As you might imagine, there's been a lot of talk about social networks at the Web 2.0 Summit, and particularly the escalating three-way battle among Facebook, Google and Twitter. While Google and Facebook have had their fair share of announcements recently, Twitter just added some major firepower to its arsenal, courtesy of Apple.
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One thing does seem clear. Deep Twitter integration with Apple's iOS is huge for Twitter.
"The iOS integration is going to be absolutely huge for us, even better than we thought it was," CEO Dick Costolo is quoted as saying at the Summit. "I didn’t realize how frictionless this would be. It’s so native."
As far as Costolo is concerned, it is Twitter's simplicity that is its biggest weapon against Facebook and Google+ (although I'd say that iOS integration is a pretty helpful weapon). He says part of the reason that Twitter has become so popular is because of its simplicity, and the fact that they've refrained from adding too many features, implying that this will continue to separate them from the pack as competitors continue to add more and more features.
That's an interesting point, because Facebook and Google are basically in a "feature race" as Google's Bradley Horowitz recently put it. In fact, Google CEO Larry Page touted the fact in the company's earnings call last week, that Google+ added 100 features in 90 days.
Facebook certainly keeps changing things up.
Costolo's comments are also interesting considering that this year, Twitter has perhaps added more features than any other time in Twitter's history (since co-founder Jack Dorsey returned to the company). Dorsey, by the way, has recently even been called "the next Steve Jobs," and by an early Apple employee. He does also run Square, which many see as a revolutionary product in the payments industry. It can't hurt Twitter to have this kind of leadership at the core of its product development.
Perhaps the more important battle, however, is that for identity, rather than features, and that's another area where that tight iOS integration might come in handy for Twitter. Apple announced that in its first 3 days of availability, it sold 4 million iPhone 4S devices (which run iOS 5). iOS 5 is also available for the iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPad, iPad 2, iPod Touch 3rd generation, and iPod Touch 4th generation. Word is that a third of eligible devices have already been updated (which means potentially 2/3 more could still be upgraded), and Costolo says daily iOS Twitter sign-ups have already tripled due to the new iOS integration.
The description of the Twitter integration from Apple says: "iOS 5 makes it even easier to tweet from your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. Sign in once in Settings, and suddenly you can tweet directly from Safari, Photos, Camera, YouTube, or Maps. Want to mention or @reply to a friend? Contacts applies your friends’ Twitter usernames and profile pictures. So you can start typing a name and iOS 5 does the rest. You can even add a location to any tweet, no matter which app you’re tweeting from."
Once iOS 5 was finally released last week, Twitter wrote a blog post about it saying: "Simply enter your Twitter login information into your device settings, and you’ll always be connected to your Twitter account. This means you can tweet directly from Apple apps like Camera, Maps, Photos, Safari and YouTube, along with third party apps, such as Chomp, Flipboard, LivingSocial, Instagram, MadPad, PopSugar, Showyou,SoundTracking and Zynga's Words with Friends."
And it's not as if you have to use iOS to use Twitter.
"We think we can reach every person on the planet, we think the way to do that is to simplify it," Costolo is quoted as saying. "Over time, Google+ and Facebook will be more and more different than the experience we want to pass onto our users."
On that note, the Telegraph has some interesting words from former Facebook President Sean Parker (who is still a shareholder), most notably, "The strategic threat to Facebook is that power users have gone to Twitter or to Google+.”
That doesn't mean that all (or even the majority of) power users have abandoned Facebook entirely, but if a lot of them are using these competing services more, that means less time spent somewhere.
You know who else seems to be using Twitter more and more? The young.
Back to that topic of identity for a second. There is a lot of controversy about identity and the Internet. Facebook and Google+ both want your real identity as your identity with their respective services. I'm Chris Crum in real life, so they want me to be Chris Crum on Facebook and Google+ (Google is even stingy about what pics it lets authors use on their Google Profiles). On Twitter, however, I'm CCrum237. If I wanted, I could be anyone else I wanted to be (as long as the name wasn't taken). There are valid points to both sides of the Internet anonymity debate, but the reality is that our online identities are being tied much more to the real world. It's not just about status updates and picture sharing anymore. It's about paying for goods at a store (among other things). At least that's the direction we're headed in. But that's a conversation for another article.
4Chan founder Christopher Poole is quoted as saying at the summit that Facebook and Google approach to identity "degrades humanity," and that "Facebook and Google do our identity wrong, Twitter does it better." He's just one man, but you better believe there are quite a few people who share similar views, and that is one clear differentiator of Twitter compared to its competitors. That's one thing you can get with Twitter that you can't get with Facebook or Google+. And that's just another piece of the puzzle.
Twitter is currently worth $8 billion according Costolo, who is quoted as saying, "Let's just call it an even $8 billion." I have a feeling that number is going to go up substantially.
According to Costolo, Twitter users are sending out about 250 tweets per day. I'd be surprised if that number hasn't increased significantly in another month.
I wouldn't go so far as to say Twitter will be dethroning Facebook as the most-used social network in the near future, but that doesn't mean it couldn't happen one day. Remember when Myspace was on top? Either way, it's going to be an interesting battle to watch, especially now that Twitter is heavily integrated with the ultra popular iPhones and iPads.
What do you think? Will Twitter ever be able to surpass Facebook? Share your thoughts in the comments.