Let’s talk about Twitter and Facebook. Compare their stock graphs, and in the lower-right of that view, check out the steady drumbeat of stories about Twitter’s stalled user growth.

I discovered Twitter a few years ago, took a break of almost exactly one year in 2013, and have been using it more and more over the past six months.

By contrast, I removed much of my personal information from Facebook a year or so ago, haven’t logged on in a while now, and I increasingly think that it’s junk food: a fun one-off experience that for many users simply produces addiction and unhappiness. That’s what I noticed in my interactions, and that’s why I quit. (By the way, if significant portions of your userbase are capable of becoming addicted to your product, consider that it may not be fully ethical to produce it. But that’s another blog post.)

Anyway, I’ve never had that problem with Twitter. I think that’s for a few reasons, all of which are probably not great for continued revenue growth:

  • Most people don’t understand how to use Twitter or what it’s for. Bad for user growth, good for users because it places certain constraints that make the bar for content production a little higher.

  • No “friending” paradigm. It doesn’t make me self-conscious to follow someone else’s timeline. Or to unfollow it. There isn’t as much social baggage. This makes the network less “sticky”.

  • Content sharing and curation is a more thoughtful exercise. On Facebook, you “share” content; on Twitter, you say it again. There’s something higher-stakes, to me, about “re-tweeting” to your followers. And you can’t “like” something on Twitter, but you can say “this is my favorite!”. Also reduces stickiness.

  • At least in my timeline, it’s most about sharing intellectual and professional content, rather than personal stuff. Facebook is the epitome of “comparing your inside to someone else’s outside”, i.e. having to measure your internal sturm und drang against a cherry-picked list of other people’s usually happy moments. But almost everyone has good personal stuff to share.

The ads in my Twitter timeline actually don’t bother me; many of them have been surprisingly relevant or interesting, in fact, unlike Facebook ads. So if advertisers are willing to pay enough to keep the company profitable, great. But it worries me that they might demand changes to make the company more like Facebook. If you doubt this, check out the new Twitter profiles and see if the format is familiar.

I would love the option to pay to ensure Twitter’s continued existence in a usable form (though of course there’s probably nothing to fret about quite yet). It’s kind of the paradox of free services in general, like GMail, or Wikipedia. Do I like getting stuff for free? Sure[1]. But if I paid for Twitter, perhaps they would be more accountable to me and not to advertisers.

[1] I actually do make a monthly donation to Wikipedia in the same amount as my Netflix bill; I highly recommend this if you can afford it.