Will Jack Dorsey Turn Himself, and Twitter, Inside Out in Attempt to Make it Not-Twitter?

It certainly seems to be the plan, or at least it’s one of the things that jumped out at me from the Ted interview with Jack recently. (The other being that, hey look, monitoring everything that goes on in the Twitter universe, without actually monitoring it, is really, really hard. Duh.)

According to Jack, they are considering making Twitter less about followers, and like, and  more about topics?

In his view, that means rethinking how Twitter incentivizes user behavior. He suggested that the service works best as an “interest-based network,” where you log in and see content relevant to your interests, no matter who posted it — rather than a network where everyone feels like they need to follow a bunch of other accounts, and then grow their follower numbers in turn.

But, and here’s the important bit, we already have a site/app we can log in to and see content based upon our interests. They’re called Apple News, or FlipBoard, or just any news site out there. On Twitter we can even use Moments or follow a hashtag when we want to follow one particular news story, like watching Game of Thrones with thousands of other people.I don’t need the normal use of Twitter for that. That’s not what Twitter is, Twitter started out as a way to follow people you wanted to follow. Eventually that grew into people and organizations, but at it’s core, Twitter was always about “who” posted, not what they were posting about. It was about the trust we placed in the account in order to follow it, that it would be posting things we wanted to see, and we were always free to unfollow if it got to be something we couldn’t trust any longer.

Thus, the whole reason we call them “social” networks. If we wanted “broadcast” networks, well, we already have those. The beauty of Twitter, when it works, is the ability to follow individual voices, and to raise the volume of those voices with retweets.

Now, does that mean that model was perfect? Far from it. But, where Twitter, and other social networks, went wrong wasn’t in focusing on individual voices and giving us the power to decide which ones to follow. It was when they started monkeying around with that. As I mentioned yesterday, the algorithmic feeds started a bad chain reaction. Now, instead of having a conversation around whatever my followers were talking about at the time we are looking at Twitter, we need to chase likes and responses just to even be seen by the people who chose to follow us in the first place. Then, Twitter got into not just showing me what was posted by people I follow, but also tweets they “liked”, when I didn’t ask for that. They started showing all of us replies from accounts we didn’t “trust” enough to follow, and made it difficult to turn that off, which opened up massive harassment campaigns, they even toyed around with letting people we don’t follow send us private messages, and so on.

And why did they do this?

Two reasons, one, they need people to be outraged, and spend more time on Twitter spreading the outrage. Don’t be confused by this. The hate, trolling, misinformation, etc, was actually a net good for Twitter at first, until it all got to be too much, and now they’re left holding the bag. All that drama got people talking about Twitter, and got people responding, and spending so much more time on Twitter. They didn’t mind that so much. It was only when people started leaving that it became a problem.

The second reason is a bit more nuanced, and it does relate to incentives. By changing the game from a network of people you trust enough to follow, to a complete free for all, Twitter actually made it easy for any group of people to effectively shut down a user. We’re only human, there’s only so much abuse any of us is going to take before we abandon Twitter, and remove our own voices from the network. That’s what the abusers want, and by cultivating this idea that you can interact with “anyone” whether you want to or not, Twitter opened that door.

But, they had to open that door, in the name of growth and profit. A microblogging platform for short messages and conversation among your own tribe of known accounts was never going to get the growth they needed to go public and make Jack Dorsey and Ev. Williams richer than they already were. They got that growth. They got their shareholders, and now Jack has the consequences of his own decisions. The fix won’t come from moderation, not at this scale. That would require basically becoming a news service, and deciding which voices get to be seen for each topic. No one wants that. We want what we thought social networks could be once upon a time, networks of trusted people.

Give us that back, even if shareholders don’t like it, or perish by tying yourself in knots making amends for every bit of bad behavior on your site. The choice is yours.

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