How Unbundling Twitter and Launching Topic-Based Communities Will Win.

I love twitter. It provides a nearly instant connection to what’s happening in the world. It has changed how we consume information and how we interact with those that produce the information. It’s helped many create lasting relationships that may not have otherwise been possible. It’s one of the few apps that I use daily.

I love it so much that I’ve been thinking of ways to improve it. I’ll talk more about that solution later. It’s important to discuss the specific problems that are churning users before explaining how our team plans to address them.

Having worked on many community-building projects over the years like Maker Hunt, Product Hunt Global, Steamrolers, Ameriocas, and many others the lens at which I view Twitter leads me to the conclusion that the lack of categorization + the lack of community is a real problem that is preventing Twitter from reaching its full potential. I’ve personally talked with 1000+ users and I’ve distilled some of the problems into a short list, that if solved, could provide more value to Twitter and its users.

Information overload

Users (especially newbies) are often overwhelmed by the firehose of seemingly “random” content. The power users might have it all figured out, but casual users have a hard time making sense of the constant stream of unfiltered content. The cognitive overhead can’t be overstated. Overwhelmed users quickly become former users.

Comment from a Fred Wilson post about Twitter

Discovery is broken

Users often struggle to find both relevant + meaningful content. Apps like Nuzzel are unbundling news discovery on Twitter to help address this problem. Nuzzel organizes “news” that is posted on twitter (from your network) based on popularity. It has done a great job in dealing with the signal-to-noise issue. However, news isn’t the only type of content shared on Twitter.

Excerpt from a LinkedIn post

Lack of safe spaces/lack of intimacy

Users consume (instead of also producing) content because of the fear of jumping into a stranger’s “conversation”. If you’re not already intimately connected to a group of twitter users, it’s easy to get lost…like the person at the loud and busy bar by themselves. You tweet out into the abyss and nothing returns. So you then go back to Snapchat, Facebook, or Instagram where you get instant engagement. If you don’t already have someone to engage with or really know how to use hashtags, Twitter can be a really lonely place. Those other networks have an advantage because they’re based on pre-existing relationships. They’re immediately useful and familiar to everyone that’s used them.

Comments on Fred Wilson post about Twitter

On the surface, these may seem like inconsequential issues (especially to people who use TweetDeck, lists, and other tools for twitter). However, when talking to users who have quit Twitter, you’ll notice these are the consistent deal breakers they mention. These issues make the service difficult to use and prevent users from engaging with it enough during their first few uses to develop a pattern of using the service in a positive, habit-forming way.

And it’s not just the casual users who feel this way:

If one of the world’s most prominent product guys like Josh Elman has this problem, imagine the issues that a casual user has.

Unbundling

A step in the right direction would be to categorize content and unbundle topics in the way Nuzzel has unbundled news discovery on Twitter.

Single purpose mobile applications can often provide a much more focused and richer experience than general applications. Users have less real estate and patience due to the constraints of mobile. Rather than dealing with a complicated UI, a user would much rather open up another app. Breaking apart apps into thin slices of great experiences around a single utility has been a core attribute of breakout mobile apps. Unbundling Messenger from Facebook has been a success. Instagram, though not created by Facebook, essentially unbundled the facebook photo taking/sharing experience and improved it. Shyp is unbundling scheduling/pickups for package delivery. Robinhood is unbundling stock trading services to give customers a better experience than they would get at traditional brokerages.

The unfiltered feed makes it challenging to find the content you want. The signal to noise ratio has to be improved. If you follow 100s or 1000s of people, it’s practically impossible to filter out the good content. You might find some of it, but you’re most likely missing most of it. That’s why Nuzzel has been such a compelling product.

Nuzzel is unbundling news discovery on Twitter. It filters out and delivers the most popular articles people in your network are sharing. It removes the cognitive overhead of manually sifting through 100s or even thousands of daily tweets in your feed to find great content. By attacking the signal to noise ratio on twitter, Nuzzel has captured a growing audience of users who use the service as a supplement to their main twitter experience. It solves a problem.

News discovery is one of many victims of the bundle. There is a set of utilities that sit around the core twitter experience that could be unbundled. Could unbundling Hashtags (discovering topics) provide a much richer experience for twitters users? I think so. However, it would need to dig a bit deeper than #Music app, a now-defunct Twitter app that aggregated music-related tweets.

So how do we solve the problems I’ve explained earlier, unbundle discovery and community, and unlock this trapped value in Twitter?

