Twitter's 140-character constraint underwrites IPO

The company's greatest strength is its brevity. Keeping it short, simple, and uncluttered will continue to be key in Twitter's post-IPO life.

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo at this week's TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco. Dan Farber/CNET

The IPO wait for Twitter is over .

Next year, the 7-year-old "startup" goes from its private, hyperactive womb into the public market and the fickle winds of quarterly financial reporting.

In the last few years, the company has done an extraordinary job of stepping beyond its SMS-like roots, adding dozens of features to enrich the media and community experience, as well as acquiring several companies and getting its balance sheet in order, with the aid of more than $1 billion in private investments.

Tweets are no longer just handfuls of words massaged and compressed into less than 140 characters, with links, @'s and #hashtags. They are part of a cascading river with embedded text, images and videos, as well as algorithmic discovery, filters, and streaming conversations woven into Twitter's follower and followed social graph.

Twitter has also become irritatingly ubiquitous. You cannot get away from hashtags and Twitter handles on TV, radio, billboards or T-shirts, anywhere in the world.

But it is the application for these times -- real-time, condensed and chaotic, exposing the full range of human intellect, emotion, and behavior in short bursts of molded text. It's a cyber town square that catalyzes revolutions, produces absurd memes, and generates massive tweet storms that define a moment.

And Twitter is a real business that has been able to turn more than 400 million tweets per day into a powerful commerce engine, with brand promotions that naturally fit into the flow of the app experience. According to estimates, Twitter could book in excess of $500 million in revenue for 2013 and be valued at between $10 billion and $15 billion.

Where does Twitter go next? Like Facebook and others, Twitter is doubling down on mobile and will find new ways to create media-rich, targeted advertising that its members will tolerate and occasionally appreciate.

The public Twitter will continue investing in communications and media features to increase the number of people (currently about one-fifth of Facebook's more than 1 billion members) and the amount of time people spend using the service. For example, unlike Facebook, Twitter hasn't pushed its direct messaging chat service. In addition, Twitter could become more of a portal for personalized, curated news, taking on Yahoo, Microsoft and other destinations that aggregate content -- check Twitter for your local weather (in 140 characters or less) and what tweeters in your area are saying about it.

However, the trick for Twitter, with its new IPO riches and power, will be to avoid supersizing. Twitter's secret sauce is its brevity, the 140-character constraint. Keeping it short, simple, and uncluttered will continue to be key in the company's post-IPO life.

 

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