In the latest installment of our ‘Is ______ Dying?’ series, we tackle the powerful, platform-of-few-characters body that is Twitter. While Twitter was once a powerhouse for short-form content and communication, it has battled the big ones (Facebook) and tackled the newcomers (Instagram) and somehow survived it all over the last 13 years. Aging for social platforms is much like aging for dogs, in that social media years are at least 7x that of human years, making Twitter around 91 years old.
Does that mean Twitter is on its last leg? We take a deep dive into some of the reasons why it could be on its way out.
Change in Usage and Audience
What started as an easier way to connect and communicate with users around the world has now turned into a platform full of creative written content. In the beginning, Twitter was the perfect place to share company updates, breaking news and conversation starters. “Click to read more” accompanied many published tweets and Twitter was a large driving force for web traffic to news sites, blogs and publishers.
Now, things have changed. The “young folk” have come in and turned Twitter into a short-form content digestion system, posting comedic tweets, memes and GIFs like there’s no tomorrow (and maybe there’s not… for Twitter). The atmosphere has changed. Twitter is no longer the place for your dad to share a link to an article about his company’s stock value increase (he’s on LinkedIn anyways), and it has now become the place for your youngest cousin to make his online celebrity debut with that funny one-liner about Grandma.
It can also be a highly politicized, argumentative space, which turns off many people who look to social media as an uplifting break from reality. When Barack Obama became the first U.S. President with his own dedicated Presidential Twitter account in 2015, the platform opened personal dialogue between the POTUS and his constituents for the first time ever. Thus, Twitter invited heated discussions and opinion sharing into the already tense political climate, possibly driving many people from the platform altogether.
Algorithm and Feed Changes
Along its journey, Twitter has gone through many impactful platform changes including interest-based algorithm changes (rather than sequential), character limit increases, the addition of likes and retweets and thread creation. Actions were simple when it launched. You could respond and you could retweet. Now you can retweet, retweet with a comment, retweet with a GIF, retweet with a thread… and so on and so forth, in addition to being able to simply like.
At its launch, the sequential feed was perfect for getting the latest news or thoughts from your friends. Then, the feed changed to algorithm, an interest-based feed which showed you what it thought you wanted to see. Instead of only seeing original, first-published Tweets (rather than replies, threads, etc.), the feed was now opened to showing the tweets your friends liked, the people your friends started following and also the dreaded-but-oh-so-necessary ads.
And then there was Periscope. Live streaming was not the problem, but the audience already had a place to consume video: on YouTube and then on Facebook. Short-lived popularity in the streaming app may have increased Twitter’s usability, but it was quickly replaced with things like live-updating, short-form video like Snapchat and Instagram Stories, taking users back off Twitter and onto other social apps.
Lack of Change
But the true proverbial nail in the coffin for Twitter may be its all around lack of change. Whereas Facebook has completely overhauled its platform from the beginning, adding and removing features and conveniences along the way, the basics of Twitter remain the same. Login, see your feed, and tweet a short blurb about your day. You can post a video or a photo, but that’s where it ends. Unless Twitter invents a new way to create or consume content, we may see it slowly fade into the background in favor of more inventive platforms.
The next few years will decide its fate. Will Twitter be purchased by one of the other social media platforms? Will they slowly fade into the distance, eventually closing in favor of not being named sellouts? We’re pulling for Twitter, but only time will tell.