Twitter Still Has What Everyone Else Wants

“Five years later, it seems like the real question is, What has Twitter made of itself?”

Twitter may have problems, but Josh Topolsky’s arguments in “The End of Twitter” miss an important point: What Twitter has already accomplished with social connections — matching relative strangers with similar interests — is vastly different, and arguably more difficult, than what Facebook has done, which is connect you with people you already know.

Twitter does one thing well, and it’s more valuable and harder to replicate than he gives credit.

I like Facebook for what it offers. It’s a connection to family, friends and acquaintances who I’ve known throughout my life. A Twitter connection occasionally evolves into a Facebook friend. And because of this, I’ve seen more newsy, Twitter-like posts in my timeline. All of it is easier to follow than what’s happening on Twitter.

But Facebook hasn’t successfully replaced what Twitter offers, which is the spark of a connection with people you don’t know yet — and it has failed many times to bridge this gap. One example: Facebook has tried to replicate Twitter’s value for journalists and authors by letting people create “public pages” for themselves, but it’s an awkward experience for everyone involved. I’ve seen many status updates where a professional journalist friend invites me to “like” their public page, so I can follow their professional updates. Is this because they’re too embarrassed to post self-promotional content in their normal timeline? (Flaw #1) And now being asked to follow two versions of the same person? (Flaw #2) Topolsky suggests that Facebook could easily replicate Twitter, but none of their attempts thus far suggest they’re able to create an entirely different social network on top of the one they’ve already built — one that’s based on intimate connections in a semi-private space. The same goes for Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp and (yeah) Peach — none of them make strangers as directly accessible as Twitter has. And while these other social apps have grown tremendously, none of them expose us to the worlds outside our existing friend networks so successfully.

Topolsky is right that Twitter needs to make some serious changes if it wants to take better advantage of the network it created. Simplifying the user experience is one way to do that, and a huge part of that user experience is figuring out how to filter out the spam, hate, and vitriol that has caused so many people to leave Twitter entirely. If Twitter is a matchmaker for strangers with mutual interests, then it has to become a more aggressive host and take a stand against (or at least burying) bullying and harassment.

And if Twitter wants to get the most value out of the interest graph it still controls, it needs to make the environment welcoming for people who want to post about their interests, whenever they are moved to do so. Currently on Twitter, if feels like we have to adjust our conversations to fit whatever the day’s big news event might be. And if that’s the case, connecting with people who share my interests is worthless, because we all have to talk about Kanye West right now anyway.

These are big asks for Twitter, because I don’t know of any other interest-based social network that has 100% solved these problems. But what Twitter has already accomplished is significant, and I see no viable alternative that poses a threat.


Photo by laughingsquid

3 responses to “Twitter Still Has What Everyone Else Wants”

  1. Hey Mark

    I enjoyed reading your rejoinder to the “End of Twitter” – and I agree that Twitter is a fun platform so long as the team behind this network does not lose sight of its’ original vision and values.

    But I have to say that you can connect with ‘strangers’ on Facebook too. It is widely – and incorrectly – believed that FB is useless for forging new connections.

    Most of my ‘friends’ used to be strangers before I hopped on Facebook. The Groups feature, in particular, is immensely effective in drawing you closer to strangers who share similar interests.

    Ironically, I am the only active user of Facebook in my family and friends circle. Sure, a few of them pop up every once in a while to like or comment on a photo, but I am the only loyal addict! LOL

    So, yeah, Facebook is my go-to-network because it is a melting pot of all the relationships in my life, but I ENJOY Twitter for its ease of use πŸ™‚


  2. I stumbled on this post randomly, but I wanted to offer my opinion.

    You seem to argue (and please correct me if I’m wrong) that although Twitter has its flaws, it still holds the fundamental advantage of being able to connect strangers better than any other social media platform, therefore it will continue to be relevant.

    While I do agree with you that Facebook has done a poor job of matching strangers with common interests, I would like to add that it only applies for certain professions. In your example you mention that journalists have had a hard (and slightly awkward) time connecting with other journalists on Facebook. Although that is a valid point, I know, for example, that my parents –both of whom joined Facebook with a relatively low number of acquaintances on the site — have met most of their “friends” through some sort of mutual interest with their pre-existing connections. Thus, for the average user, I would argue that Facebook still gets the job done when it comes to connecting people with similar interests and allowing them to share information.

    So I guess my point is the following: Facebook does well enough in that department to be able attract the users who are being driven away from Twitter due to the “spam, hate, and vitriol.” Though Twitter does connect strangers in a much more immediate way, it should not bet all its chips on that factor alone contributing to its relevance, because other social medias– not just Facebook– are beginning to catch up (as Topolsky argued). Agree? Disagree?

  3. Very much agree that no one has made strangers as directly accessible as Twitter has. I spend way to much time on it myself but actually appreciate the real-time conversation that meanders with the news of the moment. I was a β€œnews junkie” before social media so it makes sense that I would. Growing up, we read the newspaper (big focus on op-eds) out loud over breakfast, which is how I’ve often described twitter.

    As for an “environment welcoming for people who want to post about their interests, whenever they are moved to do so.” That’s what tumblr is! Interest based discovery and conversation outside of existing friend networks and real-time urgency. A more timeless network.
    One thing that drew to work at tumblr (again), is the belief that today (3 years after your post), no one has yet figured it out. With growth of the community, I expect the breadth and depth of topics will increase as well. Allowing something for everyone… which is what it’s always been built for. We just need to tell more people about it πŸ™‚

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