Is Twitter the Next Big Thing or the Next MySpace?

Is Twitter the next big thing or is it the next MySpace? And what about Facebook and Google? These are interesting questions managers keep asking themselves. I was reading earlier this week an article published in Business Week on how Twitter has made the real-time web an important issue on the Internet and how it can be considered a potential competitor for Google. Briefly, the author interviewed a truly biased specialist who has invested money in Twitter and companies that offer solutions to track Twitter information. Personally, I think the article was biased and off-the-track, and I don’t want to offend the pro-Twitter squad, but Twitter has many similarities to past social platforms that have failed such as (1) Friendster, (2) MySpace and (3) Second Life. This leads me to pretend that Twitter tends more to be the Next MySpace than a potential competitor for Facebook. Here is my reasoning in 8 points:

1. Too much reliability problems
2. Too much spamming
3. Not enough privacy
4. Too much babbles
5. Not enough readers
6. Too hard to maintain conversations
7. Too simple
8. Too much competition on the radar


1. Too much reliability problems

This seems similar to what Friendster and Second Life have experienced in the past as Twitter is getting attacked from everywhere on the planet; how many times will you hear “Twitter is down… again”? Is there anything worse than trying to log onto a website that is not working? These reliability problems are not causing too much damage for the moment, but one day, users will get tired and trust will be broken.

Twitter is down

2. Too much spamming

Spamming on Twitter is just starting. For instance, just add 10 Internet gurus to your “follow” list and you will receive tons of new followers (spammers) that will chase (follow) you not to connect with you, but more to add you (if you reciprocate) as an extra follower. There is a developing market of companies sharing techniques to increase their number of followers; Mashable even wrote an article that summarizes this emerging market. What is the point of having new followers if these followers don’t care about you? Anyway. Personally, the worst type of spam I have experienced is when non-followers mentioned me, with the known symbol @ in a non-targeted corporate tweet. Sure, it is possible to block them and report spam, but this is time-consuming for nothing.

3. Not enough privacy

Some may also say that Twitter is really bad in terms of privacy, and I totally agree, but for now, if I want to have more privacy, I just log onto another platform and share with my friends on Facebook or on the good old MSN.

4. Too much babbles

In a recent study, it was said that 40% of the content on Twitter was insignificant babbles. I would totally agree with the point of view of researcher and social networks specialist danah boyd who argued that babbles are not necessarily babbles for everyone. However, these « babbles » are generally information I categorized as spam for the writers (my “following”) I don’t really know personally – and if I know the writer of those babbles, well then, maybe they are not always to be considered as such.

Recent Study

5. Not enough listening

What is really surprising on Twitter is that you can have 10,000 followers but it can happen that almost none of them will read what you post. To read you, they need to be online, they need to be connected to their Twitter account via the Twitter website, via Tweetdeck, Seesmic or Twitterriffic, depending which tool they are using, and they need to actively follow you. The Dunbar number stipulates that one human cannot follow intimately more than 150 people. Good luck! This is why Twitter is a paradise for quantity and not quality.

6. Too hard to maintain conversations

Have you ever tried to maintain a conversation of four to five tweets exchange with someone on Twitter? This is really hard, and personally, when I want to do that, I just use another platform.

7. Too simple

If the idea behind Twitter is simple, this is mainly what makes it popular; however it is sometimes too simple. The only thing you can do is post a tweet or read a tweet, so once again I use another platform.

8. Too much competition on the radar

Facebook has bought Friendfeed, launched Facebook Lite and Google will launch Google Caffeine and Google Wave. What does this mean? This means that even though Twitter is growing fast, it is a matter of time before competition gets the better of it. In other words, every user should say thanks to Twitter for forcing Facebook and Google to come up with ideas to exploit the real-time web as fast as possible.

Should your company be on Twitter?

After listing all these reasons why Twitter is not the next big thing, the main question some would ask me is: “should my company be on Twitter?” And my answer would be: YES. Why? Mainly because Twitter is an interesting way to control your brand image, not to build it, but to control for negative comments against your brand. However, is Twitter the next big thing? NO, and if you want to build for the future, focus your energies on Facebook and follow the launch of Google Wave.

What will we learn from Twitter?

We should at least learn two things from Twitter, that there is need for the real-time web and a need for fandom.

1. Need for the real-time web

The 140-word tweet has been a good vehicle to bring the real-time web as an Internet mainstream issue which could have been predicted by the emergence of SMS. This trend is there to stay. This is also why Google will launch Google Caffeine and Google Wave soon enough, in order to answer Twitter’s growth.

2. A need for fandom

Some might say that there is a “voyeur” in us all and that there is a need for fandom. That would explain why celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher (more than 3 million followers) and Weird Al Yankovic (more than 1 million followers) have embraced Twitter to give the possibility to their fans to follow them, to read what they have to say because they are celebrities.


In conclusion, I personally don’t think Twitter is the next big thing, but more likely a fad that will soon go away like Friendster, MySpace and Second Life did in the past ten years. However, we must thank Twitter for bringing the real-time web to another level. Any other opinions or thoughts on the topic?

