DESPITE BEING a household name, and despite efforts at adding new features, Twitter can’t make a profit. This has been going on for several years. So why not just sell the company and pay off the shareholders?
As it turns out, even this is next to impossible.
According to reports, there was a lineup of suitors in recent weeks ready to take over the company. But one by one, they took themselves out of the running. Early rumours had Apple and Google showing interest, but they were quickly eliminated. Disney (the media conglomerate, not the amusement parks) was at one point considered to be a dream buyer, but it soon lost interest.
The last hope was Salesforce, a company that makes money from selling software that manages interaction with customers. They have a market capitalization of $55 billion, so the money was there. But the spirit, in the end, was not.
Twitter is still hoping to find a buyer, but at this point it’s hard to imagine who that might be.
Many people with more insight than me have tried to explain Twitter’s troubles. But the main reason may be quite simple. Twitter is failing for the same reason that Google Plus failed, and for the same reason other social networks have failed. In a word: Facebook.
Think of it this way. Let’s say you want an easy way to keep in touch with friends and relatives. Most likely you would ask them — what’s the best way to keep in touch with you. I’m willing to bet the vast majority of them would suggest Facebook, because that’s where they are already.
Facebook got a big head start, established itself, and relentlessly invested in growth and new features. Twitter and whatever Google is doing will always be second choices.
Apparently, when Twitter was first starting out, Facebook offered to buy them. That’s a likely scenario, given that they have a history of taking over competitors — or at least trying. If they can’t beat them, they try to match them with similar features. A good case in point is the obvious copying of Snapchat, which refuses to sell out.
Twitter is better than Facebook for keeping up with the latest news, but that’s not a feature that’s going to win most people over. While finding news on Facebook happens mostly by accident, this is more than enough for anyone who isn’t a news junkie.
There’s still a chance that Twitter might find a way to innovate its way to profitability. For example, they are now live-streaming NFL football games — a good move to attract young people who are turning away from TV and getting pretty much all their entertainment from the Internet.
I really do hope they find a way of surviving. I would have to go through severe withdrawal if they ever folded.
Mark Rogers writes about media and technology at his newsonaut blog.