Twitter needs to put people before tech

John Spencer wrote an article about the ‘surprising’ reason Twitter is ‘dying’. As you can probably tell from my scare quotes, I don’t think the reason he gives is surprising. Nor do I think Twitter is dying. The company is in a post-IPO situation and therefore, like all publicly-traded companies, has to provide shareholder value. That means strong growth month on month, year on year.

That being said, Spencer does talk a lot of sense in the article:

Imagine a restaurant that suddenly drops in popularity. The owners meet up and decide that the issue must be the food. So, they hire a few new chefs and they modify the menu. Nothing changes. They rethink their price point, wondering if maybe the issue is financial. When that fails, they look into marketing. They add a flatter logo and a better color scheme. When that fails, they study other popular places and decide that the issue must be the ambience. The place gets a massive makeover with trendy LED lights designed to look like 19th century light bulbs. They go flat and minimal with clean lines. Nothing changes. They hire more designers, more engineers, more chefs but the restaurant continues to die. Eventually, the restaurant dies and here’s why: they forgot to ask the only people who mattered – the people who once frequented the place.

That’s pretty much what happened to Twitter. They watched numbers decline. So, they changed structures. They added marketing. They allowed users to do multiple group DM’s (because nothing says fun like being a Twitter version of a dreaded group text). They kept tweaking the user interface and forgot about the user experience. They continued to view social media as a tool, forgetting that it is also a place.

Ask formerly frequent users why they’ve left Twitter and chances are the answer will have nothing to do with the UI. Nobody says, “I just wish the icons were prettier” or “I wish they added a news feed.” Instead, they offer reasons that are social and personal. The first complaint I hear is that the PLN has become a place for personal branding rather than relationships. And it’s true. Twitter has gone from a fun party to a party where everyone is trying to sell you Avon or Pampered Chef.

Twitter has suffered the fate of being too popular. As I mentioned a couple of days ago, the very thing I used to enjoy in the early days (people jumping into each other’s conversations) has now become problematic. Instead, like other people, I’m finding smaller, less public ways to share ideas and have conversations.

One of these is a Slack channel I’ve got with some friends. Laura Hilliger described it as a “vulnerable, judgmental free, smart zone where we shoot the shit during our work days.” And I think that’s about right. I share things and work openly for the benefit of others, not be jumped on and have to explain the entire context of what I’m doing in a single tweet.