Twitter's traffic in trouble?

I see over on Mashable that Twitter’s traffic is flat. Is Twitter in trouble?

Based on my watching of more than 16,000 accounts, no. Usage is better than ever. But, keep in mind I only care about geeks and tech talk. I don’t track how many people are talking about cat photos or celebrities or all the other dreck that’s on Twitter.

But these reports and charts have two major flaws:

1. They potentially undercount overseas users.
2. They potentially severely undercount users who use clients like Tweetdeck or Seesmic.

Last week I spoke to two groups at CES, mostly marketers. Most of those audiences raised their hands when I asked them whether they used clients like Tweetie, Tweetdeck, and Seesmic desktop. So, if compete.com and quantcast are undercounting those who use clients, or aren’t counting them at all, then we’re all arguing about nothing.

But, let’s say that these charts are right. Does that matter? It does to Twitter. After all, it’s easier to get hype and get advertising if the charts head up.

Why might these numbers be right?

1. New users get shoved into celebrity land immediately. That hardly is very satisfying. Come on, have you looked at what Oprah or Ashton are tweeting about? How about all the other celebrities. Here, go check it out (I’ve embedded a preview of this celebrity list from Mashable here):


2. Text in 2010 is boring. In an age when YouTube is growing nicely (here’s a comparison of Twitter’s growth to Youtube’s) it’s time to add some nicer displays to Twitter. When Twitter is looking as boring as my black and white Kindle you know something is wrong.

But, anyway, this is all a way to say that there’s a good amount of room for improvement on Twitter. I can see many many areas that Twitter could improve its service to make its service more engaging. Here’s some:

1. Get rid of the 140-character text-only limit. Facebook is a lot more fun to use than Twitter because you can see photos and videos right inline in the feed and you can actually communicate something more than the metaphorical equivalent of a grunt.
2. Greatly improve the list feature. The idea that it’s limited to 500 accounts is really stupid and the fact that I can’t create more than 20 lists per account is equally stupid. It means you can’t create lists of things that are complete. For instance, I already know of more than 500 tech startups. Let us create lists of lists, which would dramatically increase their usage.
3. Come out with a “supertweet.” Or, a new display surface for each tweet that can display all sorts of metadata. That would make each tweet more useful.
4. Add comments to each tweet.
5. Make the new retweet feature more useful by showing much more information about each retweet.
6. Improve search so that it has some usefulness.
7. Integrate a game into Tweeting, like Foursquare has. Give out badges for good behavior.
8. Greatly expand the bio. Or, just scrap the bio and make a deal with Google to integrate Google Profiles (here’s mine) into Twitter. Make it easier to search for people and companies.
9. Get rid of the follower counts. They are a game that increases noise. Everyone knows, like Anil Dash reported, that they don’t mean anything anyway. They just reinforce bad behavior.
10. Get rid of the suggested user list and, instead, point people to Listorious or something like it, which would let people find groupings of people using Twitter (with a preview).
11. Give us a private Twitter that we can share just with our friends (and make it easy to choose where Tweets go).
12. Give us a much better direct messaging capability. Right now that’s very lame, even compared with the very lame Facebook capability.
13. Give us a major UI update. Time to take Twitter into 2010 and stop making it try to fit into a 2006 mindset.
14. Make it easier to create and manage multiple accounts. Why do I need to use tools like Seesmic to tweet to my three accounts? Why can’t Twitter itself hook them together? This would let me create accounts with a lot less noise and a lot more purpose, which would help new users a lot.

Just some ideas.

But, anyway, how real are these numbers? Is Twitter’s traffic in trouble?

Comments

  1. A bunch of interesting points, but I don't think making Twitter more like Facebook will help it succeed—Facebook already does most of these things incredibly well for an incredible number of people.

  2. I'm not sure about all of them, but definitely a features overhaul. In my opinion, twitter.com needs to be what brizzly is now. they need to stop relying on clients and websites to make up for what their lacking…

    1. I’m so tired of the “Twitter’s losing traffic” articles. Most people who are active on Twitter rarely if ever visit Twitter.com, like you mention. But I do think that would change of Twitter.com actually begin morphing into something like what you list off above.

