You mess with Harpo Marx, you get the horns.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

How to Ruin Your Social Media Company or Why Twitter Sucks

You may be surprised to see a new post here, given how little activity there has been over the last few years. To be honest, I've concentrated my efforts on Twitter for some time, because the jokes fly faster and are seen by more people. All of this is changing now, thanks to one group of people: the staff and management of Twitter.

If you're a longtime Twitter user, you're probably familiar with Twitter's ongoing quest to resolve their weak (some might say calamitous) financial model by slowing becoming "Facebook-Lite." In practice Twitter's change process goes like this:

  1. Announce a new change that doesn't accomplish anything besides eroding Twitter's unique qualities.
  2. Watch as the vast majority of Twitter users declare their utter contempt for the change.
  3. Go ahead with the change anyway, because "**** the users; we're losing money on this crap."
  4. Lose even more money than before and fall further behind other social media companies.
  5. Turn attention towards the next big change that will fail.
It's a vicious cycle, marked primarily by Twitter's stubborn refusal to acknowledge they made a bad choice, something even Microsoft is capable of doing on occasion.

Seriously, I can't think of a change Twitter has announced that they backed away from after the inevitable complaints from users. If there is one, it's obviously a minor, inconsequential one, because on all the big ones, they've blown it like the Atlanta Falcons at last year's Super Bowl. Just off the top of my head, here are a few:

  • Changing the trends list to favor popular tweets, a case of the rich (celebrities and famous Twitter accounts) getting an edge over the average Joe and Josephine.
  • Changing Favorites to Likes (and the insipid hearts that came with them)
  • Expanding tweets to include additional media at no count (the most obvious offenders are the awful, seizure inducing animated GIFs - yes, I have used them on occasion, but only ones I felt were reasonably smooth and not idiotic, which limits my choice to about 2% of the available lists).
  • Over policing people's tweets, resulting in accounts being frozen for political disagreements, while actual stalkers, terrorists, and other malfeasance goes untouched. 
  • Changing the avatars from rectangular images to space-wasting circles, despite the near-universality of rectangular framed photos.
And now, in their latest FUBAR, they have expanded the size of tweets from 140 characters to 280 characters.

Listen, I realize this is, as they say, a "first-world problem," but I'm a writer, and this affects one of the principle writing activities I engage in these days. So, for me, this is serious business, even if what I tend to write is silly and occasionally slightly deranged. (It's all on purpose, of course!)

The original genius of Twitter is two-fold: 

First, it allows people from all walks of life to freely communicate with one another. I've exchanged tweets with comedy heroes, famous actors and writers, and people who are as famous as I am (which is to say, not at all). I have Twitter followers who are quite accomplished in their fields. It's a kind of technological miracle that doesn't really happen as much in other social media. And those famous people didn't have their publicists and agents between them and us. It was really them, which is often thrilling, and occasionally disappointing.

Second, the 140 character limit created a form of writing that minimized blather and rambling, creating, at its best, a place where people exchanged pithy, witty, and even thoughtful statements. Yes, there was still plenty of junk, vulgarity, and stupidity, but it was stupid, vulgar junk that didn't run on for a dozen paragraphs. Twitter placed a premium on economy, if not elegance, which is a commodity every writer, even those of us prone to the eccentrically baroque, should value. 

Yes, Twitter isn't the greatest place to have an argument, but even the arguments on Twitter forced people to pare their thoughts down to the essentials. And the short tweets made for a natural tool to share breaking news, leading to a kind of communal experience most people haven't experienced since cable TV exploded.

And now they've ruined it. Extending the limit has already produced thousands of tweets that are nearly unreadable in Twitter's format, especially on smartphones. More so, it's made Twitter into something all too familiar - just another social media format where people can blather and ramble on and on. It's made Twitter ordinary and boring, if not annoying.

Twitter's owners and managers have made it more and more like the other social media outlets, and, sadly, the more and more this has happened, the more people are learning that Twitter doesn't really serve a purpose anymore. We can do everything we can do on Twitter on Instagram or Facebook or Blogger.

And that's the beginning of the end for Twitter. And the sad part is, like the line in the Radiohead song, they did it to themselves, and that's why it really hurts.

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