Twitter seems to have always struggled to really define what it is. Several years ago, developers were using Twitter to power nearly everything digital. Twitter notifications that your plant needs water? Check. A tweeting laundry machine? Check. Tweets were one of the first inputs for IFTTT and a host of similar tools that allowed tweets with certain hashtags to complete various tasks from home automation to scheduling something, to buying items.
Twitter was on its way to becoming a defacto standard in web communications. Developers could build bigger and better and more robust twitter clients easily, offering users really interesting and useful ways of filtering their feeds into manageable chunks. It was news. It was customer service. It was free and open.
It was glorious, in promise. It was troubled in execution.
The problem with Twitter’s thwarted ascension to the king of the internet backplane is that there is no money to be made there – at least not the kind of money Facebook was and is making. Twitter had investors. Those investors saw Twitter, as most people do, as a social network. And everyone knows that social networks are all like Facebook. They are walled gardens made to keep people there in a controlled environment. They grab tons of personal information and sell it to the highest bidder… in the form of ads. Except twitter wasn’t built that way. It’s definitely a social network. It had the potential to be something much bigger than the Facebook wanna-be it turned into: a backplane that powered everything on the web. But investors wanted it to be Facebook. They wanted it to make Facebook-style money, as in revenue per user. The real kicker is many users wanted it to be Facebook. Not the Twitter pros – no. The twitter novices who joined and couldn’t really figure out what to “do” with it. They thought it would be another place like Facebook to connect with people. And it’s not that, as much as it wants to be.
Fast forward to today – Twitter’s earnings report was bad. User growth is dead. It has alienated its developers and some super-users along the way to becoming more Facebook-like, as a social network. It has an iron grip over “Twitter Clients,” apps that let you use Twitter on mobile device. They control them, and make it difficult or impossible for others to make useful ones. They’re antagonistic toward startups who rely on their user graph, just ask Meerkat who got yanked from the Twitter user graph just a day before they were going public. They consistently and aggressively do NOTHING with griefers and trolls who harass others, especially women, on their network. To use twitter, these days, is much akin to using a Mac pre-OSX. You have to want to enough to work hard at it. Twitter, simply put, is in trouble.
Empowering harassment isn’t the only area where they’re woefully negligent, two areas where they could still shine they are consistently bungling:
Twitter has no edge rank, or newsfeed algorithm that prohibits followers from seeing their updates. Assuming people are on twitter reading things, they may see it. Twitter was late to the game with analytics that provided any kind of insight into who may be seeing your content. By late to the game, I mean they showed up at the final buzzer. This was a non-starter for a long time. Should we just assume that all 10,000 of our followers see our post? Sure, that’s what we all led our clients to believe. But as the lie carried on from humorous winks in meetings to all-hands meeting with lost of nail-biting, worrying which major client was going got call BS first, we had to find other avenues to show value in social media.
Engagement! Right? So many people bought in to Twitter Parties and Chats, and really aggressive monitoring and proactive engagement strategies. They were difficult to pull off well, but when you did, they could be magical. Twitter didn’t like that either. As they tightened restrictions on monitoring tools, they made it more difficult to do this without really expensive tools.
Their recent inexplicable changes to the trending algorithm has done to Twitter Party and Chat marketers what the developer changes from a couple years ago did to sites like TweetGrid, who made it easy to follow Twitter Chats. Their ads simply don’t perform as well as Facebook’s ads. Twitter consistently and pathologically finds successful marketing tactics others are using, and makes them less advantageous in order to drive people ads. I can’t tell how many times in the last two years I’ve found myself saying, “This is too hard, maybe we should just buy ads and forget about Twitter.” I’ve never said this with any other social ad platform. This may not sound bad from a business perspective – they’re in the business of selling ads. However, given their ad performance compared to Facebook, unless I had some specific need to target Twitter users, or have content specifically on Twitter, I would take my ad money right over to Facebook.
If, at the end of the day, I earnestly believed the Twitter audience was “worth it,” I’d be singing a different tune. But it’s not. Sure, they’re now in Google search. This will make more people view tweets, and hopefully bring some new life to the social network. But without fixing the problems above, it’s still somewhat hopeless. Their user growth has stagnated. In my personal observations, it seems most people use Twitter as a broadcast medium now, and not for meaningful conversations. Perhaps my view is tainted because I don’t use it for meaningful conversations, like with Facebook. Ultimately, I believe the value presented by Facebook for social networking is too high, and Twitter’s value too low, to stem the tide of user attrition at Twitter. And that’s a shame.
New users are presented with interesting people to follow. To Twitter’s credit, they are attempting to show people the places Twitter shines, with real-time news, and funny tweets from celebrities. Many times, however, this still compares too closely to Facebook, which offers a lot of other benefits too, like talking to friends. The Facebook envy at Twitter makes for poor articulation of why Twitter is worth someone’s time.
Unless Twitter really shakes up not only its management, but it’s direction as a company, I think we’ll eventually see it fade away. Maybe Apple or Google will buy it.