A company blog post from Akarshan Kumar, a Twitter product manager, pretty much comes out and says it: to attract new users.
“We want to make Twitter easier and more rewarding to use, and we know that at times the star could be confusing, especially to newcomers. You might like a lot of things, but not everything can be your favorite,” he writes. Then he extols the benefits of the bi-atrial flesh drum:
The heart, in contrast, is a universal symbol that resonates across languages, cultures, and time zones. The heart is more expressive, enabling you to convey a range of emotions and easily connect with people. And in our tests, we found that people loved it.
This is all fine and good. I’m glad that people in the Mountain Time Zone and people on Indian Standard Time can identify Cupid’s sigil. But it continues Twitter’s habit of reacting to a stagnating flagship product with meaningless cosmetic changes. Twitter is still running at a loss and it’s essentially failed to add any new active U.S. users in 2015. Does it really think that’s because new users don’t understand what a star means?
Tech writers at Buzzfeed refer to this impulse, delectably, as dude-fussing. It’s a term that was new to me (and I’m totally a dude-fusser), and it’s how they also categorize the company’s two recent feature additions, polls and “Moments”:
Are you familiar with dude-fussing? It’s when you go camping and someone feels a primal need to poke at the fire every 30 seconds. Or when someone is barbecuing and they cant just leave the fucking burgers alone.
These actions don’t have any real effect. But they are fussy and make a great show of effort at doing something to make it all better.
Indeed. I don’t think this change is going to scare current power users away, though it is going to frustrate them. But I also don’t think it’s going to attract new users to the service, which is what investors badly want.
If you’re interested in the company’s general failure to adapt even as its main product has changed, may I recommend this story from yesterday, by me.
As far as the icon of the four-valvéd tissue ticker itself, I don’t mind it. Back in September, when Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook was adding a “Dislike button,” I advised Facebook to augment its thumbs up with a heart:
I wonder if the message that Facebook really wants to convey with a “Dislike” button—which is something like I’m sorry, I sympathize, I feel you—is best conveyed by a heart. The company already slides a thumbs-up next to all its posts, a universal symbol of approval. Why not also insert a cartoonish heart? In various situations, ♥ can represent joy, anguish, empathy, and adoration. Much like the word “friend,” it is already wonderfully multivalent.
Facebook eventually did adopt it—along with a few other symbols. (The feature has already debuted in Ireland and Spain.) And other social software has reconsidered how to shuttle user emotions into icons this year as well. Over the summer, the group-messaging service Slack added emoji reactions, which let any user respond to any message with almost any emoji.