Long-time Twitter users, myself included, value it mostly for the general feed (everyone you follow, live and in chronological order) and the ability to replicate the general feed model for specific lists you’ve made of people you follow and for specific search terms and hashtags.
At the same time, Twitter is a confusing experience for novices and newbies – and to keep the venture capital taps flowing, the service needs to demonstrate growth.
So this week Twitter-the-company has talked about taking something that resembles its existing “discover” feed, which shows some highlights from the last couple of days of a user’s interactions, their friends’ interactions, and paid-for commercial content, and steering new users towards this ahead of the general feed.
This has cause a bunch of people who mostly should know better to lose their shit (sample lazily pulled from the article above):
It's sad that @twitter has to tinker and maybe ruin the features we like just to show it's doing something. My feed is my feed for a reason.
— Alex Konrad (@alexrkonrad) September 4, 2014
keep in mind the new filtered feed will only be bad if you don't want to pay twitter to feature your content. which, why wouldn't you
— jesse farrar (@BronzeHammer) September 4, 2014
New from me: "Twitter CFO says a Facebook-style filtered feed is coming, whether you like it or not" http://t.co/vatbmLEc0l
— Mathew Ingram (@mathewi) September 4, 2014
There is a tiny flaw in their reasoning: it is bollocks.
Why? Well, you need to remember that Twitter’s value – to users and advertisers alike – is completely different from Facebook’s.
Facebook collects detailed demographic information and combines that with your interactions with the site to create a scarily tailored advertising profile. That’s what it’s for. At work this week, I bought a Facebook advert to reach people in Perth, WA who are interested in space exploration. This would have been simply impossible before Facebook existed.
Twitter doesn’t. It provides a direct, unmediated platform for anonymous people, pseudonymous people, named people, famous people, and brands, to all interact on the same level. It doesn’t collate demographic information; the demographic profile data it shows to advertisers is based on surveys of people and the networks they use, not on the information they provide to the site.
But the demographic profile it has is extremely valuable: Twitter’s users are older and richer than the users of any network other than LinkedIn. They are also stroppy as hell, as the storm over this issue (not to mention every other issue that there is in the world) has confirmed.
Twitter-the-company has a balancing act to run, trying to bring in new users so it doesn’t get Kiss of Death growth headlines that deter people from putting up money, but at the same time making damn sure it doesn’t alienate its existing users to any degree beyond that which is necessary to sell advertising, because that would also deter people from putting up money.
The way it deals with this balancing act will, absolutely and definitively, not be by turning into a version of Facebook with the targeting data that makes Facebook into Facebook removed.
So stop worrying. It’s not going to happen.