Saturday, July 18, 2009

Twitter’s Delicate Dance With Google, Microsoft, & Others

A series of private documents reveals Twitter to be a company that’s very careful and detailed about the course it’s plotting, while simultaneously being very nervous and very ambitious about what the future holds. It also reveals previously unknown details of discussions with Google and Microsoft (and possibly Yahoo) that show Twitter considering formal relationships with those companies and others, while at the same time plotting how to beat them and afraid that they might “kill” Twitter along the way. TechCrunch posted some of the internal documents today and, while it’s questionable whether posting private documents is the right thing to do, there’s no doubt the material offers a fascinating insight into Twitter’s delicate dance with Google, Microsoft, and others.

The documents are from a series of Twitter executive meetings between February 12th and June 9th of this year. TechCrunch says they’ve left out “the most sensitive stuff” about Twitter’s negotiations with Google and Microsoft, but there’s still plenty to chew on. Here’s a summary of highlights (there’s more at TechCrunch):

Twitter and Google

February 25, 2009: Search is a key topic during a Twitter strategy meeting, but the company seems unsure on what role search plays on the Twitter platform. One note, “Twitter the product is a vehicle for Twitter search” is immediately followed by a note that says, “People don’t use Twitter for search.” One of the bullet items on the meeting notes just says, “Google is old news.”

March 12: Twitter has a management meeting that discusses a recent meeting with a Google Blog Search product manager. The notes say that the two companies “shared mockups,” but are no more specific than that. Google Blog Search is scraping Twitter, but said to only be getting 60-70% of tweets, and Google wants more complete data.

March 13: According to the documents, Google is offering “search syndication” to Twitter, and Google “can help us with relevancy.” But Twitter is afraid that “Google would kick our ass at finding the good tweet” and wonders, “Can we do to Google what Google has done to others?”

April 16: Google’s Marissa Mayer is on the agenda for a Twitter management meeting. The notes call her a “huge distraction” but Twitter agrees to give Mayer some internal stats “because we are serious about talking to [Google].”

May 7: The notes from another meeting reveal that Twitter has an internal task force to discuss a Google syndication deal, but they’re cautious that Google’s apparently building a competing product.

June 9: In the notes from a management meeting, Twitter says they’ve reached an agreement but still want their own search results to be better than Google.

Twitter and Yahoo

May 7, 2009: In the same document discussed above, Yahoo is mentioned in relation to Hosebird. “Why don’t we test and experiment the best case scenario (Yahoo) of Hosebird,” the notes say. “Implementation with a partner and then see how this product will evolve - Yahoo.” But it’s unclear if there were any formal (or informal) talks with Yahoo. (Hosebird is the name of Twitter’s full API with all user tweets and related info; many companies want access to this data.)

Twitter and Microsoft

March 12, 2009: In the same meeting mentioned above, Twitter talks about an advertising partnership with Microsoft but calls them a “distraction.” The notes show that Twitter was also very concerned about branding issues that might result from a Microsoft partnership. In the end, one note asks, “Why did we start talking to Microsoft in the first place.”

April 16: In the same notes mentioned above, Twitter is apparently preparing to talk to Microsoft. The document says Microsoft is “pushing infrastructure,” but “we don’t want to talk about this right now.”

May 7: Microsoft was also discussed in the May 7th management meeting. The notes discuss an idea that would appear to include celebrity Twitter users in Bing’s “one box” results: “MSFT Celebrity idea - One box person results on MSN live search.”

Final Thoughts

Beyond the search angle, there are notes about Facebook’s interest in Twitter, a discussion on “How could Facebook kill us?,” a possible IPO or buyout in the future, Twitter’s ambition to be the first web site with a billion users, and much more.

Ultimately, the final impression one gets of Twitter is of a company that’s tremendously disciplined in every aspect of its business dealings, very aware that they’re steering a potentially game-changing company, and yet unsure how to navigate the possibly dangerous waters ahead. They know very clearly what the end-game is, but they’re well aware of the fact that one misstep — whether on their own or with a partner — could be their undoing.


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