Mike Arrington and I disagree on the future

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Last Saturday on the Gillmor Gang Mike Arrington wondered aloud whether Twitter had won a “winners take all” game and whether that meant that friendfeed was toast. He then wrote a blog post titled “FriendFeed is in danger of becoming the coolest app no one uses.”

If Arrington is right, then Friendster would have kept MySpace from happening. MySpace would have kept Facebook from happening. Facebook would have kept Twitter from happening.

The thing is that Arrington and I disagree about the future.

He is right about one thing. Twitter has won. It is now the favorite way for people to do microblogging. It LOOKS like a “winner take all” thing, right? After all, who will use a different service than all those celebrities now? To be serious we already know that Twitterers won’t switch, because last year Twitter was down all the time and no one switched, even when they were being abused by the technology.

So that game IS over and Arrington is right about that.

But, is the microblogging game where the cash is? No, I don’t think so.

Well, then, where is the cash?

Search.

“Huh?” I can hear you asking. “Twitter has real-time web search already.”

Yes, but it isn’t all that good.

Here, let’s demonstrate. Remember the plane that crashed in the Hudson?

I want you to find the original picture that someone sent in from their iPhone over Twitter.

Here, I’ll do the searches for you. Go to Twitter Search and type in Hudson Plane Crash. See all the noise? Yeah, the picture is there somewhere but it’s hard to find.

Now, here’s another search, this time using some of the filtering systems over on friendfeed. The picture stands right out.

See, what is going on here is that for search to work you MUST have metadata. Google built a multi-billion-dollar business on the metadata of linking. The next big business will build on top of the metadata of these three things:

1. Who shared or commented on an item. The search above I knew I had liked the picture, so I constrained the search to only things I’ve liked.
2. How many comments or likes are on an item. The search above I knew had tons of comments and likes, so I looked only for items that had more than five likes. That got rid of 95% of the noise.
3. What was said in the item. See on Twitter there’s only 140 characters and other people can’t add tags or info onto that item. On friendfeed I can leave a comment underneath a tweet and make it even more searchable. These comments get indexed in seconds now, which makes them very useful. I can add “cool tweet” to a Tweet and then search for that tweet later. Here’s an example.

NONE of these pieces of metadata are available in Twitter.

This is not just about friendfeed, either. Over on Facebook Mark Zuckerberg has a TON of extra metadata to study as well. He knows who has commented on each other’s walls or who has sent a message, so he knows who your “real” friends are.

Now, to be fair, Twitter does have some metadata to study as well. Retweets are metadata. Already Retweetfeed and TweetMeme are watching that metadata and there are other sites as well.

Twitter can also study hashtags, but I have been talking to people about why I think they are dead. Certainly hashtags are less relevant in the future.

But, notice what Twitter’s metadata is: it has to be included INSIDE a Tweet, where Facebook and friendfeed’s metadata is OUTSIDE the Tweet. Which gives you more characters to communicate with your friends.

So, why are the dollars in search and not just in microblogging?

Well, let’s look how people buy something.

Someone or something creates the need in their head to buy something. I have a baby on the way so I’m starting to look at strollers again since our old one isn’t good enough for a two-baby family.

That’s the “need.”

Then I start talking to my friends. That’s where Twitter and Facebook and Friendfeed come in. I also start researching. That’s where Google comes in and parenting sites and all that.

Then we make a decision. NOW that is the only place where monetization is possible.

Let’s say I decided on a Bugaboo stroller. I search Google for such. Notice all the ads along the right side!

Why are all those ads there? Because businesses know that’s where the money is. Not in blasting ads on the Superbowl. Not in bothering you with ads in my videos or on my blog, where there aren’t many people buying strollers.

No, they want to hit you AT THE MOMENT YOU ARE BUYING.

So, why would Bugaboo want to put ads inside your Tweets? Hint, they won’t. They won’t get many sales that way. But, what if you are searching for information on strollers? Absolutely! That means you’re looking to buy.

OK, here’s where we differ on the future.

We found our new doctor on Yelp. You’ll find all sorts of things this way in the future.

How about a restaurant? A plumber? A TV repair shop? A lawyer?

Consider that you’re walking down the street with a future version of Facebook or Twitter or friendfeed in your hand. You’re looking for a restaurant.

Which is going to be able to bring back the best restaurants that your friends care about?

That requires having metadata to study. That’s why Facebook copied friendfeed’s likes so that it can come back and say “there are four restaurants that have more than 20 likes from your friends within walking distance.”

Translation: the future hasn’t been built yet. That’s why Twitter has not won the entire game yet. That’s why this is a fun industry to watch.

Oh, and Mike, you only have 62 comments and 72 likes, which demonstrates you haven’t done enough with these systems to see the real value. I have 18,300 comments and 17,284 likes and now I have a database that ANYONE can search and find a LOT of value. Plus, I have now been to the future and you haven’t. Yet. You’ll get there. :-)

I gave my Twitter and friendfeed followers a look at the video I did, discussing our disagreement and here’s the comment area that erupted. Keep in mind that this is a live chat room and you can add comments and I’ll see and be able to answer them live on screen there. Oh, that’s something else that Twitter and Facebook can’t yet do. Like I said, I’ve been to the future. You should come and join me.