Bill and I were actually talking about what kind of investments GV was looking to make. He stressed that GV was looking to invest in businesses that were actually good businesses. As a counterexample, he brought up Twitter, which at the time he considered to be a "good investment" (said with a grin and a wink) but not a "good business". I had one of those feelings that you get when somebody really smart just shared with you The Truth.
Later I found myself in a conversation with Joi, I think as part of a group and not one-on-one, and Joi was talking about Twitter's lack of revenue. Joi was an early stage investor in Twitter, and he was telling us something to the effect of, "once we have all these users, we're going to bring everyone to the table and figure out how to monetize and what we can charge for."
Over the years I've thought a lot about Bill's distinction between a "good investment" and a "good business", and about Joi's "users first, money later" optimism. I always felt like Bill would be proven right in the long-term, and I think at this point he sorta has been.
Ultimately, though, either approach to investing can work -- but if you're gonna do the Joi thing, you gotta know when to get out of the trade. (I have no idea if/when Joi got out... just stating a general principle.)
I suspect that in 10 years Facebook will be an exception rather than a rule.
I've wondered how Twitter would have been different if they'd taken a similar approach: $1 per account per year. They'd certainly be smaller than they are now, but I suspect they'd still be bringing in several hundred million a year before going the advertising route--the pursuit of which seems to be at the root of a lot of their questionable product decisions over the last few years.
None of that's directly relevant to the article, of course, which is implicitly about better filtering tools. I continue to be kind of bemused that this is so difficult for modern services to figure out, given that LiveJournal essentially figured it out fifteen years ago. Yes, the two services aren't directly comparable, but it wouldn't be wildly difficult to offer controls over, for example, who's allowed to @mention you.
IMO had Twitter tried to charge their demise would have been even faster than the current slow but steady decline we're all watching.
It's possible none of that would work, either, but I'm confident in saying there are at least tens of millions of people who do get value from Twitter. They've chosen a business model where having "merely" tens of millions of users may not be enough to support them, but I don't think that points to an intrinsic flaw in Twitter's concept--just an intrinsic flaw in their particular monetization strategy.
I don't think it's impossible to convert a large non-monetizing user-base into a profitable company (Google, Facebook, Snapchat, etc.) but I think that strategy is not a wise one for someone interested in building a sustainable company. There's a bigger reward to scaling before monetizing, but there's also a bigger gamble.
Then "money later."
If anything happens that makes vested individuals doubt that Twitter is worth as much as it is, its value will drop, as it did right after the Q2 2016 earnings report was released.
In 2015 they posted a Net Income of -$521.03M and EBITDA of -$137.21M.
I don't exactly understand how those two numbers can differ so much, but either way they're pretttty bad.