Tech Watch: The Rebirth -- or Slow Death -- of Twitter

Category:  Tech Watch
Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014 at 6:15 AM

Tech Watch

It seems as though social media platforms are doing a little – okay, a lot – of spring-cleaning in the last month. After Facebook announced changes to its design a year ago and finally began implementing them earlier in March, Twitter hinted that its users will also see changes – some may be quite drastic for core users who have grown accustomed to Twitter’s design and foundation. It’s easy to say that this is not going to be a redesign of their layout, but rather an overhaul of their infrastructure.

Speculation began after Vivian Schiller, head of news at Twitter, spoke to a group at the Newspaper Association of America mediaXchange 2014 event in Denver. Schiller was quoted by Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith as saying both hashtags and @-replies were ‘arcane’.

Earlier this year, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo addressed in an earnings call that, “By bringing the content of Twitter forward and pushing the scaffolding of the language of Twitter to the background, we can increase high-quality interactions and make it more likely that new or casual users will find this service as indispensable as our existing core users do. And we took initial steps in that direction with the introduction of media forward timelines and in-line social actions in October, and we’re already starting to see early signs that those initiatives are working well.”

Just like other social media platforms, this is not the first time Twitter has made upgrades to make the users experience more enjoyable. When Twitter was just getting acclimated to the social media scene back on March 19, 2006 (Happy belated eighth birthday, Twitter!), the retweet was a user-generated feature. Users would add the RT shorthand to a tweet to share with their followers. This was archaic and even confusing for users that were just starting out. Twitter phased this out and made the retweet more user friendly – also saving users characters for their tweet.

Costolo also shared with investors that these suggested changes are, in fact, to help new or casual users adapt to the platform quickly. “So it is absolutely the case that it is very much about making it easier for people who first come to the platform to get it more quickly [...] It's not just get it in the first weeks and months on Twitter, it's get it in the first moments, the first day on Twitter. So that is absolutely, absolutely a focus area for us." Costolo wants to lower the learning curve in order to help new Twitter users by making it easier to interact with other users right from day one.

There are, however, other ideas that suggest removing these once essential building blocks from Twitter are because other platforms – Instagram and Facebook – have bastardized the use of hashtags. Twitter has always been a forward-thinking social media platform, creating trends instead of following them, and Twitter users (over 240 million users as of December 2013) are one in the same. Rather than stepping back and letting other platforms ruin the ever-so-popular hashtag, Twitter needs to take the opportunity and once again become the authority on hashtags. They need to continue evolving the hashtag and show the world how it’s actually done.

If Twitter ultimately decides to remove the features that make Twitter distinctively “Twitter,” then they run the risk of losing their core users not because their users are afraid of change – they embrace it – but because Twitter will become stale, less trendy, and more like the platforms that already exist. Doing so may push Twitter into an early grave like MySpace.

So if you’re going to kill the hashtag and @-replys, might as well grab a shovel for the rest of the bird, Mr. Costolo.

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