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Why Twitter Is Failing to Grow (exponents.co)
331 points by Devolver 69 days ago | hide | past | web | 213 comments | favorite



Has anyone considered that one of the main reasons for Twitter's lack of growth is that the product in itself is opaque to most users? Unless you have a following, there's no such thing as a "friend network" on Twitter. The product is not social, contrary to what most people think. It's a boring, lonely existence on Twitter if you're not a somebody and don't have the time or personality to become one. It's a niche product, a niche that happens to be 300M MAUs (I think they should measure "monthly engaged users" and the number would actually look much worse) and no more. Unless they make the product inherently _social_ and appealing to a broader set of people, I don't see them growing this number, no matter how they slice and dice it.

The argument the writer makes is a valid one but just a hypothesis. You can't say for sure if that was the reason. Developers are not sprinting to build apps on Instagram and Snapchat but both are growing like wildfire. A social network needs to be social, feel social, and make you feel like you have friends who want to listen to your drivel on it.

For all you know, Ev might have turned it into a "pulse of the planet" and it would've still failed to be social and/or make money. Also, we're talking of a 2009 meeting that talks of his ambition, that's |7| years ago - ample time for it to have gone astray in a different direction.


Curating your own newspaper and never even tweeting once yourself is a compelling, amazing and totally underrated use of Twitter. Any issue of particular interest to you, follow as many of the key players and observers who tweet and get all the important stories, not just one newspaper's. And all the reaction to those stories. It is only for adults who are capable of assessing a source. If that's you it's amazing. The brevity is it's strength.


I use Twitter mainly for the news, since Twitter enables me to get a much more complete picture of events compared to traditional media. But it took me a long time to really grasp that I could use Twitter in this way. Initially I just followed some work colleagues when I had to create a Twitter account as employee of a company I worked at. Otherwise I would have probably never created a Twitter account as I just didn't see the purpose.

I think one of the biggest challenges for Twitter is on-boarding new users.

With regards to the platform itself: it would be nice if Twitter would had some sort of article quoting mechanism. It's not uncommon to see a Tweet with text from an online article included as a picture. I also do this myself sometimes, since it seems to me people are more eager to click a link if they get a much better grasp the linked content and 140 characters is just too little for this purpose.


>I think one of the biggest challenges for Twitter is on-boarding new users.

This is worse than ever, they invest most of their effort in getting you to follow their cherry picked celeb users for your country. Then they spend the rest of their effort trying to ban you.

- Don't give us an email > account locked

- Don't give us a phone number > account locked

- Don't change your egg avatar > shadow banned


If you're a new user that they know nothing about, then recommending the "popular" users from your region is a good default option.

Also they don't lock out your account because of a lack of an email or phone number - you just need 1 of those to signup.


It would be nice if Twitter had something equivalent to multireddits, where different follows could be attributed to different tabs on an account. Then I could have one tab for news, one tab for comedians, one tab for math/programming stuff, etc.

From there it follows that Twitter might prepopulate a few tabs with News, Entertainment, Video Games, etc. for new users the same way reddit does a default front page.


Can't you do that with Tweetdeck? I have a column for friends, a column for news, a column for tech, and a column for people I follow but are very noisy (ie people that would end up dominating one of the other columns).


Tweetdeck should really be twitter's default UI. Simplify for new people but keep all the functionality.


Isn't that what the lists for? You can make your own list of twitter accounts to follow for certain topics.


Yes but twitter handles lists poorly - barely any UI or workflow around making lists easy to use and browse. Most new users dont know anything about lists or how to use them.


> when I had to create a Twitter account as [an] employee of a company I worked at.

How does that work? Were you in social marketing? If not, a term-of-the-employment-agreement required this? If the latter, that's the most horrendous thing I've heard today (other than, you know, assault, rape, murder, mayhem, and war)


I can't remember exactly the context, but there was a new website up for the company and they wanted to add employee profiles to the website. I don't believe I was forced to create a Twitter profile, but somehow I was inclined to do it anyway.

I would think this functionality is removed from the site by now. After all, employees might state things on their personal Twitter profile that the company does not agree with.

These days I try to keep my Twitter account more or less anonymous, so I can be free to say the things I believe or want to say. I make sure my Twitter account can not be linked to my LinkedIn / StackOverflow / Github profiles.


> The brevity is it's strength.

My problem with twitter is exactly the opposite. Each tweet might be brief, but there are _so many_ tweets to scroll through, multiple sources as they can repeat themselves or retweet. Then you add in _personal stuff_ that gets thrown in from these key players adding more noise.

I just don't have time nor willing to put in the "effort" to make twitter work. It is just not worth it to me to be on the cusp of breaking news vs being slightly behind with a curated reddit. Even better is making use of multiple focused multireddits like:

/me/m/code/, /me/m/sports/, /me/m/games/, /me/m/news/.

To me, that is true brevity in my goal of getting a glance at current events in my fields of interest.


Funny thing is that third parties provided the equivalent of multireddits back in the day, by parsing the stream and sorting them into columns, and Twitter eventually introduced lists.

But all this has since languished, as neither their site nor their official apps makes it easy to show lists.


Luckily Echofon gives lists the precedence they deserve. Been with it a few years now.


When I have tried to do this in the past major news events blew up my feed with many pages of similar articles which totally drowned out everything else I have no clue if the right way to use Twitter is to follow a ton of people or very few. If it's very few I don't see the point. I can just goto the sites directly and not have to deal with the wall of noise. My impression of how Twitter works is similar to reading a huge forum thread backwards. So instead of reading oldest to newest it's newest to oldest. Is that fair to say? Maybe I am using it wrong?. Did I change a setting years ago that had some terrible unintended consequence? Is this how Twitter works for everyone else?


On the mobile app it will show the feed where you left it and you read it upward to catch up in chronological order.

For me I follow about 30 ppl and remove the too talkative ones inorder for the feed to stay manageable and provide the right amount of signal. That's about 10-20 tweets/day. I think people that follow a lot of accounts must use lists or something else.


> I think people that follow a lot of accounts must use lists or something else.

What I have done is use Twitter as a real time newsfeed, and do not read all the tweets I missed. I open twitter and look at the current tweets, possibly scrolling back a few hours. If I missed something, who cares. If it was important it will likely show up here or some other aggregating new site I frequent.

Twitter is also great for real-time reactions when watching an event on TV. It's akin to people watching the Super Bowl for the commercials. For some shows, the tweets are better than the show and offer an additional level of entertainment.


if you follow more than 100 accounts you have to use lists, you can even build lists without following the underlying accounts.


Just about any story about Twitter mixes people who don't get it and then people who rave about it.

Perhaps it's just a different way of getting news. If there's a topic that is interesting, it's much easier to find a niche subreddit to follow or go straight to the source. I don't know what experts or subject areas avoids the inevitable "now let's show how clever we are", "share our personal life incessantly", or "argue with some Internet idiot over something really dumb with 140 characters".

