Mechanics Case Study: Twitter

Originally written in 2016 for the Quora design blog. This is an extension and application of a previous post, Why Mechanics Design.

Twitter occupies a unique and powerful position in our culture, fostering both revolutionary change like the Arab Spring as well as large-scale harassment campaigns like Gamergate. Both extremes are made possible by the same product mechanics.

Twitter's stated mission is “to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers” [1]. The key distinguishing phrases here are instantly and without barriers.

Here's how the product mechanics support the instantly piece:

And here's how the mechanics support the without barriers piece:

Taken together, these mechanics make Twitter uniquely suited to capitalize on their mission. If Facebook wanted to compete directly with Twitter, they would likely have to adopt comparable mechanics, which would be in tension with their existing goals like privacy and intimacy among friends.

However, being the best at something often requires making extreme trade-offs. These mechanics come with many downsides:

Given how directly tied these issues are to the core mechanics of the product, Twitter will have a tough time trying to address these without compromising the many positive dynamics.

  1. About Twitter
  2. Bloomberg: The Future of Twitter: Q&A with Jack Dorsey
  3. Context Collapse