Why Twitter’s Facebook Obsession Is Unhealthy

In the beginning, there was only text. But as Twitter has begun to adopt characteristics of the Visual Web, it’s become clear the SMS-based 140-character social network is slowly metamorphosing into Facebook.

The constantly-updating saga can be described as the Twitter Catch-22: The company can’t become accessible to the masses and make more money without frustrating some longtime users that have overcome, and even like, the Twitter learning curve.

Clearing Up Some Confusion

Last Wednesday, Twitter announced a change to the way users interact with the network. You can now tag up to 10 users in a single photo, and add up to four photos to a tweet without wasting one of your 140 valuable characters. 

It’s a great move for Twitter, which has been struggling to attract and keep users that are accustomed to the friendly experience on Facebook, but it might put a wrench in the behavior of faithful longtime users. 

It’s understandable that Twitter would want to mirror Facebook. But according to Buzzfeed, Twitter is preparing to eliminate @-mention and hashtags all together, calling the features “arcane.” Twitter’s new photo tagging feature points to this as well, because photo tags don’t require an @-mention.

Most of us are familiar with the concept of tagging. We do it on Facebook and Instagram, but a “tag” on Twitter is an @-mention. Or, it used to be. Now, though, at least one part of the user interface is identical to the comfortable Facebook, and it likely won’t stop there.

 Perhaps even more shocking, Twitter is reportedly testing killing the “retweet,” an integral part of the Twitter experience, calling it “sharing” instead. And the company is testing a new timeline layout that looks strikingly similar to Facebook’s home page. 

Brevity Is The Soul Of Twitter

Those of us married to the idea of Twitter being a network dedicated to short status updates are now forced to rethink how we use the service, because our timelines just got a lot more Facebook-like. (If anyone posts engagement photos or baby albums on Twitter, I’ll immediately unfollow. It’s nothing personal.)

Twitter strives to convince new users to join the service, but many new users ditch Twitter because it’s too confusing for them. Of the one billion people that have signed up for Twitter, only 241 million people are active users, according to Re/code

By removing or rebranding those “difficult to understand” features, Twitter is slowly losing what makes it great in the first place. It might be tough to learn at first, but once people master the quirks like hashtags and retweets, they become a part of the fast-paced, news-breaking social network. It’s like making the varsity team while the rest of the Internet still plays for JV.

See Also: 2013: The Year Social Media Went Copycat

Twitter is clearly doing something right, even without the Facebook-y features: According to a recent study by Deutsche Bank, 51% of people use Twitter for breaking news, and almost 37% visit Twitter to discover interesting articles and information. Meanwhile, just 22% of Facebook users think Facebook is a useful way to get news.

In other words, people use Twitter to stay informed about important events happening around them, rather than inside their circle of friends on Facebook. 

Introducing photo tagging may contribute additional unwanted noise—especially in our notifications, though those can be turned off, and eventually on our profiles, too. The feature still appears half-baked—a tagged photo doesn’t show up anywhere on that user’s profile, and the only way to view tagged photos is to find the original tweet.

Currently, photos uploaded one at a time appear on users’ profile pages, so it’s fair to assume tagged photos will be there soon. But it might add too much clutter to Twitter’s once-simplistic timeline.

Twitter, Now With FOMO

So what, exactly, is the benefit of adding four photos to a tweet instead of just one? And what’s the point of tagging someone that experienced the moment with you in the first place? 

There is nothing more predictable than human hubris, and the desire for us to relive and impress upon others how exciting our life is. Facebook learned this early on—it’s part of the reason why it grew so quickly, especially among young people wanting to brag about their college lives. 

Twitter is finally bending to the concept of FOMO, or fear of missing out—the psychological side effect that comes with wanting to be apart of the same thing your friends are. It’s that selfish need to be included that drives people to sign up for Twitter. They want to be tagged. They want to participate. 

You Can’t Please Everyone—So Don’t Try

Twitter is distinctly different from Facebook. It may not do a very good job explaining it, but one thing is clear—it’s not first and foremost a place for friends. 

Sure, you can follow your friends on Twitter, but you’ll probably also follow celebrities, industry leaders, journalists and businesses. You probably don’t know everyone that follows you personally, and that applies to your followers, as well. 

Photo-tagging in Facebook typically occurs among groups of friends. You usually know these people in real life. In order to see status updates, you have to be friends with those people, which keeps the small, intimate circle of friends relatively closed-off.

By mimicking strategies and features from Facebook, Twitter is basically saying it can’t succeed with the tools it currently has. Perhaps Twitter thinks it needs to conform in order to compete. But there’s that Twitter Catch-22 again: Becoming more like Facebook will only perturb longtime users, which means Twitter, in time, could lose the spark that makes it unique. 

Lead image via Abagail Silvester on Flickr

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