Congratulations, Elon Musk, on your purchase of Twitter. I’m sure you’ve got a bunch of ideas of how you want to move the company forward. I was once a user of Twitter myself — albeit not a massive one — and I’m sure you would just love to know what it would take for me to be a user once more. Well, here’s some advice on how you can improve the platform in ways that would make me consider going back.
First, you gotta work out the business model. This is number one as it touches on all the product decisions made to date. I think it’s clear that when it comes to Twitter, the advertising model is suboptimal. It just don’t have the scale, and the insatiable need for engagement is arguable one of the key reasons behind the product decisions that fuel the anxiety and outrage on the platform. I think the best thing you could do is drop ads completely and move to a different model. I don’t care what that model is. Subscription tiers; maybe a credit base system where you have a prepaid account and it costs you money to send Tweets based on their virality. Heck, you can fund it from your personal wealth for the rest of your life if you want. Just get rid of the ads.
Next, make it easy to know which actions result in a broadcast of intent. The big one I have in mind is unfollowing someone. I use to follow people that I work with simply because I worked with them. But after a while I found that what they were tweeting was anxiety inducing. So I don’t want to follow them any more, but I don’t know what happens if I choose to unfollow them. Do they get a notification? They got one when I started following them — I know that because I got one when they started follow me. So in lieu of any documentation (there might be documentation about this, I haven’t checked), I’d like to be able to stop following them without them being made aware of that fact. Note that this is not the same as muting them or blocking them: they’re not being nasty or breaking any policies of what they post. I just want to stop seeing what they post.
Third, about open sourcing that algorithm. By all means, do so if you think that would help, but I think that’s only half the moderation story. The other half is removing all the attempts to drive up engagement, or at least having a way to turn them off. Examples include making it easier to turn off the algorithmic timeline, getting rid of or hiding the “Trending Topics”, and no longer sticking news items in the notification section (seriously, adding this crap to the notification section has completely removed its utility to me). If I want the results to simply be a reverse chronological timeline of tweets from people I’m following, and notifications only being events of people engaging with what I post, then please make it easy for me to have this. This might means my usage may move from being less about quantity and more about quality, but remember that you no longer need all that engagement. You changed the business model, remember?
Finally, let’s talk about all the features that drum up engagement. If it was up to me, I’d probably remove them completely, but I know that some people might find them useful, and it’s arguably a way for Twitter (now under your control) to, let’s say, “steer the direction of the conversation.” So if you must, keep these discovery features, but isolate them to a specific area of the app, maybe called “Discovery”. Put whatever you want in there — trending topics, promoted tweets, tweets made within a specific location, whatever you want — but keep them in that section, and only that section. My timeline must be completely void of this if I choose it to be.
I’m sure there are others that I can think of, but I think all this is a good first step. I look forward to taking this onboard, and I thank you for your consideration. Honestly, it might not be enough for me to go back. I wasn’t a big user before, and I’ve since moved to greener pastures. But who knows, maybe it will. In any case, I believe, with these changes, that Twitter as a platform would be more valuable, both with you at the helm, and with back there with my 10 or so followers and my posting rate of 25 tweets or so in the last eight years. 😉 1
This wink is doing a lot of work. ↩︎