Granted, all of this appeals mainly to the subset of the population that truly cares about politics. That's part of why Twitter, for all its notoriety, is used regularly by just 16 percent of the U.S. adult population, according to a recent Pew study. That modest figure belies the media's frequent comparisons of Twitter to Facebook, which counts half of all American adults as active members. You can debate Facebook's pros and cons, but its fundamental value proposition is universal: It promises to keep you connected to your friends and family.
Twitter, in contrast, remains a niche service. It borders on an obsession for many media and PR types, celebrities and athletes, comedians and wonks, who want to broadcast their ideas to a wider audience. But the average working person would rather relax in front of the TV with a beer most nights than engage in an online battle of wits and one-liners.
Twitter knows that, and it has a plan. Rather than encouraging more people to embrace the service as an active medium, the company wants to push the site as a passive experience. Twitter started as a social network, then became a real-time news feed and sounding board for public figures. Its new goal is to become everyone's default second screen for everything, from presidential debates to the Arab Spring revolutions to the NFL. In short, it wants to be a chatty, illuminating, digital companion to all of the news and entertainment you consume. And it has been tweaking its site in recent months to make sure that you never have to tweet anything yourself, or even sign up for Twitter, to take part.
When I was first planning to write this story, I thought I would have to make the case myself that this represented the company's surest path to mainstream-media status (and a blockbuster IPO). But lo and behold, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo made it himself on Friday. In a radio interview with Marketplace's Jeremy Hobson, Costolo laid out his vision of Twitter's niche: