Why Twitter needs to drop its elitist model

February 23 2016
Published in Opinions

It’s a fact: Twitter is a little bit elitist. It’s not the most accessible platform out there, and learning how it all works can be challenging for a new user. First of all, getting the hang of expressing ideas in just 140 characters is no mean feat. Then you have to get your head around the notion of mentions, likes and hashtags. Next comes the careful selection of who to follow so that you stay informed without flooding your timeline, then building your audience… it’s a lot to take in.

Then there is the very public nature of Twitter itself. Users have to come to terms with the daunting prospect that their opinions could be seen by anyone. As a result many simply never tweet, either because they feel they lack the legitimacy to express themselves or out of fear of a negative backlash.

But the inaccessibility of Twitter has contributed to inspiring fierce loyalty in its fans. It has essentially created a core of elite users who understand it perfectly and use it constantly. However, this elitist model is incompatible with mainstream audiences, which explains why Twitter’s growth is stagnating. If Twitter wants to hit the 1 billion user mark, it needs to rid itself of the barriers that are discouraging newcomers.

It has been undeniably bold with the changes it has been making so far, such as replacing the enigmatic “favorite” star by a heart to make it more accessible. Or by setting up an algorithmic timeline that offers users the content that should interest them the most, helping them to save time. The social network may even be about to put an end to its emblematic 140-character limit, in order to make its content richer.

Twitter’s most loyal users have been up in arms about these changes, seeing them as a threat to the platform’s identity. But Twitter’s identity has nothing to do with the length of its posts or its chronological timeline: these are mere features.

Its true strengths reside in its most basic structure. First of all, the asymmetrical nature of relationships on the network mean that on Twitter, anyone can become a source of information, a media in their own right. Secondly, the fact that Twitter is completely public means that a tweet can go far beyond the confines of the network itself, making its way into the press and across the web. These are the strands that make up Twitter’s true DNA, and they are unshakeable.

The changes that Twitter is undergoing may be difficult to accept for its earliest users who put so much time and energy into getting to grips with it, and are now its biggest influencers. However, they have much to gain from the new model: a potentially larger audience for the content they create, on a network with a secure future. Doing away with elitism is a small price to pay to take Twitter to the next level.

Samuel Coupé, Visibrain co-founder

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Published in Opinions