If one of those experts has something really interesting to say, it's not the Tweet, it's a blog post, it's a site, etc that will bubble up through other sources already curated and Twitter can be skipped. Again, it's very possible there are specific subjects where it's great, but personally have yet to find them. I've never seen a Tweet that had value by itself and the site adds nothing of value to my Internet experience. I hate it when people link to tweets because you wonder what can really be said in that medium which isn't just some witty retort.

Do people just consume the net differently?


It really depends on what you're looking for. For instance, twitter can be good for niche areas. There's no subreddit for local politics in most places; even places that have one don't have one that's very active (look at the NYC politics subreddit). But it's easy to follow a few local reporters, politicians, and activists on Twitter to get a sense of what's happening.

It's also quite useful for up to date information. If I'm trying to find updates about what's happening at an even - especially if I'm trying to find information from multiple sources - Twitter is often the best venue. If I'm trying to find a summary of what happened days later, yeah, a blog post or article would probably be better.

Of course, you can emulate some of the functionality of what Twitter does on other platforms. But the same can be said for most of the web. Blogs are a good example - I'd argue that it'd be much easier to use a personal web page from 1994 to emulate what a blog does than it would be to use a blog to emulate what Twitter does.


I think of Twitter as a personal subreddit where only people I care about submit the links or self.submissions.

Subreddits are fine but they are also sometimes fraught with a subreddit specific bias that might be seriously off-putting.


I see Twitter mostly as the backend to apps like flipboard. It will go through my Twitter timeline and determine what is worth reading.


To make the most out of Twitter, you do have to choose who to follow, and who to unfollow. Some people either don't understand that or can't be bothered.


Twitter is basically a customizable, interactive news ticker.

The market for news tickers isn't as large as it is for some other types of social networks. People need to move beyond user count.


This is what I do and it's amazing. I enjoy Twitter far, far more than any other social network tbh.


If you use it that way, great, but it's not really a social network, but rather a personalized news feed with comments. Which brings us back to the OP: Twitter doesn't feel very social,


I agree. Twitter is just RSS on steroids. And you don't really need steroids.


It's like RSS on a sugar rush.


And once promoted content started bombarding me in Twitter, I went back to RSS. Unfortunately sites are dropping RSS, though most WordPress sites have an unpublicized feed.


Twitter via Bitlbee solves this problem for me: https://wiki.bitlbee.org/HowtoTwitter


i used to use rss for podcasts too but most just use dedicated services now they are a lot harder to find these days and im sure your right about the rest.


Why should all networks feel the same? A news feed where I can ask questions and get personal answers from real journalists, politicians etc. feels very social to me.


How is it not? The vast, vast majority of the people on facebook (I have like 1.2k friends) don't seem to ever post anything except maybe a pic once in a while.

Likes are similar to retweets.

Seems like such an absurd distinction.

Twitter is also fast and snappy compared to obese FB. It's basically noble in comparison.


its even categorized that way in most app stores. its how i used it too never found a news source that was not on twitter either.


I've always disliked Twitter but it does fill a very useful niche. News and sentiment will always bubble up first on Twitter. I think the potential of Twitter as a real-time stream of world events is, to this point, really untapped.


In other words it's a replacement for Google Reader. That's great but it will always be a niche product.


A niche product that has revenue in the billions and hundreds of millions of users. That's not a bad niche. I think Twitter should embrace this and do as much as they can to serve their fans and stop chasing growth.

Hacker News is a niche product. Should it branch out into celebrity news to grow their audience?


You mean have stories by Chris Lattner and Linus???

Man, I would pay 10x as much for that!


To a degree, yes.

I use my main Twitter feed for development news and info sec stuff so the people I follow are pretty visible in those industries.

My news feed is done through feedly, which includes more mainstream news, celeb gossip, architecture and other random topics I'm interested in.

If I combined the two, I'd go nuts in a day trying to sort through it all. I've learned over time to curate my own feed and to never "cross the streams" if you know what I mean. It works well and instead of trying to filter thought so much cruft, I have specific apps for the topics I want to keep up on.


A much better way to curate your own newspaper is to use RSS. Just saying.


Which Twitter used to provide back in the day.


I've been thinking about a read-only Twitter client that doesn't require an account at all would be appealing for the exact use-case you laid out. I don't want to Tweet or have followers.


I use Facebook this way and to me it's much better at it than Twitter. You get the content with more context and easier to use discussion.


I think you nailed it. This isn't about ads; Facebook is an ad business and it's 6x twitter. This is warrens vs plazas.

Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat are all warrens. Twitter is a plaza.

https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2010/10/27/warrens-plazas-and-the...

Even 5 years ago it wasn't clear whether warrens or plazas would win. They were betting human behavior would change under different constraints -- maybe we'd move beyond our tiny friend networks, come out of our warrens, and have a global party in the plaza. It looks like either we're not ready for that yet, or we'll never be ready for it, because it's suboptimal.

That's not to say plazas don't have their place. It's just that right now we prefer to spend most of our time in the comparative safety of the warren.


I consider myself rather good at vocabulary, but I have no idea what a "warren" is...sure I could look it up but I find it odd that such an opaque reference is used in such a casual way.


I was a little surprised by this so looked up how common a word it is.

This Google dataset puts it as the 5,109th most frequent word, between cached and slip

https://github.com/first20hours/google-10000-english/blob/ma...

This one from the British National Corpus puts it 7,702nd between "pro" and "frontier"

http://www.wordcount.org/main.php


The Google dataset might not be the best for measuring this. Names and abbreviations rank highly. I think Warren Buffet might help contribute to the high ranking of 'warren'.


A warren is where rabbits and/or other burrowing creatures live. aka rabbit hole, burrow. It's common enough in children's literature like Watership Down.


What?? It's a perfectly ordinary very common English word.


A rabbit warren


It's a common word? Rabbit warren.

Loads of little hidiholes of separate content that are connected by a larger network.


The web is setup like a so-called plaza so obviously any time spent in a warren on the web is also in the plaza of the web.

>That's not to say plazas don't have their place. It's just that right now we prefer to spend most of our time in the comparative safety of the warren.

Reddit (plaza) is 7 on alexa. Well below Facebook's 3rd place ranking, but high enough that I don't think we can say anything meaningful about the warren/plaza distinction outside the simple fact that facebook has implemented user engagement extremely well. Twitter (plaza) is 10th.

http://www.alexa.com/topsites

But note the average time on the site. Reddit outranks Facebook. So I'm not sure that each individual could be said to be spending most of their time in a warren.

Of course I think all this doesn't include hits from mobile apps which is probably the majority of the time for all of these sites so you can probably ignore this whole post.


reddit is most definitely not a plaza. It's a large website with lots of warrens, each of which is its own echo-chamber.


Reddit most definitely has aspects of both. Some subreddits are niche/echo chambers, but for example the main front page subs have a lot of overlap and fair amount of cross-talk, creating a distinctly plaza-like atmosphere. Heck, a single big public sub probably qualifies as a plaza.


You don't need permission to join almost any subreddit. You can see anything you want to see. So it's a plaza.


but at the same time, subreddits are generally pretty insular. Reddit isn't a flat bazaar like twitter, it's a series of cathedrals. There are a few subreddits (generally the defaults) that are more bazaar-like but they are the exception rather than the rule, and are still constrained by a subject and strict rules.


