When it comes to the social media/tech world, there are super powers, established brands, up-and-comers and a whole bunch of wannabes. What we often forget is that the super powers — the Googles, Facebooks, Apples and Microsofts — were all, at one time, wannabes. Every one of them. Not a single one sprung full-grown from the head of Zeus.
I wonder, however, how many years it will be before we see another social media start-up go from wannabe to super power? It seems that any established social media brand that shows beastly potential will eventually be bought and co-opted by one of the industry giants. Yahoo bought Flickr for $40 million in 2005 when the photo-sharing site was barely a year old. The next year, Google bought YouTube for an eye-popping $1.65 billion (which, after all is said and done, might be the steal of the century) before the video site turned two. And earlier this year, Facebook paid $1 billion for the one and a half year old Instagram.
Do any of the established, independent social media brands have a Facebook-like potential? Twitter? LinkedIn? Tumblr? Pinterest? Or is it just a matter of time before one of the super powers gobbles them up? While Google and Facebook have both flirted with the idea of acquiring Twitter, those deals have gone nowhere. Now, the New York Times is reporting that Apple is considering a sizeable investment in Twitter. As the Times points out, Apple CEO Timothy Cook has said the company doesn’t have to own its own social network but it does need to be social. The Times contends that buying a stake in Twitter is a low risk proposition, with a nice upside:
Though an investment in Twitter would not be a big financial move for Apple by any stretch — it has $117 billion in liquid investments, and it quietly agreed to buy a mobile security company for $356 million on Friday — it would be one of Mr. Cook’s most important strategic decisions as chief executive. And it would be an uncommon arrangement for Apple, which tends to buy small start-ups that are then absorbed into the company.
But such a deal would give Apple more access to Twitter’s deep understanding of the social Web, and pave the way for closer Twitter integration into Apple’s products.
All of this jockeying for supremacy reminds me of a giant game of Risk. The turf battles between Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft range from border skirmishes (Internet Explorer vs. Chrome vs. Safari) to all out wars (iPhone vs. Android).
While the Times story, and its reliance on unnamed sources, seems like it could turn out to be much ado about nothing, it does make you wonder about another piece of news that raised a few eyebrows Friday: Twitter shutting off part of its API to Instagram. That news item hit the web the same day that Instagram announced it had reached 80 million registered users. Brad McCarty on The Next Web speculates it’s part of the ongoing Twitter vs. Facebook rivalry.
But the real story here, if I’m going to go out on a limb, has much more to do with Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram only a few months ago. Facebook and Twitter simply don’t play well together, as has been noted numerous times before. If Facebook continues its push toward consumer-friendly products (TV shows anyone?) it only makes sense to start culling the companies that could infringe upon its own versions.
Allowing selective access to its API seems like a terrible idea. Starting a war with Facebook is an even dumber idea. Unless, of course, there’s a super friend in Cupertino waiting in the wings.
Image by Flickr user atomic playboy.