A Quick Illustration of Twitter’s Flaws

An observation: My attentionecono.me piece Attention Theft vs. Relevance as a Business Model was shared on Twitter some 30-odd times. But according to my stats on Medium, the story was only viewed 23 times (Medium also provides a KPI called Reads which is an approximation of the number of people who actually read it; that number is even lower). Four of those visitors were referred via Twitter.

This means one of two things: Either Medium’s stats are broken (I emailed them; according to them, they’re not) – or Twitter is. Let’s assume, just for the fun of it, that Medium’s stats are working correctly.

In that case, two things are true. For one, basically nobody clicks on links on Twitter. To be fair: some of the accounts which shared my piece are somewhat obscure. But there are some legit people among it. The biggest account has 45k+ Followers. And four overall views via Twitter. (Take that for data!)

Would it shock me? No. It’s pretty much consistent with the experience most Twitter users can share: nobody clicks or reacts. For many of it’s users, Twitter is like talking into a void – with the exception of a) influential folks with a big, engaged audience, and b) some sub-cultural, highly interactive twitter scenes. When I talk about engaging user experiences, I always envision something else. But what do I know?!

The second learning (again: assuming Medium’s numbers were correct and my small sample was somewhat representative): Many tweets contain links to a page the author didn’t even visit! 34 Tweets, 23 views. Even assuming that everybody who visited the article also tweeted it (not the case), there would be 11 such tweets  – or 1/3 of all tweets linking to my piece. Also keep in mind that viewing isn’t reading. The number of folks who tweet without reading is, thus, even higher.

That, too, isn’t really shocking. Twitter’s bot problem is well known. Add to this an entire population of accounts created by folks who believe they can turn into an “influencer” by being a tweet slinger. I always thought influence was the product of offering something that’s sought-after and creating value for others. But again, I might be mistaken! After all, it might stem from sharing stuff even oneself doesn’t bother to read. Well.

If I were Twitter, both things would concern me. They make for a crappy user experience. That Twitter has a problem in that regard is hardly news. But those two issues – which, I assume, are generally real, even if my case were due to a mess-up in Medium’s stats – are interrelated and fixable. At least in theory.

A service that consists mostly of bots and a link flood doesn’t create a lot of value. What, then, would improve the user experience? Focusing on real users. That is, fostering a community of people who use your product to actually engage. Who share content they truly recommend. And, most important of all, people who aren’t only around to send but also to “listen”.

Do you remember the time when Facebook took a lot of heat for forcing users to use their real identity? While I get the downsides of this approach, it at least resulted in a considerably healthier platform. Bots and fake accounts are a problem on Facebook as well, but it’s miles ahead of Twitter in that regard.

So, I think Twitter would be a much better product if the company were to start focusing on community hygiene. A quick reality check will reveal that it’s not going to happen. Even if the company wasn’t going through a rough patch, its investors wouldn’t like to see measures which result in a smaller user base. But times aren’t great over there, so size matters even more (because: exit). I regard that as short-sighted. A better product makes for happier users. Which in turn are more engaged and act as your best promoters.

Alas, Twitter might be beyond that point. It’s a shame!

A final note: I’ve long been of the opinion that advertising isn’t the best business model for Twitter. That matters here as well: by not being able to create an advertising platform that is great at relevance (as Facebook’s is), it has to compete based on scale. It looks a lot like a vicious cycle to me.


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