Twitter’s Six Problems

Since the world is once again arguing about the fate of Twitter…

  1. Twitter’s biggest mistake was when it decided to be a destination rather than a protocol. Imagine if email had been invented by a provider that decided only their site was to be the destination for emails. What would have happened? They and several others would have arisen as competing incompatible standards that could never reach the entire network (see: instant messaging and chat, which both have this problem). With tweets Twitter invented a format of communication that had the same potential to reach the entire network and, in its early days, an API/plugin culture quickly arose to address that potential. And then Twitter started to kill it. You would come to for your tweets, use the Twitter mobile app and do so in their way. This was ultimately the shortsighted move that capped the company’s future.
  2. Twitter keeps focusing on UX when it should focus on speed. Nobody cared about Discover. Nobody cares about Moments. Nobody cares about fancy profile pages. Nobody cares about pinned tweets. But all of this and multiple recastings of the main interface makes Twitter one thing: slow. Twitter needs you to reload the top of a page whenever new tweets come in. Twitter needs you to refresh trends. Twitter search results on trends are gibberish. When you travel to another user’s page Twitter doesn’t show present tweet content but instead obliges you to click to the Tweets and Replies tab. When you look at your Twitter feed its attempt to thread conversations only ever half works, necessitating a lot of digging. Slow. SLOW SLOW SLOW. All of this is because of UX thinking. Not UX thinking as it should be (lean, fast, clean) but what UX thinking is mutating into, which is Flash websites 2.0. Twitter is full of attempts to be UX-fancy and they universally suck.
  3. Twitter offers limited flexibility for using feeds in sites. I can direct a custom domain to Medium and operate it as an independent site (much as I can with Wordpress, Blogger, etc). Not with Twitter. With many sites I have full control over themes, placement of content and more. Not with Twitter. Twitter instead adopts the Facebook model of limited pages and unified experience… but why? On Facebook its understandable because a large portion of its audience is technically illiterate and would fall into the old Myspace/Geocities page trap (although don’t we sort of miss that anarchy now?). But Twitter? If you’re able to figure out what hashtags are then you’re probably able to figure out how to make your page your own without it becoming a disaster area. And even if it is… so what? Twitter should offer far more creative flexibility to users, making them want to set their online identity in Twitter.
  4. Harassment. Twitter, like Reddit and Digg before it, is now synonymous with anons who log on and call you a c**t in public just make their day feel better. Twitter’s response to this swings between shambles and utter shambles. Twitter refuses to implement a proper blocking system and instead leaves it to Randi Harper. Twitter refuses to treat its verified user program as a program for trusted users and provide proactive tools. Twitter’s reporting system is a joke. Twitter is also silent about all of this for long periods of time. Net effect: Getting involved in Twitter probably seems like getting involved in a web of hucksters, conspiracy theorists and meninists, all of whom are not worth the effort.
  5. The Stock Market. Twitter should never have gone public. Sure, sure, some people get to cash out in a big IPO but when companies get into the market they give up a portion of their flexibility. They get into the world of expectation, of comparisons that can prove pessimistic and numbers that can prove fatal. Entering the stock market says “we now know who we are and what we’re about” and so brokers will judge you compared to that. There’s little room in that world to then say you’re about something else because you look like you’ve lost your nerve. And you know, you probably have.
  6. Twitter is in danger of being supplanted. Because it seems to be stuck in “can’t” mode, Twitter has become slow and silent in responding to problems and this opens the door to competitors. The tech press is in love with the idea that a brace of messaging apps like Snapchat could become the new king of realtime, but I personally think these are not quite right. Chat isn’t the same format of communication as tweet. However there is very little preventing some punky startup producing a lean mean and speedy version of the tweet idea, and so capturing the sort of enthusiasm that used to propel Twitter only a scant few years ago. When that happens then Twitter will officially be done.

And maybe, given how things have been going, at this point that’s inevitable.