What @twitter's got all wrong

Originally posted on Svbtle

A year and a day after I wrote a blog post titled How I would run Twitter, the news hit that Twitter filed for an IPO.

I’ve been trying to write about this for three weeks. Then Dustin Curtis summed up modern writer’s block perfectly:

Twitter takes complex ideas and destroys them by forcing my brain to compact them into little 140-character aphorisms, truisms, or jokes. For every great tweet, there could have been four insightful paragraphs, but there aren’t, and never will be, because Twitter removes my desire to write by killing my ideas. Once I tweet something, I stop thinking about it; it’s like an emotional release of idea liability.

On that note, below are fragments of why I think Twitter’s got it all wrong.

Online advertising sucks.

Google has a formula that works for them. It works because they’re playing a pure numbers game, and search is one place where advertising makes a lot of sense. But Google is the only publicly traded company that’s flourished from that approach.

Facebook ads suck. They’re hoping to play the same game as Google, but until they have some type of meaningful social search, it’s a waste of time.

Twitter ads suck. Who clicks on promoted tweets? Brands are pumping money into Twitter to pay for follows, but is that a sustainable business model? Does that increased follower count really pay off?

So, what’s the future?

As far as advertising is concerned, Twitter’s missing the boat. A huge number of tweets are sent around important events. Presidential elections, the Oscars, and Breaking Bad’s finale are all ripe for the picking.

If Twitter wants to engage new users, they need to put more context around these topics. Instead of being inundated by new tweets every few seconds, promote a “branch” that can easily be tracked. (Maybe they should buy Branch while they’re at it. Fits with the whole bird thing.) Display tweets from users you follow and the top conversations relating to that event.

This is kind of what Twitter search tries to do, but not effectively. My mom doesn’t care about hashtags, and she’d probably wonder why search keeps throwing her 20+ new results every few seconds. But if Twitter wants to play the advertising game that Google’s playing, and that Facebook’s trying to play, they need people like her.

Twitter should take Medium’s “collections” idea and run with it. It helps to filter out the noise that I’m not currently interested in. (Don’t tell me to use Twitter lists, those are too cumbersome. Twitter should manage them for me.)

Advertising is going to be a big part of Twitter’s plans no matter what. But instead of trying to win a game of numbers, why not win the game of quality? Why not be the Apple to Facebook’s Google?

Twitter can provide value by offering a premium advertising service. Not one size fits all, not throw it against the wall and see what sticks, but only allowing ads in very specific spots, that make sense contextually, and can enhance the user (and advertiser) experience. Above all else, maintain a high quality standard. As a result, they can charge more for less advertising space. (This is what The Deck’s been doing all along.)

The instant messaging game is huge, and there’s a lot left to be won.

SMS, iMessage, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Kik, Line, BBM…

Becoming the default communication standard isn’t a small idea. Twitter has already shifted how we communicate. It has the ability to redefine how we communicate.

It’s hard to say what this looks like. Maybe it’s carrier buy-in, partnership with hardware or software companies, or a subscription service. I really believe it can be more than just throwing an advertisement in your conversation stream.

I’m sure Twitter’s thought of many of these ideas, but I’m not sure what’s keeping them from trying. Why are they trying to play the Google game? Why don’t they look for ways to improve the core experience first?

As I’ve said before, Twitter can be an evolution in communication. I’m afraid they’re more worried about building a company than changing the world.

For now, they’ll just keep trying to amass new “users” (spam or not, who cares), so they can sell advertisers on the dream of reaching 200 million active users.

For now, they’ll just keep watching.

Dick Costolo, Twitter CEO:

I feel like i’m witnessing a tectonic shift in the geo-political landscape reading @HassanRouhani tweets. Fascinating.

John Gruber:

Witnessing history, too busy to capitalize properly


Andy Newman