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Does Twitter Really Think It Can Control Its Users?

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Since the NBC/Twitter hook-up for the Olympics, the social network seems to think it can force users to do its bidding. Recently it cut off Tumblr and Instagram. Whether this is hubris or monetization, many are not amused.

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MINYANVILLE ORIGINAL Can mobile users be forced to turn on their TVs? Can they be forced to do anything?

Twitter seems to think it can control its users and every aspect of their Twitter experience, and recent moves it has made to those ends have upset many.

First, the TV situation. There's no debating that ratings fell hard in 2012, especially among the coveted young-adult segment of viewers age 18-49. When this segment does watch, it's online and, for the most part, without commercials. Jeff Gaspin, former head of entertainment at NBC, owned by GE (GE), summed it up succinctly when interviewed by Bill Carter for the New York Times: "We are seeing the cumulative effect of nonlinear viewing. I think we are at a tipping poing in how people are going to watch shows."

Young adult eyeballs are on social networks, including Facebook (FB) and Twitter. Twitter has 140 million active users and, like Facebook, has willingly partnered with networks to "drive user engagement."

NBC says Twitter helped drive a record number of viewers to its prime time coverage: At nearly 220 million viewers, the delayed coverage of the London games made it the most watched television event in history.

Whether or not the record number of viewers can be tied to Twitter or is simply a coincidence since they would have tuned in anyway, the social network is taking credit. Twitter's vice president for media, Chloe Sladden said, "What we saw is that it was an amazing daytime teaser trailer driving people into primetime."

In fact, since the NBC/Twitter hook up for the Olympics, the social network seems to think it can force users to do its bidding, like watch TV on command.

Blogger Mather Ingram presents persuasive evidence that Twitter thinks its "future is driving eyeballs to television programs."

Beyond TV, Twitter has been controlling users' experiences by blithely cutting off former partners from friend-finding privileges. It has already cut off access to LinkedIn (LNKD), Facebook-owned Instagram, and Tumblr.

The crime? These apps all changed the way they display tweets, and Twitter wants to have control over how each tweet is shown as well as control its users' "interest graphs."

Tumblr, which is not owned by a competitor and has been a close partner for the new Twitter Cards feature, was particularly hurt. Said Tumblr:

To our dismay, Twitter has restricted our users' ability to 'Find Twitter Friends' on Tumblr. Given our history of embracing their platform, this is especially upsetting. Our syndication feature is responsible for hundreds of millions of tweets, and we eagerly enabled Twitter Cards across 70 million blogs and 30 million posts as one of Twitters first partners.

The moves seem designed as a prelude to monetization. According to developer Dustin Curtis:

Twitter has an enormous advantage over Facebook in one key area: while people on Facebook tend to friend their friends, people on Twitter tend to follow their interests. The social graph that makes up Twitter is worth far more on a per-account basis because it is directly monetizable in a way that Facebook's generally isn't – you can show prophylactic advertisements to Twitter users based solely on the people they follow, and probably get a much higher rate of interest. Compared to other social display ads, Twitter ads, it is rumored, work extremely well.

While it is ostensibly a sharing service, [Twitter] is actually a broadcasting medium. People use Twitter more like they use TV; they follow accounts they are interested in, namely celebrities and companies, and then they consume the content as a form of entertainment. Normal people have very little incentive to use Twitter except to communicate unidirectionally with their interests. This is why it has been shown that the vast majority of Twitter users who sign up never tweet, even though a huge number of those people view their feed often."

The problem, as Curtis notes, is that "Twitter was built on the backs of the very developers it is now blocking." It seems they want those developers to continue supporting twitter by syndicating onto its platform, but doesn't want to provide anything of value to developers in return.

Who will Twitter cut next? Observers point to Flipboard, Prismatic, Zite, Tweetbot, Echofon, Twitterific, Prismatic, Rebelmouse, Favstar.fm, Klout, and any other social or third party app that it considers a competitor, especially competitors that provide what is analogous to any media experience.

Whether this is hubris or monetization, many are not amused.

A year ago, Twitter reportedly raised funding at an $8 billion valuation, which implies it made projections for things like earnings growth and business model, etc. Since then its moves clearly point to an attempt to monetize itself and build a wall around its "interest graph."

Who me, monetize? Twitter CEO Dick Costolo says he's in no hurry to go public. "We are going to remain private as long as we want," he told the Los Angeles Times.

Recent moves suggest otherwise.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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