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Even When it Tries to do Something Good, Twitter Finds a Way to Fail

When I used to cover the financial services industry, one firm was known to insiders as “the bank most likely to step on a sharpened stick.” What they meant was that this bank seemed to be so accident-prone (or cursed) that if there was a problem to find, it would somehow find it.

It’s hard not to think of this phrase whenever Twitter does something. It’s not just that the company has lost 80% of its former market value over the past few years or that it failed to generate much interest from a raft of acquirers last year, despite all the leaks about the offers it was supposedly fielding.

Whenever the service even tries to do something good, it can’t seem to avoid shooting itself in the foot somehow. In the latest example, it announced that @ replies won’t count towards the 140-character limit, as it promised months ago. You might think that this new development would be a good thing. But most users appear to hate it, in part because the execution is clunky at best.

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It’s true that almost every tweak Twitter makes to the service is received with howls of outrage. Many people just don’t like change. But there are valid criticisms of the latest move, which point out that it makes certain aspects of Twitter harder rather than easier.

Twitter is caught in a classic Catch-22. It needs to boost its user base to prove to investors that there’s still some juice in the engine. But every change it makes irritates hard-core users. And so it lurches forward, stumbling and then getting back up again, over and over, like some kind of cartoon zombie.