Twitter’s Open Standards

Column: Elon Musk’s Twitter and the con of online media

On March 16, 2017, Twitter introduced new features that make it much easier to post and interact with tweets from a web browser. The company hoped the new features would help it create “stronger partnerships with more publishers and publishers who are looking to reach their audiences on Twitter.”

As the Twitter CEO and co-founder tweeted ahead of the feature’s debut, “It all started with just two things that worked great together: Twitter’s existing feed feature and the fact that you just tweet stuff, and it goes out instantly.”

But a week after the feature’s debut, he added a note: “We’ll keep iterating on the experience.”

It was then that I understood the tweet’s meaning: The new features were meant to address the problems of Facebook’s News Feed (and, by extension, the problems of Twitter’s Moments) but do so in a way that was also effective for publishers that didn’t want to deal with Twitter’s advertising and opt-in-only model.

The same week I realized that the company’s approach was very clever and not unlike what is happening on Facebook now: It is experimenting with “open standards.”

In other words, it’s testing a new way to do things so it can get to the next step. As Mark Zuckerberg has often said, open standards are a way to “make the internet faster, better, and cheaper for everyone.”

At the moment, “open standards” means Facebook is testing them in a way that is designed to make it possible for a third party like Twitter to build a successful business on top of the open standards it’s trying to create. It doesn’t mean that we are heading toward the future of the internet. It means Twitter is testing and experimenting with a new way of doing things and hoping that it works.

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