Twitter’s Woes Signal the End of the Social Wars
Two buzzwords define the past decade of computing: mobile and social. Those days are coming to an end. Although smartphones and social media remain as important as ever, the war to control those platforms are over. Winners are being coronated as the losers are, at last, conceding.
Microsoft plans to unload what’s left of its Nokia purchase, and BlackBerry—remember them?—is abandoning the hardware business. That essentially ends the smartphone wars, leaving iOS and Android as the dominant operating systems. Now, Twitter’s ongoing woes suggest the end of the social platform wars are nigh.
Twitter stocks jumped last month amid rumors of a sale, with Google, Apple, and Salesforce cited as suitors. Now it appears they’ve all jilted the company, and its stock tumbled to below pre-rumor levels.
There are many reasons the titans of tech would pass. Twitter isn’t growing fast enough, it doesn’t make enough money, and it is overrun by trolls, morons, and bullies. And those are the big problems. But the fact no one seems to want one of the world’s most influential social platforms says something about how the landscape has changed.
The Social Craze
Facebook wasn’t the first social network, but its success heralded the age of Social Everything, just as the iPhone luanched Mobile Mania. Countless social networks appeared, catering to every niche. Even the most boring companies got in on things. IBM, SAP, Salesforce, and Tibco released corporate social networking tools, and Microsoft snapped up Yammer (“Twitter for work”) for $1.2 billion and LinkedIn for $26.2 billion. Everything from help desk software to video streaming sites tapped into social networks.
The prevailing wisdom of the era stated that Google and Apple needed a social network to remain relevant. If people turned to Facebook instead of search engines for information, how would Google keep making money? If Google had a successful social network built into its Android operating system, who would buy an iPhone?
So both companies gave it a try. Google launched Orkut, then Google Wave, then Google Buzz, then Google+. None of them took off. Apple launched the music-themed social network called iTunes Ping in 2010. It went nowhere.
The missteps didn’t seem to hurt. People still use Google search. They keep buying Android phones and iPhones. Meanwhile, Facebook’s attempt at a mobile platform, Facebook Home, fizzled. No one, it seems, could make a smartphone platform and a social network and do a good job of both.
Now everyone’s looking at what’s next. Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are competing for the nascent virtual reality market. Apple and Google just launched new messaging apps to challenge Facebook and Snapchat. Snapchat is making smartglasses. Amazon and Google are making–of all things–smart speakers. Business software startups are building Slack apps instead of mobile apps. Companies are investing millions–billions, probably–into artificial intelligence, robotics and drones.
Yes, buying Twitter could still make sense for Apple or Google. Either company could expand Twitter’s user base by baking Twitter into its mobile devices. Either could drive revenue selling Twitter ads through its existing ad network. But their lack of interest suggests both companies are moving beyond the social wars. Buying Twitter would be a throwback to the recent past, not a step toward the future.
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