Opinion: Imagine If Google Had Bought Twitter

Elon Musk started by tweeting – if not demanding – Twitter feature requests/changes in a truly remarkable time for technology and corporate governance. This led to a rejected board seat and this morning’s acquisition attempt, complete with “Plan B” if/when the board rejects. Tweet edicts and hostile takeovers can’t be a sustainable way to run a product, and those events play into my long-held belief that Google should have bought Twitter years ago. It would certainly have been a more orthodox turn of events compared to what is to come. very publicly over the next few weeks.

Google, a social enterprise

From Orkut to Buzz and of course Google+, Google proper has an incredibly bad track record as a company that gets social media. Even if an acquired Twitter continued on the same path/history it has done thus far, Google would be a significant and relevant player in the space.

On the other hand, Google has really lost nothing by seeing its various social attempts fail. It might have been more relevant for young people, but those same young people are still using search, seeing ads, signing up for Gmail, and learning about Chromebooks.

However, I think Twitter would have been a good choice because Google would be another steward – for better or worse – of a quasi-public service that surely should exist in some form. There’s such a low barrier and speed to writing – as well as consuming – 280 characters of text compared to taking photos or uploading videos. People tweeting in droves are a powerful indicator of what’s trending and provide the pulse of what a specific demographic is discussing. The Internet should always have a centralized “public space” for conversation.

For me, this societal need is on par with a search engine, well-maintained email (Gmail), free productivity suite (Docs/Sheets/Slides), video calls (Meet), data backup (Drive and Photos), a web browser (Chrome) and (relatively) open operating systems (Android and Chromium).

Integrations

Besides the high ideal of keeping something like Twitter running continuously, there are a number of Synergies with Google products that make a lot of sense.

DM Twitter

For Google, what is missing from the above list of essential daily services is, of course, messaging. In the 2000s and early 2010s, Google had this with Google Talk and, to a lesser extent, Hangouts.

What if instead of suing Allo or RCS Chat, Google – circa 2016 – had Twitter direct messages from the broader acquisition, and decided to make DMs its mainstream messaging app.

Twitter has long neglected its private chat experience. In fact, it just added the ability to search the content of messages. There was a time when there was talk of DMs being split into a separate Twitter app, but that never came true even as the demand for it grew.

Google could have pursued this option and modernized it much earlier. An immediate benefit would be how usernames are leveraged as a public identity system versus more sensitive phone numbers and email addresses. Another is to have a service that is objectively more recognizable than Allo and cross-platform, unlike Messages and RCS today.

Google Photos

Another possible social integration could have been with Google Photos, which of course grew out of Google+. One of the great things about Plus was that it was a great place for people to publicly share their photos. An acquisition that came after G+ ended could have led to Google bringing back that public experience with Twitter, and the end result could have been a viable image-focused Instagram competitor.

Google+ Circles

One of the things that Google+ got right on day one was the concept of more private sharing with Circles. It feels like Instagram and Twitter have only recently started exploring how to enable more partitioned experiences on their networks without simply locking down your account altogether.

To research

When Larry Page made an acquisition pitch to Jack Dorsey in 2011, improving Search was seen as the big sell. Honestly, that makes a lot of sense given that search is continually the thing that Google strives to improve. In the early 2010s, an acquisition would have made Google Search an even more powerful tool for understanding what’s popular. This data is already obtained from queries, but what people tweet is just as definitive. The implications for announcements are also obvious. That said, Google finally signed a deal, which is still ongoing, in 2015 to have tweets appear instantly in search results.

By the way, lowercase search, searching for tweets on Twitter today is a pretty poor experience. It’s fine, but not as smart (keywords only vs understanding sentiment) as Google search, nor does it extend to what’s in images.

Youtube

Where Google has found success in social media is, of course, YouTube. It was very well allowed to mature and grow separately from the main business, and that was for the best. The most obvious integration between Twitter and YouTube is another distribution channel for sharing videos.

On the other hand, it’s not hard to imagine that uploading videos in tweets would have ultimately used YouTube in any acquisition, and the same could be said with live streaming. The YouTube network would certainly have helped make the latter much more discoverable.

YouTube is now officially a “Google company” that retains its own internal culture. Since Twitter is so consumer-focused, I think it would have eventually joined Google under a similar model rather than as an Alphabet company after 2015. It makes all integrations with existing services possible because Google itself serves more and more consumer brands.


While many of these integrations could still work in the modern age, a Google acquisition of Twitter today is simply out of the question for regulatory (antitrust) reasons. The time to do so is clearly over. Such a deal would have made huge waves in the past, but I believe it would have ultimately been the more stable path than whatever is about to happen next.

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