Twitter Isn't Made For Us February 6th, 2016
Woke up this morning, dragged myself out of bed, and opened up Tweetbot. Last night I hadn’t completely caught up with my stream, so I was about 14 hours and 400 tweets behind. I’m scrolling up through the backlog of tweets and suddenly my timeline turned sour as everyone started griping about a new development. Of course, in typical Twitter fashion, nobody tweeted a link to what they were talking about.
According to Buzzfeed (who I wont link to because reasons), Twitter is finally making good on their threat to introduce a non-chronological timeline. The twitter techverse exploded into pandemonium over this, as it marks one more step towards turning Twitter into facebook.
I felt a great disturbance in the twittersphere, as if millions of voices cried out hot takes at once and were algorithmically silenced.— Laurie Voss (@seldo) February 6, 2016
Response to this has ranged from bemusement to outrage. Many logical reasons have been given for why this is a bad move.
Twitter is switching to an algorithm to build a timeline for my interests which is cool except I've already done that with the FOLLOW button— Steve Dangle Glynn (@Steve_Dangle) February 6, 2016
If changes to twitter let algorithms decide whats important instead of people, we'd have learned about Flint slower. https://t.co/IDDLHp8PbB— auto complete my ♡ (@ironfroggy) February 6, 2016
Many see this as yet another example of Twitter’s total deafness to the demands of their userbase. Features most people see as simple quality of life improvements such as editing and better support for threaded conversations remain absent from the platform. A complete lack of attention to the Fan-in problem and harassment concerns leaves longtime users wondering just what the hell is going on at Twitter HQ.
This was even further exacerbated when one of Twitter’s own developers demonstrated his complete ignorance to what all of us see every single day.
in which a Twitter developer finally discovers Twitter pic.twitter.com/NDDxB66oUc— Alex B. (@SIGKILL) February 6, 2016
Frustration over this has brought forth the trending #RIPTwitter hashtag, as users everywhere began to bemoan the eventual death of the social network.
Here’s the thing tho… Twitter doesn’t give a fuck what we think, because we are not the majority userbase. If you are the kind of user who reads your entire timeline, you are not a common Twitter user. If you are the kind of user who knows how threaded conversations work and use it to post cohesive collections, you are not a common Twitter user. If you use a third party client, you are not the common Twitter user.
We are the one percent
Twitter has over 316 MILLION monthly active users (statista). At the moment of writing this, #RIPTwitter was at 882 Thousand tweets. Even if each of those tweets was written by a different person, that’s represents less than 0.001% of the userbase. Sure, one hashtag cannot represent the entirety of the people affected by this problem, but I think it’s a fair baseline for an estimation. Lets say if only 10% of users annoyed by this change contributed to that hashtag, that’s still less than 10 million users.
Most power users, the people who I described above, take advantage of a third party client such as Tweetbot. These clients optimize for our use-cases, stripping out much of Twitter’s less savory changes and providing streams that meet our needs.
Most Twitter API clients are limited to 100k accounts. This effectively killed Twitterific, and very nearly killed Tweetbot before they got an exception. I couldn’t find specifics, but I think it’s a reasonable guess that even Tweetbot probably has less than a million users. So even with generous guesses, there cannot be more than ten million users interacting with the site via third party applications.
That’s less than 1 percent of Twitter’s clientele; it’s not even 15% of Justin Bieber’s follower count. Is it any wonder that they’ve let those clients get by without showing ads?
The sad truth is, we power users are but a tiny tiny minority, and although we make a lot of noise within our own circles, we are as but a single voice in an entire stadium of shouting users.
Optimizing for the majority.
Lets look at a selection of changes that have been made over the last few years.
- “While You Were Away”
- Tweet clustering by replies (ordered oldest to youngest)
- Likes replacing Favorites
- Tweet deep linking
- Stickied tweets.
Everything that Twitter has added to their platform has been designed for a common use case, people who come to the site and start reading from the top of their stream. The official app doesn’t even bother trying to remember your previous position any more. Everything about the platform has been built for casual visitors who interact with it just like they do Facebook.
For these kinds of users, a chronological view is significantly less useful than an algorithmic selection of more important tweets. These people don’t want to spent the time to read their whole stream, they just want the highlights. These people follow thousands of accounts because they never have any expectation of viewing it all.
And as much as we long-term users of the site hate to admit it, these people outnumber us a hundred to one. Twitter has no obligation to meet our needs. If all of us stopped using the site, it would be a small blip on their analytics.
It’s time we face up to the fact that Twitter isn’t going to give us the features that we want.