Twitter today launched its new Blue subscription service in Canada and Australia. As Neural’s Thomas Maucaulay reported earlier, users in initial subscriber areas can now pay a small monthly fee for a VIP social media experience.
The big sale here is that Blue subscribers will have access to ‘cancel tweet’ capability, bookmark folders, ‘reader’ mode, and ‘dedicated subscription customer support’.
None of this makes sense. Wasn’t the algorithm supposed to solve the customer support crisis? If Twitter has such a problem serving people in a timely manner, why on earth would someone pay extra for poor customer service from seemingly overworked staff?
Let’s break it down piece by piece.
The first standing : The ability to “cancel the tweet”. Social media companies often roll out new Quality of Life features on a limited basis, but this is one of the few times I’ve seen a ubiquitous feature creep behind a subscription door.
This type of thing rarely happens even in games. If a game service did not allow you to press the “Cancel” button on a menu unless you were a paid subscriber, it would be universally removed.
Not to mention the subscription which literally only buys you an extra 30 seconds to make that decision.
That’s right, via Twitter :
“With Cancel Tweet, you can set a customizable timer of up to 30 seconds to click “Cancel” before the Tweet, reply, or thread you’ve sent posts to your journal”.
Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I don’t see why this feature isn’t there for everyone. Maybe Twitter is getting the pumps ready for a DLC subscription add-on that lets you tweak your tweets if you pay extra extra fees.
Next : Subscribers have the option to use folders in their favorites. We, the unwashed non-Blues, have the option to throw whatever we like into a general folder called “Bookmarks.” Subscribers will be able to create sub-folders in their favorites.
Basically, Twitter is charging people for a feature that Xerox developed for its Alto operating system in the early 1970s. It should make us all sad that organization is a paid feature for any interactive product.
And then there is the “Reader” mode:
“We make it easier for you to follow long Twitter threads by turning them into easy-to-read text so you can read all the latest content seamlessly”.
I’m sorry, is this a paid feed unwinding feature for Twitter? Does the company really charge us to view threads? It seems to me that the people who would gain the most value from it are the ones who struggle with the vanilla thread format. And it looks like an accessibility issue.
Putting accessibility options behind a paywall is a bad practice. Twitter should immediately rethink this feature for its Blue subscription service.
And that just leaves the dedicated customer support function or, as it should be called: Twitter’s tax on minorities.
Let’s be clear on one thing : Twitter doesn’t need the money this subscription will bring in. Here’s a quote from a CNBC article discussing the company’s latest earnings conference call:
“.The company reported revenue of $ 1.04 billion for the quarter, up 28% from $ 808 million a year earlier. Twitter also reported a profit of $ 68 million, down from a loss of $ 8.4 million a year ago.
Twitter doesn’t hurt for income. It does not exist in a paradigm where it has to find new sources of income. It does what it does best: experiment and collect data.
There might be a perfectly reasonable, business, and morally acceptable reason for Twitter Blue, but “why” it exists is not as important as “what” the consequences of its existence.
Twitter is already struggling to control its own platform, so spreading even thinner customer support agents seems like a bad way to fix that. Twitter’s business model isn’t based on selling a few big whales on its product, it’s a numbers game. The more of us who think Twitter is a better “free” product than the competition, the more money Twitter makes.
In addition: I find it hard to believe that Twitter doesn’t do its best with all of its customers when it comes to ensuring that each of us has unlimited access to its service. We are the product, after all, and Twitter can only sell us if we’re connected and consuming content.
This means you don’t get better customer service with Blue, you only pay to skip the line. So, for example, if I want to do something about the endless torrent of people harassing me because I’m gay, a journalist, or both, I’d better pay.
Unfortunately, it’s not just a slap in the face or a tax on my homosexuality. It’s also a hug for those who have no empathy for me. People who would dismiss my concerns with a little “you don’t have to subscribe if you don’t want to”, regardless of what that means to me and people like me, can take comfort. One of the biggest and most powerful companies in the world agrees with them when they tell me “it’s okay”.
The worst part : It distracts from the very issues that minorities face online by giving those privileged to spend money on frivolous online subscriptions a safe space from which to ignore reality social media for the rest of us.
Some of the same tech journalists, enthusiasts, and influencers who spend their time denouncing the algorithm’s clumsiness will be among the main users of the service. And they will suddenly find themselves pampered in a Twitter verse where their humanity is valued more than mine.
It’s a bad and harmful idea and I really hope Twitter will rethink it sooner rather than later.