Big Business

Stay in the garden, kids!

News has broken that twitter might be abandoning it’s rather unique 140-character limit for messages, or at least allowing for longer ‘click for more’ type messages. So what’s the point of that? Competing with Medium? Yes and no, it’s largely an effort to keep people in the garden that they’re building.

What’s really changing here, then, is not the length of the tweet. It’s where that link at the bottom takes you when you click on it—or, rather, where it doesn’t take you. Instead of funneling traffic to blogs, news sites, and other sites around the Web, the “read more” button will keep you playing in Twitter’s own garden.

After a while, you may notice that this garden has expanded to take in territory that once lay beyond its walls—and that those walls are a little higher than you remember them being. Stories published on Twitter may not be available elsewhere. At the same time, Twitter might start to exercise some control over which stories available elsewhere will be allowed inside its garden. That’s because Twitter is struggling to compete with rivals like Snapchat, Instagram, and Tumblr, all of which are designed to keep users in rather than continually sending them out to the broader Web to view content.

Facebook is doing much the same: Its recent big push for native videos and Instant Articles—content hosted within the News Feed, rather than linking out—is ostensibly about a more seamless user experience. And, sure, that’s part of it. Facebook’s own research has told it that users hate clicking on links and waiting for pages to load in their browsers, particularly on their phones, where many websites still look terrible and function poorly. But it’s also a land grab on Facebook’s part, as I and others have explained. The social network is using its enormous active user base to persuade the media to give up control of their content and hand it over to Facebook. If they don’t, they’re likely to find that their links are bypassed by Facebook’s billion daily active users in favor of videos and stories that appear at full length directly in the News Feed.

Looking back, you can see the slow progression of these sites from an initial very-open nature, to a more closed, ‘Hotel California’ vibe. Think about all the 3rd party tools you could use for twitter when it started, the lack of rules enforcing look and feel and so on. Today, there’s only a handful of non-twitter clients around that I know of, and I only use tweetdeck, which is owned by twitter so probably doesn’t even count anymore.

The open sites are closing, and trying to keep you in, for better or worse.