Twitter’s new subscription service arrived this week not with a bang, but a whimper. Twitter Blue provides some minor additional functionality in exchange for $3 a month. The offer is clearly aimed at “power users” who have been asking for a few extra bells and whistles.
The press reaction was muted. In an article titled “Twitter’s Subscription Plan Generates Yawns from Wall Street,” The Information’s Martin Peers said: “How willing anyone, even power users, will be to pay up for what Twitter is offering, particularly overseas, is anyone’s guess…Right now, you can’t blame investors for being skeptical.”
You know what? I disagree with the naysayers on this one. Particularly if you’re new to subscriptions, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with launching a small, targeted service, and developing it slowly over time. There are real merits to this approach, which I’ll get into later.
First, though, let’s start with the basics. Twitter Blue has three new features:
Bookmark Folders: Twitter Blue lets you bookmark and organize your saved tweets.
Undo Tweet: Twitter Blue lets you revise a tweet up to 30 seconds before it actually goes live, so you can correct misspellings.
Reader Mode: Twitter Blue makes it easier to read long threads by “getting rid of the noise.”
And as an added bonus, Twitter Blue users will get access to customizable app icons as well as “dedicated subscription customer support.” The service rolled out in Australia and Canada last week, with more countries to come.
So there you have it. Again, this is clearly a very niche product intended only for die-hard fans. As if in recognition of this fact, Twitter notes that these kinds of features have been requested for some time, and even offers up some tweets as evidence:
Notably absent, of course, is the option of an ad-free experience (which I’m assuming is driving a lot of YouTube subscriptions right now!). In terms of business models, this is Twitter’s version of having their cake and eating it too.
But it would be a big mistake to dismiss it outright. In fact, I think Twitter is being smart about this. They’re simply running an experiment. We help companies do this kind of thing all the time: publishers, industrial manufacturers, financial service firms, you name it. It’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do — launch a minimum viable product, gather feedback, and see how things go.
That’s the beauty of subscriptions. They let you start small. They give every company on the planet the ability to apply the “Lean Startup” method described in Eric Ries’s great book. You don’t need to pay for wildly expensive market research studies or giant product launches anymore. You don’t need to roll the dice and hope for the best, the way Hollywood movies work.
Subscriptions obviate the need for all that nonsense. They bring your customers in out of the cold, and set them up squarely in the middle of your development process. They turn static products into living, breathing experiences. They let you innovate.
As I noted during my discussion with Andreas Sjöharald of Synsam, to build a big snowball, you have to start small. This seems like a promising start — no doubt some users will love this new service. Twitter’s product team will study the adoption and usage data carefully, and tweak the service as it rolls out in bigger markets. They’ll keep rolling the snowball.
Here’s to small experiments!