Folks have been abuzz over recent and planned features they feel will sound the death knell for Twitter. When Moments came out, it was derided as forcing the conversation and overemphasizing trends. Next, we have this planned increase of tweet length from SMS-style messages to epic-length, 10,000-character novellas.
Every new addition to a network is going to have its detractors, but there’s one feature that’s been around a lot longer than I think is having a stronger and more negative effect on Twitter: Lists.
The original intent of lists was to focus a user’s assumed “multifaceted” tweet stream into more meaningful “buckets” of topic-based content. I can have all my synthwave folks in one bucket, my gaming folks in a second bucket, and political commentary in a third. A simple and noble concept, right?
As with other Twitter features, actual use has shifted from its intention. Rather than being something to curate or organize messages, lists are becoming a safe haven for folks with Twitter’s growing population and its heightened noise-to-signal ratio.
Unfortunately, there are no reliable trends or metrics for use of lists (not that I’ve found). I personally feel users are turning to lists for two key reasons:
- It reduces the “feel-bads” that come from unfollowing someone. Whether you believe so or not, “following” someone on Twitter always feels like a commitment or affirmation, whereas lists are a heck of a lot more arbitrary. Grooming your lists instead of purging who you follow involves significantly less reputational risk (yes, that’s a thing), since you’re still, in effect, connected. Facebook did something similar in 2014 by adding a “following” feature alongside the “friendship” network it was founded on.
- Lists can be private. Everyone and their mother can see who you follow. Lists, on the other hand, can be completely private, which allows you to curate with no fear of outside curiosity or commentary.
The big problem I personally have with these reasons is they make the Twitter ecosystem far more disingenuous. You have this group of followers who have made a voluntary decision to join your public conversations, but due to their use of lists, are pretty much turning a deaf ear to you. This is no longer real life. The bonds are weaker.
In hindsight, I think Google was on to something with their whole “Circles” ecosystem for Google Plus, but, as with other products like Buzz and Wave, it was a few years ahead of its need.
To sum up, I really, truly don’t like Twitter Lists, and it I don’t think the current use of the feature bodes well for Twitter. We already have this growing plague of folks “talking past one another” instead of talking to each other. Add greater reliability on lists and now it becomes just “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
I really wonder whether this will affect adoption of new users, since they’ll be pretty much tweeting to empty air if they continue to assume that followers equals visibility.
“Never read the comments” … and product reviews?
Over the weekend, I had a thought regarding the Internet age adage “never read the comments” and product reviews. Aren’t reviews, in a sense, comments on a product? If we’re advised by the wise sages of the internets to not read them, how are we supposed to make what we feel as educated decisions on something that’s going to cost us time, money, or both?
Let’s start with comments.
I most always read the comments, or, at least the first few of them. Why? It’s the commentary, y’all!
In enough cases to warrant reading said comments, I’ve found enough enlightenment and details in back-and-forth discourse between commenters (and more fun if the original poster or author chimes in) to enrich the article, essay, diatribe, etc. The glaring exception is YouTube videos, which are riddled with spamvertisements.
I also use comments as a bellwether of the source document’s tone and agenda. You can tell a lot about an article by what chatter it stirs up in the digital pot, such as its reputation, its readership, and its (though I’ve grown to dislike this term) authenticity.
Now, for reviews.
As a general practice, whenever I see product reviews for something on, say, Amazon, I go and read both the “most recent” and “most helpful” sets to get a general consensus.
“Most recent” tells me whether there are problems or improvements that may affect my decision to buy this product. You see this a lot on the Apple App Store when a particular app pushes out an update. In that regard, low ratings due to past grumbling about quality or performance may now be fixed with a new version. It could also tell me whether the product has consistent problems back through time.
I take the “most helpful” reviews with a mighty strong grain of salt. There’s been quite an influx of “professional reviewers” getting paid to “gloss up” a product’s overall rating, and that unfortunately muddies up the waters. Professionally-written reviews are not always explicitly marked as such, but they always seem to have the same glossy platitudes in their writing style; they’re all trying to tell (or sell) the same story.
Here’s the flip side: I find that too many reviews are full of “complaint noise:” users or consumers who have no effective way of getting to the manufacturer or creator other than posting negative reviews, or, those who are confused or ill-informed about the proper use of what they purchased.
A good example I found just the other day is the Disney XD app for iOS, which I downloaded to watch the latest episode of Star Wars Rebels. A good percentage of the reviews were low- or one-starred. The 10 most recent reviews seemed to be written by a lot of tweens and teenagers looking to stream Disney XD shows but getting deflected by an internet service provider login or parental restrictions. Having an ISP and being a parent myself, I don’t have those obstacles and, as a result, their experiences aren’t reflective of my own.
OK, so comments are often noisy and argumentative and reviews suffer from authenticity issues and grumbling. Should we start saying “never read the comments or the reviews?”
I say “no.”
In this day and age, it’s good to see differing perspectives and opinions, so long as you, the reader, have the discipline to read objectively, not get pulled down in the abyss of petty arguments or controversies, and dive no deeper than page or two of the paginated results.
“Don’t give in to hate,” as Master Obi-Wan Kenobi once said.