The Retreat of King Twitter

With great power comes great responsibility, and with great responsibility comes great headaches. So after years as the hottest, most talked about startup in Silicon Valley, Twitter is ready to relinquish some control of the national conversation.

Step one: Slowly destroy the Suggested User List, a list of Twitter's favorite websites which is used to populate the accounts of new users. CEO Evan Williams now says ""I desperately want to kill it or evolve it," according to Business Insider. A few weeks ago, Williams said, "we don't think it's our job to editorialize" through the list, according to NYU professor Jay Rosen.

Indeed, the list gave the microblogging startup tremendous unchecked power to instantly bestow large audiences on various Twitter publishers, yet it was assembled somewhat haphazardly, in a process that involved a "gut check" with "a couple folks" at Twitter Inc. The company reportedly and apparently removed TechCrunch publisher Mike Arrington from the list after, over Twitter's loud objections, he published internal Twitter documents obtained from a hacker. TechCrunch appears to have since been restored to the list; the below chart from TwitterCount shows the long fallow period in Twitter follower growth for TechCrunch when it was apparently out of Twitter's favor:

The Retreat of King Twitter

Step two: Provide search data to rivals. The value in Twitter is in its real time "fire hose" of tweet data. But the company has guarded that data jealously, providing it to only some companies who request it, and then often at a cost of thousands of dollars per month. But Twitter is now nearing a deal to finally sell access to its "full feed" to Microsoft for the Bing search engine, reports Kara Swisher of All Things D. The company is also believed to have been in talks with Google for a similar deal. Sharing with such large competitors is quite a bit of letting go — albeit with financial compensation — for a company that has treated its real-time content feed as a major strategic asset.

It would appear that Twitter is learning a lesson crucial to all sorts of small businesses: if you want to be successful at something, you have to give up on being successful at everything. One would think a company founded on tiny, 140-character status updates would have learned the benefits of limits much sooner.

(Pic: Williams, earlier this month, by Bruno Pin.)