Asking Twitter To Commit Suicide With A Google+ Dagger

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Sometimes, it’s easy for power users to get drunk on that power.

I’m as guilty of this as anyone. When I constantly bitch that my Gmail account is SO DAMN SLOW, I forget that I also have a full 20 GB of email — something which Google PR always kindly reminds me is not normal. (And I came up with my own solution — quitting email entirely.) Robert Scoble is perhaps the consummate power user. Every time a new service launches, he quickly friends or follows as many people as he can, testing the limits. Then he inevitably bitches when limits are hit, or the service doesn’t work well with that many connections. Because, you know, most people don’t have 30,000 friends. (Nor does Scoble — but that’s another matter.)

Anyway, Scoble is the king of power using a product to its breaking point and then complaining about it. One recent example: Scoble complaining that Quora isn’t really any good as a blogging platform — a straw man argument that he himself set up, no less. This weekend, he was back at it. And the victim of his rage this time was a familiar one: Twitter.

In a post entitled, “Google+ has made Twitter boring, here’s what Twitter should do about that“, Scoble goes on a long-ish rant about what features Twitter needs to add immediately to compete with the just-launched Google+. Missing in this rant is one very critical thing: introspection. Scoble fails to recognize that he is a power user to the Nth degree.

Put more bluntly: if Twitter is batshit crazy enough to implement even half of the things that Scoble lays out, they will effectively kill their own product.

Of course, we can rest-assured knowing that Twitter is very likely not this foolish. After being in business for a full five years, they must know by now that their strength is not to mimic every just-launched and hot-right-now new social network (in this case, Google+). Their strength is to remain true to what got them to where they are now: simplicity.

That’s not to say Twitter should not add new functionality or improve upon their service. Of course they should. But if they added some of the things Scoble suggests like adding Twylah information (really?), removing the pushing of links from other services, and re-creating Google+ Circles for Twitter, a product that many people already don’t use after signing up would become completely unusable for most people.

Twitter is not Google+. Nor does it need to be. If they tried to make it into Google+ on the fly, the millions of current users would rightfully throw a shit-fit. I have a feeling that Scoble would too.

In a guest post this weekend, Tom Anderson (more affectionately known as “MySpace Tom”) made the key point that many people often overlook — most services aren’t killed by competitors, they kill themselves. Facebook didn’t kill MySpace, MySpace killed itself (through mismanagement). MySpace didn’t kill Friendster, Friendster killed itself (through scaling issues).

The truth is that Twitter almost did kill itself a few years ago also due to scaling issues. But for whatever reason, none of their competitors were able to capitalize and Twitter emerged, stronger.

But Twitter trying to become Google+ would lead to their death. It would be them killing themselves. And while you could argue that them doing nothing in the face of Google+ could also lead to them killing themselves, I think that’s way too early to call. And it assumes Twitter is not doing anything to improve their product — which is ridiculous.

Let’s look at Scoble’s ideas, step by step.

“First Experience”

Scoble says that when a user first looks at Google+ versus Twitter, Twitter seems boring. That might be true for some, but the opposite is true for others. I’ve talked to many people who take one look at Google+ and think it looks like a nightmare of content.

He’s right in that Twitter needs to do something more to get users engaged when they first sign up. But they know this. It’s probably their biggest problem (well, perhaps beyond monetization). The solution is not to fundamentally change your product though.

Implementing Twylah would be way too confusing for most users and unnecessary. Revamping Twitter Lists would also not work for most users (more on that in a bit). Getting rid of spam is constantly a problem, there’s no arguing there. Scoble suggests they filter results by Klout score, I suspect Twitter will eventually do something like this (though I think they have their own internal scores of that nature).

“Pictures & Videos”

Um, Twitter did just launch a major entry in the photos space. If it’s deemed important enough, I’m sure the same will be true of videos. Scoble seems upset that images and videos aren’t shown inline in your Tweet stream (instead, they’re one click away in the right column on twitter.com). Again, I suspect that there are at least as many people who would hate that feature, as would like it.

Twitter’s current scan-ability (the ability to quickly scan over content) is great because it’s streamlined. Google+, by comparison, is horrible. This was effectively illustrated by Mike Monteiro a few weeks ago.

This is a preference. And maybe Twitter will offer this option eventually. But by default, this would make a lot of current users want to vomit. Like me, for example.

