Twitter's recent IPO announcement is the latest in a number of high profile public offerings from social media giants. It follows the mega IPOs of Facebook and LinkedIn and also comes in the wake of other socially connected companies' public offerings, such as Zynga and Groupon.
It is an indication of just how important these platforms have become,
not just to the web, but to the whole of society, that they are valued
so highly and get such huge media attention. However, there is an
argument to say that as they all cease to be independent, that we all
start to miss out.
The filter bubble
In 2011 Eli Pariser wrote 'The filter bubble'.
The book outlines his theory that the more we use the web, the less
rich and varied our experience becomes. He argued that because of the
way web software learns how you behave and what content you consume,
that in fact, as you use it more you are less likely to encounter a
contrarian view. That's because you are simply served content through
search and social interactions that fit with a profile you create daily
and increasingly polarises you.
This is particularly noticeable if you use Google as your primary
search engine. Google's algorithm ensures you receive personalised
results. On one hand this is great as you tend to get the stuff you
want, but it also means increasingly you only see content you are likely
to agree with and therefore are less likely to question certain
The Twitter bubble
With Twitter the bubble is slightly different. The way a user builds
their Twitter profile shapes what content they see in their stream. The
people you follow, the key words you use in your biography and the
hashtags you follow, all help to shape the content you see, but also
arguably, limit the content you are exposed to over time.
The Twitter IPO makes this phenomenon even more interesting. A lot
of coverage in the past few weeks has focused around the fact that Twitter hasn't been profitable. Twitter are laying out plans for a whole host of commercial growth options, including greater integration with TV, increasing levels of tweet data mining, and of course more advertising.
Up until now it's been in Twitter's interest as a network to be as
open as it possibly can be, but the commercial imperative that will be
visited upon the company following its sale will inevitably force the
platform into highly specific targeting around a whole number of
commercial propositions. That will mean that the user's experience of it
will inevitably become narrower and less eclectic leading to a further
narrowing of experience.
Keeping the web open and democractic
It's worth noting that 20 years after the open, democratic web
was born, it is possibly one of the most monopolised places you could
visit. In all areas choices are narrowing. Consider the fact that
increasingly there is one place to look for things (Google), one place
to shop for new goods (Amazon), one place to sell things (Ebay), a
couple of places to talk to your mates (Facebook and Twitter). That
level of monopoly simply won't be good for business in the long term. It
simply means there is increasing control over the channels to market
and ultimately the price at which that channel can be sold. It's
important that companies consider all available channels to ensure the
web continues to be an open marketplace.