Stats: One Way Twitter Can be a Shark / by Nate Westheimer

Yesterday I posted a rant about Twitter and how little it's changed in the past year. The point I was trying to make is that for something that I and many others have touted as the next big thing, there's been practically zero change in the way we've used the medium over the past year. I made a call for Twitter to be more shark-like and get moving. That post was met with some great criticism from folks I listen to very closely: my partner, (BricaBox CTO) Kyle Bragger, and my friend Alex Hillman, champion of Philadelphia's coworking movement.

Kyle asked, "Is Twitter’s supposed lack of new, updated, or otherwise enhanced features a reason to use it less or become disheartened with the service? Why change a good thing?"

Alex piled on, saying, "You need to remember that twitter isn’t your everyday webapp. I see it as two very distinct and unique things: first, it’s a truly mobile application, and one of very few in that class. Second, it’s almost a social experiment. Give the masses a very, very simple tool and see what they do with it."

What Kyle and Alex made me realize is that my rant had everything to do with what people had built on top of the platform. Hashtags and Tweetmeme are by far the best known, and they're just clones of Technorati and Techmeme, on Twitter. So what. Foamee is creative, but not revolutionary by any means.

What would be revolutionary is what I've been talking about for months now, and it's truly something ONLY TWITTER CAN DO -- build a robust stats program behind the app.

I think this starts with standardizing the URLs which pass through Twitter. Twitter should shorten all of them (like TinyURL), and then keep track of them. Call this service Twurl. Give people a peak into how information traverses the social graph.

Also, they should come out with social stats, like the ones Damon Cortesi and a few others made. But of course with stats being a native part of the platform it would be much less resource intensive and more comprehensive.

For instance, I want to know WHY people are following me. Peter Shankman just starting following me today, but how did he come across me on Twitter? A simple layer in Twitter which would show "People Peter Shankman follows who also follow you" (this is kinda like the common friends thing on Facebook) would tell me so much about who and why people are following me. Who's referring the most followers to me? This would be killer information, and would change the way Twitter is used.

So that's it. I'm not hating on Twitter. I love it. I use it everyday. I love the serendipity, I love the openness, and I love the simplicity. But I want more. I want to see this service grow and evolve. And it's not evolving.

All the things I love about Twitter were what I loved last year when I found it. We're using it in the same ways, and that tells me that there's locked up potential, and it's not just the developer community locking it up. My friend Chris Messina, while evangelizing Open Source, has always pointed out that Open is not the end all be all. You've got to facilitate and lead too.