Twitter Ungets it, yet again


All right, deep breath, count to ten, and all that: Twitter’s fooling with the community dynamics again, and again they seem to completely miss the main point in a wash of secondaries. At least Evan Williams mentions the essential problem, which is that annotation during retweet is the real value. Indeed, many of us are searching for some way to utterly block the unannotated retweet, from anyone at all … which would include blocking any retweet using the new retweet mechanism, since it completely prevents annotation.

Evan clearly understands the point (see his paragraph, way way down near the bottom, that begins “The other thing some people will not like…”). And he’s clearly heard the outcry already rising over this (that paragraph notes that “it’s possible we’ll build that,” and ends with the plea “This point should not be missed”). OK, Even, we didn’t miss the point, but “it’s possible we’ll build that” isn’t much reassurance.

I think I know why they keep missing what seems to me to be the primary point. Here’s a completely convincing and authoritative graph, composed of numbers I totally made up on the spur of the moment:

Tweet Value DistributionThe horizontal axis of the graph represents the average value of a given person’s tweets. The height of the graph represents the number of twitterers whose average value is in this range.

To the left, we see the famous long-tail effect of all those who tried it and abandoned it. We all know there are many of these folks, but really, it doesn’t mean anything, and we don’t bother with it much. You can tell whether a given journalist understands anything at all about Twitter by whether they talk about this (loser), or anything else at all (worth attention). If there’s anything that needs doing about these folks, it would be general “creature comfort” improvements to keep them from bailing out.

In the middle, you easily notice a huge hump of people with moderate-value tweets. These are mostly the social tweeters, the people who flood the @public_timeline with helpful stuff like “Yay, no school,” or “eating second spoonful of ice cream.” This population grades up into music reviews, odd thoughts, man-on-the-street news reporting, and other stuff that has increasing probability of interesting at least one other human on earth (or even, in the twitterverse).

At the right, you have the Tweeters who’ve learned how to get real value out of Twitter. Maybe they’re taking care of a community, maybe they’re organizing a political movement, maybe they’re just actual interesting personalities. Their numbers are much smaller than the middle group, as a few moments browsing the public_timeline will convince anyone, but they’re the real pay-off of Twitter, the thought leaders who’ll keep the traffic going while Twitter works out a business strategy.

The problem I seem to see is that the changes Twitter are making seem to focus on the middle group rather than the right-end group. Twitter should be working to draw the middlers into more dedicated, more continuous involvement. But instead, they seem to target these middlers, making it as comfortable as possible to neither get nor give value, but just dabble.

When Twitter were fixing performance and scalability issues, when the Fail Whale was our best friend, that made sense: go with the numbers. But that stuff’s pretty stable now; Mr. Whale hasn’t left the building, but he’s only a minor visitor these days. Now, Twitter can afford to build tweetership, loyalty, and face-time. Twitter changes should be guiding the middlers into more effective communication, not boxing them into current bad habits.


3 Responses to “Twitter Ungets it, yet again”

  1. 1 jrep

    Hey, this is interesting: Steve Rubel reports[1] (via @JesseNewhart) a Rutgers study of something very closely related to my beautiful-if-totally-made-up graph: they find that Tweets are about 80% “meformation” (the classic “what are you doing now?” status update) and 20% “information” (information sharing on any topic other than “me”).

    I’m not sure whether I’m equating apples to apples or not, but what the hey: since the study studied tweets, we can ignore the “long tail” of people who don’t, and claim an 80/20 “social” to “value” tweet ratio. Which, in fact, is pretty close to what I drew, how ’bout that? 😉


  2. 2 jrep

    Thanks, konnio! What kind of Tweeter are you?

  3. 3 konnio

    Hmmm, very interesting … I really enjoy your blog

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