Twitter yanked TweetDeck out of Natasha Lockheart’s hands, and she’s unhappy about it.
Where does a person go to be truly social on the internet? This is a question I find myself asking all too often, and once I settle in somewhere, I seem to have to find somewhere else to go. Today, Twitter announced that they were pulling all non-web-based versions of Tweetdeck, and in doing so, they will no longer function after May of this year.
I wasn’t very fond of TweetDeck, myself: I thought that the multi-network functionality was the best thing it had going for it, and since I despise Facebook and think LinkedIn is dubious, that wasn’t exactly a win for me. On top of that, it’s been obvious for a while that Twitter is pivoting — that they are not interested in being “good” as Natasha and I define “good.” First they told developers where to shove it, then they changed the experience for the top tier of users. As Dustin Curtis points out, “people on Facebook tend to friend their friends, people on Twitter tend to follow their interests,” making it a communications stream that’s more appealing to advertisers than most Facebook chatter. Twitter is pretty clearly not interested in the opinions of users who want a Twitter that they interact with. If you can think like a pointy-haired boss for a minute, it follows pretty clearly: people who want to interact with the service are pushy, demanding, and far less profitable than people who just consume the service. As a result, Twitter is going to continue turning into television (“this is the moment in Twitter’s life where they kicked Steve Jobs out of the company and told Sculley to run it.”)
I consider it firmly established that Twitter is not interested in being what my tribe wants it to be. Given that, the most likely scenario for the future is that Twitter will suck — for my tribe, that is; it’s entirely possible that at the same time they will make a ton of money and stabilize with hundreds of millions of users. This is sad, but not unpredictable. For-profit corporations have a rotten track record with this sort of thing, my tribes are picky and hard to please, and mass-scale community-building is gratuitously hard.
Let’s not pretend that LiveJournal was a lost golden age, either. LJ had plenty of problems, and the other major candidate for the Good Old Days, Usenet, was an enormous headache in terms of spam, moderation, technical underpinnings, and usability.
What grabbed me about Natasha’s post, though, was this:
you can always find me on my website, it will never, ever go away. I know having a strong presence on the open web isn’t what everyone does anymore (something that always disappoints me, and not just because I build websites for a living), but I will never stop having a strong web presence. And no matter what other services I use, my website will always be my home base, the place where I post all my content first, and where I tell you where else to find me.
I want to amplify that. Here’s the biggest reason you should be wary of Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and everything else in that space: they cannot succeed at what they set out to do, because social life is not just one thing. Natasha asked “where does a person go to be truly social on the Internet?” and there is no single answer to that. Every answer has a limited reach and an expiration date. To echo Marco Arment, if you want a durable online identity, you have to own it.
You might think your @gmail.com address will be fine indefinitely, but if I used a webmail address from the best webmail provider at the time I broke away from my university address and formed my own identity, it would have ended in @hotmail.com. And that wasn’t very long ago.
Even if entities like Facebook, Twitter, and Google were inclined to fight the corporate Will to Profit, the task of providing a forum for the best of social activity, for entertaining and edifying public interaction, I wouldn’t bet on them. Culture, by nature, is always changing, and people’s desires change with time. You would do well to think of your avatar on Twitter as standing on a slowly-melting ice floe: it is not a safe long-term place, no matter how solid it seems right now.
The response that Natasha, Marco, and I are all demonstrating in various ways, is “you have to have some presence that is yours, that you own.” This is not easy easy, but it’s easier than it used to be. This is not to say that owning your own domain and putting something there is something other than an ice floe — what it is, is an ice floe that is larger, melts slower, and gives you ways to hop to another when this one goes under, instead of watching everything that you built vanish.
Taking responsibility for your identity is difficult and complicated, because identity is difficult and complicated. You can get some great benefits by entrusting part of the work of identity to Twitter, Facebook, and the rest — but you can’t trust them entirely, and you can’t trust them with the whole work. The ice floe is always melting. You need to know that, even if it looks big and durable right now. One day it will be gone.