What Twitter Must Learn From Techcrunch in Order to Thrive

Steve Rubel on Digital Communications

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Steve Rubel
Steve Rubel
Next month marks the fifth anniversary of TechCrunch and the ascent of one of the web's first power bloggers, Michael Arrington.

The TechCrunch story is fascinating as it exposes what many love about social media and the internet: smart risk-taking. This is precisely what helped the technology blog outmaneuver the press and quickly develop and maintain its massive following (along with a dose of controversy along the way).

At the ripe old age of 5, TechCrunch remains a must-read. According to DoubleClick Ad Planner, it reaches an estimated 7.4 million users a month. What's more, it has propelled Arrington into the upper echelon of technology influencers, earning him a coveted spot on the Time 100 list and regular appearances on Charlie Rose. Much of its success lies in Arrington and crew taking some strategic risks -- such as adding unorthodox events. They're not afraid to push the envelope or upset the status quo.

Nevertheless, in many ways, I believe TechCrunch and others from the Blogging Class of 2005 (like Mashable) are the last of their kind -- superstar blogs with iconic founders. The good old days of democratized media, where anyone can launch a blog and achieve worldwide influence, have come to an end. While there are still untapped niches that are crying out for good blogs -- ones that I believe corporations, not just entrepreneurs can fill -- the most profitable topics are spoken for. The window has closed. The game has changed.

Perhaps sensing this, some of blogging's most fervent enthusiasts moved on years ago to focus on Twitter. The age of Twitter began in earnest with a torrent of tweets from the early adopters who attended the 2007 South by Southwest Conference. Over the next two years, it came of age through countless media impressions and most notably a high-profile slot on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in early 2009.

As Twitter mushroomed in influence, it quietly diverted our attention from blogs as the "it" emerging medium. It dawned on us that it's far easier to go where the conversation is, rather than expect people to come to us. What's more, Twitter's 140-character limitation was the perfect antidote for an attention-starved world where media snacking, rather than meals, rules. Blogs such as TechCrunch, however, adapted by feeding on Twitter for scoops, and in turn, powering its continued growth.

Still, Twitter reinvented media before most blogs had a chance to evolve. It was in the right place at the right time. It was simple and a perfect fit for our rising smartphone addiction. What's more, it fed our need for constant entertainment, engagement and ego stroking. Thus, Twitter became the primary window on the world for millions.

But Twitter must not get too comfortable. The only constant on the internet is change. If Twitter's execs don't reinvent its business now, someone or something will do it for them.

The best companies, like great artists, constantly reinvent themselves. Apple today gets more of its revenue from the iPhone than it does from the Macintosh. Facebook, despite an onslaught of controversy, is wisely pushing ahead with its vision to become the social operating system for the web, not just a social network.

Twitter needs to do the same. It's starting down this path by taking greater control over its own destiny. It's slowly adding services, including ad platforms and business tools, that compete directly with some of the most successful companies in its vast ecosystem. But it needs to become more. It needs a vision as grand as these other firms.

Evolution is always controversial -- just ask TechCrunch, Apple or Facebook. They all take their lumps. However, it's the only way an internet business can thrive in an era of constant change. Let's just hope that Twitter can evolve, just as fast as TechCrunch did, before someone or something changes the landscape.

Steve Rubel is senior VP-director of insights at Edelman Digital.
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