Barrack Obama types in the first presidential Tweet with Twitter Co-Founder Jack Dorsey watching.
The Internet is abuzz about how to fix Twitter. The conversation revolves around the potential expansion of Tweets to as many as 10,000 characters.
It’s a bit of a Trojan horse of a conversation. The real issue is how can Twitter break out of a slump that has the social network stymied with no growth, quarterly losses, and lackluster engagement.
Unfortunately, longer tweets won’t fix the problem. Twitter’s slump revolves around the network’s lack of human connection rather than its format. Specifically, the social network’s problem is a never-ending stream of spammy links and a lack of connectivity to other human beings.
Is It Really News?
Twitter made a decision a long time ago to describe itself as a news service, and a place to find out and discuss what is going on. This was an effort to differentiate it from Facebook and other social networks.
The ongoing news focus came with a price: Sharing stories, news, and content in the form of links. Links to useful information aren’t bad, but what Twitter has become as a result of the links, well, that’s another issue. What many people see in there streams are a series of short (and often poorly written) headlines and comments with links. Rare is the conversation or simple reply.
Many of the links featured in the stream of links don’t expand. Even pictures are shown as links half the time, depending on browser and bandwidth.
Worse, because of the public nature of Twitter, it has become brand marketers and PR folks’ number one or number two go-to-social network to share information. Unfortunately, their idea of information is most people’s idea of spam or just boring content (see content marketing rant).
One could say the same for many of the links shared by everyday users. Some are interesting. Most are not.
Of course, you could say shame on the people who follow these folks. But even the most casual friend seems to use Twitter to 1) drop links and 2) rant or complain. It’s hard to follow no one on Twitter and be a part of any experience.
What Can Be Done?
Twitter’s issue is not maximum tweet length. The way 10k would come across, it would look like any other blog post with a lead and link to the whole thing, so I see no inherent value or detriment. No, the issue is feeling that whenever you log in, you’re just going to be sourced a bunch of spammy links, some pushed by brands, some pushed by users (we’ll call this UG spam for user-generated spam). But can Twitter be saved?
Now you see the wisdom of Facebook, Pinterest and Google+. Each of those networks naturally embeds posts and pics in posts. In the case of Facebook and Google+, their algorithm curates the most “interesting” updates to spare readers from what they may consider to be mundane or spammy.
I asked several people for their suggestions on what could fix Twitter. Some of the answers are embedded throughout the post. One of the most compelling ones was simply making the 140 characters used for text, and have posts show images and stories automatically as embeds sans character count.
I agree with Shireen, but am not sure format is enough to save the day. In comparison to the other social networks, Twitter is not fun very fun or useful in the social context.
The other social networks have function beyond sharing news and ranting about it on the side. They offer unique focus on social functions like family and friends (Fakebook), or business interactionss (LinkedIn), or friends who show and don’t tell much (Instagram), or contacts who share and store useful information (Pinterest), or places where you can avoid public eyes (SnapChat et al).
What does Twitter offer that those networks don’t? News trolls? Publicly quantified pundits? What’s missing is the conversation and interestingness, and that’s what Twitter really needs to restore if it wants to continue to grow and develop. After all, it should be about the people who use it. That’s the way it used to be. Perhaps using some sort of an algorithm to filter the stream is necessary, but that would fly in the face of the social network’s stream ethos.
I don’t pretend to have an answer, but maybe you do. Feel free to weigh in.