Owen WilliamsFormer TNW employee
Owen was a reporter for TNW based in Amsterdam, now a full-time freelance writer and consultant helping technology companies make their word Owen was a reporter for TNW based in Amsterdam, now a full-time freelance writer and consultant helping technology companies make their words friendlier. In his spare time he codes, writes newsletters and cycles around the city.
I originally published this post on Medium.
I love Twitter. I always have. It’s a great way to meet people, get news and to talk about things you’re interested in. I’ve spent an unfathomable amount of time on the service, with 59,000 tweets over six years and countless friendships forged exclusively over the network.
But over the last two years, the company hasn’t delivered any meaningful product improvements. The Mac app has received exactly two updates. The Web interface hasn’t seen any major love since 2011. Direct Messages (DMs) were completely broken for over a year. Twitter tried to change its blocking policies, only to find out that it was ruining the service for many and went back on it.
In 2014 we got photo filters, multiple images and GIF support, which was cute, but didn’t really improve the service. We did get a new profile design this year, which was nice, but doesn’t really change much.
While the core product stagnated, Twitter shoved in ads. Then even more ads. And even more ads. And app install tracking for ads. After a particularly slow growth year in 2014, the company started messing with the main feed to show “recommendations” like tweets or favorites from the people you follow. You know, to boost numbers.
Twitter even adds sponsored accounts into the list of who you follow.
Your face could be next to any brand, soon, on Twitter
The idea that Twitter thinks it’s OK to show brands on your following page like you endorse them is absurd, but it shows that Twitter isn’t about news, tweets, finding friends or even you as a user anymore; it’s about using cash from brands in exchange for eyeballs.
I wrote after Twitter’s Analyst Day just two months ago that the company’s new strategy is all about increasing “ads and eyeballs” and it’s already coming true. Perhaps the most controversial revelation out of that day was the below slide with the company’s new mission statement.
Ten points for the most perfect Venn diagram in existence
Spot the interesting bits? Twitter wants to “reach the largest daily audience in the world” and “be one of the top revenue generating internet companies.” Now we know where the focus is.
I’ve been OK with the changes the company started to make as it moved to get profits up; I even shrugged off its cold attitude toward third-party developers, since I figured it has to make money somehow.However, over the last year I’ve become more and more disenchanted with using it as the company becomes increasingly user-hostile and seemingly only makes moves to improve the product for brands.
It feels like Twitter doesn’t fight for us users anymore. It doesn’t foster what makes the service truly great; the people who actually tweet about stuff. There are just more ads.
I don’t think Twitter has any idea what to do next
The company doesn’t really seem to have a plan and appears to have no idea how to make itself relevant to a wider user base like Facebook has, so is just randomly adding features to see what happens.
The thing is, much of Twitter’s success wasn’t even invented by the company itself. Hashtags were invented by users. Retweets were invented by users. Twitter’s first iPhone app wasn’t built by the company. @mentions probably weren’t even invented by Twitter.
There are some great people at Twitter — I know that for a fact — but I’m not convinced there’s a coherent direction for the service right now. There hasn’t been a clear one for a number of years. And the recent exodus of key executives isn’t a good sign.
I’ve written extensively in the past that Twitter has a huge problem with onboarding. It still misses the intrinsic value of the service — personal connections — in favor of getting you following brands and personalities on day one.
Friends of mine who have joined the service this year for the first time struggle to find anyone to talk to on the service and eventually grow tired and fade away. I’ve watched this again and again, despite my encouragement and introductions to others.
This is still one of Twitter’s biggest challenges in my opinion. I’m sure there are plenty of reasons behind the new onboarding (I bet internal numbers say the new flow works ‘great’), particularly Twitter’s new drive for interest-based discovery, but I don’t think it works great for new users.
Maybe there’s something big in the pipeline for 2015 — I really hope there is — but to me, it feels like Twitter is only worried about juicing the numbers and its profits, not about making the service more valuable to its existing users.
I still get a ton of value out of the service. I don’t want to go anywhere else. It’s just getting harder to stand by and watch the service’s core functions get torn down for monetization’s sake.
Let’s not be naive about this fact; Twitter is a public company that exists to make money, but at what cost? Will the company’s pursuit of giant piles of cash scare away those who love the service? It’s starting to seem that way.
Maybe we’re all still around because we simply don’t have anywhere better to go yet.
Header image credit: Daryl Lang / Shutterstock.com
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