Peter Kafka

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Hey! What Happened To TweetDeck's UberMedia Deal?

Is Twitter really going to buy TweetDeck for $50 million?

Got me. The last time I reported on the Twitter start-up, it was supposed to have been acquired by UberMedia for $30 million.

I’ve asked all the relevant parties and aside from a public non-comment from Twitter, have yet to hear back.

Here’s what I do know:

  • In February, after TechCrunch reported that UberMedia had acquired the Twitter client, I asked around and was told that the deal hadn’t been closed but was “pretty far along, with signed term sheets, etc.,” and would be worth $30 million in cash and UberMedia stock.
  • Following that report, I heard that some TweetDeck investors were grousing that the company had sold too early, for too little.
  • Last week, a person familiar with TweetDeck told me the deal still hadn’t closed because there were “valuation issues.” That explanation doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Or more precisely, it sounds more like a polite way of saying “something came up that moved this thing from ‘almost done’ to ‘in limbo.'”
  • It’s worth underscoring that the original TweetDeck/Uber deal was going to be paid for primarily with UberMedia stock. If you’re bullish on UberMedia, that’s a good thing, because it could end up being worth much more down the road. On the other hand, it would be no sweat for Twitter to hand over $50 million in its own stock for this deal. And if you’re an investor who’s eager to turn that paper into cash via secondary market sales, it would be easy to do so–much easier than selling UberMedia shares.

So now that we’ve moved from known knowns, let’s move to known unknowns:

What was UberMedia going to do with TweetDeck, anyway?

The two answers you hear most often is that Bill Gross and company were rolling up Twitter-related startups so they could either: Do what Twitter hasn’t done so far, and make real money selling ads against Tweets; or gather up enough users to create a Twitter-like platform that they could run on their own.

But neither of those answers makes much sense to me, either.

Because by all accounts Twitter CEO Dick Costolo seems to have a real problem with Gross, which makes a partnership unlikely. And because splitting off a chunk of Twitter’s users and creating a better/more reliable/whatever service sounds like the kind of thing that appeals to tech pundits. But not real people.

What would Twitter do with TweetDeck, anyway?

This one seems a little easier to figure out: TweetDeck is one of Twitter’s most popular clients, and the service has become increasingly interested in owning its own distribution.

On the other hand! Twitter has been asked about TweetDeck’s role in its ecosystem several times in the last year or so, and each time, the company has responded with the same answer: We love TweetDeck, but it’s not for us–the people who use that thing are hard-core power users, and we’re aiming at a broad audience. (Fun/frustrating game for new users: Boot up TweetDeck and try to find the “search” function.)

Twitter founder/product guru Jack Dorsey is the most recent Twitter official to say something along those lines, in a  Q&A last month. TweetDeck CEO Iain Dodsworth found his statement worth highlighting for his own Twitter followers, though he only called out the first paragraphs of this exchange:

Q: So are you saying there shouldn’t be all of these other clients out there? I love TweetDeck, and I like it better than Is your job as product director to make as good as TweetDeck?

A: I think the biggest challenge is to build a cohehesive user experience, and at the same time, enable and allow for multiple views on the same thing. TweetDeck is a very interesting client, because it presents a view that no other client in the world presents, which is this multicolumn, massive amounts of information in one pane. And people really, really enjoy that.

But I think that’s maybe five percent of the Twitter population. That five percent of the Twitter population are some of the most high-value publishers that we have, and they’re using the service at extreme velocity. So of course we have to pay attention to that, and I’m not saying we need to rid ourselves of interfaces like that. We have to embrace them.

But, we also need to speak to the 80 percent that will not be using an interface like that, that don’t really understand what Twitter is and that see Twitter as mainly a consumption experience. We spend a lot of time on people tweeting but a lot of the value that one gets out of Twitter is being able to follow their interests, and not necessarily tweet about it. But just consume it. So we need to put a lot more effort into the consumption experience and the consumer experience.

So maybe Twitter changed its mind and decided that it’s worth owning that small slice of power users, after all. Or maybe TweetDeck’s owners ended up looking for more money and less risk (and less upside). Or maybe both, or something else. Positively Rumsfeldian.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work