>Reddit isn't a flat bazaar like twitter, it's a series of cathedrals.

You're mixing metaphors. This discussion is using plaza/warren as defined by GGP's linked block post:

https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2010/10/27/warrens-plazas-and-the...

"A warren is a social environment where no participant can see beyond their little corner of a larger maze... A plaza is an environment where you can easily get to a global/big picture view of the whole thing. "

You cannot see any content you would like on facebook; hence it is a warren. You can look at almost any subreddit on Reddit, hence it is a plaza. By the blog post's definition.

Cathedral/bazaar is ESR's metaphor for [F]OSS software development happening either behind closed doors or in the open.


I'm well aware of that - I was referencing the open/closed concept behind the cathedral/bazaar dichotomy to point to the closed nature of most subreddits - the "warren/plaza" metaphor is pretty crap. Sure, they may be publicly visible, but they're closed in the sense of being a social in-group with norms that require acclimatisation. They're like old-school programmer forums - if you just jump in as a non-member and try to engage you may well be told to GTFO or lurk more.


I agree that the distinction between warren and plaza is crap. That's basically my point above: there's not much to say about the distinction seeing as FB and Reddit are both extremely popular and users on Reddit apparently spend more time per day than FB users. So I think we agree on the conclusion, we're just disagreeing on how we get there.

>They're like old-school programmer forums - if you just jump in as a non-member and try to engage you may well be told to GTFO or lurk more.

That's not my experience on any subreddit so I can't agree on this part. But maybe I'm in an echo chamber so I no longer see the distinction. Do you have any tips to see if I'm in an echo chamber? Or does this just involve intentionally crossing norm boundaries and how is it distinct from trolling? /semi-rhetorical


I think a good way to tell if you're in an echo-chamber is to express an opinion that is counter to the group and see if the community engages in active debate or just tries to shun you. Not to the point of trolling, but just expressing an ordinary or commonly-held belief that is in contrast to the accepted group belief. Every group has them - aside from politics, consider e.g. expressing the idea that "Uber as an organisation is not immoral even if it has some bad employees" on HN right now. For the record, I think HN's actually pretty good at debating contrary opinions, a lot more so than most subreddits.


humans are social animals...they need other humans around them that are in the same tribe...it's the global vs nationalism debate (that the media avoids) recapitulated...


I actually don't even know how to see replies on someone else's thread. The UI is quite confusing TBH.

> A social network needs to be social, feel social, and make you feel like you have friends who want to listen to your drivel on it.

Completely agree. I see people I follow reply to each other, but when I comment on theirs, they don't. They aren't even celebrity, just engineers from various tech companies. I feel like all I can do is either retweet or like. I feel cold. I go on FB, comment, I usually get more replies from strangers I don't know but care enough to comment.

This is sad.


> I actually don't even know how to see replies on someone else's thread. The UI is quite confusing TBH.

Have you tried clicking it? Because that's it..


Then click again. And then again. Oops, clicked the picture instead of the text? Go back and try again. But don't accidentally click on the whitespace or you'll have to start over. I'm pretty sure the UI is 100% driven by counting "engagement" events rather than providing usability.


I get what you're saying but for me it hasn't been an issue. I see conversations on twitter highly disposable. I usually read the top level replies only and in some rare occasion I dig deeper.

Not saying it is good but it kinda works for my purpose on the site anyway.


The only people who benefit from Twitter are celebrities or journalists who in turn give a tremendous amount of free advertisement for Twitter.

What they really need is a place to share their press announcements or agenda. They could do it on their own blogs/sites, but it's easier to follow Twitter.

The only "normal" people (people without following) who use (in a sense write/tweet) Twitter are trolls. What else can you do with 140chars if not either promote something, share a link, or troll/be snarky/harass? And Twitter at the same time is trying to get rid of the people who actually use their product besides famous people.


I tried to get my dad on there and followed a bunch of people for him, at which point it blocked his account until he would verify his phone number because of "suspicious activity."

That was the end of his Twitter journey.


In fairness, most new accounts are follow-spammers... of course the bots are probably better at working around the limits in place.


I followed about ~10 people, and about half of those came from Twitter's own follow suggestions. I'd understand if I followed 2500, but it was a nominal and fairly reasonable amount.


If I were interested enough to create a Twitter account, I would start by following a bunch of people I'm interested in, RSS style. I most likely wouldn't post very much, if at all.

How many potential new users fit this pattern, are caught by the 'bot' filter, and are shut out of the platform, I wonder?


Same experience for a writer friend, convinced him he could get some following on Twitter, created an account got promptly locked and to boot the phone confirmation never came through.

Also Twitter sucks, that's why it won't grow, it's mostly bots anyway. (I would know, I wrote tons for it, laughably easy to grow massive accounts under their nose)


Do you think it's strange to complain about

1) Twitter requiring a phone number during signup

2) Twitter having a lot of bots

in the same message? How are they supposed to curb bot registrations if not by checking email/phone combo? I get it that it's trendy to complain about Twitter, but why employing self-contradictions for that?


Its a niche product because people you actually know aren't on twitter - if there's as many people on twitter as there is on facebook, its a plenty good platform to compete with the instagrams/etc of the world.

I think the author of the OP has good points, but with the huge rush to monetize as fast as possible in 2012 I doubt there would ever be patience to achieve the goal - nor do I think they've used their engineering resources wisely. I don't think a single person on HN can tell you what the hell their 5000 something engineers actually do (may be wrong number), given the frankly very limited usages of the site and the apps, and the lack of features over time.


IIRC they work on not releasing Bootstrap 4.


I don't think you need a network on Twitter for it to be interesting or useful. Just follow people you are interested in. It has ended up being a replacement for Reader for me. Instead of aggregating a bunch of RSS feeds, I follow a bunch of authors to see what they are writing, and the bonus is you get a some commentary along with it.


Yeah if anything, I found Twitter TOO addicting. Whether you have an interest in stats, finance, basketball, politics, tech, deep learning, mathematics... you'll find an industry leader who has an active account. Writers (journalists, authors) are especially active on the platform which makes for some rather interesting leads to things to look at.

I actually found it far more interesting overall than Facebook (hah! says a lot about my social network) and Reddit.


I tried to go this route before I abandoned it altogether. I found 3 problems with this.

First, switching contexts between subjects I'm deeply interested in was exhausting. I need categories, or even different accounts to group them.

Second, my borderline OCD has a hard time not reading everything, so I wound up curating my list of follows to "reasonable" accounts,and not spammy one that post every few minutes and take over the feed. Unfortunately, there are a LOT of those.

Third, I thought -- what I HOPED -- would be true is that the platform would allow me to respond to all these great posters, and get a response in return, but this hardly ever happened. I'm sure I was buried in their feeds, even if my response was worth a reply.


"Third, I thought -- what I HOPED -- would be true is that the platform would allow me to respond to all these great posters, and get a response in return, but this hardly ever happened."

So I was going to reply pointing out how this is impossible. No single person can address the stream of hundreds or thousands of people who want to reply and/or ride your coattails to Twitter fame.

