Twitter: the Next Five Years

Flick picture by Melanie Cook

Last weekend, I was interviewed for an article that was published on Monday in Montreal’s La Presse, one of the major Canadian daily newspapers. In the context of Twitter’s five-year anniversary, Alain McKenna asked me to gaze in my crystal ball and to play the prediction game for Twitter’s next five years. Alain published a few of my suggestions in the article but I thought the complete answer would make an interesting blog post.

So, without further ado, here are my Twitter predictions for the next five years:

The company:

  • With their $360 million in VC money, we can expect the number of employees at Twitter to continue growing quickly especially at the San Francisco headquarter. I also expect the company to open international offices especially in countries where the service is popular. Already, they’ve inaugurated a London office reflecting the high Twitter usage in the United Kingdom.
  • Twitter will continue to reinforce its technical infrastructure and we will probably see the extinction of the infamous “fail whale”.
  • Twitter’s usage will continue to grow in its own North American backyard but, in the next two years, Europe will see tremendous growth. I predict France, Italy and Spain to furiously embrace it. This will follow Facebook’s European usage pattern, with a two-year adoption lag.
  • With more and more people joining the service, Twitter will discover that its real utility is at the local level. Twitter will become the often-wished for democratic and commercial local space we’ve been expecting since the beginning of the Web. Citizens/consumers, merchants, politicians, and news sources/journalists becoming an intrinsic part of the same communication and relational system.
  • The company will definitely have its initial public offering (IPO) in the next five years and if you twist my arm, I’ll predict 2012 or 2013. Twitter’s co-founders have had entrepreneurial successes in the past and want to leave a long-lasting trace instead of doing a quick sell-out. They’ve probably already received offers for an insane amount of money.

Functionalities:

  • The major product challenges for Twitter are 1) enabling users to increase their individual reach within the service; 2) increase the quantity of conversations; 3) create mechanisms to discover new relevant accounts to follow; 4) develop robust filters to surface relevant content under two dimensions: topics/interests (for example, who are the ornithology experts on Twitter?) and local (what’s going on in my region, my city, my neighborhood?).
  • I expect Twitter to quickly adopt two winning functionalities from Facebook that are fast becoming standards in social networking: attaching and maybe threading all comments on an individual tweet and the ability to “like” a message. These functions will allow for a better social signal to discover important messages and increase the level of conversation (today, we see a lot of unidirectional message broadcasts).
  • Without neglecting the Web, I expect that mobile will the main way people will access Twitter in the future.

Business model:

  • Within five years, Twitter will have discovered its winning business model. I don’t think it will be one of the models currently in trial (like sponsored tweets). I think we will see the arrival of paid professional accounts for users who have thousands of followers. These paid accounts will provide additional exposure in the network, integrated promotional tools, extensive reporting and a guarantee of superior service. In addition, Twitter will build psychographic profiles for users and identify influencers. Consumers will be courted by big brands and local merchants based on their interests, lifestyle and influence. Twitter will sell privileged access to this information to enable better targeting. For example, movie buffs will receive invitations to see movie premieres. Cola drinkers will receive a case of that newly launched soft drink. Foodies will receive a rebate to try their new local bistro or revisit one they haven’t been to in a while. We could eventually see the arrival of new financial model systematizing word-of-mouth by rewarding consumers who talk positively OR negatively about brands or local merchants.

There you have it. I hope my crystal ball wasn’t too muddy. Here’s to many more exciting years! Happy 5th anniversary Twitter!

4 thoughts on “Twitter: the Next Five Years

  1. Thank you, very good article

    Fully agree with your views on a quick Twitter catchup to come from latin countries (in and outside of Europe)-> a few twists to produce to help this, such as translation of the Twitter jargon (and meaning of its acronyms), LinkedIn did itn hey are now recording a huge increase, more than 2 millions users in France (published 2 weeks ago).

    Regarding mechanisms to identify new follows of interest, it would be great to have access to solution coming from the learnings of the tweets content (not only the individual profile) -> discussions and interactions tend to be more valuable over time, than members trackrecord (this is more relevant for LinkedIn, that tends to move to a role of database by the way, we see LinkedIn groups fading down over time, esp. since the arrival of Twitter);

  2. I must say you were pretty spot on for almost all of your predictions, except maybe the last one. You got the essence of the real value (psychographic/interest targeting) but the model is more classic than what you had envisioned (it also scales better that way).

    But hey, there’s still another 30 months for it to become true…

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