At the risk of making a complete idiot of myself, I’m running this as an idea I’m throwing out. First up, I’m not a geek, I’m not even a very good hacker. But I do understand something about business and business process.
Earlier today, the blogs went nuts debating whether Twitter has a viable business model. Alan Stern at CenterNetworks kicked off the discussion with Is Twitter F*ed? Quick as a flash, the blog heavyweights piled in with both Dave Winer and Fred Wilson opnining on the topic and offering suggestions as to how Twitter might accomplish the building of a solid business.
I lobbed a Tweet out that more or less said: Twitter is a feature, a gr8 feature but as such it should be built to scale and then flipped. This would be very much in the tradition of Skype. But, I argued, ignoring the building of a business where there is money involved is highly risky, leading as it does to models more aligned to consumer advertising which most folk I know hate.
Fred Wilson came back, vehemently disagreeing but graciously engaging with me on this concluding that:
“…think of twitter as a very lighweight, flexible, controllable version of facebook for power users”
I’m not sure I want to go there either. At least partly. While I thought Facebook had the potential to be a metaphor for portal replacement, it has become a junk yard for largely useless applications. I’m pretty much out of there these days. Twitter though has caught my attention.
And in one sense Fred is right. Our very own Craig Cmehil built eventtrack as a lightweight method of following conversations occurring at or around specific events. It arose out of a casual Twitter conversation between a handful of us but has proven sufficiently popular to be featured on WebWorker Daily. Congratulations to Craig.
My point is this: Twitter is currently free. But as we all know, developers need to get paid to put food on the table and hopefully profit from their labors. At present, Twitter is going down the community building route in the hope it will find a business model. For those of us in enterprise land, that has about as much chance of flying in the CXOs office as the proposition of installing chocolate teapots next to the coffee machine. Yet in this community alone there are around 1 million registered users. At BPX there’s another 230K. Over at Oracle, they reckon on having some 5 million + DBAs. Call me stupid but that’s a market.
Given that Twitter has spawned a wealth of applications and clients – a lot of which are useful – would you be prepared to pay for it? Is there enough utility to think about Twitter as an ad hoc comms service platform for problem solving in the context of say – customer service or supply chain applications? Could it (as it has with me) pretty much eliminate the drudge of email?
Some SDN’ers are active on Twitter and I am finding that as more people read say Craig’s Tweets, they discover me and ‘follow’ what I have to say. I in turn return the compliment. There have been some incredible conversations. Everything from helping folk find a hotel in cities I know to feedback on new video services to pointers about a book being written on ABAP and notifications about new stuff appearing on SDN. Many of the topics are of no interest to me but Twitter is not intrusive. It’s an ambient form of passive communication I can dive into as I feel the need.
Imagine this in the context of an enterprise. How many times have you wanted to call for emergency helpbecause a lump of code is baffling or a service proving troublesome? OK – so the SDN forums provide an incredible response mechanism but think wider. Think about those millions of users out there that think forums are for geeks but want swift answers or wish to share important information and news. What sort of development do you think could be undertaken that would add business value?
When I cajoled Craig into building eventtrack, it was as a response to a problem I had. How do I maintain contact with people around events that I may not be able to attend? How might I maintain contact at very large events where my colleagues might be dispersed?
It is that kind of question that brings solutions business people like me want on our dekstops, laptops and mobile devices. We value these solutions because they meet our needs.
Given all that – does Twitter’s potential warrant some sort of service or license fee? The fact Twitterific is already charging while Twitter doesn’t make a dime would suggest an emphatic yes. But it is people like you who will be the arbiters.