When it occurred to me there's a decent opportunity here for someone who wants a machine learning project; given a stream of replies to a tweet from a celebrity, what's the 3 most popular questions/sentiments being expressed? (Or whatever number.) After a while, even a human secretary wouldn't be able to perform that function, it just gets to be so much, but you can't tire a machine.

Twitter's got the data streams you need already.

Of course, it still isn't necessarily going to satisfy you from the individual questioner's point of view, but maybe you feel like it at least contributed to the stream.


Very much in agreement with your second point. Interesting people tend to post a lot, not just to "spam" but because they like the media; but then they drown the feed.

There should be a way to throttle heavy posters / group their posts.


You can have categories (or rather - lists) on Twitter.


Agreed on the content and interesting articles... I just find it overwelming... I'll hop on twitter when I want to post something I may appreciate later, reach out to a company to praise or complain, or just because sometimes... however, I'll spend who knows how long reading through the backlog, and only touch the surface of what's been posted since I last looked.

The people I really care more about hearing from get drowned out, and the rest, while interesting is less so... and twitter's attempts at promoting populist articles on top exacerbates the issue, at least for me. I liked it better where I mostly saw the most recent stuff on top. Not to mention their weird content filters, where certain posts just aren't even visible... sometimes when you're looking at your own timeline.


I've tried to follow a few "industry leaders" but in the end it is all way too shallow on twitter to be useful.


What twitter looks like to me, is a way to follow and appreciate brands, to tap into their stream of consciousness, to experience the themness in a way that just has no appeal to me whatsoever, and it goes a little deeper than I don't care what Taco Bell or Justin Bieber thinks.

There is no brand/person that I find so "interesting" that I would want to "follow" them. Whilst I do have a twitter account, I used it to log into an airport wifi once; I don't follow anyone I don't know.

I even find the word "follow" uncomfortable, maybe even an anathema, as it suggests that I'm not as good as they are, and yet another something to confirm their brand celebrity.

Now I appreciate not everyone is trying to be a brand on twitter, and if someone could have multiple channels I could subscribe to, then I might be able to monitor someone's business world (but of course, I have LinkedIn), my family and friends' pictures (which are all on Facebook or Google+), and even seek advice for things to do and places to eat (like on Yelp, but just kidding, I use Facebook for this as well), all inside Twitter, but that's simply not how it's set up.

Indeed, the only suitable use seems to be the thing I have no interest in whatsoever.

So maybe I just don't understand how twitter can be interesting or useful, but if it is just another celebrity/gossip magazine, or some kind of entertainment news/television replacement, then it's stagnation shouldn't be surprising: There are plenty of players in this space, and there will be another.


I used to do the same (I've used it since 2009 for the exact same reason). At some point though, that gets old, you hear too much noise and blabber and realize you're voicing your @ replies and thoughts in a vacuum. Nobody is listening (and I have about 1500 followers). The ones who have a voice on Twitter have become too vocal over time.


I prefer RSS - twitter is too chaotic for my taste.


Today's iteration of social networks won because they are feed readers for the masses. Facebook and Twitter have completely obliterated RSS and in many cases, Facebook has even supplanted the need for an independent website. A lot of local businesses have a Facebook page that they use as their primary web page.


I was about to say the same thing. People keep wanting Twitter to be Facebook.


A social network needs to be social, feel social, and make you feel like you have friends who want to listen to your drivel on it.

The counterpoint here is that for all platforms what this is true. If I post something on Instagram I typically get no interaction, same with snapchat, same with Twitter.

Why? I don't have that many people who want to interact with what I post apparently. I'm also not a super frequent poster, don't go around commenting and liking etc...like super users do.

I find Twitter to be at least as engaging as the rest of the platforms, so I think it's just that other platforms happened to be where the culture was.

Note also that for all of the current major social platforms: Snapchat, Facebook and to a lesser degree Instagram, they all got their huge dedicated user base from people under 18. Twitter never had a youthful start - it was almost all tech people from the TC post to the SXSW boost, and an older demo from the start.

That's an important distinction that I think is overlooked.


Absolutely, you're right. The argument is just a hypothesis and unfortunately, the known laws of physics don't allow us the time travel capabilities necessary to actually test it.

However, what you're saying fits in quite nicely with the thesis of the argument: If Twitter had seen itself as a platform for capturing and analyzing "the real-time state of the world" instead of a "social network" or a "media company," its opaque product would likely have been less of an issue.


Real time state of the world is a nice platform for the ones who want to check the real time state of the world every day. Most of FB/Snap/Insta's B+ users just want to shoot the breeze with their posse.


There are a fair number of companies (and governments) who would pay a LOT of money ($$ hundreds of millions/year) for an accurate picture the real time state of the world every day.


But the users would need incentive to contribute their streams. You have to put the two pieces together.

If Twitter accepts the role as a news outlet, they're still in an awkward position. Conventional news networks are already grasping to maintain relevance in a world increasingly self-connected. If Twitter overtly embraced that as its primary value proposition, all of its support from media companies, which are really what propped it up IMO, would vanish overnight.


Completely disagree. Media companies are utterly dependent on Facebook and Google for revenue. If Twitter had succeeded in growing as Facebook did, Twitter would also be a platform that media companies believe they must be on. They couldn't afford not to be on Twitter.

In fact, with nearly 320 million users, media companies already believe they need to be on Twitter to reach their audiences. With a billion users, it would only be more true.


People have external incentive to use Facebook and Google. Facebook: keep up with friends and family. Google: find stuff online.

Twitter's only incentive is its use as a broadcast platform for people who are, in general, otherwise famous. People hop on to interact with and read content from them. If large numbers of this group decided that Twitter represented competition and not an asset, they'd dump it and the attraction would go away.

For years the only place I heard of Twitter was television channels desperately begging people to get online and tweet them. It has finally penetrated to the point where most fairly tech-savvy people have started an account and issued 3-4 tweets, but that took years of constant pushing by mainstream outlets.


Yes, people want to be important to other people, and with Twitter you can feel quite unimportant. I use it mainly for news and technical QA stuff. You CAN meet likeminded people there, but in my experience you only really connect if you meet them on a conference or meetup at some point.


That's exactly what I like about Twitter – I can easily reach people outside my usual social circles … and vice versa. And we don't have to be 'friends' to talk to each other.


I can more easily pick up the phone and call someone. Wtf do you accomplish in twitter?


Following economists, journalists, technologists etc that I have no immediate connection to, let alone their phone number?

Twitter is for what I care about, relative to the general drivel that FB thinks I value. My friends on FB certainly don't necessarily share my interests with what I like to read about in my spare time.


Instagram and Snapchat are also similarly opaque but they executed really well on their pivots. Twitter is not a learning organization. There is a lot of politics inside the org.


The article posits that instead of trying to focus on display ads and impressions, they should have focused on sentiment analysis, data mining, trend forecasting as avenues of monetization. Shazam, the app that can recognize a song from a recording, did this [1], and they can predict what songs are going to become really popular based on their users' interest.

