Everyone needs someone, and that is especially true in the online world. Just as Michelin's tire business wouldn't be worth much without a car industry, Microsoft Windows wouldn't be very useful without PCs, Google wouldn't be worth a dime without ISPs, and our company, Drop.io, wouldn't do much today without Amazon Web Services.
Tuesday night at the New York Tech Meetup, newly elected organizer Nate Westheimer led the group through a set of companies and projects that are "built on Twitter" (read: that all apparently "need" Twitter).
Where most NYTM events showcase companies that have either raised venture-capital financing or are actively looking to do an A round, at this event, no one presenting had raised VC or even announced that they were actively looking for institutional funding. The general sentiment at the NYTM seemed to be that that investors are, in general, not yet willing to make big bets on companies built on a platform that has yet to make its first dime of revenue (let alone profit). Especially in this environment, people don't yet have enough faith in the viability of the host.
But something clicked for me at the NYTM, and I think that this approach is a mistake. There is fundamental technology being developed in New York that might be built "on Twitter" but isn't actually as dependent on Twitter as it may seem at first blush.
@Shakeshack kicked off the event, presenting their social experiment using Twitter to create a "new data set" around the community of people who have a sometimes scary obsession with the eatery and the length of the line to get your hands on a delicious burger.
TwiTerra presented its visualization of the Twitter "re-tweet" data set, displaying one way to think about the type of data set @Shakeshack is creating.
CoTweet presented a whole new interface for how groups of people can interact with messages via a single Twitter feed, in what could be seen either as a system for using Twitter as a 1920s style "party line" or as a corporate switchboard for tweets.
StockTwits showed its interface for using Twitter for reputation driven real-time stock tips.
The Shorty Awards presented its massively popular three-part "awards" program and spoke a bit of how it is morphing into a way to rate top Twitter feeds in various categories of interest.
Klout showed off its attempt to algorithmically measure impact and influence on Twitter.
Finally, one of my favorite projects, Botanicalls, showed off its project to bring your plants into the tweet-o-sphere.
Sure, all of these companies are using Twitter's API, and developing interfaces, features and the like that need Twitter to live tomorrow -- but what bets are they really making, what are they really developing? Coming out of the NYTM, I would argue that they are all making a very safe bet on a real-time future for the internet, not Twitter itself.
Twitter has grown because it is a fast way to easily route messages, and with a dead simple API it is a quick and easy way for the next generation of innovators to get up and running with a new "real time" or "social" project or company. Iis CoTweet the CRM of the future?. Is Shorty Awards or Klout going to provide the next "pagerank"? I haven't a clue. Is Botanicalls going to be part of the basis for smart real-time device interface? Not sure.
But I will say this -- this is real stuff, if Twitter goes away someone else (or a federation of someone elses) with a similar API will take its place and these projects and people will continue. Just as we make sure at drop.io that if need be we could get off our host (Amazon Web Services) at an acceptable cost, Twitter isn't going to hold these companies hostage for long.
So, coming out of this Meetup, I think it is time to start embracing the vibrancy of what people are building "on" Twitter in the New York tech community, and unless you want to bet against a future of highly open real-time communication, start investing in some Twitter based start-ups.
As a closing thought, remember another company with New York ties, Summize. Summize built core real time search technology. They started off working on an Amazon data set, and ended up selling to twitter based on how their groundwork enabled Twitter's data set. Someone that presented at the NYTM this week will do very well with the fundamentals they are developing, whether they do it "on" Twitter or elsewhere.
Google may need solvent ISPs, Microsoft might need Dell, and the U.S. might need an auto industry and a banking system, but these "Twitter" start-ups don't need Twitter.~ ~ ~
Sam Lessin is founder and CEO of Drop.io, a file-sharing service based in New York.