Glass 40% full

There was lots of press hand-wringing last week about a Nielsen study showing that 60% of Twitter users quitting the service after one month. The press, many whom were late in jumping on the Twitter explosion, seemed to revel in their schadenfreude as they poured fuel on the meme of Twitter user retention.

The 60% of Twitter users who abandon the service after one month is less than the 90% of recycled news coverage that can't formulate an original thought. How many people abandon their weblogs? Among people I know, it's much higher than 60%. Does that mean the remaining blogs are worthless? For an answer, maybe we need to consult the mainstream media, and to do so, ironically, we probably have to scour their blogs. I can't think of a mainstream media outlet today that doesn't have at least several blogs as part of their daily output, though by the time they jumped on the bandwagon it was already the size of an aircraft carrier.

I confess to being a bit puzzled by Twitter when I first signed up in March of 2007. With few followers and just 140 characters per tweet, it felt like I was shouting through a battery-less megaphone under water.

A few things changed my feelings towards Twitter. One was the launch of Favrd, which helped to separate the wittiest tweets from the chaff (pun intended) and which drew man people into using it as an outlet for humor, rather than just mundane status updates. The second was the launch of an app that could sync my Twitter account to my Facebook status.

The last, and most important, is that the service achieved enough critical mass that Twitter search became a useful tool for me to track what people were saying about Hulu. Maureen Dowd may wonder "Is there any thought that doesn’t need to be published?" and may think "I don’t care that my friend is having a hamburger?", but someone else's meaningless status update is someone else's treasure. If you tweet "I am having a hamburger animal style at In-N-Out. Sweet heaven." and that becomes searchable a few seconds later, that is somewhat useful information for In-N-Out.

[As an aside, I like lots of Dowd's work, but I'm glad Evan Williams and Biz Stone gave better than they got in that interview. Funny stuff. I appreciate her opinions on lots of issues, but on this one she's out of her element.]

A better example is that when I know one of our (Hulu) tv ads is going to air on a certain program, I can get real-time feedback on what people thought. I can't get that anywhere else, not through Google, not through Facebook (because their status updates are not globally searchable), not through the press, nowhere. That is the heart of the Twitter revolution, and that's why companies like Google want to buy Twitter, because Twitter has carved out that significant mindshare on the web.

As to how Twitter can make money, I can think of several premium services that some clients would pay for. If I could, for our @hulu account, allow our users to subscribe to particular types of messages, all from the same @hulu account, I'd pay for that. Imagine that we had one Twitter account for each show on our site, and you could receive a tweet when a new episode hit the site, with an auto-shortened link to that episode. I can do that via e-mail today, but e-mail is slow and expensive and polluted by spam.

I have many other ideas, but if I post them all I might someday have to pay a fortune to use Twitter someday, so I'll leave it at that. This is no guarantee that Twitter will be a great service for monetization; turning massive traffic and mindshare into revenue is no sure thing on the web as many cases have shown (free e-mail accounts remain, for the most part, free, for example). But they've jumped onto the hockey curve growth trajectory track, cemented their place in the cultural zeitgeist, and achieved that ever-elusive first-mover advantage which generates increasing returns (RIP Pownce). So their ultimate destiny is largely in their control, which is all you can ever hope for as a startup.

NOTE: For those of you who find me decreasing frequency of posting here depressing, try following me on Twitter. There, my volume per post is lighter, of course, but my frequency of posting is far higher. 308 updates there in just over a year now, somewhat backloaded.