I just read Ross Hills excellent post titled Twitter: Building the planetary pulseand had a few thoughts of my own to contribute to the thinking that has stemmed from the leaked Techcrunch article. Instead of focusing on some of the more apparent highlights, I thought I’d look instead at how I think twitter can find sustainability in it’s business model given the thinking of the founder and team there.
1)The rules of twitter – it’s just open space: We can get very confused and hard to describe what twitter is to people who don’t yet have an affinity with the service. Even those of us that use it have our own ways and methods of making it work for us, which can often lead to differing evangelical ideas about how others should go about using it. To me, Twitter is a fantastic open space, which allows people to come and go, much like participating in an open space meeting or unconference. @ev, one of the founders of twitter, said so much in a tweet in May.
To me, it’s simple. If you don’t like what you’re hearing on twitter, or the information you are being delivered, then you can simply get up and change the space you’re in. Ross does this very well, “reshuffling” the people he follows on twitter to suit his mood and the information he seeks most at any particular stage in his thinking.
2) Revenue: In the techcrunch expose, the founders point to getting to a point where they generate $1 of revenue for every user they have. They describe a user as a “unique individual having a conscious twitter experience in a given week.”
Again, I think this points to the idea of twitter being a space. I certainly know I would pay a dollar per year to use the service, but this is not the point. The process behind paying such a small amount of money is absurd, which is why the team at twitter is focused on charging more to a select bunch of users, who can essentially pay for the rest of us. They talk about the idea of facilitating payments through twitter, which I think could provide a good way to allow users to contribute to the ‘pulse’ – in a similar way that Kiva asks for small administration donations once you have lent your money to the entrepreneur in need.
3) Staff: One of the tidbits I loved in the techcrunch article was how the team at Twitter felt they would need 5000 employees to reach 1 billion users. This equates to 200,000 users for every employee, which would thus equate to about $200,000 in revenue for every person employed, which is not a bad number. But, my question is…
4) Which metrics are most important to Twitter for it’s success? It seems at the moment they are measuring everything, from the number of users to the number of dollars brought in and how many staff it took to get there. But does this actually provide a useful snapshot of where the organisation is now? If they are truly wanting to become ‘the planetary pulse’ aren’t they better off looking for other metrics, like the speed of geographical spread of information? Or perhaps the % of each countries internet population that is on twitter? Or even, perhaps, the number of tweets circulating the globe each day?
When we discuss the human ‘pulse’ we usually refer to the spread of our blood through-out our body. We don’t measure the number of white and red blood cells we have (unless we get sick) but instead the total flow we maintain. It’s this flow that can really measure how healthy we are. Without it, we die pretty quickly, even though we still have red and white blood cells in our body. I can’t help but feel that twitter is focusing too much on the white and red blood cells (users and number of staff?) rather than the whole flow it allows.
I’d be keen to see them find a way to measure this planetary pulse and then find revenue streams which only work when that flow become more healthy. To me, that’s the best way to ensure the sustainability and future health of this great service I certainly have come to know and love.