43 : Twitter and the Micro-Messaging Revolution
The Future of
Already it’s clear that micro-messaging is moving in
several directions. While Twitter is becoming a platform
for broad communication and personal updates alike,
services such as Yammer and Present.ly have cropped
up to meet corporate needs for internal communication.
Beyond those trends, several compelling patterns and
questions are beginning to emerge.
Perhaps the top issue in micro-messaging is that
power in the channel is still up for grabs. Put another
way, it’s not yet clear who will be able to make money
on the phenomenon. While Twitter has grabbed a huge
percentage of early adopters, it has yet to establish any
signiﬁcant revenue streams. Of course, Twitter beneﬁts
from network eﬀects—i.e., it gets more useful as more
people join it—giving it a little time to ﬁgure out
viable business models (see the box on page 45 about
challenges for the company). But in the past, online
companies such as CompuServe, Prodigy, AOL, and
even MySpace have lost dominance after gaining similar
substantial early-mover advantages.
Moreover, alternate models don’t all rely on wide-
spread adoption. The enterprise providers, for instance
(none of which is built on the Twitter API), report that
customers with as few as ﬁve employees ﬁnd micro-
messaging useful for internal communication. Assuming
companies are or become willing to pay for such systems,
these providers could exist in parallel with Twitter, pulling
in revenue that Twitter is not attempting to capture.
Similarly, micro-branded communities may arise
outside Twitter. Although Twitter has said it plans to
introduce groups, it does not yet have a feature that
lets people associate by aﬃnity. That is, there’s no
straightforward way for Yankees fans, or residents of
Portland, or vegetable gardeners to ﬁnd and communi-
cate exclusively with each other on Twitter. In theory, the
open-source micro-messaging system Laconi.ca
lets people and companies build such communities,
either as stand-alone sites or integrated into other sites.
In practice, we have yet to see this occur on any scale.
It’s worth noting, though, that blogging software, now
common both on its own and within existing sites, took
several years to become a commodity service, and micro-
messaging will likely need more time to evolve, too.
Application clients are another interesting facet of
the micro-messaging ecosystem. As shown in the chart
below, most users reach Twitter through its own website.
But the Twitter API lets people build standalone clients,
and several have drawn signiﬁcant numbers of users.
We’ve debated whether micro-messaging clients will
oﬀer revenue opportunities (like some browsers, email
clients, and IM programs) or whether they’ll simply exist
as part of the online stack, delivering content that’s
monetized in other ways (like RSS readers and, well,
some browsers, email clients, and IM programs).
The jury is still out on the ﬁnancial value of micro-
messaging clients, but there’s evidence that people
see opportunity in them. Twhirl aggregates data from
This chart represents client use among all users. We also examined the
clients favored by the top users (as deﬁned by Twitterholic) and found that
the Web accounted for slightly over 50% of messages posted by this group.
Third-party clients favored by the top users include Twitterfeed, Tweetdeck,
Twhirl, and Twitteriﬁc.
14. Louis Gray comments on the hope of Twitter’s at least building a gate to its garden: