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Wes Souza
Wes Souza

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The Next Twitter

The world is not happy with Twitter. Lots of really bad decisions are being pushed by its arrogant new leadership, both in a hurry and in public. This it a unique opportunity to witness what bad management can do to teams and products on an entire company scale.

Twitter has been, for better or worse, the world’s most public megaphone. It is where we as a collective go vent, broadcast, and have meaningful conversations with all sorts of people, all in the open.

The web never lacked good platforms for communication. Long before Twitter a multitude of self hosted platforms helped communities flourish, keep in touch, and share knowledge. Forums, Reddit, heck even mailing lists are still used as public hosts of community discourse.

What made Twitter unique, in my perspective, was twofold: there was a limit, and it was all public.

People Want Less

If there is a societal trend today, it is short-form content presented in an infinite collection. People don’t need to invest their time reading a long article or watching a long video. They can easily glance at a piece of text, image or video and decide if it is worth consuming or skipping to the next one. [1]

Twitter limited us to 140 characters. Instagram photos have always been 1080 pixels wide. Vine videos couldn’t be longer than 6.5 seconds, and TikTok once limited them to 1 minute.

These limitations not only help us judge if the content deserves attention, it makes content very easy to produce.

Platforms can then evolve and have the first post as an introduction for more. A very common practice on Twitter is appending “A thread 🧵👇” at the end of the first tweet in a series of replies, where authors entice people to dive deeper into a subject. [2]

Threads were a natural evolution for the tweet limitation. On Instagram you can add multiple photos and videos in one post, and TikTok expanded video length up to 10 minutes long. Vine never did this, and it’s not around anymore.

People Want More

The platform, while still promoting brief content, must also be massive and entice the user’s sense of meaningful participation and potential to grow.

Twitter gives everyone an opportunity to write anything that can go viral. Posts are public, searchable and open to anyone’s reaction by default. Even if the majority of user content isn’t amplified, the potential that it can motivate people to write and engage more by retweeting and replying.

This broadcast characteristic also attracts famous people to join the platform and bring their content and opinions, giving yet another reason for more people to engage. Large accounts can reach millions of people for free, and the common folk gets a direct communication channel. [3]

But Wait, There’s More

While I do believe that Twitter’s success can be associated with those two pillars, it is undenyable that many other factors played significant roles for the company to become as relevant as it is today.

Twitter has been around for a very long time. It evolved very slowly, making careful product decisions[4]. It attracted many big players: artists, companies, governments. Its web and mobile apps are very user friendly and responsive. Its infrastructure got extremely reliable handling the immense amount of generated content. It became so mainstream it borrowed the “@“ from email to itself.

Most of these are chicken-and-egg scenarios. It might take years for your product to actually find its place in history. You can’t build it and expect success without important users, which might not be there at frist. You shouldn’t invest in infrastructure when you don’t need it.

What one can do from the start, and hopefully for the lifetime of the company, is invest in good product decisions and user experiences. Needless to say, evidence shows Twitter completely abandoned the former.

The Next Twitter

To me, The Next Twitter includes all of the above. It needs to provide a good amount of short-form content that can be expanded, important users that can raise engagement and bring more users to the platform, the best user experience possible on both the web and mobile devices, and good people making decisions guided by their users and their vision, not their guts.

It might be the case that Twitter itself collapses, ressurects and becomes its next self. Only time will tell.

Cover image generated by OpenAI.

[1] To be clear here: I don't believe this is a good practice, but an abuse of our limited attention. Many aspects of social media products are not tailored to our wellbeing, but to making sure we engage and buy products.

[2] I also want point out that this might be the key difference between TikTok and YouTube. TikTok presents the TV channel experience: content already plays, and you are able to skip it and therefore tune the algorithm to offer you better videos. YouTube presents you a catalog of thumbnails and titles, which you then have to choose from.

[3] This phenomenon also applies to brands, where customer service is often much better via Twitter than traditional ways, such as phone calls.

[4] I feel this started to shift by the time they introduced Fleets. Many new smaller features started to appear and bloat the product surrounding the main timeline. Twitter has been completely musked today, and it is sad that product.

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