Has Twitter lost its way after a decade of tweets?

Twitter launched 10 years ago but the social media platform is struggling to attract new users and turn a profit.

On March 21, 2006, a young software developer in the US sent the first tweet – “just setting up my twttr” – launching the social networking service that is Twitter.

Since then, the micro-blogging site, which allows users to send and read 140-character messages, has changed the way millions around the world communicate.

Today, around 320 million people use Twitter every month, producing about 6,000 tweets a second which equates to around 500 million tweets every day.

The Listening Post – Twitter: Beyond the hashtags

“It’s a space where people can engage with people who are interested in the same things but may not be geographically close to them,” Bonnie Stewart, a Twitter researcher at the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada, told Al Jazeera.

A key part of Twitter’s power is the way a tagging convention, known as hashtags, allows users to search and group messages on the same topic or theme.

“They allowed one to raise awareness of marginalised voices and issues, to galvanise people together across time and space in ways that they hadn’t before.

“But the other side of that is that it has become a space where people also experience really challenging personal invasion by people who have particular one-sided interests.”

Twitter was criticised for responding too slowly to online harassment, especially on issues of sexism. It has set up a reporting system, but for some, the openness and public nature of Twitter is either driving people away or making them more serious and cautious.

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“We’ve all heard stories of people who’ve been burned by tweets that were misconstrued or said in the spur of the moment,” says Nino Kader, a social media analyst at Spark Digital.

“I think giving control for individual tweets might get people back to the platform.”

During the Arab Spring five years ago, the platform’s unfiltered real-time messages were widely used to help protesters become organised.

The problem with being watched all the time is it has chilling effects on free speech

by Aral Balkan, Digital activist

But now, governments and companies have become increasingly sophisticated in their monitoring of social media, making the platform less attractive for some.

“The problem with being watched all the time is it has chilling effects on free speech,” says Aral Balkan, an independent digital activist.

“If people know they are being watched, they change their behaviour. We are already seeing this on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks.”

Twitter has also struggled to earn the kind of money Google and Facebook are making online. After it went public, Twitter’s share price hit $69. Now it sits at around $17.

Over 10 years, the company has lost more than $2bn, prompting increasing moves to sell more advertising on the platform.

“What they are really doing is profiling you and monetarising that information. That’s a very lucrative business,” said Balkan.

“But the commercialisation is against the interests of the people who use the platform, who just want a quick means of communicating.”

Earlier this week Twitter’s CEO and co-founder Jack Dorsey quashed rumours that the platform would allow longer tweets, exceeding the 140-character limit.

Other changes, including creating an algorithmic timeline and changing the star “like” symbol for a heart, have been met with mixed reactions.

For many, Twitter’s appeal remains as it has always been: the ability to connect and communicate in real time with an unprecedented number of people.

Source: Al Jazeera