Of course, actually doing this in 2010 would have been extremely ambitious, given that sentiment analysis was an up-and-coming field having recently overtaken by extreme hype (just look at the edit wars on the Wikipedia article [2] in their effort to revert marketing drivel). It was a far more sure bet at the time to pivot towards display ads and a more locked-down ecosystem, and about new user onboarding [7] and content curation [8], than the even more vague promise of being able to mine useful data out of aggregates of Tweets (preferably in near-real-time).

This particular bet may have been the wrong one, as the next year academic papers were coming out by the dozens about sentiment analysis on Twitter; by this time the company had doubled down on display ads and keeping more users inside the application with embedded videos, a captive shortener, a captive image host, the acquisition and relaunch of native mobile clients, and the like.

After yet another year, in 2012 Facebook smoked them with their ad onslaught [3] and also bought Instagram for good measure. Twitter acquired Crashlytics in 2013 and then the ad network MoPub and reworked it into an embeddable Twitter SDK that app makers would want to use [4], then bought a machine learning startup and I finally was sure the omnipresent sentiment mining Twitter would materialize [5] but this ship sailed at last when they sold most of that to Google after all [6] to focus on their 'core product', which isn't growing... a problem the article, despite its title, doesn't offer a solution for.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12083782 [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Sentiment_analysi... [3] https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/12/2012-... [4] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11914620 [5] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11942293 [6] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13429179 [7] https://thenextweb.com/twitter/2011/12/08/a-new-version-of-t... [8] https://thenextweb.com/twitter/2011/12/08/why-twitters-disco...


I guess I just don't understand the premise of these articles questioning why something has stopped growing as though growth is the natural state of an already large market. Is it a forgone conclusion that the core product is so appealing it should just keep growing forever until everyone is consuming it? Is it possible that no matter who is or was running Twitter that there would only ever be so many people who want to communicate in hashtags and 180 characters? That a large part of Twitter's growth trajectory was from novelty and network effects of semi-engaged users? That user engagement from tweeting has a shelf life on the scale of months to years and that attrition is/was inevitable no matter how many third party APIs and pink bows you wrap a tweet up in? I'm asking in earnest because I just don't understand why the simpler explanation is that tweeting will only ever appeal to so many people and that there is a middle ground between failure and dominating the world. Somehow the talk of CEOs and corporate visions overshadows the product itself--one that has barely changed since its inception--which to me seems like the obvious place to start questioning.


It depends who you ask.

As an example of sane analysis: I played WOW and Blizzard at one point said something to the extent of: we have 12.5 m players, we captured the entire market.

Then, you have usually the pr/marketing types that go after: every human being on this planet can be our user. Which is delusional.

Add to that the fact that most IPOs and VCs go after users and not much else (was it $20-$40 per user?), And you end up in the current state where everybody hopes so hard that it obscures judgement.

So, your understanding is just fine. Things have limits and Twitter may be at it.


I'd like to add to this that it's incredibly sad/frustrating when a product like Twitter especially (Don't mean to pick on them but it's such a good example of this) is blown totally out of proportion in terms of what is should/could be a very straightforward, API heavy, (I think) nerd-centric product into some kind of bastardized Facebook with a character limit that is for some reason worked on by almost four thousand people.

If Twitter had stuck to reasonable goals, kept the product more or less where it started and stuck to a small team, they'd be printing money. Now we never know if they're going to make it out of the year.


Even if every single human on the planet had an account and actively used it I think they'd be questioning why Twitter wasn't growing any further.


No one believes in infinite growth except Economists and VC Angel Investors.


> Economists

And given the power their theories and related models have in the political world, we should all be very very worried.


Maybe it is failing to grow for the plain reason that it has already grew up, filling its niche? Why don't you question why BMW is 'failing to grow'? What's their mistake?

http://www.nada.com/b2b/Portals/0/assets/web-images/Luxury%2...

There is no mistake. There are only so many premium car buyers in the world.

By the IT measures, Twitter is a mature company. It does one thing and it does it well. It can't grow infinitely.


I think the problem is, that if Twitter has already grown-up, then it has turned out that they don't have a viable business model. They lost almost $500 million last year and I don't think they have ever been profitable. That's only acceptable if investors see future growth.


Twitter's business model is totally viable - their problem is that they're wasting loads of money they don't have to.


Where?


How about their massive payroll?


Is that really enough to safe Twitter? They are currently losing $500,000,000 per year, and they have 4000 employees.

Even if the average employee make $125,000 per year, they would have to fire EVERYONE. While it may not hurt to cut the number of staff, they'd also need to rethink pretty much every other aspect of their operation.


Twitter employs 3,898 people according to Wikipedia. Assuming everyone makes $125K (a stretch, according to Glassdoor that's the bottom of their range), their payroll is $487M. Benefits on top of that is another $122M, conservatively. You do NOT need 3,898 people to run an outfit like Twitter. They could easily lay off 3500 people and have more than enough left over to operate a sustainable, profitable product for years.


Twitter had more than $2 billion in revenue last year. You don't think that's enough money to run a service like Twitter?


Well yes, but apparently it's not. $2 billion in revenue and they still manage to lose $500 million. So the cost of running Twitter is $2.5 billion.

Do people not understand that revenue isn't the same as profit?


When Facebook bought Instagram, there were fewer than 20 people working there. Twitter has 3,000 employees. I'm thinking Twitter can do a lot to cut their SG&A expenses.


No it can't, but it can be targeted by these negative articles indefinitely, so their stock might get to fall faster, and those who are shorting them can buy their new yacht sooner. ;)


The people shorting Twitter got together to buy a new yacht? Cool!


> and it does it well

Well that's a matter of opinion! ;)


I use it everyday, its great, it also has 2 billion revenue (?).

I don't understand the hate for them.


I'm often rather hard on Twitter, but it's not the company as such that I hate. I hate that they are perceived as a valuable and successful Internet company, when they are clearly neither of those things. At this point Twitter should be the shinning example of the fact that users don't always translate into profit.

At this point Twitter is, as the original comment states, a mature company, but they aren't behaving like one. There is very little reason that Twitter hasn't gone bankrupt. A 2 billion dollar revenue, no profit and no plan for the future.

My best guess is that the people who invest in Twitter are all using it so heavily that they have become blind to the fact that it is a failing company/product.


There are lots of subtle and not-so-subtle design aspects that mean Twitter nudges people into arguments and bullying (not by accident per se, but rather as a result of optimising for "engagement" and not thinking about what that translates into). I don't mind there being sites out there on the Internet that are not for me, but twitter is contributing to the polarisation of society, especially when politicians start taking it seriously.


> twitter is contributing to the polarisation of society

seems a bit harsh, polarisation how ?


In the sense of politics shifting towards the extremes and people having less productive discussion but getting more polemical.


What could be a productive discussion in today's political situation? There is no 'common good' answer to conservative vs liberal choice. It depends - good for who? Conservative is good for passive majority (remember Luddites - you could laugh at them now, but they never recovered to pre-mechanisation living standards. it took 4 generations to do so, until post-WWI times). Liberal is good for active minority. There can't be agreement - it is either us, or them win. That's a polarization, and Twitter can't make it better, or much worse.


