During Cisco Live EMEA last week I had an interesting conversation with a few people at the show around social media and how the usage of the platforms appears to be changing thanks to decisions made by the smartest people in a given broom closet. With the acceleration of the demise of Twitter as a platform I couldn’t help but comment on the fact that social media is becoming less about conversation and more about broadcast, which seemed to catch some of the people in the conversation off guard.
Back and Forth
Ever since the beginning of my time on Twitter, I’ve seen the platform as conversational instead of content-focused. Perhaps that’s the reason why the idea of a tweet storm has irritated me so much over the past few years. Twitter is about talking to people. It’s about interacting with them and creating a conversation in the noise. Twitter allows us to connect to people and exchange ideas and viewpoints.
Contrast that with other platforms in the social media spectrum. Specifically I’m thinking of Youtube video or TikTok videos. These platforms are designed to create content and send it to a number of people to view. It’s multicasting content to viewers. You don’t interact with people on a one-on-one basis. If Twitter is about the conversation then video platforms are all about the message. Sit here, listen to what I have to say, and don’t talk back.
You may already be thinking to yourself, “But what about the comments!” And you might even be right. However, comments aren’t conversation. They’re a way to add your own viewpoint to a message that isn’t necessarily seen by someone consuming the content. Case in point? Youtube has started hiding the comments behind a widget that you need to click on. TikTok puts the comments behind a button. You can’t see them unless you go looking for them. And most of the time you don’t even want to read them anyway. I mean, Don’t Read the Comments is pretty much a meme at this point, right?
Comments aren’t conversation. Why would you think they are? Because your voice gets added to the mix? Because you get to say what you think? Is anyone even listening? How many times does a conversation or reply chain in the comments on a video involve the creator aside from answering a specific question? How often do the comments turn into a disaster area of people arguing about things not even related to the topic of the content in the first place? Comment hijacking is more common than most people realize. For some platforms it may be the only reason comments exist.
Another important point about comment sections turning into cesspools comes from the lack of interaction with the content creator. A real conversation, like one that happens in person, allows for the expression of viewpoints and discussion of ideas. You don’t have to agree but you do have to listen. And you do have to follow rules for conversation. You don’t get to walk up to someone who expresses an idea and say “You’re wrong and I’m right and here’s why” without also having to listen to the other person’s viewpoint. Well, I mean you probably could but you’ll find yourself excluded from the conversation quickly because you’re not listening. You’re just broadcasting.
Blogs as a Medium
Note that blogs and blogging fall into the same category as the videos above. I write the things I think and you read them. You can think about it or comment about what you believe. I will read it (and I do read them) but I can choose not to reply. The comment section on my NAT66 posts are still going strong something like ten years later and I haven’t left a comment on that video in forever. I’ve said what I wanted to say on the matter and that’s that.
However, blogs differ from videos in one important aspect as far as I’m concerned. The text of the blog post is searchable, as are the comments. You can look for topics or ideas much more easily in written form than you can on video. TikTok especially prefers brevity over conversation. Sure, maybe you highlight and comment and make a new video about what you read but there’s no transaction there. You could spend hours with a conversation that takes about two minutes to have in person. All this happens in a vacuum because you can’t search for the conversation. You can only watch it play out.
Yes, that’s how conversations happen in real life too. Even now I’m recalling parts of what I said to people in the conversation that I had. I’m recalling the discussion that happened and what I said. The key difference here is that I’m writing it down for others to read later and add their own viewpoints. If you choose to share this post with your audience and have your own viewpoint you’re creating conversation with others. That’s a big difference in my mind. How many times have you sent a video to someone to start a conversation? Aside from “this looks pretty cool” or “did you know about this” or “this was funny”?
The twilight of Twitter and text-based social media is upon us. The future right now is wrapped up in video content because that’s what people are consuming. Look at how many platforms have added “features” to replicate what the hottest apps are doing right now? There’s still value in the conversation to me. I still feel that we are better off having the discussions and not just blindly consuming content in multicast format. But I’m also old. I love writing. I feel I can get my ideas across in a better way here and on conversational platforms. I relish the idea of back-and-forth over broadcast. But the waning light tells me that my way isn’t long for this world.
I sadly have to agree with you Tom. Twitter has been a mainstay in my social media for over a decade, but it is quickly dwindling. Your multicast analogy holds true. Twitter’s conversations are, and will continue to be missed.