After months of speculation Twitter has confirmed that it will, despite much protest from users, stop displaying Tweets in chronological order and instead use an algorithm to determine what to display.
The change is being sold as optional, at least initially, but make no mistake this is just the latest step in Twitter’s strategy to turn itself into Facebook. It’s also the day Twitter, as a company, killed its own product. Here’s why.
Twitter’s strategy is based on simple logic. Facebook has more users than Twitter, therefore more people like Facebook than Twitter, therefore the way to get more users is to be more like Facebook. The strategy is so flawed that a five year old could pull it apart.
Firstly, even without delving into the detail, trying to be a direct competitor to Facebook is outstandingly dumb. Currently Twitter is a tangibly different thing to Facebook. By providing something different, users can (and do) use both. If I own a chicken shop, I don’t need to worry about the local estate agent stealing my business, because people can eat chicken and move house. If I then choose to get into the estate agency business, suddenly I’m fighting over the same customers, and I have to be a better estate agent than the other guy.
So by imitating Facebook, Twitter is moving from being a service you can use as well as Facebook to one that you have to use instead of Facebook. To do that you have to convince people (and their friends) that you’re a better option, and that’s tough, because Facebook is really good at being Facebook.
Secondly, by making these changes Twitter is at serious risk of pissing off the 300 million active users it does have. Twitter’s leadership, astonishingly, don’t seem to understand that the thing that makes Twitter distinctive, the place where it really comes into it’s own, is in real time information.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s the raid that killed Bin Laden, the Superbowl or the final of The Voice, the one reason Twitter has become so central to the modern world is because it’s where people go to discuss what’s going on right now. They own that space the way YouTube owns video and Sellotape owns sticky back plastic. Twitter is real time information, and this change, optional or not, is them taking their number one feature, the feature that is core to their business, out the back and shooting it. It’s a move so astonishingly stupid that it’s hard to comprehend.
So what is the future for Twitter? Well, there are currently over 300m people in the world who want a Twitter like service. The service has also become essential for corporate communications and journalism, it’s where news breaks and where the tone of every subsequent discussion is set.
But does Twitter the company need to be the organization that delivers that service? No, absolutely not, and given how little IP Twitter actually own, replicating the service would be fairly straightforward.
All Twitter has is its brand and its scale. They’re formidable things, but brands do come and go, usually when they stop looking after their customers.
This strategy will, inevitably, fail. Millions of people are not going to abandon Facebook for a more Facebook-like Twitter. The only question is whether Twitter realize quickly enough and changes direction, or whether another company seizes the opportunity to provide the real time news and discussion service people actually want.