One of the most tweeted articles this week was This one, which purports to tell any tweeter how much money Twitter 'owes' him or her. That's a tongue in cheek way of saying that we can value Twitter on the basis of the number of tweets that have been sent. And anyone who sends them, adds to the value of the company.
This misses the 'point' of Twitter (and social media in general) in the same way as thinking that Starbucks is a coffee shop misses the point. I'll start with the latter. A few weeks ago, when the weather was still warm, I was wandering merrily from one fund manager to another in Boston, updating on views about the world and the relationship between our employers. When I wasn't sure how to get to the next appointment, I darted into the nearest coffee shop. The salesman who was with me (and doesn't know his way around Boston nearly well enough) pointed out that Starbucks charges a lot for coffee. I sent him to buy me a tall latte and told him I wasn't here for the coffee. I use Starbucks because I know I can get quick access to wifi and make sure I know the way to my next meeting, while enjoying some air conditioning in a relatively clean and comfortable environment. The coffee's OK, but incidental. The price of the coffee is high, if that's all you go there for, but it's cheap if you want to arrive, cooler and on time, at your next meeting.
Others have different uses for Starbucks but the common factor is that few if any are there for the coffee alone. And so it is with Twitter. I tweet because I want dialogue. I want dialogue because I want to know what other people think. If you don't know what people think, how can you expect to know how they will react to economic data, policy decisions or any other news that comes over the wires? Anticipating how markets will react to news is more important than knowing what the news will be, most of the time. I also read tweets because they are an incredibly efficient way of filtering the daily news. I follow people who will tell me, while I'm still in bed in the morning, what the important stories of the day are in the Wall Street Journal, FT, Economist, New York Times, Reuters, Bloomberg, Le Monde, Die Welt, Spiegel, Guardian, Telegraph, Nouvel Observateur, and more. I've got people who I've never met scouring the web for me to find blog posts, central bank research papers and snippets of information I might find useful.
I don't suppose for a second that the majority of Twitter fans like it for the same reasons as me, any more than other people think air conditioning and wifi are Starbucks' key selling point in Boston. My only question for twitter of course, is how it plans to make enough money to justify the fancy market capitalisation. Starbucks, at least, sells those over-priced cappuccinos