Last year, we talked about the possibility that the ‘big three’ social media companies might have run out of ideas. Various changes that Twitter, Instagram and Facebook had made to their interfaces indicated that the things that were making them so unique initially – Twitter’s tight character limit and lack of stories (amended to ‘Fleets’ and 280-character posts), Instagram’s focus on photos only (it now has its Tik Tok-esque ‘Reels’ function, as well as a marketplace) and Facebook’s distinctive look (it introduced a bolder design that some suggested echoed Twitter’s user experience).
A fleeting success
It’s been almost a year since they were introduced, but it seems that Twitter has finally admitted what we were all thinking: that Fleets were, to put it bluntly, a bit of a rubbish idea. On my own personal account, I’ve seen one, perhaps two of the 300-ish people I follow use Fleets semi-regularly. And if that trend is reflective of the wider Twitter-sphere, it’s easy to see why the feature is being retired. It was an idea that simply didn’t stick.
Twitter’s decision to axe it shows that, as a company, it is willing to listen to its users and respond accordingly: a far better policy than simply trucking along with features people don’t want or use. Users want to know they aren’t just a number to the people upstairs, and by adapting to people’s preferences, Twitter has challenged that idea perfectly.
However, ‘Fleets’ have now been replaced with ‘Spaces’, which will be launching next week: these are, according to Twitter’s website, ‘a new way to have an audio conversation on Twitter.’ Have we seen this one, before, too, with the meteoric rise of Clubhouse during the pandemic?
Time will tell if the Spaces feature sinks or swims – but it’s likely that, if the former happens, the company won’t have qualms about ‘deleting’ the mistake.
Plus or minus?
Another new feature that has shaken the bedrock of its user base, is the announcement by Tumblr that the site is implementing a pay feature. Called ‘tumblr+’, accounts can now treat their content as a subscriber feature if they wish, with posts, gifs and imagery behind paywalls.
Tumblr might not be one of the ‘big three’, but it’s certainly a major player in the social media sphere, with around 472 million registered accounts on the site. A little like a cross between Pinterest and Reddit, the site has frequently faced issues regarding its financing. But this latest solution has been seen by many of its users as a step too far, with some suggesting that the move be immediately withdrawn. As a largely anonymous site, the ‘+’ feature feels too similar to Twitter’s blue tick: and, when the fine print suggests that once a post has been reblogged (the same concept as retweeting) it becomes visible to non-payers, the question becomes: what is the point?
Tumblr has responded to its users’ outcry with a feedback form, which suggests that, like Twitter, it values feedback and might amend, or remove, the feature – according to the consensus.
While the biggest social media platforms rightfully feel the need to innovate their features, it’s imperative they listen to their users. At the end of the day, they’re not simply just tools to share our photos, musings, jokes or ideas: they’re businesses, and we users are the ‘customers.’ And, of course, businesses that listen and react to the needs of customers fare far better than those who are slow or unwilling to change.
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