The flutter over Twitter lately has me thinking about the nature of the land-rush mindset. If you’ve recently followed Web 2.0 buzz sites you’ll recognize Twitter.com as the new viral media phenomenon; it’s easier to look at than explain, but think of it as a mini-blog where short posts (140 characters max) appear on your cell phone, your IM and the Web.
A maximal time waster, it’s also oddly addictive. Usage has doubled every month since it started, and I’ll go out on a limb and predict that Twitter will thrive.
Twitter, like eBay, like MySpace and like the dot-com environment itself, is what I call a 'namespace’ play. It’s a natural monopoly in which usernames are unique. These spaces create 'sticky’ audiences. Why? Because, in addition to a namespace’s utility, users derive psychic (and sometimes monetary) payback from enhancing their in-space reputations. Hence eBay has community-driven feedback, Amazon hosts Listmania lists and user-written reviews, and Twitter and MySpace visibly display how many folks have made a particular denizen their 'friend’. Human beings are hard-wired to pay attention to fame, and the way it spreads. And so they’re also intrigued and impressed when they see marketers begin showing up in on-the-edge places like Twitter.
A winning namespace always spawns a land rush to own high ground. In 1994, when it began to appear that the 'dot-com’ suffix was a namespace where Internet action would coalesce, cybersquatters held million-dollar auctions of names like 'go.com’ and 'sex.com’. Enough got rich building less-obvious names into instantly recognizable brands. Google, anyone?
This phenomenon predates the Internet. I’d argue that Broadway is a namespace. So is Hollywood. That’s why Twitter matters to folks in the eyeball business.
The venture community invests to create and own new namespaces. The mass media need to own, or at least broker, properties inside namespaces, acting as intermediary between talent and audience on one side, and sponsorship on the other side. Fox News quickly jumped onto Twitter. So did The New York Times. At some level Twitter users see that and say, “Cool.” And those brands get an advantage on the battlefield.
As media distribution channels fracture and create more technological mash-ups like Twitter, expect to see more ventures that fit this model. Then jump in, quick.