Don't Believe the Twitter Anti-Hype: Innovative Platforms Allow for Failure

Don't believe the anti-hype around Twitter (cross-posted from Legal Tags). Twitter hype punctured by study, reports the BBC on a recent Harvard B school finding: The median user has written only one tweet, and "the top 10% of prolific Twitter users accounted for over 90% of tweets." As though it sealed Twitter's fate, the BBC adds:

Research by Nielsen also suggests that many people give the service a try, but rarely or never return. Earlier this year, the firm found that more than 60% of US Twitter users failed to return the following month. "The Harvard data says very, very few people tweet and the Nielsen data says very, very few people listen consistently," Mr Heil told BBC News

Rather than taking the study as a condemnation, though, I'd suggest that the fact Twitter works despite the large number of "unproductive" users is a sign of success. More power to the Twitter team for creating a tool that allows so many people to try it so easily that the seemingly small percentage who get value out of it can find and continue using it. We should be celebrating what happens when infrastructure is cheap enough that we can accept that 60% just throw it away (even assuming all those non-tweeters aren't using the service to listen).

Rather than trying to force users to its model, Twitter has usually adapted to the customs its users have developed -- and has responded to feedback when it breaks some of those conventions (see #fixreplies). I'd go further and say a platform is only successful if it allows for failure and "unproductive" uses. If we were forced to justify our photo collection by its first picture or our word processors against the number of poorly-argued misspelled first drafts we've written, would we ever get to round 10, where something good emerges? Making failure cheap makes success possible. [I like the free network service and cross-tweet there. I credit the Twitter team with recognizing the value in openness along many other important dimensions.]


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