Recently Twitter announced the rollout of new features, most notably the ability to have group messages.
Being interested not just in technology, but also having a keen interest in unintended consequences, I was intrigued by this. You see, up until now when you wanted to communicate on Twitter you had three options, you could send a private message to one user, assuming they were following you, you could post publicly or you could set your entire tweet stream to private and only share it with approved followers. The end result of that, was that Twitter became sort of a public market, for better or worse. As an event unfolded, for example, you could use a hashtag to follow along with others thoughts, jokes, etc. and contribute to that public conversation, or you could just watch it go by. But it was occurring out in the public space that has become Twitter. How will that change now that Twitter has a less public space available?
Now don’t get me wrong. I understand why they are adding the group message feature. Other social networks have it, and social networks are absolutely an “adopt or die” industry. People have been asking for it, and I’m sure they’ll make good use of it. What I can’t help wondering, however, is if that will change the nature of how we use Twitter. Rather than having the public space to comment on whatever topic you feel it necessary to comment on, will many of these discussions start to take place in private? On Sunday, for example, will there be a bit less public discussion of the Super Bowl, and the advertisements of course, or will people be more likely to start a group message thread with the small group of friends for a freer discussion? Will political discussions become closed echo chambers, where I can gather a list of friends who think like I do, and we can tweet just to one another?
You see, I think all of these things will happen, slowly, and people who are so inclined will move their frank discussions to the more private setting. How will that change the user experience in the public space? Will it start to become more dominated by those who want the attention of the larger public, or have we gotten so used to that public discourse that group messaging will not have any impact on the overall experience other than adding an option for some things that we aren’t putting into the public space of Twitter now?
Time will tell, but for now, what are your plans? Do you plan to change how you use Twitter and take more discussions to a group instead of the public space?
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