Twitter might copy Facebook's user-hostile decision to automatically play videos
Twitter is considering an update to its service that would allow videos to automatically play when they appear in someone's timeline. Adweek reports that the company is currently debating whether it should include that feature to boost its advertising revenues or refrain from cluttering users' timelines with videos that play without asking first.
Facebook introduced a similar feature in September 2013. If Twitter does decide to support auto-play videos it would be the latest of the company's efforts to imitate its larger rival: a renewed focus on photos, redesigned profile pages, and its work to imitate Facebook's advertising platform have all showcased the company's ability to parrot Facebook.
These changes all make Twitter more familiar to people who cut their social networking teeth on Myspace and Facebook. Explaining its service's purpose has always been Twitter's biggest problem -- convincing people that it can be used as a lighter, more efficient Facebook could alleviate that problem while also giving its "power users" more things to do with the service.
But there are some things that shouldn't be copied, at least not without proper preparations, and the inclusion of auto-play videos on Twitter is one of them.
A report published by Sandvine earlier this year claimed that Facebook's decision to include automatically-playing videos in its mobile applications led to a 60 percent increase in its users' data usage. Given how expensive mobile data can be, and how costly going over the monthly limit on that data is, Facebook's commitment to the feature is downright hostile to consumers.
It would be even worse for consumers if other applications, such as Twitter's, started taking the same liberties with their mobile data. Access to that data is a resource for which Americans pay quite a lot of money; it should be up to them to decide how that data should be used, not up to companies that want to increase ad revenues by effectively stealing that precious data.
Besides, its "lean" nature was one of the best things about Twitter. It wasn't cluttered with game requests, or countless photographs, or article-length status updates about mundane activities. Now it's adding news summaries to its tweets, automatically displaying images, and considering the inclusion of auto-play videos. This birdie is getting awfully fat.
[Illustration by Brad Jonas]