Why Twitter will have to become more like Facebook to survive

It’s inevitable. The first steps have already been taken with the recent Twitter redesign, which uses a “best tweets” feature. This emphasizes tweets that earn the most interaction (retweets, favourites and replies) by making them physically bigger: Twitter bumps up their font size.

It’s unlikely this content weighting will end with a simple bump in font size for a few tweets. Recall that Facebook was once like Twitter, wide open and unbiased, until the total amount of content users can possibly see started creeping up. That number is now over 1,500 per day. That’s why Facebook created the EdgeRank algorithm, now the “News Feed” algorithm. It weights content so the most interesting stuff rises to the top and gets served to you, while the crud falls to the bottom and gets forgotten.

Consider this:the average Twitter user had 208 followers two years ago, the average user sends five tweets per day, and about 10% of Twitter accounts are active each day. That means you can expect to potentially see over 100 tweets per day, minimum. That figure doesn’t include promoted tweets, or the growth in the service over the last two years, and thus is probably a quite conservative number.

Very few people read 100 tweets a day. In fact, since the number they’re exposed to is likely quite a bit higher than that, the total number of tweets coming out of the Twitter firehose per person is probably an even larger, off-putting number, and represents at least part of the reason for the decline in Twitter’s total timeline views, a key sticking point in their declining market cap.

So what’s a poor social medium to do? The answer’s obvious: kill the crap and surface the cream. If Twitter wants to survive, it will have to take a page from Facebook’s playbook and throttle the uninteresting, corporate crud that turns people off, while delivering more of the content that people want to see. That means a series of algorithms to determine what gets shown to people, based on their behavior, which is pretty much what the News Feed algorithm does now.

In order to make this work, Twitter is going to need to boost the number of times you favorite, retweet and mention content, in order to model user preferences in a fashion similar to how Facebook does the same based on the content you like and share. Without that information, Twitter can’t implement an algorithm-based approach to anything. This means you can expect to see the company tweaking its interface to make those actions easier and more obvious in the near future. It may also pull ow.ly and bit.ly data in, as clicks happen more often than likes, retweets and favorites.

While reports of the death of Twitter are greatly exaggerated, it will have to fundamentally change its business engine if it wants to survive. This means an algorithmic weighting system or something like it within the next year or two. Let the games begin….

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