A spate of executive departures, coupled with very slow growth, has me wondering if Twitter is going to be around (or, at a minimum, important) in the coming years. The company has had it’s struggles, and recently turned back to founder Jack Dorsey to take over the CEO job. The idea of Twitter is interesting, but I’m wondering if the execution is off. I find myself questioning the value of Twitter in my own world at times.
An Intriguing Concept
The idea behind Twitter is certainly interesting: provide a way to broadcast small bits of data to people. People who are interested can subscribe to your broadcast. People can also send messages to each other. It’s combination of Hyde Park Corner soapbox, radio broadcast, and SMS-without-the-phone. It’s used for a wide variety of purposes: random braindumps from people, news alerts, a way to share links and information.
The 144 character limit for “tweets” (which is apparently going to increase to 10,000 characters) means that you have to be succinct. Invariably, something complex is basically a tweet with a headline and a link. Many have poo-pooed this idea, saying things like “you can’t say anything useful in 144 characters”. While I disagree (if you have intelligence and imagination, you can be really creative, and again, include a link for a more detailed discussion), I can see where it might make it less useful for some people.
Twitter started off strong, ran into performance issues (remember the Fail Whale?), overcame those, but then ran into larger questions. The biggest: how do they make money? The usual response was “advertising”, but the insertion of ads into what is an ad-free stream was a troublesome idea. Then there are the “promoted tweets”, which are basically ads (of sorts) in another form.
Part of these growing pains led to Jack Dorsey, one of the founders and the original CEO, being replaced by Evan Williams (an investor in Twitter) in 2008. Williams was replaced by Dick Costolo in June 2015, who left in July. Dorsey came back as interim CEO, and was named the permanent CEO in October.
That’s a lot of churn at the top. Worse, Dorsey is also CEO of Square, which just went public. How much time and attention Dorsey can give Twitter becomes a serious question. The departure of 3 executives (so far) doesn’t necessarily help with that stability. The head of media, their product VP and the head of engineering are gone; it isn’t clear at this time if they left or were pushed. Twitter has also announced that the company will be letting 8% of its staff go.
How any of this helps with growth is unclear. How any of this will bring focus to increasing revenue is also not obvious. It will take more time to see how this shakes out, and if there are going to be any more departures (rumour is that 2 more executive are leaving) or more layoffs.
But Will They Matter?
Here’s a bigger question: will Twitter matter in the near future? With growth apparently stalled, it isn’t clear if Twitter has a path forward. The message size increase might help, but is that the barrier? The big indicator will be if active user counts start to drop off. So far that hasn’t happened.
I know I’ve gone back and forth about continuing to use Twitter. I have culled a lot of the accounts I used to follow, simply because there was no easy to keep up with everything without spending all day reading my Twitter feed. I’d go away for a couple of hours, and have 300-500 new tweets waiting for me. At one point, I probably got 5,000-6,000 tweets every 24 hours. Stuff I cared about was getting lost in the noise. I still have too much to process reasonably, and I scroll past hundreds of tweets at a time regularly.
I get most of my news via RSS feeds. The first accounts I un-followed were those that also have active RSS feeds, since I was basically duplicating the information. For breaking news, I get push notifications from some news apps on my iPhone and iPad. I’m not using Twitter for breaking news much anymore.
I still have others I follow that I don’t really ever pay attention to. I followed them because they followed me, but except for blog posts (like this), I rarely post to Twitter anymore. I use Facebook to tell my friends about stuff going on in my life. I use LinkedIn for professional-type updates. Twitter just isn’t a place where I feel compelled to post stuff.
It’s entirely possible I’m an outlier. Any articles I’ve found about people giving up on Twitter are dated from the early days of it’s popularity, and when Twitter appeared to be dominated by tweets about what people had to eat. There isn’t a lot of chatter about people giving up on the service at this point. If that starts to happen, then you have to wonder about their long-term viability.
Not Done (Yet)
So I’m not leaving Twitter just yet. But I am going to continue to cull accounts that I don’t really pay attention to. I want to keep the noise level down, so that I’ve got mainly signal. It will no longer be about following someone just because they follow me. It is about content, not connections. I use LinkedIn and Facebook for connections.
It will also be interesting to see if any more senior executives leave Twitter. Some amount of turnover is expected at all levels. But if it becomes something of a rout, then you have to wonder about Twitter’s future viability, and if anyone is really in control there. Thrashing about with “change” in the hopes that something works isn’t exactly a brilliant business model. Questions are clearly starting to form in the industry. How loud those questions get, and what answers start to become apparent, will be telling.