Communities need bulletin boards. You see them around town with thumbtacked flyers and business cards. Today, hyperlocal “shared economy” startups like NextDoor and Taskrabbit are proliferating with the mission of bringing online neighbors together to share community commentary and services. The problem is simply overload, only a select few like Airbnb (and there are literally hundreds of them) have reached critical mass to be practical for users. The old world analogy is all these startups are running their own bulletin boards all over town, and neighbors in need must trek to each one to search for what they want. What’s required is a local utility, an online bulletin board that allows somebody to ask “I need to borrow a chainsaw this weekend”, and get a reply because all their neighbors happen to be listening, and want to help or expedite a transaction.
Twitter has built the foundation for this media utility. Although often associated with breaking news distribution, Twitter is more than a broadcast channel; it can facilitate the local B2B, B2C and C2C communication required for a truly active online bulletin board. The shared economy will work most efficiently with a communal media infrastructure that facilitates the messaging required to match transactional participants. What makes Twitter a media utility?
1) Twitter is a content syndication layer. Shared economy and hyperlocal startups, just like media companies, use Twitter to get their message out to the community as if it were a bulletin board. More critically, these businesses depend upon Twitter as a valued marketing channel that is currently free to use, with the freemium option of their Promoted Tweets product.
2) Twitter compiles content into a massive searchable real time news and information database, and no other media company, let alone startup, can capture more than a tiny sliver of the universe of voices Twitter has amassed. Curation across big data expedites transactions. Startups like Local Response and Needium monitor need based requests (“I need a hotel room in #Berkeley tonight”) and fulfills them for commission or subscription fees by their SMB clients. Twitter is a key medium for these consumer demand services because needs are expressed openly without the barriers of walled gardens (i.e. Facebook) or logins into a specific service.
Twitter is now setting strategy to own this new media distribution layer. They’re touting strong revenue growth in mobile ads that will reinforce their position to sell into hyperlocal markets. And they’re flexing their muscles too. Last week, Twitter halted a cross posting partnership with LinkedIn in an apparent bid to contain monetizable tweet content within the Twitter ecosystem so it’s not distributed free via third party services. Moreover, Twitter’s API developers may be restricted from building apps that encroach on Twitter’s revenue opportunities in the syndication layer. It’s simply taking the old media business model of charging for information distribution, or more pointedly advertising, across a new medium, just as TV, cable TV and other media utilities did earlier.
The concern about Twitter is media utilities like TV aren’t owned by a single company. Matthew Ingram over at GigaOM has been writing prolifically about the future of Twitter as a media company stealthily trying to control the bulletin board, and postulates whether a company or community might wrest control of the Twitter utility by building an open source platform. In sum, every hyperlocal service will focus on leveraging Twitter to build community engagement with their product simply due to Twitter’s massive reach.