Twitter has become the new tool of the day for many edu-bloggers (like me). It’s great for keeping up with personal networks, keeping track of people at conferences, and just chatting. There have been a few educators interested in the educational potential, but mostly, it’s been a tool for sharing and socializing. Twitter is also a favorite of many marketing social networking gurus, some who have amassed tens of thousands of followers. Like the early days of Google when it broke out of the pack of dozens of popular search engines, Twitter seems to be at the tipping point of widespread use.
Many other Web 2.0 applications have sprung up in the fertile Twitter ground, dedicated to providing a better user interface, connections to other tools, or better search and conversation tracking. Summize was one of them.
Yesterday, Twitter bought Summize, and now the Summize search can be found at the subdomain search.twitter.com. The speculation is that the purchase was made in Twitter stock, plus jobs for the five Summize employees at Twitter. All this for two companies that make zero revenue!
But somebody believes that Twitter is worth something – they’ve been funded with 15 million dollars of venture capital. That’s not a gift, somebody is expecting them to return that 15 million with much more on top. Other venture capitalists have invested 1 million dollars in Summize.
So Twitter believes that Summize is worth money. And the VCs that own a piece of Summize most likely believe that their million dollar investment is now going to pay off big time.
So what’s the education angle here?
For educators, Web 2.0 apps offer some amazing features for collaborating, communicating, access to data, photos, audio, video, and more. But the main reason it appeals is the price – free. For many schools scrambling to balance the budget, free overrides all other features. Educators find out about these apps the same way everyone else does – buzz and early adopters. The more people flock to these sites, the greater the chance they might break out of the pack and become the darling of the moment. And that’s how they attract venture capital, which allows them to stay in business, expand, and gain more customers. Buzz is the business of these Web 2.0 companies, even more important than the products they make. If the buzz is big enough, they might hit the Google jackpot and make millions.
So you have to ask yourself, is “buzz” plus “free” driving educational practice and planning? Are you building a future on this premise? Are educators walking into a trap set out to attract any and all users, just so venture capitalists can make a return on investment?
Sure, you could argue that we’ll just use these tools as long as they’re around, and then move on to whatever the new new thing is. But by then, how much of your current technology plans will have shifted to relying on things being free? If you have sold Web 2.0 to your colleagues, principal, and superintendent as the way of the future, what happens when these companies finish their speculative games, take their money and go home?
So while you might not care about Twitter, this particular bit of Web 2.0 business news is just the tip of the iceberg for the coming consolidation.
We all know that day is coming, when the companies that don’t get enough buzz to attract money will shut down their free services. Once the money in Web 2.0 settles out everything will change. The VCs will find a hot thing to invest in. A few lucky little companies will get bought or turn into big companies, and that monetize word will have real meaning. The rest will go away.
It’s not a matter of if, but when. Are you ready?