“Controls Over Content Distribution”

What Scoble wants here is the equivalent of Google+ Circles. He wants to be able to message just a few Twitter users at a time, and groups of them. But this is not what Twitter is about. Twitter (for the most part) is a public broadcast system. This has served them well — while others, like Facebook, have moved more in this direction.

Google+ is taking a different approach with Circles (though it still has a Public channel which basically everyone I know seems to be using). Scoble wants Twitter to revamp the little-used Lists product to be more like Circles. But I’d argue that would not work. I’m still not sold that the Circles concept will work the way Google hopes it does long term. Right now, people are enjoying the ease of setting up these groups, but maintaining them will be hard.

Further, as Twitter’s own Kevin Cheng argued this weekend on his personal blog (and well before Scoble’s post), it’s not clear that organizing your friends in a digital way will ever fully work. Social groups often have too much of a gray line (which Cheng calls a “soft line”). Fred Wilson takes this a step further, saying that beyond family and co-workers, which are well-defined groups, all groups change over time, and without automation far beyond what we see now, grouping largely will not work.

Google may have solved the “no one wants to make lists” problem, but it very much remains to be seen if they’ve solved the larger fundamental issue. I’m skeptical. And while I love Twitter lists (for populating Flipboard, in particular), I know that most users simply do not take the time to make them. Nor am I sure they ever would/should, even if the right interface is there.

This. Is. A. Pure. Power. User. Problem. — At least for Twitter.

“No Auto-Pushing Of Content”

Scoble is following 32,297 people on Twitter. That’s 31,600 more people than me, and I’m also a power user. When he complains that “I look at Twitter and a lot of it has turned into a boring RSS feed,” why doesn’t he, you know, unfollow a few hundred of those accounts that are just pumping in RSS content — like the TechCrunch account, for example? Because that would be an easy solution, and he doesn’t think he should have to change his completely outrageous use-cases.

The fact is that many people use Twitter for just this purpose. I increasingly use Twitter to replace my RSS reader, for example. If I don’t want to see content pushed in, I unfollow that account. Simple.

Further, the thought that if Google+ continues to gain popularity, the same users won’t happen is laughable. Several of our competitors are already blanketing G+ with auto-pushed links. We haven’t been doing that yet just because Google keeps saying they’d prefer we wait until they have their proper business accounts set up (any day now, Google). This is going to happen. A lot. Welcome to the world of distribution tools.

“You Can See Who You Excited And Who You Pissed Off”

Okay, I don’t even know where to start here, so I’ll keep it short and sweet. This is mainly about ego, but it’s also another power user feature that would just piss off a bunch of regular users.

“The Posts Autoflow”

Scoble, you use a Mac, download Twitter for Mac. Boom. Done.

Seriously though, Twitter used to have this as a feature back in the day. They turned it off as scaling became an issue. They certainly could turn it on again, but they’ve deliberately made the call not to. Certainly, they have a reason for this. They also just bought TweetDeck, which also does this. So maybe they view it (like TweetDeck itself) as, surprise, surprise, a power user feature.

Also, while Google+ does auto-flow, I find the functionality to be extremely buggy right now. Sometimes my stream auto-updates, sometimes it does not. Often, I have to refresh to see the latest comments, +1s, etc. This actually pisses me off more than I find it useful. I’m sure Google will figure it out — FriendFeed had this nailed back in the day.

Twitter Is Not Google+

Let me just wrap this up by stating the obvious: Twitter is not Google+. If it tried to be, it would be the suicide of a massively popular product — one the freaking President of the United States usesone Apple just handed the keys of iOS to. In my opinion, Twitter’s rise can be directly attributable to something which is the opposite of everything Scoble is asking for: simplicity.

Twitter’s core concept is the extension of simple, short messages throughout the past many decades. The postcard begat the SMS message begat the IM status message begat Twitter. Sometimes the simplest ideas resonate because of the very fact that they are simple.

Twitter has had a few moments in their history where they had to add a feature that would make the service more complicated — like the new-style retweets, for example — and they were able to pull it off, but it was a rough-going transition for a bit. Imagine if they tried to tack-on some of these other things Scoble is suggesting? Actually, don’t bother. Because Twitter is not going to commit suicide any time soon.