The Real Reason Twitter Is In Trouble
The last month has seen a lot of debate over Twitter's future. Will it be saved or ruined by Elon Musk's intervention? But Twitter has faced this kind of uncertainty for years as it has offered one of the most popular social media platforms with the worst revenue stream.
Speaking of revenues, do you know which social media platform made twice as much revenue as Twitter in 2021?
LinkedIn is filled with cringe. I can go months without checking LinkedIn. Yet it is pulling in twice as much revenue as the platform that determines our news cycle.
The revenue difference is not why Twitter is in trouble. But it's related to the real reason.
I realized Twitter was in trouble on a recent trip to Jamaica. I went for a conference and brought my wife and baby along. Between conference sessions, we enjoyed walking on the beach and reading books. And I didn't check Twitter once. I wasn't even tempted.
When I got back, I was so disinterested in Twitter that I continued avoiding it. I went another week without checking my feed, only getting on once to DM a request to some friends
And it's amazing how my week has been without Twitter. Instead of neurotically checking the timeline every 10 minutes, I made so much progress on my research. And I feel happier. I'm not bogged down by everyone's thoughts on the latest issue. I'm not constantly exposed to negativity. Most importantly, I didn't see any spoilers for Dr Strange!
And that's the real reason Twitter is in trouble. More than any other social media I use, Twitter feels like smoking cigarettes. When I feel uncomfortable, I can get a quick fix on Twitter. But it's like breathing smoke straight into my soul for almost no benefit. Twitter's real trouble is people feel good when they stop using it.
Now, I know there are many people who claim to find large benefits from Twitter. And I believe it's possible. But the platform is not setup to easily deliver these benefits.
Where do I find the most benefits on Twitter? I get the most use when people share research. I have a hard time discovering new work by other economists, and Twitter has helped me find papers I never would have seen. But let's say I wanted to jump on right now and find what new research. How would I find it?
No one uses hashtags anymore.
Twitter's search engine is atrocious, so that's not going to help me.
I can follow people who share research. But then I have to see every other thought they share, 95% of which are not related to research.
Contrast this to Facebook. I am part of a few YouTube Facebook communities. I can participate in those conversations without having to follow any of the people in the group. If a conversation evolves, and I feel a connection with someone in the group, then I can friend them and choose to read more of their thoughts. If I wanted to use Facebook to find more research, then I could join a group where people share their papers. I wouldn't have to be personally connected to any of the economists in the group.
And there's a similar problem for building the Market Power community on Twitter. Every week I gain a few followers. But if one of them tweets about an interesting question they have in economics, no one else following me on Twitter will know. Building community is nearly impossible.
The real problem with Twitter is that as I conclude this essay, I'm more bullish on Facebook than I am Twitter. And that surprises me.
p.s. Should there be a Market Power Facebook group?