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What "Tweet" Needs to Become: To Share a Moment

By - October 27, 2009

The Twitter Moment.png

Last week was big for Twitter. After years of speculation about whether the company was going to have a business model, Twitter announced two deals at our Web2 conference – first with Microsoft’s Bing, and second with Google. Details of the deals were not disclosed, but as Google’s Marissa Mayers admitted onstage, there were indeed financial terms.  

What those terms might be strike me as secondary to the fact the deals got done in the first place. Sure, they probably consist of some combination of data services fees and revenue sharing, but the fact remains that monetizing a real time search result remains an elusive art, and one that honestly, Twitter does not want to cede to either Google or Microsoft. So while the two battling search giants may toss a not-insignificant amount of Adwords or AdCenter revenue into Twitters’ coffers, what really matters is the the traffic these deals potentially represent, and the validation of Twitter’s role in the real time universe. That, I’d argue, is priceless.

Now, did Microsoft and Google do these deals simply to lay claim to a hot new service, or were their actions driven by the time-honored principle of “embrace and extend”? More on that in a future post, because I think the question begs consideration in light of where the culture of search and communication is headed.

The fact that both giants have validated Twitter’s role in search led me to reflect on the role that Twitter plays in our culture. “To Tweet” is a verb in the process of becoming – not unlike “To Google” in 2002-3, or “to Xerox” in the 1960s. So what does “tweet” mean, really? Or perhaps more to the point, what *should* it mean?

At the moment, “to tweet” means something along the lines of “to broadcast a thought, in real time, using 140 characters of text or less.” And while confining tweets to this creative box has been seminal to the service’s early success, I’d argue that continuing to do so will most likely consign Twitter to the status of a verbal footnote in our ongoing cultural conversation.

What I’m struggling to say is that definitions matter. Words matter. My anthropological spidey senses are tingling right now, because we’re in a cultural moment where we are redefining how we share a moment. Facebook knows this. Google and Microsoft know it as well. And we all know it – explicitly or implicitly, as a culture we are learning to share our moments in real time, irrespective of geography or traditional social boundaries.

So allow me to suggest what I believe the definition of the verb “to tweet” should become: “To share a moment.”

In other words, to truly scale, “Tweet” – the verb-in-process-of-becoming, or, alternatively, the verb-that-could-have-been-but-became-instead-a-footnote-in-history – needs to be defined by more than 140 characters of text.

If you abstract what we’re really trying to do with the creative box Twitter has imposed upon us, it’s this: We want to share a meaningful moment in time. Sure, we don’t all manage to do that so well, but I think the essence of what we’re trying to do – “share,” “meaningful,” and “moment” – can easily be abstracted from the creative box in which Twitter is currently confined.

If you’ve used a tool like Brizzly, Power Twitter, or any of the many other services that unpack and contextualize your Twitter stream, it’s clear that a tweet is much more than text. It can be an image, a video, an overheard snippet of speech. In short, it’s a moment, captured, imbued with meaning, and shared.

As long as it remains those things, it’s a tweet. And as much as I love the SMS-inspired roots of Twitter’s origin, it’s time for the service to branch out and embrace its essence, and not get stuck in its own creation myth. If it fails to do so, I think any number of its competitors – Google, Microsoft, Facebook, or an unborn startup – will recognize and exploit that failure.

So live in the moment, Twitter, and move outside the text box.

PS – I think the same applies to the interface of search – breaking out of keyboard-driven text and more into a conversational interface. I’ll have a lot more to say about this in the coming months, as I think it’s starting to come together in my head – “The Moment” is a good organizing principle for where I believe things are going in search, culture, technology.

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Web 2 Summit: Evan Williams

By - October 26, 2009

Big week last week for Twitter, two deals with two search powerhouses, new revenue, and new traffic will flow due to both. I asked about the pending search deals deep into the interview but Evan plays coy, the announcements come the following day.

Web 2 – Sergey Stops By

By - October 25, 2009

Sergey made a surprise visit to Web 2 last week, just as he did six years ago for the first one.

Web 2 2009

By - October 22, 2009

Literally some of the best work I’ve ever been involved with, yet again, six years in. Many of you asked for the playlist I used for the show (coverage best seen at #w2s, lots of news happened at the event, including Sergey Brin stopping by).

Here’s a screen shot of my playlist. I’ll make it live soon. (And yes, btw, the songs and their timing with sessions often mean something. But I can’t really get into what and why right now.)

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At Web 2

By - October 21, 2009

Most of you probably know I’m at Web 2 this week, hence no posting. But follow the news on the #w2s hashtag, there’s already been a ton, as this WSJ roundup shows….

Twitter Continues Flattening, But Is This A Real Measure

By - October 16, 2009

Every month I look at Twitter’s traffic, and for September, the trend continues to be flat to down. Has Twitter peaked, or is it time for the company to start showing us traffic through its API and via SMS, so we can really understand the service’s growth?

Here are Quantcast and Compete’s data.

The embedded chart is from Compete.

While it’s fair to argue they only capture traffic to Twitter.com, it’s still instructive to see that traffic to that particular domain has flattened or fallen off.

Update:
Once again the Compete embedded chart does not show what the page shows, which is a decline in Sept. So here’s that part of it:

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Happy Happy Time In Tech Land

By - October 15, 2009

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Earnings are coming in that make for happy year over year comps, and hence, a happy time in tech land. Intel, Google, IBM all

beating expectations – welcome news for an economy that has felt pretty damn terrible lately. And now the Dow has touched 10K and stayed there – something we haven’t seen for a year.  

But I still worry – do you? I worry we’ll over correct, and lose the perspective we’ve all earned over the last year of pain. I sure hope we don’t. That said, I sure am happy to see the gloom lifting. We’re going into winter, but it sort of feels like Spring right now….

More here.

Web 2: Help Me Interview Tim Armstrong

By - October 14, 2009

web 2 09.png_@user_61011.jpg Tim Armstrong didn’t need the job, but he decided to accept Time Warner’s offer to become the CEO of AOL anyway. Why?

That’s the first question I have for Tim when he joins us at Web 2 next week. What do you want me to ask him?

As you most likely know, Tim came to AOL from Google, where he ran North American ad sales for years. Clearly, Tim relishes a challenge, and sees an opportunity. And, while Tim probably is too politic to discuss it, AOL will be spun out soon, and either go public or become an independent entity (unwinding the most disastrous new/old media merger in recent history).

So…what do you want to know from Tim? I’ve got my own list – which I’ve discussed with Tim already – but you all will have even better ideas, as usual…

Others we’ll be interviewing (and I’ve asked for your help):

Shantanu Narayen

Carly Fiorina

Jon Miller

Sheryl Sandberg

Qi Lu

Carol Bartz

Evan Williams

Brian Roberts

Jeff Immelt

To come: Aneesh Chopra, Austan Goolsbee, Paul Otellini, Tim Berners Lee, and more. An amazing lineup and less than one week away!

Also, remember to tweet your questions for any of the folks above with the #w2s hashtag for a chance to win a free Web 2 Summit pass – we’ll be picking three at random to win…