What you need to know about Twitter changes

Twitter_logo_blueTrading 140 characters for 10,000? Filtering my news feed? The end of Twitter? Headlines tell scare stories, but what’s really happening to everybody’s favorite bluebird?

Well, first of all, Twitter may not be everybody’s fave — according to the latest reports, growth has stalled out at 320 million active users. That doesn’t sound too bad to me, but apparently bad enough for the stock market to twitch Twitter shares 10 percent lower.

In response to concerns that it’s not growing, Twitter is trying new tricks. First, according to BBC:

The company announced earlier on Wednesday that it would be introducing a new feature that shows the best tweets at the top of a user’s feed, rather than showing tweets in reverse chronological order.

Some users felt the change would kill the social network and began to use the hash tag #RIPtwitter in protest.

Yeah, I get it — this is the same kind of shenanigan that Facebook pulls constantly, putting itself in the privileged position of screening my news feed and showing me what it thinks are the most important posts. Twitter says that it will make the new feature an opt-in, so that I don’t have to use it. Many people are (rightfully) suspicious.

Facebook also claims that its “Top Stories” feature is optional, but it continually, frequently, and fairly randomly switches everybody’s news feed back to this display. That means that if I really want to see “Most Recent” postings, I need to be ever-vigilant and keep change my news feed settings back every time that the nameless, faceless controllers try to feed me the news they think I need.

Will Twitter do better? Will they let me choose to keep my feed showing the most recent stories at the top? Only time will tell – and given the proliferation of advertising tweets that show up already, I’m not optimistic about their commitment to honor my choices. For now, however, the feature can be turned off in Settings.

Then there’s the 10,000 character thing. That’s pretty reliably forecast here and here. According to Re/Code:

“Twitter is currently testing a version of the product in which tweets appear the same way they do now, displaying just 140 characters, with some kind of call to action that there is more content you can’t see. Clicking on the tweets would then expand them to reveal more content. The point of this is to keep the same look and feel for your timeline, although this design is not necessarily final, sources say.”

All of this led Joshua Topolsky to loudly forecast (in the New Yorker), The End of Twitter, citing changes in the product, difficulty in verifying sources, and failure to deal with online harassment. Of these, the failure to deal with harassment seems to me the most serious charge.

Difficulty in verifying sources — that’s just part of the social media environment, and people can deal with it.

Twitter’s failure to deal promptly and firmly with harassment was memorably skewered in a couple of Twitter posts:

TrustySupport1

TrustySupport2.png

(H/T to Motherboard for reporting these, as well as the subsequent suspension and then retoration of @TrustySupport’s account by Twitter.) Failure to respond to harassment is serious — but it’s hardly a problem limited to Twitter, and seems to me unlikely to significantly affect Twitter traffic.

Anthony De Rosa responded at length to individual arguments made in The End of Twitter, but I think this paragraph expresses his most cogent argument:

“I don’t care if Twitter is a multi-billion dollar company, I just want Twitter to be what it has always been for me. Hundreds of millions of users is a big deal, it doesn’t need to be the size of Facebook to be a sustainable business, it can be a great, but smaller business that provides the tremendous utility it already offers.”

And apropos of that sentiment, the Online Journalism Blog reminds us that there’s Twitter use and then there’s smart Twitter use:

“As soon as you go beyond following a few hundred accounts on Twitter, you need lists anyway (I wrote about this as long ago as 2009). The thinking behind this is outlined in “Follow, Then Filter”: from information stream to delta.

“Lists are your way of codifying ‘I find this interesting’ rather than leaving that decision to an algorithm (by the way, you can create these in Facebook too). And ultimately, as journalists we shouldn’t be delegating source selection to a third party.”

And if you want more on the whole debate, here’s my (unformatted, inelegant) list:

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