Twitter Needs To Ignore The User

Yeah, I know that is a really sensationalist and possibly link-bait headline, but I am somewhat serious in my thinking. Twitter announced changes to their reply functionality, and the blogosphere went nuts. ReadWriteWeb has an interesting piece on the announcement, with their main concern being discovery:

While recommendations are interesting, I’d like to use my own judgment in deciding who’s interesting enough to follow. The people that individual friends of mine are conversing with is one of the best ways to do that.

Twitter has been doing more user interface work as well, presumably to try and make their web interface nicer for new users. I know the idea is to grow the user base and increase user retention, but what if they let their application ecosystem do that?

Here is my idea. Status updates will soon become part of the infrastructure of the internet. We had email become infrastructure a long time ago, and now it looks like the idea of status updates or microblogging will follow the same pattern. Why not focus on the infrastructure side? Ensure that you can continue to scale. Ensure that the API works well and maybe add some interesting features to that. Improve the search API as well, that way people can create interesting search applications on top of Twitter.

Granted, some people are likely asking “where is the business model?” I say it is in the infrastructure. If you become such a critical part of the infrastructure, you can basically hold the internet a hostage until they pay your ransom. Obviously, this could come in the form of dedicated servers for large companies and marketing the data that flows through their servers every day. There are other ways to make money at that point as well.

By ignoring the user, they will not be tempting fate by implementing something that one of the third party applications has already built. There are desktop applications which could easily be replaced, but why bother building one? They, meaning Twhirl and Tweetdeck, are doing a fine job on Twitter clients. We now have Twitter search applications popping up everywhere. We even have Tweetmeme for those people interested in the most popular links on Twitter.

So, why bother worrying about the user? Other applications are doing that for you. You have people like Shaq, Oprah and Ashton Kutcher doing all of your marketing. The only thing that is not covered is the infrastructure, and that is what actually matters most. So, focus on being the best provider of infrastructure we have ever seen.

7 thoughts on “Twitter Needs To Ignore The User

  1. What utter crap …

    unless you’re one of those people that go to a party and never talk to anyone new you’re really not going to think this is a good idea.

    the only benefits are for simple minded fools who can’t cope with more than touching themselves while they look at celeb pics … how’s it have anything to do with infrasructure?

    Taking the @reply away just means that your going to rely on #followfriday or sit using search (which sucks).

    Twitters attempt at suggestion tools was terrible … yeah i want to follow a moms group? Al Gore? why … im not a mainstream moron.

    Any valid reason why it shouldn’t be more than an option for antisocial nobodies?


  2. devolved,

    I was not clear in the post regarding the new “reply rules”. I disagree with what they did and think they should just focus on infrastructure. They should not worry about the user interface functionality because that is not the real power of the service.


  3. And I would argue the opposite! Any service or application that ignores the needs and preferences of its users deserves to fail in my opinion.


  4. Sry my bad. (title made the implication)

    If not fixed this will be the thin edge of the wedge imho …

    As soon as a provider decides what’s best they aren’t thinking of you, what tends to happen is it’s all dumbed down for the unwashed masses.

    The fundamental point of “cool things” and places (irl too) is that they are populated by nice, interesting people which is what makes it cool. Masses just see anything thats popular as ‘cool’ which is why @biz decision is fubar.

    If we planned cities on how the masses behave we wouldn’t even have sewers.


  5. Rob, this actually ties in with something that I shared (via FriendFeed, not Twitter) earlier in the week. A BusinessWeek article entitled “When Customer Loyalty is a Bad Thing” makes some telling points that growing companies such as Twitter should heed. For example, “…typically only 20% of a firm’s customers are actually profitable. And many—often most—of a company’s profitable customers are not loyal.” Temporarily giving Twitter the benefit of the doubt on the @replies issue, perhaps they have discerned that while you and I would like the option of viewing replies to others, the 100 million potential Twitter users would NOT want to view them. And let’s face it, Twitter can make more money off of 10 million new users than they can make off of a single @scobleizer.

    However, if Twitter wants to become an infrastructure provider, it needs to communicate with its developers better, and give them advance warning of API and other changes that will affect them. I’ve been following Jesse Stay’s posts regarding this issue for over a year now, and it doesn’t appear that things have improved.


  6. Rob, in reply to your article title – I don’t think they are listening to their users. So you called that one!

    I understand your underlying thesis, however. I don’t that I totally agree or disagree. If you use the analogy of e-mail, a robust ecosystem has erupted, even including a hardy e-discovery ecosystem (lawyers have to find their way into everything).

    Past this, the standard of e-mail is completely open, but it is a true mess as the scale to which it has grown was not originally considered (nor the vectors of abuse). Twitter is a very close parallel to this, so good call again.

    However, no one owned the SMTP protocol. So what you are proposing is that Twitter originate and hand over it’s TWTR protocol, right? 😉

    Offerings such as Exchange, Notes, and Groupwise are great examples of ecosystems that developed for businesses and are robust platforms, no doubt. However, they are all extremely proprietary as well (and cost lots of money). Offerings like Yahoo!, GMail, and Windows Live are other iterations of free mail, sure – but I would not count them as infrastructure in the broader scope of things that most people are used to (outside of Google’s recent SaaS e-mail offerings to universities and what not).

    All that said, I get where you are going, but I’m not entirely convinced it is a good move either way. Quite frankly, Twitter was a poor iteration of presence awareness, IMHO. Sure it is revolutionizing the medium – but it’s because it addressed an untapped need/want, not because the platform is ground breaking. For that, the creators get a lot of latitude (and deservedly so).

    Really good thoughts… think more on this and then go get hired by Twitter to consult on how they should run their business 😉


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