When your product isn’t yours anymore

If you pay attention to Twitter at all, you heard about last week’s news that they’d be rolling out algorithmically-curated timelines. This caused a great deal of consternation among heavy users. The real-time, linear (excluding retweets) nature of Twitter is a key feature of the service, especially in the weather and news communities. Potentially breaking this, in the same way that Facebook decides which updates you’ll see and when, takes away much of the value for many users.

The #RIPTwitter hashtag caught on. Founder and CEO Jack Dorsey was quick to try to reassure users.

My initial thought was “I suspect Jack‘s perception of what is ‘Twitter-y’ has diverged from the users’.” I don’t know Jack (hush!), so I can’t say for sure, but the changes that have been announced sure suggest it. That’s not to say that Twitter must do what the users want. For one, it’s a free service. For two, users don’t always know what they want. For three, Twitter’s growth was flat in the last quarter of 2015 and the stock has been dropping sharply.

At some point,when you have a popular product, its no longer yours. The user community owns it, even if they pay nothing. That’s the mark of a successful project, but it can also be frustrating. You want to take the product in one direction, and your users refuse to let you. Twitter already alienated much of the developer community that helped it grow in the early years. Who knows, maybe alienating the user community is the best thing that could happen to it. Maybe Jack will steal his Twitter back.

Full disclosure: I own a small number of shares of Twitter. I regret this every time I check my portfolio.

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