  3. I'm not sure about all of them, but definitely a features overhaul. In my opinion, twitter.com needs to be what brizzly is now. they need to stop relying on clients and websites to make up for what their lacking…

  4. I doubt Twitter’s traffic is ailing. As you said right away in your post, the numbers undercount client usage, which according to some measures is the *majority of Twitter usage*. You may as well have finished your post right there.

    And I don’t think Twitter needs to complicate things. Keep the base service simple, and let the ecosystem expand capabilities for those who want to partake. Twitter doesn’t need to become Facebook or Friendfeed. To invoke an old ’80s chestnut: Let Twitter be Twitter.

    Oh, and text in 2010 isn’t ‘boring’. It’s a fundamental expression of human creativity, and one of the most interesting and versatile. Anyone can take a picture or shoot a video; not anyone can tell a creative and compelling tale with words . . . in 140 characters!

  5. Robert: GUI overhaul, yes. Better DM/Retweet, yes. All that metadata stuff, well, for you and me, yes. But the vast majority of users, like Ashton and his followers, would probably just see that as noise. And Twitter must cater mostly to the celebrity-following, crude-joke-retweeting populous that will eventually help them make money. You know, you could update your Twitter background avatar to mix it up for YOUR followers in the meantime. :)

  6. Robert: GUI overhaul, yes. Better DM/Retweet, yes. All that metadata stuff, well, for you and me, yes. But the vast majority of users, like Ashton and his followers, would probably just see that as noise. And Twitter must cater mostly to the celebrity-following, crude-joke-retweeting populous that will eventually help them make money. You know, you could update your Twitter background avatar to mix it up for YOUR followers in the meantime. :)

  7. “I only care about geeks and tech talk. I don’t track how many people are talking about cat photos or celebrities or all the other dreck that’s on Twitter.”

    I've learned a great deal from you, Robert, so I know you know that's a caricature. There are a lot of twitter users who fall between tech-obsessed geeks and cooing cat ladies… a couple examples that spring to mind instantly: the book people (i.e., @thebookmaven, @RonHogan, @MaudNewtown, etc.), the art enthusiasts (#artwalk; @Art_News), and the hordes of political folks.

    Two points, though:

    * The traffic figures must not reflect the fact that almost all consistent twitterers use clients almost exclusively.

    * There's no reason Twitter needs to grow beyond the user base it already reaches. Why should it be more than one (invaluable) tool in a workshop of communication methods? I'd rather see a more stable platform for existing services than a bunch of bells and whistles that detract from Twitter's compelling simplicity. Let Posterous, Tumblr, etc. fill the market for richer sub-blog content, and keep Twitter as the ultra-light, link-driven, pithy tool.

  8. Everything you ask for Robert is already here and can be applied, but twitter has everyone working in a way that is not productive. Twitter does not offer a free form method. When you buy into twitter thats what you get and nothing more, and your left waiting for wishing for more.
    Give me an application that follows RSS generated by microblogs 140chars and a phonebook full of the names that registered to be in the phonebook. Let me look people up by the Bio keywords. my freedom comes from all the phonesbooks I can check into. Why do I have to be tied to twitter? I think leo laporte was talking about a decentralized type twitter. We just need the application to make it popular. Also we need to have phonesbooks or directories that people become part of. Until things change and people see the light, we are all stuck with twitter.

  9. As others have said, those features would amount to making Twitter into Facebook. The 140 char limit is what makes Twitter what it is, so getting rid of that would be equivalent to making it into something else.

    Instead, I would like to see them relax what's counted in those 140 characters so that those characters can be used for the content, not metadata. Here are just two suggestions that would make a big difference,

    * Don't count every character in a URL. I would rather see expanded URLs instead of shortened ones, but they are too costly. They should probably “charge” a few characters per link, so people don't go crazy.

    * Along the same line, don't count every character in a #tag or @name.

    This would leave as much room as possible for the content, make it easier to retweet (real RT, not DUM-RT), etc.

  10. The last thing we need to see is more tweets telling us what badges people have. It is bad enough with the people who haven't turned that off in foursquare.

    What could help is to be able to dig deeper into trending topics rather than just seeing the top 10 and a bit more info for the past week if you're not logged in.

  11. Your suggestions for improved UI and function make sense, replicating some of the best of Friendfeed or other microblogging platforms.

