Ignoring for the moment that blogging, too, is on its last legs, and that this blog is living (or dying) proof of that demise, it is looking more and more like Twitter is being abandoned. The Atlantic ran this eulogy for the micro-blogging platform this past summer, and other bloggers (like Bad Words) have made similar pronouncements more recently. If this is the case–and the activity on Twitter does seem to be on the decline–then perhaps my 2010 post calling the service a “flash in the pan” was right, at least in the long term.
There are likely a few reasons people are leaving the service, but I think the main issue with Twitter was always its usefulness: unlike Facebook, which people user for a wide range of personal and professional reasons, Twitter never offered a genuine purpose, except perhaps in fleeting moments when it seemed to scoop the mainstream and online media, as in the Arab Spring. Twitter serves well in these contexts, when the news is censored, too slow, or too top-down to give the real story. But these kind of events seem to be few and far between: who can remember if Twitter played a role in the Baltimore riots, for example?
Instead, what Twitter offers is an endless stream of insider chatter, a kind of echo chamber where various groups fall into predictable patterns of approval and rejection. It does not really matter what Donald Trump tweets to his followers on Twitter, or that he and Jeb Bush exchange indignant, 140-word insults about 9/11. Each partisan set of devotees retweet the remarks, breathlessly, as if they were somehow compelling or urgent. But no one cares.
It may be the limits of the form–the cap of 140 characters seems to breed invective and ignorance–but more importantly, it is just not as relevant or meaningful as Facebook seems to be. For better or worse, Facebook has integrated itself into our lives, becoming in a short time the place where we exchange family photographs, pass along news stories, watch cat videos, grieve, and celebrate. Twitter never wove itself into our social fabric, and its time has apparently come.