Robert Scoble, nicely served by his friend Loic Le Meur, started a discussion on Friendfeed in which he states that Twitter is broken and that unfollowing everyone might be the only solution. You can find it right here. The story got picked up immediately. Loic triggered this because he unfollowed everyone in Twitter and then build up a much smaller list of friends. Loic has a good post up about his reasons for unfollowing everyone and starting with a clean slate. Valid arguments and Loic states to have improved his Twitter experience tremendously.
I’m going to ignore thoughts about Robert and Loic following thousands of people themselves and using the strength of Twitter for their own needs as well. Following people by default leads to exposure to spam. I won’t discuss the topic of everything getting posted on 20 different places thus leading to a whole lot of duplication and pretty much useless aggregation. It is sufficient to say that this duplication increases the perceived growth of a service and it fuels our attention on size and growth.
Diving a bit deeper into what is going on leads to another discussion on Frienfeed, where we can read that Twitter itself is playing a questionable role in the way they have implemented a friend recommendation scheme. From that it seems that Twitter hasn’t put a lot of effort in getting rid of the bots populating the service right now. The underlying reason seems simple enough. Spam is profitable and the metrics we use to measure web service successes are flaky.
What are the most important external measures to determine the growth and success of web services? Things like traffic, page views, unique visitors, registered users. As a result, the more spam bots Twitter has in its network, the higher each of these measured variables. Getting rid of spam bots equals value destruction for them. Can you imagine a headline at the major tech blogs stating Twitter traffic drops dramatically, only to find out this has happened because Twitter did its community a service by removing spammers. It’s not going to happen. And that is where Twitter and the rest of this web ecology are taking a wrong turn.
The constant pressure to perform towards the outside world, the Tech blogging community, investors, traditional media, is caused by this stupid growth rat race. Fueled by the initial successes of companies harnessing the network effect, we are now all drilled as a bunch of chimpanzees to measure the success of a web service by its millions of page views, visitors, registrations. Every month the major tech blogs give us the ‘Compete’ or ‘Comscore’ benchmark. Are you in or out? Who has the biggest …(you can fill that in yourself). You do not have millions of visits daily? Fail! Web 2.0 on steroids.
It is sick. I can’t think of a better way of expressing this. This whole rat race towards world domination is one of the worst aspects of the network effect. We like to think of the network effect in a positive way. A service gets better as more people use it. There is a major downside to it that we seem to ignore. The network effect causes the network to be more important than the users in it. It is more important to acquire and lock in new users than it is to keep existing users happy and satisfied. Users have become statistics in Google Analytics. Our performance dashboards for the valuation of companies do not include anything other than growth figures. Installations, registrations, page views, visitors, bounce rates, uninstalls etc. And that sucks, big time.
I do not want to be reduced to a number, a statistical value. I want service providers to care about me. I want them to spend more time on keeping me satisfied in their service than spending time on getting more users in the network. I want large companies to act small and personal. I want the growth of a service to be truly organic, instead of getting ‘orchestrated’. I want investors and entrepreneurs to stop feeding web companies steroids to grow big. I want them to start holding companies accountable for generating revenues. I want people to stop caring too much about what TechhCrunch, Compete, Comscore or anyone else has to say about the growth of web services because it only keeps this rat race going. I want CEO’s and journalists/bloggers to start talking about customers instead of taking about the growth of their network (check a few interviews and you’ll see what I mean). I want the web to be the place where user value is more important than network value.
I realize I am an idealist in many ways. I’m fine with that. But I have enough experience to know that focus on user value delivers the best type of business and revenues. All it takes is a bit of courage and to stop ‘competing’ on growth and world domination. Focus on users and give them the best experience you can deliver. If Twitter would be doing that these spam bots would be gone in days. But Twitter is trapped in this steroid growth race. So they won’t be doing that. See how this leads to wrong decisions? Value destruction instead of creation.
If you deliver user value, you can scale using the opportunites the web brings you. If your strategy is ‘growth first’, then user value can never be added later. And don’t think focus on user value can’t be combined with growth! There are enough good examples of that. Amazon can do it. And so can you.
The praised network effect is also web 2.o’s biggest tragedy.