The party is over for Twitter

Twitter logoIf someone asks you to explain Twitter, say this: Twitter is a cocktail party.

Or it was until Friday.

At these parties, people mingle and move from one conversation to another, from one group to another. Discussions are mixed with fact, fallacy, innuendo and rumor, but they engage us, entice us. We soon perceive the party to be a community bound by the threads of its distinct blend of interactions.

Now, imagine someone bursts into the party and into your conversation while blurting comments unrelated to the discussion.

That sort of rude, boorish behavior is considered an apt description of Twitter’s new policy to inject tweets into users’ feeds while simultaneously abandoning chronological display of tweets, arguably one of the platform’s best and most logical qualities. Twitter made the change formal in a recent blog announcement but has been toying with the platform’s dynamics all summer.

Call it the triumph of algorithms over logic.

“Choosing who to follow is a great first step — in many cases, the best tweets come from people you already know, or know of,” Twitter product team member Trevor O’Brien wrote in the blog. “But there are times you might miss out on tweets we think you’d enjoy.” (Emphasis added.)

Twitter measures interactions much as Facebook does and depends on users’ broad interactions to maintain viability. The more followers a user has, the greater the user’s audience engagement.

But Twitterers need time and constant tweeting to develop a large following. Twitter has figured that by altering the dynamic it can save users time and effort, which likely increases overall audience engagement. This in turn would make the platform look more appealing to investors.

Twitter obviously sees a trend that must be followed to maintain the platform’s viability. That or maybe Twitter had tired of seeing us talk to the same people over and over.

By pushing people uninvited into conversations, Twitter risks alienating its constituency, reminding users of the times they engaged in conversations and somebody who was inebriated or arrogant or uninformed, or singularly cursed with all three qualities, butted in.

Pleas abound urging Twitter to not be that kind of platform.

Social media is, above all else, a conversation. The tools can be fancy and fun, but subtract those and what remains is mere dialog — the communication of thoughts, hopes and experiences to create a bond, however briefly, between individuals.

In creating that bond, we enter into an informal social contract, roughly defined as an agreement between participants to keep the conversation relevant and pertinent to one another’s interests. When other people interrupt, the tolerant among us weigh for an instant whether the intrusion adds value. The intolerant among us give more weight to the intrusion than its rationale.

Occasionally, interruptions are acceptable. But when the interruptions are constant they become annoying and we resist them, ignoring any potential value added to the conversation.

Twitter’s greatest strength was its ability to maintain order and logic to digital discussions. Lacking that strength, Twitter becomes a party nobody wants to attend.

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Steffi S. Lee

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