Elon, Twitter, and Blue Checks: Product Feature Critique
Watching a Real Time Fiasco on Twitter
To create an excellent product or product feature, two things are critical:
An understanding of your users
An understanding of the problem
Without these elements, you will miss the mark most of the time. Of course, you can get lucky sometimes and create a good product or feature without understanding why or how. It happens. But it’s poor form to rely solely on luck. We all need a fair amount of luck, but we need to couple that with a good understanding and good process for making the right decisions.
Elon and Twitter
Elon Musk has been putting on masterclass so far at Twitter (and on Twitter) in everything not to do at a company. From massive layoffs, to knee-jerk policy changes, to spaghetti-at-the-wall product ideas.
I’m no fan of Elon. How anyone can watch this sort of chaos and still defend him is amazing to me. But fanboys gonna fanboy.
I am a fan of Twitter, despite all its problems. It is a place for the latest-breaking information. It is the place to find some of the funniest, most sarcastic minds on the internet. It’s a great place for memes and trends and conversation if you are in the right places.
And I was even intrigued at the prospect of someone like Elon taking it over before he vastly overpaid for it. But the need to make massive change quickly in order to make profit, coupled with his general overconfidence and lack of understanding, make for a dangerous combination.
Despite being a user of Twitter, I’m not convinced at this moment that Elon understands what Twitter is:
Let’s set that aside for a moment though, and zoom in on one specific area of the recent fiasco: the blue checkmark.
Blue checkmarks have been a coveted and contentious part of Twitter for years. They both imbue the recipient with an air of notoriety and stand almost as an endorsement on Twitter.
Understanding The Problem
Despite how you feel about blue checkmarks, they solved an important problem—identifying who is the authentic account on Twitter. It is easy for anyone to create fake accounts or parody accounts on Twitter. That could be a problem, but it’s also an interesting feature.
Fake accounts or meme accounts or parody accounts are a problem if you don’t have a good way to identify the real or official account. But blue checkmarks solve that problem efficiently. You can easily see if the account is, in fact, the official account of a celebrity or a writer or a brand based on that checkmark, meaning that Twitter has done the work to verify they say who they say they are and you can trust it. It is a good solution to a real problem.
Understanding The Users
The other key component to our story is understanding the users of Twitter.
Twitter is not a large social network or platform relative to other social media platforms. In fact, it is one of the smallest ones and not growing particularly fast.
However, its users are some of the most sarcastically creative. Few other social media platforms will take a feature or a meme or an event and quickly spread it or massively turn it against its original purpose as Twitter will.
Twitter mobs bring out the best and worst in people. And it happens rapidly. Because of the nature of the platform and the nature of the users, especially the most active users, information spreads rapidly, memes spread rapidly, and sarcasm spreads rapidly.
Blowing It All Up
For those not paying attention, as Elon took over Twitter, he quickly changed the context of the blue checkmark. He allowed anyone to buy it for $8 per month as part of a subscription.