This is the very first piece in our new series that we call Tweet Café. Each week I will feature one interview with an influential Twitter personality. Questions will be about everything going on in and around Twitter and Social Media.
Interviews will be either in print or skype video. Thankfully our very first guest today is Dave alias @TweetSmarter. Dave is my #1 Twitter mentor and I am thrilled to be able to sit down with him and discuss the future of Twitter with him.
Leo: Dave, thanks a lot for taking the time and being my guest here today. You are someone boasting an incredible following on Twitter which also matches with a high level of influence. I guess this wasn’t always the case. Could you tell us about when and how your Twitter journey started?
Dave: I started on Twitter as @QuantumGood in September 2007 and then created the @TweetSmarter account the following August. It was originally called @Twitter_Tips, but that contributed to a misperception that we work for Twitter (we don’t), so we changed it to @TweetSmarter in mid-2010 with Twitter’s help and blessing.
Leo: If you look back to when you started out on Twitter and compare it to the way you experience it today. What do you think are the major differences and development of people’s Twitter use? Has your own handling of Twitter changed?
Dave: One of our most retweeted tweets has been:
“On Facebook, you can reach some friends. On Twitter…you can reach the world.”
People have gradually figured out how to use Twitter to become part of a larger community, a worldwide community. At first, few understood how to effectively reach beyond their personal and professional circles.
Today, people use Twitter to create political movements to challenge repressive regimes, get funding for worthy causes from people around the world, and rely on it for instant news on any topic from anywhere on the globe.
As important, people have figured out how to use Twitter to create Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) of people from around the world.
When I started @TweetSmarter, the idea was to learn how to help as many people as we could use Twitter well. As part of that learning process, I learned that the more transparent I am, the faster I learn. This can admittedly be tough. It will mean changing how you do things sometimes.
But my advice is to accept all feedback, and take a shot a staying in harmony with absolutely EVERYONE who ever contacts you, by listening. While you don’t always have to respond, you should always be listening.
Leo: Together with Twitter’s rapid growth it also churned through 3 different CEO’s. Currently Dick Costolo is in charge. Do you have any thoughts on how his personality has affected Twitter’s development so far?
Dave: Twitter has long been a company that fell off a cliff and has been trying to build wings on the way down. Previously they had someone who didn’t want the difficult CEO-type responsibilities of a situation like that, and now with Dick we have someone who does want them.
First, he had to prioritize what could be done and what should be done. Some projects were put on hold, others reprioritized. Resources were shifted around. But job one when Costolo came in was really simply hiring—lots and lots of hiring. Twitter had fallen behind simply due to lack of people.
Next on his priority list, I believe, was ensuring continued growth. A number of factors affect that, such as ease of use. I think it is to Dick’s great credit that ease of use seems today a top prioritizing factor internal to Twitter in determining what Twitter does. While Twitter’s interest in making all interfaces work similarly has been controversial, the variety of interfaces has been a number one problem for people newer to Twitter.
And of course, always near the top, was the initiative to become profitable. At the end of the day, money is the gas in the tank to get everything else done.
Finally, there was no way Twitter could move forward without a rich media interface (images, video) and the ability to prioritize search results. So many other things build on these two factors that Twitter’s new web interface and upcoming new search interface had to have a lot of resources put behind them.
Leadership, Hiring, Growth, Ease of Use, Profit, Rich media, Search Prioritizing: With the fires mostly put out in each of these key areas, I think 2011 is finally the year we will start to see what Twitter can really become.
Just as this week we saw Twitter introduce automatic link shortening on Twitter.com, I think you’ll see a lot of what Twitter has been working on behind the scenes begin appearing. Spam is the only serious issue I don’t think they yet really have a handle on.
Errors and downtime continue to reduce as Twitter improves infrastructure, and support at Twitter is better than at many other popular free internet services.
Leo: The phrase “Facebook is mainstream – Twitter is not” gets thrown around a lot I believe. Do you think this is true?
If so, what would it take for Twitter to become more mainstream, or is it even important for it to turn mainstream? Also, do you think Twitter being integrated into iOS5 will help making Twitter more mainstream?
Dave: It used to be. But Twitter has grown tremendously just in the last few months, and with rich media integrated into search prioritization, I think we’ll see Twitter taking more and more search users away from Google, driving even greater growth. And the question really has to be on a region-by-region, or city-by-city basis. Twitter is mainstream in London, for example, but probably not in the UK overall quite yet.
Even more important is the worldwide boom in smartphone/tablet app usage driven by iOS from Apple and Android from Google. Everyone is becoming familiar with mobile app interfaces now.
Twitter was previously, very, very difficult to use and learn. Now you have many users familiar with mobile apps coming to Twitter and finding new Twitter to be something with a familiar feel, and Twitter integration on both iOS and Android. So where I live, the U.S., I think 2011 is the year Twitter truly becomes mainstream.
Leo: Dave, in 10 years from today, will there still be a Twitter?
Dave: There will likely be a Twitter, but it may be unrecognizable compared to what we are familiar with today. Friendster was tremendously popular, had incredible growth, first mover position in the marketplace, and yet Facebook took their operation model and blew them away by growing huge in closed markets around the world (schools) and then expanding from there.
It isn’t that hard for an international company to grow large enough to be a potential challenger to Twitter. MySpace could make changes and being growing again, and Sina Weibo with nearly 150 million users is arriving in English soon. I don’t expect either of these to challenge Twitter significantly, but it’s not unheard of.
It’s also possible that Twitter will stumble in some serious way that give an advantage to a challenger, or causes their growth to reverse. Dealing with spam is the only serious problem I see on Twitter’s roadmap that could yet trip them up.
Leo: What do you see as the biggest challenge for Twitter as it moves forward from today? How can users help in solving it? (Can they? )
Dave: Twitter is a place where one person can help another person anywhere in the world. Twitter’s biggest challenge also has the solution baked right into Twitter: Twitter is hard to learn and understand, so people need to help one another learn Twitter! Everyone should seek out other people they can help on Twitter, and the easiest place to start is to help folks learn Twitter.
Dave, thanks for taking the time and discussing these things with me. Your approachto Twitter with the focusing on helping others is something all of us can learn a lot from.
Don’t forget that you can hit up Dave @TweetSmarter any time. He is a super nice guy (if you couldn’t tell already 😉 and loves to engage with anyone who approaches him. Don’t be shy.
What are your thoughts on Twitter’s future?