TweetDeck is to be killed. Why, and what wider implications might this have?

The death of TweetDeck has just been announced.  This is a shame, because it is a good tool – I use it and recommend it to others.  The decision has been explained on the TweetDeck blog but I don’t buy the reasoning here at all.  My explanation is more simple.  TweetDeck made Twitter better – but it did so in a way which Twitter (who bought it) couldn’t raise a buck from – so Twitter killed it.

TweetDeck says that it is shifting to a browser based environment.  Fair enough, but why would you retreat from the application environment in favour of a desktop environment – given the the mobile / tablet / app space is where all the action is happening?  I suspect that the answer lies in the planning for a Twitter IPO.  Twitter needs to convince potential investors that it has significant revenue potential in order to sell at a valuation that sits close to the expectations of its current owners and investors.  It has realised that the web (cloud) based environment is much easier to commercialise than the app environment.  Stuff that happens in the cloud can be captured and the data sold far more easily than capturing and selling what happens in applications.  Likewise, users can be accessed far more easily – putting ads in apps is difficult.  The lack of digital real estate has always been Twitter’s problem.  You sign up to Twitter on the web and then you never go back, because you then download your Twitter app which you use to manage your Twitter activity.  Twitter bought TweetDeck as a sort of stop (g)ap solution to ensure they were not cut completely out of the Twitter usage game, but this didn’t solve the bigger problem of how to commercialise usage.

I think the closure of TweetDeck is a shame, but it symptom of a wider issue – which is the understandable need to generate money from social media properties.  The problem here though is that the amount of money being sought is based on the need to support a desired (or actual) valuation – and these valuations are hugely over-inflated, because the Wall Street boys haven’t yet worked out the model.  They are are desperate to see platforms such as Facebook and Twitter as forms of media – because any such platform which has multi-million numbers of users must, therefore, be worth a huge amount.  They don’t realise that these platforms are actually infrastructures – or rather they don’t want to see them as infrastructures  – because the business / revenue model when looked at from this perspective, doesn’t look anywhere nearly as attractive.

This pressure is causing properties such as Facebook, Google and now Twitter, to move their focus away from servicing their users, devising products instead which are designed to harvest data and thus boost revenue (or perceived revenue potential).  This is the reason, in my opinion, why almost all of Google’s recent forays into the social space have failed – the products are not fundamentally based on solving problems for users, they are designed to encourage users to surrender data.  Likewise Facebook’s Timeline.  This wasn’t a feature anyone wanted, it was an excuse to encourage users to “put their life story” (i.e. put more data) into Facebook.  It also explains the desire of the big boys to buy-up or otherwise squeeze out, those services which have become annoyingly successful because, like TweetDeck, they provide something useful that the big boys are not doing.

This demand for social media properties to achieve sky-high valuations is, unfortunately, killing-off innovation in the free-to-use social media tool space.  The bar is set so high, that investors are only interested in funding things that will be the next Facebook and developers likewise dream of being Mark Zuckerberg.  What we need is a funding market that recognises that there may be opportunities out there that are much smaller scale in absolute terms, but may offer better and more sustainable relative returns in the long run.

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