Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have changed a huge amount since their initial creation, to the point where a screenshot of Facebook 1.0 is barely recognisable as the same platform we use today. There is no real model to guide developers, and no proven method to guarantee that their platform will be successful. The changes to social media sites over the years can be explained as a reaction to the market, as developers and users both discover what kinds of features and policies produce the most satisfaction.
But these changes often come at a cost, where developers sacrifice the unique nature of their platform to attract a wider audience. Take Twitter for example. For years, people have been claiming that Twitter is on its way out, that it is dying. And so they add more and more features to draw crowds in. Recent years have seen the addition of things like sponsored Tweets, analytics, a mute function, comment threads, and even the change of the “favourite” button to a “like” in order to be understood by the Facebook crowd. And now Twitter is changing the rules around the 140-character limit to allow users to say more on the platform.
But are these changes necessarily useful? Every year, Twitter and Facebook’s features are becoming more and more similar, to the point where the differences between the two platforms are beginning to seem cosmetic.
There is no doubt that these changes to Twitter have been successful in drawing in a larger user-base, and that removing the character limit entirely would probably attract even more users. But there is function in limitation. Speaking in 140 characters at a time makes creativity a necessity and gives personality to the platform and the community of users it attracts. The above chart indicates that Twitter’s population growth has slowed immensely in recent years, and financially speaking, this is why Twitter is considered to be a failing platform. But, aside from corporate growth models, in what world is 313 million people a dying community?
Twitter’s real failure is in trying to compete with Facebook instead of focusing on its own unique opportunities for growth. It should explore how it could be a better Twitter rather than how it could be a better Facebook. The naturally limiting nature of Twitter means that it will never be as big as Facebook, but it’s time that we stop treating this growth model as the only metric for success.