Following a user revolt this weekend over rumoured changes to Twitter’s timeline feature, the BBC has published an article suggesting that it may be in the social media company’s best interests to ignore the concerns of its users.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey placated users by promising no changes to their timelines (at least not this week). But the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones questions whether listening to users is really the best approach:
Was Dorsey right to blink in the face of pressure? And should he be “always listening” to his users? That depends on whether you believe the hoariest old cliche of management books: “The customer is always right.”
I certainly sympathise with those who say that Twitter isn’t broken, so it does not need the kind of radical fixing implied by an algorithmic timeline. For me, it works just fine, connecting me to like-minded communities of dog-owners, sourdough loaf bakers, and gadget enthusiasts, while providing the best breaking news service on the planet.
Petitions were signed, boycotts organised, but quite soon the News Feed was seen as core to the Facebook experience, and then when it was tweaked there were again protests – from people who thought it was just perfect as it was. By the way, Zuckerberg’s reaction to the Newsfeed protests was to say: “Breathe. We hear you…” and then carry on with his original plan.
So the customer is not always right, and if you listen too closely to your existing users, you will end up preserving your site in aspic. That would be fine by me – I like Twitter in its current form. But maybe Jack Dorsey should ignore me..
One point is missing from this analysis: user discontent across the web is greater now than it was when Facebook introduced its change. Many of Twitter’s current users remember what happened on Facebook, what happened on Reddit, and indeed what happened on 4chan, which suffered a user exodus after admins clamped down on popular discussion topics in September 2014.
It is becoming increasingly apparent to users of social media that their interests and the interests of Silicon Valley elites are no longer aligned. The next user rebellion, if it comes, could dwarf all the previous ones. Does Jack Dorsey want to take that risk?