The two Twitters

Related: Twitter topic page, with links to all my earlier Twitter posts.

With the launch of Twitter’s Project Lightning and the Moments feature this week, Twitter is reinforcing an important point about Twitter and its future: there isn’t one Twitter, but two. Moments is part of one Twitter, while almost everyone writing about is part of the other, and as such many of those people seem baffled by it.

Twitter 1: Power users and broadcasters

The first Twitter is made up of what you might call power users and broadcasters. That is, these are people who use Twitter a great deal, and most of them have likely spent significant effort doing the following things:

  • Carefully choosing accounts to follow
  • Building up a following
  • Regularly tweeting themselves
  • Engaging with other Twitter users through @replies, DMs, retweets and so on.

Twitter 2: Casual users

The second Twitter is made up of what we might call casual users — people who are trying Twitter on for size, dipping in and out occasionally, or perhaps signing up for a specific short-term purpose with no intention of engaging long-term. These users make up a fairly substantial portion of Twitter’s current audience, but also more importantly the vast majority of the users it has lost over time (who in turn make up the majority of those who have ever tried Twitter). Many of these users have likely never spent significant time doing those four things I talked about above, and aren’t likely to.

Moments is for Twitter 2

The key thing about Moments is that it’s for Twitter 2, not Twitter 1. And yet the vast majority of the people writing about it are Twitter 1 people — power users and broadcasters. And I’m seeing all these people complaining on Twitter that they don’t find Moments useful, that it isn’t customized based on the accounts they’re already following, and so on. And that completely misses the point.

Just over a year ago, I wrote a piece called “Twitter’s channel model is broken” in which I argued that:

Twitter is effectively an a la carte TV service with hundreds of millions of channels on offer. The burden is on the user to choose individual accounts to follow, which can be an overwhelming experience.

I went on to say:

…live TV only works because you just have to turn on the TV and something is there. If you don’t like it, you change the channel. But on Twitter today, there’s literally nothing on until you explicitly tell the service what you’re interested in, and if you don’t like it, it’s a lot of work to change channels, because you effectively have to create each channel yourself in a very manual and labor-intensive fashion. It works fine once you’ve created a channel you’re happy with, but I suspect many users never reach this point and thus don’t use the service often or abandon it altogether.

Moments as it works today is the implementation of the model that I talked about here. The whole point is that it doesn’t require any training, just like turning on the TV doesn’t require any training — something will be there, and if you don’t like it you can change the channel. Moments provides these channels which can be instantly available the moment someone signs up for the service. If I were Twitter, I would probably allow people to skip the signup process entirely, at least temporarily, but perhaps that will come in time.

I have no doubt that Moments will get better over time and that it will eventually become more customized and curated based on your existing interests. But the whole point for now is to create an easily-consumable product that doesn’t require any work up front. And that’s going to be the key to Twitter’s growth going forward, because Twitter 2 is where all the growth is. Reducing friction in setup and use of the service for these users is therefore a critical element in Twitter’s future success.

Feeding Twitter 1

The big risk is that Twitter will focus so much on Twitter 2 that it fails to feed Twitter 1. Twitter 1 is the most vocal Twitter, and essentially all the influencers — whether celebrities, power users, or reporters — are in Twitter 1. Ignoring Twitter 1 as the company focuses on Twitter 2 would be a huge mistake, especially because so much of the content consumed by Twitter 2 is provided by Twitter 1. There’s a symbiotic relationship here, and one that Twitter has to be very careful not to disrupt.

Two Twitters

The problem is that Twitter has another goal it’s trying to achieve: monetization. Twitter’s monetization strategy involves serving up ads, which in turn requires that people use Twitter’s own apps or its website to consume those ads. And yet Twitter 1 disproportionately uses third party clients like Tweetbot and Twitterrific. Because of Twitter’s insistence on monetization through advertising, and its general discouragement of clients that replicate the core Twitter experience, it’s started withholding some important features from the API it makes available to third party clients. My own Twitter client of choice is Tweetbot, which just received a big overhaul with lots of cool new features, but which is unable to show group DMs or the recently released Polls feature. If I only ever use Tweetbot, I am simply never aware that I have group DMs (several of which I’ve missed as a result), and tweets with polls just look rather empty because there’s no indication that there is anything other than the text there.

At this point, Twitter has an important decision to make: should it begin to make some concessions in order to feed Twitter 1? There are signs that it’s starting to do so, as some Verified users are no longer seeing ads in the Twitter client. This is an interesting example of recognizing the value that Twitter 1’s most influential users have, and granting some favors in return. Shutting off ads might cause some power users to use the first-party client again, but if Twitter is forgoing revenue from these users anyway, why not let them use the clients they want, and give the makers of those clients access to the new functionality too through APIs? The third party clients are limited already by the caps Twitter put on user growth a while back, so there’s little danger here of mass adoption of new clients.

The fact is, Twitter needs to do more to publicly acknowledge and respond to this increasing bifurcation between the two Twitters if it’s to avoid the core experience becoming unusable for both groups as it seeks to bridge the gap between them. Releasing a true power-user client of its own (not the buggy mess that is Tweetdeck) or re-embracing third party clients would be an important step in this direction.