Post from Mashable authored by Tom Anderson
Tom Anderson is the founder and former president of MySpace. MySpace sold in 2005, and Anderson left the company in early 2009. You can find him on Google+, Twitter or Facebook.
Sometimes when you follow a trend, you fall flat on your face.
Early adopters of Google+ have declared that Twitter is now “obsolete” and that they are “bored” using Twitter. Most suggestions for improvement are a list of Google+ features that Twitter doesn’t have.
Yet, even while Twitter’s own CEO, Dick Costolo, has maintained that Twitter will remain simple, the company’s founder and executive chairman Jack Dorsey recently let go four key product people from Twitter, indicating some kind of change is in the works. So what’s @Jack to do? What does the future of Twitter look like?
Taking Measured Risks
Facebook is actually instructive on this front. One of the things that founder Mark Zuckerberg and crew have done exceptionally well is to know what and what not to incorporate from competitors. They’ve evolved their vision, but instead of jumping on every trend, they’ve found ways to expand by incorporating the best innovations of their competitors into a holistic vision that’s kept Facebook growing.
When Facebook had 12 million uniques thanks to nearly every college user in America using the service and MySpace had 80 million uniques (what seemed like “everyone else” at the time), it was a bold move to open up the site to the outside world. In hindsight, it may have seemed risk-free, but it could have killed the entire feel of Facebook. They moved slowly, adding companies, high school students and eventually went fully public. It wasn’t a given that this wouldn’t destroy the closed, private and wonderful service Zuckerberg had created for college students.
When Twitter became a significant force, Facebook tried to acquire the youngish company. A deal was never reached and Facebook ended up up incorporating the status update into the newsfeed — which really made the newsfeed more interesting than it ever would have been otherwise. Again, a great move that fit in with the evolving vision of Facebook as a “sharing platform” (before that, Zuckerberg used to talk more about “efficient communication“).
But it’s also instructive to look at the things Facebook did not do. To compete with MySpace, lots of people thought Facebook should offer some level of profile customization (definitely controversial), but even more thought they should launch a music service. Facebook toyed with the idea by briefly allowing users to put some apps on their profile pages, and they gave priority status to iLike, a music service that let you create playlists. I’d heard rumors at the time that Facebook had actually built a full customization platform for profiles that they never launched. Just this month, Facebook decided to allow users to put images and videos into comments (something that probably would have been too MySpace-y back in the day). Facebook knew when to add feature at the right time. And that music service? Well, it may still be coming.
What This Means for Twitter
So what does this teach us? It’s difficult to extract a lesson or set of rules from these examples. It’s hard to know how to evolve your service, and it’s hard to say what Twitter should do to continue its growth trajectory. I think the answer lies in trying to step back and understand what’s the real value you provide to your users. How can your service evolve to realize that mission without following every trend that rules the day?
In Twitter’s case, is the 140 character constraint really a benefit or is it a leftover relic of the text-message infrastructure that smart phones have replaced? As pundits and users, we can all make our demands about what we want from Twitter, but that probably only tells us about our own personal biases. Twitter will undoubtedly do better to analyze its own data to understand its own user behavior.
Then they can look at those numbers in the context of competitors’ numbers that are public. Who’s driving more engagement, where and how?
You might say, you and I don’t know jack about Twitter. Only @Jack knows jack about Twitter.
Depending on what he learns, he’ll make the tough decision of what to change and what to keep the same. Maybe he’ll test, iterate, analyze and revise. He’s already decided he needs a new product staff, so change seems to be coming.
No answers here, but hopefully they’re the right questions.
Editor’s note: This post was adapted from a post originally published on Google+.
- What Twitter Can Learn From Facebook [OPINION] (mashable.com)
- Zuckerberg named as most powerful person in UK media (digitaltrends.com)
- Facebook: Next MySpace? (foxnews.com)
- Facebook’s Video Chat: Not Really Too Awesome (techattitude.com)
- 4 Morals from MySpace’s Fall (blogs.forbes.com)
- Could What Happened to MySpace Happen to Facebook? (techland.time.com)