What does it mean when a major tech company starts slipping like a seal on wet rocks? Rumors about an acquisition start to rumble then quiet down, the CEO seems beleaguered and frustrated, there's more news about Internet trolls beating up on people than the firm adding any new features, and an identity crisis becomes so pronounced it obfuscates any real purpose. Who you once were becomes less important; the big news is that you've lost all momentum. That's essentially the story of Twitter, a company that seems perpetually stuck in the past. They created micro messaging and now they can't seem to do anything else.

I use Twitter all day, but the truth is--tweets are becoming like white noise on a lost FM radio station. A colleague mentioned how the service is mostly used by celebrities, journalists and Donald Trump. That's a vast oversimplification, but of 20 or 30 friends, not a single one bothers with the service anymore. That means my friends not only removed their account long ago, they don't browse the feeds anymore and don't care what anyone posts. Guess what? They're too busy using Facebook, which provides all of the social networking they will ever need. Twitter has lost the mass market.

The phrase "pedaling backwards" comes to mind. Also, the one about "reliving former glories". Oh, and you might as well throw in "retracing your steps" to the mix.

Besides Facebook, the real powerhouse online is still Google. Here's a really good example of how this all works. As I've mentioned before, I'm restoring a classic Range Rover with my nephew. I pay for the parts, he does the repairs. It's supposed to be fun! We need to see if we can actually find a way to get the engine to run for more than ten seconds. When we get stumped, we always do a Google search. That's what everyone does these days. You find a forum, a YouTube video, a random Reddit post and, next thing you know, you're popping off fuel injectors and letting them soak in gasoline, as per JimBob1010's instructions.

Do we ever check Twitter? Not at all. Never. It's becoming a rat's nest of nonsense, a place to grumble about the debates. I used to post questions on my Twitter feed, which now has about 11,000 followers, and expect a few people to send me some tips about how to fix a Wi-Fi signal at my house or troubleshoot a laptop issue, but fewer and fewer people respond these days. They've grown silent. The service has 313 million users but Twitter can't seem to attract any new attention at all.

On Facebook, it's the opposite phenomena. I can post a note about wanting to converse with people about robotic tech or a new smart home gadget and receive dozens of chat requests in five minutes. We're all running Facebook in a tab; few of us run Twitter apps on our phones anymore. We do have accounts, and we know the service has some hope. But how long will that last? If you keep tweeting into an empty room and all you hear is an echo, when do you finally stop?

Twitter somehow became a utility, the cable service you forgot all about. Like that one employee who always does exactly what he's told and nothing more, Twitter decided to stick with their winning formula and that's it. There's no spark.

What happened? Well, whatever it is, Yahoo has the same ailment. It's an inability to keep innovating enough that you become fresh again. It's a user assumption about sameness, that Yahoo Mail and Yahoo Weather will look and function about the same when you login, so what's the point? Interestingly, this is an ailment that Microsoft has no intention of contracting. I've noticed how they keep adding new features to Microsoft Office, luring everyone back from Google Docs and other services. It's working for me right now. I'm back using Word after an interminable hiatus, mostly because I really like all of the new research tools and editing aids.

The sad state of affairs is correctable, and I don't mean by flushing the company with cash. They need to do a radical pivot, similar to what Snap (formerly Snapchat) is doing right now by becoming a camera company. (It turns out having millions of teenagers sending temporary photos to each other is perhaps not the best business model after all.) Twitter needs to become a blogging platform, maybe not long-form but something closer to Medium for sure. They need to make a bold move into the connected home, figuring out how to become the micro messaging platform for every doorbell in the world. They should shift and take on WhatsApp or Kik, offering some utterly indispensable real-time messaging features.

When people think about Twitter today, they think old tech utility. When that happens, you might as well start nailing a sign that says RIP on their tombstone. Twitter doesn't need fresh cash. Twitter needs to become viable again by creating a highly compelling service that isn't totally ignored for being a waste of time. I should be tweeting with experts about my Range Rover. I should be interacting in real-time with Wi-Fi experts. I should be sending a tweet to my alarm system. Really, anything other than contributing to a low level hum of white noise.

Published on: Oct 10, 2016