Portrait of Twitter As A Young Media Company

Last year I predicted that Twitter would become a media company. However, I focused mainly on the new “Discover” functionality, and I probably should have gone a lot further. In this piece, I intend to.

So I’ll start with this: 2013 will be the year Twitter starts to create, curate, and co-create media experiences on top of its platform. I hinted at this in my brief coverage of Twitter’s Oscar Index (see Twitter’s Makin’ Media), but allow me to put a bit more flesh on the bones.

So what might one make from the fact that your platform captures hundreds of millions of individuals declaring what’s going on at any give time? Well, let’s break down some of the signals in all that supposed noise. As I’ve written over and over and over in the past several years, Twitter presents a massive search problem/opportunity. For example, Twitter’s gotten better and better at what’s called “entity extraction” – identifying a person, place, or thing, then associating behaviors and attributes around that thing. This (among other reasons) is why its Discover feature keeps getting better and better. Another important signal is location – Twitter is increasingly focused on getting us to geolocate our tweets. A third signal is the actual person tweeting – his or her influence and interest graph. Yet another signal is time – when was the entity tweeted about?

Real time entity extraction crossed with signals like those described above is the Holy Grail – and I’m guessing Twitter is almost, if not already there.

Once you get good at all these things (and more), a number of really interesting possibilities open up. Identifying “big things” that are going on at any given time is something that Twitter already does – though not particularly well (the best window in is the “Trends” box on the left of the page). Regardless, Twitter has become a go-to service for quick updates about news events (Sandy, Newtown, etc), entertainment events (SuperBowl, Oscars, Grammys, etc), and well….pretty much any kind of event.

But so far, it’s not exactly easy to get the big picture of what’s really going on for any given event on Twitter. In fact, it’s rather difficult. You can search for a hashtag, or keywords you think are associated with an event, but no matter what, it’s extremely difficult to makes sense of it all. For a big event like Sandy Hook or the Oscars, there are literally millions of tweets to sift through. And those tweets have millions of pictures, links, and videos. How can you know what’s important?

This is exactly the problem that  media experiences are designed to solve. By combining intelligent algorithms (these tweets are retweeted more than others, this video is linked to more than all the others, etc) and some smart editors, Twitter can (and most likely will) surface instant windows into events as they unfold around the globe. I imagine logging into Twitter at some point in the future and seeing a dashboard not of Trends, but of “Happenings” – Events edited to my interest graph, location, and the like. When I click on on of those events, I enter a meticulously edited media experience – a pulsing, ever changing feast of information tailored around that event.

So, put in one sentance: Twitter’s going to do events soon.

What other media experiences might Twitter create? Well, extending the logic, it only makes sense that Twitter will curate media services, just as LinkedIn and now Facebook are starting to do (I argue that Graph Search is a media play here).

“Just Landed” – from 2009.

As Google has proven, words have a lot of power on the web. They have even more power when put in context at scale. Consider what happened when a data artist asked a simple question: Where are people when then tweet that they “just landed”?

Now, imagine Twitter stands up a service that allows you to see patterns around phrases like “looking for someone to…,” or “just got a job,” or “python developer,” etc. Yep, lurking inside all that Twitter data is a pretty powerful job service. And I’m only using jobs as a straw man (and because it’s a driving force of LinkedIn’s success, of course). When you have humanity whispering into your ear at scale, you can tune in any number of valuable signals. Getting a job is one important signal. But so is getting married, buying a house or a car, graduating, and, and and….well you get the picture. Standing up “media services” around these life milestones is what media companies do. They used to be called magazines. What might Twitter call them? In 2013, we’ll most likely find out.

So far I’ve proposed two new media features of Twitter: Events and Media Services. I’ll round out this post with a prediction around a third: Video. Video is a vastly under-leveraged asset on Twitter, but people are sharing millions of links to video clips every day on the service. I imagine that Twitter will soon offer some kind of video curation feature – giving its base the ability to find the most popular videos based on pivot points of time, interest, and people. Surfacing and creating more video on the Twitter service has got to be a major priority at the company. And let’s not forget that Twitter bought Vine, after all…

After all, everybody loves video. In particular, advertisers love video. After all, Twitter is already working with Neilsen to become the official barometer of television conversations.

