Udpate: Twitter turned the ship around. It was impressive. Enjoy my completely wrong, hyperbolic take below.
This week in tech we’ve seen several expos, tech announcements and general insanity within the tech world. The most exciting of which is Twitter tightening the noose around its proverbial neck and preparing to kick the stool – a tragic farewell to its tortured existence.
Twitter was launched in 2006 and despite having a decade of user growth and marketing exposure, still faces the same issues it always has, namely:
What the hell is Twitter for?
Twitter’s primary issues arise from a simple problem, its high barrier of entry. Back in 2006 when setting up a Twitter was all the rage, I argued with people about the usefulness of the platform. It had a limited character field (140 characters) that limited the ability for users to say what was on their mind. Some touted this as forcing a new way of thinking, but the primary reason for this limit was text message limitations at the time and Twitter’s unique ability to push status updates through mobile devices. Limiting the Tweet length within the API was a work around for the problems that SMS presented. Technology has changed a lot since then and even Twitter has acknowledged that the 140 characters may be a bit antiquated at this point. While Twitter spearheaded the micro-blogging phenomena, alternative platforms such as GNUSOCIAL proved that longer character limits can lead to more coherent ideas and meaningful interactions.
The reason micro-blogging is successful isn’t because of the brevity mandated by character limits, but because unlike an actual blog, micro-blogging platforms give networks a real-time look into what’s being said by social circles. The compulsory nature of the platform is the appeal, not the character limits. When Twitter first launched, my main argument was that most people won’t care what individuals have to say about anything. I would argue with people that it would make the most sense for businesses, celebrity estates and media to use it for updates to their services and news but that most normal people wouldn’t care what was happening in each others lives. I don’t think I was completely wrong. The shorter character limit helps bolster this mindset and packaged together with the high barrier of entry it’s part of the reason why Twitter can’t seem to attract a buyer.
When people first start an account, it’s almost impossible to be heard by others. They may accidentally auto-follow Twitter’s recommended accounts and then just spend a few minutes looking around and expecting instant replies and likes – like on Facebook. It’s practically mandatory for every entity that makes money to have a Twitter and half of these accounts tweet aimlessly into oblivion, thinking that by making noise and using hashtags they’ll be seen. Many Marketers fail to see how this approach is wrong. Bots also fill twitter with nonsense, spam and fake interactions. Twitter at a surface level looks like a massive chamber of noise and new users get fed up with it quickly.
The key for success for all of these celebrities, marketers, companies and individuals is treating Twitter like a public forum and by utilizing the SOCIAL aspect of the platform. Twitter should not be an aggregate. There are plenty of aggregates people can use to get their entertainment and news: Reddit, Facebook, Google, whatever. This is also the key to making Twitter a network worth purchasing. Links, photos and content on Twitter should be viewed as a conversational jumping off point and not just things to drive traffic to your profile. Twitter shines when there’s discussion, but that’s been severely lacking lately.
Hashtags, which were meant to be a conversational filter and organizational tool, are just used to make a statement or bandwagon onto. There’s no conversation on Twitter. It’s just shouting and trying to be the loudest. No one wants to buy that.
Twitter knows that the peak of its value has come and gone. Too many radical changes in what Twitter was has made it incredibly undesirable to any potential investors and buyers. They’re trying to return to the old days, but things like the Safety Council are just making conversation more difficult. They laid off 9% of their staff, which equaled about 325 people. This made the stock jump, but it’s insane to me that they even need over 325 employees to run the service. Keep the engineers and remove illegal content. That’s all that Twitter needs to stay afloat. As an ‘infrastructure’ web service, it doesn’t need all these other bells and whistles. The added weight is pushing people away from the platform. It won’t remain infrastructure if there’s not users.
I’m surprised they didn’t sell Vine, but outright murdered it. Actually, I’m not surprised. Those loops are better kept for traffic to Twitter than passed off to another’s hands, but there’s no real point in having 6-second videos when you can just upload videos to Twitter now. The greatest thing that Vine did was allow people to get famous on YouTube.
Jack wants to get rid of this thing and maybe after he hacks the company to death he will. His hope is safety features and lay offs will make it seem lucrative. Someone will most likely buy it at a far lower price point than expected – I don’t see the shares going back to its peak without number manipulation. It may be too late before Jack realizes that the best way to sell Twitter is to return it to its roots, unfiltered conversation.
Twitter is my favorite sinking ship.
Next time I’ll talk about Apple and Microsoft or something.
Also published on Medium.