Maybe this has been said already, but one major problem with Twitter is that by default, the average person will publish and share content on it that's a complete waste of time and of no value to anybody.

The average unit of content shared by a user on Instagram or Snapchat is vastly more entertaining and relevant, and I think they achieve that by being more visual. Those platforms are image- and video-first, and they have all kinds of image and video filters. If we gave those tools to a monkey, it would produce something worth sharing.

The quality of their content is enforced inherently by the tools they provide you to share with.

Facebook achieves the same in a different way, by tightly integrating with your identity and social circles.

Twitter doesn't have any form of inherent quality control. Tweets are just words with little context. The people tweeting are usually strangers.


> Maybe this has been said already, but one major problem with Twitter is that by default, the average person will publish and share content on it that's a complete waste of time and of no value to anybody.

The same can be said about most social networks.

> The average unit of content shared by a user on Instagram or Snapchat is vastly more entertaining and relevant, and I think they achieve that by being more visual. Those platforms are image- and video-first, and they have all kinds of image and video filters. If we gave those tools to a monkey, it would produce something worth sharing.

I would disagree and also call this "a complete waste of time and of no value to anybody".


> Twitter doesn't have any form of inherent quality control.

I've always thought of the "Unfollow" button serving that purpose.


The trouble is that people are inconsistent and multi-faceted.

I might really really value a particular friend's opinion on tech, but constantly roll my eyes and sigh when he live-tweets his hot takes on Eurovision or football.


It would be cool if Twitter could do some sort of clever analysis on a persons tweet history and when you start following someone say: "Dave often tweets about US Politics, Baseball, Skiing and Programming. Which of these topics do you want to follow".


Multi-faceted is the thing Twitter and other person-based share/follow don't work well with. I ended up creating another account for music/art, separating it from my tech/business activity. But its pretty tedious to manage...


Also, when I see a number of retweets for the same account in my feed, it suggests quality. More so if the retweets are by different accounts.


My favorite part of Twitter is that it's like a global public email. If you can find someone on it, it's likely you can reach out to them and have a brief conversation in public.

Because the conversation is public rather than private, you can also find existing relevant conversations that might answer your question. No need to always be the one doing the talking.

It can either be someone famous, like John Carmack, Elon Musk, Markus Persson. Or it can be someone obscure, say a person who made your favorite Chrome extension or an indie video game from 2000.

Also, it feels like the place to go if you want to connect with people around a real-time event. Imagine you think you felt an earthquake. You can quickly see if others felt it too.

These are all awesome uses of Twitter that anyone can benefit from without needing to have any followers.

They are also things I would miss if Twitter goes away, because I don't think there's anything equivalent that has these properties (not counting Twitter clones).


>These are all awesome uses of Twitter that anyone can benefit from without needing to have any followers.

fyi accounts with low or no follower counts are now auto-blocked using the new safety features by most important people so this is no longer true.


Twitter isn't growing because it is a bad product. Everyone using it has to train in a host of workarounds. Posting pictures of text to get around the character limit. Tweetstorms to get around the character limit. ".@mention" to get around the reply behavior preventing users from composing text naturally. Lousy feed grooming. (I love <some tech> but I hate <some sport>. Too bad! <some luminary in that tech> loves <that sport>!)

Twitter has some great aspects. It's really lightweight and doesn't enforce mutuality, making it possible to form communities on events on topics, or to learn in realtime what's going on somewhere. But as a product it is complete and utter garbage.

And twitter can't improve, because it's hardcore base is super convinced that its critical flaws are features.


This is the first "why the Dick Costolo move was the problem" take I've ever read that made any sense to me. This is excellent.

(And it should go without saying that Dick did his job, as assigned, unbelievably well. It just seems to me he was assigned the wrong job at the wrong time and this makes sense of why in a way that makes sense to me finally).


+1000%. Dick did what he was brought in to do. The way it panned out is another strong datapoint for the argument that consumer internet companies should be led by product/visionary types while detail/implementation types run the operation of the business.

Like Zuckerberg/Sandberg or Jobs/Cook or...


I think Dick is actually a pretty good CEO and told a good story and had a good vision for Twitter as a business. It was just a vision for "Twitter as it exists right now" which is what a hired gun CEO is going to have a vision for. I can imagine Dick being a great founder/CEO.

But yes - surrounding Jack (pre-Evan switch) with a STRONG #2 was the move. When that didn't happen, can't blame them for not seeing it at the time!, Dick was probably the best they could do. Still, it's sad. Evan's vision for Twitter was correct and more obvious now than ever.


Well said.


Twitter's problem is not failure to grow. It's failure to achieve profitability. That's inexcusable for a company that pays nothing for content and operates a relatively simple service. What on earth do they need 3500 employees for?


The focus for Twitter, its investors, and the press have always been on growth, as if getting bigger would magically turn Twitter profitable. Sure there's the economy of scale, but they already claim to have more than 300 million users.

Even with only a 100 million users it would seem that an 11 year old company would have found its footing and started to make a profit, regardless of how small. The people managing Twitter are thinking in those terms, nor are its investors. They seem looked in a dotcom era mindset, where growth most come at any cost. They aren't going to be content with Twitter being a niche product.


Its going to take a lot of people to crack the ad supported service problem. Juno email in the 90s tried to provide free email to dialup users with ads, that failed. Ad supported cell phone service is stillborn and someone tries it every couple years.

The fundamental problem is people who want status updates as a service see facebook as doing a better job and its paid for by selling your private stuff you don't care about and NSA access which is behind the scenes and "OK" but not in your face. Facebook could charge money and it would still crush twitter simply by not having as much spam.

So if your company has no niche in the ecosystem and nobody wants to buy stuff, the short term solution is lots of employees and hope for a miracle. Hence 3500 people to basically run a web to IRC gateway that nobody wants because facebook and slack (and others) do it better. If there's no miracle the employee numbers will be 0 soon enough.


The fundamental product with Twitter is that its product doesn't appeal to everyone [1] the way that Google and Facebook do. This may be the problem with Snapchat as well, although that hasn't been conclusively determined. If Twitter were a truly mass-market product, none of the rest of its problems would matter. But it's not, and that's a conundrum, since you can't monetize a social network through means other than advertising: https://stratechery.com/2014/ello-consumer-friendly-business...

[1] Yes, "everyone" is a slight exaggeration. If you exclusively use DuckDuckGo and Gnu Social, you're the odd one out, I'm sorry to say.


This is it. Everything else is just a convoluted red herring.

For nearly everyone, Facebook is just better in every single way for the things that they actually want something "social" to do - which seems (from looking over people's shoulders, since I'm no longer a Facebook user) to be having group chats in real-time, posting baby pictures, sharing and commenting on crappy Buzzfeed material, and organising events. Twitter doesn't do any of those very well. From a really simple perspective, Facebook already has a mechanism for posting status updates, which is the main thing people understand that Twitter does... and if everyone you know is already on Facebook (which has been the case probably for almost the entirety of Twitter's existence), why would you post your updates on Twitter?


