Twitter’s slow user growth is doing the rounds in every circle and subsequently share prices have slide down 20% plus in the last month, which has forced a sharp movement from the management team, where Dick Costolo led an investor analyst day (#TWTRAnalystDay) and come out with a product roadmap, that includes emphasising Direct Message (DM) and increasing engagement with non-registered users. Also there are some changes in team. Kevin Weil has been given the product management role and CFO Anthony Noto becomes the new face of the company. In fact Noto has recently being involved in a DM gaffe where he is accidently disclosed an intention of buying a start-up.
If we go in more detail on how recent product updates work, first, Twitter has made available their archive via search i.e. a person doing a search on twitter can see all tweets since 2006. This update is targeted at non-registered users who usually arrive on Twitter via referral traffic to see results on a profile or hashtag. Second, to improve the direct message experience, the user can now DM any tweet just by tapping on tweet. This is to let people use a highly untapped feature of Twitter and try to leverage recent success of DMing apps like Snapchat and WhatsApp.
On expanding their business, there are always rumours of Twitter acquiring start-ups like SoundCloud, and recently a selfie app (backed up by) Bieber. Twitter is also talking about an app video feature; however they have a separate video app, Vine App with a considerable number of registered users. And under Adam Bain/Nathan Hubbard (ex Ticketmaster CEO) Twitter is trying to venture into Twitter commerce, where they are enabling some selective businesses to offer in app purchases of their products and services.
On the personnel front, they have a strong team of executives with a background of Google, Facebook and giants of the media industry like BBC, Fox and LiveNation.
I think on paper all look ideal to lead the company in whatever it can do to take their business to a stage where both shareholders and end users can enjoy the success of the product. However, sliding share prices and declining user growth may be forcing outsiders to think otherwise. So where exactly does the problem lie for a platform which host top personalities and celebrities from the Pope to the Clintons to Cristiano Ronaldo to Justin Bieber, and has become the rage since the 2009 Obama election?
I think, the problem is that Twitter has taken themselves too seriously. That may sound funny for a company listed on NASDAQ ($TWTR) but let’s not forget Twitter was launched on the back of mobile text messaging limitations and was intend to enable us to send messages on an open platform with ease. Thereafter, they have opened up their technology, which triggered the development of apps like Hootsuite, TweetDeck, and many more, which not only enhanced product features by introducing entities like @, #, RT and @reply, but also took the popularity of this product to another level.
And when the guys at the helm realised that this was a very engaging product, what they did was clip the developers’ wings and brought people from Google and Facebook to recreate the magic, and that’s where the problem is, because Twitter is not another Facebook or Google; it is unique, and is perhaps the first crowd-sourcing social network product with a cult developers’ following.
Looking at the success of Hootsuite, TweetDeck, Bluefin Lab, DataSift, GNIP and many more tools, I think in order to seriously monetize their service, Twitter has to take unique approach and maybe hand back power to developers/hackers, and should take a role of technology facilitator. For example, if Twitter continues their focus on speeding up in app features like payment, multimedia DM, in app video & audio and lets developers create products, then it would be far more of a success story than it is now.
If I didn’t make myself clear above, what I am trying to say is that the amount of success or creative satisfaction third party apps have enjoyed at the back of Twitter technology could not possibly have been achieved on any of other platform, including Facebook and LinkedIn. And what Twitter must continue to do is to encourage developers to take more risk and come up with more innovative products. That would means that their business model is more based on Apple (App Store) than Google and Facebook (Display Advertising), which is an unique model for a data or information hosting company, but don’t forget Twitter is a unique product.
Overall, what is making me nervous is that this platform is a by-product of crowdsourcing and now a group is trying to control its monetisation, which may be too much and too serious an approach for a product which is uniquely poised to serve various sections, topics, demographics and geographies of societies, and covers topics from the Football/Soccer World Cup to the Arab Spring.
And, I would like to finish on a positive note, that we all agree this is great product and those who use this platform know the power of 140 characters. Personally, I have managed to engage many journalists, VCs, CEOs, and celebrities and have made valuable contacts, which I could not have dreamed of in the pre-Twitter era, and with my aspirational entrepreneurial hat on, I am also trying to build a purely Twitter-based commerce tool, Tweepforce, which I think can really capture people’s intent and convert that to sales. I hope that we all prevail in what I see as keeping alive one of the most liberating platforms ever introduced in the post dot com era.