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Why I won’t be using Menshn, and you shouldn’t either

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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.

26 Responses to “Why I won’t be using Menshn, and you shouldn’t either”

  1. Paul Taylor

    To anyone who says that Twitter ought to be sufficient (which depends on your intended use, of course) the same kind of arguments could be levelled at Google+. For example, they are artificially limiting the use of their API supposedly to avoid off-topic spamming from apps. That’s their choice, they own it. There’s nothing I can say on Google+ that I can’t say on Facebook/Twitter, and I can say it with flexibility of a third-party app to boot. But some feel that Google’s various constraints lead to more cohesive and intelligent discourse, and tell you that if use it like Twitter or Facebook then you are ‘not doing it right’. Well Menshn should be given the same freedom to explore its own set of constraints and find out whether the result really is a higher quality of discussion. If it’s not, then the experiment was still worthwhile. The mere fact that Twitter et al exist already is neither here nor there.

  2. Paul Taylor

    Louise Mensch simply has a particular view of how Twitter could be used effectively to support a certain type of discussion. Rather than tell people who disagree that they are ‘doing it wrong’, she has accepted that Twitter is used in many different ways, and has created her own platform for the specific purpose that she had in mind. What’s wrong with that? Twitter is not Menshn is not Twitter. Saying that the Twitter approach is THE correct one is just as bad as the stance you accuse Ms Mensch of taking.

  3. Komrade Kieron ✯

    In fact it is as though somebody did a mash-up of Harry Potter’s Hermione, and Will Young.

    But just the smug know-it-all looking bits.

    And she was crap in the early parliamentary inquiries into the hacking. She could have turned that into her own show, but she failed. It’s not fair to see every Tory lady as a Thatcher-In-Waiting, but Mensch certainly has that same waft of airy undeserved grandeur. I guess it’s up to the Young Tory club to defend Menshn from all those howwid little trolls and beastly spammers, because whatever happens – it’s got her name all over it.

  4. Komrade Kieron ✯

    Well I just can’t get past that Will Young chin she has.

    She must be related to him. Nice to see young women in the corridors of Whitehall, but not Torys. Only a matter of time before the late naughty 1980’s snapshots are Menshn’ed, and this Ubermenschen Twit Tweet Emergency Room Computer Realized Alternative Protocol (U.T.T.E.R. C.R.A.P.) becomes a valued virtual venue of hilarity and general mischief-making.

    But I can’t get past that Will Young thing.

  5. D Winter

    I think you’ve misrepresented Menshn’s position here. I see nowhere where it tries to impose itself, or even imply that Twitter is somehow inferior.

    This site is clearly catered to an audience that wants to see that discussion railed into a more purposeful position. There have been plenty of times where I am disenchanted by the apparent lack of dignity of some Twitter users, dignified discussion and insightful prose.

    Mensch can use her apparent clout if it means engaging people into *hopefully* more meaningful debate.

  6. Justsaysit

    Actually she is neither a real Tory or a Labour – she is New Labour as one of the links above described her entry into politics was via Tony Blair – tells me all I need to know about her principles!

  7. Paul Kerton

    I see Mensch has got her Tory attack dogs on the case.
    Of course, with the vast majority of people not being Conservative minded, what better way to have a political discussion than to move to a platform controlled by people belonging to one political party, who also thought we should close lines of communication during the riots.

    Yes, who better to lead internet conversation than someone who would like to shut it down.

    It’s like turkeys voting for Christmas.

  8. Steve Cheney

    Essentially, she’s saying that a feature which Twitter [doesn’t have/does have but people don’t use it?] should be mandatory, because that’s what people hate about Twitter – the lack of structure and rules.

    Louise Mensch made a doofus of herself on Twitter daily and generally dislikes the way 99% of Internet users feel about her. So she’s setting up her own version of the Internet. It’s hilarious and we should all work to make sure that it doesn’t fail TOO quickly.

  9. RusticBench

    “…and you shouldn’t either.”

    So you are basically telling people that if they use Menshn they are doing social networking all wrong? Set irony to 11.

  10. “pre-approved topics”? Sounds like something the North Korean government would set up.

    Also, if Mensch is so bothered by irrelevant chatter then she obviously isn’t following the right people.

    I agree with the author that Twitter’s search capability is poor but if you look for it, you will find the crowd that interests you and the topics which interest you.

    Menshn just sounds lazy and controlling

  11. You lambast Mensch and politicians in general for thinking “You’re wrong. We know better”, but the very headline of this article “Why I won’t be using Menshn, and you shouldn’t either” seems to show you think the same way.

  12. Ian Davis

    What a ridiculous position. Can you point to where is she telling me that I or anyone else is using Twitter wrong and should stop? She’s taking the right approach: convince others by showing how it could be different, not by telling them they’re wrong.

    • so your problem with the site is, she’s saying “you’re wrong, we know better”? yet your article is why you won’t be using Menshn “and why you shouldn’t either”? do I need to point out the massive, glaring hypocrisy there?

    • Bobbie Johnson

      Mensch, 2011: “tweeted people should think hard before putting the phrase ‘rumours of’ into a tweet.”

      From her business partner: “Twitter is just too random. We wanted to encourage people to have conversations rather than broadcast their thoughts.”

    • Meester

      The fact that she regularly blocks people who dare to try and debate with valid points? Accusations of mysogyny and anything else flies off her Twitter then she calls out other people for doing the same…. sounds like telling people they’re wrong to me. But then, you’ll probably tell me I’M wrong for seeing it that way…