4 Issues Leading To A Permanent Fail Whale

James Mowery December 14 Twitter

Twitter has been known to push the envelope on social communication and interaction. Twitter is even credited for heavily influencing things like the Iranian elections. But all of the amazing things Twitter has accomplished could be for nothing if the company loses sight of what is truly important. And although Twitter has avoided the Fail Whale for quite awhile, it might not only creep back into the spotlight, but it could also become a permanent figure of Twitter’s being.

Unfortunately, the reality is that Twitter is changing at a hot clip these days, and while many of the changes have been for good, they also show a change in mentality for the company. It has become a more bold organization; not only that, but it is also beginning to act like one. But this mentality change could also lead to a few major mistakes that could doom the social networking site. Here are four of them.

 

1. (More) Very Important People

Twitter, in a sense, is a huge popularity contest. Users with the most followers and appearances on lists tend to be regarded as the Twitter’s elite. There is nothing wrong with this. However, I think Twitter is making strides to somehow emphasize these users more so than they should.

The first thing Twitter has done is made power users appear on the user suggestions lists, which provides users with more people to potentially follow. Unfortunately, this list seems to favor people with more followers than anything else. If you are a user with many followers, than you obviously like this feature, as it could lead to even more of a following. But if you are just starting out on Twitter or trying to build a following, it could prove disheartening. And the last thing Twitter would want to do is to detract new users from getting involved.

But there have also been mentions from Twitter staff that they are attempting to create formulas that evaluate users for authoritative purposes. Could this mean that Twitter could be looking to provide certain perks for certain users? Who knows where that could go. But, either way, I don’t want Twitter to feel like a place where I have to generate followers. It might be good for Twitter in the short-term, but I think it would prove costly in the long term.

Again, rewarding those who are active on Twitter is important. Those who provide useful insight and such should also be rewarded. Maybe there could be a way in the future to suggest certain users or “like” certain users to make them more likely to be suggested to other users. But Twitter should not tinker around with the formula too much, as it could alienate many of Twitter’s loyal user base.

 

2. Segregating Users

Twitter is also quickly expanding its service to encompass something more than originally had been intended. The site started as a simple communications platform, but it has now recently turned into something much more, especially with things like a location API and lists feature. However, the formula surrounding the social aspects of the site has remained the same. Users follow other users and receive their updates, and mutual followers can DM each other. But what happens if Twitter wants to take things a bit further?

As can already be seen in other social networks, many take the route of opting to connect users together on the basis of interests. Tech people mingle with other tech people, sports fan connect with other sports fans, and so on. This is representative in Facebook with Groups, which now enable users to invite others without even asking for permission. So topic-based networks are becoming popular.

Considering the impressive amount of data that Twitter contains about its users, it isn’t too difficult to imagine the company wanting to explore how they could utilize this information. Third party applications and websites already offer similar functionality, but as we all know, Twitter has not been afraid to integrate third party ideas directly into its own platform. Social groupings could be one of them.

While this might sound good in theory, it could take away from the scope that Twitter provides. When I write something on Facebook, I intend it to reach my immediate network of friends, family, and other people who I have established social ties with. But when I communicate on Twitter, I do so with the intention of having it shared with the entire world. The differences between these two are significant, to say the least. I want Twitter to maintain that worldly feel to it.

 

3. Over-monetization

Twitter took a huge step in its growth from startup to money-making business when they announced a deal with major search engines to give them access to tweets. And the company recently took a giant leap after introducing more ways to generate money — primarily in the form of promoted tweets.

Advertisers are happy with this arrangement. All the big companies in tech seem to be involved. Many appear to be reporting that they are receiving very high click through and conversion rates, so that is good for everyone involved. Successful advertising campaigns means that Twitter will become a usable platform for advertisers to promote their content and, in turn, generate everyone money. This means that Twitter gets to attempt to keep the fail whale at bay. (Unfortunately, not even that is a guarantee.)

But Twitter didn’t ease into this transition of money-making opportunities. They appeared to Blitzkrieg the hell out of it — sometimes I am still taken back by how many times I run into that gold “Promoted” disclaimer. And it’s not that Twitter doesn’t have a right to make money. I’m actually happy that the company has taken the initiative to become self-reliant. But I have a worry that they could stretch themselves too far. I’m afraid it could annoy users.

 

4. A Third-Party Revolt

Twitter has already had its conflicts with its third-party developers, but many of these services, even if not heavily utilized, still serve a significant purpose of continuing the growth and usability of the Twitter ecosystem. And we already know that Twitter has backstabbed a few of its third party developers — primarily those involved in search, location, and mobile Twitter clients — but this could only be the beginning of more to come.

Many of you might or might not recall a site called Jaiku. It was (and still is) similar to Twitter in many ways; however, the most interesting thing about Jaiku was that it was superior to Twitter in almost every single way imaginable. A beautiful interface, groups, threaded comments, RSS imports, and a lively bunch of developers blessed this wonderful startup, and I was one of the first to be on board. I had actually foregone Twitter to stick with Jaiku exclusively.

But while Jaiku was superior to Twitter in nearly every way, there was one in which it was not: it was third-party developer support. And the way you help out those third parties is by providing them with a rich API and by promoting the hell out of it. Unfortunately, they did neither, even though I urged the developers to do so. Now the site is, for the most part, dead (or close to it).

As a result, Twitter became the site that many of us use today for social networking purposes. But I would be lying if I didn’t say that Jaiku deserved it. So it’s quite ironic that the two things — developer trust and a solid API — that helped Twitter to grow, thrive, and ultimately become successful, just so happens to be the two things that Twitter has been neglecting more than many would like to see.

What improvements would you like to see to Twitter? List them in our comments section.

Written by James Mowery

James Mowery is a passionate technology journalist and entrepreneur who has written for various top-tier publications like Mashable and CMSWire. Follow him on Twitter: @JMowery.
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2 Comments »

 
#1
Ted Thompson
December 15th, 2010 at 10:07 am

Informative article James, thanks for putting together.

 
 
#2
arizona web designer
December 15th, 2010 at 1:35 pm

This is nice article, being an avid twitter user myself, I agree on most points. I am really hoping they can find a way to keep twitter ad free with no cost.

 

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