The Sound of a Thousand Birds Taking Wing: a #chirp Postmortem

If you've been following my tweets, you would know that I've been at the Chirp conference for the past two days. You'd also know that I'm whiny and complainy. Some might even say saucy. Still, the troll-esque comments I've been tweeting the whole time belie the fact that Chirp was interesting and successful in its own way, and worthwhile besides.

The morning of the first day set a bad precedent. Given that the event was presented as a conference for developers, I was sorely disappointed to attend the first two sessions consisted largely of Twitter execs laughing at their own failings and attempting to excite the crowd about Twitter. If you are a developer, imagine the circumstances under which you would like to attend a Twitter conference. If you are having trouble, imagine being a C++ developer and spending $1000 to attend Java One. The vast majority of the attendees were already enthusiastic about Twitter, and this early morning cheerleading session only served to waste time. Helen Lawrence of daredigital.com later mentioned as much in a conversation with Twitter's Alex Macgillivray, saying the 'rah rah twitter' sessions were a bit unnecessary.

Hopeful for some unique insight into the Twitter strategy, I floated in and out of the rest of the day's sessions, in between stuffing my face with cupcakes. I attended the @anywhere presentation and the two sessions on monetization (I was present for the panel on investing, but I'll admit I was actually just reading a book). Succinctly: it all fell flat. From a purely technical standpoint, the sessions were boring. @anywhere is an abbreviation of existing tools to make twitter integration easier, but not any more twitter-like than you could already do. The nytimes example of integration was banal at best.

In terms of strategy, it was almost worse. Consider the monetization approach: ads in search. If you can find the video, you can see Dick Costolo sweating and tugging uncomfortably at his collar as he attempts to explain how promoted tweets are somehow different from ads (in short, they're not). As of now, they only appear in searches from twitter.com. It's easy to see from various public sources that search is in fact a tiny fraction of their traffic. When google announced adwords, search was practically 100% of their traffic. The promotion of @anywhere does nothing to improve those numbers. Minutes prior, they admit that 75% of their traffic comes from the APIs and they want to increase that. Whatever their real plan is for monetization, promoted tweets can't be more than a distraction.

Disheartened, I skipped the Q&A session with @ev, where I missed some interesting tidbits on whether or not Twitter was going to eat other people's lunches by launching official in-house versions of various external services. I'm looking at you, twitpic. A stroke of fortune left me sitting at the same table as Alex Macgillivray for dinner that night. He expounded a little bit more openly about Twitter's approach to media sharing services. Specifically, they have no plans to choose one as being canonical. If anything, they might integrate with all of them, and let the user decide which to share through. That said, he left me with a rather sinister comment: "At the end of the day, all these services do is add a link to the end of your tweet, and we're not going to prevent that." It was meant to sound reassuring, but it makes me wonder if they might not attempt to take a bite out of posterous and brizzly by building native 'rich' tweets with embedded media as part of the tweet. A year earlier or two earlier, it would have been unthinkable, given the ties to SMS as a delivery method. The growing ubiquity of smartphones has decreased that reliance, making this possibility much more viable.

I skipped out of the evening's activities shortly after that, unwilling and unable to engage in a '24 hour hackday' forgoing sleep and showering. Unfortunately, I may have been one of the few people to decide that. Comments on day 2 to follow later today.