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Google acquisition rumors reflect Twitter's importance

Juan Carlos Perez | April 6, 2009
While an acquisition is unlikely, a formal partnership or collaboration wouldn't be surprising

Stone also encouraged people to apply for jobs at the company, an interesting document to peruse for clues to Twitter's current plans and business and technology strategies.

Interestingly, Stone appeared on Stephen Colbert's "Colbert Nation" on Thursday evening, and during the interview he also said the Twitter's intention is to be a strong and independent company.

"We're recognizing a difference right now between profit and value. Right now, we're building value," Stone told Colbert.

That means extending Twitter globally, tapping not only into Web-based users but also into mobile phone networks, as well as adding features and refining the service, Stone said.

"When we get to a certain point where we feel we've gotten there, we'll begin experimenting with a revenue model. This isn't unlike the way Google approached their revenue model," he said. The revenue-model testing and experimentation will begin this year, but Twitter will take its time getting it right, Stone said.

Stone's comments may signal a potential tension with Twitter's financial backers, who have poured $55 million into the company. "Investors may agitate for an acquisition because the idea of an IPO is unlikely if not impossible," Sterling said.

Another issue that might derail a Google acquisition is that several Twitter staffers, including Stone and co-founder Evan Williams, already went through the experience of working for Google, after Google acquired Pyra Labs and its Blogger blog publishing service in 2003.

At the time, Blogger was the undisputed leader in the blog publishing space, but as part of Google its rate of innovation slowed down and competitors like Wordpress and Six Apart delivered more sophisticated services.

"Blogger was ahead of the curve when Google bought it and then it became the AOL of blogging platforms: an early leader that then lost ground," Sterling said.

If Google bought Twitter, the Twitter service would see some immediate improvements, Sterling said. Twitter posts would be incorporated into Google search results. Twitter's own search would be improved. Google would monetize Twitter with ads. But in the end, it could face Blogger's destiny.

"You might see Twitter maintain its current leader status for a while, but maybe not see if evolve as dynamically as it would under the stewardship of its founders," Sterling said.

It can't be encouraging that Google decided to stop actively developing Jaiku, a Twitter competitor Google acquired in 2007. Instead, Google has decided to port Jaiku to Google App Engine, and later to release the Jaiku engine as an open-source project under the Apache license.

The Jaiku service is maintained by volunteer Google engineers. Google also recently put mobile social-networking service Dodgeball out to pasture.

Other signs that would point against a Twitter acquisition are recent comments made by Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who called Twitter "a poor man's e-mail" and wondered whether it will remain a stand-alone service or become an e-mail feature. Schmidt has also said recently he doesn't foresee Google making major acquisitions in the immediate future.


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