Will Twitter Become the AM Radio of Social Media?

David Pogue had a user-friendly article on Google Buzz yesterday. His natural first comparison was with Twitter, which he described as very user-friendly because it has so few features. I agree, even if he made the apparently willful omissions of related services like TwitPic or TweetDeck, for example, when stating that you cannot upload photos or filter Twitter content. I liked David’s review of Buzz;  highlights include: functionality and usage is inconsistent and confusing, even while features like geolocation are awesome fundamentally important in a world that is shifting to mobile. He then concludes with this statement…

Buzz probably won’t make much of a dent in Facebook or Twitter or FriendFeed. But… because it has powerful and flexible features and because millions of Gmail members can get in with a single click, Buzz will have its own following…

I disagree. Twitter, in particular, I think is doomed to irrelevance. The combination of its weakening adoption curve, substantially smaller user base, and limited feature set will almost certainly relegate Twitter to obscurity in the next few years. I can explain by sharing some of my impressions regarding Google Buzz:
  • Google’s never been the best-looking kid in the room, just the smartest. I think looks do matter in this case, however; the labyrinthine UI isn’t exactly going to help adoption.
  • The feature set, including threaded conversations, location recommendations, auto-recommended friends, and more is a bit overwhelming, too.
  • I’d like to get more mileage out of Buzz, but message parity across networks matters to me (lest something like this should occur. Especially for business interests, I need to be able to selectively simulpost to Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and –preferably– Buzz.
The fact that Google are making their API available will address these current weaknesses, just as it did for Twitter. I’m sure players like TweetDeck and HootSuite cannot wait to bring Buzz into their service offering. When they do, the feature set will become more manageable. Google users will be able to use the service in Twitter-like contexts, but with the notably added benefit of geolocation and tie-in with Google's ever-growing set of services (and non-Google services like Flickr, too). Especially with the understanding that mobile internet usage will become more common than traditional internet usage in the next five years, I don’t see how Twitter can compete. Also very important: you can use more than 140 characters if you want.

Now let’s look at the numbers. Twitter is tough to measure because of substantial usage off of its website, but these are pretty clear metrics:
  • Adoption rates are decreasing and almost leveling off at around 25 million total users, and Twitter has a despairing retention rate, but to be fair…
  • Usage metrics are becoming deeper in terms of quantity of tweets and following/followed metrics per account
Compare that with Gmail’s 146 million monthly users and the assumption that the Buzz service will evolve quickly via both Google and third party apps. It seems clear to me: Google’s connected services and substantially greater mass will simply swallow up Twitter over time. Even if Twitter’s core user base is getting more value out of the platform, I just don’t see how Twitter can compete with Google and/or Facebook when they now offer: a) the same features, b) along with other features, and c) an enormous lead in user base. Maybe by a tie-in with FourSquare would save Twitter? Because those guys are going to be in trouble, too, as Buzz matures and takes its place in mainstream social media and mobile usage.

So let’s put all of this in terms of strategy. Bottom line: Beware of anyone peddling a “Twitter” or other platform-specific strategy. Context, not platform, is what really matters. This is especially true as services like Buzz (and Facebook) enable sharing in a variety of contexts, now including microblogging.

What do you think? Will Twitter fight its way out of the corner or is it doomed to become the AM radio of the social world? Will these trends help to evolve social media strategy beyond the platform-specifc?