Twitter should implement private domains, not just ‘whispers’

Twitter is being battered in the markets, one victim of investors recent skittishness for cloud computing companies with low profits or slowing growth.

Twitter stock fell 8.6% to $38.97 on the New York Stock Exchange, a rebound from the low of $37.24. While still above the IPO price of $26, Twitter has dropped almost half its value since peaking at $73.31 in December 26.

In a recent interview with Emily Chang, CEO Dick Costolo discussed new experiments to increase engagement with users. Emil Protalinski pulled a quote about a ‘whisper mode’ (see Twitter CEO Dick Costolo: Whisper Mode for Public Conversations), where Costolo sketches a picture about new messaging functionality:

So when I talk about direct messaging within the Twitter application and the work we’ll do improve it, what I’m talking about is there are frequently public conversations on Twitter, and Twitter is entirely public conversation. It’s real time, what’s happening right now, public and conversational.

There are frequently public conversations that you would like to grab hold of and take into whisper mode with a friend and say, hey, this thing has happened. Look what these people are talking about. What do you think about this, with a friend or more than one friend. So being able to move fluidly between that public conversation and the private conversation is something we’ll make simpler.

I’ll broaden that discussion and return to a proposal I first made in October (see Twitter should go private: private Twitter accounts, I mean), that Twitter should offer private accounts:

Private Twitter – Twitter is one large namespace, with everything defaulting to the open follower model. And that is a wonderful thing. However, sometimes people want to communicate behind closed doors, and the only mechanism for doing that in Twitter is direct messaging, a feature that is extremely limited and not very Twitter like. DMs are one-to-one communications only, and don’t ‘feel’ like streams as a result. (Twitter should implement group private messaging, for a monthly fee, too.)

I propose that Twitter consider the implementation of private twitter domains, which would be either for-fee or advertiser-supported. The functionality would allow a business, for example, to use a twitter subdomain — like adjectivenoun.twitter.com — to which users would have to be invited, or perhaps gain access by confirmation of a company email address (stoweboyd@adjectivenoun.com, for example).

Note that by default, every user would discover (on the day they turned the service on) that they possessed a private twitter subdomain — like stoweboyd.twitter.com — based on their existing user Twitter handle. They could opt not to do anything with it, or to start using it.

The owner of the account would be able to invite others to join, or turn on company email address verification. Once logged in, users would be able to connect and communicate with other co-workers using the standard open follower model, use and follow hashtags (as discussed above), and best yet, create project- or group-oriented contexts that could be private to those invited. This would allow Twitter to compete in the enterprise social network market, where it already has a toehold.

Most businesses would opt for a for-fee use, since that would give them administrative controls. But small businesses, non-profits, and freelancers might decide to simply see ads streaming by occasionally, or plastered on the walls of their streams.

(There are also immediate opportunities for the cross-communication of private and open Twitter, too complex to develop here, but that would represent an area for other marketing and customer-facing services, as well.)

This would open up a new line of business and revenue stream, something like that of Google Apps has done for Google. So, yes, by all means I think Twitter should support whispering, but more critically, they should support private domains.

Relevant Analyst
Stowe Boyd

Stowe Boyd

Lead analyst, future of work Gigaom Research and stoweboyd.com

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