While Twitter has been around for over 3 years now, the introduction of new features for Twitter is few and far between. Evan Williams, founder of Twitter, has publicly declared that he does not want to add tons of new features to Twitter but rather wants Twitter to behave as the lubricant for web content (see video below @ 9:20). As I’ve previously discussed, Twitter’s traffic is leveling off and its unusually high rate of user attrition indicates that it may be time for Twitter to expand it’s core features in order to address these concerns.
Arguably the most popular feature missing at Twitter is built-in retweeting. Until the advent of TweetMeme you had revert to manually adding “RT” to an original message and there was really no way to quantify retweets. Akin to Digg for Twitter, TweetMeme was launched on January 28, 2008 by founder Nick Halstead. Since then, TweetMeme has enjoyed unrivaled success as being the one and only Twitter aggregator of its kind. Nick and his team recently reported that TweetMeme served 1.6 billion retweet buttons in the past 30 days alone and it’s experiencing an average week-to-week growth rate of 20%. TweetMeme has been able to obtain such impressive growth by getting TweetMeme buttons placed on some of the most popular blogs on the Web (e.g. PerezHilton, Mashable, TechCrunch).
Retweet.com launched just a few days ago (August 19th) but it’s already caused quite a stir. A few weeks prior to launching ReTweet, Nick Halstead accused ReTweet developers of reverse engineering and blatently copying TweetMeme’s code. Kevin Mesiab of Retweet described it as an embarrassing blunder caused by one of their developers that had “based a prototype button and widget on tweetmeme.com’s publicly viewable scripts and some of the same open source wordpress code”. The debacle didn’t help the newly launched service win over any users and its strikingly similar design to that of TweetMeme seems to have only added fuel to the fire. In contrast, the announcement of a ReTweet competition to giveaway $10,000 to one lucky person appears to be providing a great boost of traffic as everyone on the Web seems to be covering it (Mashable, TechCrunch, ReadWriteWeb).
Whether ReTweet becomes a real threat to TweetMeme or not may be of no concern considering that Twitter will be launching a native retweet feature of its own within a week or two once Project Retweet is ready for deployment. It’s likely that if Twitter creates its own retweet buttons there will be little advantage to use Retweet.com or TweetMeme except as a Twitter based news aggregator. Given those impressive stats that Nick Halstead and his team at TweetMeme just published, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Twitter acquire TweetMeme (phase two of Project Retweet?) soon after implementing phase one of Project Retweet. The timing of such an acquisition would be especially helpful given that Twitter’s traffic growth has almost plateaued.
The buzz about Retweet and TweetMeme brings up a common problem that frequently arises when competitors face off on the Web. That is, if you can’t obtain a patent to protect your web design or intellectual property what can you do to prevent others from entering the market? More importantly what can you do to prevent a much larger entity (Twitter, Facebook) from adopting it themselves? Unless your competitor infringes upon a copyright or trademark, there’s really no way to prevent such things from occurring. Perhaps the best protection from competitors in this scenario is to be the first-mover, establish a trusted brand, and try to stay ahead of the pack by driving innovation with new feature releases that improve your service and keep your users satisfied. While being a first-mover is a definite advantage, newly launched competitors usually have buzz and agility on their side. If a first-mover doesn’t continue to innovate and improve its services it leaves the door wide open for its rivals.
Taking all the above into consideration, what happens if a new competitor enters with nearly the exact same design and feature set (i.e. ReTweet.com)? Do users really care who the first-mover was and is a trusted brand really that important in this case? I submit that the majority of users care very little about who was the first-mover and base their decision exclusively on which ever one provides the best service. While I believe this to be true in most cases, the recent posts alleging that ReTweet developers stole TweetMeme’s code and my assumption that most retweeters are tech savvy individuals that indeed care about such impropriety would suggest otherwise. In any case, I’ve added TweetMeme’s and Retweet’s buttons to this post below to let you try them both and decide for yourself.
Which retweeting service, Retweet.com or TweetMeme, do you prefer?
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