Twitter Quitters

There’s no denying Twitter, this year’s social-networking phenom where you can instantly blast the known universe with your thought of the moment, is for folks with short attention spans. The service’s 140-character limit promotes brief messages for those who feel life is too short to read a paragraph or two.

But it looks as if Twitter users quickly lose their fascination with the service, according to a Nielsen Online blogger.

Writing on the Nielsen Wire blog, David Martin, the company’s Primary Research VP, says more than 60 percent of Twitter users stop sending tweets one month after joining the service, making its retention rate around 40 percent.

Okay, so maybe you’re thinking all the press during the past few months about Twitter is sure to help the service keep its tweeters. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

According to Martin, the 40-percent retention rate is an improvement from the previous year when no one was talking about Twitter. During the service’s pre-Oprah, pre-celeb days, Twitter held on to only 30 percent of its new audience.

Martin does qualify his hypotheses by saying a high retention rate doesn’t guarantee a big audience, but the Nielsen researcher also adds that keeping users from defecting is necessary for building a large user base. Martin also injects a bit of common sense – low retention rates often result in the number of quitters surpassing the number of those who stay.

But don’t write Twitter off just yet. Martin still considers the service a newbie in the social-interactive Web biz, a “fledgling,” as he put it, and says reports, including his own, of Twitter’s impending doom are probably premature.

However, he also points out retention rates for Facebook and MySpace in the early days were twice what Twitter is experiencing now. Furthermore, both Facebook and MySpace are experiencing up to 70 percent retention rates today.

Will Twitter survive its growing pains to eventually grow its retention rate? Martin doesn’t think so.

“Twitter has enjoyed a nice ride over the past few months, but it will not be able to sustain its meteoric rise without establishing a higher level of user loyalty,” wrote Martin. “Frankly, if Oprah can’t accomplish that, I’m not sure who can.”

Joost For Sale

Online video site Joost is reportedly shopping around for a buyer, but so far hasn’t found any takers.

Joost launched only two years ago in 2007, but never really caught on with the YouTube crowd. Founded by Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis with money earned from selling their Internet phone service – Skype – to eBay, Joost never caught on with Web surfers like online video-on-demand site Hulu did, probably because it didn’t offer current TV hits like “Heroes” or “24” online, and it required users to download and install a custom video player.

In fact, the numbers for Joost are rather dismal when compared with Hulu, with the former racking up 523,000 unique views during March while the latter chalked up 41.6 million.

Time Warner Cable is supposedly in talks to purchase Joost, according to the Associated Press, citing those ol’ beguiling anonymous sources. However, those same sources claim the cable company will buy Joost only if the price drops low enough to make it interesting.

Time Warner Cable isn’t the first cable company to consider buying Joost. Comcast has already turned down a pitch to go into the Joost business.

There is speculation that Time Warner Cable might buy Joost only for the technology. The cable company is supposedly a little behind in online video, and a Joost boost could help even the score.

Or it could use it to store videos for its broadband service Roadrunner. In fact, Time Warner Cable could probably find several uses for Joost. That is, as long as they could change it into something else.

Apple’s Wiki Blues

It’s perfectly legal to discuss how to get software other than iTunes to work with iPhones and iPods. Just don’t post the discussion online.

That’s what Web site BluWiki did late last year. That is, until Apple lawyers contacted the site’s owner – OdioWorks – waving a cease-and-desist order, a copy of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and threatening a lawsuit.

A free-speech violation? Perhaps, but the DMCA prohibits disclosure on how to circumnavigate copyright protection technology. It’s how Hollywood protects its encrypted DVDs even though making a backup copy of your favorite movie easily falls into “fair use” territory. Breaking the encryption to get around copy protection means you violate the DMCA. No exceptions.

Now OdioWorks has filed suit against Apple, asking for a declaratory judgment that the discussions on BluWiki did not violate the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions nor infringe upon Apple’s copyrights. Assisted in its filing by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, OdioWorks also accuses Apple of trying to censor the BluWiki Web site.

“I take the free speech rights of BluWiki users seriously,” said OdioWorks owner Sam Odio. “Companies like Apple should not be able to censor online discussions by making baseless legal threats against services like BluWiki that host the discussions.”

The provision in the DMCA prohibiting people from distributing information about circumventing copy protection has been one of the more controversial aspects of the 1998 legislation.

Researchers have accused the copyright law of stifling information, with some even protesting that the law could mean jail time for what’s published in academic papers. Furthermore, describing something as simple as how to get around the copy protection technology that comes with some online music purchases – burn the tracks to disc, and then rip them like any other CD – just might be a violation of the DMCA, though no one has pressed it to that extreme.

“Apple’s legal threats against BluWiki are about censorship, not about protecting their legitimate copyright interests,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Fred Von Lohmann. “Wikis and other community sites are home to many vibrant discussions among hobbyists and tinkerers. It’s legal to engage in reverse engineering in order to create a competing product, it’s legal to talk about reverse engineering, and it’s legal for a public wiki to host those discussions.”