    The recommendation that resonates the most with me is a combination of #1 and #10. The initial experience is still rough for most, which accounts for some of the issues with onboarding or retention. It takes a while to get to the “ah hah” moment for Twitter, which is why I think essays from Stephen Johnson or David Carr have resonated in the mass media for the many who were having trouble understanding the use or allure.

    I'm not sure if a reported attrition rate of 60% is still at issue. If it's even close to that, however, retention is at least as great of an issue as growing overall member numbers. The bulk of tweets are being produced by a small minority of the users. Some of your other recommendations might help with that, in terms of UX. But helping users find communities of interest right at the outset, whether through WeFollow, Listorious or some other means, would be of great help to the novices.

  12. Great post, excellent points. I hope some of these features you mention wouldn't take away from Twitter's overall simplicity. For instance, that one of the reasons I like Craigslist, Dave Winer's blog (and your blog, too).

    I would like to see an option to send a tweet to just to the followers in my city (who say they are in Seattle in their bio, for instance) or my entire Twitter network. That would be a great add, IMHO.

  13. I'll bet they start eating their twitter clients lunch. Lets see how happy the ecosystem is in 1 year. My bet is Sessmic and all the rest of them will be cursing the day they ever invested in the API.

  14. Will we ever see the day 140 characters can proclaim -”Nobel Prize for Twitter” ?
    Doubtful
    Will you be able to wear your twitter bon mots on your LED T-shirt, and have them change throughout the day?
    Maybe
    Will there be facebook like virtual goods you can buy for your friends and idols?
    Yes

  15. Hi, Robert — great points about statistics and the problem of counting web views. Twitter, however, should have a handle on stats that include mobile and desktop clients.

    In argument to the other ponts: (1) Brizzly has a more “rich” interface than Twitter web – do we want to put all third party sapps out of business? (2) I don't want people to be able to type more than 140 characters: constraints are /good/.

    Twitter's web interface could incorporate a link preview option like Facebook — but I wouldn't use it unless Tweetdeck et al allowed me to Turn That Off. I don't want all that extraneous info in my mobile view.

  16. Twitter's strength is that it very much fits into the web-as-an-OS paradigm that's being hyped so much: it's like the social equivalent of Notepad or TextEdit. Nobody wants to see Notepad add photo editing features; there's Photoshop or GIMP or a plethora of other options for that.

    The only thing it needs to change is upping the character limit within reason (Dave Winer's suggestion of 280 is good), and stop counting URLs, @names, and hashtags towards it. Millions of other web app choices can fill in the rest.

  17. Robert, as always, a very provocative post.

    I'm tempted to go through your list — you write good list that are bracing to respond to.

    But I think you're 1/2 wrong in on one thing and totally wrong on another.

    You're half wrong about text being over. By that I mean that part of what makes Twitter amazing is its text — it's been conceived from the ground up for being text friendly. And by that, I mean texting friendly.

    Right now, most of Europe and Asia is even more in love with mobile texting that we in the USA are, and we're pretty over-texed.

    But you're half right in that we can't be stuck with text alone — and what we've seen is all these Twitter based apps cropping up like Twitpic. I think they're popular because they make it just as easy to snap a photo and post it as it is to text a Tweet from a feature phone. With BREW and HTC getting into that space, I think feature phone will get more robust and so people who want to text and send video or photos won't need browsing and all the crazy apps.

    So Twitter (or the next best thing) needs to add a better native app for photos and video.

    As for the 140 character limit — I think the way to raise it isn't on the web, but on the feature phone. If text messages get longer, or if everyone is sending MMS rather than SMS messages, a bigger limit makes sense.

    Lots of the other suggestions you make sound great, but, as others have mentioned your list being very much like FriendFeed. Are you missing that free-wheeling longer dialog right now a little more than usual?

    FriendFeed never caught on with the non tech set, and it's been swallowed by FaceBook, so I think FaceBook will get better and similar social networks, but there isn't really another player in that space as a stand-alone, and I don't think Twitter is moving in that direction.

    Zacqary's suggestion sounds reasonable and I'm checking out Dave Winer's thoughts on that. FaceBook updates sometimes can be too long, as can its comments, so I'd say less characters than FaceBook currently allows.

