Nick Mango

The Users Are The Killer Feature

This whole Twitter fiasco has reminded me of another company, in a completely different industry, that for a while has been in a similar situation. This other company has been tightening the noose around their users' necks for over a decade. Everyone complains non stop about their service, their rules, and their fees. Everyone says how they're fed up with the entire company, and they want to leave. The funny thing is, no one ever does. The question is, why? The reason these people don't leave, no matter how bad things get, is because this service has all the users. The other users are this service's best feature. This service that everyone loves to hate, loves to say they're leaving, loves to take a dump on the first chance they get, is eBay. People have been talking about leaving eBay since September 3rd 1995. And eBay has done only one thing since that day. Make billions and billions of dollars.

People don't leave eBay, for the same reason no one is going to leave Twitter for some Twitter clone. Twitter has all the users. The users are Twitter's best feature. You think John Gruber, who has 200k+ followers on Twitter, is going to dump Twitter for some Twitter clone? Not a chance. Sure he's going to promote App.net. Sure he's going to sign up. Sure he's going to wish them luck. Sure he's going to say he hopes it takes off. But he will never, ever, ever, leave Twitter for a Twitter clone. All the money is on Twitter. Remember that saying, "if you're not buying a product, then you are the product." Well the same goes for people like John Gruber, Merlin Mann, and even celebrities like Justin Bieber. Their followers are the product. We're always the product. We're Twitter's product, and we're the celebrities' product. The celebrities aren't going to leave, cause we're still here, and we're not leaving, because the celebrities are still here. Look at eBay. The sellers aren't going to leave, because that's where all the buyers go to buy. And the buyers aren't going anywhere, because that's where all the sellers go to sell.

If tomorrow Twitter dumped every single third party client, what would you do? Complain for a few days, maybe a few weeks, and then you'd take a peek at the official client. Then maybe a few weeks later you might throw a Tweet out there. Then all of a sudden you'd be full time again. You can only leave Twitter, for something unlike Twitter. If you're going to go up against Twitter, with a Twitter clone, then you're really competing against Twitter's user base. Or in the case of App.net, it's business model. They're saying pay us to use our service and we'll make you the customer, not the product. We won't show you ads. We won't treat you like cattle. We'll nurture you. We'll make you feel special. What's really interesting about this is eBay shows it's customers ads, as well as charges them. But you know what it's auction competitors try and do? Not show you ads or charge you. And you know what? They still can't put a dent in eBay! Think about that for a second. If you can't get anyone to leave eBay for a quality service that's free, how in the hell are you going to get people to leave Twitter, which is free, for a product that costs money and has no users?

Now people might say, no one has to leave Twitter, for a clone to be a success. Firstly, I think we need to decide what a success is. Is it a company that generates a couple million bucks in revenue a year and has 50,000 users? Maybe yeah. In fact I would say that App.net would call themselves a total success if they could pull that off. Why do I think that? Because if they didn't think that, they would have charged less than $50 bucks a year for their service. I think they know they can't defeat Twitter with a Twitter clone. I think they know their limitations. This is why they didn't go with a Pinboard style algorithm for their pricing model. Using that method, which rewards users for signing up sooner, wouldn't generate the kind of money they'd needed to pursue the product. Secondly, I hear a lot of people talking about "Double Posting". Do you ever call posting on Google+ or Facebook, as well as Twitter, "Double Posting"? No you don't. So why call it "Double Posting" now? Because people don't consider a clone a separate service. This is a major problem for adoption. "Double Posting" is a very negative term. No one wants to "Double Post". Mentally you escape that connotation when you post the same thing to a completely different service. But not with a Twitter clone. It's like wearing knock off jeans. Once you attach the fake name to it, you're viewed negatively. If you remove the name and come up with you're own identity, you'll be looked upon as a brand. This is what's necessary to create true user migration.

So when I hear everyone on the internet saying they're getting sick of Twitter, and they're going to go sign up for a clone, I think to myself: eBay has been around for 17 years and they're one of the most hated companies on the internet. But judging by their numbers so far this year, nobody's leaving any time soon.