How Smart are Twitter's Investors?

Posted by Mark Everett Hall

Twitter is all the rage. And while it's great fun, is it really worth $1 billion, which is what the Wall Street Journal pegs it at after a $100 million investment led by T. Rowe Price and Insight Venture Partners last week?

With 25 million users, Twitter lags behind the 300 million Facebook friends. Plus, using Twitter requires a different type of person than Facebook or MySpace. A smarter person. And there are far fewer smart people on the planet than, let's be kind, average folk. In other words, the growth potential for Twitter is far less than that for Facebook.

A person who tweets has to be concise. 140-character posts require some thought. Any Tom, Dick, and Mary can prattle away ad nauseum on Facebook. And they do. Lengthy and tedious Facebook posts about people's daily activities are legend. That can't happen with a tweet, as Twitter posts are called. A truism in old-time journalism is that it is easier to write long than short. It takes hard work to get a story into the space an editor allots it in print. (Bloggers don't have that problem which is why so many suffer from logorrhea, and why most blogs are boring beyond belief.)

0 million for a dead parrot?


Making your 140-character posts interesting is what compels people to follow you. And that's the goal. Building a following. For Facebook, it's enough if your mom and best friends see your posts. But on Twitter the purpose is to build a following. That takes brains because you need to be clever to attract total strangers. They are not your friends. They are fickle followers who will leave you in the dust the moment you cease to interest them.

Oh, sure, if you're famous you can get a lot of followers instantly. And you certainly don't have to be that bright. Britney Spears' "verified account" has 3,888,252 followers. Nothing against Ms. Spears, but you automatically know she (or her handler) is an intellectual featherweight because she also claims to follow 432,871 people. No one can keep track of that many posts or even pretend to, so you know she's full of crap. Or unclear on the Twitter concept.

If you nose around Twitter enough, you'll find lots of earnest people who get accounts, many of them just to follow stars like Spears. But after they post a Facebook-style comment once or twice ("Went to Starbucks. Had a Latte."), they fade away to tweet no more. They don't understand the value of Twitter. That's good.

Twitter is for smart people who want to follow other smart people and be followed by smart people. They also tend to be busy people, so they don't want to wade through a lot of nonsense to get to the essence of the message. They can be looking for humor or information, but they want it quickly. There's not a lot of those people around, so the inherent market for Twitter is small.

I'm happy that Twitter is getting lots of money. And, I suspect, they'll spend it wisely. After all, they are smart people, too. But I wonder if the people who gave Twitter the money are that smart. They probably spend their time on Facebook.