Branch builds on the Twitter experience by providing a framework for curated conversations but could it succeed as an integral part of the social network?
Twitter is due a shake-up and I maintain that the #discover tab could become the default view thus enabling the service to further engage the silent 40%. The site has been growing but whether this growth is sustainable with the status quo might be open to debate.
Something needs to change.
Twitter is not a social network, we are repeatedly told this and it is becoming increasingly true as our feed is filled with links. It is hard to have a conversation within the fragmented 140 character environment but people still do it - an enjoy it - and choose Twitter as their primary social destination.
For years I have described Twitter as a facilitator and once a spark has been ignited we should take the resultant conversation to the most appropriate forum.
Is branch that forum?
Branch, when recently opened to the public, is a conversation platform that can be used to discuss anything but its reliance on Twitter for authentication and its close association with the network (via the Obvious Corporation) raise some interesting questions.
For Twitter to continue to grow and become more powerful there need to be mechanisms in place to connect users to information they want and this includes targeting them with relevant ads. As Promoted Tweets are priced on a Cost-per-Engagement (CPE) basis Twitter needs more users interacting with those tweets to gain revenue.
I was asked if Twitter would buy Branch (ignoring whether Branch would even want to be acquired) and my initial response was no, why would they, but further thoughts on the matter present arguments both for an against.
Could Branch be an ideal way for Twitter to achieve the growth it needs? Some knee-jerk, back of a napkin logic says no for a couple of reasons:
- conversations on Branch are taking you away from the seemingly sacrosanct 140 character limit, and
- any time you create a branch you are removing people from the feed, away from those all important promoted tweets and away from the ability of onlookers to see - and potentially get involved in - the conversation.
- and what about losing the service outside of Twitter itself?
On the face of it, an acquisition of Branch would not make sense but what if the Branch functionality were to be re-purposed and redesigned so that it becomes a part of the Twitter interface and user experience? Part of the workflow.
For many, a key component of Branch is the browser bookmarklet which allows a user to "branch out" a single tweet to use as the basis of a curated conversation rather than trying to continue it within the confines of Twitter's restrictions but what if these conversations could be kept inside the network?
If we work on the earlier assumption that the #discover tab (or a future iteration of it) will become the default Twitter view then could Branch-like conversations be an ideal way to get users discussing key topics?
As well as a traditional reply, normal tweet conversations could also employ this mechanism (perhaps via a built-in option to "branch this") with a reference to the branch included within an expanded tweet; could branch become an alternative conversation view so that even multi-user conversations can be better followed and managed?
But, what of the 140 character limit?
Twitter has been keen to stick to its mobile roots so that those without smartphones, perhaps in emerging markets, or in circumstances where there is no reliable data service (such as countries where the government controls web access or during times of crisis) can tweet via text and keep their sharing their messages.
Would the service want to develop a two tier system? Perhaps we could argue features such as #discover and expanded tweets are already doing this but neither the consumption of tweets (either in the stream or on #discover) nor the use of expanded tweets preclude users from sending messages and receiving those from subscribed users via SMS.
As I have previously suggested, users would still be tweeting to their feed if not browsing the latest updates on #discover and there would be no reason to change the 140 character limit for this purpose.
Almost two years ago I first suggested that Twitter could employ a method of using"channels" to enable discussion about a particular topic in a focused stream without spamming the main feed. Last year, Twitter trialed event pages which showed a separate, curated stream for a particular event - although the tweets still remained in the public feed.
Branches could achieve a similar result by removing potentially noisy, topic based discussion from normal view but with the conversation visible to all just a click away.
Taking a risk
We have to consider if the current system is enough or whether enabling alternative functionality is essential to the continued expansion of Twitter?
Both switching to #discover as the default view and the introduction of an alternative conversation mechanism would be incredibly risky but, if introduced as options, would let users tailor their experience based on their requirements whilst allowing the purists to stick to 140 characters in the primary feed.
Branch is a natural expansion to the Twitter experience and one which could provide significant value for the network if it was brave enough to pursue it.