What Twitter Knows: It's OK to Play

Ann All

Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert cut to the chase when he recently interviewed Twitter co-founder Biz Stone. Shortly after promising to ask Stone about "every mundane detail about every moment of his life," Colbert said, "I assume that 'Biz' in Biz Stone doesn't stand for business model."


Speculating on Twitter's possible business model is a popular pasttime for bloggers. Will it be search? Advertising? Or something else, based upon the growing number of third-party Twitter applications? Stone vaguely mentions account authentication, management tools and discovery mechanisms as possible "Interesting opportunities related to commercial usage" in a recent post on the Twitter Blog.


Twitter is in no rush, writes Umair Haque on Harvard Business Publishing. Instead, the Twitter founders are "waiting to play, experiment, see what offers utility, creates value, and makes people truly better off." And that's a good thing, says Haque, who includes "laziness beats business" as one of "Twitter's Ten Rules for Radical Innovators."


There's a parallel in the way some organizations approach the idea of social technologies. While it's reasonable to expect a return on investment, it's tough to apply traditional ROI models to many emerging technologies. Lack of a clear business case isn't necessarily a reason to dismiss something out of hand. I'm not sure I agree with Haque's use of the word "lazy," though. I prefer "patient."


Clear use cases will emerge, said Saugatuck Technology VP Mark Koenig when I interviewed him recently, but it may take time. He said:


Managers will have to get comfortable with the idea that these solutions, at least at this stage of the game, are going to take kind of a playground approach. You have to get in there and let people play around with them and see what they come up with.


The process will involve trial and error, Koenig added:


...there may be a lag time before you get the model right as to how best to use them. The thing you think might be the best use may turn out ultimately not to be the best use. You might get in there and try to do a marketing campaign to attract new customers, then discover you've created benefits you weren't expecting for existing customers. It may be the second or third application that yields the real return, but you don't know what that application is yet.

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