This article is all about one main question: What is the value of Twitter when other social networks are thriving?
Ever since Twitter started, it has been under an identity crisis. What is Twitter and what is its value to the world? It has undoubtedly been important: Twitter is where the first news about what we now know to have been the bin Laden raid was recorded, it has been used to document and organize social revolutions around the world – good and bad, and this year itself, has been home to not-to-be-missed tweets from @realDonaldTrump. But why is Twitter still culturally important in a world that hardly knows what Twitter is and why they should use it? Why is it still relevant in a world where Twitter is arguably falling to irrelevancy by its older and more popular rival, Facebook, which has been implementing features of Twitter and other social networks on their own platforms, and by newer, visual-intensive apps like Snapchat?
The answer lies in two aspects of Twitter: its publicness and its searchability.
Publicness is the key reason that I believe Twitter has an edge over Facebook in documenting the world. I am maybe one of the few people who doubts that Facebook (the website/app, not the company) will ever be able to trump Twitter entirely. This is because there are aspects of Facebook that I doubt its users would want to let go, namely the privacy of their profiles. Because Facebook profiles are so private, they aren’t as effective in documenting to the world what’s happening, because you can’t search for private posts on public search. On the other hand, Twitter users mostly have public profiles, and are therefore contributing to the global conversation.
Other social networks like Instagram and Snapchat, too, aren’t public in the same way as Twitter is, and a lot of that has to do with their searchability, or lack thereof.
Instagram isn’t as public as Twitter. Plenty of Instagram users have private profiles, and therefore post pictures that can’t be found by search. But its search feature is so flawed, it’s crazy. You can only search for things in hashtag form, unlike Twitter, which is interesting because hashtags originated on Twitter. On Twitter, if you search the words “Hillary Clinton,” you will find tweets about her regardless of whether the user who tweeted used the hashtag “#HillaryClinton.” On Instagram, you must use the hashtag, period. Snapchat, meanwhile, doesn’t have a search function for posts at all. This means that neither Instagram nor Snapchat in their current forms can beat Twitter in its publicness and searchability. Even if Instagram or Snapchat change their searchability, I doubt, like Facebook, they’d be able to have the same success as Twitter without changing their product to such a level that they alienate people.
For me personally, Twitter has been the most social network in my life for the better part of the last decade. While I’ve used Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat (as well as Twitter) to keep up with family and friends, Twitter is the way that I’ve kept up with the world. It is the best instant journalism platform that has ever existed. This is why businesses, when they are creating social media profiles, still make a Twitter account (along with Facebook) first. And this is why politicians still use Twitter to share their thoughts. Even if they don’t realize that that’s why a Twitter profile is so valuable. If you have something to share with the world, Twitter is the place to share it.
Now, do I think Twitter has longevity? I don’t know. I think that as a company, they could do well to be bought out (their leadership hasn’t been great), namely by Google, which is clearly interested in social but hasn’t been able to figure it out. But I do know one thing: I certainly wouldn’t bet them out.