If I Was Jack Dorsey

December 26, 2020

Twitter is so close. So close to being the perfect social media platform.

It’s the one I most use. It has connected me to all sorts of people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise due to its public follower-following model.

I can grow a userbase for RoamJS through Twitter because of how simple it is to distribute news to your following. There exists an inspiring network of individuals trying to make a career out of creating online. Individuals I consider to be mentors but don’t even know who I am. Their ideas fill my feed every day.

However, when I observe Twitter, the organization, I see a company that is unsure of its actual value proposition. They seem to misunderstand how valuable the network they’ve built is and how to continue strengthening that existing network.

The “If I Was Jack Dorsey” game is a fun fantasy I like to play because I love the app. Here are some ideas that would bring Twitter closer to becoming social media utopia.

Delete Fleets

This post was inspired by the horror on my face when I saw stories appear on my Twitter mobile client’s header.

The problem with fleets wasn’t the bugs found with the feature or its inability to handle the initial load. I’m empathetic to these road bumps because it’s challenging to account for every edge case when rolling out something brand new to a large userbase.

The problem is that they do nothing to enhance Twitter’s core experience. Fleets cannot persist in an ongoing public conversation. They limit what ideas they can refer back to and what ideas in the future can refer back to it. With ephemeral messaging, you lose the power of context, which was one of the features that initially made Twitter so special.

In their blog post announcing the feature, the team explained that the feature is meant to lower the barrier to entry for people looking to join the public conversation. They predict users will be more likely to share ideas if they only last for 24 hours. However, users already sharing content on Twitter value their contributions to the public conversation not being lost. Those who aren’t are unlikely to overcome the public barrier that still exists.

Early surveys are already starting to demonstrate this:

survey

Caught up in the rat race of trying to beat Instagram, Snapchat, and the rest of the big social media platforms, Twitter inches one step closer towards a game they can’t win with Fleets.

Custom Feeds

Speaking of games they can’t win, let’s talk about advertising.

Advertising has pushed most social media companies to implement algorithmic feeds because they could control what content surfaces to the user. This control allows them to tune what content is engaging. Twitter is operating under the same model.

In 2019, Twitter made $3.46 billion in revenue with $2.99 billion coming from advertising. This is dwarfed by Facebook’s $69.7 billion and Google’s $41.8 billion.

With 330 million monthly active users on the platform, it’s safe to say that advertising is not where Twitter’s value proposition is. The ads themselves get buried in the algorithmic feed, barely distinguishable from other users’ tweets. The math is also pretty unfavorable, as maintaining this algorithmic feed for advertising amounts to less than $1/month per user.

The network Twitter built is its value proposition. The world’s most successful founders, investors, engineers, coaches, and so much more are all on the platform. For users to tap into that network more effectively, we need more control over our feeds.

Twitter started by having a chronological sort on the feed. A flexible custom feed would give users the power to filter and sort by various criteria. They haven’t implemented custom feeds because it would deviate from Twitter’s algorithm, responsible for 85% of their current revenue.

So if I were Jack Dorsey, I’d offer custom feeds as a premium feature to compensate for the revenue loss from advertising. We already know that the demand exists for this today given the wide range of existing Twitter clients:

clients

Custom feeds would steer incentives to better align with their actual users. Given the small advertising margins, any amount they do charge for it would seem to skyrocket past current revenue figures:

Append-Only

One of my favorite features on Twitter is that you can’t edit Tweets. One of my least favorites is this feature under minded by the ability to delete a Tweet and post the correction.

There are several benefits to immutability. The biggest would be having a public record of all conversations recorded in their purest form. Fake tweets are only possible because tweets are deletable. Otherwise, the validity of a tweet could be publicly verifiable by whether it exists on Twitter.

The reason why Twitter needs to allow the deletion of tweets today is related to the previous section. They control everyone’s feed. Because they have that control, they need to be able to and allow their users to pull content from the platform if the algorithm exhibits undesirable behavior with a given Tweet. They are falling closer to becoming a publisher instead of a platform or public utility.

That’s not a game Twitter could win with, again, 330 million active monthly users. This number is several orders of magnitude greater than most publications. Monitoring and being held responsible for conversation at that scale will be Twitter’s downfall. Jack Dorsey and friends are already coming under fire for this inconsistent regulation from the folks in D.C.

An append-only approach to Twitter steers the company back to being a platform. It absolves the company from the responsibility of the content on the platform and instead focuses its efforts towards giving users control of the conversations they experience. The refocus would inevitably lead to a world where custom feeds exist, which would make them a more profitable company, as I mentioned in the previous section.

I love Twitter, and I love the network it has created for me there. These changes would take the company to the next level of capturing the actual value the platform generates.

A special thanks to my friends for help with this article: Stew Fortier, Ryan Williams, and Compound Writing


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