Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, just gave a fascinating interview that strikes at the heart of debates around the purpose of social media. Ever since Facebook purchased Instagram to shore up its mobile credentials in anticipation of its IPO, debate has raged as to the true intentions of such founders and whether their powerful platforms were pure profit plays or launch pads for positive change.
As Mark Zuckerberg famously stated as he rung in the stock exchange to announce the Facebook IPO:
“Going public is an important milestone in our history. But here’s the thing: our mission isn’t to be a public company. Our mission is to make the world more open and connected. In the past eight years, all of you out there have built the largest community in the history of the world. You’ve done amazing things that we never would have dreamed of and I can’t wait to see what you’re all going to do going forward.”
Since then Facebook, its employees and investors have endured a roller coaster stock price rise that now seems to be solidly trending upward on the strength of its mobile advertising sales. That said, it has faced increased scrutiny as to its true intentions as Facebook has rolled out a slew of new features aimed at monetizing the platform and satisfying the demands of Wall Street and investors.
The jury seems to be out as to whether Facebook can maintain that delicate balancing act between serving its mission and its shareholders especially when the market has an insatiable appetite for growth that will continue to put pressure on Zuckerberg to compromise his original – and I believe – legitimate intent. And with persistent concerns over privacy, algorithm shifts that are costly for advertisers and the spread of advertising throughout the platform, there remains the risk that users may desert the enormous platform for new and less commercial channels.
It’s this context which makes the recent comments by pre-IPO Twitter co-founder, Biz Stone, so interesting. When asked where he expects Twitter to be a year from now, Stone’s answered includes no mention of a NASDAQ listing:
“From my perspective, a year from now or 10 years from now, Twitter should be considered a triumph of humanity not a triumph of technology,” he says. “It’s not about the algorithms or the data centres or that sort of thing – it should be measured by what people are using it for and whether or not it’s considered a force for good in the world. That’s difficult to measure, but you should be able to answer that question yes or no.”
Stone, now focused on the launch of Vine and without the post-IPO pressures that Mark Zuckerberg faces, clearly states the powerful criteria by which to judge the success of Twitter. The question remains, however, as to how committed both platforms can remain to their stated missions in the face of increasing pressure to monetize both social media and mobile advertising.
Yet given a choice, I believe its the ability of these social platforms to create positive change, rather than their ability to monetize that is the key to their survival. These platforms live or die on their popularity and as soon as they become multi-faceted platforms for marketing, consumers will desert them in droves. So whether it takes the form of social activism or corporate social responsibility, we can take heart that such efforts determine not just the success of such platforms but their very survival.