Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Twitter Recession, Part II

Can Twitter be turned around?   Does anyone with a real life really care?

In USA today (they give it away at the Arizona Biltmore - a nice place to have lunch, for FLW fans) an article about how Twitter is in turnaround, and they are bringing back one of the founders to try to fix the company. 

Membership has stalled, and revenues are not enough to keep the place going.  It is a popular site, with 300 Million users, but no one can figure out how to make money from it.

Since I last wrote about it,  the negative P/E ratio has gotten even worse - from minus 12 to minus 26.  I mean, how shitty does this company have to get before people wise up?

On another page, a note that George Zimmerman has been taunting blacks with racist comments and posting pictures of the dead body of Trevon Martin - the young man he shot - on Twitter.

Gee, I wonder what the problem with Twitter is?

Oh, right, it is the sort of place where people do shit like that.

As I noted before, nothing ever good has come of Twitter.  You never read headlines about, "Tot saved from kidnappers, thanks to Twitter!" or "Baby rescued from burning building, thanks to Twitter!" or "Man saved from heart attack, thanks to Twitter!"

Maybe that happens.  Not often, I can assure you.

What does happen, with regularity is, "Politician forced to resign due to comments on Twitter!" or "Celebrity forced to do talk-show apology tour, due to comments made on Twitter!" or "Idiotic conspiracy theory rumors spread via Twitter!"

Twitter is a place for junk data.  It is where you post a link to your manifesto before you go on your shooting rampage.  It is where teenage girls torment a classmate into committing suicide.   It is, in short, a sewer of data.

Compounding this is the nature of Twitter - it caters to the compulsive need in people to "follow" these data feeds and obsessively check their smart phones for the "latest" posting.  As the name implies, the Twitterati tend to be high-strung flighty birds wired on crack, who cannot sit still for more than a moment, without having 140 characters of wit lobbed at them.

Twitter is what Kurt Vonnegut predicted in his dystopian short story Harrison Bergman.  In that story, he tells a frightening tale of the future world, in 2081, where everyone is made "equal" under the law, by being handicapped to bring their abilities down to the median level.  Under the direction of the Handicapper General, graceful ballerinas would have heavy weights attached to their arms and legs.  Beautiful people would be forced to wear ugly masks.  And smart people would be distracted constantly by distracting noises periodically played through headphones, so they could not hold coherent thoughts.

Twitter fills this role neatly, by distracting people from their daily lives with meaningless short phrases and messages, sent over and over again.

In other words, Twitter is nothing but pure evil.   And unless they've made a pact with Satan himself (and I am not saying that hasn't happened), they can't make a business model of just selling evil.

Just a crazy thought here, but maybe one way to "fix" Twitter is to cancel George Zimmerman's Twitter account.   Maybe I am far off-base here, but a guy who claims to have shot someone in self-defense is certainly proving to the world that maybe it wasn't as he claimed it to be.   Taunting family members of the deceased, making racist comments, and posting pictures of his dead young victim are certainly in poor taste.   Why is Twitter allowing itself to be a platform for this?

Oh, right, he has a lot of followers.  That is the  nature of the beast on the Internet.  People want to see pictures of dead bodies and make racist posts (until recently, Reddit had a "subreddit" called "watching N*ggers die" that had links to videos of black people being killed.   This from Conde Nast, the folks who publish the New Yorker.  Weird, eh?).

So they eschew ethics in favor of dollars, convinced that chasing the bottom slime of the Internet is the way to make money.   And while that may attract the racist crackpot demographic, for every duck dynasty fan you gain, you might lose 2, 3, 5, or 100 other normal people.  And normal people have more money to spend than lonely crackpots who live in cabins and build mail-bombs.

Just a thought.   The Republican Party is going through the same gyrations, convinced that they need to "get" that target demographic of crazy people, and then wondering why their popularity ratings are lower than the Democrats.  If it weren't for Gerrymandering, they would not have been able to control Congress.

But I think the real deal here is that a lot of these websites and apps (and that is all Twitter is, a website and app) are not making money.  Even ones making money are not making enough to justify their share price.  And I have been saying this for some time.  P/E ratios in the hundreds - or thousands in the case of Linked-In - make no sense at all.  Profits would have to increase a hundred-fold in order to make the share price rational.

So we are in a bear market - a correction.  And perhaps a lot of this has to do with over-hyped IPOs from the last five years - from ZipCar, to Groupon, to Facebook, to Alibaba.   A website isn't the end of the world, nor is it a "game-changer"  - any more than running an illegal taxicab company is a "game-changer" of anything.  And yes, I am referring to the over-hyped "Uber" nonsense.

We like to believe we are more sophisticated and modern than our ancestors - that the things we are doing are so much better than what came before that they have to have worth and merit and value.   And while some new things have some value, we tend - as moderns - to over-value them.

Will Twitter soldier on?   I suppose so.  But will it reach a Billion users?   I doubt it.  Even Facebook is starting to plateau, as the fad-factor kicks in and the young people perceive it as being some sort of uncool scrapbooking club that Grandma belongs to.

What is more likely to happen is that some other website will come along that will be perceived as more modern and hip.  Things on the Internet - being little more than data - tend to be transitory in nature.   If you've been on the Internet for a few decades, you've seen this.   USENET discussion groups are still around, but are largely dormant SPAM dumping grounds.  The various websites that replaced them (with discussion groups) tend to rise and fall in popularity, depending on content, hipness factor, and whatnot.

There was a time before Google and there will likely be a time after it, believe it or not.   Everyone thought AOL would end up owning the Internet.   We all thought IBM was a colossus that could never be taken down.   Times change, priorities change.   People once fought the railroads - the high-tech of the late 19th Century - as an impossibly powerful conglomerate that would be around forever.    As it turned out, the railroad's day in the sun lasted barely 50 years, before it, too, faced bankruptcy and consolidation.

What we think of is permanent is often ethereal.  And when it comes to the Internet, this is especially so.

UPDATE:   Another example of why social media is never helpful....