Twitter announced layoffs last this past week. It caught a few people by surprise. But it didn’t catch me by surprise. That’s because I’ve long had a love/hate relationship with Twitter since its very inception back in 2006. Jack Dorsey, Twitter co-founder, was originally inspired to create Twitter as a dispatch platform system. It eventually morphed into a SMS platform allowing you up to 140 characters for every message tweeted. I recall when Twitter came out my first reaction was, “oh great, another social media tool.” This was back when social media continued its explosive ways, inspiring the development of a multitude of social-oriented applications designed to further communication and/or socializing among users (whether they actually wanted to or not). In the early 2000s, we were inundated by the likes of Friendster, LinkedIn, MySpace, and of course, Facebook. The explosion of these social media applications astounded me because it seemed as if they appeared out of nowhere and I never imagined that so many platforms could exist for the express purpose of getting people to socialize more. The only one that truly seemed to serve a valuable purpose was LinkedIn as I saw the utility of professional networking.
Twitter made little sense to me because when it comes to “social,” I know no one in life who enjoys the constraints of communicating in 140 characters. Yes, there was a novelty with Twitter. And Shakespeare did write that “brevity is the soul of wit.” But after participating in a few Twitter chats, I found myself growing impatient and bored. On the flip side, some businesses that did take advantage of Twitter have found it fairly effective for customer service and increasing sales. But even with those success stories, Twitter struggles to become profitable. Worse, it’s not been able to find a way to generate sufficient profits from its advertising. On top of that because it accepted venture capital to build and develop itself, it was forced to go public even when it was not earning a profit.
To economize anything would suggest saving money and potentially time. Twitter forces you to express a message in 140 characters or less and messaging is done fairly instantaneously. However, I’m not using Twitter on a daily basis. And I’m not using it on a weekly basis. I spend more of my time on Facebook. Why? The interface allows for an easier consumption of information AND I’m not restricted to 140 characters in my posts or responses. Editorial commenting is now the chief central way for the average person to interact with the news of the day. Pretty much every corporate media entity, from the New York Times to the Huffington Post has a Facebook presence which sends oodles of traffic to its web pages. People do click on the stories posted and more importantly, they are commenting on the stories via the platform, in this case, Facebook. Responding to comments on Twitter just doesn’t offer the same allure as on Facebook. Facebook offers more than a SMS. It offers real, substantive engagement.
My hope for Twitter is that it would ultimately change its mission and go from putting profit first to becoming an actual public benefit corporation. Kickerstarter made a big announcement having just recently morphed into a PBC. It’s difficult now that Twitter is a public company beholden to its shareholders. Twitter was at its best as an emergency SMS. I ultimately would like to see a Twitter technology funded by taxpayers and managed by a government entity that is responsive and beholden to the public interest and not profits.