Monday, February 2, 2009

Search Insider: Twitter's Choices: Sell To Google Or Go It Alone

Twitter's Choices: Sell To Google Or Go It Alone

MY FRIEND MELISSA FORWARDED ME the TechCrunch note about Twitter's new funding round, along with the observation that "a business model helps."

I replied simply: "Google will buy them." I'll back up my declaration here, and amend it slightly: either Google will buy them, or they will unseat Google.

First of all, Twitter was smart to rebuff Facebook's offer, and Facebook should consider itself lucky that Twitter said no. If you've got no business model, you don't diversify by buying another company with no business model.

Second, it seems that Twitter's got one glaring option of a business model: leave the core business untouched, and add text advertising to its search function.

(If you haven't been there already, please visit now to get a better idea of where I'm going with this.)

My proposed business model may be boring (been there, done that), but it fits with Twitter's personality. Don't interrupt the conversation with sponsored tweets; supply people with relevant information when they're seeking it.

When it comes to current topics, trends, buzz, and general conversation, Twitter is unmatchable. Add to that the fact that a significant percentage of tweets carry links to further information, and what you have is a phenomenon that is digging into the hard earth under the Googleplex.

What do I mean by this? Last April in this column, I described what would have to happen in order for people to change their hard-core Google habit. At the risk of seeming cocky, I'll quote myself:


...those companies looking to compete have to take a different approach: the we're-not-a-search-engine approach. This is the approach demanded of disruptive technologies since the beginning of time. Don't offer a faster horse, build a car.


The road to success requires would-be Google-killers to solve a problem that Google doesn't solve, to create a new habit under a new circumstance, where it can flourish free from the inexorable pull of ingrained attitudes.


Twitter is in no way competing with Google, but what it is doing is forming a new paradigm, one that is allowing habits to develop unhindered. In the process, it's becoming for many of those users the first source of information, and transforming the way we think about access to information. And, given that Twitter has the potential to supply the car to replace the horse, Google has only one option: buy them.

Kara Swisher -- without a doubt one of the brightest minds commenting on the Internet today -- suggests that Twitter should jump at Facebook's offer -- but only as a preemptive move to purchase by Google. Om Malik says they shouldn't sell at all. It's obvious that we all see Twitter in that rarefied realm of the online elite, despite its relative small size and heretofore lack of revenue.

To be honest, there's a part of me that hopes Twitter does swing for the fences, win or lose. There is true nobility in the willingness to commit to your wildest dreams. But, despite Om's observation that Ev Williams doesn't need to cash out right now, I reckon Ev might reconsider if Google came up with a figure in the right range: say, nine or 10 figures.

No matter what happens, this is an exciting time for search. We've had a single dominant paradigm for 10  years, and we're on the cusp of a revolution. Stay tuned, and let me know where you think it's going in the comments.

Kaila Colbin blogs for VortexDNA, whose technology can improve relevance for search engines, ecommerce sites, or any other recommendation service.

Search Insider for Sunday, February 1, 2009:

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