Twitter buys Summize – should educators care?

Yesterday’s news brought a new Web 2.0 related announcement. Micro-blogging favorite Twitter has purchased Summize, a Twitter search engine.

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?

Sylvia

8 Replies to “Twitter buys Summize – should educators care?”

  1. The business of web 2.0 is very interesting, especially the part about most of this stuff like Twitter being free. I’ve wondered out loud (http://www.assortedstuff.com/?p=2504) whether these tools and services that many of us rely on are going to be around for the long haul when they have no visible means of sustaining the company.

    Personally, I’m happy to pay a reasonable price for something I find valuable. However, I’m not going to be happy at all if that price is putting up with a flood of advertising.

  2. This is also why I am wary of moving schools to GoogleApps and such. It’s also why Drupal and Moodle and SchoolTool remain favorite school apps of mine. They are OpenSource community developed programs that aren’t going away. And if I host them on my own server (which we do) I have a lot more control of them.

    I am still convinced that if Eisenhower were alive today, he’d say “Beware the education industrial complex.”

  3. You make very good points. I have been thinking a lot about the Web 2.0 movement lately. My concern is what it will do to the traditional software development companies? As you point out, educators, because of limited budgets, are lured by the call of the “Free.” However, I still want to be able to buy software that does a multitude of things in my classroom, has been developed with the highest standards of content, and is sustainable for the long haul. I do not care to develop new curricula based on an application that will be gone next year or week.

    Do not get me wrong, I love some of the Web 2.0 ‘tools.’ I have had a fun time playing with them and even have shared a few on my blog. However, I realize three things; they might not be around tomorrow, many of them are the equivalent of “one hit wonders”, and I am essentially the Beta tester.

    Wordle, for example, was a very fun little App which I played with and blogged about. I took something I had written for a class and it made a beautiful piece of art. While I could see it in a classroom filling the same purpose, that is all it does. No depth to the application. When my wife, the English teacher, tried to use it, it wouldn’t work. So, I imagine I could have sent them an email explaining the problem, but then, as I stated before, I am like the beta-tester. Don’t you imagine all of us on Twitter acting as a large scale Beta test?

    I am reminded of an old cliche, All that glitters is not gold. I am the first person to try something new if I think it can help me reach an objective in my class. However, I want to keep supporting traditional and quality software manufacturers so that I will always have great products to use in my class.

  4. Chris – I’m glad you brought this up. This post could have been much longer with “what to do”. I think there are thoughtful ways for schools to design and develop solutions that incorporate “free” applications, in particular open source. A great benchmark for the future is the current depth of support of a developer community, plus you have the code even if that goes away.

    Tom Hoffman linked to this post with more on this subject. Free to Freedom.

    But as you know, time is money, so committing resources to truly understanding these tradeoffs is still a longer route than just jumping on a hot Web 2.0 app.

  5. Great post. I was in a conference session earlier this spring where the discussion boiled into somewhat of an argument over this very topic. I fear too many ed-tech pundits get a little quick with “free” recommendations. I believe this even applies to open-source software. Certainly there is a community developing the product, but the community is only as invested as their sustainable interest. How many community developers are still developing apps for Friendster? How many Twitter clients will there be two years from now? A company in the market developing a product is motivated by the desire to continue to exist in the market, and it is this motivation that makes them more likely to remain in business longer.

    I certainly enjoy and value applications such as Twitter, and I have NeoOffice loaded on all my Macs, but I understand I am using them at my own risk of loss. I felt that very kind of loss when Google Browser Sync was dropped (I’m still running Firefox 2.0 because I’m not ready to give up my browser syncing). I’m just not ready to be responsible for being the one who brings that sense of loss to my entire district.

    I was rather troubled at the conference session mentioned above when the presenter listed 40 current Web 2.0 tools that all administrators should be required to know and use. I’m sorry, but that isn’t the point. We should all be advocating for the process and the purpose of the tools, but the tool itself is never the point. We don’t go into our houses each night and talk about the hammer that built it. We’re certainly grateful for that hammer, but we’re really more concerned with the product the hammer produced. Such should be the case when we advocate for change in the ed-tech realm.

  6. Sorry … point taken but point missed. How many times have schools paid for an initiative and a few years later the initiative went belly up, stopped supporting the product, was bought up, required upgrade at substantial cost, and finally became obsolete.

    I laud free all the time but with the understanding that nothing lasts on the net or with technology in general. The best products have an easy learning curve, fit the need at the time, improve current work and are not focused on the technology but on skills.

    Schools are fantastic at wasting money. Let’s continue to push for “free” and be flexible with our use enough to allow us to transition easily and quickly when something changes their payment plan. The number of examples of schools who have been burned by companies is long indeed!

  7. You raise some very good points and this is a really interesting post. I have been thinking about the increasing rate of technological change and how that impacts what we do as educators lately. Whether we pay for things or not, they are going to change. Change is inevitable and constant. I mean, if it wasn’t wouldn’t we still be using the principles of Fordism to work and educate? We may own a licesne for something and that gives as a sense of permanency, control and security – but how much control do we really have? And do we really want something very permanent? If we have such a sense of control and permanency will we become complacent? I think web2.0 and all the free and open source apps that help make it what it is also provide a sense of anticipation. Things are not permanent, and because we are more keenly aware of that with these kinds of apps it presents a great opportunity to us – to keep looking around for tools that can help us achieve our goals, to see what’s better, to improve upon what we have. I think in some respects we can use it to drive us. A good eLearning strategy should be built to incorporate a multitude of tools which are focussed on outcomes. The tools can change, but it is the outcomes that are important. Let’s focus on them.

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