Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Decay of Twitter

[ed. See also: Twitter unfaves itself]

On Tuesday, Twitter Inc. announced another dreary set of quarterly earnings. While the company beat investor expectations, it’s still running at a loss of $132 million after taxes. Its fourth-quarter projections seem low. Worst of all, its namesake product has essentially failed to add any active American users in 2015.

Twitter stock fell more than 10 percent after the announcement.

Since it went public two years ago, investors have rarely considered Twitter’s prospects rosy. The sliver of Twitter’s users who are interested in how it fares as a corporation have gotten used to this, I think: There’s an idea you see floating around that, beyond avoiding bankruptcy, Twitter’s financial success has little bearing on its social utility. Maybe there are only 320 million humans interested in seeing 140-character updates from their friends every day after all. If you make a website that 4 percent of the world’s population finds interesting enough to peek at every month, you shouldn’t exactly feel embarrassed.

Yet the two entities that are called “Twitter”—the San Francisco-based corporation and the character-delimited social network—are not entirely disconnected. And similarly, no matter how many features Twitter-the-company tacks on to draw in new people, it’s still captive to the whims of Twitter-the-network. Recently, I’ve started to wonder if the corporation is trapped in more than a nominal way. What if the network is one of the company’s greatest obstacles, especially when it comes to growth?

Talking about Twitter the Network is hard. I’ve tried it once before, when my colleague Adrienne LaFrance and I tried to describe how English-language, U.S. Twitter of April 2014 differed from the equivalent Twitter of two years prior. Eighteen months on, I think our effort missed a lot. But I do think we noticed that the social network was slipping into something like midlife. It sometimes feels like Instagram, for instance, is the only social network that people actually still love to use.

But I’m still talking in terms of feel: a biased, decidedly non-precise way of discussing something which emerges from more than 300 million minds. And that’s why I like one theory of what’s changed about Twitter from the Canadian academic Bonnie Stewart. I think it makes clear why Twitter the Company is finding such difficulty attracting new users, especially in the United States. And I think it even helps answer the Instagram question, namely: Why is Instagram (or Vine, or Pinterest) so much more fun than Twitter?

The only problem: To talk about Stewart’s theory, you have to first tackle the ideas of the 20th-century philosopher of media, Walter J. Ong.

by Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic |  Read more:
Image:  Esaias van de Velde