The “poor man’s email service” that is Twitter is both growing so fast that it cannot be ignored, and it has no credible way of handling all of the coming hyper-growth *and* monetizing in time to keep itself afloat financially, despite raising large sums of money. (Facebook’s in a similar position but that’s a separate topic.) Like YouTube, it is hurdling headlong towards an acquisition, in a game of chicken with the leading potential acquirers to see who can hold out the longest.

Which brings us to the question of which gigantic company can afford to underwrite such high-volume expansion that will eventually funnel into a bigger monetization picture, as Google did with YouTube.

It’s an uncomfortable scenario in that Yahoo has been forced into a frugal state, and simply cannot afford to acquire Twitter. That’s most uncomfortable for Twitter, as it leaves them looking at Microsoft — who took an expensive stake in Facebook — and Google as the only two logical acquirers. Oddball acquisitions can happen — see eBay & Skype — but they aren’t ideal in the sense that the oddball could get spun out again in a couple of years, and who’s to say the oddball acquirer would be the proper environment for growth.

In a weird sense, Twitter is most like ICQ, in the sense that it’s gone viral and offers a certain kind of immediacy at a certain moment in digital communication history. AOL isn’t the kind of company that acquires a Twitter today, though.

For companies like Twitter, the messy and as-yet-unconsolidated patchwork left by the also-rans (Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL) in the digital space may be bad news valuation-wise, as it creates too many distractions for these lesser candidates, and points so heavily towards a single acquirer.

Make no mistake about it, if Twitter can’t find themselves an acquirer with deep pockets, and soon, they are in deep trouble. They are actually growing too fast.

I’ve been saying that Google was likely to and SHOULD buy Twitter for a good while now, and their shuttering of would-be Twitter competitor Jaiku could be interpreted as a preparatory step.

It’s also been argued that Google simply cannot afford to let anyone else walk away with a whole new category/aspect of search, “real-time Web” search & recommendation/filtering. In a way, Twitter is succeeding, to some extent by seeming accident, at crowd-sourced search models where the likes of Jason Kalakanis’ Mahalo have failed.

Recent searches for e.g. SXSW participant notes on panels makes it clear why the results via Search.twitter.com ( http://3on.us/sxsw-tw-search ) taken from Twitter’s TIMEline are much fresher & more pertinent right then. For a while now Google has been struggling to sufficiently include IMMEDIATE recency AND a clear temporal ordering into its own result sets (there’s actually a Firefox Greasemonkey plugin extension now to add Twitter results to the top of your Google search).

Back to the acquisition talk: In the end, in an information economy in which attention becomes the only scarce resource, it is paramount to garner & HOLD attention at almost any cost, EVEN if you don’t have a viable business model at the time. The successful combination of virally successful brand name/branding, user excitement/evangelism by early adopters, and developer buy-in to put feature additions into over-drive and further capture people’s imagination, is such a rare combination/feat that, once it takes place, you have to go with it.

The only caveat would be that on a path to monetization (by the original service or an acquirer), steps that might back-fire and lead to anything less than full user buy-in should be strenuously avoided. Thankfully, if one has learned anything from Facebook’s missteps in this regard over the last year or so, it’s that you should to engage your user community to find out what they’d want or at least what they can live with BEFORE creating the next PR disaster.

You already have a mailing list (and “Tweet” list in Twitter’s case!) of your millions of users. USE IT. Ask, it’s called social media for a reason…

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