I do think Twitter has become far too complicated. The original appeal of Twitter was largely based on its simplicity. But I have argued for years that the fundamental problem is that Twitter is compared to Facebook, and it shouldn’t be. Facebook appeals to billions of people. “Most people”, it’s fair to say. Twitter appeals to hundreds of millions of people. That’s amazing, and there’s tremendous value in that — but it’s no Facebook. Cramming extra features into Twitter will never make it as popular as Facebook — it will only dilute what it is that makes Twitter as popular and useful as it is.
To potential new users, it’s a real challenge to learn all of Twitter’s often arcane little features. And even for people who have been using the service multiple times daily for years, like me, it can be tricky to decide when to use which feature and in which situation. For instance, new users might be confused about what a retweet is, or the difference between that and a “quote tweet” (where you say more about something you’re reposting). And they surely might not understand the need to place a period before the handle of a user, when that handle is at the very start of a tweet you compose, yet not elsewhere in the tweet.
When it comes to “the empty spaces” most people don’t want to do work, but work is exactly what Twitter required. You had to know what you were interested in, know who to follow based on those interests, and then, to top it all off, you had to pick out the parts that you were interested in from a stream of unfiltered tweets; Facebook, in contrast, did the work for you.
There is an underlying tension in the recent dialogue surrounding Twitter: it’s too complicated for “most people” to use, but it’s simplicity is what makes it appeal to its “niche”, these writers would seem to have us believe.
I think Twitter’s problem is entirely different: when it first began, like Facebook before it and MySpace before it, it was hip. The corporations didn’t know about it, Wall Street didn’t care about it, there were no ads, there were just weird Internet people, doing weird Internet stuff.
Now every news outlet, government body, and multinational are on there tweeting around the clock and feeding you ads. By selling the product to Wall Street and the advertisers, which is exactly what I would have done if I ran Twitter, Twitter alienated at least me. Contrast this with Tumblr, which sold to Yahoo and is unlikely to be profitable, but still somehow manages to retain it’s hip tone.
I think Twitter shouldn’t aim to be profitable. I recognize it isn’t at all practical or at all useful advice to Jack Dorsey, but the reason I don’t think Twitter should be profitable is that’s it’s a public resource – like plumbing, the Internet, and roads – it’s the common discourse. Ideally the U.S. Government would foot the bill and protect it under First Amendment rights. Of course, in reality this would never happen, and if it did it’d likely lead to outrageous privacy abuses.