The founder of a small, but interesting, little company called Values of n recently announced that Twitter had purchased the web productivity company, and that he – Rael Dornfest – would be joining Twitter. Most people I know haven’t heard of Values of n, but some may know two of their products, I Want Sandy and Stikkit. Both products will soon be shut down, with the IP inherited by Twitter. Both products were pretty interesting, albeit incomplete, productivity offerings. I used both for a while, but had a hard time integrating them into my workflow. Under the Twitter umbrella, however, both have the potential to expand and improve, assuming that the acquisition of Values of n wasn’t merely a way to bring a gifted technologist on board. There is some speculation that Twitter could be putting together a suite of productivity offerings to it’s product set:
Will Twitter Become Your Personal Assistant? – GigaOM
The fit between both of these services and Twitter seems fairly obvious. In the same way that Twitter “bots” can be set up to send specific messages at certain times or when users type certain keywords (try sending a message that contains the word “pony” in order to see the Wheee! Pony bot in action), it’s easy to see how a user might set up something like I Want Sandy and Stikkit combined —
As stated later in that post on GigaOm, with some help, Twitter, Sandy, and Stikkit, could be combined to make a nice personal assistant application that many power users would be eager to pay for. With all the activity in and around Twitter, and no clear revenue path to date, you can add this combination to the speculation of where Twitter will find it’s business model.
Update: Looks like there is a movement on to resurrect Sandy as an open source application.
Given a slow morning, I was just reading through some older Google Reader feeds, and came upon this excellent post over at VentureBeat. Anand Rajaraman is an investor in an Indian service called SMS GupShup, which serves as a Twitter-like micro-blogging service for the Indian mobile market. Why would micro-blogging matter in places like India? Here’s a short example that Rajaraman mentions:
One day the GupShup spam control team noticed several messages that looked like gobbledygook to them. So they sent these suspected spammers account termination notices. They didn’t expect the response: messages not just from those senders but from many others, pleading with them not to terminate the accounts. It turns out the messages were in a language called Hmar, only spoken by some 65,000 tribal people living in the hilly regions of India’s northeast. There are now several Hmar groups on SMS GupShup; the tribal group sees this as a major communication channel. Being too small to attract mainstream media, the group also sees SMS GupShup as their main form of media and a way to save their language and culture from extinction as they assimilate into the Indian mainstream.
Om Malik just linked to an excellent post by Dare Obasanjo in which Dare takes a second look at the market for web 2.0 companies and reminds them that there are substantial differences between the early adopters and the real market that those companies are aiming for. As I’ve said in the past, I think Twitter is a classic example of a technology that may not make the leap across the chasm.
There’s a small dustup underway on the blogoshpere today regarding the relevancy of Twitter. If you scroll all the way down on my blog, you’ll see that I’m an occasional poster to Twitter. I follow a bunch of people, mostly through the Firefox extension TwitterFox, which I’ve found to be the best way to monitor the rants, raves, and occasional nuggets of wisdom from Tweet-land. As for my personal tweets, I try to keep the noise out there to a minimum.
Anyway, it seems that the spark that ignited the debate came yesterday from this brief post by Wall Street Journal writer Kara Swisher. She struck a similar cord that I’ve seen amongst my friends and colleagues. Most don’t use, never heard of, and don’t care what about Twitter is. Taking that thought even further, Gina Tripani, over at Lifehacker, is conducting a poll asking whether trendy Web 2.0 social applications (Twitter, FriendFeed, etc.) are only useful for the geek elite. When put in the context of Gina’s question, it is true that these trendy apps are only immediately useful to the digital elites. I think usefulness and overall impact are two different things, however. As Stevel Rubel reminds us, even a small clique of users can have a large influence in the broader media. The simple fact that major corporations are tracking tweets serves as evidence of the impact of Twitter. The direct usefulness of Twitter maybe limited to a small number of people, but the impact can be felt well beyond that group.
There is also another angle to think about when looking at niche applications like Twitter. The channels of communication that they unearth will eventually drive the way enterprise applications are built. Of the many challenges that face traditional enterprise software companies, none is greater than trying to figure out how to move their industrial platforms (which were designed primarily around accelerating transactional processes) to a more flexible environment where ‘conversations’ within and across organizations are enabled and fluid. The best efforts to accomplish this, so far, have been limited to poorly executed ‘Live Chat’ applications, or some enhanced forum tools. What applications like Twitter (and for that matter Facebook) have done is expose new channels of communication for organizations. As an aggregate, enterprise software companies have automated transactional processes, creating much of the productivity gains of the last two decades. Any further improvements in transactional efficiency will be incremental at best. But one real opportunity is to pick up on non-invasive, non-transactional conversations which form the 75-80% of space where ‘stuff really happens’ in organizations. Twitter is just one of the newer tools that is exposing simplified ways to create ‘opt-in’ engagement on ideas and topics.
So, does Twitter matter? It does. It may evolve into the next generation instant messenger, but it also has the potential of impacting the way organizations manage opt-in communications across all of its constituencies.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention that Lifehacker’s question was spawned by this post on Alexander van Elsa’s Weblog.
A reader recently sent me an invite to pownce, and now I’ve got several invites to handout myself. If you’re interested, leave a comment and I’ll send the invite out.