Wednesday, May 13, 2009

How to Fail at Web 2.0: Alienate the Geeks

Today, Twitter made the biggest mistake it could make: removing their user’s freedom to choose. Now, I’m not saying they didn’t think it through—they blogged about it exactly one year ago, so they spent an entire year thinking about how it would effect their user base.

This isn’t just about discovering new people: I’ve told many of my friends on several occasions that some of the most interesting this I have to say are in reply to somebody else. I think this applies to most people: rarely do I find it interesting when people are talking to themselves—and almost never do I actually learn something about them.

The community response to this whole thing has been overwhelming: as of this writing, #fixreplies is the hottest trending topic. Followed closely by #twitterfail and "Goodbye People I Never Knew" (which was the title of a blog post about it). So overwhelming, in fact, that Twitter updated their blog post to include some smarmy “you’ll still see mentions” crap.

They seem to think that a #followfriday-style recommendation was “just as good” as replies—but, what is a better recommendation: them conversing with someone because they truly are interesting, or them telling you somebody is interesting? I tend to think the former.

Now, I understand: something like 97% of Twitter users never changed the default setting (the one that's now thrust upon all of us). The people who did change it, however, are the ones that Twitter owes the most to: the power users. These are the early adopters—the geeks—the people who told their friends “hey, have you checked out this Twitter thing? No? Here, let me set you up an account.” These are the people who drove the current media storm into a frenzy. They used to use Twitter to discover new, interesting people, and that was part of why it was successful. But now? They are pissed.

When your core business revolves around communication, you should just stand back, and let people communicate.

P.S. In the time it took me to write this, there were 2400 #fixreplies tweets.