The most provocative post I read yesterday was from a fine entrepreneur I follow — David Jackson, a Seeking Alpha founder — that did a numbers analysis of Twitter’s “engagement problem.” What was helpful was that he used actual data and logic to demonstrate the obvious but easy-to-forget fundamental genius of Twitter: the product and its core incentives give it the shape of a giant, fast-moving river.
I think the question of whether Twitter can take this noisy, rushing social mechanic and turn it into a large revenue-generating media company is the kind of question that asked too sharply turns a Digg or Napster into a pile of nothing. I think history would argue for patience here.
But what gave me weird flappy dreams last night was Mr. Jackson’s cure for Twitter — that to improve Twitter’s terrible one-way-flow engagement numbers, and to make it loopy and addictive, Twitter’s fundamental incentives need to simply be re-made to emphasize “value” propositions that look more like “engagement”. As in, turn it from the raw force-of-nature resource that it is into a tailored, engaging social experience.
Putting aside the fact that Dorsey + Williams + Stone + Costello etc. have been attempting some version of that with all the feature tweaks and developer community stomping — the part that drives me crazy about this suggestion is equating “value” straight up to “addictiveness”. And that Twitter’s noisy-ness is not providing value.
Really? I have no problem finding lots and lots of great content on Twitter — if I want to test hashtag zeitgeist, or trend surf, or better, just get some good old fashioned crowd-sourced news, it’s working pretty good for me.
Could Twitter start to target me better? Or provide me with an incentive to produce “quality” content? Or give me with ways to interact more authentically with people I care about around ideas that matter to me?
Maybe. But how does that change the core user story, those raw, cheap bursts of self-disclosure? This is the engine of Twitter! Moving to far from this center is nutty, IMVHO and I have to think that a couple features into a serious rebuilding adventure the Twitter team would pretty quickly find that they’ve re-discovered the continent of Quora.. or Instagram..