“I’m so fucking sick and tired of the internet.”
-Kendrick Lamar, probably.
As a kid, I was super excited about any opportunity I got to log on to the information superhighway. That was my introduction to the internet. It was billed as a place you can go to learn about anything in the world and honestly I’ve been hooked on it ever since. I also spent a lot of time at a place called PluggedIn because my mom’s non-profit shared office space with them in Whiskey Gulch. PluggedIn’s mission was to ensure that everyone in East Palo Alto had the opportunity to fully benefit from all that the information revolution has to offer. Today, that mission might read as: providing equal access to under-represented minorities through technology or something that would include the buzzwords diversity and inclusion. I’d become a half-assed member of their after school program and, much later, my first legal job would end up being next door on Bay Road (they’d moved locations). That job ended up being a teen journalist for an organization called OpenVoice. The official mission of OpenVoice was to train teens from East Palo Alto and the surrounding communities to develop critical thinking and technical skills through the creation of web-based media. What that meant is that we were essentially the first bloggers and content marketers back in 2000/2001. The now-defunct site served as a teen-based news medium (think Gawker for teens) and through partnerships with Cingular (ATT) and AOL we’d host branded chat rooms–the first iteration of social media.
I’m not writing this in an attempt to get you to go on a trip down memory lane with me. I just know how the internet is and how y’all love a backstory. And, also, I want y’all to know that I’ve BEEN out here in these internet streets. So when I make claims like “the internet is fucked” and “social media is dead”, I’m speaking from both professional and personal experience. Over the next few days, I’m going to air my grievances with the current state of social media and provide solutions to make this very important medium better. I’ve been thinking about the future of social media for awhile and tweeted some thoughts out loud the other day which has led me to write this series. I’m starting with Twitter but I’ll cover Instagram, YouTube, and newbies like Steemit, too.
The next level of social media is to no longer make follower counts public. The social internet is a popularity contest.
— wednesday morgendorffer (@trillicon) December 20, 2017
Twitter kinda sucks, right? I mean, aside from the fact that our actual President is likely going to tweet us into non-existence soon, it’s just not what it used to be. Twitter bills itself as “what’s happening in the world and what people are talking about right now“. Except, it’s kind of not that. Twitter is a defragmented chat room. A chat room where each individual chatter has a permanent URL, if you will, and you can see all their chats.
Chat rooms were the original place you went to talk shit both to and with strangers and it was GREAT. Most of the time, conversations were random and it seemed like everyone was talking about everything all at once (just like modern-day Twitter). Occasionally though, chat rooms would be limited to one topic and those chat rooms had rules and very strict moderators who ensured each participant stayed on topic. All chat rooms would be considered a form of an online community. The other thing about chat rooms was that you had no idea how popular a chatter was. Your “friend list” was private to only you. There was no public display of popularity.
The concept of a friend’s list went public with Friendster and MySpace. Twitter launched and turned this on it’s head with followers and all of a sudden everyone on the internet was fighting for popularity like a high school teen drama. Followers is the worst thing to happen to social media. The more followers one had, the more popular they could appear to be. That concept only worked for a small period of time, however, because people caught on and starting selling/buying followers or utilizing bots to autofollow anyone who tweeted a particular hashtag or followed a certain person, etc. The idea of an authentic community on Twitter became harder to realize as the platform grew. If Twitter wants to continue to grow and be successful, it’s got to lose the concept of followers and move into conversations.
On the surface, twitter appears very personal and curated but that sense of control quickly diminishes post-sign up. You never know what the people you follow will retweet into your timeline (or what wild things they like/favorite might show up) and, honestly, you never know what people are going to tweet either. Conversations drive the Twitter community but those conversations are limited by the people you follow. A recent study found that, over in political Twitter, tweets tend to stay within their bubble. Basically, even though this is the internet and we could be talking to people literally anywhere, we don’t. We send tweets to people who we’d probably talk to IRL. We retweet things we already agree with. We almost never share something that we’d disagree with. I think you see where I’m going with this.
I think Twitter would be more meaningful if it moved away from popularity metrics (followers/following/likes) and moved into conversation metrics. What are conversation metrics? I’m glad you asked. Conversation metrics measure the quality of what people are talking about. I’m not an engineer but my guess is that conversation metrics would be lead largely by natural language processing techniques (machine learning text analysis) and would also have to be time fluid (yes, time fluid is something I just made up). In the mockup you see, the ‘Following’ and ‘Followers’ have been replaced with ‘Conversations’ and ‘Topics’. Today, what you’re talking about on Twitter is far more important than who you are talking to, don’t you agree? Because when we’re following people, what we’re really doing is following the conversations their having and the topics they choose to discuss. Here’s my not at all academic explanation for how I think Twitter should work:
Conversations = Average # of Unique Twitter Replies + Average # of Threads Started by Quote Tweet over the course of… one day? One week? Okay so I haven’t exactly worked out the math but that number should change fairly frequently based on your Twitter usage. Another way to think about Conversations is to view it as a leading activity indicator. So using the mockup as a an example, on average, I have about 150 unique Conversations on Twitter. That might be a low-moderate twitter number. Power users may have 500+ conversations.
That last part of the conversation metric is important. Currently, when others start a conversation based on your tweet (via quote tweet), you really don’t have a way to follow that conversation or even know that it’s happening.
hi hi. Me again, @jack.#Twitter2018
It is *really* hard to know when your tweet has been embedded. And also it feels like there's a ghost in your twitter, coz you know *something* is happening. But what?
Request: Moment-ish notification of embed pic.twitter.com/j0UsOj2uYg
— Andréa López (@bluechoochoo) January 3, 2018
Twitter has allowed for you to not be able to fully understand your impact. The Conversation metric changes that, slightly.
Topics = What you talk about on Twitter the most. I can’t even pretend to think of an equation or algorithm for this because machine learning is not my thing, but you will definitely need machine learning for this. In the beta version, this might be something you allow the user to set (although I think it’s a bad idea as I can see the trolls abusing it already). The more polished version of this might look at unique hashtags used and analyze your tweet content to derive topics. So if I tweet a lot about rap, marketing, tech, Love & Hip-Hop, and french fries then those would be the 5 topics that appear under the Topics tab. You’d see some of my tweets about these topics but you’d also see responses from others, to me, about said topics only.
The Topics metric should be refreshed on a monthly/quarterly basis where if you are a frequent Tweeter who sends tweets daily, a monthly refresh is appropriate. If you tweet every other week or so, sporadically, then a quarterly refresh is appropriate. IDK. Whoever works on this part of product will be getting paid the big bucks, though.
This is the one popularity metric that exists and it’s simple: your 10 best tweets of all time. Can you imagine Chrissy Teigen’s 10 Best? I can’t because she is so good at Twitter, hers might change every single day.
This is ‘Tweets and Replies’ rebranded to fit the current narrative.
I feel like not enough people are using moments. This should be a place where user-created moments and moments that feature your tweets should be. Maybe Twitter should do some sort of auto-moment thing and showcase it here?
What do you think? Would you be more inclined to use Twitter if it put a stronger emphasis on the actual conversations people were having? Let me know below.