The thirty-eighth tweet -- "Oh this is going to be addictive" -- by author Dom Sagolla, couldn't have been a better prediction of what Twitter would end up becoming: an unstoppable force; a bridge for cultural understanding; and a window into the exciting future of innovation. 20 billion tweets later (with one the world's biggest search engines and an ever-expanding language), it remains one of technology's brightest stars.
TweetSmarter, a non-stop, 24-hour feed with news about all things Twitter, has been around for all of the moments that have defined and shaped the identity of the site. Its influence is driven not by its high number of followers, or its impressive number of awards. People are excited about TweetSmarter because of its great content, and its willingness to share, assist, and empower. Its not just a news site, but in fact, a role model for how to be successful in social media.
I'm reminded of a recent article in the New York Times. It spoke to the feeling of global unity as well as the "opportunity for self-expression" that many Twitter users feel. Its about the freedom to post your thoughts, exchange ideas, and, when disaster strikes (like in Haiti and Chile), its about the belief that what you tweet can truly move the world forward in a positive way. And let it be known: TweetSmarter has played a powerful role in making this a reality.
Dave Larson, TweetSmarter's visionary co-founder, granted me an exclusive interview. He tries to make sense of the some changes Twitter has made recently, and gives us a glimpse into what the future holds for his award-winning feed.
You are about to begin your fourth year on Twitter as one of its most retweeted and respected accounts. Did you ever expect to have this type of success?
Our plan was to help as many Twitter users as we could. In our non-Twitter life, we are working to set up free web services that help people help one another, and Twitter is an extension of that. Since everything we do is aimed at finding ways to help people, we figured we would eventually reach a lot of Twitter users. But we never expected to be one of the most retweeted accounts of all time! In fact, when TweetLevel -- a tool rating users by influence -- was released, it listed us as the third most influential user in the world! It's been pretty amazing. But last year, when we had the the first tweet retweeted over 20,000 times, we knew were on to something.
What are your thoughts on Twitter's blueprint for profitability?
In marketing there is a well-known phenomenon that things that work today won't work as well tomorrow. Non-video banner ads did great initially on the internet but are now one of the worst-performing forms of advertising on earth. Everything Twitter tries is going to be subject to this challenge: just because it works well at first, doesn't mean it will keep doing so. So it will be an ongoing battle for them.
That said, I think it's only very, very recently that they've begun to think properly about their opportunities, and they probably have COO Dick Costolo to thank for that. Twitter provides an enormous field of action for businesses and marketers, yet Twitter the company has done next to nothing to help them... yet. Hashtag games that users write their own response to such as "You know you're a #Twitaddict when..." I think are the greatest development in online gaming and user interaction ever, and yet Twitter hasn't touched it. They could at least have a separate trending topics site for the #hashtag games. They could be talking to a gaming company to take advantage of that incredible opportunity.
They could be investing in 10-20 of these great tools that have built up around Twitter like Chirrps.com. They could spread tiny bits of money around to help water these great creative services. It's unbelievable when you see inexpensive little services disappear because there is no one to support them, and yet Twitter users love them! Everyone knows that Twitter the service is perceived more through third-party apps. Twitter has almost become the ISP for status updates, and what users are actually "buying" are the third party services. So Twitter could make more of an effort to be involved in helping users get the experience they want.
What about Twitter's efforts to improve service?
Twitter is caught in a deadly catch-22: They need to shift some things to new infrastructure, they know it, but it's extremely risky and time-consuming to do so. In fact, they announced recently that despite a huge investment of time and money, they were putting off a planned migration of tweet storage from MySQL to Cassandra -- a more efficient database for their needs also used by Facebook -- indefinitely. It's a "the devil you know is better than the devil you don't" kind of decision.
They have for years now been in the position of having jumped off the cliff and trying to build wings on the way down to keep their service working and responding to user needs. And each time they add a new improvement, the traffic leaps ahead and dwarfs their accomplishment with new problems.
But after this year's World Cup, Twitter can be said to have seen every situation they will ever face in the future. They have every kind of real world experience they need under their belt now, and so there should be fewer surprises for them. Nevertheless, the fact there are so many not-fully-resolved issues still outstanding, and so many changes still in the works, I think Twitter is going to still be a bit unreliable for some time to come.
Last year, Twitter co-founder, Biz Stone, started referring to Twitter as an information network instead of a microblogging service. What do you believe is behind this change?
He's just acknowledging reality. The largest, most significant use of Twitter is well described by calling it an "information network."
What are your long-term plans? I asked this because the dynamic nature of your feed presents so many opportunities.
We're here to help. We've only recently started our Tweetsmarter blog, which we are using to expand the information we share on Twitter. We also like connecting people in the Twitter community together, and supporting useful Twitter projects. We expect to be able to increase our usefulness to the community by supporting more projects in the future.
How would you describe your feed in 140 characters?
Whether you need tips & tools, the latest Twitter news or tech support, we're here to help anyone & everyone get the most out of Twitter.
To stay up on the latest Twitter news, and the tips and tools to simplify your tweeting experience, check out the TweetSmarter Twitter feed.
Author's Note: In case you missed it, here's Part 9 of the series: Twitter's earthXplorer: Simply Amazing.