Google+ has made Twitter boring, here’s what Twitter should do about that

For the past few days I’ve been hanging out in Jackson Hole with a bunch of geeks and one thing I’ve noticed over and over is how boring Twitter has gotten when compared to Google+.

Why has Twitter turned boring?

I’ve found several areas:

1. First experience.
2. Pictures and videos.
3. Control over content distribution.
4. No API, no auto pushing of content.
5. Signals are visible from who you excited and pissed off.
6. Auto flowing webpage.

So, let’s take each of these areas on, and talk about what Twitter could do to make users excited again.

FIRST EXPERIENCE

Forget everything you know about social networks. Now, visit my Twitter account. Then visit my Google Plus account.

Which one draws you in more? Which one shows engagement? Which one has a better about page? Which one shows passion, excitement, that something is happening? In all cases, Google+ is blowing away Twitter and it’s not even close.

So, what can Twitter do?

1. Buy Twylah. Look at my landing page there, it’s MUCH better than what’s on Twitter. Then, Twitter should add some stats on each twitterer. Stuff like “how many retweets has she gotten today?” or “how many @ replies does this user answer?” That would make Twitter more engaging and interesting.

2. Completely revamp the list idea in Twitter. If you follow one of my lists, which I’ve spent hundreds of hours on, they DON’T DO S**T ON YOUR ACCOUNT! This is so lame that it, alone, will get me to pour more time into Google+. But, what should they do? First, if you follow a list all those people’s tweets should be added to your home feed. Second, if you follow a list you should be able to send your Tweets to people on just that list. Third, if you follow a list, you should be able to send private messages to those people. Fourth, the people on the list should be able to tell the list itself whether that was OK or not.

3. Get rid of the freaking spam on search and give us amplification abilities and noise controls. Many new users will come because a blogger or someone will say “hey, we’re talking about the new iPad on Twitter.” Have you ever looked at a search for the word iPad? It’s full of crap and spam. There’s no way to say “only show me items written by people with a Klout score of more than 30 (which would get rid of the spam) or there’s no way for me to say “show me only items that say “Apple iPad” and that have a positive sentiment.” If there were, many new users would see the value in Twitter, especially around news and location. Instead, every search I’ve done lately is full of spam. Boring!

PICTURES AND VIDEOS

Google+ has beautiful photos and videos. Twitter? Just page after page of mind-numbing 140 character items. Now, Flipboard demonstrated to all of us that photos and videos CAN be added into the display, and the new Twitter UI does do some of that, but it just isn’t enough. Google+ is blowing Twitter away here.

So, what could Twitter do? Totally rethink the clients it owns, and rethink the stream itself. Let us add photos and videos into each tweet and, even, let us do that outside of the 140 character limit, which would let Twitter continue to blow away Google+ on where it is strong: which is on mobile.

CONTROL OVER CONTENT DISTRIBUTION

Google+ lets me publish a post to JUST A SINGLE PERSON +or+ to a small group of people, or, even, to a circle that has 5,000 members in it. Twitter has no such way to do this.

Why does this make Twitter boring? Well, because, my friends can feel safe sharing, um, “racier” posts with me on Google+ where on Twitter they either need to DM me, which isn’t as good as a group (my other friends can’t say “great photo” for instance) and isn’t nearly as nice.

What can Twitter do? Revamp lists. But Twitter’s management thinks lists suck, so I don’t see Twitter getting this feature anytime soon and that’s really too bad. It’s what will really put Twitter into a box and soon, you’ll see, how this affects search and all sorts of news. This is Twitter’s weakest point, and it will become more and more apparent that Twitter has blown a real opportunity here to make its system more interesting.

NO AUTO-PUSHING OF CONTENT ON GOOGLE+

I look at Twitter and a lot of it has turned into a boring RSS feed. I get items from news organizations, and even people now are using it to automatically Tweet (there are even systems that will send out tweets automatically at specific times). I don’t know who really posted these items, and I don’t get answers back from these people a lot of times because, well, they aren’t even online. Not true over on Google+. At least not yet.

This is one area where I’m not sure how Twitter can help, but Google has chat and “hangout” videoconferencing features, which help me see whether someone is really online and available (even Michael Dell has done a few hangouts and those really get people excited). So, I would add some interactive features into Twitter where the sender MUST be online and there to answer them.

YOU CAN SEE WHO YOU EXCITED AND WHO YOU PISSED OFF (and you can see same for other people)

On Google+ I can see if what you wrote excited or pissed people off. Why? There are comments right underneath it. As a writer this feedback makes Google+ extremely interesting. Why? Because I can change my behavior if I’m pissing people off, and my ego gets fed when I see 3,000 people commented and said “great post.” I am seeing a LOT of engagement on Google+ where on Twitter I can’t see that.

Quick, go visit Mike Arrington’s Twitter account and tell me of his last 20 tweets which ones pissed off the most people? Which ones thrilled the most people. But on Google+ that’s a simple chore.

What can Twitter do? List under each Tweet engagement statistics. How many times was it retweeted? Who retweeted it? Which one caused the most @ replies? What was the sentiment of those replies (there are lots of companies that can tell you whether a reply is positive or negative).

THE POSTS AUTOFLOW

If I open a web browser and put Twitter and Google+ side-by-side, one automatically shows me new stuff, one doesn’t. That makes Twitter look old and crappy. Yes, if you use newer Twitter clients you can get tweets to autoflow, but I’d rather have the web page do this like Google+ does.

Anyway, there are other things, as well. On Google+ the Notification page shows you anytime you get engagement. Twitter has nothing like that. It’s amazing how cool that is.

