I was one of the very first users of Twitter, way back with it was just an Odeo product (Joined March 2007, check the profile) – I remember Odeo cause I was one of a small group of those people who joined the podcasting movement in the early days – people like Robert Scoble, Eric Rice, John Furrier, Doug Kaye, Richard Brewer-Hay, Michael Butler and a whole bunch of others, most of which podfaded into much more interesting things, (although Rock & Roll Geek Show is still rocking on) who knows where we would all be at if we stuck with it through its resurgence? But I digress.
I remember testing Twitter as an email client with Eric Rice – we joked that “if you can’t say it in 140 characters, then it’s not worth saying” – I think that for a short period of time we did try to use it instead of email. Didn’t quite work for that, but there was still a lot of power in those 140 characters.
Instead of emulating everyone else in this space, IMHO, Twitter needs to double down on its strengths:
- The ability for everyone, anywhere to communicate with everyone, anywhere, from any device. One of the most powerful things about Twitter if you ask me, is that you don’t need a high / mid or any kind of smartphone to tweet. Even the most rudimentary phone will let you tweet from anywhere in the world, especially from hot zones that need to get word out to the world. And that is real power – giving a voice to the voiceless, letting the fringes of humanity speak to the world, letting them tell their story. I would focus on pulling the rest of the world into Twitter, maybe by even getting into the hardware space by building super low power (even hand crank powered) tweeting devices that will cost next to nothing and simply be able to send and receive tweets, then just hand them out. There are still billions out there without smartphones or dumb phones and this gives them a global voice too. The most powerful tool against tyranny is communication. You get Twitter into every human being’s hands and watch horrifying regimes collapse.
- Stick with the 140 character limit. Dropping this limit simply makes you a copycat of any other service. Forcing you into 140 characters pushes you to brevity, which is great in this world of exploding content geared to game search engines by forcing content developers to pad out their posts just to get more hits. If there is no way to say it in 140 characters, send a link. That should cover 99% of cases.
- For everything else, make it about the payload: back in 2010, I ran a startup which focused on capturing the top content from Twitter. I wrote a tool to harvest content by keyword, capture the most interesting stuff, and bundle it up for anyone to read. So you never had to worry about missing the best stuff. Most tweets had very little actual content – its was all about the payload. So make it about the payload: if someone just tweets a link, harvest that link and pull out the essence of the payload, then feature that. If the payload is an image or video, even better.
Twitter is all about distribution – in my eyes its the most powerful content distribution network in the world, bar none. It’s not about engagement – its about getting your message out into the world. It’s about people whispering in one part of the world, re-tweeted by the crowd into a shout which cannot be forgotten.