Twitter built a billion-dollar business by allowing humans to exchange 140-character messages, but according to some observers, a big part of its future may involve facilitating communication on the Internet of Things (IoT).
As The Telegraph's Sophie Curtis observed, Twitter's new mobile development Platform, Fabric, can help developers create applications that allow machines to distribute information using Twitter accounts. And this isn't just a theoretical use case. Twitter itself appears to be embracing the possibility that it could be a key part of the IoT.
Twitter developer advocate Andy Piper told Curtis that while he was initially skeptical about IoT applications, he believes they're going to be a part of Twitter's future. Citing the United Kingdom's Environment Agency, which uses Twitter to distribute sensor data about river levels, Piper explained:
When I first heard that I thought, this is ridiculous, we don't want that many new Twitter accounts telling you the river level — what's the value?
But then I realized that, if I live in Kingston, I don't want to know what the whole of the Thames is doing; I want to know what the river in Kingston is doing. So now I can subscribe on Twitter to the two river points that are closest to my home, and keep an eye on what the levels are.
The Answer to Twitter's Woes?
While it is one of the most prominent and successful tech companies to emerge in the past decade, Twitter is experiencing growing pains. Just this week, it reported user growth that fell short of investor expectations. Could the IoT be a boon for Twitter and help spur the next wave of growth that Twitter and its investors are looking for?
There is obviously reason to believe that IoT applications are going to be a part of Twitter's future, but it's questionable as to just how big the opportunity is. For starters, HTTP is not very efficient and often not practical for applications involving machine-to-machine communication. Other protocols are far better suited to the creation of networks of devices, such as low-power sensors, so it seems unlikely that Twitter would be used to play this role.
That leaves machine-to-human use cases like the Environment Agency's Twitter accounts. But just how attractive are these to Twitter's user base? Will thousands upon thousands of machine-based feeds help or hurt the Twitter experience? And what about applications that require data to remain private, which may prove to be the most prevalent on the IoT? Is Twitter really a viable platform for those?
Until we have answers to these questions, the real size of Twitter's IoT opportunity is unknown. But the mere suggestion that Twitter could become a major player on the IoT is a good reminder to companies that their existing platforms may be applicable or adaptable to IoT use cases. Those that recognize the opportunities early may have the ability to carve out lucrative niches in an IoT market that some expect to be worth trillions of dollars in the coming decades.