Are you finding the same thing? So far I’ve been asking the geeks I’m hanging out with here in Jackson Hole and they really are seeing these differences and wonder how Twitter will react to them.

Me too. So, Twitter, what you gonna do to keep from being seen as the most unexciting social network?

UPDATE: Here’s a post about this over on Google Plus so you can see the kind of engagement that I’m getting there.

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Sometimes I really get it wrong; my apology to SEO industry

I’m not always right (I doubt anyone can in the world of tech if they are trying to predict the future) but here’s an example of when I got something really wrong (this was an example from my writing back in 2007). I thought more human-oriented approaches, like Mahalo, would get better results than algorithmic approaches, like Google. Why? I showed an example where SEO techniques had put stuff into Google searches that just wasn’t very good and compared that to where Mahalo had done a better job.

Anyway, it’s 2011 now and it’s clear that the Google way of doing things is still better for most people. It’s instructive to go back and see where I went wrong.

1. I didn’t listen to my own user behavior. Truth is, since 2007 I’ve rarely been to Mahalo. I rarely find that that site is authoritative on, well, anything. Compare it to Quora, for instance, and I find Quora more interesting in almost every case. I should have listened to my own behavior more.

2. I was trying to kiss someone’s behind and let that bias my conclusions. Why? I had visited Mahalo, gotten a tour of it with Jason Calacanis, who is an entrepreneurs who, back then, had a lot of power because he was a partner with Techcrunch and because he had successfully kicked off WeblogsInc, which included Engadget and sold to AOL. I assumed what he told me about where the industry was going was correct. As most journalists learn, I should have fact checked his statements. In college we learned “if your mother says she loves you you should check it out.” I didn’t, and now am facing the damage that happens when you say something that later turns out to be wrong.

3. I bet against momentum and user behavior. Truth is, even if Mahalo DID beat Google, it just wasn’t going to beat Wikipedia or Google itself. Why not? Mahalo couldn’t compete with the data Google had to study. Google knows a LOT more about our reading behavior than Mahalo does and can readjust its rankings accordingly (since 2007, for instance, Google brought out Instant Search which is far more useful for me than anything Mahalo has done. Why was that possible? Google has the user data, Mahalo doesn’t). Another more modern example of this is while I like Chewsy’s featureset, it is totally failing against Foodspotting because Foodspotting has more users. Same as I pointed out in my most recent post. Foursquare is beating Gowalla mostly because it has more users.

4. I went for cheap SEO tricks. Truth is, if you bash the SEO world they will all link to you, argue with you, etc. (Bloggers even have a name for this: “link bait”). Folks who do SEO as a profession love fighting about that stuff and it almost always works. But, does it really help you get the traffic you want? The reputation you want? No way. Putting up great content, like when I interviewed Mike McCue and told the world about Flipboard is a far more effective way to get good Google Juice. Taking shortcuts just tarnishes your reputation.

Anyway, just wanted to say I’m sorry to the SEO industry.

I’ll try to get it more right next time.

Can Disney help Gowalla in its battle with Foursquare?

I’ll be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve used Gowalla (a location-based checkin service you use on your phone). I’ve found that in most of the cities I visit Foursquare has more users, more tips, is faster, easier to check in, etc.

But when I arrived at DisneyWorld yesterday for a private tour with several Disney employees, among others, I learned that Disney liked Gowalla more. That got me to redownload the app onto one of my iPhones and as we went around the park I checked into both Gowalla and Foursquare.

Some things became clear immediately. Gowalla has a much more attractive design, and has a bunch of fun games to play as you visit different attractions. But I kept asking myself “will this experience get me to use Gowalla and, even more importantly, will it get average visitors to the park to use Gowalla.”

In the end analysis, no. Why not? Because even though Disney’s management likes Gowalla they haven’t made it easy for an average park visitor to find out about it. I never saw a “check into Gowalla here for a fun game” sign in any of the three parks we visited. I never saw Gowalla named in the brochures, maps, etc I got.

And, worse for Gowalla, when I did check in on Gowalla I never saw the number of users that I saw on Foursquare and the tips that Foursquare users left were generally more interesting than Gowalla’s better design and cool virtual objects left around to pick up.

What did I see on Gowalla? Tons of Disney employees playing, but after a while they even admitted there were some severe problems with Gowalla. Here’s a list of things that came up after using it all day long:

1. Gowalla is SLLLLLLLOOOOOOOOOWWWWW to check in. Foursquare consistently beat it on check in speed.
2. Gowalla still has problem checking in. Why? Because Gowalla has this lame philosophy that you must be exactly where you say you are checking in. Often times, though, we were already walking away from a ride when we remembered we didn’t check in. Foursquare let us check in while walking away. Gowalla often didn’t.
3. Gowalla didn’t let park experts fix bad entries, Foursquare did. Most of the people I was walking around with are Foursquare power users. Foursquare gives those kinds of users special abilities to fix their database in case ride names are misspelled, or some guest entered in a duplicate name, etc. We saw all sorts of evidence in Gowalla that there were mistakes, duplicates, etc, but in Foursquare there were none. Disney employees say they would fix mistakes, but aren’t given the ability to.

Then, once you get off park property it gets worse. As I type this I’m in Orlando’s airport. It says two of my friends are checked in here within the last three days. In the last hour there are three people listed in recent activity. I open up Foursquare and 74 other people are here along with 430 tips.

So, no contest, Disney can’t help Gowalla. Bums me out, cause I like the Gowalla team and design. But users beat all that. Disney should make a deal with Foursquare and get on board.