Twitter's Losing Sight of What Makes It So Great

Today, Twitter introduced some major changes to the way it does business. Not only can a single tweet now hold multiple photos (along with 10 tagged friends), but none of that extra baggage takes away any of your precious characters. In other words, Twitter just got a whole lot more like Facebook.

Once confined to the strictest of social network diets, tweets are now free to run rampant. Theoretically, under these new rules one tweet could contain four photos tagged with 10 different friends. That is one crowded canoe, that still leaves you room to babble. Oh, and hope you like notifications—because there's about to be a whole lot more where that came from.

Allowing users to add even one photo without cutting into the 140 character limit would have been a big deal in Twitterland. But doing so with four photos isn't just a change, it's a total overhaul to how we tweet. And it's not a welcome one.

It's clear why Twitter felt it had to make this change; as it stands now, it's a wildly intimidating world that presents itself to newcomers as a massive wall of news, in-jokes, symbols, and otherwise general nonsense. It's extremely alienating—not that there's any shame in that! But it means that Twitter doesn't just have a hard time attracting new users; it's losing the ones that it manages to enlist. More pictures, more friends, more familiarity. In other words, more like Facebook.

It makes sense. Facebook is all-encompassing. It's easy. Your grandma is on Facebook. Nothing says usability like a social networking-granny. Most importantly, Facebook offers the kind of openness that Twitter lacks. Facebook allows for all types of content in a stream as limitless as your fingers can manage. But by trying to get in on that action, Twitter looses a major chunk of what made us fall in love with it in the first place.

There's a reason Facebook's not the golden child anymore. As adorable as it may be, no one actually wants to pour through your grandma's twenty pictures of her grandchildren. No one cares about your paragraph-long rants. Facebook is full of all the noise that Twitter so geniously managed to cut through. In instilling a strict, 140-character limit, Twitter forced you to cut your tweets in to their most basic, witty, and informative forms. And that translated to Twitter being full of higher-quality content by default. Brevity, as they say, is the soul of Twitter.

That doesn't mean Twitter is wholly devoid of noise. There's still plenty of self-indulgence, nonsense, and misinformation that adds nothing to the overall conversation. But turning up the volume only exacerbates the problem. Tagging without character limit means more people involved in more photos, with more room to tweet about it. More wasted words spread around to more sort-of friends. Which is great for you and terrible for everyone reading it. Twitter had already made itself look more like Facebook. Now, by acting more like it, it's inching dangerously closer to alienating the people who actually care, without clearly doing anything that will solve its retention problem.

What Twitter needs to realize is that encompassing more ground doesn't necessarily mean more users. And that it's at its best when it gives us what Facebook doesn't.