By Tomio Geron
Wall Street Journal
Onstage at a technology conference yesterday, John Battelle, the brash founder and CEO of advertising network Federated Media Inc. and author of a book on Google Inc., went on a humorous rant about why Google should buy the popular micro-blogging service run by Twitter Inc.
He believes Twitter should not be prized simply for its rapid viral growth or the simplicity of its platform, but for its search capabilities. He likened Twitter to YouTube, which he says in hindsight Google purchased for its powerful search engine, not to get into the video business.
Since its founding in 2006, Twitter hasn't fully figured out how to make money but has seen its membership skyrocket to an estimated six million users, which post brief updates about anything and interact with others. This has made its search engine into a powerful asset that is able to sort through people's thoughts and conversations, even if a lot of it is jibberish. When there is a live event, like the Obama inauguration, or breaking news, like the recent US Airways emergency landing, people flock to the search page to read the instant Twitter reports or view uploaded pictures.
So it's not completely off base to consider a sale to Google, the king of figuring out new ways to make money from online advertising. After all, Facebook, sensing value, reportedly offered $500 million to buy Twitter last year but was turned down. Here are are some excerpts from Battelle's dialogue on a panel at the 15th Stanford Accel Symposium:
"Why did Google buy YouTube? Most of us said, 'Well Google's getting into video. I wrote that the only reason Google was getting into YouTube was because Google could afford the legal bills. Because there no way any media company could buy YouTube because as soon as they do another media company would sue the s- out of them.
"But in hindsight Google bought YouTube because YouTube is 25% of Google's search share. YouTube has more search than Yahoo. YouTube is a search engine.
"Twitter is from what I can tell one of the fastest growing new forms of search asset on the Web. And what is being searched is real-time conversation, which is insanely interesting. It's not just interesting because you can put in "Audi Q7" and see what people are saying about a car you're interested in. It's also interesting because if someone who had a search mentality were to take that timeline of conversations and do interesting things with it.Man!
"And I think frankly Google can't afford not to buy Twitter. And if not I think LinkedIn probably should think about it," Battelle joked, looking at Jeff Weiner, the moderator of the panel and the president of business-networking site LinkedIn Inc.
"I'm just the moderator," deadpanned Weiner, who is also an executive-in-residence at venture capital firms Accel Partners and Greylock Partners.
But Scott Moore, who recently left his perch as head of media properties at Yahoo to join Microsoft, threw a little cold water on the talk of Twitter being at what venture investors like to call the mainstream, break-through "inflection point.
"Let me make a comment that's a bit contrarian on Twitter. It may be at an inflection point; it may also be at the top of the hype bubble about to burst. There aren't that many people [Twittering]," Moore said.
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