UPDATED 17:12 EDT / FEBRUARY 25 2009

Flipside: John Battelle Says Google Needs Twitter

image Just yesterday, John posted here commenting on the refusal by Twitter to sell to Facebook for $500 million. His bottom line was that Twitter should avoid at all costs becoming the Pointcast of Web 2.0, and sell out. Today, John Battelle posts at his blog that Google can’t do without Twitter.

At some point around the time it was rumored that Google was going to pick up a lifestreaming service (some time post-Dodgeball but pre-Jaiku), Google made it clear that future acquisitions would be made not for the size of their community or traffic, but for their functionality, assets or expertise. This at the time, mostly, was seen as a cushion to soften the blow of deciding to snatch up Jaiku rather than Twitter.

But Battelle says now (and I tend to agree with him) that Google can’t do without Twitter:


“What’s the most important and quickly growing form of search on the web today? Real time, conversational search. And who’s the YouTube of real time search? Yep. Twitter. It’s an asset Google cannot afford to not own, and also, one they most likely do not have the ability (or brand permission) to build on their own. (Remember, Google tried to build its own YouTube – Google Video – and it failed to get traction. A service like Twitter is community driven, and Google has never been really great at that part of the media business).”

“That means Google most likely really, really wants to buy Twitter […] The great twist: Evan and Biz, two of the key co founders of Twitter, have already sold a company to Google (Blogger) and most likely are not keen to do it again. Nor do they have to, given their recent funding and the money they made from pre-IPO Google options.”

“Add in the fact that Twitter has already said no to a $500mm offer from Facebook, and the fact that Facebook has responded quickly with by opening up its Live Feed status API, and we’ve got a very interesting year ahead of us in the Internet biz. I’ll be watching closely.”

I’d tend to agree.  Some time back, I wrote an article on Google’s Friend Connect which attracted a comment from Google’s Matt Cutts. The article was entitled “What is Google Going to Do with Lifestreaming?” Matt had asked me there what I’d reccomend Google do to provide a better value to me as a publisher and website owner. Life has been busy since then, and I neglected to respond to him, but the previous two posts reminded me of Cutts’ query.

In that article, I pondered the meaning of Google Friend Connect and what benefit it provided to publishers. The Friend Connect system seems to create a type of lifestreaming system – if comments or logins are made to GFC enabled sites, they show up in the users profile.  That data doesn’t seem to be exportable, usable or searchable in any way.  You can’t generate discussions around the data, and there doesn’t seem to be a way to browse your friend’s lifestreams without manually clicking on each profile.

In essence, the data exists, but it isn’t that usable. It does exist, though, as an exoskeleton of sorts for a FriendFeed like system.

To respond to Matt, though, I’d have to say that the data being volunteered by my site and it’s users should provide some return to us.  There are a number of ways that Google can use that data to increase the value of their own ad networks, but in it’s current form, it serves neither to enrich my community nor the interaction between my users.

Google could attempt (as it did with Google Video and Orkut) to cobble it’s own social network out of the data it’s collecting, using FriendFeed as a blueprint, or it could work towards an acquisition of Twitter and try to marry the two and create a real powerhouse.

It seems like it could be a little bit of a stretch in terms of how the community is now primarily used by most people, but I don’t think it’s outside the realm of Twitter’s possible future roadmap. Whether or not Google acquires Twitter or not (and I think they should try, at least), there is definitely some untapped potential in GFC going to waste.

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