With a new wave of social tools arriving on the scene is it time to move to pastures new? Is there as big a problem as some would have us believe or are we witnessing a knee-jerk reaction? Here's why I won't be leaving Twitter.
There is a fair-sized dose of anti-Twitter sentiment out there at present. From API changes to the dropping of external image services, mixed feelings on the new profile layouts to an iPad app that doesn't play to the strengths of the device, the network is getting hit from all angles.
Is it justified?
What can be said with certainty is that the complaints are primarily from a select group of users who accuse Twitter of biting the hand that feeds it. Unfortunately for Twitter, these users are influential so others users may be convinced of problems even if they do not experience these themselves.
As harsh as it may sound, Twitter seems to think it no longer needs the early adopters, it no longer needs the geeks, it no longer needs the original poster boys. They now form but a small part of Twitter's user base, and not a mainstream part at that.
Twitter is playing the percentages knowing that the bulk of its users are happy with the core service regardless of how it looks or how it interacts (or not) with external systems.
A recent discussion thread on Google+ has posed some interesting question with regards to the value of the service and individual tweets from the perspective of both the consumer and the creator.
It is widely reported that over 70% of tweets come from first-party sources such as Twitter's web page and applications for different platforms; this figure is used to downplay the impact of the API changes and restrictions on third-party clients. Rather then the sheer volume of tweets generated, however, it was argued that the "value" of tweets from different platforms should be taken into account to see if third-party applications actually provided Twitter with more engagement than their own.
The suggestion has been that restricting third-party clients could drive businesses away but, as the premier business client (HootSuite) is one of Twitter's examples of a partner that adds value to the service, is this a valid argument?
I may have been an early adopter (I joined the service back in 2006) and may be more of a geek than the majority of users out there but I only manage one account and actually use Twitter relatively little by comparison to many.
Despite everything, Twitter still has its core strengths:
- an existing graph
- a degree of ubiquity
The interface may be tweaked on a fairly regular basis and additional features may come and go but, at heart, Twitter is still just a short format message broadcast system. The reluctance to step away from its SMS roots, combined with the despite to create a "simplified and unified" experience across platforms, means that we have not needed to rethink the way we use the service - we can still just send 140 character updates if that is all we want to do.
Twitter is fairly ubiquitous and is a mainstream media darling allowing news consumption and citizen journalism in equal measures; its status as a common means of authentication also makes it incredibly useful as an identity service.
Whether an advertising model is the right choice for a social network (I will not be getting into that debate here) you have to admit that we have all been advertising ourselves on the service since day one but just calling it status updates.
We are constantly exposed to ads across the web and many sites rely on them to stay alive but we don't stop using them because of it; we may ask why should a social network be any different?
The ads on Twitter aren't actually invasive and, because of the nature of Promoted Tweets it is easier to subconsciously filter them out as we scan our feed. Perhaps, the only time I can find them annoying is when they appear at the top of search results and are completely unrelated to the search term.
While some may decry the move towards a more media-focused network, the evolution of the service is also adding new strengths. As I mentioned before Twitter Cards within expanded tweets will be of great assistance to content creators by resolving any question over attribution whilst presenting more detail than just a link.
Whether we share audio or video, an article summary or just an image, the Twitter Card ensures that the originator is referenced within each tweet and even supplies one-click following.
I still maintain that the #discover tab will continue to evolve and make content even more discoverable in a "non-feed" setting which may, over time, encourage more engagement.
The bottom line
The bottom line is that Twitter is a business which has chosen a path that not all will like and is making decisions it feels are required to support that choice. Until alternative services (such as App.net or Pheed) provide both adequate reach and sufficient reason, in my opinion, there is no cause to abandon a perfectly healthy channel of communication.