happy monday system

My Opinions About Twitter Aren’t Important, and Neither Are Yours

There have been rumblings that Twitter is currently testing non-chronological timelines, instead sorted by some mystery meat algorithm à la Facebook. Naturally, long-time users of the service are pissed. And then there’s stuff like this:

Actually, Twitter knows better than all of us how people use their service. Twitter users who actively post things at all are a minority. People like me who post something like 11 000 tweets on average a year are such a drop in the bucket of Twitter’s user base that we simply don’t matter. And yet, every single time Twitter proposes a change, we act all self-important and pretend like the only way people use Twitter is the way we use Twitter.

Wake the fuck up.

Twitter is a business. Contrary to popular belief, they are a profitable business, and have been for years, but their investors aren’t satisfied with the little growth Twitter is seeing for a service of its prominence. Twitter isn’t seeing any growth because it’s tailored to a specific kind of thinking, and everyone with that specific kind of thinking is already using the service. Everybody has at least one friend that tried Twitter and didn’t “get” it and left. Those are the people Twitter is out to convince to join Twitter, and the only way they’ll get that to happen is by changing the service.

Everyone was outraged when favourites changed to likes. I don’t agree with them changing the icon to a heart due to the added baggage they carry, but I have encountered numerous people who joined Twitter who were completely perplexed by what favourites were meant to be used for, and I struggled to explain it to them because everyone uses them for different things. There wasn’t a single agreed upon meaning for favourites and that made it less approachable to people who weren’t already part of the system.

I’m not asking you to agree with Twitter’s decisions, but I am asking you to consider the possibility that the reasoning behind their changes is sound for the goal they are pursuing: pleasing their investors.

I suppose the real concern is: if Twitter does make their service completely unappealing to their power users, where do we have to turn to? Any Twitter-like service born from the startup scene would inevitably encounter the same fate as Twitter as soon as investors would want to see a return. A few years ago, App.net dared to be a user-funded Twitter alternative supported by yearly subscription fees, and while there was a lot to like about the service from a technical point of view, very few people gave it a shot, and even fewer stuck around. A year later, they announced that income from subscriptions wasn’t enough to pay for ongoing development and the service entered maintenance mode indefinitely. So we’re left with moving to open, federated networks of microblogs. But surprise, these already exist, and are about as huge a headache as you might imagine.

We have nowhere to turn to. That is my worry, not the dumb decision Twitter made that I don’t agree with this week, and not the one they’re going to make next week either. For now, a lot of us can continue to use Twitter by isolating ourselves in third-party clients that are more in line with our priorities. That’s not a solution, that’s just postponing when you’ll have to face reality. Developers of Twitter clients will have less and less of a reason to keep maintaining their apps as their user tokens fade away because they won’t be able to sell any more copies to sustain the cost of development.

If Twitter third-party clients stopped working tomorrow morning, what would you do? Now go and try to do whatever you answered for a week and see how you like it.