In my opinion, Twitter is a great social networking product. In fact, I think it is the best social networking product, but I’ll tone down the rhetoric. Though I am convinced about this fact, I had never got an opportunity to articulate why I felt so. This post is largely aimed at crystallising my own thoughts regarding the product. Before delving into the analysis mode, let me define the meaning of a social network.
According to Investopedia : “Social networking is the use of Internet-based social media sites to stay connected with friends, family, colleagues, customers, or clients. Social networking can have a social purpose, a business purpose, or both, through sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. ”
One can declare any product as ‘great’ or ‘the best’ depending on the criteria that one chooses. Of course, personal choices always have an element of subjectivity. Therefore, I am listing parameters that I am using to judge Twitter.
- Whether the user is able to do regular things that he or she generally does on a social media product (sharing photos, messaging, interacting with posts, etc).
- Quality and frequency of conversations regarding an area of common interest on the platform.
- Ease of discovering information, posts and conversations that the user is interested in.
- Overall social impact of activities and interactions that happen on Twitter.
- User experience while sharing one’s ideas and thoughts.
- Versatility of the product.
Twitter is a microblogging site, where users can share their ideas in 280 characters. Twitter’s website says : “We serve the public conversation. It matters to us that people have a free and safe space to talk. “
Twitter users can follow a person to get his/her tweets on their timeline even if they don’t know the person in real life. This provides an opportunity for the user to extend his or her existing social network. This might seem different from the ‘friend request’ option on Facebook. However, the acceptance of a ‘request’ is not a priority for Twitter users because they are somehow aligned with ‘public conversation’ motto of the product. If a follower is annoying or creepy, the user can block that particular account.
To streamline their experience on Twitter, users can also create thematic lists of other Twitter accounts. For example a list named ‘Computers’ could contain a list of users who regularly tweet about computers. Tweets can be accompanied by hashtags, which enable other users to discover their content based on their interests. For example, #Politics would direct users to tweets about politics.
Users can reply to any public tweet, thereby triggering a conversation with other users. They can also share others’ tweets on their timeline through the retweet option. They can also ‘like’ a tweet, which indicates that the user appreciates a tweet, but they don’t want to share it on their own timeline.
Twitter allows users to share photos and videos. In case users want to have a private conversation with another user, they can use the direct message (DM) option, provided the other person has kept their DMs open. All of this demonstrates that Twitter fulfils the basic requirements of any social network product.
Twitter’s main source of income is advertisement revenues. It earned 86 percent of its revenues from ads as per its 2020 annual report. It does not charge money from any of its users for consuming content or tweeting content.
The Best Place For Public Conversation
Twitter is a great place for public conversation. The quality of conversation depends on the quality of other people who are part of conversation. Of course, not all Twitter users are intelligent; you can block or mute the stupid ones.
Users need a safe space for a public conversation. LinkedIn is definitely not the space to discuss politics or sports. On Facebook, you might be apprehensive about the reactions of your relatives and close friends. Twitter, on the other hand, provides a safe environment for you to express your ideas. Though a large number of users feel comfortable sharing their opinions on Twitter, the recent cancel culture trend has dented this USP of Twitter platform. However, the safe and free discussion environment on the platform is largely intact.
In addition to a safe space, users need new people to engage with when their interests change. Twitter does a great job by suggesting new people to follow based on a given topic and users’ existing social graph.
In contrast, users on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn are stuck with their existing set of connections. It is not considered polite to block or remove connections on these platforms due to change of content preferences.
Live discussions or live commentary related to an event are popular on Twitter. Why should journalists and sports commentators have all the fun? This aspect of Twitter is quite evident when an important cricket match or a political rally is happening in the country. It is perfectly normal for someone to post 40 tweets on an IPL match, but it is considered insane to post 40 status updates related to the same match on Facebook. It wouldn’t be entirely wrong to claim that Twitter has enabled the citizen journalist/ citizen commentator more than any other platform.
In spite of these arguments, one can claim that LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook are also facilitating public conversation (though in a less optimal manner) . How is Twitter better?
Brevity Is The Soul Of Wit
If Shakespeare had to choose a social media platform, he would have probably picked Twitter. Twitter forces users to express a thought in 280 characters or less.
Tweets capture interesting thoughts in 280 characters or less. Of course, there can be viral memes and video snippets as well. But text-based tweets form a large majority of the content on Twitter platform. Good tweets are easy to consume, but difficult to produce.
You can argue that Twitter threads allow you to breach the character limit, but again people consume one tweet at a time. If any tweet in the thread is not good enough, the user drops off.
However, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn have not imposed character limits on users. They allow you to rant on and on. Many of the posts on these platforms are not well written. The user just scrolls quickly and pays more attention to photos or videos as they are more eye-catching.
An Ideas Platform
Twitter is great platform for sharing thoughts and ideas. Ideas related to any given topic can be discovered in one screen through hashtags. Users can tweet their own ideas and also share another person’s idea with their followers through a simple retweet button.
Ideas shared on Twitter have an outsized impact on the world outside (given the smaller number of users on its platform). TV channels air tweets on their screens more often than they display Facebook posts. Sometimes an entire debate on a TV channel is driven by a tweet. Newspapers have a dedicated space to show impactful tweets. Twitter’s ability to drive the conversation in society attracts a lot of eyeballs. This ensures that users can use the product for free, while advertisers get impressions for their campaigns.
One could refute this statement by pointing at Facebook. Their website says states: “Our Mission : Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. [..] Our products empower more than 3 billion people around the world to share ideas, offer support and make a difference. You could say that the newsfeed is a great place to find content on various topics.
But this information is not brief. It can’t be classified based on the category they belong to. Facebook groups might be one of the ways you can stay updated on a particular topic. But that community gets ideas that originate from members alone. If some other guy on the platform has better ideas, it doesn’t reach the members of the group. Twitter’s hashtag feature solves this problem more elegantly.
Ease of Tweet Discovery
For a consumer of tweets, it is easy to find tweets on any given topic on the Twitter app and website. The platform has separate tabs named ‘For you’, ‘Covid-19’, ‘Trending’, ‘News’, ‘Sports’, and ‘Entertainment’. Users can pick and choose the kind of Tweets they want to consume.
Elegant User Interface
Twitter’s app and web portals have a user friendly interface. There are many interesting aspects of Twitter’s design. But I am going to delve into the core functionality of Twitter, i.e. the tweeting experience on a mobile device. I will be using screenshots of Twitter iOS app. I’m assuming that the android version is quite similar.
The user can easily find the tweet button. This is a no brainer for regular users, but it matters a lot for a first-time user. Ease of tweeting becomes an important factor when someone is doing a live commentary on any live event. So, it is very important for Twitter to nail this user journey.
Users are allowed to tweet only if the number of characters is less than 280. This is a core feature of Twitter and the platform ensures that everyone adheres to its number one rule.
Twitter does not remind you about the number of characters left until you reach 260 characters. It just shows a blue circle without indicating number of characters typed.
Once you have typed 260 characters, the blue circle turns into yellow automatically, and tells you that you have 20 characters to spare. If your tweet has more than 280 character you see the exact number of extra characters and a highlight on the extra characters.
The yellow circle disappears and the number indicating excess number of characters turns red. As soon as you exceed 280 characters, the tweet button is disabled. This flow allows users to tweak the content to meet the character limit.
Users are also allowed to add images, gifs, and voice notes along with a tweet. The option to click a picture and tweet it is also included.
In case you want to know others’ opinion on a matter, you can also conduct a poll. The poll feature allows you to provide four options and decide the duration of the poll as well.
Twitter empowers the user to decide who can interact with the tweet in the replies. Before you send out the tweet, you can control who can reply to your tweets (to avoid potential trolls).
Several use cases are covered within the tweet creation window. Users need not go outside the platform unless they want to add a link to a video or an article along with their tweet.
Versatility of Twitter
Twitter is a versatile product. It is extremely useful to people from diverse backgrounds. It can help entrepreneurs find their employees. I know of people who met on Twitter and got married. There are journalists who find their stories on Twitter. With the addition of Twitter Spaces, it is now possible to have an audio conversation. Businesses are leveraging Twitter for customer care operations. Politicians want to run their digital campaigns on Twitter. Independent writers, authors and bloggers gain and retain users through their Twitter accounts. All of this can be done on Facebook and LinkedIn as well. But the user engagement and ease of accessing this information is much better on Twitter platform (refer previous points I’ve made in the post).
To put it succinctly, people on Twitter can get the most relevant and recent information about things happening near them. In an age of short attention span, Twitter stands out as the ideal platform where users can get the highest return on investment for their time. The return could either be news updates, entertaining tweets or information related to their area of interest. All of this makes Twitter a social network for the 21st century.
That doesn’t mean that Twitter is already perfect. It has serious problems with its content moderation policies and political stances. All of that is publicised through media quite often. So, I will not spend time on that matter here.
Users have been demanding the edit function on the platform for many years. There is ample scope to make Twitter better. But it is much better than the alternatives we have today.