  18. Hi Robert,

    Interesting points. You are absolutely right regarding creating and managing multiple accounts. This will really help people with more than one account.

  19. Hi Robert,

    Interesting points. You are absolutely right regarding creating and managing multiple accounts. This will really help people with more than one account.

  20. I'm with most of the others here. The last thing I need (or want) is a FB clone – or any of the other sites like YouTube. I do wish the limit was 160 characters. But then I bitch about that til it was raised to unlimited and it wouldn't be Twitter anymore.
    Provocative post.
    Thanks.

  21. Twitter twaffic in trouble, I don’t believe that , Twitter is useful as a fast communication platform and that’s ok, 140 characters is enough

  22. Excellent point about changing the suggested users list to something more useful. Listorious is a good idea but it could be something as simple as “suggested users lists” list as well. What would be really helpful would be a way to search for lists.

  23. Your point #2 is flat out wrong, Scobe. Texts are only boring, if people are composing boring texts. Don't follow them. Problem solved. Alternatively, I've heard it stated that if you're bored, you're boring. Having spoken to you on at least two occasions, I know this not to be true.

  24. Sounds like you want to turn Twitter into Facebook and FriendFeed. While I agree that Twitter could use more robust tools, I don't want it to change too much. Then it would lose its appeal.

  25. Robert, part of the answer is obvious from the replies to this post: the comments bring new information, the twitter reactions on this page bring no new information. Twitter was not designed to support well conversations; this fact, together with Twitter's marketing strategy on celebrities, means that the platform has been taken over by broadcasters and spammers, with declining network effects. Most mainstream users thus stay out of Twitter, waiting if at all for good personalized filtering tools to extract and elaborate the most relevant stories that match their individual interests. That's in part what we are trying to provide at http://www.cascaad.com

  26. Nice follow up to the Mashable post.

    Now that Twitter has become much more stable I'd love to see them focus their attention on pushing the platform forward. The developer community is light years ahead of what Twitter provides to it's users. It would be nice to see a team dedicated to innovating Twitter.com. Twitter should be pushing the developer community just as much as the community is pushing them.

    This is Twitters year to make or break it. They need to cross the chasm or forever be a niche platform for tech/marketing/social media geeks. We all know that the celebs will jump the second something better comes along.

    Some features I'd love to see added:

    1.) More Filters: Tag each to so we can filter information better. If I'm following a Tech list, it would be great to view this list by “tech” tweets or “apple” tweets. Further, filtering on location would be nice as well – show me all tweets from this Tech list that are within 20 miles of me.

    2.) Comments: I'd love to be able to comment on a Tweet. Instead of thousand of retweets flying around with the same page title and link, I'd like to know why people are recommending a link.

    3.) Scoble suggested longer Tweets, I'd settle for continuation of Tweets. Have more content than will fit in 140 characters? Why not span them across 2 or more tweets with a link that attaches them together.

    Just some thoughts.

    -Chris

  27. Robert,
    I agree with all suggested changes, but 7. I'd prefer games use the API, if Twitter wants to write their own games great, but don't force them on users.
    Interesting, that most of your suggested changes mimick Friendfeed ;)
    The supertweet is a must have, we need a richer interface- or at least one we as users have greater control over. It's so easy with JavaScript to allow for customized user interfaces, why are will still subject to stale views?

  28. Robert,
    I agree with all suggested changes, but 7. I'd prefer games use the API, if Twitter wants to write their own games great, but don't force them on users.
    Interesting, that most of your suggested changes mimick Friendfeed ;)
    The supertweet is a must have, we need a richer interface- or at least one we as users have greater control over. It's so easy with JavaScript to allow for customized user interfaces, why are will still subject to stale views?

  29. I couldn't disagree with #1 more. The reason why I like Twitter is because it's clean. I don't want videos and pictures integrated into my Twitter stream.

    I do agree that it's bad to throw users right into celebrity land and the Suggested Users list. Why not allow them to enter their location and/or keywords and then use people's bios and other metadata / geolocation to point them to people that actually might provide them real benefit.

  30. We all like twitter because its twitter. Simple and to the point. Asking for it be anything else is defeating the purpose.

  31. We all like twitter because its twitter. Simple and to the point. Asking for it be anything else is defeating the purpose.