Yesterday I got an email from Twitter. To be honest I had forgotten it existed, since I hardly hear about it anymore. Actually, no that isn’t true. I do hear about it, but all the news is dismal. The company is really struggling at the moment, with its number of active users falling month on month and its share price dropping vastly since its IPO on the New York Stock Exchange in 2013. So, this email was a thank you from the company for ‘making Twitter what it is today’ as it celebrates its 10th birthday. I am a bit more sceptical than Twitter seems to be about the amount of input I’ve had in recent times, but you can’t fault them for trying to keep their users engaged – that, after all is the whole problem.
A few years ago when I first discovered the app I was used to checking it several times a day. I even posted occasionally, something that had I had grown out of with Facebook a long time before that. All my friends were using Twitter and it seemed to be the place to share your thoughts and even start debate. There weren’t many evenings that would go by without at least something interesting appearing on my feed. Its unique position amongst social media for limiting tweets to a short 140 characters and allowing you to take full control of who and what you follow was definitely a bonus as it seemed to stand out from the rest. But did these features end up limiting its appeal?
It has been well publicised that Twitter recently called back its co-founder Jack Dorsey to return as CEO. He was said to be its hero figure, which now seems like an overestimate. Life at the company doesn’t seem to have gotten any better since he arrived and its not about to change. Analysts are constantly trying to work out its value – see, one of the issues with Twitter seems to be its limited ability to make proper money. They have done everything they can, such as increasing the ads on the feed to the point where increasing them anymore would mean a negative experience for their users. However, the reality is that the company hasn’t made a profit since its inception and it has lost $2 billion since 2011. Even when Twitter says that its active users are growing, others say they are not (by the way, ‘active’ in Twitter world means logging on once a month..).
Something else that might bring context to the company’s plight is the other app it owns: Vine. Yeah that. Don’t see many vines around anymore either. It was a great idea while it lasted but somehow for some reason vine has gone out of fashion since its peak a few years ago.
However, all is not lost and there is hope on the horizon for the master of micro-blogging. Their new app Periscope, which was launched last year, looks pretty cool. It gives users the ability to stream – and watch, live video from all over the world. This move is bang on the money at the moment – everyone and their mum is setting up the ability to stream live video. Think Facebook, YouTube and plenty of other original live apps too. Beme, from the magnificent Casey Neistat and team, is not quite a live streaming app but it has that feel. You can post real-time reactions to people’s bemes as you watch them and every beme (video in our language) shows its current location. So perhaps Periscope will be like a crisp spring morning for Twitter?
Other signs are promising too. Company bosses have touted the idea of allowing much longer posts than 140 characters to encourage more diverse tweets and more interesting content. Additionally, the following-follower system is being scrutinised as it is thought that users having to choose who to follow limits the appeal of the feed for newer users (which the company desperately needs). Having content arrive automatically may prove to be more interesting, but could also alienate its existing user-base which it surely relies upon greatly in these times.
Something that most definitely has caused uproar amongst high profile Twitter users is its change to an algorithmic method of choosing which tweets appear first on the feed. This Facebook-style tech chooses which posts are most popular and shows you them first, instead of putting the latest tweets at the top. Truthfully I believe since it has worked for Facebook it should have a positive effect on Twitter but that remains to be seen. Also, you can opt out!
Despite your opinion on these ideas, there is no doubt that what Twitter needs is change. Remaining fundamentally the same for 10 years has possibly been their undoing and I, for one, would be sad to say goodbye to Twitter. It seems honest and (dare I say it) more intellectually stimulating than a lot of social media out there.