Twitter and the Downfall of Social Networking

article banner

One of the great things about the folks at Twitter is that they really stick to what they’re good at and they let the community define what they want out of the service. So much so that they’ve responded with some really great community-driven Twitter services.

MySpace

The downfall of MySpace started when users were given too much control in design their profiles. Then the spam started pouring in like crazy. Everyone had a MySpace account, even corporations, and they were all collecting “friends”. Profiles became bloated and ugly; and shortly after that, a viable alternative came along and users started migrating over to Facebook in an attempt to flee the spam.

Facebook

Facebook solved the MySpace design problem by removing that level of control from the users. Then (maybe to make up for it) they opened up to customizations through user-created applications. And the downward spiral began, yet again.

Users began abusing the apps and we were all subject to invites to Mafia teams and Vampire squads.

It’s gotten so bad that I can’t log into Facebook without some sort of asinine notification or spam coming from one of these wonderful apps generated by the “community”. You know there’s no way Facebook will step in and take control of the apps, so we just have to find ways around them as they add in (false sense of) security features.

Unfortunately, when we look at these 2 monsters of social networking, it appears that the problems all start with giving users too much control.

Do they actually want control?

Where’s the problem? Is it a perception of the user? Or is it that I’m way off base here, and the user actually wants a web site they can be totally engulfed in all day long? I’m not convinced users want the amount of control sites like Facebook and MySpace give them.

I know millions of people use Facebook apps, but maybe they’re just using them because they’re available. I don’t get the feeling that if all these apps never existed anyone would really care. I didn’t hear anyone complain about lack of control in Facebook before the apps came along; not a single person.  They were just happy to get out of MySpace.

Look at what Twitter’s done so far:

If anything, the Twitter model is showing us users just want some core functionality. They really don’t want a place they can list their favorite books, movies and TV shows; it’s all just fluff.

Telling the user no

Twitter’s found a way to let us know that what we want isn’t a priority for them. And by using a “Do it yourself” attitude and releasing a well thought out and flexible API, we love them for it. It’s a little twisted, but it’s working really well. They’re picking and choosing what users have requested they want to address.

By releasing an API with so many options Twitter’s essentially hired thousands of developers for free to build add-ons to their site that are completely independent from Twitter (that have nothing to do with pirates OR vampires). And it allows them to really focus on features they think are important like search and giving a false sense of control.

Telling the community “if you want it, build it yourself, but keep it out of my site” accomplishes something Facebook really fails at: keeping out the crap. By forcing these user apps to be external you can cut out the spam and let users find them on their own. Of course, we’re already starting to see the much anticipated “Twitter Trends” starting to get hit with spam.

Great services that came from the community

Giving power to the community is a good thing, but if we learned anything from MySpace and Facebook it’s that this power needs to be well thought out and controlled in a way where the users don’t feel like they’re being controlled.

Whomever can come up with that will come out as the real social networking giant.