Friday, August 22, 2008

Why Did Twitter Win the Race?

I’m a fan of Jyri Engström’s theoretical work. And, although Jaiku (as we know it) has lost the race against Twitter, his experience helming a startup at the sharp edge of web development definitely enhances his insights. And I will be comparing his recommendations to Zipiko in my next blog.

I used to say that Jaiku was the best service I never used. However, I have recently rediscovered its joys. One feature that we prefer is the way that Jaiku streams the comments into conversations; whereas you can’t see all Twitter comments in one page. Now that Jaiku is currently closed (now open again, 27/8/2008) - to new users, I feel very lucky to have an account.

The Jaiku-Twitter battle is of great interest to us since Jaiku, like us, had Finnish roots and we must try to avoid the pitfalls that they fell into – but what are those pitfalls? We have been bouncing some ideas around the office and these are currently the most likely contenders: location, mobile app v. web-based/SMS, API and name.

Location: Twitter, being based in San Francisco, was able to generate buzz in the industry that spread out to the public; whereas Jaiku generated interest in Finland – but it kind of stopped here. Twitter was also used extensively at the crucial South by Southwest festival (Austin, Texas) in 2007 – we hope to do something similar.

Finland is an excellent place for doing controlled launches, since there is a small tech savvy population and the language naturally restricts growth. However, once we have ironed out the Zipiko system, we must immediately start doing some old fashioned legwork promoting the service in English speaking counties.

At the end of this month we are doing our first marketing campaigns at some key Helsinki universities, which we will then try to replicate abroad. And we will be looking into the possibility of a San Francisco foothold when we go there for the Mobile 2.0 conference in November.

Web-based/SMS v. Mobile Apps: Twitter put more emphasis on developing a web-based service using SMS to link to mobiles, whereas Jaiku initially put more emphasis on its mobile apps. However, Twitter has suffered recently from having to make some severe cut backs related to its SMS service due to high costs.

We are currently focusing on the web-based/SMS approach and, in regards to SMS, we are fortunate that our system will only generate a fraction of Twitter’s SMS load (one Tweet can generate thousands of SMS). However, we are aiming to put discreet sponsorship messages at the end of our SMS invites, which should appeal to advertisers and users alike since we can match both their needs more closely thanks to our knowledge of user intentions, eg – going shopping, see a great offer. If this proves successful then the more SMS the merrier.

API: Twitter had a more straightforward API from early on.

Name: This one is still being debated, but to my English ear Twitter not only matches the activity perfectly (birds and people twitter) it is more ‘sticky’, whereas people can’t even decide whether to say (Y)jaiku or (G)jaiku.

We thought very hard about the name Zipiko, which so far seems to being doing the trick. To zip somewhere is to go quickly and k looks good with z and ko rhymes with go. But you will decide. However, if Google had been a useless service would it be such a great name? After all:

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet." (William Shakespeare)

We welcome your advice on these issues so please do comment – especially Jyri.