Stop Twittering and Go Solve a Problem

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For the past few months, people have been pestering the hell out of me about Twitter. “What do you mean you aren’t using Twitter?! Oh man, you’re really missing out!” Well, I finally had some time today to join Twitter and take a look at it. I was underwhelmed, to say the least. Aside from aesthetically looking like something a 12 year old cobbled up, the entire tool seems utterly pointless to me.

Am I getting old? Of course! But according to Pew Internet’s latest survey, I am considered an omnivore, or in the top 8% of digitally connected people in the country. You can try your luck here.

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Do I really need to know what all of my friends and colleagues are doing at any given moment of the day? No.

Do I really need to know that 15 minutes ago, Jimmy heated up a bowl of Mac ‘n Cheese in the microwave? Or on a professional side, do I really give a **** if Sally is taking a break in the breakroom, or reading her emails, or “frustrated at the world?” Save for my young daughter, I have no desire to know what anyone is doing 24 hours a day.

Later in the day, I happened to be exchanging emails with a young entrepreneur who reached out to me for help (poor bastard.) His play was to create a “better Twitter.” I asked him what his revenue model was, what pain he was solving for customers, how he was going to differentiate himself from Twitter, and what his barriers to entry would be (both before and after.) His responses were hollow at best.

Here’s a novel idea. Unless your business idea solves a painpoint for someone, or otherwise introduces an efficiency into their lives or business, it is most likely a novelty. And while they may be easily bootstrapped, novelties are rarely venture-backable. Can Twitter turn into some huge ridiculous cash cow? Of course. Anything is possible. But possible does not equal probable. And while the original novelty may attain some degree of success, knock-offs of novelties have a much harder road.

My advice? If you really want to be a successful entrepreneur, stop worrying about creating mindless tools to keep track of everything your friends are doing, and start solving real problems. If you aren’t aware of any problems in the world that need solving, go work in any arbitrary industry for a year or two and take copious notes.

Cheers.

14 Comments

  1. ROFL and good advice!

  2. Paul Freet · May 8, 2007 at 10:04 am

    Twitter was created to fill a nead, it isn’t really a product. It doesn’t have to be. Create something that bloggers use and they will write about it. Other bloggers will read about it and try it.

    It is pretty pointless though, unless you have a huge ego and think people really want to know this stuff. Maybe a subscription feed to Brittney Spear’s Twitter feed. That ought to be interesting reading.

    My guess is that Twitter is just a fad and will burn out quickly, sort of like podcasting. :-)

  3. you’ll be hooked too, give it a month :)

    and yes, it creates some social value, I get to keep in touch with my friends back in England efficiently.

  4. Shanti Braford; On Web Apps · May 8, 2007 at 6:34 pm

    There is a famous essay circulating on the web somewhere about how the #1 social software purpose is to help its users get laid.

    Now, I’m not sure Twitter facilitates that…

    But for the younger kids, I can see them twittering,

    “im heded to the rhino on sunset. ladies night roflmao wtfbbq werd. wnna com?”

    and all his other little twitterers will say where they are going and meet up that way. (why they would do this when they can just call each other instead, is beyond me)

    ps. What’s your take on MySpace? I can see the same arguments being made against MySpace as well.

  5. Hey Scott, interesting comments. I don’t share your sentiments, but I get where you’re coming from.

    I guess, as a fellow omnivore, I’ve primarily given up blogs in exchange for Twitter — mostly because I care deeply about the people that I’m subscribed to on Twitter and it’s easier for me to stay in touch with and with the real issues they’re going through than if I tried to stay up on 800 blogs. Now, it’s certainly not a substitute for genuine human interaction, but it is a useful way to get a sense for “ambient intimacy” while I’m not sharing a beer or cup of tea with my Twitter friends.

    I can’t say how long it will last or if it’s just another trend that will go out of fashion, but I really appreciate the 140 character limit as a design constraint, and one that really force you to be concise while still being meaningful.

    Anyway, Twitter does solve a real problem for me, which is keeping up to date with hundreds of friends that I was falling out of touch with. It certainly isn’t a be-all, end-all, but for me, it helps.

  6. Ben Koppler · May 15, 2007 at 8:30 pm

    i agree scott. twitter is probably the biggest waste of time i’ve ever seen. i wish some of these entrepreneurs would focus on creating some real value for a change.

  7. Oren Thulmarr · May 15, 2007 at 8:38 pm

    All of this talk about “staying in contact” with others is a ridiculous notion to explain the perceived value of Twitter. Can you say “email?” if you want to stay in touch with your friends, use email. The rest of the world does. It is still the killer app to end all killer apps.

  8. There are some practical uses I have seen written up about twitter. Mostly I have gotten information and links from those that I follow – similar to following blogs. What I find most valuable is the human connection ingredient, which is what all social media is centered around anyway. I am predicting more and more people will become independent contractors and people with the ability to work remotely in the very near future. What twitter offers is a virtual peak around someone’s “cube” to say, “hey, what are you doing?” It is literally a way to stay connected to people you like.

    I did not ‘get it’ right away either, but now I log in at least twice a day to see how my friends are doing and provide input on what is going on in my day.

  9. Rob Cantrell · May 16, 2007 at 1:04 am

    I agree with the email angle.

    If I find one my employees plugging in their “Twitter update” so that people they work with can see what they are doing, I’m bouncing them out on their ass. They can then “twitter” in the bread line with their fellow “twitterers.” They have better things to do.

    Twitter may be fun fo’ the kiddies, but practical uses (sherry) does not equal a practical business, which is what Scott’s post was all about to begin with.

    RobC

  10. I see two points to the post. The first complains about the usefulness of Twitter. Twitter seems to be a very polarizing tool so to each his own there.

    The second point about the business model and how some young entrepreneurs may be falling into a trap is a very valid point and I think people should stop with the twitter bashing and focus on that instead.

    We should push our young entrepreneurs to solve problems as scott says rather than to create a bunch of fads or apps that dont serve much more than a novelty purpose.

  11. There seems to be a lot of lack of understanding about the purpose of social media tools, such as Twitter, from people who do not use Social Media Tools. There have been a few references here to email. I have gotten to the point where I get frustrated when someone emails me an article or some silly junk. For me, email says “this is urgent please respond.” The arguments about Twitter are very similar to what I heard about blogs a couple of years ago, yet here we are having a conversation on a blog. Regarding time/practical uses and practical business, I can and do make a great case of how this new technology not only make business more efficient, but reduces turnover and enhances team work. No this is not my theory but my business concept with paying clients reaping the benefits.

  12. The way I understand it, Twitter was created in-house at Odeo for their own use, and it’s gradually evolved into something popular. It’s popular because it was the *first*, and it’s popular because it just happened that way. The problem is for the clone-makers, who won’t stand much of a chance of doing anything except wasting their time. I tend to agree with the post. Twitter’s made it’s mark; leave them to it and go make something else.

  13. Hi Scott:

    Your response was spot on to the young, would-be entrepreneur who wanted to create a Twitter clone. He doesn’t have a vision of the problem he wants to solve and without that he will fail.

    Twitter may someday be very successful but for now its value proposition is weak. More information isn’t necessarily better as you pointed out, and it’s not unique—there are many ways of connecting with people during the day whether you have something important to say or just want to share what you had for breakfast.

  14. Novella Yang · May 20, 2007 at 5:54 pm

    Scott thanks for a great rant. Although I do use twitter from time to time, I agree with your message about entrepreneurs needing to focus on solving problems.

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