A week of “Twitter is dead” memes. The true state is more complex.

Social Network Icons

It’s the sort of news you expect in a Newspaper. I think M.G.Siegler was 100% correct in his article on Medium article entitled “Whither Twitter” (I think well worth the 3 minute read):

The reality is that Twitter is currently being torn down in the press so we can later get the Twitter resurrection story. That’s how this works. Why build something up if you can’t knock it down? And why knock it down if you can’t build it up again? Instead of one, consistent story, you get three for the price of one! The rise, the fall, the comeback. Rinse. Repeat.

That’s the preserve of the Newspaper Industry. One forum I navigate regular is “The Land of Serious Topics” on the UK Motley Fool, and it feels most days that over 80% the controversies come from the output of at least one of the six big Newspaper publishers here. Gotta sell papers. The more fascinating trend is that Newspaper readership is becoming the preserve of the (dying) old, and the younger sections of the population – who are more Internet savvy and get their information sourced more widely – typically see the world through more balanced, less bombastic eyes.

At face value, Twitter have gone public and suddenly all their numbers come into view for our consumption – and likewise for the industry surrounding Wall Street. They seem around 1 Billion people have registered for the service at some point, but monthly active users is around 200 million accounts – 1 in 5 still active. The market doesn’t see that growing, and having assumed a valuation based on high growth, the user count is not progressing to support their thesis. Quarterly revenues look fine, but the growth of users on the service doesn’t give folks the confidence that these can continue until the user base demonstrates healthy growth too.

Also notable this week was Amazon announcing a capability to be able to tweet details of a product with the hashtag #amazonbasket and have it dropped into your Amazon shopping cart for later review and/or purchase. Article about this from the BBC here.

I’m convinced there is something unique under the covers that no other social network nor comms medium comes close to, compared to Twitter. The main one I see is the virtual water cooler when specific people engage in a conversation about an industry change or observation of trends. I often see Marc Andreessen (@pmarca) kick off a numbered list which lots of high profile people pick at one by one, agreeing or offering alternate views. The one this weekend kicked off like this (please excuse the reverse order – read it bottom up) – he mulls over how poor the Apple iPhone was at placing voice phone calls when it first came out, compared to Nokia phones of the day that were comparatively rock solid doing this):

pmarca twitter numbered list

One of the innovations of one of the other social networks is to post a notification to your handset if a quorum of people known to you start engaging in a conversation like that at any time. A sort of “Hey, there’s an interesting conversation between your friends x, y, z, a and b going on – like to jump in to listen and/or contribute?”.

Another is to at least flag back to you if a message you sent was received by the other party and read. Twitter tended to remove a lot of the DM “Direct Message” capability from their mobile clients, so many people zone out into other communication media (like SMS, WhatsApp, Snapchat, iMessage, Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, etc) instead. So, a lot of the communication you have with different people (or audiences) gets fanned out across many silos. I for one would like to be able to throw an annotated map of where i’ve parked my car to my wife when I go to pick her up from a store, and to know that the message made it through and was read. Further complicated by me being on a Nexus 5 handset and her on an iPhone 5S.

One related idea is to allow an invisible hashtag on a message that identifies my physical location and could be optionally sent with a direct message – so she knows not only when i’ve left, but where from as well.

Another is to mark a post that i’ve read it when i’ve done so, and not tolerate my frequent realisation that “i’m sure i’ve read that an hour ago”. That’s one thing that VAX Notes did so well in times of old.

There seems to be an ever dizzying number of different mobile communication apps, from short message ones, to group comms, to blogs, to forums and all the way through to publishing apps (like Medium, Longreads, etc). Ever more disconnected silos. I’ve even looked at the potential of moving this blog from WordPress to something like discourse.org, in a vain attempt to facilitate more two way conversation (rather than me just punting words into the ether). The one thing that’s surprised me the most, in running a blog, is the sheer amount of content and link spam I need to contend with; i’ve so far posted every day for 74 days (today is #75) and my automated spam filter has caught 4,124 attempts to litter my site; that’s an average of over 55 attempts at responding to each and every post with link graffiti. This will probably be a factor in any new product, but something that Twitter have largely solved already (I see very little Twitter spam).

There look like plenty of useful use cases for Twitter right there under the surface. I however suspect that they have not yet made up their mind what they want to be for their users, and certainly not deeply enough to say no or to focus on what is important to realise that vision. And to be able to markedly improve user engagement, to make new users stick and to reduce what looks like a shocking amount of churn.

Time will tell if they decide this on their own, or have a competitor come do it more eloquently instead. Until then, it’s something I think about a lot – and agonise over what it would take to be that competitor.

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