Banking On Social Media

11 03 2010

Mother Teresa may have been a charitable person, but she never would have made it in the high-stakes dotcom world. You can only give stuff away for so long before people go broke. You can only spend OPM (Other People’s Money) for a short while before the bank account hits red ink. And you can only pretend to offer something socially redeeming for a day or two (in internet time) before you are tossed in the trash can of dumb ideas.

Which is why Twitter is still trying desperately to figure out how to stay afloat in the wake of Facebook’s phenomenal success. With 75 million Twitterers and 400 million Facebookers, the tide is definitely in favor of the latter.

Never mind that FB has become an advertising engine the likes of which only Google has tapped into. The three ad slots in the right pane are often extremely well-targeted, matching either keywords used by Facebookers in their status updates, or information culled from their profile.

And Twitter has yet to sell an ad or anything for that matter. It is surviving on venture capital funds and the $25 million package deal it inked with Google and Microsoft’s Bing for rights to provide real-time search.

Yet both sites continue to attract eyeballs, while at the same time providing very different services.

Take, for example, the recent earthquake in Chile. While there were certainly some folks posting updates to FB, the vast majority of relevant information (and pictures) came through Twitter. It is the perfect vehicle for real-time updating. It is Twitter’s public timeline that sets it apart from FB; Twitter’s Trending Topics (both globally and locally) capture the zeitgeist of the moment; Facebook just captures pictures of your dog. FB by design is a private network; the only folks who will see your posts are those who are your friends (unless you allow outsiders to come looking for you). But there is no public we-are-the-world timeline in FB.

I have now used both services extensively. There is very little overlap in my friends and followers lists between the two. Sometimes I want everyone to read what I am thinking (I have my Twitter account set up to mirror to Facebook, but not vice-versa); in other instances, I will post only to FB.

And FB is admittedly a far more visual experience, well-suited for storing and displaying photos. Twitter images are stored on third-party sites like TwitPic and Yfrog, thereby taking away much of the initial impact.

Both sites are fair game for criticism, FB has become a social gaming site, and I for one am sick of hearing about farms and mafias. Twitter, on the other hand, has so much mindless babbling that I find myself hyper-scrolling through tweets looking for the one or two that might actually be interesting.

While FB has deftly monetized its operation, the clock is clicking on Twitter. I love the utter spontaneity of it and the fact that it truly is the pulse of the world. I am thankful it is not littered with silly, mindless games. but while Mother Teresa earned her spot in heaven by giving herself away, I don’t think that Twitter can survive much longer in this role. Once they blow through the Google/Microsoft revenues, along with their VC funding, they will be on their own. After four years of tweeting, they still don’t have much to show for it.

And if they don’t start selling something soon, that big fat Fail Whale is going to be looking them in the eye.

Dr “What’s Happening?” Gerlich

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