I read with interest earlier this week that Ubermedia has purchased popular Twitter client TweetDeck for $30 million in equity, following acquisitions of UberTwitter (Blackberry), TwidRoid (Android) and EchoFon (various, mostly iPhone).
TweetDeck is a common choice for many Twitter users, but it only commands about 3% of the user market – according to data Twitter themselves provided back in September – and that’s counting all of its platforms (desktop, mobile etc). However, all of these purchases give Ubermedia a big overall hold on the Twitter ecosystem – probably around 10% of all users.
Seesmic founder Loic Le Meur estimates this could mean Ubermedia properties are sending as much as 20% of all tweets, although that number does appear to have been plucked out of thin air. But whatever the actual total is – and TweetDeck users do seem to have a lot to say – Ubermedia has now got some oomph.
This heady news was further compounded by a separate announcement that Ubermedia had raised an additional $17.5 million in equity funding. The company has been valued at some $40 million. How that works exactly against the $30m they’ve paid for TweetDeck I’m not really sure.
But that isn’t really important. What does matter is the value, or even the audacity, of building one company entirely on top of another. Or a whole frickin’ empire, for that matter. I mean, it’s all well and good while they leave you alone, or even help you out from time to time, but what happens if somebody changes their mind?
All of a sudden, that empire has taken on an entirely different structure – a house of cards. And that ‘value’, pre and most definitely post, fluctuates somewhere between flimsy and zero. These kinds of business plans are 100% dependable on good faith, and on an assurance (or hope) that the main company, the shark if you will, won’t turn around and bite the remora on the ass. Yes, it’s a working relationship – but only until the host gets extra hungry.
And it’s not just Ubermedia – anyone who depends on a platform like Twitter for their business always needs to be watching over their shoulder. And that includes Twittercism – just last week I swear I saw Biz Stone parked outside my house in a black SUV.
So what, if the mood took them, could or would Twitter do to strike back? Well, off the top of my head:
- Make Twitter.com Awesome – Twitter could suddenly implement lots of long-established and brand-new features to Twitter.com, such as scheduled tweets, columns, multiple accounts, account management, filters, spam controls, editable tweets, a massively improved direct message system, daily ‘what’s in the gold box?’ giveaways, and so on.
- Launch An Official Twitter Client – All the above, but in a downloadable client that gave you these juicy extras.
- Strangle the API – Make Twitter.com the absolute fastest way to receive the core data. They already do this a little bit because of delays in receiving the API (depending on what client you’re using and hot it is configured), but now they could really do it. And then do it some more. Maybe it gets switched off completely on weekends and holidays. Maybe they forgot.
- Limit the API – Make Twitter.com the only place to see ALL the tweets. And by ALL I mean not just the last 3,200 – every single one of ’em. Everybody else gets the last 100, and that’s it. Plus they’re hard to read and scroll off really fast.
- Charge for the API – A simple (but lucrative) monthly license would separate the men from the boys.
- Set Up Exclusive Partnerships – Approach TweetDeck, Seesmic and HootSuite and whoever puts up the most dollars gets preferred access to the API – everyone else is on a 5-minute delay. Breaking news and using Twitterrific? Yeah, uh, I saw it on Facebook.
- Roll Back To The Original Retweet – But force all external Twitter clients to use the new-style.
- Bring Back The Fail Whale – But only for Twitter clients, and insist it’s a main part of their splash screen and/or logo.
- Insist all Twitter clients are sub-labelled ‘For Newbies’ – They stop working completely as soon as somebody passes 100 followers and/or blocks a Justin Bieber fan.
- Just Say No – And blacklist anybody they want.
Okay, some of this probably isn’t going to happen. But some of it absolutely could. The revamps and updates to Twitter.com are an inevitability, and it’s not as if they’re ever going to favour anybody else when it comes to their API. Who says they won’t start charging a premium for certain things? And you know the fail whale is just waiting, out there, all bloated and angry and ready to be shipped on to the next sucker, like the giant croc during the end credits of Lake Placid.
I know what you’re thinking: it’s not in Twitter’s interest to do any of this. But what if they actually do get picked up by a bigger player, like a Google or a Facebook or an Apple, for an enormous sum of money? What if it’s suddenly in their interest? Apple doesn’t exactly excel in giving things away for nothing.
And to be honest that doesn’t even really matter, because if and when Twitter marches on to one billion users, they can pretty much do whatever they want. After that, it’s all gravy. Twitter has all the power. No wonder they’re (allegedly and repeatedly) in play. Whatever numbers are being thrown around now, it’s going to look like a bargain in 10 years. Possibly even five.
Because you know what’s cooler than a billion users? A billion and one. And why would you want to share that with anybody else?