In presentations I’ve given on social media, I’ve inevitably been asked a question about what I think will happen in the space over the next few years. In every case, I’ve given the same basic answer:
As the various social platforms search for a revenue model, expect them to change pretty dramatically. The need for advertising and paid premium services is going to drive their development direction. This is particularly true of Twitter, which is growing faster than anyone else and is farther away from a reasonable path to sustainability.
The path to sustainability for Twitter is complicated by two factors. First, Twitter has given users extensive control over whose information they see, and users are likely to balk at attempts to insert unwanted information and advertising into their time line (the streams of Twitter messages from their searches, lists and followers). Second, and more importantly, the array of tools through which users interact with Twitter is tremendous. These tools all but eliminate the ability to insert messaging into anything but the user’s time line.
A central component of the messaging debate is a desire to enforce consistency in the core Twitter experience. Ryan Sarver, the Director of Platform for Twitter stated that, “We need to ensure users can interact with Twitter the same way everywhere.” Sarver proceeded to argue that the array of different ways users access Twitter adds confusion and the growth of Twitter use demands they push for consistency.
Or, to put it bluntly, “…developers ask us if they should build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience. The answer is no.”
Now, Twitter has made a business of allowing innovation to happen in the user and development community and then incorporating the best of it into the Twitter platform. Core features of Twitter such as retweeting and lists came from outside developers and were only adopted after receiving wide acceptance. Likewise, Twitter has been aggressively trying to woo users back to using its tools the way that it should, by adding features and capabilities that make its tools competitive. Advances in the platform in this way have killed more than a few Twitter app developers, but none will impact the way that Twitter is used more than this.
Sarver claims that, ”Ninety percent of active Twitter users use official Twitter apps on a monthly basis…” in an attempt to downplay the impact of the change on users. However, I think that’s deceptive. Official apps now include an array of smartphone apps, and “use” may mean one of these apps is used to send a single tweet. Further, the majority of tweets come from a small minority of users (the proverbial 90/10 rule).
Personally, I think that the official apps are fine for a few basic tasks, but are functionally useless for most of my usage. In my case, I use Tweetdeck. Keep in mind, I follow nearly 2,000 people, and have them grouped to make them a bit more accessible. To skim what’s going on in Twitterville, I like the Tweetdeck dashboard approach where I can quickly skim through all of my groups.
In the end, I think that people use the system in different ways and it’s therefore ideal to allow different developers to craft different flavors of the “mainstream Twitter consumer client experience.”
That’s not really the issue, however. In actuality, Twitter NEEDS most of the users to go through the Twitter.com site so they can get on the advertising bandwagon. It’s about building a financial sustainability model.
And when I think about it that way, I’m more supportive. For the damage this will do to my Twitter experience, it can’t be as bad as Twitter disappearing. Make no mistake, however, this is a major blow to the Twitter experience for most of the heaviest users and it therefore opens the door to competitors. We’ll have to wait and see if this is a major misstep for Twitter or a spark of genius.