Forget Facebook: Twitter looks to Snapchat for inspiration

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Last week on stage at the Code Conference, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said something astonishing: He called his own service confusing and added: “When you do something [in Twitter], something unexpected happens”. He promised to fix that as soon as possible (Link to the Video, the remarks start around minute 14).

What’s astonishing about that remark is that Dorsey mentioned Snapchat as a counter example. “Snapchat is very modern. When you do something on Snapchat, more or less you know what is going to happen.”

That statement and comparison is remarkable. At least among people older than, say, 30, Snapchat is widely considered to be highly confusing. The perceived lack of an intuitive interface has led to a sea of “I do not get Snapchat” tweets and “How to get started with Snapchat” blog posts. It’s pretty much one of the defining Internet memes of 2016.

That’s why one really cannot and must not take Dorsey’s comments literally. Twitter has a lot of flaws. But objectively, it is not more complicated or confusing than Snapchat.

So why did Dorsey say something like that? Let’s look at some context: Twitter has been struggling for years to reinitiate significant user growth. Snapchat on the other hand is like magnet which constantly attracts new users. Last week Bloomberg reported that the Los Angeles-based company has crossed the mark of 150 million daily active users — which puts it ahead of Twitter. At the same time, Snapchat has risen to become U.S. teenagers’ most favourite social network. According Piper Jaffray’s semi-annual survey, 28 percent of young users in the United States now name Snapchat as social platform of choice. That’s more than twice than last year. Twitter on the other hand dropped from 24 percent to 18 percent.

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In conclusion, Snapchat is gaining new users fast, and most them belong to younger generations. Twitter on the other hand is stagnating and additionally is facing a situation in which young users who previously were loyal to Twitter are shifting their focus and excitement to Snapchat.

Jack Dorsey seems to believe that the right response to this situation is taking inspiration from Snapchat. Probably motivated by the fear of becoming even less relevant for younger generations. The returned co-founder of Twitter wants to avoid that the service he created is being seen as a platform mainly for aging media and marketing professionals.

For many years Twitter has taken inspiration from Facebook. As we know today, that strategy was not fruitful. Nowadays, young users are only on Facebook because they are expected to anyway. Their presence on Snapchat however is because they think it’s fun.

When Jack Dorsey depicts Snapchat as the more intuitive and less confusing app than Twitter, he is doing that from the perspective of Digital Natives. From the perspective of users who do not see the mobile web as a portable version of the Desktop Internet. From the perspective of users who consider playful swiping and tapping as their favourite gestures for navigating on touch screens.

As Dorsey mentioned on stage: “When Twitter was founded, the iPhone did not even exist”. What he meant: Twitter feels antiquated and needs a makeover. Passionate Twitter users who like the service as it is better prepare themselves mentally for significant changes. Twitter is going to get a few of the features and UX elements which so far have prevented many from older generations to get hooked on Snapchat.

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Originally published at meshedsociety.com on June 6, 2016.

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