Monday, 31 October 2016

The decline of an industry pioneer: the myth of the icon

Is there such a thing as an icon in an industry? Consider the current tale of Twitter. The recent lack of success by Twitter to attract a buyer has put into bas relief the woes of the company in establishing a viable, stand-alone business model. Shortly before this most recent search for a corporates suitor took place, The Economist magazine had
published an article (September 17th, “Twitter in retweet: A tech icon’s future"), which discussed reasons for the company’s current difficulties.

In that regard, it was instructive to read how rivals have encroached onto the areas of Twitter’s functionality. Companies such as Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger have all pushed forward with features that, in the words of the article, Twitter “…once might have owned.”

What is most interesting, however, is the article’s views on the future of the company. First is the observation that—
“Twitter will survive, but it has lost its chance to be the sort of internet giant it might have become under better management.“
Given that various substantial competitors have been encroaching onto Twitter’s functionality, the questions arise: Why will Twitter necessarily survive, and in what framework?
As for the latter question, the article seems confident that sooner or later--“… Twitter itself will eventually be bought.” The common wisdom is that the sale of Twitter is all about price. Maybe yes, maybe no. This blogger recalls Myspace, which was once viewed as the all-conquering future of social media. Purchased by News Corporation (i.e., Rupert Murdoch) in 2005 for $580 million dollars, it lost the battle to Facebook and it was ultimately sold for around $35 million. Myspace was discarded in favor of another social media experience that was deemed preferable by the public. Effectively, it had become undesirable at virtually any price.

As such, the ultimate rationale given by the article why Twitter should continue to be around, despite its current challenges, seems to be that it is that it enjoys a special status. Namely, as the tagline to the article says, Twitter is an icon and, it would seem, icons are meant to be preserved. As the Oxford online dictionary defines, an "icon" is "a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration." Thus, the article writes--
“Whether people use Twitter regularly or not, most would say they want it to thrive, whether on its own or under the wing of another company. The firm has helped raise awareness of conflicts and injustices, for example, in Egypt, Iran and Tunisia that would otherwise have attracted less attention. Much of the world will keep watching Mr Dorsey’s attempts to pound Twitter into shape, even if people increasingly do so on Facebook and Snapchat.”
With all due respect, this assertion is baffling. Commercial entities are not, as a rule, preserved simply because they are to be venerated for the role that they have
played in an industry, or their contribution to social causes. Without wishing to sound heartless, this blogger could care less whether Twitter survives or not; other means can be found within the social media space to provide the kind of on-site information and images provided by Twitter. No iconic status here. Something similar might have said about Life magazine nearly a half a century ago, when it discontinued its weekly publication. Once considered a publishing icon, it is now a publishing also-ran, at best.

As the piece itself points out, Twitter has a “loyal base of users” of only between 20 million and 40 million people, a small number in comparison with social media rivals. If Twitter finds a way out of its current predicament, either on its own or via acquisition, more power to it. But please don’t appeal to Twitter as an “icon”. After all, not so long ago, Myspace was an icon too.

No comments:

Post a Comment