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May 26, 2011

Twitter + Tweetdeck = Another splinter in the splinternet

by Josh Bernoff

Tweetdeck screen shot Twitter announced it was buying TweetDeck. TweetDeck is popular, sophisticated client software that makes it far easier to see tweetstreams and searches on your PC, as well as on other devices like the iPad. While the price was not announced, people like TechCrunch are quoting insiders who say the price was at least $40 million.

Ad Age suggests the deal was done to allow Twitter to "Keep control of its own users." This is true: Twitter has already built or acquired popular client software for iPhone, Android, and Blackberry, and other platforms. A rising Twitter developer, UberMedia, was threatening to buy Tweetdeck. Twitter has an open set of APIs, which has allowed a vibrant community of third-party applications to spring up, but also means that the Twitter experience (including how ads are displayed) is not the same for everyone. Now, I expect Twitter to start to offer a common experience on all these devices, combining the best features of the clients it has acquired.

But what does this mean for marketers? Our research shows that about 10% of the influence people have on each other around products and services within social networks takes place in Twitter -- where is this important platform going?

While my former colleague Augie Ray has suggested Twitter will keep a level playing field, my experience tells me otherwise. Twitter will develop new features in its API, especially for delivering appropriate advertising experiences. Those features will deploy first and best in the client software it owns. Marketers dealing with Twitter will get promises about where the experience is going, and Twitter will execute on those promises within its client software. The rest of the Twitter ecosystem has been very useful to Twitter to help it get to this point, but now they will have to play catch-up.

Twitter, which has been a very open system, will increasingly become one where the important interactions are controlled by the company. Just like Facebook. Marketers will have to live within these rules.

This is yet another step in a trend we call the Splinternet. The open, standards-based Web experience that we've embraced for the last 15 years is becoming a set of platforms that people love, but that are controlled by companies (like Apple, Facebook, and now Twitter). While these platforms are exciting, do not be naive: companies control them and will set the rules on how marketers can use them to connect. They'll change those rules as they see fit, which will make your life as a marketer far more challenging. This is the Splinternet era; you'd better get used to it.


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Augie Ray

I've always thought the Splinternet concept you and Shar published was right on the mark, and this fits it well. I enjoyed our Twitter debate, but as expected we ended up closer together than apart.

I agree Twitter will become a BIT more closed, but I see them staying more open than not. Twitter recently shut down some Twitter ad networks, and that is the area in which they need complete control; but crowding out other clients is not in Twitter's best interest. Keeping the most eyes on the most content is.

At last year's Chirp, the Twitter developer conference, the company put their developer network on notice that merely deploying Twitter clients was a dangerous road. In advance of Chirp, Twitter had already made some key mobile acquisitions of Twitter clients, and the developer network was uneasy. It was interesting to see how Dick, Ev and Biz won the crowd back over in a day, because the message was simple:

- We need our developer network to succeed;

- We'll support our developer network;

- But we also need to control the basic user experience;

- So get out there and get creative, because the world doesn't need 100 functionally identical but visually different Twitter clients...

- ...It needs more unique ways to use, view and deploy tweets.

I believe Dick and Co. will keep the network far more open than closed, but time will tell!

P.S. I still kick myself periodically when I find passive language in my writing!

Brooks Grigson

If your line of thinking is correct then Twitter will need to make a play for a service to capture the full landscape of posting tools. I personally use Tweetdeck but it is risky to have multiple accounts ie: Chrysler or Secret Service. Services like Tap11, Radian6 and CoTweet have already been snapped up. I suspect more big companies and agencies are going to move away from a 'client' and move to a service model that can meet their needs. If there is fear about changes Twitter may do to the API it will come from impacts to those services, at least for the big companies.

Jeffrey Rothstein

I think more important is the fact that some (if not most, depending on vertical) of the important influencers on twitter use tweetdeck. In Finance/Econ/Business that is almost certainly the case. Unfortunately, this group is also among the most savy (they're using tweetdeck instead of the horrendous twitter website, after all), and thus least-likely to click on ads. That is not to say they won't look at/read them, but advertisers who think influencers on tweetdeck are going to share their (usually annoying/irrelevant/etc) ads with their following are fooling themselves.

Dave Culbertson

"The open, standards-based Web experience that we've embraced for the last 15 years is becoming a set of platforms that people love, but that are controlled by companies (like Apple, Facebook, and now Twitter)."

This is exactly why brands should stop promoting their Twitter profiles and Facebook pages instead of the domain name. Twitter, Apple, and Facebook aren't simply platforms - they're brands with their own agenda and technical standards. Why other brands pass their brand "juice" to these closed platforms baffles me.

Rosemary ONeill

The web experience we've had for the last 15 years was not a homogeneous dreamland...in fact, sites (run by companies) have been assaulting us with a random array of standards--flash, iFrames, popups, coding for a certain browser, etc., forever. The emergence of "platforms" is just another progression in the web experiment.

Josh Bernoff

@Dave: Brands go where the people are. People use Facebook and Twitter, the brands will go there -- even if these worlds are controlled by the people who own the platform.

Dave Culbertson

@Josh, I worked at AOL and have a different perspective. AOL, a platform like Facebook and iTunes (via AppleTV, Ipad, etc.) are ultimately about controlling distribution. Companies such as Travelocity ended up paying millions of $$ to AOL to be "where the people are" before they figured out that they could use the web to by-pass the AOL platform and go directly where the *most* people are. Many brands jumping on the Facebook/Apple wagon will eventually realize this again and refocus on their websites. Do brands want to drive their own cars on the information highway or be stuck in the back of someone else's bus?


You may be right about Twitter's intentions for TweetDeck, but any resulting splintering will be short-lived. There are dozens of products similar to TweetDeck out there; and if Twitter plays favorites with TD, these will quickly take over the space TD vacated.

But it's hard to see Twitter doing this. TweetDeck is a 2-way street; in addition to pushing tweets to other social media, it also manages participation on these other social sites, greatly simplifying a company's (or individual's) online social marketing chores. Leaving this open will be more beneficial to Twitter.

Sid Vel

"Many brands jumping on the Facebook/Apple wagon will eventually realize this again and refocus on their websites." -- That's going to happen. Not today or tomorrow, but in a couple of years' time.

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