Twitter's prime flaw is that it is fundamentally narcissistic in a way that, say Facebook, isn't.

Of course you can be narcissistic on Facebook, but you can just add your friends and react on their shit, and occasionally post a photo of your weekend.

On Twitter, if you're not capital I interesting or flailing for attention, you'll just get ignored. Hence the other comments that Twitter isn't social at all.

Twitter is great if you like to sell yourself (and are at least mildly good at it). Otherwise it's a stymied feed reader for random thoughts.


> On Twitter, if you're not capital I interesting or flailing for attention, you'll just get ignored.

So? Twitter is as much a platform for consumption as it is for broadcasting.

Also, I find that statement to be pretty untrue. For example, my own account only contains very few "original programming". Most of the time, I just scroll through my timeline and push "retweet" on the most interesting stuff. That has been enough to earn me nearly 150 followers.


> So?

So it makes Twitter a frustrating experience for those that do not "just" want to consume content, and it's one of the reason that it is not growing.


How many of those followers are bots?


Indeed. In my own case, I haven't tweeted in years, but I have not lost any followers (about 180-190, which is incredible considering I'm a non-famous misanthrope) and last time I scanned my followers list they were almost all friends or acquaintances who themselves have not tweeted in years, marketing types who follow 1000000 people hoping for a follow back, and obvious bots.


TLDR; the reason per article is that Twitter killed their developer APIs. This in turn was caused by the event when board removed the visionary founder Ev Williams and instead put in place a guy who saw Twitter as pure media company and had a job to turn it in to ad revenue platform. This meant no other properties can compete with Twitters own properties. Williams instead had envisioned Twitter as massive real time data collection system which can be monetized for insights which required welcoming all 3rd party apps it can. So bottom line is re-occurring story of board ejecting founder and his/her long term vision and replace with someone who is specialized in milking the product for quick profits.


Can you blame them for wanting to make money? In some sense they're victims of the VC funding cycle. "Spend billions and figure out how to make money later" has never been solid ground to build a company on, even if a couple of unicorns have pulled it off.

Is there a way to get the adoption necessary as a bootstrapped product that knows how it's going to make money from day one?


That's a bit overwrought, but it makes sense. Firing @ev was an act of fearful stupidity. No matter how many fail whales flew, installing a square like Costolo was a complete overreaction. We know this because as TFA observes he killed the company in his first year, and still the zombie trudges on. Whatever crazy shit @ev was going to do, it would have taken years to destroy twitter, and might well have actually produced a business model. "Pulse of the planet" was probably not in the cards, but it was conceivable.

Whatever might have happened, the obvious way to profits capable of reviving the zombie we see now isn't actually that far from the "media company in ads" model that TFA derides. Twitter is a broadcast platform. It is most valuable to those broadcasters who reach and monetize a large audience. Charge them for that audience without chasing the audience away, and now you have a business.


It's an old and predictable rant, but for me Twitter is useless and unusable. 140 char limit is artificial and doesn't serve a point except to mimic sms, and interface is cluttered and horrible. Whenever I stumble across someones twitter is is completely unclear who writes messages and who responds to whom. All messages are littered with some visual garbage like tags that are for some reason inside of messages. It is just a UI mess.


> Is is completely unclear who writes messages and who responds to whom

Agreed. I always thought I was just dumb or something, since how could such a massive company with hundreds of millions of users have a completely nonsensical ui? It must be intentional on their part, but to me the user experience seems capricious.


>140 char limit is artificial and doesn't serve a point except to mimic sms

...And to actively encourage witty, retweetable "hot takes" instead of in-depth discussions on issues. If someone espouses a "political opinion" in a 140-character tweet, whether or not said opinion actually stands up to scrutiny doesn't matter as long as it's emotionally resonant.

This is why Twitter has any value at all, to be honest. It's a highly efficient means of propagating memes (actual sense of the word) from famous people to non-famous people with short attention spans (nearly everyone). The non-famous-people then spread the brief, succinct memes to their non-famous friends, etc. etc.


For me, it's very simple: visually and UX-wise, Twitter is a toxic hellstew. I'm no fan of Facebook (and I've since given up entirely on it), but at least I can pretty much figure out what's going on in most of my friends' lives today by scrolling down. With Twitter, I no longer scroll. I open it and give up almost immediately. There's no coherent thread through anything, it's just an unrelenting wash of unrelated complaints, marketing messages, ads, and racist/sexist nightmare fuel.

Twitter (and Facebook, for that matter) is a net loss for humanity, IMO.


> Facebook’s strategy of becoming an integral part of other company’s products was key to them becoming a utility. Twitter was on that same path prior to their limiting developer API access.

No, not really on the same path. If Facebook was strictly a status update website, then the comparison would be proper. But Facebook's platform was rich with content and varied features. That's what let its API system become such an enhancement: Other sites would integrate Facebook into their own platform for a feature or two, but people would return to Facebook proper because it allowed them to see those features _among other features_. In the end, regardless of their intent, websites consuming the Facebook API were essentially being integrated into Facebook, and not the other way around.

Twitter, on the other hand, _is_ pretty much a status update website. And if it kept its API open, it would have been a much different story than Facebook. No one would have a reason to return to Twitter, they would simply continue to visit the sites/apps that integrated the tweets. Whatever ads Twitter had would score even less clicks than they do now. It would, perhaps, integrate Twitter into the ecosystem more than at present, but I doubt it would open up much opportunities for revenue.

All that is, of course, conjecture. Still, I have a hard time seeing the Twitter API leading to something more.


All the discussions about Twitter's problems seem to lack the perspective of what it feels like to use the service if you're not already a public figure. For this purpose, a magazine author qualifies. Anyone with enough clout to be taken seriously on the subject is already part of the problem.

Twitter's great at marketing, PR, and sales. It's also a fun way to make a quip, if that's the only thing you do. However, it's pretty lousy as a means to have a discussion. Anything over a full round trip exchange gets lost in the noise so quickly as to be useless.

To the article's credit, it was no surprise for me to read that the current CEO made it his top priority to make the platform interesting to advertisers. Job well done, I say. He has succeeded spectacularly. But at what cost?

Unless you have thousands of followers you're invisible. This encourages caustic hyperbole in order to illicit responses. Why is anyone surprised that spam, negativity, and the friction of trying to communicate with actual friends isn't interesting after the novelty wears off? I agree that they shot themselves in the foot with killing the API, but I think that only sped up the inevitable.


This article raises some interesting points but I think ultimately misses the mark.

Twitter's problem is that it does and always has lacked discipline. It spends an enormous amount of money on product and engineering and has almost no velocity to show for it. If they could have reigned it in and taken a careful approach from the get-go, things would have been very different for them.

2012 was way too late to actually right the ship. Costolo was chosen to try to bring meagre profitability to the money fire. Whatever decisions they made at that point were nearly immaterial. If instead Twitter had exercised careful hiring and engineering discipline, it could have greatly cut costs, which would have given it significantly more leverage and more options by the time 2012 came around.


