Whither Twitter: What’s Next for the Social Platform?
I wrote about Twitter several years ago because many people I knew “didn’t get it.” Endeavoring to explain what it was, how it worked, and what made it different from other social technologies like the better-known Facebook, I talked about Twitter’s history and its use at the 2008 Academy Awards.
From its beginning in 2006, it exploded in popularity the following year because of the South by Southwest Interactive conference (@sxsw), where 60,000 attendees tweeted each day at the event. Today the 16-year-old platform has 500 million per day. The rest, as they say, is history.
Now, Twitter is being discussed as “the town square” that needs to be protected and either restored to its former “glory” or fixed from its recent “degradation.”
One advantage of being a historian and a technologist is seeing lots of technologies come and go, innovative ones that lost their vision or technically brilliant ones that were surpassed by newer but inferior competitors.
MySpace is almost as distant a memory as Betamax video tapes.
Has Twitter Been Useful?
To get news, back in the “old days,” people had three TV networks and perhaps a PBS channel. Everyone watched the same news, whether it was ABC, CBS, or NBC. But with the advent of cable TV, there were hundreds of choices for what to watch. The rise of the Internet and the World Wide Web brought thousands (millions?) of choices.
The downside of this is that today, people self-curate their own newsfeeds. This can give rise to living in an “echo chamber.” People don’t get the same news. How many people subscribe to the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times? I do. It’s important to hear other perspectives.
Twitter supplies a single stream of news without the balkanization of sub-communities. Sure, you can adjust your feed and mute or block people or topics, but it’s a single site. While it is not the largest social platform by any measure, it has a disproportionate significance in our news about culture, politics, and current events. Consequently, it is inhabited by techies, activists, dissidents, trolls, and everyday regular people.
One wag on Twitter has said:
“The problem with leaving twitter is that there isn’t any other app where you can type earthquake and know right away that you were not imagining it.”
Where Has Twitter Been?
Twitter has grown to be one of the world’s largest social networks and is used by individuals and businesses daily. It went from a propeller-head novelty to a news source: people learned in real-time what was going on in war-torn areas.
Yet, during the same time, Twitter has been “tuning” the conversation on the platform. Sometimes, this is called “fact-checking,” and at other times, the “elimination of misinformation.” But it has missed nobody’s notice that this has tended in a partisan manner toward quieting the conservative narrative and favoring the progressive one.
Regardless of what you think about the former President, Twitter banned him permanently from posting; a standing President was silenced on a social network.
Now, it seems like the new owner of Twitter is the latest media “whipping boy.” It’s tiring to hear Twitter obsessives crying, “The sky is falling,” simply because an attention-hungry, conservative billionaire bought it and took it private. “Ditch Twitter” is trending on Twitter as of this writing. Here’s the irony:
Tweeters are “virtue signaling” by announcing on Twitter that they’re leaving Twitter.
There are a host of celebrities who announced that they are “departing Twitter” with the same effectiveness as previous promises that they were “moving to Canada.” When was there as much widespread public scrutiny when someone took a company private and no longer had to report to shareholders or Wall Street? Does anyone remember when Dell was taken private?
Useful Questions About Twitter’s Future
- Could Twitter get worse: Sure
- Will the Chief Twit “do lots of dumb things” at the helm of Twitter: He has already said so
- Has it been bad before this: You bet, and most agree it has been
- Is it too soon to call it: Absolutely.
Will Twitter be around this time next year? Will it look the same? Will it wither? Will it matter?
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian