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Friday, August 7, 2009

Twitter = Ma Bell?

Everyone is talking about twitter.

Probably because everyone is using it, for personal and business purposes. As a way to keep in touch. As a marketing vehicle. As the entire service operation.

Even though twitter has been around since 2006, it is the odds-on favorite to be “the big idea” of 2009.

It is still in its infancy as a business model, but how will twitter do as a public utility?

Utilities have a unique service model. As network-based businesses, they have to manage capacity surges. twitter has already experienced this, and has the outage history to prove it.

They require layers of redundancy built into their operations to resist failure, as twitter found out this week when a DDOS attack brought the site down for several hours.

They need service operability in times of crisis, to the point where they can be considered critical services. twitter has already seen this with the Iranian election, which kept them operating by Presidential decree to help Iranians deprived of any other media outlet beyond planned system outages.

Twitter is developing very strong social bonds with users, primarily through the network value of its other users.

Utilities, though, are often taken for granted once they mature. Will this happen as companies and individuals view twitter as an indispensable part of their lives / business models / marketing plans?

Will customers start to define value in more economic terms, with service features such as “up-time” seen more and more as table stakes than differentiator? Will expectations increase and tolerance for inadequate service levels, quite high today, decrease with ever more demanding customers. Will we complain about twitter the way we do today about the power company, the cable company, the gas company and the water utility?

Twitter will have to survive a lot of challenges to get to face these problems, but I have to wonder if we will someday look at this novel service for interpersonal and business connectivity as an indispensable utility, with the same service expectations we have come to expect from our mobile service provider.


Mike Brown said...

If Twitter screws up, make sure you don't pay your Twitter bill that month. That will show them!

It is an interesting phenomenon about the expectations we place on something no one explicitly pays for. Right now, I'm not sure it even reaches the level of inconvenience when Twitter is down (in some respects, it feels like a relief).

Chris Reaburn said...

I agree that expectations are pretty low right now, but as Twitter is activated more & more as a marketing (or even service operations) vehicle, I have to think expectations will rise beyond what they are today.

When Twitter comes back up from some downtime, the first few hours I get tweets from the corporate sites apologizing for being absent from their following. How long will companies like Starbucks, In & Out, Microsoft want to apologize to followers for service interruptions that they are not responsible for?

What if you're "stocktwits.com", and your business model depends on Twitter up-time?

I don't know that Twitter could sustain a pay model just yet - too many alternatives. Perhaps they could develop a parallel system that allows power users (i.e. paying corporate customers) to stay active and have their tweets read, even the rest of the site is down.

Then again, given a chance to cut through the personal clutter, you might see corporations with a marketing agenda pushing for downtime to capture more of the audience's attention.

Think back to the early days of television. How much would someone have paid, (knowing what they do now) to sponsor the Indian Head Test Pattern in the 40's?