Jean-Francois Belisle


Fighting for the Web Supremacy: How Will Google Wave Suffer From Switching Costs and Lock-in Against Facebook?

Facebook and Google are probably the two hottest companies that come to anyone’s mind when chit-chatting about the Internet. Thus, according to Quantcast statistics, Google is the website that is the most visited by Americans while Facebook comes fourth. However, when it comes to social networking (SNs) websites, anyone will tell you that Facebook is the best one by far with 87.7 million unique users in the United States as of July 2009, up 14% compared to the previous month.

Furthermore, some may think that the recent acquisition of Friendfeed by Facebook for $50 millions (for more details see comments on Mashable) coupled with the beta launch of Facebook Lite sooner this week would be enough to solidify Facebook’s position as the leader in SNs. Most experts would say “yes, but for how long”? For many, the launch this Wednesday of iGoogle social gadgets, and the eventual launch of Google Caffeine and Google Wave are only the beginning of a longer battle between these two companies. Talking of Google Wave, many experts think that it would be the social network of the future, the most advanced in terms of success. But having the best product in terms of features, in this case the best social network, is not a guarantee for success. Concepts such as: (1) first-mover advantage, (2) switching costs, and (3) lock-in effects, are all important to take in consideration. This is why in this post, I will expose the current situation and then discuss the impact of these three interrelated concepts on Google Wave race against Facebook in their battle for web supremacy.

Google Wave
1. The Situation

The Internet is build out of technological infrastructure. Thus, the most important question to answer is: What is needed to dominate the Internet? What will it take to bring all the masses together in a single social network? In other words, what will be the social network of the future? According to my actual experience, the social network of the future will include the following features:
1. The space for a complete profile
2. The space for showing complete affiliations
3. The possibility to search for timely information (microblogging)
4. The possibility to search across the web for websites and useful detailed information
5. The possibility to follow non-followers and vice-versa
6. Private instant messaging features
7. Public messaging
8. Public video sharing
9. The possibility to send an e-mail to anyone
10. The possibility to group most popular posts in specific categories
11. The possibility to follow bloggers via feeds
12. The possibility of implementing social gaming features
13. The possibility to import friends from other social sites

But how will Google Wave perform against Facebook on these features? An overview of the answers to this question is presented on the table below.

# Features Google Wave Facebook
1 The space for a complete profile X X
2 The space for showing complete affiliations X X
3 The possibility to search for timely information (microblogging) X X
4 The possibility to search across the web for websites and useful detailed information X
5 The possibility to follow non-followers and vice-versa ?
6 Complete private instant messaging features X
7 Public messaging X X
8 Public video sharing X X
9 The possibility to send an e-mail to anyone X X
10 The possibility to group most popular posts in specific categories X
11 The possibility to follow bloggers via feeds X
12 The possibility of implementing social gaming features X X
13 The possibility to import friends from other social sites ? X

According to this short analysis, it seems like Google Wave outperforms Facebook for most features, the most important ones being: (1) search across the web, (2) complete private instant messaging (It is still impossible to send a document via Facebook private chat), (3) social bookmarking features and (4) usage of feeds. However, even though Google Wave seems ahead in terms of overall features, it is way behind in terms of unique users, since it hasn’t been launched yet. So, will users join Google Wave because it has more advanced features? Not necessarily.

2. First Mover Advantage

Google was founded in 1996, while Facebook was founded in January 2004 and went public in September 2006, which gives Google a first mover advantage in terms of Internet presence. However, as Facebook is a social network since it was launched, it has a first mover advantage against Google Wave. One important fact to mention is that after going public, it took Facebook 32 months (since May 2009), to dethrone MySpace as the number one Social Network in the United States. Thus, Google Wave is facing the same situation against Facebook. Some guesses?

3. Three Types of Costs in a Social Network

Before analyzing how much time could it take Google Wave to reach a number of users similar to Facebook, one of the most important concepts to consider is the types of costs associated with a social network, which can be divided into three categories:

Learning costs: how much time have you spent to learn how the social network works?
Searching costs: how much time have you spent to find your friends?
Social costs: how much time have you spent to socialize with others?

4. Switching Costs and Lock-in

The main problem that Google Wave faces is that Facebook users like to exchange information on this social network, they have invested their time in learning how it works (learning costs), they have invested their time in searching their friends (searching costs), and they have had plenty of fun socializing with others (social costs). Why should they switch to Google Wave? Why should they switch to Google Wave even if they know its better? What is the benefit of switching away from Facebook or simply investing time in Google Wave? Are they locked-in? The answer to this question is crucial and still hard to predict. Would that inspire a research paper written by Google Chief Economist Hal Varian who is also Professor of economics at the University of California at Berkeley, and who has published papers on switching costs and lock-in?

Conclusion & Discussion

To conclude, it is no surprise that according to my analysis, Facebook is ahead in this race for the Internet supremacy against Google Wave even though the latter has the best technology. However, one sure thing is that the race is not over and the next fall will be interesting in terms of social innovations (i.e. Google Wave) and potential acquisitions. Who do you think is going to win the race? Any other thoughts? Any bids?

Jean-Francois Belisle

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