Twitter’s perfect compromise?


If you tweet, what do you think of this week’s radical new change to Twitter’s very @-ness? Gifting us more characters to play with, or a disturbance in the Force of what Twitter is all about?

“A good compromise is when both parties are dissatisfied." 

These words are widely attributed to the great Larry David of Curb Your Enthusiasm fame.*


Are this week’s changes to Twitter a perfect compromise: one that leaves one and all equally dissatisfied?

New Twitter is so odd

Social networks are necessarily in a state of constant evolution. Any social network that stands still is dead. Any social network that changes will inevitably alienate those who love it. At least briefly.

Twitter this week made easily the most radical shift in its core functionality in the eight years that it’s been at the centre of my social media world. Suddenly, on the afternoon of Thursday 30 March 2017 (Limey time), Twitter looked and felt very different. Suddenly, a lot of longstanding Twitter lovers felt bewildered – and immediately tweeted their discomfort.

Twitter describes the changes thus:

"We’re changing replies so that you have all 140 characters to express yourself.”

The new version of Twitter sees @ addresses no longer eat into your 140-character limit.** Or as I tweeted yesterday to @anildash:

“New Twitter is so odd. Public tweets now resemble
group DMs, but with limits on characters, yet no limit on potential
audience. Why?" 


The changes to Twitter are a long time coming. Three years ago there were rumours that Twitter considered the @ address and the hashtag "arcane”, and that their days were numbered. This week’s changes don’t go as far as what was being talked about in 2014. But even these changes have left many scratching their heads.

An infinite mess?

Why the changes to Twitter?

My friend Helen Reynolds of Social For The People*** takes a pragmatic

“I’m not too keen but I’ll get used to it, I
guess. This is more likely to be about attracting new users.
But I’m not sure this is the elegant answer.
An edit tweet button would’ve been more appreciated by existing users,

Helen’s point about elegance is well made. Twitter timelines are now messier and more confusing. Conversations stand out less, and therefore could be more easily drowned out in the endlessly new deluge of tweets. “This will turn into an infinite mess,” predicts @trackertracker2.

Will the changes to @ replies attract new users to Twitter?
Twitter already has quite a high barrier to entry for users, I feel. It’s a
fundamentally odd social network. You have to put the hours in for the
value that it can offer you to reveal itself.
Helen says:

“As someone who occasionally trains newbs, they ARE put off by what
initially seems like the complexity of @replies & hashtags etc" 

I don’t think the new Twitter solves this problem. If anything, it
risks raising this barrier to entry higher, rather than lowering it.****

A gift to trolls?

Renee Teate – aka @paix120 on Twitter***** – shares these concerns:

"I can’t understand who it benefits. Seems like overwhelmed people would become non-users faster, and it’s frustrating power-users, sooo….”


Renee also warns that the changes to @ mentions could risk making it significantly easier for trolls to troll. This is because a single tweet can now be addressed to as many as 50 people at once:

“Not enough people are talking about possible troll abuse of these ‘features.’ You can’t drop out of a thread. Every branch of the thread would have to click into mention list and uncheck you, if they honor request. (meaning that even unintentional ‘trolling’ will happen, leading to use of muting and filters to make normal usage manageable).”

The conversation that never sleeps

Right now, the new Twitter does seem to represent a perfect compromise, in that all parties are likely to be dissatisfied. Longstanding users are perplexed. New and non-users are more likely to find the platform baffling, not less.

But the story does not end here.

Unless something very bad happens to the world******, this won’t be the final version of Twitter. The rough edges of the new Twitter are likely to be smoothed out as the platform evolves.

What we’re talking about here are changes to the mechanics of Twitter. They are not changes to the heart of Twitter.

I wrote last year
that the hard limits of how you get to express yourself are a key part of
Twitter’s charm. But they should not be confused with being Twitter’s ‘thing’:

“For me, Twitter isn’t all about the enforced
brevity of expression (as appealing and creatively stimulating as that
is). Twitter’s ‘thing’  is the way it enables conversation, interaction
and the sparking of ideas off other people, often in the most unexpected
ways. I think it is the perfect medium for ’the conversation that never
’ (my friend Mervyn Dinnen’s excellent description of what social
media in general is all about).”

Indeed, it’s a delightful irony that Twitter itself enabled me to have a rich, fascinating conversation about my issues with the new Twitter with Renee – someone I’d never come across before until that moment (and may well not have done without Twitter). Twitter in 2017 continues to enable instantaneous, global connection and conversation like nothing else.

Renee puts it best:

“I love Twitter for the things it does well, and get frustrated when they appear to be trying their best to destroy those things while not fixing what needs to be fixed.”


* I could swear that similar words were also uttered by Mad Men’s Lane Pryce on yet another change to the advertising agency’s name, following yet another merger.

** I concede that these changes may seem piffling and/or
incomprehensible to those who do not tweet. Only the longer-standing
Twitter user is likely to give a toss, or even to notice.

I’m running together a number of Helen’s tweets in her
quoted words here. My thanks to Helen for her kind permission to quote
her in this post.

**** You could argue that a well-meant decision that ends up
making timelines more cluttered and confusing is a very Twitter change
to make, due to its sheer oddness. This change is happening
simultaneously with other social networks changing to be more like one
another. I had an interesting chat yesterday with @hrinlondon about the
convergence of other social networks towards what we might dub LinkedInstaFaceSnap.

***** These quotations from Renee run together a number of her tweets from yesterday.
My thanks to Renee for her kind permission to quote
her words here.

****** In 2017, this is not beyond the realms of possibility. As one prominent ‘politician’ might put it: Sad!


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