Twitter is in the process of making a fundamental shift and it has been happening longer than you think.
The Twitter story continues apace and the debate over the rights or wrongs of the API changes will not be going away any time soon since Tumblr became the latest casualty of restrictions on the "find your friend" functionality.
Twitter's decisions, and overall attitude with regards to its API, are attracting much criticism from developers of applications and services across its ecosystem but the various threads to this story are beginning to weave together to form a cohesive picture.
Dustin Curtis, creator of the invitation only blogging platform Svbtle, has put a face to the points that some, including myself, have been pondering lately when he says that most users "have no incentive to use Twitter outside of the value of its graph" - in other words, they use it to follow their interests without necessarily contributing to the conversation or providing their own content.
This time last year 40% of users didn't tweet, and the likelihood is that this has not altered very much, but this is not initially an issue as Twitter relies on its users for traffic and the potential for clicking relevant ads as well as for filling it with content. While this arrangement may have been fine for a while, the proliferation of other successful web services such as Instagram and Tumblr has meant that there are more places for people to find the information they are looking for.
As Dustin explains, if you can use the find your friends API to export your social graph to another service, which also has the ability to provide information in a more appealing fashion, then this could be potentially very damaging. Is it the case that Twitter is now seeing the "non-tweeters" export their social graph and never look back?
Welcome to the visual web, join us or perish
At the risk of raking over the same ground Twitter needs to change; the feed is dead! In an increasingly visual web services must adapt in order to stay relevant and desirable which is why I have been saying for months that Twitter should pivot:
Now that our feed is predominantly awash in a sea of links it is not a very inviting place. Perhaps the time has come for Twitter to move away from this means of display and instead use a new enhanced #discover tab as the primary view when arriving at the site.
The network must give the silent users a reason to invest more in the network and possibly even coax them in to tweeting by making it feel like that's not actually what they are doing - presenting information in a different manner and making it feel as though users are commenting on a story may be an effective way of doing this. They must be given a voice and persuaded that it is what they really wanted all along.
Is this going to turn some elements of Twitter into a tabloid newspaper? Quite possibly, but it will also accelerate the shift towards being even more interest based. Just as medium is looking to focus on the topic before the author so Twitter can focus on the "story" rather than the individual tweeters in an attempt to become the news destination of choice.
My original proposal for "Twitter Channels" in March last year suggested that anyone could register a specific topic in order to gather relevant tweets in a single, subject specific stream. The network has since introduced the concept of "Event Pages" to achieve something similar - albeit with a different method of execution. Maybe we won't see Twitter allowing individuals to claim their "page" but it is bound to extend the reach of this feature beyond events such as NASCAR or the Olympics towards brands (take $cashtags as a starting point) and people (read celebrities).
Everything points towards Twitter placing a much greater emphasis on its identity as a news and media network with the movement away from the main stream as the focal point. While we will still be able to interaction with the feed the "tweeters" will become secondary to the silent majority using the service primarily as a means of consumption. Locking those users and their social graphs within Twitters walls ensures that they keep coming back but this cannot be at the expense of those who provide the content by way of tweets.
I believe we are witnessing a fundamental shift on the part of Twitter and that is has actually been happening for longer than most people think.
Image by Jeremy Brooks