Paul Chiusano

Functional programming, UX, tech


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Why Twitter won

[   ux   tech   econ   ]            

I noted in a previous post the missing feature of consumer-side filtering in networks like Facebook and Google Plus. Twitter of course, has the same problem. I might follow hundreds of people, and all of their tweets are merged into a single timeline, with no rate-limiting or filtering of any kind.

It’s easy to look at a well-established application after the fact and note all the features it’s missing or things it could do better, but unlike Google, companies like Twitter can’t just sneakily solve the adoption problem for free by bundling it with existing services that tons of people use (even Google has had limited success with G+). Twitter actually had to drive adoption.

Creating a successful social network of any kind requires overcoming network effects–the service is more useful to you if people you care about also use it. If no one uses the service, it’s much less useful. This creates a very high barrier to entry and makes it difficult to get high adoption, even if your service is feature-for-feature better than the competition.

Twitter has a few ‘features’ that helped lead to its adoption:

In particular, these last two items meant that Twitter had a real niche. As silly as the service must have seemed when pitched as an idea, it filled a niche, and had the right combination of features to drive its adoption. Much later on, Twitter solved some hard technical problems that made it a nice platform for sharing realtime updates, but this was Twitter merely executing well enough in the niche it carved out for itself, following its adoption strategy.

Was any of this intentional, or did Twitter just get lucky? I’d love to hear from some early-stage Twitter folks who were privy to its strategy discussions. For better or worse, Twitter is now the beneficiary of these network effects and competitors will have a difficult time displacing them.

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