Twitter is wrecking Twitter to make Twitter more popular

August 29, 2013: 2:56 PM ET

By making conversations easier to follow, Twitter is encouraging people to use the service for something other than its essential function. It's probably a good idea for the company, but not for people who use Twitter to follow the news.

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FORTUNE -- Twitter is working to attract many more new users and keep the ones it has. To that end, the site is risking doing all it can to wreck Twitter.

Wreck it, that is, for those of us who appreciate Twitter's unmatched utility as a constantly updated, crowdsourced flow of real-time news and information. The people who use it that way might be part of a shrinking minority, however, with more and more people using the service to yammer and argue. "Twitter fights" no doubt bring many more eyeballs to Twitter than do, say, links to stories about Syria or climate change. But for people who use Twitter as an information resource rather than as a platform for inherently inarticulate "conversation," the cacophony wastes time and ruins the experience.

But Twitter, understandably, cares less about people who want to use its service in a more serious, grown-up way than it does about attraction and retention of users. And most people seem to prefer the yammering -- both as participants and witnesses.

That's why Twitter has introduced features to make conversations easier to follow View feature, making the service much friendlier to people who like to watch Twitter fights (which, lets face it, is most of us at least some of the time, especially when the fights involve the famous or the Internet-famous). The conversations are now threaded, in chronological order. Previously, it was near-impossible to follow conversations because you were often unsure which tweet was a direct response to which other tweet. The conversation view solves that problem.

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It also makes Twitter a lot more like Facebook (FB), which according to Om Malik is just the latest step in the homogenization of social-media platforms. Having added photos, Vine videos, and music to its service, Twitter's conversation view is "the final step in Twitter's attempt to become like Facebook."

And it's a lot more like a comments section. But it still has that 140-character limit, which is the very thing that, for some users anyway, makes Twitter so annoying when the accounts they follow insist on using it for conversations. Whatever the initial intention for Twitter (the cliche is that it was invented for people to announce what they had for lunch, which in the early days wasn't far off), the character limit and the way the service works makes it perfect for posting headlines and links -- and not much else. Facebook posts offer much more potential for (if not always realization of) thoughtfulness and substance. Even in conversations view, users are severely limited in the ideas they can express. It is an inherently shallow platform for conversation, so the conversations are almost invariably shallow themselves.

That might be the very reason so many people like to talk and debate there. It's so easy to be facile -- the excuse for not explicating your ideas after having stated them is built right into the system. How often do you see people tweet something like "Well, this is more than I can say in 140 characters, but ..."? There is relatively little difference between a dumb person expressing a thought in 140 characters and a smart person doing so. Or, at best, a smarter person who wants to explicate an idea has to spread his or her thinking out across several tweets. The presentation thus becomes obnoxious. Why not express those thoughts coherently and all together on a blog or Facebook or Google Plus post, and link to that from Twitter?

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Whatever the reason, people seem to want to stick to Twitter for that stuff. For the rest of us, the ideal would be something like a "Twitter for Professionals" (but hopefully with a less stupid name than Twitter) where nothing would be allowed other than a link and a descriptor. Yammering would be forbidden.

That seems unlikely to happen, at least any time soon. But thankfully, Twitter remains highly customizable. Each user's experience is different. Somebody who spent all day Monday tweeting about twerking and debating whether or not they would "hit dat" follows a very different set of accounts than does somebody who spent the day following the news from Syria. If you're annoyed by all the chatter (or by Twitter obsessives who tweet dozens or even hundreds of times every day), follow fewer personal accounts and more institutional ones. And choose which personal accounts you follow based on how often each person tweets links -- the more the better.

Sadly, a lot of very smart people who post links to a lot of great stuff also tend to get into a lot of conversations that -- while perhaps somewhat loftier in subject matter than conversations about twerking -- might be less than interesting to you. It's not an easy choice, but it might be best to unfollow those people, and talk to them in a context where thoughts can be expressed using more than a couple of short sentences at a time.

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