I’ve spent a bit of time going back in time lately, at least as far as Twitter is concerned. In short, I created a new account, as if I had never used the service before.
Why? Well, as Twitter hits inflection, it struck me that there was something really, really important that had to happen, in terms of how the service works. As millions of new users try the service, it’s crucial that they find something useful when they arrive. If they don’t, well, they’ll leave.
And leaving they are, if this report from Nielsen is to be believed. Widely picked up last week in the Twitterverse, the report does the math and finds that 60 percent of those who try Twitter abandon the service within a month. That means no matter how steep the inflection, Twitter will soon burn through its available fuel (new user attention) and could fail to hit escape velocity (where escape velocity = a scaled platform at the level of Facebook, Google, or Yahoo).
That got me thinking. What do new users do when they first log into a service like, say, Facebook? Why, they search, of course.
For old friends, for the names of their colleges or high schools, for any kind of social connection that might make sense of the very large universe that is Facebook.
So when Twitter integrated search last week, it was, as I said, a very big deal.
But to my mind, it’s not enough.
To explain my point, let me go back to the experience I recently had of creating a new account – going back in time, so to speak, and pretending to be a newbie to Twitter. The service is very easy to sign up for (see the screen shot at left). Once you pass this screen, you can check to see if
your friends are on the service. This is a pretty standard email database lookup, and I have no idea how many folks go through it. I don’t have email at any of those services (at least, none with any real contacts), so I passed. (I’d be interested in how many folks do use this service, and how many hit the button to skip this step. If it’s a high percentage that use this step, I’d also be interested in what
the experience is like in terms of making Twitter more useful, but I’ll have to be blind to it for
this post. I think my conclusions will be valid in any case….).
Next comes the step that I find most interesting, and in its current iteration, most frustrating. This is where the new user gets a
list of folks that Twitter suggests he or she might follow. It’s a pretty random list of interesting folks, including (as I write this) John McCain, Fred Durst, Chris Anderson, Oprah, John Legend, and so on. It changes from day to day, but anyone who’s ever made it onto the list reports that their followers skyrocket – sometimes by an order of magnitude.
Why? Well, turns out most newbies to Twitter simply hit “follow all” and end up with the list of twenty or so suggested Tweeters as their first set of folks they are following.
Therein lies the problem. Ah, the dinner bell is ringing, when I come back, I’ll explain why, and suggest a better way. I’m sure many have already thought about this, but I never claimed to be original, just persistent. And…I really want Twitter to get
escape velocity…because every time a rocket makes it out of the Valley and into the Rest of The World, it feels like the work we all do is worth it.
(Back from Dinner). So why is following twenty or so interesting people a problem? Well, while I am sure these folks are chosen for their general interest and lively tweets (for more, see Twitter’s blog post on suggested users), it turns out that it’s simply not very
compelling, in the main, to watch these guys tweet. It’s certainly not as addictive as finding an old friend on Facebook, for example. It’s neat, but it’s not going to get folks to come back, over and over again.
What *is* interesting, or could be, is watching folks tweet who you care about. Perhaps they are friends, or family, or leaders in your line of work, or entertainers you love. For whatever reason, they are *your* leaders, and finding them, at least during the sign up process, is entirely too hard.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. It strikes me that a few more structured steps in the sign up process could really pay significant dividends for Twitter. Perhaps a “follow wizard” that asks a few questions, and makes suggestions based on input
from the new user. Let us drill down by category: Business:Technology:Internet, or Health:Diseases:Cancer. The ontology isn’t very complicated – mapping users to it is a bit more complex, but not impossible.
And encourage folks to put in the names of their friends via search – that’s magic when you find a friend who’s already on Twitter, and might act as a sherpa of sorts.
There are already a lot of third party services that help users find folks worth following, but new users are never going to find them in their initial interaction with Twitter. incorporating this kind of a service into a newbie’s initial experience – even if it’s very, very simple – could pay huge benefits in turning around that 60% abandonment number, and soon.
In short, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and right now, Twitter’s initial impression does not add enough value. But with a few tweaks, it most certainly could.