Twitter, track and the business of the real time web

Many web startups these days are desperately seeking a business model, hoping their drill bits strike oil before they run out of venture capital money. It turns out Twitter, the micro-blogging …

1st September 2008 at 11:50 pm

Many web startups these days are desperately seeking a business model, hoping their drill bits strike oil before they run out of venture capital money. It turns out Twitter, the micro-blogging service, isn’t one of them.

Twitter business model hits pay dirt

Thanks to an often overlooked and currently disabled real time search tool called ‘track‘, Twitter has almost accidentally found itself sitting on a veritable internet oil field.

So what’s it doing with its untapped riches? Well it’s locking down supplies, buying up surrounding land and biding its time with a long, but fragile straw.

Now before you ask, let me explain two things:

– firstly, Twitter’s situation is important for all businesses large or small because it is shaping a ‘real time’ web that is changing the way we do business and communicate;

– secondly, yes, I admit that much of what I’m about to say is inspired, stolen or bowdlerised from the terrific conversations in and around Steve Gillmor’s Gillmor Gang and Newsgang podcasts.

So why is track so powerful?  Well, mostly because it allows you to search events as they happen on Twitter in real time, not after the event. As Steve said on Techcrunch IT recently:

Search produces analysis after the fact, while track produces interactions that change the events themselves.

Anyone familiar with the way news feeds like Reuters are used in business and the way trading in stocks, shares and commodities is conducted will instantly understand the commercial implications of this.

‘Now’ is competitive edge. Two minutes later is money down the pan.

The screen above could easily be tracking twitter conversations about a product launch in real time.  It might be measuring intensity based on frequency, but also negative/positive reactions based on keywords.  A click on any of the plots on the graph and you could be taking part in a conversation as it happens.

The potential for more natural conversations with and between small groupings or large swarms of customers across the web is clear.  Focus groups become the stream of conversation – forming and reforming.

And track provides a real time discovery of these conversations on Twitter – a kind of Google as it happens.

You could be tracking your company, your competitors, your product launch, or the progress of flooding as a river bursts its banks a few miles from your shop.

It’s the immediacy of track and XMPP (an instant messaging/streaming technology) which gives Twitter its mojo and why the real time web will mark another massive social, and of course business, shift on the internet.

Much of Web 2.0 has adopted the Cluetrain conversation meme, but truth be told the conversation has been like a stuttering, delayed early satellite link-up. Twitter (with track and XMPP) and its successors bring a more human flow. No more hanging on the telephone waiting for a reply, as Debbie Harry and Aron Michalski might put it.

But there’s a problem. Twitter has closed down, both track and XMPP.  Some would say these were the elements that made the service so unreliable in the first place – something its more open competitor may also be discovering as it reaches greater scale.

Just as likely is that Twitter is protecting its business assets from competitors it thought might end up drinking its milkshake through the straws of its own APIs.

This may be a smart business decision in the short term, so long as Twitter is building a robust XMPP/track infrastructure, quietly behind the scenes.

If it’s not, then the poster child of micro-blogging could rapidly become a prospector showing the way, but never reaping the rewards of its discoveries.


Alex is the founder and editor of SmallBizPod, the UK's first podcast dedicated to small business, start-ups and entrepreneurship. Alex writes about topical small business issues, entrepreneurs and anything else that catches his eye here on the small business blog.

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  1. Martyn Shiner says:


    XMPP (jabber IM is my preferred choice but googlechat will do!) integration was what turned me on to twitter in the first place – so when they pulled it, that was a blow. and twitterspy have helped but I preferred the feed to happen directly.


  2. I agree Martyn. Twitter has lost much of its lustre and utility now that IM/XMPP has been turned off. The loss of SMS is an irritant too. Twitterspy is handy, but it’s not real time because of the way Twitter throttles its XMPP feed. I guess all this sound super geeky, but I do think Twitter is the harbinger of broader social change brought about web and mobile technology.

  3. […] has been tweeting (@alexbellinger and @smallbiztweets) since 2007 and we’ve written about the business and business benefits of twitter on several […]

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