Google to buy Twitter – oh help…!

Google is in the final stages of negotiations to buy Twitter, according to “people close to the negotiations” who have informed TechCrunch. If this turns out to be true, it could be a disaster for Twitter users.

Google’s virtual monopoly position online means it will be able to do almost whatever it wants if it gets Twitter. It will, for instance, have to add advertising to Twitter in order to get its money back. And if there’s one thing that repeated studies have shown us – social networking users hate advertising with avengance.

Furthermore, take a look at some of Google’s previous acquisitions and see what’s happened. It bought Blogger from the same people who now run Twitter, as it happens. Even though it is the most popular blogging application available, it is frequently hated. There are two key reasons for this: appalling (almost non existent) customer service – you often can’t get an answer to a question even if you try. Secondly, you’ll find page after page after page of complaints about some aspects of Blogger – such as its FTP options – which don’t appear to get any priority attention from the company.

And if you thought Blogger was bad, look at what happened after Google acquired Feedburner. This service provides a feed of any blog in a variety of useful formats. It worked with few problems for years; Google bought it and once again you’ll find the forums and blogosphere full of complaints about how bad things have got recently. The service has sometimes failed for people, it reports odd statistics – and guess what, getting support from Google is sometimes difficult.

So, the company’s record of acquisition is not good for the end-user, who Google often appears to ignore. So why would it be any different with Twitter? They would probably tweak the application to try and shoe-horn advertising in, leading to problems, no doubt, for which we would find it difficult to get any support or assistance with (if their track record with Blogger is anything to go by).

But there’s another problem; social attitude. This could well be an acquisition too far for Google. People are attached to Twitter – it is their “friend”. Similarly, many millions of people are attached to Google – it is their “search friend”. But other aspects of Google’s portfolio do not get such an attachment – Blogger and Feedburner being prime examples. If Twitter is bought by Google and it does not ensure that our “friend” is well cared for, looked after and generally treated well, we will start to hate Google itself. Because Twitter is much more “public” than something like Feedburner (a “behind-the-scenes” service) the implications will be much greater for Google.

If Google wants to protect its stockholders it will not buy Twitter. If Twitter wants to remain our friend, it will not sell. Both companies, of course, will be driven ultimately by financial decisions – but the coporate world is littered with examples of seemingly sensible financial decisions which ultimately failed because they were not socially acceptable to people. The Google and Twitter negotiators will do well to remember that. Their financial success depends upon whether we like them.

UPDATE – Added 7th April 2009: Twitter responded to the rumours about a possible buyout by Google here on The Twitter Blog. Subsequent coverage suggests Twitter would not even sell for $1bn.

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