Twitter and Facebook are making the same mistakes as MySpace

Just when you thought you'd muted all the annoying stuff...

Bad news for Twitter pros: it looks like your feed is going to get a little more spammy if Twitter's latest bright idea sticks. Fed up with people retweeting stuff you don't care about? Twitter's about to do it on their behalf.

Twitter's latest idea is to let you see posts from people that you don't follow, but your followees do. The problem with that, of course, is that if you wanted to follow those accounts you'd already have followed them.

You can see the problem on Facebook already, where it tells you that people you know 'Like' sports you aren't interested in, political views you find absolutely abhorrent, hoaxes that were debunked before you were born, celebs you don't care about, and all kinds of made-up crystal-chomping new-age nonsense.

You'd think that Twitter would look at the increasingly horrendous Facebook news feed and vow never to do anything like it - but that's because you don't have to find new ways to make money from Twitter.

In much the same way sharks have to keep swimming to stay alive, web services have to continue growing in order to keep their investors happy - even if that means upsetting the old-timers.

A risky strategy

I think Twitter owes a lot of its success to Facebook: the bigger and more annoying Facebook became, the more attractive Twitter felt by comparison. I'm sure I'm not the only person who's described Twitter as "Facebook without all the crap".

The thing is, Facebook was like that once. People liked Facebook a lot because it was MySpace without all the crap.

MySpace, of course, hasn't been the world's favourite social network for a long time now, and that's because it blew it. As MySpace proved, social networks that go too heavy on the advertising and sponsored-this and promoted- that and forget about the users can end up driving their users away.

MySpace did it, Facebook appears to be doing it and Twitter is at least thinking about it.

The challenge is to balance the signal - the content we actually care about - with noise, all the stuff we're not interested in and don't go online to see such as promoted tweets and inline ads. Our feeds are already full of content we don't necessarily want - for example political content from people we follow for work reasons, or personal stuff from people we follow because they retweet funny videos - and the more unsolicited content Twitter sticks in there, the lower the signal to noise ratio becomes.

It's rather like having a favourite pub invaded by yelling yahoos: if they visit too often the regulars will soon find somewhere more conducive to conversation.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.