Twitter Is Stuck With Itself, Too

Twitter, by contrast, when it’s not recognizing and sanctioning new habits — not all of them good for the community — is more often in the position of merely applying a brake, or fiddling with a knob that turns between “Less Twitter” and “More Twitter,” with “Twitter” defined not by Twitter itself, but by hundreds of millions of people who will simply not log off, lest they lose their chance to see or be seen in the One True Feed.

Part of this comes down to how Twitter works, on a basic level. “Twitter has preserved an architecture for publics to emerge around any issue, including how Twitter works,” said Prof. Burgess, who works in the digital media research center at the Queensland University of Technology. “It makes it difficult for the company to institute any major changes because there’s this really active mobilized user community,” particularly, she said, “when they don’t seem to emerge out of user practices or norms, and seem to just mimic features of other platforms three years later.”

In their book, Prof. Burgess and Prof. Baym suggest that, for nearly a decade now, Twitter has been in transition away from its “open innovation” paradigm — the one where Twitter, awed by its users, turns the knob toward “More Twitter” — and into a terminally advertising-driven one, where “user metrics need to be contained and controlled.” If an openly top-down Twitter can’t work, in other words, the company can at least make sure it’s monetized.

Twitter, of course, can do whatever it wants. It’s frequently humbled by its collective users, but it frequently disappoints them, too. (In some contexts, “more Twitter” equates with harassment.) It’s also a profitable company that extracts billions of dollars from this process; what Twitter users insist on doing, collectively, isn’t actually an awesome mystery, it’s just surprisingly specific and, it turns out, extremely sticky.

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