What should Twitter ask?

I’ve always regarded “What are you doing?” as mere placeholder text. Look at it this way: if you use Twitter long enough, you’d soon ignore the question’s existence altogether. You don’t even notice it’s there. Something like Seth Godin’s ‘Purple Cow’ analogy.

When it comes to prompts, I believe their primary role is to attract new users to Twitter. The prompt influences what their first tweet will be about. Twitter CEO Biz Stone would probably agree with me on this. (Initially, I thought Twitter was banal and pointless because I took “What are you doing?” at face value.)

Be it “What are you doing?” or “What’s happening”, I don’t feel that either question can justify itself based on the many ways Twitter is used. I feel that prompts like these can actually affect the type of information that flows on Twitter perhaps by subconsciously directing the user’s thought processes. Considering this, “What’s happening?” is disruptive and debilitates Twitter in more ways than one.

Firstly, the new question’s specificity makes it even more narrow and limiting than “What are you doing?”. If enough people are influenced and hence adhere to answering “What’s happening?” more and more often, the Twitterverse will be so much for the worse – being reduced to 5 million news organizations. People’s expectations and perceptions of Twitter will undergo a gradual mental shift, and you might be more likely to see Twitter as a news outlet more than anything else in the future. I don’t wish to see this sort of influence on a write-what-you-want platform. It seems to me insidious.

Secondly, I see the new question as an inadequate attempt to include the activity of linking Tweets to news stories and blog posts. The vagueness of “What’s happening?” seem to indicate classifying every linked-tweet under a single, universal category. Fort Hood is placed on the same cognitive level of importance as eating KFC chicken – the un-newsworthy but interesting/witty tweet will be marginalised gradually, moving Twitter towards being just another news aggregator like Digg. Contrary to the very idea of bringing people of different places and walks of life together via microblogging, we may see people drifting apart and communities separated just because they have a different take on “What’s happening?”.

Then again, the impact of the above may me reduced if users naturally begin to ignore the prompt altogether after say, maybe 100 tweets.

What should the prompt be then? I suggest something inclusive, catchy, and not even a question.

‘Go ahead’.


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