The shifting focus of Twitter?

Since some time now it seems Twitter is shifting focus. Or losing focus. Today they announced the acquisition of Posterous and I think this is another example of this development.

The strong strategy Twitter always had in becoming the main channel for real-time communication, the new e-mail almost, was the strong focus on the 140 character paradigm, not going for fancy bigger posts or content. That is shifting since the last redesigns of their own website. They integrating images and movies and are making a rich app that combines the tweets in a much more magazine like context. It is no Flipboard yet but there is a clear shift going on for some time.

Another strong angle of the Twitter strategy was the distributed open approach to the clients. The API and firehose concepts have been very important for the rapid growth. In the same manner as Apple created a commercial model for the apps, letting third parties creating the value of the service, Twitter did the same with the almost endless third party app and client makers. They would never been able to reach the growth numbers if they would develop it all by themselves. Apart from scaling issues, the generated creativity and innovative power is the power of the service.

Unlike Apple they did not succeed to make it into a profitable business. Just this week they announced they still losing money. They missing in that sense the physical devices Apple is getting rich. Still you would expect there would be more possible in capitalizing the enormous piles of data (200 Gig every half an hour) that is produced.

Twitter seems to choose a strategy to become more the center of the Twitter universe. Still the most of the traffic runs via their own channel and they need more lock-in to capitalize on the data. I think persuading users to stay on the own channels is the strategy to be able to run business models. Until now without great success.

The acquisition of Posterous could very well fit this strategy. You could argue that it is pure a talent scout, but I think there is reason they need the functionality too. Tumblr did grow very rapidly last year and also the huge growth of Pinterest could be an extra lever to integrate a more long copy sharing functionality. It is also clear that the use of Twitter is changing with the new users. Much more consumption of content by sharing and curating users, preferable famous people, replaces the communication between users.

In that sense it is interesting they are integrating some of the services of Posterous. It is very strong in group-publishing, it has smart publication tools via e-mail, all aimed at a central outside in publishing model; more touch points to edit, concentrating into one publishing channel.

I guess Twitter is trying to add a content strategy where the try to become the central place for curated real-time news. I am in dubio if it is a wise strategy. It can endanger the essence of the service, just like Google search may never be undermined with the other services. On the other hand, if they design it clever and incremental, it could leverage the existing and growing use by the real-time content consumers and it can become finally the new discovery platform that replaces some of search. It is very important to let the core function of the quick and simple messaging always exist and open for their third party partners. A hybrid model should get even more distinction between the curated content and the communication.

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I am a design director at Structural. I curate and organize ThingsCon Netherlands and I am chairman of the Cities of Things Foundation. Before I was innovation and strategy director at tech and innovation agency INFO, visiting researcher and lab director at the Delft University of Technology coordinating Cities of Things Delft Design Lab.

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