On Blue Checkmarks

Parth Raghav,Product

Only 10% of the Internet produces and remixes Ideas for the masses. The remaining 90% only consumes. It would've sucked for the end-user if they couldn't quickly tell the two apart—Blue Checkmarks signal notability. However, if anyone can purchase these artifacts, not only do they become less valuable over time, the overall user experience on the app worsens in two significant ways. Here's how:

Instead of introducing a new label or metric, Twitter has decided to repurpose the Blue Checkmark for verification. A questionable design choice, at the very least. Since the vanity of fast-tracking to faux notability is currently worth $8/mo until the world catches up with the revised meaning of the Checkmark, it's a good enough offer for the wannabes. However, if there's one thing we know about games is that cheat codes make them boring. When the vanity eventually wears out, the initial paying customers would churn for the lack of real utility. After all, if anyone can buy into the club, the club isn't valuable anymore. This strategy could atrophy one of the primary social incentives that foster offline and online organic Twitter growth -- shooting for the Blue Checkmark.

All things being equal, Blue Checkmarks allow consumers to treat users with more prominent platforms as proxies for truth and credibility. However, when the signal-to-noise ratio of the verified content plummets, the users will be forced to do more cognitive processing to determine whether or not to trust the profile and its content. Rather than enabling users to engage with information in-app, this opens up multiple points of departure for the user -- if only to verify information on a browser or a newsreader.

Lastly, if everyone has a Blue Checkmark, could it mean that the playing field is finally leveled? I figure not. The Blue Checkmark gives you no more information about a user than a human who can afford to pay $8/mo to increase his chances of being trusted. When you accessorize trust, you, by design, filter those out who can't afford the accessory. In a futile attempt to do away with the social class system on Twitter, this business strategy only further enforces the financial class. So much for ballyhooing Twitter as the Townhall for the Internet.

We're now back to square one with no additional recurring revenue, a worse user experience, and lost social incentives to climb the proverbial ladder. The subscription model isn't sustainable and is an excellent example of what product-first thinking is not.