Twitter's @replies change suggests viable model

Users are up in arms over a change in Twitter's @replies policy. The irony is that the furor may point to a way for the micro-blogging site to make some money.

"The horror! The horror!" gasped Joseph Conrad's Kurtz as he lay dying in the Congo. Who knew he was a Twitter user?

After all, Kurtz's bleak pronouncement sounds suspiciously like the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth that accompany any changes that Twitter makes to its widely used service, most recently the decision to hide replies your friends send to their friends, unless you're following those same friends. Twitter suggests the change was made based on usage patterns, feedback, and the desire to hide otherwise "confusing" noise.

The furious response has been withering , as CNET's Caroline McCarthy details, both in its sanctimonious tone and in its unwitting irony.

TechRadar reports that Twitter users are revolting en masse, with #fixreplies and #twitterfail topping Twitter's trends section, indicating widespread use of the terms/hashtags. ZDNet's Jennifer Leggio demands of Twitter, "Do you understand the value of your own service?" while the Inquisitr calls the policy change Twitter's "dumbest move yet."

Not to be outdone, TechCrunch's Jason Kincaid bemoans the "dumbing down" of Twitter, and ReadWriteWeb's Marshall Kirkpatrick stops wringing his hands long enough to gasp, Kurtz-style, "This isn't a small change at all, it's big and it's bad."

The horror! The horror!

For those who will chime in to voice their serious displeasure that Twitter had the gall to change a service for which these users have paid a whopping $0.00, I have two words:

Pay up.

That's right: pay money so that you actually have the right to voice your displeasure as a customer rather than as a user. Customers have a right to complain about changes of service. It's unclear to me why anyone else would.

This, perhaps, is a budding business plan for Twitter: use a free service as a grand experiment, constantly evolving and changing at Twitter's whim, with a paid service that keeps things constant for customers, and perhaps adds additional functionality or quality of service guarantees for these same customers.

It's a model that has worked very well in the open-source world for Red Hat, Zimbra, and others. Why not extend the model to Twitter, which has struggled to find a serious business model, and thereby convert a significant percentage of the whining masses of Twitter users into paying customers?

UPDATE @ 8:17 PT: Some on Twitter have complained that they would pay for Twitter if given the option. Fair point. But this suggests that Twitter doesn't really have a business model problem. It simply needs to charge people. Having said this, I know from experience in open source that the stated desire to pay is often much weaker than the reality of people actually paying. Only one way to find out....


Follow me on Twitter @mjasay. Just don't whine if the service goes down or changes. You haven't bought the right to do that.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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