Why Twitter is so important for the future of the Web


While working on a project, I visited a website to check out a product. Since then, I've been seeing their ads all over Facebook and various other sites via Google Ads. Can't run away anymore - it's becoming obvious the power of these two online giants is growing by the day, which leaves the decision about what you will see on the Internet in the hands of only a few. This is something that's very alarming; the Web is becoming too monopolized, and this trend needs to be turned around.

Today it seems Google and Facebook own the Internet. If you check out the list of the biggest (English) web companies in the world, we can see that they are way ahead of others in size and market capitalization (on May 2nd, 2014), and respectively, their power. (I haven't counted Amazon and eBay, since they are e-commerce, and not pure "Web" companies). Surely there have been similar cases of technology monopolies in the past as well, but with the Web, it's a bit more important. Whoever controls what information is being broadcast, controls everything.

Value ($b)Revenue ($b)Users (m)NetworkSource
Google356501000+YouTube, ... revenue, users
Facebook1557.81230Instagram, WhatsApprevenue, users
Yahoo384.7800Tumblr, Flickrrevenue, users
Twitter220.6250Vinerevenue, users
Linkedin17.82300SlideShare, Pulserevenue, users

Chris Dixon wrote a great blogpost about how the mobile ecosystem is becoming too closed (apps over web), which will hurt innovation and progress in the long run. Something similar is happening with the Web as well, where only a few players get to decide what content we will consume. Google, with its presence across multiple channels (search, Android, maps, mail), and Facebook, with its ever-expanding suite of services and apps (Instagram, WhatsApp), trying to reach into every pore of our private lives.

That is why we desperately need alternatives. Reddit, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Yahoo come into mind, but they all share a common problem. They are not real platforms. Reddit is great for content discovery, but it hasn't really evolved beyond the original service. LinkedIn is very strong, but it represents a static (connections), rather than dynamic (interactions) ecosystem, which makes it hard to become a distributed platform. Pinterest's only logical evolution seems to be towards e-commerce, probably competing against Amazon and eBay in the long run. While Yahoo seems to be headed in the right direction, but can't seem to be able to find synergies between its services (Yahoo.com, Tumblr, Flickr).

Platforms are important, since platforms are those who rule specific sets of technologies. That is why these four probably won't have that much of a saying about the Web of tomorrow. But there is another one who can perhaps provide an alternative - my darling Twitter.

Not that Twitter is perfect - they've actually been quite bad. In my opinion, they've made a huge mistake by closing down their ecosystem, instead, they should become the ultimate platform for content exchange. Not showing Instagram photos inside their stream probably hurts them more than it hurts Instagram. But they have always been the cool kid, very important for humanity. They have also offered a complete view of the results, unlike those filtered by PageRank and EdgeRank algorithms.

Twitter's growth is stopping, which is bad. Some are already declaring it irrelevant, while others (as well as the stock exchange - its value is way too high for the revenues) believe in its bright future. I believe Twitter still has a chance to become a real player, big enough to matter in the long run. By expanding its portfolio of services (Vine, Gnip), by moving its experience more towards Facebook (I can't believe I'm saying this...), by finally admitting what it was meant to be all along: a public content-oriented social network (=perfect for anyone's public online identity).

Twitter also has the opportunity to directly compete with both Google's and Facebook's core services. The social networking component can offer an alternative to Facebook, while its search function can offer some sort of a substitute to Google search. That is why it has to work. No one else really has a chance.

The Internet desperately needs as many players as possible who will be able to stand against Google and Facebook in the years to come, for the sake of objective information. Twitter currently seems to be the best bet to provide this alternative, since they are the ones who have managed to evolve beyond its core service the most, and it seems they are distinct and innovative enough to matter. Otherwise, there's a chance that in the long run, 90% of the content we consume will be suggested by Google and Facebook.

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written 5.5.2014 7:53 CET on chronolog
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