Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Twitter Paradox

One of these is not like the other
Twitter and Facebook are often considered a kind of bookends, the quintessential social media platforms. And it's true that, in general, they both serve as a kind of global digital communication platform, albeit serving altogether different purposes and constituencies. And as a result of this tendency to view them as two pieces of the same business model, their financial and operational performance is often compared. When, industry watchers wonder, will Twitter become profitable? Why has their growth stalled while Facebook continues to add users and subsidiaries? And yet, the comparison is odd - Facebook is by far the industry juggernaut, the second most viewed site in the world with a billion and a half users and a market capitalization of $40 billion. Twitter, on the other hand, has struggled to acquire 330 million users and has a rather hard-to-justify market cap of $12 billion.

Considering that neither platform will ever have the option of charging their users any kind of subscription fee, both companies have had to be somewhat innovative in how to monetize a gigantic global digital communication service. Where Facebook has been mostly successful, Twitter continues to try to figure out a model that would make the service economically viable and financially sustainable. From where we stand here in January 2016, the most likely forecast will be that, at some point, Twitter will be subsumed into a larger ecosystem that can afford to subsidize its operating costs forever. The alternative is that it merely sinks beneath the waves, to be 'replaced' - as much as possible - by a large number of smaller services.

But here's the paradox. Of all the social media tools and services available today, the only one that is absolutely irreplaceable is Twitter. The world could simply not do without a Twitter, and the human and social costs if it were to disappear are hard to even imagine. Through Twitter, the way we see the world, the way we understand events in far-flung places, the way we participate and interact has changed forever. Long before the first headlines break on the news sites, those of us on Twitter are getting eyewitness reports, rumors, live video, cries of anguish and sobs of joy. With Twitter, we can now be everywhere at once, meeting the actual people who are doing the actual things that change the world. From Fukushima to Maidan, from Tunisia to Cairo, from Wall Street to Ferguson, we learned about the world first hand, and in real time. And we were able to make our voices heard.

So this is the paradox, and the challenge. Twitter may very well not be something that can be operated profitably. But as a people, as a society, as a species, we must never lose access to these kinds of global, instant communications. If Twitter were to fail as a business, it would be necessary to continue to operate it as some kind of global NGO - ideally under the auspices of the UN, but at any rate in a way that continues to permit the world to have unfettered access to this kind of real-time conversation. There's just no going back.


  1. Another thing they share: Verizon chokes up a lot when loading pages with their links, although otherwise Verizon Fios service is pretty fast.

    E.g. In Berkeley Springs, we get Frontier internet. Most web pages load faster there than here in D.C.

    But if I'm uploading a large picture to the blog, it goes a lot fast here.

    P.S. I realize this is aside from the paradox, but I'm typing here, man!

  2. Hey mikey, completely off topic but was wondering what you know or heard about the Juniper breach?

    1. The Juniper hack is huge. It is the story of a tech company acting complicitly with the NSA in creating a vulnerability that they could exploit. The NetScreen products are very popular VPNs, and are used all over the world for secure network access. The NSA basically managed to convince/corrupt Juniper to use a known insecure PRNG and that they could use to break the IPSEC encryption in real time.

      But THEN somebody - an employee? another government? a criminal? - was able to modify the code in the firmware to give THEM access to the NSA's 'back door'. Essentially, for a couple of years, NetScreen VPNs were compromised.

      And nobody's coming clean on what actually happened. Believe me, just like the Volkswagon diesel code, there are lots more of these kinds of things out there...

    2. Did not know about the NSA complicity.
      What goes around comes around...

      Would be very nice to figure out who did it but from what I understand that's not gonna be easy.