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When Menshn — a new “topical chat” service intended to rival Twitter, started by U.K. politician Louise Mensch — launched on Tuesday, I went to take a look. And almost immediately the site, which effectively allows to engage in Twitter-like conversations about pre-determined political topics, had me grinding my teeth.
And yet I struggled to pinpoint exactly what I disliked about it.
There was the product stuff. When I logged into Menshn (which I couldn’t do from the U.K. without using a proxy) I found it was awkward to use, extremely narrow in its focus and full of little glitches and slightly unintuitive moments. And the community wasn’t great: people making bad political jokes in a forum meant to discuss Obama or Romney’s candidacies. The inevitable torrent of “Vote Ron Paul” spam. But, hey, let’s give them a break: it’s an early product, so you expect bugs and problems and early communities are hard. So that wasn’t it.
And then there was the personal stuff. The fact that it was started by a controversy-baiting politician, who is written about regularly by a lazy press for having built up a large (but not huge) Twitter following, maybe? Or the fact that it was built by a political campaigns manager who has been accused of inflating his position? There was also the somewhat distasteful fact that both of them have proven a mercenary streak by switching parties when it seemed convenient. But that wasn’t it either.
It wasn’t even the fact that Mensch’s track record on social networks is patchy at best: after the riots in London last year, she even called for Twitter and Facebook to be taken down during moments of ‘national emergency’.
No, amazingly, it was something else.
After a little reflection, I realized it wasn’t any of the tangible things I could think of that made me think Menshn was a bad idea. It was something far more simple: the idea itself.
You see, one of the best things about Twitter is the way subjects can morph and change and speed past you. The serendipity, the openness and the say-whatever-you-want chatter allows to it roam free.
And one of the worst things on Twitter is the people who tell you you’re doing it wrong.
If I think you retweet too much, or I don’t like your style, or you always talk about yourself, or you’re not fun, then I’ll just stop following you. But I don’t think I’d ever presume to tell anyone that they were doing Twitter wrong. I’m not your parent. I may not even be your audience.
Yet here you have Mensch, a politician who is supposed to be paid to represent her constituents, and she’s not just telling you that she thinks she knows how you should be using Twitter — she’s actually using her position and notoriety to actually launch an entire business that tells you that you’re using Twitter wrong.
It’s not that I think Twitter’s perfect. I agree with Om that Twitter’s search data is their greatest opportunity, but I also think it’s the thing they get the most wrong. I’d love to be able to conduct better, deeper searches. I want to see better tools for curating conversations and connecting tweets together. However, just because you find it hard to search for people talking about the same things as you, you don’t need to build an entire copycat service focused on your niche topic. It confuses the need to reduce the noise with the desire to have better discoverability.
Ultimately, it’s just such a typical politician’s attitude towards a problem: You’re wrong. We know better.
That’s enough for me to switch off, thanks.