook is the summation of yours, your friends’ and families’ thoughts and experiences, twitter is more like Google – a vast open mindscape that forces the communicator to likewise condense both the profound and the banal into 140 characters.
Twitter’s business model, however, can’t mimic either – at least, not in its current design avatar. Facebook is where you go to see what your friends are up to. Google is where you go when you need to find something specific, or general information about something. What is the behavior that twitter elicits? One might argue that twitter is where you go to have a conversation. A river you dip in and out of from time to time. We know a river is ever-changing, but twitter has not only speed but also informational velocity. Without any form of algorithm to slow down the feed, there is no flavor of the month, week, or even day. The informational velocity on twitter can change by the hour or minute.
Now I would argue that what advertisers – the business-model of choice in social – pay for is fundamentally predictability. If you look at the ad metrics of old you will see that the reason ‘soap operas’ exist is because TV dramas with a high probability of housewives watching them became the preeminent contact point for FMCG firms selling soap. So how does that work in a system that thrives on randomness and chaos? Well, maybe we can take pointers from two unlikely sources – Nassim Nicholas Taleb – Professor of Risk Engineering at NYU, and, umm, Oreo.
Taleb’s life’s work has centered on the principle of philo-stochasticity – or, that which gains from chaos – which he today calls ‘the antifragile’[iv]. How can twitter gain from chaos? Well, in my opinion, creating a deeper ‘search’ function within the network (currently tweets disappear from search after a certain point) may allow for twitter to better position its promoted tweets to maximize clickthroughs – they already do this with trending topics – but this is not quite it.
What I believe they can add is what we’ve learned from Oreo’s hijacking of the superbowl blackout[v] on twitter: create a two-speed advertising network – one that allows advertisers to promote tweets/promos around topics, and one that gives advertisers data for changes in informational velocity that can help them make more responsive campaigns harnessing relevance in current events. Trending #tags do this somewhat for users, but it needs to be better visualized, and flagged earlier to be of use to marketers. That may well be where a successful future of twitter lies. Volatile. Adaptive. Philo-stochastic.
[i] ‘The value of additional optional investment opportunities available only after having made an initial investment.’ http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/optionality
[ii] The open source dictum, “release early and release often” in fact has morphed into an even more radical position, “the perpetual beta,” in which the product is developed in the open, with new features slipstreamed in on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis. http://oreilly.com/web2/archive/what-is-web-20.html?page=4
[iii] ‘Twitter creator Jack Dorsey illuminates the site’s founding document’ http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/technology/2009/02/twitter-creator.html
[iv] ‘Taleb on Antifragility’ [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4MhC5tcEv0?wmode=transparent]
[v] ‘The half-decent Oreo tweet that dazzled the nation’ http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2013/02/04/oreo_super_bowl_blackout_tweet_dazzles_twitter_reveals_low_bar_for_brands.html