Overhyping, underhyping: why hype at all?
In recent weeks a discussion on overhyping and underhyping a Start-Up has begun in various IT- and Start-Up blogs. If one looks at applications like Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare etc., each of them has been hyped, or possibly overhyped at times.
While I would agree that Facebook has a chance to stay relevant for a longer period as most people have made it their online home and meeting place, simple and seemingly stupid applications like Twitter may already have peaked and their growth now is only supported by new subscribers, rather than older subscribers actively using the service. If you have a Twitter account for example, when have you logged in the last time? When have you gone through the tweets received from the people you follow? When have you used it for anything else but a nice search tool for trending topics?
The fate, thus, of Twitter is questionable. While they could have made an early exit, as YouTube did a few years ago, Twitter decided to stay independent and see it through, which is great. But when looking at the underlying business model, how does Twitter plan to stay relevant? What does Twitter have that makes it unique and gives it a fortified position in the battles against large companies such as Google, Microsoft or Facebook?
Early this week Twitter announced their own Blackberry client, discussions between Bit.ly and Twitter about an acquisition have surfaced and smaller companies riding on Twitter’s bandwagon got a shock when Twitter announced that a number of extra services previously provided by third-party apps, should be offered by Twitter itself.
Similarly, Foursquare, the New York based location service that allows to share with friends your whereabouts and to snatch treats and discounts based on your current location and activity level. What makes this application unique? Geolocation? Not really, that is something that has been around for a while. User numbers? While 1 million sounds like a lot, this may never be enough to compete with Facebook. Technology? Correct me, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a technological edge over the competition.
When looking at Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, all have come up with fresh ideas (or derivatives of pre-existing ideas which have been moulded to become more appealing) but what are the risks they face?
To look at them in reverse order, Foursquare seems to be at present the one most likely to get either bought (rumours suggest Yahoo may cough up 100 million for it), or else be slaughtered by Facebook. Once Facebook has had its F8 conference, we’ll know whether Foursquare will have an independent future, or whether its survival will depend on Facebook’s mercy.
Twitter announced the development and launch of own applications (eating the small fish around it) and to include adverts in a drive to (finally) make some money. But is micro-blogging via Twitter really the future? Will we be using it in a year or two? Or will it be replaced by yet another way to share content? How can it achieve long-term commitment by its users (and no, the number of followers is not really a measurement)? At present at least, it appears as if Twitter has found a way to stay relevant through assisting in SEO and through corporate communications starting to discover its services. However, what would happen if Google launched a derivate of its “Push-Atom” services?
Facebook appears at present to be the app with the most fortified position. 400 million users are a substantial amount and, so it seems, enough to fend off most challenges (as Google realised in their half-baked attempt with Google Buzz). However, once the buzz around Facebook has faded (and hasn’t it already), where does this leave us? With a permanent online home, or rather with a corporate communications and marketing tool where a user’s only purpose it to generate revenue?
So what do all these questions have to do with overhyping and underhyping? Each of these services has been hyped (or in my view overhyped) for some time. If we look at it objectively, what is the added value a service like Facebook, Twitter or Foursquare provides to me as a consumer? Ok, Facebook allows me to look up addresses and friends. Twitter? Not really sure but I stopped reading the posts of the people I follow a long time ago – there just isn’t enough time in a day to read through it all. Foursquare? Except for advertisers, I don’t see much benefit at all. Usually, I have an idea with whom I’d like to meet up and more importantly: I like my privacy.
Ok, let’s talk about underhyping. At Ludopoli, we believe that a service should not depend on usage numbers alone to be of interest for users, but rather focus on the added value it provides to each user, irrespective of how many there are. While such a product would surely be underhyped, since user numbers (next to funding reports) seem to be the only thing that counts, it might just stay under the radar and hey, provide some real benefit to people who like it and need it (and safely ignore the hipsters who need to be part of everything new). That said, it’s probably true that most services out there actually survive on the passionate and loyal “super users” who understand, feel and live through and with the product. To ignore them might just be the last mistake you make.