Three years after its invention, Twitter saw its popularity soar in 2009 but still lags behind other social networks in how many users it has and in finding a viable business model. All that could change swiftly though: the company has unveiled a host of new features and revenue-building plans in the last month, to the cheers of tech bloggers everywhere. Here's why they're hopeful for even better days for Twitter:
- 'The Holy Grail' of Advertising' Bloggers tried to decode Twitter COO Dick Costolo's statements to TechCrunch on Friday. He said that the company was poised to launch an innovative advertising service: "It will be fascinating. Non traditional. And people will love it." But Costolo was skimpy on the details except to deny that ads would appear in the universal Twitter stream. "The question that many Twitter users will ask is what type of adverts and where?" notes Island Crisis blogger Kurt Avish. "Well Twitter confirmed it that these will not be the traditional ads that we normally see on the net. So for sure it will not be banners or text ads on Twitter profile pages." He offers his vision of what the service might look like: "Twitter knows what everyone is talking about and specially what everyone LIKES to talk about. So assume you love to talk about cars. It can be that you receive advert tweets from an Adserver Twitter Account itself related to things that you like." Tech writer Robert Scoble had a different idea: SuperTweets, or tweets that have 'mouse-over' functionality, to display more information about an advertiser's product. As he explains:
Well, let's say I wrote a Tweet saying "I'm going to see 2012 tonight."
Couldn't we tag that Tweet with the word "movie?" Like you can tag a photo on Flickr? Absolutely!
Couldn't we have a bot that sees that 2012 and movie came through the system and then link to the IMDB database for the movie 2012, like this? Couldn't you link to Fandango for movie reviews and movie times for 2012, like this?
So, add that all onto the tile that slides underneath this new 'SuperTweet.'"
- Commercial Accounts In an interview with the BBC posted on Thursday, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone balked at fellow media owner Rupert Murdoch's recently revealed plan to erect a "subscriber-only" pay wall around News Corp. websites and to remove them from Google search results and other search-engine listings. As for persistent criticisms that Twitter lacks a viable business strategy, Stone said that the microblogging service would shortly be introducing a special class of paid-for "commercial accounts," that would offer purchasers an additional layer of analytical data about the popularity of their accounts. "This development should come as a big relief to Twitter's backers," opines Doug Caverly for WebProNews, "Over time, the site's lack of a business model has gone from being something of a laughing matter to (at least in some corners) acting as a cause for serious concern...the introduction of paid accounts will help Twitter generate more interest within the business community, anyway."
- Descriptive Lists Twitter users were delighted at the end of October, when the company allowed users to group accounts they followed into topic-specific lists for more organized viewing and tracking. While many immediately jumped into the fray, a consensus quickly emerged that the service contained one fatal omission: a way to enter a lengthier summary of what the list was about. Fortunately, the company corrected-course on Thursday, adding a much-desired description field. Twitter-focused blogger Dan Thornton welcomes the change at 140char: "Not only does it allow you to provide context to people who will view your list (Without creating a list title as long as a book), but presumably it will also be indexed to be searchable, enabling better list discovery. At the moment I'm seeing a huge number of lists created, often with plenty of duplication of topics and titles, and very few followers for each one...it also shows that the evolution of Twitter is continuing, and the team aren't about to take a break after rolling out Lists."
- 'What's Happening?' On Thursday, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone announced on his official company blog that the wording of Twitter's status-update prompting question "What are you doing?" was being slightly altered to "What's happening?" The move reflects the company's recognition that its service has been repurposed by users in many ways. As Matthew Zuras explains at the tech blog Switched: "Of late, substantive Twitter missives have become de rigeur, as tweets have chronicled the contested Iranian presidential election and disseminated other breaking news." Meanwhle, TechCrunch's Leena Rao offered: "It's a wise move because 'What are you doing' seemed too narrow for the platform. Broadening the question to match all the things people use twitter for was necessary. Considering that Twitter is now used for breaking news, that term doesn't really cover it."
- Geolocation Also on Thursday, Twitter made good on its promise to provide software developers with the ability to implement "geotagging" functionality in their third-party twitter posting clients. Geotagging would allow users to post tweets that link to a map showing the twitter-user's location. The Twitter team pointed out that geotagging was disabled by default for wary users, and noted that the functionality wouldn't actually be available anywhere on the main twitter site, instead only via the many third-party Twitter applications like Birdfeed, Foursquare, and Twidroid. Next Web editor-in-chief Zee explained why the idea was so momentous: "There's no question the feature takes Twitter into an entirely new chapter of its famed but young life. With geolocation, you'll be able to find social recommendations from real people who have proof they've been at those specific locations. You'll be able to find friends nearby and of course, be fed with relevant localized news."
- New Retweet Function Twitter credits its users with organically developing the popular "re-tweet" practice, wherein a particularly interesting or notable tweet gets copied from one account and re-posted by another user, preceded by the indicator letters "RT." However, on November 5th, Twitter began testing a new feature that would formalize the "re-tweet" process: Selected users can now click a specific button on a tweet they want to repost, and when they do so, the tweet will display the original poster's username first. While initial reactions were largely unfavorable, several vocal defenders of the feature have emerged. CNET blogger Caroline McCarthy points out the following advantage: "With built-in retweets, it gets much easier to track exactly how popular or influential a given message or user is." Social media blogger Shannon Paul concurs "There are plenty of good reasons to be upset with the new changes to Retweets, but one neat thing about this is that it does bring back the possibility of discovering new people," because it will call attention to the original tweeter rather than the person reproducing the information.