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.