January 12, 2009

Twitter: Is There Room For Anyone Else?

By Rob Diana of Regular Geek (Twitter/FriendFeed)

Recently, a question was raised to bloggers, should we shut up about Twitter? Eric Berlin responded with a simple no. He then goes on to list several reasons why Twitter may even go mainstream. Twitter actually going mainstream will be a big story as it is something different than the typical social network. However, Twitter is not the only game in town. Microblogging is quickly becoming a crowded field, even with the closing of competitor Pownce. Twitter is growing rapidly and none of the competition is anywhere close. What does the competition look like?

Twitter Alternatives
Pownce was probably the largest alternative, but they are no longer. So, what comes next? Below is a graph from Compete.com with 5 leading competitors, Jaiku, Identi.ca, Plurk, Kwippy and Yammer. Jaiku is the oldest of the group and is currently a Google property. However, since the middle of last year their traffic has trended down.

The general traffic trends in the graph above are very similar to what Alexa shows as well. Identi.ca had a big burst of traffic at their launch, but that traffic came down fairly quickly. It may be increasing again, but itis tough to tell. Kwippy had a nice boost during the summer, but their traffic has tapered off as well. TC50 darling Yammer is also trending downward, but they are the newest of the bunch and hoping to gain traction in corporate environments. The surprising statistic is the amount of traffic for Plurk. They have not lost a significant amount of traffic after gaining traffic while Twitter was having problems last May. They are also one of the few sites that is not "pure microblogging". What I mean is that they are not a Twitter clone with a different style and name. They have a different feature set and the timeline is a different way to view information. Mona Nomura stated that they have different demographics, even calling Plurk "the MySpace of Twitter". Assuming that the different demographics allow Plurk to continue to grow, what about the other alternatives? Is there room for more than just Twitter?

In its most basic form, Twitter will own the space unless Facebook status updates become more open. If this is true, then Twitter will share the masses with Facebook. Plurk would probably continue on, but its growth would likely be limited. The other question is whether there really is much more growth for microblogging.

Custom Communities and Niche Networks
I am a big believer in niche communities and networks. People gathering together with similar interests can quickly form a passionate community. Jesse Stay agrees with this sentiment and feels that niche microblogging networks will start to appear based on free and open platforms like Laconi.ca. This could become a very popular destination for a niche community. It is the equivalent of the forums and bulletin boards of past years, but with a new spin. These niche networks can also provide a way for people to find a community of "experts" for a specific topic.

On the custom community side, Yammer has a decent idea with trying to get into the corporate world. However, I think that their business model gets corporate people concerned. However, there are microblogging products that can be installed within the corporate firewall, like Laconi.ca or other commerical alternatives, in order to promote microblogging without the public consumption concerns. This could even be true for other communities like a large blog. If a blog has enough readers, they could build a community around the blog using a standalone microblogging product. It could easily sit behind some sort of registration or even become a premium feature for some sites if positioned correctly.

So, to answer my original question, is there room for more than Twitter? In the form of basic microblogging, there is little room, especially if Facebook pushes its status updates. However, if there are other features added, like what Plurk has done, the application could gain some adoption. There is likely plenty of room in the niche and custom communities precisely because Twitter is purely public. Is there some application that was missed that could gain significant marketshare?

Read more by Rob Diana at RegularGeek.com.