Twitter: How do you keep customers coming back? The importance of switching costs

Twitter, twitter, twitter. The microblogging tool that has been the consistent topic of the echo chamber and the mindshare of the early adopter tech community has had less than a stellar track record. The site has been host to frequent site outages, slow server response time, and just flat out bad site architecture. The site that simply asks you, “what are you doing?” reminds me more of Friendster (because of their epic fall from US dominance because of slow site speed) than any other service I have seen as of late.

Consistently you’ll see the daily blog post from someone stating that walled gardens are bad for all parties involved and data portability is the next evolution for the net. If you’re a consumer internet company and if you aren’t down with data portability, you’re square.

But are walled gardens that bad for someone like Twitter? Or is data portability just a fad that everyone signs up for but poorly implements so that it doesn’t work, kinda like OpenID?

Imagine if everyone could port their Twitter profile, friends list, and content over to another site that was more reliable than Twitter. It would take a quick note on Techmeme, and the mass exodus would occur. I am exaggerating a little bit, but what incentive do startups have to make it easier for people to leave? On the flip-side, I’d love to make it easier for sites and people to move data into my network, but it would pain me if I made it a little easier for my competition.

Even start-ups that have some traces of profile portability, Friendfeed, has some believing that the conversations are shifting over because of the unreliability of Twitter. What has kept them in the limelight are the significant switching costs with social networking sites. Would full data portability erode these switching costs? Many, myself included, thought Myspace was going to be dead and gone by now for the next new fad. Although other sites have gained significant traction as of late, Myspace is still king of the social networking jungle.

In thinking about launching a company, some of the things that I have to be cognizant of are the potential downtimes in the site. It’s just par for the course, especially if you don’t have a CTO ninja to keep everything stable. I intend on establishing a wordpress account that will deal strictly with site uptime/downtime issues, as suggested by Allen Stern of Centernetworks. Loic of Seesmic did a phenomenal job, in my opinion, of admitting to his mistake of downtime issues, despite being called out by Arrington. I hope to be that good when the stuff hits the fan.

Update: MG over at Venturebeat has a good post up on Twitter’s employees admitting to the fact that they don’t know what’s going on.

Update 2: With all of my smack talk, Twitter just closed a $15MM round of funding at a reported $80MM pre-money valuation ($95MM post-money)


2 responses to “Twitter: How do you keep customers coming back? The importance of switching costs

  1. Pingback: Twitter, you are who we thought you were « These two cents

  2. Pingback: My 2009 Products I Couldn’t Live Without « These two cents

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