Friday, February 05, 2016

The inexorable decline of Twitter

I have to confess to a little smug schadenfreude at the news that Twitter is struggling financially.
Twitter stock has been in decline since about the beginning of 2014, and is today languishing at around $17/share, some 75% down from its heyday of $70/share in 2014, and even lower than its IPO price when it first went public back in 2013. Under generally accepted accounting practices, Twitter is losing money, and indeed has not EVER turned a real profit. It is set to declare its latest earnings report in just a few days time, and another loss (and drop in share price) is expected.
Twitter has never achieved even a small fraction of Facebook's popularity. Twitter's user numbers do still continue to grow but only by smaller and smaller increments, suggesting that perhaps the party is over. There is also evidence that the number of tweets is actually declining, indicating a substantial and increasing number of disaffected or lapsed users. Indeed, a 2014 report in PC Magazine suggests that as many as 44% of Twitter users have NEVER posted a tweet, and only about 13% have tweeted within the last month. A recent Statista analysis shows active Twitter usage dwindling to below the likes of Tumblr and Instagram, and well below the big players like Facebook, WhatsApp and the Chinese instant messaging services such as QQ, QZone and WeChat. In 2014, Twitter revealed that around 23 million (8.5%) of its accounts were probably automated.
Furthermore, there seems to be a general, if undefined, feeling that the quality of tweets is also declining, and that Twitter is just not such a pleasant place to hang out any more. One example of the malaise can be found in the recent Twitter criminal harassment case here in Canada where, although the defendant was found not guilty (in that it was judged that the women could not reasonably fear for their safety), it was publicly admitted that the unrepentant Elliott did indeed harass the three women, and that his actions were offensive and wrong. In a more serious case in the UK, two Twitter harassers were actually jailed. There's more: since mid-2015, Twitter recently admitted to closing over 125,000 accounts that were active in threatening or promoting terrorist acts.
In addition to the "yuck factor", though, there is a general air of decline about the platform, and maybe a feeling that what at first seemed like just a fad has in fact turned out to be ... just a fad. I remember being intrigued by the Twitter concept back in 2007 or 2008, and, yes, I set up an account that I never used. Just a few days of checking out the available content was enough to discourage me. No doubt there are some pithy pearls of Twitter wisdom out there somewhere, but they are irretrievably lost in all the dreck.
For example, one random study from 2009 concluded that 40% of tweets could be described as "pointless babble", 38% as "conversational", 9% as "pass-along value", 6% as "self-promotion", 4% as "spam" and 4% as "news". I imagine that, these days - when every company, organization, Tom, Dick and Harry feels obliged to have a superfluous Facebook and Twitter account - the "self-promotion" and "spam" percentages would be higher, and the more useful "pass-along value" and "news" categories would have atrophied still further.
So, as Twitter fades and Facebook plateaus, what do we have to look forward to in social media? SnapChat is probably the teen platform of choice, and see how deep and meaningful that is! Shots, anyone? Call me an old curmudgeon, but I'm kind of hoping that the whole social media fad blows over soon.

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