Social Media Firms Should Try Evolving Like Apple, not Lemmings

Social media apps on an iPhone

LONDON – I love social media. Like many TMO readers, it has had a profound and (mostly) positive effect on my career and personal life. I’ve even posted on Google Plus.

Given their popularity then, why do social media firms seem to insist on constantly changing their products, especially as these changes are almost always for the worst.

Social media apps on an iPhone

Most recently my anguish has been caused by Twitter doubling its character count. Yes, the original 140 limit was arbitrary, based on the old limits of text messages. However, that became the established format. Conventions and ways of communicating were developed around that limit. There was a discipline in distilling your thoughts into 140 characters. That challenge was central to Twitter’s unique selling point (USP), now it’s gone. 

Social media networks are all the same

A friend commented the other day that “all social networks are basically becoming the same”. He’s right.  Each platform used to serve a unique purpose but now the difference between them is negligible. For instance, Facebook and Instagram offer many of the same options.

Snapchat stories and Instagram stories are now essentially the same thing.

Facebook video has expanded to such a degree it’s now a legitimate challenger to YouTube.

Twitter has done more and more to encourage pictures, including an earlier change that stopped them counting towards the character limit. 

The move to 280 characters makes tweets evermore like Facebook posts.

I am also totally fed up with the algorithmically driven timelines that many of the networks have rolled out. I want to see the most recent meal my friend ate on Instagram or read the latest article a journalist has shared on Twitter.

It’s gotten so bad that I’ve recently been seeing Instagram pictures that are a week old and tweets posted 18 hours earlier that have no relevance to the current conversation. I believe this entirely detracts from what made these platforms valuable and enjoyable in the first place. It makes everything look and feel the same.

Evolving like Apple

I am not being a Luddite, resisting change out of principle. Indeed, some changes by the social networks have brought about improvements. However, often it just seems like change for the sake of it.

This is all a real contrast to how Apple evolves its products. The firm has even been criticized for not overhauling its things enough. On occasion, this criticism has been fair. After all, we’re still waiting for a new Mac mini.

Changes may be slow, but Apple has never watered down its products to the lowest common dominator in the way social media companies have. Whether hardware or software Apple makes products to stand out from the competition, not replicate them. (Remember the old joke, I’m a Mac, and Windows 7 was my idea…)

We all know that on occasion Apple has built on what other firms have done. The iPod wasn’t the first MP3 player, but it was best. It was innovative. It was original. Social media companies just seem to be integrating each other’s features instead of coming up with new ones.

If they continue to follow each other like lemmings, they will all fall off the cliff.

2 thoughts on “Social Media Firms Should Try Evolving Like Apple, not Lemmings

  • Charlotte, I agree on the friggin’ timeline algorithms, especially on Twitter. Drives me batty when old stuff keeps reappearing. And I want Tweets to retreat to fewer characters, at least fewer than 200. And . . .

    @Albatrossflyer I’m with you. I’ve tapered off Facebook and never started with SnapChat or Instagram, but as a Boomer, I’m not the demographic they’re seeking. I agree that users should try to stifle the software makers’ worst impulses, akin to what happened with Netflix. We can DO IT.

  • While I agree with your observations about the loss of product differentiation, social media platforms aren’t about serving you. They’re about selling more ads to you, about you… Until a significant percentage of users stop using a particular platform, they will all continue to look like the competition and offer competing functionality in an attempt to grab market share from the competition.

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