A Future IPO More Exciting Than Facebook

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- When Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's Clarence Clemons died last year, the first thing I did was turn on CNN.

The news station was busy running some sort of canned weekend programming. I flipped over to Fox, MSNBC, MTV and VH1 -- nothing. Back in the day when something happened, you powered up your television set and lost yourself in the breaking news for hours. Not anymore.

Since that day, my first move when something I care about happens changed. Cable television failed me. When I gave up and signed in to Twitter, however, I was able to review every news report published about Clemons. I saw instant reaction from musicians, Hollywood icons and sports stars. I bonded with fans from around the world as they tweeted RIPs and YouTube videos of epic E Street performances.

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I should have learned my lesson earlier in 2011. When Japan experienced the horrific earthquake and tsunami, I did not watch any broadcast television coverage. The same with protests in Iran, no-hitters and everything in between. Twitter brings the goods, ranging from eyewitness reports, real-time reaction and raw emotion from across the globe and links to relevant news stories and videos.

Like Facebook, Love Twitter

I consider Facebook ( FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg a visionary. For these reasons and others, many of which I have discussed on TheStreet, I think Facebook, once the IPO dust settles, will make a solid long-term investment.

I use Twitter differently, however. I get more use out of it than I do Facebook. Twitter is hardly a time killer. And, while It can serve as a conduit for social interaction with "friends," it's so much more than that.

I read more now than I ever have thanks to Twitter. It puts stories -- on topics that I care about -- in front of me that no news aggregator could match in terms of both quantity and quality. It exposes me to new people and new ways of thinking. It makes me more productive in many aspects of life. I have my Twitter feed set up so that it hits me with about 60% finance, 20% hockey, 10% music and 10% everything else.

Frankly, I think Twitter does a horrible job educating its users, the media and the general public on how very useful, dynamic and customizable it is. I think most people consider it a toy, a mere 140-character version of Facebook.

Can Twitter Break Out?

Earlier this month, at Wired's "Disruptive by Design" conference, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo told attendees:
I'm never going to optimize for short-term revenue at the expense of either the UI or the longevity of the company. If people think we're going about it too cautiously, I don't care. I appreciate everyone's concern for our business, but it's working phenomenally well.

That mirrors Facebook's approach; in fact, Facebook lists pretty much what Costolo said as a "risk" in its S-1 filing.

Twitter also faces a headwind shared by Facebook as well as companies such as Pandora ( P) : How to better monetize users, particularly on mobile platforms?

While I cannot speak for the great entrepreneurs like Costolo, Zuckerberg and Pandora's Tim Westergren, I think it's safe to say that they believe monetization (revenue followed by profits) comes from providing the best user experience possible. The core goal is not to make money, but deliver to users; these guys feel that if they do that, the stuff that makes Wall Street happy will naturally follow.

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Zuckerberg said as much in his recent letter to prospective shareholders:
... Facebook was not originally founded to be a company. We've always cared primarily about our social mission, the services we're building and the people who use them. This is a different approach for a public company to take . . .

Simply put: we don't build services to make money; we make money to build better services.

And we think this is a good way to build something. These days I think more and more people want to use services from companies that believe in something beyond simply maximizing profits ...

We don't wake up in the morning with the primary goal of making money, but we understand that the best way to achieve our mission is to build a strong and valuable company

Of the newly public and soon-to-be-public companies, you'll find none better than Facebook, Twitter and Pandora ( P). And I can tell you right now that Costolo and Zuckerberg's words serve as the cornerstone of each perpetual startup's culture.

At day's end, Facebook has real limits to how far it can go as a social excursion. Don't get me wrong, it will continue to grow and end up a solid long-term investment, but it will never replace more primitive, personal and easier ways to communicate - you know, things like texting, talking on the phone and, you remember, meeting other people in person!

As an excellent Gigaom article discussed, Twitter is taking a page out of Pandora's book as it helps "push the Internet into 'discovery' phase" with a new feature that aims to make the user experience more relevant and personalized. This is important and can lead to considerable disruption.

Just as Pandora is making traditional radio obsolete with its proprietary brand of personalized radio, Twitter can render other information clearinghouses and pathways to knowledge just as useless. I'm convinced Facebook's days of disruption are pretty much over. For most people, Facebook will act as a mere supplement to our social lives. While that's big and worthy of investor attention, don't expect Facebook to change the game again in any meaningful way.

If it markets itself properly over the next several years, Twitter can be more of a disruptive force, just like Pandora, than it already has been. I'm not a hater; the excitement over the Facebook IPO is warranted, healthy for the market and even a good thing for society. I just think when Twitter finally ends up taking the plunge, it will end up surprising us, over the longer run, as the bigger deal and better long-term investment.

At the time of publication, the author was long P.

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