Yesterday, The Atlantic proclaimed the death of twitter and ran a eulogy for the «beloved social publishing platform». In the article, Adrienne LaFrance and Robinson Meyer try to find out when exactly twitter lost its cool and supposedly stopped being the great platform it once was.
I strongly disagree with the article, and here’s why.
The article is a well written piece, bringing back good old memories of some of the big milestones of twitter and its early, smart and enthusiastic users. But other than that, I don’t think it adds much value to the discussion of the current state of twitter. Why? Because LaFrance and Meyer base their declaration of death on only two observations:
- Twitter users are less active than they once were.
- The authors’ «audience-obsessed, curious, newsy» cluster of friends feels less passionate about twitter.
And that’s it. Just because the early adopters stopped spending every free minute tweeting, LaFrance and Meyer think the blue bird has entered twilight-zone:
Its influence on publishing will remain, but the platform’s place in Internet culture is changing in a way that feels irreversible and echoes the tradition of AIM and pre-2005 blogging. A lot of this argument comes down to what we feel.
Now I don’t know if AIM and twitter will share their page in the history books, but I’m sure that just taking a look at a very specific sample of users and the way they and their friends feel will not do justice to the communication phenomenon that is twitter. Actually, the authors’ assessment feels a bit too self-centered to me.
Take Ezra Klein as an example. LaFrance and Meyer use his case to prove how a once very active, engaged user turned into someone who rarely replies and just tweets his own company’s stories. I’m really not sure if we can blame twitter here, because also Klein has changed: from a blogger to a busy entrepreneur, running his own very high-profile news company Vox. This definitely has an impact on how often and how engaged you use twitter. His posts however still reach a large audience, multiplied by many retweets and favourites.
So, just because their twitter (or even their personal timeline) has changed doesn’t mean twitter is dead. Actually, I think quite the opposite is true. Here’s why I think twitter is still a unique and very well alive platform:
- It’s one of the very few platforms that is open by design. Your posts are public by default and it’s very easy to connect to anybody you want to connect with. And even if they don’t have an account or don’t actively want to participate, people can benefit from the fast and direct content users provide on twitter. Twitter in this sense is a n open, real-time media platform.
- Mom and dad are not on twitter. There was this quote on twitter that still resonates with me: It’s the people you wish you went to school with that you meet here. The character of the tool, the speed, the lingo, the way you need to find your own network to fully understand its power – all of these factors tend to draw a specific, curated, yet disperse audience to twitter. And it’s pretty safe to say your mom will not retweet you.
Facebook is the people you went to high school with. Twitter is the people you wish you went to high school with.
— Adrian Parsons (@adrianparsons) April 27, 2010
- Big organizations have only started to find out how to use twitter. From CNN quoting tweets in their coverage, public transport in Zurich providing updates about their network on twitter or telco providers helping their clients with 140 characters or less: a lot of big organizations are still experimenting with twitter, but steadily invest more resources into this channel as they implement a holistic approach to online community management and content marketing. Every week I’m able to spot a new account of a big player and most of them are done in a very smart and professional way. Here we can see ‘mainstream’ connecting to the curated audience thanks to the open architecture of twitter.
To wrap it up, I really don’t think twitter has already seen its best days. I think of it more as different genres of media for different audiences. Taste changes, and not everybody will love every genre out there. And just as you don’t need to be the most used mainstream media to be successful (or alive, for that matter), twitter doesn’t need to have the most monthly active users, the steepest growth and highest revenue per user to stay an awesome place we turn to for inspiration, help and discussions.
Update – May 1, 2014: Slate’s Will Oremus also weighs in on this debate with a similar point of view and thinks that Twitter Is Not Dying, but on the cusp of getting much bigger. Oremus argues that The Atlantic is judging twitter by the wrong metrics: Twitter is not a social media platform, but a media platform.
Social networks connect people with one another. Those connections tend to be reciprocal. Media platforms, by contrast, connect publishers with their public. Those connections tend not to be reciprocal.
In this sense, twitter is more similar to YouTube than to Facebook and it’s biggest advantage is being a real-time news platform accessible to anyone. I couldn’t agree more.
Update – May 3, 2014: Wow, that went fast! Seems that Slate’s Will Oremus was spot on with his prediction that Twitter will become more like YouTube over time. Today, Vine launched their new look which comes down to a “Six-Second-YouTube“. This surely provides a better access to their high quality content and is a smart move.
Check it out: Vine.co
Update – May 5, 2014: NZZ also agrees that twitter is all but doomed and adds sums up the debate : Warum Twitter nicht tot ist (german)
Image at the top by Jim Wang, released under a Creative Commons license.