Twitter: Like Yahoo! (back in 1994)


As is our want, those of us who spend a fair bit of time blogging and tweeting like to jump on any juicy story about blogs or Twitter, and Kara Swisher has certainly served up one that everyone can sink their teeth into, including Robert Scoble, Sara Lacy, Larry Dignan, Jeff Clavier, and Dan Farber, to name a few. Her piece, entitled, “Twitter: Where Nobody Knows Your Name,” reveals the results of an informal survey she did of 100 people at a wedding on the East Coast. The finding? These decidely non-Silicon Valley folk hadn’t even heard of Twitter. The horror!

In many ways, I didn’t find that shocking. Twitter skews very much early adopter at the moment. It’s loudest advocates are professional bloggers, who use it to get an edge on their clay-footed rivals of “old media.” Just this weekend, I was at a dinner party in Silicon Valley, attended by a small cadre of startup folks whose experience runs deep in the enterprise software sector (not the consumer Internet funhouse). One person, who is now stepping over into the consumer space, asked my opinion of Twitter. Before I could answer, two people asked, “What’s Twittter?”!

So, should Twitter employees or investors be worried? I don’t think so. This service has legs. In terms of potential, I would liken it a bit to Yahoo! in 1994. Over the course of that summer, Yahoo! provided an early adopter crowd an invaluable way to discover the blossoming world of the Web.

But for those who hadn’t yet downloaded Mosaic and started “surfing” the Web (with the help of Yahoo!), the whole thing smacked of ridiculous. Free software. Services with silly names. And a bunch of fairly crude sites to poke around on at modem speed. It was all too easy to miss the potential of the new medium.

I believe that we are right now on the cusp of the Social Web, a massive transformation of the Internet via a new set of services that bring who-you-know to any website or application. It’s really hard to predict which of today’s early Social Web tools will be the next Yahoo!, Google, eBay, or Amazon, but I am fairly confident some of the new crop of Twitter, FriendFeed, Plaxo Pulse, Pownce, Jaiku, or for that matter, the big kids down the block, Facebook, will graduate to the Big Leagues.

My advice? Keep an eye on that Twitter thing.

Also, Mathew Ingram makes an apt comparison between Twitter and ICQ’s early days.

P.S. While writing this, I reminded myself of the early days of Yahoo! with this nice little history. One anecdote that it omits, which I think is true, is that after Sequoia’s Mike Moritz funded David and Jerry, they started to look for a “real name.” Mike, a big fan of short memorable company names, said something like, “If you change the name, I’ll take our money back!”

One thought on “Twitter: Like Yahoo! (back in 1994)

  1. Twitter is cool and weird at the same time. As most cool things are. You can have a following out of the blue even if you do not intend for it. I use Twitter as quick and easy way to add updated text to my Website using the public rss feed. It allows a bit of timely commentary on an otherwise static website.

    But I may change this approach because Twitter is interesting on its own.

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