Twitter no longer wants to be a “social media” app


It’s very tempting to read this: on the iOS App Store, Twitter now ranks as a “News” app instead of a “Social Media” app. So excuse me while I give in to temptation. Sarah Perez at Tech Crunch has a very relevant and weighted analysis why it should help Twitter’s download numbers and overall ranking. You should read it, then come back here for it. schadenfreude which inevitably follows every moment of Twitter’s long history of trying to define and/or redefine itself.

Back? Costs. So, without reading too much, I will read too much.

Twitter just had a bad, really bad quarter where it missed revenue numbers and despite battered user growth numbers, it’s still sitting idle at around 310 million active users. In his earnings call, CEO Jack Dorsey repeated his message that Twitter is all about what’s going on inhabit. So, thematically, going from social to news makes a bit of sense: Twitter is where you go to get information. For many users, Twitter is more about reading what others have to say and watching what others are doing than participating themselves.

Except you can’t help but notice that switching from social to news is a good way to ensure your icon doesn’t constantly and consistently appear under one to three Facebook apps: Facebook, Messenger, and WhatsApp. It can’t be fun, day after day.

And so Twitter pulled out of the whole category. And I imagine it’s not just because he wants to be at the top of the list somewhere, but because he’s tired of being compared to Facebook. He will never catch up with the game of user numbers, so he decided to play something else. Twitter wants the Facebook comparison to stop being one-to-one, and instead to be apples and oranges.

Twitter needs the “What about Facebook” question to stop making sense. You’re not too critical of LinkedIn for not living up to Facebook, because LinkedIn is a fundamentally different thing. Twitter also wants to be a fundamentally different thing, and then be judged by its users and by advertisers on its own terms.

Three years ago, I posited that he wanted this thing to be some sort of broadcast network that happened to be social. And the “What is Twitter” analytics cottage industry has been growing since its inception. We keep asking the question, no matter how many times Dorsey (and Costolo before him) gives us his answer. It’s almost like we don’t want to one more answer – but Twitter’s advertising partners clearly do.

So why not a “News” app? Right now, taking on TV networks seems like a much easier set of giants to kill than Facebook. Why bother with windmills when you can just date Sancho Panza?

Disclosure: My wife works for Oculus, a division of Facebook. Read my ethics statement here.


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