Mathew Ingram might be the digital-media commentator I agree with most often.
On the rare times that I beat him to blogging about a timely issue, I tend to read his post later and conclude that he said what I was trying to say, but he nailed it. And I can’t count how many times he has blogged about something I was meaning to blog about, and I just decided he said it better than I could, so I just tweeted a link to it with an approving comment and checked that off my list of stuff to blog about.
As Twitter has started being more controlling and less flexible with external developers, I have been struggling to find something to say. I know I should say something. I’ve been such a regular commentator about Twitter and an advocate that journalists should use Twitter that my silence on this Twitter business strategy has felt uncomfortable.
But I am embarrassingly ignorant about matters of development. That’s all really magic and mystery to me. When you say API, I still think of American Press Institute, not application programming interface (and I’m not 100 percent sure what that means). I’m reluctant to comment where I’m ignorant (though I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t be a first).
For all my encouragement for journalists to use Twitter, I also have criticized Twitter for lousy customer service and wildly inaccurate location bugs (haven’t seen that problem for a while). Early in my days as a Twitter advocate, people often smugly or hopefully told me Twitter would be gone in by the next year (I first started hearing that about four years ago). And I told them that they might be right, but I would learn faster from Twitter about whatever pushes it aside than they would learn on whatever their primary news source is.
I have known that Twitter was going to make some changes to boost its revenue. That has been obvious for years. I anticipated some valuable services for businesses using Twitter and/or some premium features for individuals (I would pay for the ability to edit tweets, for better archival search and some other features). I saw some value in promoted tweets, but I knew those would be as annoying as they have been. Twitter seems to be seeking instead to take more control of the external development that has driven much of its growth.
External development has developed virtually all the features and products that have made Twitter so useful. sI suspect this move is going to backfire for Twitter. But I’m not smart enough in this area to say why or what they should do instead (I suspect and hope they will change course rather than going down in flames).
But I didn’t have much more than that to say. So I have been pondering a blog post that just said that and linked to thoughtful pieces by Mathew (he wrote another after I started writing this), Dave Winer, Andrew Phelps of Nieman Lab, who all addressed this matter more knowledgeably than I would.
But this week Mathew blogged about his love-hate relationship with Twitter that said much of what I wanted to say. He voiced what I was thinking (or maybe what I wish I had been thinking) so clearly that I will repeat and elaborate (in italics in his text, unless I have a whole paragraph to add) on several of his points (though I encourage you to read the whole piece, linked above):
After more than five years on the network, I have a classic love-hate relationship with it.
It’s hard to believe sometimes that Twitter has only been around for a few years as a mainstream media phenomenon, since it has become such a central part of how many of us live our lives — and in my case, at least, how we do our jobs as well. I have a second screen with Tweetdeck open all day long (I work more from Twitter.com and mobile apps) so that I can follow the stream (I follow about 2,700 people) (I follow about 2,600), and I have spent years curating lists of important or interesting users in technology and media that I use to track those topics. Both in a personal sense and a work sense, there are hundreds of people I would never have met if it wasn’t for Twitter. (Me, too.) It has literally changed my life. (Yep.)
Mathew listed five things he loves about Twitter (I’ve condensed some of his points and don’t use them all; be sure to read his full piece):
- I love the fact that Twitter gives me real-time information about an incredible variety of things, whether it’s an earthquake … (I have a whole Twitter/breaking news category of blog posts, including, of course, one on an earthquake. And one of my all-time favorite breaking-news tweets is from an earthquake:)
I am totally serious. My Ob/Gyn was IN my vagina and an earthquake started rattling the room! — Verdell Wilson (@MissRFTC) July 29, 2008
- I love that I can get into discussions (and occasionally arguments) at a moment’s notice with someone I respect because of their output but may never have actually met, and that others can join in. And those discussions can happen organically, rather than having to invite someone to a specific location or convince them to sign up with a new service. (Me, too, and that includes Mathew. We tried to meet last year when I was visiting Toronto, but the schedules didn’t match up. He’s one of many tweeps I feel as though I know well from his tweets and his blog, but have never met.)
- I love that the brevity of a tweet forces me to be concise and forces me to consider what I am really trying to say and how to say it. This does sometimes turn into a “bumper-sticker” level debate, but it also introduces a lot of discipline, and as a writer I enjoy that. (Again, my experience exactly. I didn’t understand the 140-character limit initially, but that is the magic of Twitter. If Twitter loses its magic because of its quest for control, I am certain that its disruptor will similarly force brevity.)
Mathew also told what he hates about Twitter (again, I have condensed and commented; read his full post):
- I also hate that Twitter has become so big now, and has turned into much more of a broadcast network than somewhere you can really talk to people (I think this is part of the appeal of new networks like Google+ and App.net). Most people never post anything to the network, they just follow celebrities or sports teams, and those kinds of accounts rarely interact with “normal” people. The idea of Twitter as a conversational tool seems to be dying. (Mathew worries more about this than I do. I had some good conversations just yesterday. I kind of like the way that broadcasting and conversation can mingle or that you can divide them using Twitter lists and tools such as TweetDeck or HootSuuite.)
- I hate that Twitter seems to be trying very hard to become a broadcast network, and to be best friends with TV networks. I know the company has to make money if it is to continue to grow, but I don’t need new ways to find out what is on television. It might be selfish, but I liked it when Twitter seemed to care more about helping people spread the news about revolutions in Egypt than helping drive eyeballs to prime-time TV shows. (Twitter’s suspension of Guy Adams during the Olympics for tweeting the easy-to-find email address of an NBC executive was shameful.)
- I hate that Twitter is cutting off the third-party services I like to use — including Instagram and Tumblr and potentially plenty of others. I hate the fact that I am now nervous about devoting time to Flipboard or Storify because I am afraid they will suddenly disappear or no longer be able to function the way they used to. I don’t think this kind of war on outsiders is necessary, and I hate the way it makes Twitter look cheap and desperate. (This is another example of Mathew saying better than I could what I wanted to say.)
- Lastly, I hate that Twitter’s metamorphosis seems to reinforce the idea that being an open network — one that allows the easy distribution of content across different platforms, the way that blogging and email networks do –isn’t possible, or at least can’t become a worthwhile business. And I hate the fact that trying to justify a private-market valuation cooked up by venture capitalists seems to be driving the company, rather than what is good for users. (As I said, I think and hope Twitter will change course.)
Mathew’s closing point was also dead-on:
Obviously, I am not going to stop using Twitter anytime soon, regardless of what I don’t like about it. There just isn’t any other network that is going to give me what I get from Twitter, without me spending hundreds of hours of time and energy spent trying to duplicate what I have built on top of the service. But at the same time, I am not happy with a lot of what is going on — or what the company’s actions seem to suggest the future might look like — and so I am watching new networks like Google+ and App.net with interest. (Damn, does this mean I’m going to have to start using App.net?)
What he said!