Twitter's Q3 financial results, tweet impressions and user growth were better than expected giving some slight optimism that things may be turning a corner.
They were no doubt helped (spiked?) by the US presidential campaign and debates but new avenues such as the NFL live stream deal seem to have played their part.
However, as I wrote last time, the network's abuse problem is widely viewed as the source of many of its problems so it was reassuring to see the latest shareholder letter include the following:
For the past few months our team has been working hard to build the most important safety features and updating our safety policies to give people more control over their Twitter experience. Next month, we will be sharing meaningful updates to our safety policy, our product, and enforcement strategy.
Money for tweeting, ads for free
Before the results and letter were published I wrote this in a private forum:
One of the ideas that has been floating around for ages is that of a freemium model for Twitter. So, the question is: would you pay to use Twitter?
Is Twitter close enough to being a utility that it could justify a monthly fee? Would there need to be an ad-free tier for paying users or would providing some kind of premium functionality be a better option? Does Twitter provide sufficient value to its users?
The answer depends on who you are, why and how much you use it.
From a business perspective Twitter would need to work out if the fees sufficiently offset (or bettered) what they could charge for advertising. If the paid tier was ad-free then the potential "eyes on" would be reduced meaning they may have to charge less for advertising.
But I also wondered how charging for Twitter might affect the abuse problem, a question echoed by Greg Pinelo:
I think if Twitter charged a membership fee, abuse and bigoted crap would drop at least 90%. If that's what it takes, I'd pay $5 a month.
— Greg Pinelo (@gregpinelo) October 27, 2016
Obviously, his implication was that you would be charging everyone and that the fee introduces an element of friction that may deter some trolls from signing up, but it could go further.
Currently, accounts can be completely anonymous and trolls can get away with all sorts without fearing repercussions beyond Twitter suspending their account. So what? Trolls will just create a new one, again perfectly anonymous, and carry on like nothing happened.
If people paid to use it, however, then you have an actual, real world ID linked to accounts in users payment details. Would this act as a deterrent for some?
In addition, if a known troll has had their account suspended for behavioural issues it becomes harder to create new accounts if they try to re-use the same payment details. From this point of view the money becomes less important than the data.
There's a but
When presented with the option of paying for a service or getting a slightly worse experience for free most people will opt for free.
Getting people to make the jump is hard.
The free experience has to be good enough to keep people coming back and good enough is going to be okay for the majority. With the option of going elsewhere (also for free) you can't try to force people to pay by making your entry tier frustrating or inconvenient.
In the private forum mentioned earlier, I ran a poll alongside my thoughts. Relatively small percentages of those who responded wanted an ad-free experience or premium features for their money but 55% chose the option "I don't use it/love it enough to justify paying."
By enforcing payment not only might you keep out the trolls but potentially also a large proportion of the casual users who would never consider parting with their hard earned cash, no matter how nominal the fee.
So it appears that Twitter is stuck with its current model and will have to rely on its new safety policy and enforcement strategy to reduce the abuse on the network or risk halving its user base.
The policy will have to be a lot more transparent on exactly what qualifies as abuse or harassment and what the punishments are for any infractions.
But a policy is worth nothing without adequate, consistent, and again, transparent enforcement: say what you'll do, do what you say, and let everyone know WHY!