Last week, the blogosphere was on fire with reaction to a report by the Wall Street Journal that Twitter is in talks to buy TweetDeck for $50 Million (registration may be required to read the post). The news came as a bit of a surprise as TweetDeck was reported to have struck a deal with UberMedia to acquire the app for $30 Million back in February.
At the time, there was some confusion about the wisdom of the UberMedia deal. Twitter’s response to the announcement was to block UberMedia’s other recently acquired Twitter apps from accessing Twitter’s API. The move was widely viewed as both an overreaction and heavy-handed. Twitter’s justification was that the UberMedia apps had allegedly violated Twitter’s Terms of Service and many TweetDeck users were afraid that TweetDeck was going to be shut down next.
While TweetDeck was not affected by the blockage, a Twitter acquisition could have huge implications for both Twitter’s and TweetDeck’s users. Twitter, which used to be hailed as an example of innovation, has recently been criticized by many “power-users” for its lack of innovation. In comparison to TweetDeck, or other services such as Hootsuite, twitter.com is embarrassingly low-frills and rarely introduces new features.
Is a Feature also a Product?
In the years immediately following its launch, Twitter was heavily dependent upon its eco-system of third-party developers. In fact, it was these very developers who created some of Twitter’s most popular and innovative features and were largely responsible for Twitter’s explosive growth from 2007-2010.
Yet, starting last year and seemingly culminating in January, Twitter told those same third-party developers to, in effect, go away. The move was seen by many, including myself, as suicidal as Twitter’s future growth will be dramatically impacted by continued innovation, or lack thereof.
Indeed, many industry watchers suspect that Twitter will ultimately kill TweetDeck after an acquisition. Such a drastic move seems highly unlikely (bordering on laughable) as Twitter doesn’t need to spend $50 Million to kill TweetDeck. All it has to do is turn off TweetDeck’s access to the Twitter’s API as was done to UberMedia.
Twitter Needs TweetDeck
No, Twitter needs TweetDeck, if for no other reason than TweetDeck is one of the most innovative Twitter-based services available. Perhaps the biggest question is how Twitter will integrate TweetDeck into the Twitter family of products. Twitter is trying to drive more users to twitter.com, presumably to increase ad revenue, and doesn’t want users using third-party apps anymore. The problem is, according to a study by Sysomos, those apps account for 42% of Twitter’s traffic.
Fortunately for Twitter, TweetDeck introduced support for Twitter’s “Promoted Tweets” in its columns several months ago. According to Richard Barley, TweetDeck’s Community Manager whom I interviewed for both the Addicted to Social Media podcast and for Twitip.com, Promoted Tweets “only appear in search columns where the search terms match a keyword that has been purchased.”
Good to know, but the targeting seems to need work (what State Farm Nation has to do with space shuttle launches, I’ll never know).
So, where is the value in an acquisition? Although there are many reasons for Twitter to buy TweetDeck, I see four primary reasons that an acquisition not only makes tremendous sense for Twitter, but would also be very exciting to users.
- 1. Access to Power Users: Although TweetDeck doesn’t publicize user numbers, it’s estimated that about 5% of Twitter’s users use the service. That may not seem like a lot, but these users tend to be influential marketers, journalists, celebrities and other “power-users” who send a disproportionate number of Tweets and have vast followings. These are people whom Twitter should want to make happy as they would be the most likely customers for potential “Pro” (i.e., paid) services that Twitter could offer in the near future.
- 2. Advanced Features: Twitter’s single column view is severely limited and becomes cluttered when users follow more than a few dozen people (depending on the user). TweetDeck’s multi-column interface is infinitely more efficient and customizable.
- 3. Access to Other Services: As more people use more social networks, management of their various accounts on dispersed services is becoming a real problem. It’s also a huge opportunity. TweetDeck already offers users the ability to publish simultaneous updates to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Foursquare, and Google Buzz. Thus, TweetDeck would give Twitter something that no other social network truly has; access into their sites.
- 4. Ability to Evolve: One of the items restricting Twitter’s evolution is the self-imposed limitation on the 140-character tweet. As I wrote in The End of the 140 Character Tweet and its Repercussions, “many users have felt constrained by that limit… Yet this may be Twitter’s big opportunity to break free of that albatross.” If Twitter is to survive, it will need to evolve and removing that restriction would be liberating to many users.
Whatever happens, it will certainly be interesting to see how this plays out. What do you think? Please leave a comment and let me know.
Neal Wiser is Vice President of Digital Strategy and Operations at The ODM Group where he leads teams in the creation and execution of digital marketing campaigns. You can follow Neal on Twitter (his handle is @NealWiser). Neal is also the Cofounder and Co-host of the Addicted to Social Media podcast.