Twitter, Jobs, Democracy and The US Elections

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Mark Suster (@msuster), a 2x entrepreneur, now VC at GRP Partners. Read more about Suster at his Startup BlogBothSidesoftheTable.

I recently wrote a post about the open nature of Twitter and why I’m long on its future. I know it’s easier to write “horse race” stories about who’s signing up more users, raising more funding or who’s “hot” lately.

But something more nuanced is at hand that is worth debating – is the future of the Internet & global communications more open or more closed?

I’ve discussed this on StockTwits with Howard Lindzon before, so if you want the longer view check that out.

Twitter is open.

Not just the fact that you Tweet publicly versus privately, but also that they’re open in letting their Tweet stream flow into other products & services. They’re an open feed.

It is open also in the same way that Google was open in its early days. Google started as a place where you came to be taken via links to other people’s websites. I know many of you don’t remember the context, but that was heresy when Google started. Google was duuumb. Sending traffic to other websites, ha!

The rule of thumb then was “stickiness” – remember that? Get people to your website and never let them leave. Clooosed. That’s what AOL was. A “walled garden.”

In a world where it’s easier to judge the immediate value of a business, I know that metrics like “time on site” matter. That’s why Facebook is totally rocking it right now. And they will continue to do so.

I just want to point out that longer-term value is often harder to perceive when a product is still going through its growth stage. So we value things like “referral traffic” much less. But we know that Twitter has become a major source of referral traffic. As you become a large, open network for referral traffic your long-term strategic value goes up. That’s the Google lesson. As companies like Google grow over time the pendulum swings and even the great link generator Google starts to think maybe it would be good to drive traffic to Google monetized properties. Still, at its core I believe Google’s instincts are open.

No prizes for guess who today’s AOL is. Strategically really well positioned today. Not so open. Brands who build pages there are not building equity in the open Internet, they’re building it in today’s walled garden. The “Internot.” And some tech companies are growing like wildfire helping brands to find more people who “like” them. I’m starting to spend my time evaluating companies that can help brands simultaneously build within the fortress but also maintain social value in the open web.

I think this fortress company knows open will win over time and I think their instincts (or the market) will lead them in the right direction. I’m hoping that HTML5 + mobile will lead them down a more open path. It’s clear to me that other major vendors have less open instincts in their blood.


That undervalued attribute in life and in tech. I was on NPR this week with Peter Thiel and Gregory Zuckerman of the WSJ. The topic of social media came up and one dial-in caller lamented the fact that all Silicon Valley was producing was silly social media companies. I understand this sentiment at the surface. But as I pointed out on the show, look deeper at the impact of social media as a tool to organize crowds, hold public debates and spread information in a decentralized way. These are core attributes of a healthy democracy.

We want a media system where you don’t have one powerful leader who controls the media and you also don’t want a system where you have one powerful media who controls the power.

Social Media helps change that. As in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria & Iran. I’ve lived and worked all over the world so I’m not so naïve as to think that social media ensures revolution or even explains it. But person-to-person communications is vital to enabling democracy and you can’t deny the role of media in driving social change. People need to be able to self-organize to resist the temptations of the power to control them.

In the first place, media helps show people in places where they don’t have rights what life can be like in places where the world is more open. If you really want to understand the politics of the Middle East better you can read my favorite book on the topic.

And that brings me to the US election.

By now most people acknowledge that social media helped play a role in candidate Obama’s 2008 election campaign. Ranjit Mathoda said it best in the previously linked NY Times article:

“Thomas Jefferson used newspapers to win the presidency, F.D.R. used radio to change the way he governed, J.F.K. was the first president to understand television, and Howard Dean saw the value of the Web for raising money. But Senator Barack Obama understood that you could use the Web to lower the cost of building a political brand, create a sense of connection and engagement, and dispense with the command and control method of governing to allow people to self-organize to do the work.”

In 2011 it is too early to say what the story of the 2012 election will be, but I’m certain that social media will play a large role in it and that it won’t look like the social media campaigns of 2007-08. I’m sure there will be some Macaca moments, but I’m excited to see what other innovations there will be.

I’m interested in watching initiatives that help make politics more open.

I was recently contacted by an open, Twitter-based jobs company, TweetMyJobs to participate in an online, open discussion about jobs in America and the election.  My interest was piqued.  This morning, 7/19/11 we will hold an open Twitter conference on job creation in America. Please join us. You can dip in for 5 minutes or stay for an hour.

The company claims it’s the first of its sort. I’ll be there to answer anything you have to throw at me regarding job creation.

I will be in a forum with Lou Kerner, the best read social media analyst working on Wall Street. Just use the hashtag #jobs4USp (that way I’ll see it). I’ll be on at 11am PT.

The event’s Tweetnote will be Tim Pawlenty at 9.15am PT, who is a candidate for the Republican party and is the former governor of Minnesota. Questions for him with #jobs4US

TweetMyJobs is a startup that interests me because it uses an open social interest graph to help job seekers and companies find each other. (no, I’m not an investor in the company).  Companies such as Starbucks, McDonalds, IBM, Motorola & SAP are using their platform that is now generating more than 1 million job leads per month according to the company.

This election will be about jobs. And while we in the tech sector don’t feel it acutely (unless you work for Cisco), believe me that much of the country is still in pain. You wouldn’t know employment was a problem if you frequented the restaurants & bars of San Francisco, went shopping for a house in Palo Alto or visited the high-end malls of Los Angeles.

I was glad to see Jon Bischke, one of the most likable guys in Silicon Valley talking about unemployment & the two-speed economy this week on TechCrunch. There’s a real problem with job creation in this country that we need to deal with or even those of us in the tech sector will be affected.

That’s what I plan to talk about at the TweetMyJobs conference. I look forward to debating with all of you in real time. On the open web. Using the Twitter stream. On a website that Twitter probably doesn’t even know exists. Where I’ll drive my Twitter followers. With an open link that refers you there. See you then.

Image credit: Melanie Cook