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Twitter Quitters and the Firehose Problem


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Josh Constine is right about Twitter having a firehose problem:

At its heart, Twitter is a firehose. Everything you tweet shows up to every one of your followers. It’s what makes Twitter feel like the real-time pulse of the world. But it could also be preventing Twitter from growing. Follow too many people, and you lose track of those you love and stop following anyone new.

Imagine you’ve just joined Twitter. You follow some popular accounts of big publishers and celebrities you’re interested in, as well as some friends and acquaintances. The unfiltered feed works. You get up-to-the-minute news and stay aware of what people you know are up to. There aren’t so many tweets in your stream yet that you miss the ones from the people you care about most.

But then you follow a few more people, and then a few more. You find more distant acquaintances and colleagues on Twitter so you follow them. You subscribe to experts in the niche areas you geek out about. Friends retweet something funny and you follow the author. Or somebody random @ replies and follows you so you do the polite thing and follow back.

Gradually, your feed gets noisier and noisier. A few of the accounts you’ve followed post dozens of times a day and drown out everyone else (TechCrunch’s account is renowned for this). Twitter’s a stream, not a queue where you have to read every tweet, but you still. You find yourself missing great jokes, links, and insights from your closest friends who only tweet occasionally. When you visit Twitter, you see fewer interesting things in your feed than you used to.

And that’s where the problems for Twitter’s business start.

Facebook does a much better job of filtering the firehose:

Some reports, like one from Mike Isaac, peg Twitter at having more than 1 billion registered users, yet today, Twitter confirms that only 218 million are active. That’s a painful attrition rate that is hindering Twitter’s ability to grow large enough to become profitable.

Worse yet, people who quit Twitter or just hardly visit likely return to Facebook. It’s literally friendlier. People have a built-in audience of real-life chums who Like and comment on their posts. They don’t have to be ‘thought leaders’ battling to be heard. They accumulate friends just by living, and it’s not a contest to have the most connections.

Even if it were, Facebook’s filtered feed is built to adapt to however many friends you make or Pages you Like. Rather than show an unfiltered feed of everything posted by everyone in your social and interest graph, it just shows you the best posts — the ones with the most Likes and comments from the people you interact with most.

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