Features I Would Pay Twitter For

I think a lot of us have been in the situation where we’ve screamed at Twitter that we will pay them money, if they just addressed this particular nuisance or provided me with this feature. I thought it would be an interesting experiment to dream up how this would work in very broad strokes. Some suggestions are better fit for individuals, some bloggers, and others business owners and corporations.

What started as an intended concise list of points with suggestions turned into something more encompassing, as the implications of paid features dawned on me. Here’s the entire table of contents:

  1. Features
  2. Pricing
  3. Naming
  4. A Conflict of Financial Interest

Features

Features I Would Pay Twitter For

  1. An archive. For browsing my tweets, favourites, replies, and retweets.

  2. A conversation history. Displays former, threaded, correspondences that can be shared with others through an optional link.

    Facebook users get a timeline for free; Twitter users don’t, perhaps because the value of tweets is deemed ephemeral. I don’t share that sentiment.

  3. A site-independent back-up system. Comes with export options to allay my fears of my tweets vanishing in the event that Twitter is acquired, bankrupted, or has a change of policy.

  4. An RSS/Atom feed publisher. Tweets on my behalf, when I post a new entry to my website. (Preferably with support for a custom URL-shortener.) This is a frustrating experience with third-party services—yes, ifttt, too.

  5. Influential mention alerts. For when influential users mention my site or retweet me through Twitter.

  6. A repository of all my unread tweets. Sometimes, people follow too many or become too busy to catch up with all their updates. Other times, people simply miss tweets, because they are wedged between different points in their feed timeline on different devices. This should not be something only third-party services fix.

    DeviantART addresses this somewhat well with its Messages section. Call it an Instapaper of tweets, if you will.

Tweet Nest reflects a lot of what I want of Twitter. I like to see how my activity differs from month to month (and when it’s time to stop tweeting and go outside).

ThinkUp looks interesting on paper, but it was basically broken, the last time I used it.

Features That Would Sweeten the Deal—But Aren’t Worth the Price of Admission Alone

  1. A spam filter that actually works.

  2. No ads (desktop and mobile).

  3. No trending topics(!).

  4. An image hosting service that doesn’t feel like an afterthought. Let me see all my photos, not just the “recent” ones. Let me include more than one photo per tweet.

  5. Scheduled tweets for queuing tweets to be published for special occasions or when I am on vacation.

  6. Demographic break-down of followers and retweeters.

  7. No Discovery tab. I like its Activity feature, though, and don’t mind making it a prominent feature that mirrors Facebook.

  8. No “Who to follow”.

  9. Simple analyses that show the link click-throughs in my tweets, and the most retweeted, replied-to and favourited tweets.

  10. A sentiment analysis filter for replies to me that are particularly negative.

  11. A scalable reply solution. For users with a lot of followers who are suffer deluges of replies. Sort them by parameters such as popularity or mutual friends, for instance. How does a popular business on Twitter decide whom to provide technical support for first?

  12. Replies are counted separately from tweets that are read by followers.

Features That Should Not Be Paid For

  1. Good support.
  2. Guaranteed uptime.

Pricing

I wouldn’t mind paying $4.99 monthly for a lot of these features put together, as I spend more time on Twitter than any other social network (except internet forums), and I value the quality of the people I follow very highly. Anything to improve that experience and remove any wasted time related to the activity would be well worth the price.

I have fewer than 1,000 followers, so I am low maintenance for Twitter, but I don’t see why Twitter couldn’t scale the price based on, say, the user’s popularity (i.e. followers).

There are different ways to scale the price: by tiers or logarithmic bounds, just to name some examples. The pricing should not be scaled in a way that normal users grow afraid of incurring a higher fee automatically; I think that a good cut-off point would be people with more than 25,000 followers, so people with fewer won’t have to worry. Better to err on the side of caution, as the psychology of the pricing is extremely important.

Feature and Price Bundling

Another thing is how to package the paid features. I prefer that there is only one paid feature set, so people don’t feel like they are getting nickle-and-dimed for Zynga-like bonuses, as if the users exist solely to monetize ad nauseam. The point of the paid features is to keep Twitter alive and give its developers all the tools to improve the service. Second to that is to allay the fears of power users who worry that all their submitted content might one day disappear.

As cautionary tale, Twitter recently acquired blogging company Posterous, and everything suggests that all the blogs hosted by the company face oblivion.

Naming

The problem you always want to avoid is making users feel that they are second-grade users, or that the paid features are considered necessary to a good experience, which only serves to cheapen the free version. People should be able to live blissfully unaware of the additional features that are available to them for a premium without using an intrinsically inferior product.

After all, the money earned from the paying users serves to enrich the experience of everyone on Twitter, because that’s what it is there for; it supports the greater vision of Twitter, a means to an end that is not exclusive to paying users.

As such, I suggest they name it “Twitter Extra”1.


Not Pro, Premium, Plus nor anything else P. It is not an enhanced experience, but an additional feature set that most won’t need nor miss.

A Conflict of Financial Interest

My impression of Twitter right now is not great; everything they do only seems to devalue the service and my experience of it, and users as developers feel more and more disinterested. Twitter is a great platform, but I can’t shake the feeling that it’s lost its cool.

What is “Twitter” these days, when it seems preferable to use different clients than Twitter.com and Twitter for mobile, both of which felt much better to use, the longer you go back in time?2


Some of the things I think it’s fair to say Twitter outright fucked up:

  1. Developer goodwill.3 4 5 6
  2. Verified accounts.7 8
  3. The reply system(!).9 Maybe that invalidates request #2.
  4. The official Twitter clients.10 11 12 13
  5. For the pedantic lot of us, the small things that aren’t balanced by correspondingly magnanimous gestures.14 15

Take the last footnote (#15). Alex Howard (@digiphile) writes:

@jayrosen_nyu It’s not clear if @dickc @finkd or @ericschmidt have the cojones to take users where @davidkarp or @Jimmy_Wales & co have/will

CEO Dick Costolo (@dickc) replies:

@digiphile @jayrosen_nyu that’s just silly. Closing a global business in reaction to single-issue national politics is foolish.

Elaborates:

@digiphile @anildash We have been very active and will continue to be very active. Watch this space.

When was the last time Twitter felt like more than a business to be run, a start-up, not a company? Is there a big idea, a Why, that informs the goal and innovation of Twitter? We know that the What is to make shitty redesigns of beloved clients to inundate hapless users with trending topics and ads.


I just can’t shake the feeling that Twitter is gravitating towards a Google company model instead of an Apple model; the product is the user, not the service. I find it no problem that Twitter sells a firehose feed of all tweets to companies, and promoted tweets alone are not invasive at all on the desktop website; it’s a straight-forward income source, and all companies need to turn a profit. But all the other crap? Twitter is destroying the value of the service and brand, and seems to flail in general. When was the last time you felt they improved the service? Are they grooming us users for monetization instead, because we’re the business model? It worries me that Twitter have yet to let us pay for the service, and I sometimes feel like Hansel in the candy house. It’s one of the reasons I don’t use Facebook.16

Tectonic shifts are indeed afoot at Twitter, but what is road taken from this point on?


Here is a standing invitation to pursue a model that is based on happy users, mutual respect, and a pristine service that supports a movement that has accomplished much in six years, but is only getting started.


“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it, and what you do simply serves as the proof of what you believe.”