What Company Will Be the eHarmony of Microblogging?

A New York Times article by David Carr rehashing common knowledge on “why Twitter will endure” got me thinking about the ways in which it will not endure, or the ways in which it may endure via which no one will really care about it.

So, what does it mean to “endure”? To stay in business? So what – Lord and Taylor is still in business, but there are so many better stores if you ask me. L&T is in big trouble in my opinion as it is getting killed on the low end by Target and other retailers, in the middle by Macy’s, and on the high end by stores like Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom.

RC Cola has endured. The company has a website and everything. It’s owned by an entity called the Cott Corporation, now – I can hardly contain my excitement over that. We always think of Coke and Pepsi when we think of soft drinks, and maybe now we even think of carbonated things like Perrier or some sports drinks. But, still, RC Cola endures.

Classmates.com is still enduring – but when was the last time anyone cared? I’m still somewhat of fan of MySpace for connecting people, though certainly Facebook is better in its functional capacity. And LinkedIn has the business niche going on still. But no, Classmates.com endures. I’m proud of those guys. They’re connecting people, one high school classmate I don’t care about at a time.

So what does it mean to say that Twitter will endure?

“Endure” has a number of definitions: to undergo without giving in, to regard with tolerance, to continue in the same state, and to remain firm under misfortune without yielding. None of those sound very positive to me. I’m trying to imagine Bill Gates in an early Microsoft meeting with some guys around a table, giving a pitch about the future of the brand: “Thanks for coming, the title of this presentation is: MICROSOFT WILL ENDURE” – inspiring!

I’m not really interested in the question of whether “Twitter will endure” or not. They have $100 million from investors – unless they’re burning wads of cash building a replacement for the space shuttle, they will endure for quite a while. So, we have an answer to a question that was borderline stupid to ask in the first place, certainly in a post-Ashton Kutcher post-Oprah twitterverse.

The real question is, what will the future of the microsharing ecosystem look like? The ecosystems of department stores, soft drinks, and social networks have changed drastically over differing time periods. Some businesses still endure in various forms, but there’s only room at the top for one big one, one second place, and maybe a few niche players. Will Twitter be #1 or #2? Maybe, maybe not. No one knows.

It’s interesting to think about microsharing in the framework of dating websites. Some dating websites try to be a catch-all, like Match.com does; it’s a good site that has barely evolved since it started, and they try to appeal to everyone while simultaneously doing nothing special for hardly anyone. Marriage? Match.com Hookups? Match.com Newly divorced? Match.com Old? Young? Match.com

Match.com has about 15 million users last I checked. They will endure. But eHarmony (how can you escape the commericals?) has about 20 million. Why? They’re hitting a more marriage-minded, wholesome-dating niche. (Chemistry.com is also in that niche, at about 5 million members.)

On the raunchier side of the equation, AdultFriendFinder.com has about 32 million users, roughly the size of Match and eHarmony combined. Wow.

In principle they will all endure. But who’s making money, and who are people talking about the most, and which brands do people trust? I’m not sure I can answer that question for dating websites, but those are certainly the right questions.

So how does Twitter play into this? Well, Twitter is like the Match.com of microsharing – everything to everyone and nothing to no one. But who will be the eHarmony and AdultFriendFinder of microsharing?

It strikes me that while many articles have been written about Microsoft, Google, IBM, and others thinking and plotting about buying Twitter, that that’s the wrong ultimate move. The real strong move is to create your own in a big niche that Twitter’s ignoring. Take Microsoft for the sake of argument. They use the open source identi.ca (or similar) as a base for creating “microsharing for serious business people” and market it that way, as a free online service. I can see the commericals: “Twitter is for kids. MicroShare is for your business.” That’s the kind of thing my parents would react to.

On the flip side, why doesn’t some edgy youth company like Abercrombie & Fitch or Guess or Forever 21 start a “skanky” version of Twitter for teens to meet other teens and hook up for burgers, drinks, and more? Make it no holds barred, fun, engaging. Maybe you can even pretend to be a vampire or something, and “bite” people you have a crush on. I don’t know, whatever’s cool these days. And it should be all neon colors or something rad.

