Is Twitter network really on the path to extinction?
Although the social network's earnings have improved on the last quarter, its users are less active than they once were.
Published 08/05/2014 | 02:30
Twitter is dying, its user base in decline, its prominence in the culture on a sharp downward trajectory. That, at any rate, is the argument presented by respected American journal The Atlantic in a controversial new article headlined A Eulogy For Twitter. For anyone slow on the uptake, there is an accompanying illustration of the famous twitter 'whale', rotting and bloated, a corpse ready for the worms.
"Something is wrong on Twitter. And people are noticing," write the authors. "The publishing platform that carried us into the mobile internet age is receding. Its influence on publishing will remain, but the platform's place in internet culture is changing in a way that feels irreversible."
Ironically, if predictably, The Atlantic has provoked a firestorm on . . . um Twitter, with advocates for the social networking service accusing the publication of journalistic trolling: publishing a controversial piece simply to draw eyeballs.
As the conflagration rages on, it's worth noting that this isn't the first time that Twitter's demise – or, at least, its slow march towards irrelevance – has been forecast. Nor can it be denied tweeting isn't quite as faddy as was the case as recently as a year ago: the stampede of celebrities turning their back on Twitter continues and for those who have chosen not to tweet, the sense of missing out on a fantastic party is receding.
The suspicion that Twitter no longer embodies the zeitgeist is supported by the latest data: the company's own figures show that, though the gross total of users is rising, the number of active tweeters is in decline and has, in fact, fallen below 2013 levels.
Twitter this week announced it had 255 million users globally, up 6pc over the equivalent period in 2013. However, the rate of uptake was slower than anticipated. More worrying still, users were checking their stream only 613 times per month –representing a fall of 10pc.
"There's one line in The Atlantic article that I think sums the situation up perfectly. 'People are still using Twitter, but they're not hanging out there'. I couldn't agree more," says Dave Davis of Dublin-based digital marketing agency Redfly. "Twitter has a crisis of relevance, users are being overwhelmed with irrelevant information," adds Richard Coen of Emarkable Digital Marketing. "If users can manage this information then Twitter will remain relevant. Twitter will need to help users with this. Other social media platforms will continue to chip away at Twitter, especially niche platforms, as the market matures."
It's instructive that celebrities are choosing to decouple from the tweeting hive-mind. With their unimpeachable nose for 'cool', when celebs decide en-masse that a trend has had its day, rest assured that the rest of the world will soon be of the same opinion. The aspects of Twitter famous-types find a turn-off are much as you'd expect: the snark, the inanity the sense that the whole world is shouting at you at once.
Some, however, have had a peek and concluded Twitter simply isn't for them. For instance, Keira Knightley, who signed on under an assumed name, seemed baffled as to what the point of Twitter was, exactly. The 'look at me' aspect of the platform didn't sit well with the star. "It made me feel a little bit like being in a school playground and not being popular and standing on the sidelines kind of going, 'Argh,'" she explained.
"I believe the audience is different on Twitter now," says Dave Davis. "The early adopters have seen their baby grow up, and, in a lot of cases, they don't particularly like it. The new generation of youngsters required to fill the void of those leaving have migrated elsewhere, such as to Snapchat (an instant messaging service). The early adopters are moving on or at least using Twitter less.
"We've noticed that our clients are getting less and less engagement despite their follower numbers increasing. Despite the fact that they're putting in more effort than ever to engage with their audiences.
"Another thing we've noticed is that automation seems to be killing the thing that Twitter is built on – conversation. Many brands and even celebrities are using tools like 'Buffer' to push links and even sponsored content without even maintaining a presence on Twitter any more. Many other brands that do maintain a presence are growing tired of it being used as a complaints department for their brand, only out in the open for the world to see. This isn't necessarily a bad thing but when you only follow a brand to complain, it says something about the platform."
Far from a shock, the decline of Twitter may be inevitable, argues The Atlantic. There is, the magazine suggests, a common arc to tweeters' experiences. They sign up, enthusiastically engage with all their new followers, then reach a 'cooling off' period during which their ebullience dwindles. They may feel overwhelmed by the endless torrent of information – or perhaps are starting to wonder if they are shouting into a void. Is anyone out there listening?
"The service is filled with spam accounts," writes the magazine. "The median tweeter has just one measly follower, so how many of your followers are real people? The growth of Twitter, year-over-year, has plunged since 2011."
Not everyone is as downbeat. Twitter may change but it will endure, says digital communication strategist Krishna De.
"Will it be eclipsed by something new? Probably – there are many other platforms that people are now using especially on mobile devices which were not available when Twitter launched. However I think that Twitter is so well integrated into other communication channels...that it will not be an easy platform to replace if it retains its relevancy for its users."
Could Twitter truly be on the path to extinction? There are undoubtedly precedents. Once-popular sites such as MySpace and Bebo shrivelled up and died, while Tumblr, the 'hotness' from 2012, has seen a slump. For a period each seemed to loom over the entire tech industry. If they can vanish in the blink of a virtual eye, why not Twitter?
Celebs who have cut back on their Tweets
She used to Twitter to brag, to flirt, to wage feuds. But, in April 2012, Nicki Minaj ended her relationship with Twitter after a row with a fan site she accused of leaking her music. “Like seriously, its but so much a person can take. Good f*cking bye.” And, like that, she was gone.
Baldwin has had more Twitter bust-ups than you've had hot lunches. He was accused of homophobia after a Twitter row with a journalist, whom he disparaged as a ‘toxic little queen'. As the furore turned into an internet bush fire, he announced he was quitting Twitter. He has since returned to social networking, though with nothing like his previous volubility.
The rapper's tweets were practically an art-form in themselves — streams of consciousness that didn't make sense but possessed a weird beauty all the same. In 2012, however, he suddenly deleted all his Tweets and announced he would be ‘back soon'. He did eventually start tweeting again, but the previous gush of verbiage was now a mere trickle.
Like most teen-friendly pop stars, the One Direction pin-up (right) was an enthusiastic user of social media. Or at least he was until he grew fed up of the onslaught of vitriol. “The reason I don't tweet as much as I used to is because I'm sick of all the useless opinions and hate that I get daily, goodbye twitter,” was how he signed off.
Last year RTE'S Claire Byrne quit Twitter. The broadcaster had some 40,000 followers.
But she left the site after negative online comments about her engagement. “I have been on Twitter for years and enjoyed it, but I have been thinking about it [leaving] for a while now. It was just time to say goodbye,” she wrote. She followed in the footsteps of Ryan Tubridy, who quit Twitter after receiving online abuse.