Most might not compare -- but the timing seems right. You may have read the story about Robin Williams' daughter Zelda dropping off Twitter due to trash-posting trolls -- not the first, in fact, that have been targeting women. On July 29, Twitter reported revenue of $312 million, somewhat exceeding estimates, on track to cross $1 billion in revenue during 2014. The New York Times reported $389 million during the same period, slightly missing estimates. And today, the Times appointed Alex MacCallum, a founding editor of The Huffington Post, to be assistant managing editor for audience development. The Times is reflecting on how to better understand and grow its social media use. Twitter is in the 'process of evaluating how we can improve policies to better handle tragic situations.' Let us think about this for a moment -- and contemplate this sad tale unfolding before us.
The New York Times -- reporters worldwide, many pages of content and policy. Today's paper New York Times consists of 60 large print pages (with ads) of content, much of the content written by its own staff or the staff of news services around the world. The Times has plenty of policies: including specific rules for posting online comments. You cannot get a comment posted on the Times website, let alone a letter into the paper edition, without a person approving it. Twitter does not screen any of its content, per its own, self-described, uh, policy. Its way of dealing with these harassing trolls? (FYI - that link is a year old.) It 'suspends' their accounts. That's gone well.
Twitter -- no reporters, just the trivialization of information. Twitter knows exactly how long a post is -- it's counting the characters and refusing to post the 141st hyphen. But think about it -- the software deliberately does not analyze any content -- only 'suspending' accounts -- which are easily replaced by new ones. And Twitter's character-limit invites users to reduce the meaningful into nonsense. For example, check out this Tweet: "What can #healthcare learn from a tech company? http://ow.ly/AcBzH << A looming reinvention of
#healthIT? via @thcbstaff." Hmmm. What do you make of that? Your device isn't the fastest because it's too soon to upgrade, so you don't care enough to click on the tiny URL. But if this was the only way to learn about #healthcare and #healthIT and its looming reinvention, no wonder health IT employee morale is low.
Twitter is making a mockery of business communication. Marketers use Twitter to promote their brand. They have no way of relating that promotion to actual sales, of course. But who is reading these Tweets and clicking to support those brands? Twitter doesn't even use 'clicking through' as a metric for its business, instead counting the scanning of a list of tweets, the so-called timeline, that also include paid ads -- supposedly generating 80 cents of revenue per thousand timeline views. Meanwhile, despite no scan of the content, no approval, no nothing, Twitter was worth $25 billion on the day of its IPO. That's more than 12 times the market cap of the New York Times. So for those marketers paying Twitter money for this brand recognition, one wonders -- is that the kind of recognition that brands really want and need? While Twitter and its virtually text-free brethren (Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr) rise and fall -- and eventually disappear as new ones that seem even dopier like Yo -- will we long for the old-time media like the Times, and miss its ability to craft a sentence, make a cogent point, and derive meaning from noisy media and events.