Which brings me to the “stick the landing” portion of this particular round up. Twitter is going to make much more media this year, because Twitter is going to make much more money this year. Each of the features I described above – Events, Media Services, and Video – bring with them inherent business models. I don’t expect they’ll look like traditional display models, of course, but I would not be surprised if they strayed a bit from Twitter’s current Promoted Suite products. With new media products come new advertising products. And new revenue.

Time will tell if I got this one right. Meanwhile, what do you think?

55 thoughts on “Portrait of Twitter As A Young Media Company”

  1. Twitter is late and done. They lost the momentum and the vison of millions when they made the decision to obliterate the developer echo system. Now they will never be more than the facade of a dressed up cable television channell. Imitating/Coping existing services that have been used by traditional media companies for years is not innovative. If any thing this is a clear single of ossification. Twitter could have been so much more than a “Young Media Company”

  2. As much as Twitter maintains it’s a technology platform for the valuation benefits, it looks increasingly like a media business to me.

  3. Whispering in your ear at scale is not really about tuning in the important signals but tuning out the noise. At the same time you need to prevent people from yelling in your ear (spam). Only one company has been truly successful with these type of filtering requirements because they understood and attacked them head-on from the beginning. The fact that after 4 years on Twitter I still get 3-5 new “followers” a day named named Christy99x0x0 leads me to believe this problem does not get solved in 2013, but I’m hopeful.

  4. Twitter has already done events. They’ve done “hashtag pages” for NASCAR races, the Euro 2012 tournament, the London Olympics and I think a few other events. The pages are curated by Twitter staff and people from the event itself, and usually feature the best/most important tweets from people involved in the event, reporting on the event, etc.

    Is that the kind of thing you’re talking about, John, or are you thinking something different?

  5. I think Twitter can’t do video correctly—or any topically tagged type of content–unless they start to bump tweets from the discover tab into the home feed. Users want a lean back experience–Home is that. Otherwise, curation-as-a-hash-tag is fundamentally broken for the lean back experience.

    1. I agree the user wants a ‘lean back experience’ if only to be a ‘fly on the wall’ or be active and turn off the TV, or ‘pro active’ in order to pre-plan future incoming events. User’s want ‘actionable insight’ which translate to ‘actionable decisions points’ that let them ‘be’ who they are, (based on interest.) proAM Labs will have our rev on display in a couple weeks, would love your input on our experience that allows this: ‘I enter a meticulously edited media experience – a pulsing, ever changing feast of information tailored around that event.’

  6. Twitter’s success is fastened to user behavior. I consider their platform more valuable than other notables. Sharing pictures (i.e., instagram) elevated their membership value and providing a better video experience will only further solidify their lead position.

  7. Hastags are often event driven. I ‘watched’ one of the Presidential debates using Twitter’s hashtag stream. It was absolutely a form of media. It was meta-entertainment.

    http://www.blindfiveyearold.com/twitter-will-win-the-social-brand-advertising-war

    To me, Twitter is the glue between screens, between TV and the Internet. And to get the most out of that experience, you’d have to be watching it live. That’s mighty important to traditional TV and why Twitter is becoming so cozy with Hollywood.

  8. I mostly agree with efemurl.

    Twitter is too late and too slow. The company is just too ignorant vis-a-vis its users. How come I still don’t have any possibility to see top tweets even if I only log in every few days? The signal-noise ratio is just extreme. Facebook is very good in this and does it since years.

    Even more important for me is that they seem to ignore that there is this long tail that they can do business with (where is the Adwords of Twitter? – Small businesses can still not advertise on Twitter) but instead focus on big brands. They showed ignorance to the developer community and do the same when it comes to users.

  9. @twitter-14600116:disqus I’ve been following your Twitter as a media co analysis and find it smart and insightful. And I do think it’s one of the possible paths for the co. However, media companies depend on audiences. They need to try to anticipate the expectations of their audience and cater to those. Twitter’s value comes from the data it aggregates. It’s healthier path is to focus on the platform for analysing the data and leave curating the analysis and insight to media co’s that are better at the media business.

      1. @johnbattelle:disqus my point precisely. my hope is that they delay the inevitable IPO, which will allow them the flexibility to disregard short term revenue temptations. media revs are attractive.

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  15. Twitter has already done events. They’ve done “hashtag pages” for NASCAR
    races, the Euro 2012 tournament, the London Olympics and I think a few
    other events. The pages are curated by Twitter staff and people from the
    event itself, and usually feature the best/most important tweets from
    people involved in the event, reporting on the event

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