You’d have to live under a rock to escape the reach of
Twitter Inc. 's worldwide influence. Entertainers, athletes, politicians, business leaders, and everyday people use Twitter to maintain their relationships with the world.
But Twitter could be knocked from its position by an energetic upstart.
Despite the popularity of Twitter, it has its frustrating limits. Many people, including yours truly, find it challenging to share interesting ideas in 140 characters or less.
Enter microblogging service Tumblr. Founded a year after Twitter in 2007 by entrepreneur David Karp, Tumblr does not have as big a name or following as Twitter, but it may actually be a better service.
First, Tumblr has no set character limit. Also, while Twitter only allows limited text, pictures, and links, Tumblr allows all of this while letting people post video files and audio in MP3 format. Tumblr also offers the options of saving drafts of posts and the ability to schedule posts to go out via queue.
You might ask yourself, if services such as Tumblr exist, then why is Twitter so popular? One look around the Web and you will quickly discover there is barely any real competition for Twitter other than Tumblr. Sure, you can post status updates to Facebook in a manner similar to Twitter. Google Buzz is another service competing in the microblogging site market, but ironically, it hasn't had very much “buzz,” so to speak.
If a service like Twitter is so popular, then one must ask, why is there so little competition? Well, for one thing, besides people such as Brad Pitt, Barack Obama, or Steve Jobs, is anyone out there really so interesting that they need to let the world know what they are up to?
Also, and more importantly, a service such as Twitter isn't exactly the most financially feasible product. Twitter has struggled to find a way to monetize the space and gain revenue.
In fact, Twitter has survived primarily on funding from investors. To date, Twitter has received more than $100 million in funding but has yet to produce a healthy return on those investments. Furthermore, no one knows their plan to make money as they refuse to discuss their plan... if it exists.
In comparison, Tumblr obtained just $10 million in funding, and they have made efforts to make money. Even though use of the site is free, members have the option to pay for a “premium theme” for their blog page as well as paying to have their blog featured on the front page of the site.
In contrast, considering how long Twitter has been in operation, it makes me wonder if it can actually turn a profit.
Why is it that Twitter struggles to turn a profit? Over the years, young, techy entrepreneurs have created great ideas that have spawned Internet companies, but when it comes to running a company, few are successful -- that is, until they get experienced business leaders to come in. Just look at the moves Mark Zuckerburg has made.
Bottom line? Judging by the popularity of the space and the number of users involved, the microblog category is probably going to be just fine. But, Twitter's days may be numbered due to no sign of revenues. It may be the dominant microblogging service now, but things may change, as Tumblr grows and takes more market share.
Currently, Tumblr claims to be acquiring more than 15,000 new members per day with 2 million posts made on the site daily. While the popularity of Twitter is impressive, its lack of a business plan, revenue model, and any clear executive leadership could cause Twitter to get “Tumblr’d” from its top spot.
— André Amoranto is a student of journalism and sociology based in Palm Springs, Calif.