The rumor mill's working overtime today as competing stories fly about how badly Google wants Twitter. In one corner: Michael Arrington of TechCrunch, who says talks are far along with Twitter's founders, who previously sold Blogger to Google. In another corner: Kara Swisher of All Things Digital, who says Arrington cried wolf about Google acquiring Digg and Bebo, while noting that no one's buying the well-funded but poorly monetized Twitter for some crazy valuation. Backing up Swisher's point is a story in Ad Age about how Google allows recent Twitter posts (or "tweets") to be included in AdSense ads, which would signal that Google may be seeking to partner with Twitter rather than acquire it.
Let's put the "will it or won't it" debate on hold. If Google does acquire Twitter, what does this mean for all parties involved? We see it as the best possible scenario. Here's why:
Search first, talk later: While only a certain percentage of marketers and consumers will use Twitter to communicate, every marketer and business small and large can take advantage of Twitter Search.
Part of your recommended digital diet: Monitoring live conversations through Twitter Search (or, perhaps, another service that replaces it down the road) has the potential to be one of those staples for businesses, along the lines of updating their directory listings (YellowPages.com, Google Local, etc.) and making sure they have a decent domain name.
In Google we trust, this time: Twitter could be in good hands with Google. Google does have a mixed bag with communications start-ups -- see Jaiku and Dodgeball as examples of two promising start-ups that Google let languish. Yet Blogger has been a good fit, as Google largely let Blogger be Blogger. Go to Blogger.com -- you have to squint to see it's a Google service, with the only giveaways being the request to sign in with a Google Account and the Google copyright in the footer. Expect Twitter to have the same kind of hands off approach if Google acquires it.
The wisdom of crowdsourcing: Another advantage for Google and Twitter? Almost all of the best functionality on Twitter, Twitter Search included, has been developed by others (recall that Twitter acquired Twitter search engine Summize and made it Twitter Search). Twitter's biggest needs are a) servers to power it, and b) a revenue model, and that's exactly what Google can contribute. If Twitter stays running, its community of developers will do all the heavy lifting in making it even more usable.
Who else? Facebook has no track record of acquisitions to speak of and is too competitive with Twitter. Microsoft doesn't have the credibility to make an acquisition like this -- there'd be an uproar from users. Yahoo would be scary right now as it's so busy finding its own path and getting its house in order, plus they'd have the hardest time getting approval for buying something with no monetization. There could be a wild card like an AOL, which seemed to overpay $850 million for Bebo, although Bebo is finally fitting in with its lifestreaming plans (and, hey, AOL's now run by an ex-Googler). Google remains the most likely option with cash, relevant acquisition experience, and the missing pieces that Twitter needs.
Even if nothing happens between Google and Twitter, marketers should be aware of why these conversations would happen at all. Despite all the buzz that Twitter gets, it's still a blip on marketers' radars right now, and most marketers who are interested in it don't use it as well as they could for brand monitoring or communicating. That said, a Google acquisition might help Twitter provide more value to marketers (and maybe gain a revenue stream in the process) and would help steer marketers in the right direction with Twitter, as well.