Twitter is pivoting
Peter Chernin had this to say during his days as President of News Corp, owners of MySpace, in 2006:
If you look at virtually any Web 2.0 application, whether its YouTube, whether it’s Flickr, whether it’s Photobucket or any of the next-generation Web applications, almost all of them are really driven off the back of MySpace… Given that most of their traffic comes from us, if we build adequate if not superior competitors, I think we ought to be able to match them if not exceed them.
This was the justification and mentality that MySpace employed as they blocked various fast-growing platform partners that they felt impinged in MySpace's core user experience. Any of this sound familiar?
Yesterday, Peter Chernin was named to the Twitter board of directors.
Here was the text of his announcement tweet:
@twitter I've been a long-time user of twitter for news and information. Happy to be joining board of this very exciting company.
Interesting things about Peter Chernin's announcement
It is apparently his first tweet ever(!)
To be fair, the account appears to have been created in 2010. Perhaps he just uses it to read news, or to customize his Flipboard account.
His announcement was formatted as a direct reply to the official Twitter account.
This means the announcement would only be seen by his followers that also follow the official Twitter account. I don't get the feeling he did this on purpose. An experienced Twitter user would know to add a “.” at the beginning of his message so that his followers would see it.
He refers to himself as a “long-time user of twitter for news and information”
Think about that for a moment. Not only does he consider himself a “long-time” user, rather than a novice, he is defining exactly what Twitter is to him: a way to consume news and information.
The fork in the road
It's well known that Twitter has a steep learning curve for new users. The steep learning curve was famously spoofed by a parody Jack Nicholson account.
From a product perspective, Twitter needs to either:
Rethink onboarding of new users to do a far better job of educating people about how things like @-replies, RTs, hashtags, etc work.
Admit failure and give up on trying to get normal people to tweet. Pivot the company at this late stage in the game and completely redefine what the core user experience is.
It seems they are opting for the latter option.
What is pre-pivot Twitter?
“…an online social networking service and microblogging service that enables its users to send and read text-based messages of up to 140 characters” - Wikipedia
In other words, the core user experience of Twitter is the sending and receiving of messages with other people. It's a communications tool.
What is post-pivot Twitter supposed to look like?
- The best way to consume “news and information”.
- Important content is mostly created by media companies, whether they are blogs, television, radio or movies.
- The main reason that “normal users” would write messages is as a backchannel to discuss media events such as the Olympics, Election Coverage, or a new television show. “Normal user” tweets are something akin to Facebook comments.
- Even though this backchannel exists, it's not expected that brands and celebrities are supposed to pay much attention to everything that is said. Chernin himself hasn't replied to the numerous replies he received.
- The Discover tab is the future. Rather than forcing normal users to make sense of a realtime stream, they can see what content is trending.
- Systematic destruction of companies built on the back of MySp…Twitter.
- Re-emergence of a lot of the ideas MySpace had about “the socialization of content”.
Predicting the future
In this paradigm, Twitter's business model is to help brands “amplify their reach”. A brand participating in Twitter can certainly distribute their content for free and get free organic traffic, but if they want to increase their reach, they need to pay.
It's no accident that this sounds exactly like the emerging Facebook business model. As discussed in that link, algorithmically filtered primary feeds are vastly easier to advertise against vs unfiltered feeds. The issue for Twitter is that Facebook already has a far larger userbase which is already trained to read an algorithmically filtered feed.
How is Twitter going to pull off their mid-flight pivot, which entails largely redefining what Twitter actually is, not to mention how most people are supposed to use it? Your guess is as good as mine.
Nonetheless, Peter Chernin's announcement shows us the future of Twitter: a media company writing software that is optimized for mostly passive users interested in a media and entertainment filter.