Introducing Chatmunk: Real-time communities for Twitter

Our app builds micro-communities for twitter. If you want to discuss the Warrior’s game, jump into the Golden State Warriors’ channel and discuss the team with other fans. There is no need to curate a list on Twitter or follow hashtags. You don’t have to scan your feed continuously to find something that engages you. The feed in the Warriors’ channel will be a real-time discussion about amazing plays, controversial calls, that latest 3 from one of the Splash Brothers, or latest funny Riley Curry vine. If you want to discuss products, you could join the Product Hunt channel. You’ll easily find the content you want and others who are passionate about the topic.

Focusing the Feed

Twitter feels like it’s the heartbeat of the world. If you want to know what’s happening, in real-time, there is no better platform to sync into the pulse of the planet. However, for most people, the feed doesn’t scale and it breaks as you continue to follow people. What once was a finely tuned funnel of curated thoughts, becomes an infinite stream of unfiltered and uncategorized noise.

A way to solve this problem is to categorize content and allow people to follow channels. These channels would provide some organization to real-time feeds. Imagine your television with just random streams of shows and without a channel-based system to navigate. It would be hard to follow, right? We want to make it extremely easy to engage with the type of content + people that you want at any given time.

So if you want to discuss the current GOP presidential nomination race, you don’t need to follow a long list of political analysts, pundits, new sources, etc. You could just follow the GOP Presidential Nomination channel and discuss this topic there with others who are passionate about that topic. You don’t need to pollute your main Twitter feed. Just jump in and out of that topic whenever you want. Or if you want to discuss the election results as they’re coming in, subscribe to the 2016 Presidential Election event.

If you want to discuss the NBA Finals, just subscribe to the NBA Finals Game 1 Event in the NBA channel. You’ll get a notification with the event starts and you can discuss the game with other passionate basketball fans. You can discuss the latest play, add gifs, respond with emoji, debate with other fans, etc all during that event. It’s great to have a specific place to enjoy a live event with others.

Twitter is not a social network where the connections are primarily built through preexisting relationships. People on information-based networks like Twitter have interests and naturally want to connect with users with similar interests. Following individual people on Twitter gets you closer to connecting to those people, but individual accounts can produce a wide range of content, much that you might not be interested in seeing. Have you ever followed someone in tech and had them bombard your feed with their love for the New York Yankees? Though you share their love for tech or startups, you may not care about the Yankees.

So instead of following individuals why not just follow the topics in which you’re interested. Slack communities have done so well because they’ve allowed people to create very structured interest-based communities. We can go very fine-tuned with the communities. Maybe you’re not just interested in venture capital. Maybe you specifically love Angel Investing in mobile startups. Being able to jump into the Angel Investing for Mobile Startups could provide the content you want. We’re likely to improve the signal to noise ratio that way.

Why are Channels important?

Chris Sacca talks about this briefly in his Twitter Manifesto “What Twitter could be”. It takes a lot of cognitive overhead to thoroughly screen your Twitter feed for good content. This debt could be removed with an easy sorting option. When you go to a bookstore (some of you still do that right?), the books aren’t just all randomly placed. The books are categorized. When you click on your TV, you sift through the content by type (movies, sports, reality shows, etc). Providing similar categorization to twitter could greatly enhance the experience. Channels could solve this very quickly. We’ll go deep with the channel experience (public, private, temporary, moderated-acceptance,etc)

We believe Chatmunk improves the experience for twitter users. You’ll be able to jump right into a topic-based community that shares your passions. We also believe it will make it easier for users to graduate up to Twitter. They’ll have built relationships in their various communities that will likely carry over to Twitter. Being connected to communities is a psychologically powerful part of human nature. We have some amazing ideas for creating engaging communities. As we’ve learned that people love categorization, we’ll eventually have a preview of the most engaged threads from each channel highlighted on the home screen view. So we’ll be able to go a bit more granular with highlighting content. This is just phase 1.

Would be happy to hear your thoughts below or privately. Feel free to recommend this post.

We’re also on Product Hunt

Feel free to reach out if you have any questions eric@chatmunk.io or on Twitter @erictwillis. Sign up to get an early release of Chatmunk! The first invites are going out this week.

Gabe Roeloffs, Mubashar Iqbal, Seth Louey, Remco Verhoef, and David Diamond… you all rock!

Special thanks to Ben Tossell, Shahed Khan, Qiana Patterson, and Rob Phillips for insightful feedback on drafts.

Note: If you’ve seen some mockups of something similar here, it’s because Daniel saw an early version of the app before he wrote his post. It was great validation of our concept :)