Twitter Is About To Get Its First Major Innovation
While Facebook seems to come up with a new innovation or a new look at least once every two years, Twitter largely stays the same. The character limit might have been increased a few years ago, and the way that Re-Tweets work has changed a couple of times, but aside from that, Twitter has stuck to what it knows it’s good at and steadfastly refused to stray too far from its core service. Jack Dorsey and his team are so cautious with their platform that despite years of user requests, they’re yet to implement an ‘edit Tweet’ button. That’s why their latest move is so surprising – and so significant.
Effective immediately, Twitter is going to start trialing private audio chats for a very small, very select number of users. This new feature goes by the name of “Spaces” and, if successful, might change the way that people interact on the popular social media platform. It’s a feature that Facebook has offered for years as part of its “Messenger” service, but Twitter has never previously shown an interest in getting involved in such a service. The surprise move has made a few people ask why Twitter has decided that now is the right time to get involved in audio chats when there are so many other services providing the same feature, and the answer isn’t currently clear.
Twitter has never needed any bells and whistles to attract and keep users. The short-message format has always been its core appeal, and the ‘pull to refresh’ feed is what keeps people addicted and scrolling through its mobile app. That mechanism has been compared – sometimes unfavorably – to the way online slots websites offer re-spins to their players. That’s probably not a coincidence. Various studies have shown that when people playing slots spin again in search of a win, they get a tiny kick of pleasure-creating chemicals in their brains. It’s this feeling that keeps them spinning. Social media users might be looking for better engagement or new information to read rather than the jackpot that online slots players chase after, but the effects are the same. It’s simple but potent, and it’s what’s kept people flocking to the app and website for more than a decade. However, there have been signs that those users aren’t coming in the volume that they once did.
While Twitter is still adding users and still growing, the rate of its expansion has slowed down considerably in recent years. The company has revised its growth estimates down several times in the past few quarters, and even then, it’s been missing its targets. That’s bad news for any company, but it’s even worse when your company is listed on the stock exchange and has investors to satisfy. When Twitter announced a tiny gain in the third quarter of 2020, share prices tumbled by eighteen percent. That’s despite the fact that advertising revenue increased by fourteen percent over the same period. Normally a big jump in advertising revenue would be followed by a sharp rise in stock prices, so the opposite happening is a sign that investors are becoming concerned about the platform’s long-term future. Such concerns call for innovation, and so the introduction of “Spaces” could be seen as a response.
In a somewhat-pretentious statement announcing the move, Twitter described “Spaces” as “an experiment about the intimacy of human voices.” Users who’ve been offered the chance to take part in the trial can leave audio messages as responses to Tweets and DMs but can also create virtual rooms and invite people to join voice conversations with them. Anyone can listen to what happens in those rooms if they’re made public, but only people approved by the creator can speak. In the future, Twitter would also like to add automatic text transcription to ensure that the service is accessible to those with hearing difficulties. No information regarding how people have been selected for the trial has been made publicly available, but if you haven’t already received an invitation, you can assume that you won’t be getting one for the foreseeable future. Nor do we have any information about how long the trial is likely to run for before Twitter deems it a success or failure.
While this might conceivably spark fresh interest in Twitter, it’s possible that their recent struggles to attract vast numbers of new users might be down to a political argument that’s engulfed the platform in recent months. In the run-up to and aftermath of the US Presidential Election, Twitter has taken to labeling all Tweets that are deemed to be misleading about the result of the election or the events that surrounded it. This has enraged outgoing US President Donald Trump and his supporters and driven many of them to Parler – a rival social media network aimed at right-wing voices and those sympathetic to them. If Twitter loses one user to Parler for every new one it attracts from elsewhere, it will struggle to grow both now and in the future.
Response to the new initiative has so far been tepid among Twitter’s existing users. Most of them would still like the aforementioned ‘edit’ button far more than they’d like anything else from the platform, and many commentators have posited that they don’t see what good can come of providing a ‘new’ service that’s available in so many places elsewhere. It doesn’t make Twitter unique, and it doesn’t offer Twitter users the chance to do anything they can’t already do on Facebook. To many, the whole point of Twitter is to be short and snappy. Opening up a feature where people can have long spoken conversations doesn’t appeal to them. There’s a general acceptance that Twitter has to experiment with new features if it wants to grow and future-proof itself, but this wasn’t the new feature that most people had in mind.
As the feature has already gone live, it’s already being experimented with by those who have access to it. Should you be curious, follow the #Spaces hashtag on the platform and listen in on the conversations people are having right now.
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