Twitter Isn't A Public Service

Twitter has emerged as one of the most important communications tools of our time, but that doesn't mean we get to tell its owners what to do.

Ever since Twitter started showing phenomenal usage growth, there's been a disconcerting trend among pundits and bloggers to insist that Twitter become something other than what it is, or that its owners have in mind. And the term owners is appropriate here, because Evan Williams, Biz Stone and Jack Dorsey are its owners -- not Michael Arrington, Henry Blodget, Kara Swisher, or any of the other would-be philosopher kings cracking wise from the peanut gallery.

To get a sense of how pervasive this is, just search for "Twitter should" on Google. The 211 million search results -- yeah, 211 million -- are roughly split between things people should use Twitter for, and things Twitter should do.

Rachel Sklar on the Huffington Post is the most recent and visible pundit to decide that, in light of Twitter's prominent role in helping get the Iranian election story out, "it's time for Twitter to grow up." To Sklar, I guess that means something akin to neatening up, cutting its hair and getting a real job -- you know, getting a predictable revenue model that Wall Street can learn to love.

Caroline McCarthy of sister-site CNET summarizes the "Twitter-must" argument neatly:

the prominence of Twitter as a communications channel in the Iranian crisis raises the question of whether a pre-revenue company--no matter how cushy its venture backing--is up to task... If Twitter is going to continue to have this kind of role in international affairs, it's going to need infrastructure so rock-solid that it drives the "fail whale" into extinction.
I'm sure Williams and his partners are grown up enough to know what to do with their service without anyone's help, including mine, so I'll keep my own counsel where this is concerned. But you have to wonder why people covering technology businesses feel such an irrepressible desire to tell vendors what to do, and what sense of entitlement they must possess to give voice to those opinions. Google must buy such and such a company, Microsoft ought to buy that other company, Twitter this and Facebook that -- the blogosphere is redolent with the flatulence of self-important bloggers.

Unlike elected politicians, tech vendors aren't beholden to us, but their products and services have an outsize influence on our lives, and that drives passionate discussion. The same is true of food, which is another sector featuring lively blog discussion. Given its importance, and passion it engenders, perhaps technology will become subject to as much regulation as the food industry. But for the time being, Twitter is still a private company, and its owners are free to create a business model or not, to sink more money into it or even shut if down if they so desire. Rather than giving Twitter advice, we'd be better off looking for other vendors that do what Twitter does and bringing them into the discussion.

[Image source: Wikimedia Commons]