I have written extensively about Twitter in the past. I still find that many people don’t understand the basics. If you consider yourself a newbie, please check out a group of posts that I’ve done in the past that might make you feel more comfortable with what is unique about Twitter.
LA? Seattle? Chicago?
Before elaborating I’d like to make one small side-note to say that if you want to talk in person about “Strategic Twitter” I will helping to host an event on November 10th in Los Angeles called “teatime” what will feature Ryan Sarver (Twitter’s head of platform) and Jason Costa (works on developer relations) that was organized by my good friend & colleague Adam Lilling (what? you’re not following him? go on, I’ll wait …) and sponsored by Nitu Gulati Pauly (who is VP at the best tech-focused recruiting firm in LA).
The sign up page for the event is here & there is limited availability. It is intended for product & tech people – mostly people who want to build cool stuff on the Twitter platform and it will showcase some really cool stuff that has been built on Twitter. It’s at the Zanuck Theater (Fox Studios) and will be a great event to learn about the direction of the Twitter platform and how people are using it.
I’ll be there the whole night hanging out and trying to meet with cool companies planning to do interesting stuff with the Twitter API.
Ok, back to your regularly scheduled programming.
Here’s three important things to know about Twitter’s future that are more nuanced than “what am I eating for lunch?”
Who are you on the web? Historically you are your email address. You meet somebody and they want to get in touch with you, you have always given out email@example.com. That’s one form of identity. But for many public figures that’s not practical. Think about your local news anchor saying, “if you want to get in touch email me at xxxx.” Sure.
And yet Facebook also hasn’t filled the identity space. The reason it didn’t was that the follower model of Facebook started out as symmetrical, which basically means that if somebody friends you, you needed to friend them back. So again your local news anchor doesn’t exactly want to follow back all of her viewers. Not practical. Let alone for Oprah Winfrey.
One of the biggest innovations of Twitter was asymmetrical follower model in which many people can follow your updates and you don’t have to follow theirs. I wrote about this a couple of years ago here.
So it is now very common for news organizations to announce on the air, “to follow my updates please follow me on Twitter at @myname. Twitter has become one of our major online identities and that is becoming mainstream in ways that people aren’t really talking about. Nearly every day now I see public figures telling people their Twitter identity in stead of Facebook, email or other forms of identity.
But this really went mainstream with Apple’s iOS5 integration. This is A REALLY BIG DEAL. Why?
Well think of it this way. It’s almost like the web equivalent of Facebook Connect. On the web each website wants you to log in to their website using a proprietary user name and password. But most users don’t want this.
So Facebook Connect was a great way for publishers to get you to log in using Facebook’s system so that they could at least know who you were when you visited and they could try to build features that incorporated your friend graph such as sharing content or knowing the most popular stuff your friends are also reading.
On the iPhone this is Twitter, not Facebook. If you log into Twitter on your iOS device you can suddenly use any app that has integrated with this Apple feature. And any app that doesn’t is myopic. Think about it – if you have all of your customers already signed into Twitter then you have a much better chance that they’ll use your app to publish into their Twitter stream and drive more traffic back to your app.
And as a result of Twitter being your identity on the iPhone it will drive a lot more people to sign up and use Twitter. If you want to see how this works come check out our Nov 10th event in LA and you can see TextPlus demo their iOS5 integration and how they think about the importance of working hand-in-hand with Twitter for their free text messaging apps.
2. Object Communications
The other major thing that will become the most powerful impact Twitter will have on society is “object communications.” 15 years ago when many of us first started discussing the future of the web, the smartest future thinkers about where this would all go would say that people interacting with websites would just scratch the surface of the power of the Internet.
When machines can talk with others machines you will have a truly powerful Internet. Of course we know that this is already happening as web services are now driving significant portions of the Internet and people are driving toward a future Semantic Web.
And while networks of computers now regularly interact with each other, so too is the future of Twitter. Consider some simple examples.
- Today we find out when commuter trains are late or roads are closed because our friends or local news agencies Tweet them to us. In the future trains will auto tweet and potentially update displays in train stations or airplanes can tell us when they will arrive at the gate in stead of us talking with the uninformed gate representative.
