According to data released by ComScore this month, 800,000 Australians visited the Twitter website in June. Most of them had less than 10 followers and many had no followers at all, but regardless, 800,000 is a big number. It’s about 4% of our population, which makes it a critical mass. Twitter is here. It’s going to stay. It’s not a fad any more and, as of three months ago, its popularity was growing at a rate of 6000% per annum. Look at the chart of Twitter growth compared to Facebook growth and you’ll get the picture:
But just how popular are Facebook and Twitter going to get?
Twitter’s growth-rate of 6000% is, of course, completely unsustainable. If the site kept growing at that rate the entire population of Australia would be on the site by Christmas. That isn’t going to happen. Twitter is currently in the middle of the biggest growth spurt it’s ever going to have and basing predictions on the current rate would be pointless.
What we do know is that 6 million Australians now use (or at least spy on their grandkids using) Facebook and that figure is about double what it was last year. Twitter will never be as popular with the general population as Facebook because it’s nowhere near as handy for stalking potential bed-fellows, spying on your teenage children or organising parties. For that reason, Facebook seems likely to remain the social network of choice for those interested in, well, socially networking. Which is pretty much everyone.
MySpace, let’s face it, is like a virtual shopping mall where awkward teenagers congregate after the movie has finished and before they’ve found someone to pash. MySpace should have used its momentum, when it had some, to become an entertainment network. It could have rivalled YouTube, but it was being run by old media folks who were too scared of being sued, too worried about pissing off advertisers, and didn’t understand that everything is now free. Watch those same old-media folks push News Corp into the grave by charging for online content.
For that reason, Facebook, in my humble opinion, will continue to dominate. And when an organisation dominates online, when a website becomes the market leader, all the other players fall by the wayside. Look at Google — Microsoft can’t even claw 5% market share and they own the fricking operating system AND the most popular web browser. Amazon is killing the competition, Seek.com.au rules jobs, eBay stands alone (except in New Zealand, where TradeMe stands alone). Facebook is in exactly the same position. Facebook will continue to grow because its market share is now so great it will be too inconvenient for people to go elsewhere. At least for the next few years. Look at the following Google Trends chart if you don’t believe me. The blue line is MySpace, the red one is Facebook. The blue line is actually going down pretty steeply, it’s just not going up as steeply as the red one:
Google Trends: MySpace vs. Facebook
My prediction is that Facebook will peak in 2010, by which time it will have around half the Australian population as regular visitors: 10,000,000 unique visitors a month. It will level out from there and most likely decline if the next big thing comes along. And keep in mind, that may not happen. There has, so far, been no ‘next’ Google. Fads replace fads, but useful tools just stick around. (Remember when people thought the Internet was a fad?)
Geocities was ‘the next big thing’. MySpace was ‘the next big thing’. Blogs were ‘the next big thing for business.’ But they all fell by the wayside because something better came along. MySpace replaced personal website building tools like Geocities because it was easier and it connected people. Facebook replaced MySpace because it had better tools, did a much better job of connecting people and was so simple even your parents could use it (damnit). Twitter replaced blogs for business because blogs were hard work. Blogs took time, effort, and they’re long. Twitter is quick, easy and short. Any business owner with a computer can setup a Twitter account and even an illiterate monkey can keep it updated.
People will soon get sick of Tweeting among their friends because it’s too limiting. It’s no secret that I’m not a big Twitter fan and I prefer Tumblr, but for businesses, Twitter is the ultimate communication channel. Dell have made $3 million from retail offers on Twitter and Starbucks use it as an EDM solution. It’s a complete no-brainer. Every business should be on Twitter right now. Even if they just use it as a news feed.
Where will Twitter go from here? It’s hard to say. The model is flawed, all they’re doing is providing an easy-to-use news feed. They have zero competitive advantage and no real USP. All they have is a brand; a cute little blue bird; but the brand has the equity of an eagle. My prediction is that within two years 70% of Australian businesses with a website will also be on Twitter. There’ll be around 3 million account holders, but more importantly, I think Twitter is going to have more unique visitors than Facebook, just. By 2011 you won’t be able to interact with an Australian business without coming into contact with their Twitter feed. I’m calling it 10,000,001 unique users a month.
What do you think?