The list of Twitter’s lost opportunities

I’m often hesitant to criticize big companies or brands. As a corporate guy myself, I know first hand that employees are not stupid, just caught in the corporate structure that makes things take a little longer.

But I lost my patience when it comes to Twitter. The product & various management teams had 11 (!) years to move forward, yet this happened:

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The rare case that Wall Street reflects the truth in earnings and mind share

It’s my strong belief that on its current trajectory, either somebody new will come along and eat their lunch or Facebook will dominate the public space, too.

I think all of us die-hard Twitter users want Twitter to succeed — which makes it even more painful to list the chances not taken:

Twitter is already the kind of people network I want to be in: Rather than connecting because of a historically given offline relationship, I can connect to the people I want to talk to. The need to create this community while using Twitter (instead of copying the offline one), makes Twitter harder to use for beginners, but it certainly pays out over time.

Twitter could walk this path further by making it easy to follow topics instead of accounts. Tweet topics would be determined by hashtags or a minimal amount of machine learning.

First of all, this gives a great onboarding experience: If you want to follow the latest Apple news, just subscribe to the Apple topic — no need to know that you have to follow @daringfireball for example. And secondly, this also makes it possible to deconstruct a Twitter profile in its topics: Maybe I like to know what John Gruber has to say about Apple, but not so much about the MLB (sorry, Baseball is very unpopular in Germany).

If Facebook has no shame in copying the working parts of competitors, why should anybody else? Even more so, when the strategy is clearly working.

Back then, when Instagram was just starting, Twitter had the best possible starting point: Everybody knew it, celebrities used it, Twitter hashtags are all over the place, and Twitter handles are one of the first things to set up for a new startup. And how do you tell what’s going on at the moment even shorter than 140 characters? Right, with one picture. In fact, Instagram used Twitter’s Social Graph to skip the cumbersome network building.

What Twitter needed and still needs are options to post engaging content (back then Hipstamatic was the ideal acquisition target).

This brings me to the next point: Why do I know a lot of YouTube/Instagram/Snapchat influencers, but no Twitter influencers? I think Twitter needs to take a page out of Facebook’s playbook and tailor their mobile experience to specific use cases.

With influencer audience new possibilities to monetise arise, too.

As I said, people use Twitter in different use cases. If you follow me, you’ll see that I do a lot of “link blogging” of stuff that is noteworthy in my opinion. Before Twitter I used the Google Reader Share feature. In comparison to this toolset from 2008 (!), todays “workflow” of dealing with incoming news and forwarding the best seems almost barbaric.

The demise of Google Reader and therefore RSS has left a big void. For average users, Facebook’s Instant Articles rushed in — but geeks need more.

Twitter wants to be the medium through which people consume their news. Why was there no option to add RSS feeds to my timeline? Why do I need crude third party picture tools to share a good paragraph til this day?

In a better world, I would see my RSS feeds inside the timeline. Flowreader tries, but it’s a feature Twitter is suited for best.

On Twitter things are happening in a constant chronological stream of tweets. In that regard Twitter would have been an ideal buyer of Twitch, which just introduced Pulse, their own way towards a full social network.

Additionally the limitation “live only when live in offline world” could be removed with a Playback Reactions feature, described by Ben Thompson:

Miss the Oscars gaffe? Not only can you watch the video, you can read the reactions as they happen, from the people you actually care enough to follow. Or choose any other user on Twitter, and see what they saw as the gaffe happened.

Blog comments are more dead than alive. Therefore the commentary on a specific post has spread (Twitter, Hacker News, Reddit etc.). What I’d like to see is the aggregation of all takes on a certain article. Twitter could easily provide an aggregated view of all takes for a given link. (Try searching for a link on Twitter.) Techmeme tries to do the aggregation part, but is not individualized on my interests. Nuzzel simply counts the number of mentions and discards the individual comment.

Furthermore Twitter could overlay outgoing links with the comments for that specific page. Think of Kindle Highlights for the web. Highly is doing something like this. Twitter could add the option to comment right on that specific site, without ever touching twitter.com.

Twitter is still huge and important for brands. Shitstorms are built either on Facebook or Twitter — better see it coming. This is why big companies spent a lot of money on Social Media Monitoring. It’s a dedicated, fast growing space in Online Marketing. Why has Twitter no tool for this job that it can sell?

And related: Twitter, please make sure that companies like Telekom are enabled to give good technical support through your platform. Why haven’t you incorporated tools like GetSatisfaction yet?

When I want to get to know a person in tech, it’s almost always the best way to start with their Twitter profile page. Instantly I have posting frequency, tone, connections, authority (based on the follower / following ratio).

The thing is, the sidebar with bio and links is treated very poorly. What if we add certain kind of information like job title, skills you think you have and things you are interested in (in hashtag format)? Exactly, we get a barebone, not-so-dusty LinkedIn competitor.

Almost all meaningful additions in Twitter product were done a long time ago — while the Twitter API was still alive. No coincidence at all. The community paired with astounding third-party client development brought hashtags, replies and retweets. Indeed a “Golden Age”.

I understand that decentralised models don’t work for advertising driven business. But I don’t understand why now, in a world where protocols can generate funding via App Coins, this step can’t be reversed.

Characteristic that only Facebook made a foray into Open Graph and Social Plugin infrastructure.

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Of course, it’s far from certain that any of these would help Twitter over the edge, but I want to stress this: The fact that I can’t see one of these themes (or any theme at all) pushed forward is a big failure on behalf of Twitter’s management.

👨‍💻 Product Owner @fluidmobile. ✍️ Writes mostly about the intersection of Tech, UX & Business strategy.

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