Predictions? My guess (1) is that people would rather participate in large niche sites. And my guess (2) is that advertisers would rather advertise there because they know the audience a little better. And my guess (3) is that these niche microsharing sites would provide more relevant information when linked up with Google and Bing search results, and would provide more relevant trending topics and other features to users.

Twitter will probably endure. The question is, will you care?

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  • Very Knowledgeable

    Drapeau says, “So what – Lord and Taylor is still in business, but there are so many better stores if you ask me. L&T is in big trouble in my opinion as it is getting killed on the low end by Target and other retailers, in the middle by Macy’s, and on the high end by stores like Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom”.

    What kind of blogger are you? Oh, I know what kind – the kind that likes to perpetuate mis-information. You speak in freakin’ opposites. I have first hand knowlege of how L&T is performing. And buddy, it is currently kickin’ but. Granted, people have traded down. Thank god to that and congrats to Target. But messy and over merchandised Macy’s is hurting and the luxury brands have been repporting comps that are not to pretty. So Mark, some due dilligence might be necessary on your part or I might Have your job.

  • Mark Drapeau

    I haven’t heard word-of-mouth about Lord & Taylor in about 25 years. Literally. They almost tanked a few years ago http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_&_Taylor and were sold. Now they dream of competing with Neiman and Saks. Well, good luck. To say they are “kickin” is frankly, a bit silly. No one fashionable shops there.

  • Kevin Marshall

    I like the thinking throughout this article…but I think at least one of the ‘key’ differences is that a thing like Twitter is both a service AND a feed…99% of the niche systems that are poping up are being built on top of Twitter’s data/structure (ie. they are slicing, dicing, and focusing Twitter data, not trying to compete with it).

    Ultimately people may not think of twitter, go to twitter, or use twitter knowingly…but there’s still a very good chance that it will endure simply as the underlying data transfer/storage system for many many niche sites.

    The dating vertical for example, historically has no one place that everyone is already feeding their profiles and dating interests into (though you could probably argue that facebook is quickly working it’s way into that position as well)…they’ve each had to build that part of their own systems/networks and that’s helped to drive each in different directions/focus but also drained their resources and slowed their growth in many cases.

    So I think it’s a bit of Apples and Oranges…but I do like the thinking and I do basically agree with your end predictions…I just don’t think any of them need to be ‘instead’ of Twitter and will more likely be ‘because of’ and ‘built on top of’ Twitter and Facebook…

  • Dave Brown

    Great post. A fun read and your L&T comment cracked me up. I think you’ll enjoy my blog. We’re no Match.com but carving out a niche for promoting creativity in snack-sized ADD format. http://www.holidaymatinee.com

  • Ben

    The fundamental flaw in your reasoning is that twitter *is* a niche site for everybody. I see my background and my micro-niche of people I find interesting. Unlike a department store, I don’t have to ever see the kind of people I’m not interested in. That’s why I prefer it to facebook: it is exactly my niche.

  • Bob

    The L&T comments are way off-base, they are doing very well as they “eat” Saks and Neiman-Marcus’ lunch. Like Nordstrom, they are viewed by retail experts as being in a sweet spot as luxury shoppers traded now from Saks, N-M, and special retailers. L&T is seen as a solid, traditional, store—the type that does well in bad times. Don’t write them off, they’ve been around since 1827 which makes them America’s second-oldest retailer.

  • Mark Drapeau

    Love all the defense of Lord & Taylor. Wish that converted into shopping. Last time I poked my head in there, I heard crickets. But I’m sure they’re doing as well as Target, Saks, and Neiman – that’s why I hear about those three so much more.

    Ben – you can’t be a general site and a niche site. If people are peeling out niche data from Twitter, sure, fine – but Twitter’s market and strategy is not niche – it’s “sign up as many accounts as possible”