- DropBox could send out Tweets to users when new documents have been added to a folder they are following if they have subscribed to updates
- We already know that some bakeries send Tweets when they have fresh cookies.
- New tickets about to go on sale for your favorite band – Tweet. Stock you’re tracking goes below your purchase price? Tweet. Major congestion on your normal route to work? Tweet.
Yes, I know that many of these things can be Tweeted today but many are manual or done by friends we follow. The future will see more of this automated. Yes, I know a lot of this could just come from existing IT systems and email. But the real-time nature and public availability of the data tells me that Twitter has a better chance than anybody else of being the source of open object-people and open object-object communications.
[Update: Stephen Medawar wrote in the comments:
"I would expand your object communication to "two-way object communication". There could be a causality to content-specific or location-specific tweets (much in the same way some are integrating Twilio).
Example: Maybe I can programmatically change my reservation at a restaurant who's POS is integrated with the Twitter API. I'm late and on the road...I tweet that I'm late and the reservation is changed by the amount of time the computer thinks it will take for me to get from my tweet location to the restaurant (plus parking)."
Done. Thanks for helping me expand!]
3. Predictive Data
The other thing that isn’t talked about enough in the mainstream media about Twitter is the predictive nature of open Twitter data in and of itself. It should be no surprise why I invested alongside IA Ventures in the big data company DataSift.
I believe that Twitter is becoming the most interesting and predictive dataset in the world and that every large company (and many small ones) will consume the Twitter stream in order to gain insights, determine actions to take and gain competitive advantage.
I know this sounds like hyperbole, but consider:
- Police forces around the world are now starting to use Twitter to track potential riots and crowd movements
- Major litigators are now tracking Twitter data to determine likely jury sentiment
- Hedge fund traders are now consuming real-time Twitter data to figure out trading strategies or determine major news events micro-seconds before other traders
- Movie studios are evaluating audience reactions to films and adjusting marketing spend based on early customer reactions to films
- Corporations are monitoring service outages based on user Tweets
- Companies are monitoring competitor movements
- VC Delta is scraping websites of VCs and Tweeting when they add new portfolio companies to their websites making it easier to track when other VCs are doing.
- News organizations are monitoring Twitter to make sure they’re on top of breaking news before their competitors
Know what I call a company in the future who’s not ingesting real-time data feeds to gain competitive advantage? Toast.
4. Augmented Data
Finally, while significant value will be delivered to companies who can interpret real-time data, some people are over-looking an important facet of the data that Datasift calls “Augmented Data.”
Let me explain it with a current metaphor – the 2012 US presidential campaign.
Let’s say you’re a political operative who is trying to win a swing state like Florida in the general election. You’ve been tasked with winning South Florida for President Obama against the Republican nominee.
You obviously have your databases of email addresses, phone numbers and Twitter handles of those that have registered for the cause. But of course not everybody has.
So you start monitoring the Twitter stream for people who have geo-location turned on, are currently in South Florida and who are Tweeting things that are considered by a semantic engine to be positive Tweets about Obama. You would obviously consider them friendly and want to engage with them over Twitter.
But what about those not sending Tweets saying, “Yes We Can?”
Well, for starters you could interpret much about users by whom they follow. If a user is following Sean Hannity, Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh and is not also following Rachel Maddow, Al Gore and Barack Obama then you can probabilistically surmise they are likely a Republican supporter. But there are equal patterns in which you could infer that they are either a Democrat or are likely to be an independent.
There are other factors you could use to figure out whether they are male or female, old or young, passionate about the war in Afghanistan or likely to vote based on Cuban-American issues. You could figure out whether they are Hispanic based on language analysis or whether they follow Spanish-speaking Twitter handles.
The future of data interpretations will be augmented. We will look at both the steam and the “meta stream.” We will want to augment with: location, demographics, affiliations, authority by subject area, gender, topical interests and a whole lot more.
The most dynamic businesses will use all of this for positive effect. And you can guess where we’ll be talking about this on November 10th with Twitter’s platform team and with some great LA companies that are using the Twitter API to power their businesses.
(Cross-posted @ Both Sides of the Table)