Twitter says it's willing to change (again)
Out of all the technology companies I follow with any interest, Twitter has to be the most meandering, hot air-filled, publicly listed company that's never actually really fixed anything. After initially saying the company planned to do nothing with Infowars' Alex Jones, despite evidence of repeated rule breaking from CNN, Dorsey yesterday did the PR rounds (again) to say that he's reconsidering the fundamental parts of how Twitter works (again).
The second paragraph in this interview with The Washington Post is illuminating:
Dorsey said he was experimenting with features that would promote alternative viewpoints in Twitter’s timeline to address misinformation and reduce “echo chambers.” He also expressed openness to labeling bots — automated accounts that sometimes pose as human users — and redesigning key elements of the social network, including the “like” button and the way Twitter displays users’ follower counts.
The idea of a filter-bubble busting feature, while great on paper, is something that likely wouldn't play out well in practice. Having "alternative" view points, like that of Jones', involuntarily wander into your feed is not my idea of fun, much less many other people's. And that isn't even the problem: it's that Twitter just doesn't ship anything. It's stuck.
Twitter, internally, has debated every feature imaginable to death, repeatedly, to the point that it has stagnated. I know of entire teams building out products and features in secret, pitching them, and ending up abandoning fully fledged ideas because nobody can agree on whether or not it should roll out. There was always some nitpick, and if there wasn't it would be a fear of upsetting the status quo, something that Dorsey is not willing to do with his name on it.
Twitter, for the most part, has just marched out loud, hot air filled narratives, like this story, to prove that it's "listening" without actually following through. Casey Newton, Silicon Valley Editor at The Verge, has the hottest of takes:
That’s why I can view Dorsey’s vague promises on Wednesday only through the prism of the Alex Jones saga. Twitter was the very last of its peers to take any action against the Infowars host, and even when it did decide to punish him, it did so in the most lenient possible terms. It offered Jones a loophole that let him keep tweeting. It left the offending video up for many hours. And it promised Jones that he could return — and in just a week, too. Twitter knew it had to punish Jones for his behavior. The trouble, as always for this company, was in the details.
All of the ideas Dorsey mentions in his interview are actually decent. The idea of labeling bots on the service, or actually fact checking tweets, is a good one. Shipping it? We'll probably only hear about this again in a year, when the company drops a first, basic iteration of it.
The irony in all of this is Twitter doing these interviews on the same day that it began to cripple third-party apps, withdrawing streaming features, and essentially leaving Twitter clients like Tweetbot dead in the water. Such has been the story, and relationship with developers: big promises, with little actual follow through.
We'll see what happens, but I doubt much will shift from the status quo. If anything, in my bubble it feels like people are increasingly anxious, and frustrated, about the service, with many hoping (and looking) for an alternative short-form service.
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