I don't think Twitters large engineering teams are just sitting around doing nothing. The article is essentially saying that most of the Twitters resources are being spent on making it an ad platform as opposed to making it "pulse of the planet" system. So much of the Twitters engineering efforts is invisible to outside world but probably very useful for ad buyers.


When 3/4 of the "users" are bots, and you hit a point where your personal firehose is too much to read in a day... you don't use it as much. They try to be "smarter" but the fact is bots don't click on ads, and trying to promote popular/sponsored crap is something we already get from Facebook, and frankly, they're better at it.

It's pretty nice when you want to follow a handful of celebrities... when you're in tech, for instance, you wind up with a few hundred people you're interested in seeing stuff from, but it winds up too much, and then drowns out any people you may know personally. Add to that the follow-spam crap that just floods the experience, and there's not much that can be done imho.


Most of my experience on it was just endless hard to read lists of people linking things that I already knew about, since I learned of their twitter through their blog. Followers also made no sense since so many were either bots or people using botlike tactics.

I think most of its goodwill was from being first in its niche, but as I grow older, I notice that increasingly many of the older net is becoming less fun to use. Netflix is just becoming a cable network when I loved it being a rental place, Amazon is a place where you consume streaming stuff and less a storefront you can trust, Facebook is a place to learn about the latest memes your grandmother likes, etc.

I wonder if we won't start to see a lot more failures to grow in coming years,


Dick Costolo's company FeedBurner (which was acquired by Google) seems to have been pretty heavy on the API side (based on the Wikipedia article). So it's a bit quick to label it as a media and advertising company and to portray Costolo as not understanding the potential of APIs and developer ecosystems.

People love to point finger at individuals but maybe the real underlying problem is that users just don't care about Twitter enough in a world where Facebook exists. I never understood Twitter. It never made sense to me as a normal person. It's a tool for celebrities, not for regular people - It's a niche market - Niche is not compatible with free.


Displaying metrics has been a great move, but I'm not sure it can counter the negative impact of recent censorship / banning of accounts.

1. Keep metrics.

2. Make as a platform for free speech, except when breaking laws.

3. Open up API / limits.


I support the hyphotesis of having the worst and most horrible developer support. When Twitter became popular there were dozens of apps, now you have to rely on the official ones, very buggy. The integration with other apps is not transparent, too many fights between Instagram and Twitter led the last one to lose many opportunities and, features, Twitter lost the train with the chance of photography and video, they did it great with Vine but I still don't understand why they close it.


It's much more important to sustain than to grow.

A better metric would be 'longest active using user base', and sustanance of it.

All things that grow can fall, it's endurance that's key.


"It did this despite the tremendous odds against any company that sets out to change the world"

That's a pretty bold claim. I mean, everyone sets out to change things in some way --I think this thought was an afterthought that formed later on, not at genesis.

I also don't believe they are the only ones who can effect a kind of public megaphone or rather police radio everyone could broadcast in or listen into. There is an intersect of that, but for the most part it serves commercial interests and that is the main reason anyone cares about "numbers". If it were a public service, the press and all the activists and all the commercial interests would not care about "lack of growth"

That said, some ideas about handling the negativity for end users would be to enable a few features which would further frustrate growth but give users more control:

Don't ban users but do classify them be it automatic classification or crowd-classified. Allow users to allow comms from these classes or not.

So for example, if I only want to receive tweets from "clean" accounts, that's all I can ever get. If I want more mature streams, allow those too, if I want to allow "offensive" then allow those in too. Basically, I'm a fan of Flickr and the control they give users and mods to moderate content. It's a pretty useful approach, but it sort of undermines the "social network viral growth" requirement.

That said, social has come, but it will go as people settle down on how to interact with on-line social networks.


They could maybe spiff up the interface for what it's currently used for a lot...It's a defacto complaint box for a lot of brands.

I don't know the brand's side of that is as clunky as the complainers side. But the complainers side is clunky. You can't tell if it's a company that will respond, if they do, the average wait, if you have to follow prior to a DM, what info they need, etc.

It sounds boring, but would lead to something they could upsell to the brands.


Yeah, I've never really gotten this. Companies have this impulse to treat social media pages as expedited call centers. That's bad for everyone; it's annoying to have to air your problem publicly and deal with a social media manager, and it reflects badly on brands to see complaint after complaint. This behavior only could've emerged because they indulged it. I'm not sure what PR training course advised doing this instead of sending a message that support requests go through channel X and then deleting the complaint/message/request.


Job expansion/preservation from the social media people at the brand.

On Twitter's end, basically forcing brands to interact, since you can't delete complaints (you can't can you?)


Interesting thesis.

It was a similar situation during the Terry Semel days at Yahoo! Too much focus on becoming a media company and selling ads.


I'm a on/off twitter user -I go through bursts of using it, and then I ignore it for months.

When there's a news event I'm interested in, I tend to search twitter for keywords, or the relevant #hashtag - as a news consumption service, using it in this manner works quite well. However as others have said, unless you are in the 1% that have millions of followers, you are basically tweeting into a vacuum; it's effectively an anti-social network.

My main problem is how to organise it all. I don't have time to endlessly scroll through a mixed bag of tweets in one stream - I tried tweetdeck, but my preferred usage model would have resulted in 100s of columns, which isn't right either.

Am I missing a feature here? i.e. is there a way to create filtered 'lists' that I haven't found, or do I need a specialist client?


You can create a list of people and then view just their tweets. Twitter keeps this fairly hidden away for whatever reason. So you could have a "News" list or whatever. I think that's what you mean anyway.


Thanks for that. I finally found the 'lists' option. However, compared to Facebook it's a ballache to add users to lists. Also there's no filtering option so retweets (something I dislike about twitter) can't be filtered out :(


tl/dr Twitter shouldn't have fired Ev, who was trying to build a billion peroson 'pulse of the planet' app and installed Costello, who wanted to turn it into a media company.

God mode articles that start with the word 'why' are usually suspect, this one is no exception


Around 2010 I stopped using Twitter. It never really appealed much to me. Once it came out that it was going to be a marketing tool, I saw no real reason to use it. Why use something that's sole purpose is to put ads in front of me? I see enough ads all the time.


Must everything grow to be considered worthy?


Twitter must grow, because it is unprofitable. It is alive only because they have enough investor cash available to use as rocket thrusters to keep from hitting the ground.

Grow, or SPLAT!


Twitter must make money, because it is unprofitable. Adding more users or even keeping existing users doesn't necessarily translate to that. They probably need to more fundamentally rethink what they're doing rather than just make more people willing to install the app.


Twitter is a global chatroom for "journalists" and others interested in any kind of global/regional/local event.

It is focused on moments, topics and the "discussions" around them. The UI limits discussions, by design or accidental design. But it works, just hammers everything down.

You want to witness news as they are being digested by the media and turned into "real news"? Use Twitter.

There are only so many news junkies, but for those, nothing beats Twitter.

It is the breaking news ticker bar on the bottom of the TV, amplified - plus the ability to yell at it.

I love it, and I hate it.


Twitter doesn't work predictably. Period.

The mobile web app is a disaster. There are two back buttons (one in the browser and one in the app), and if I click on a "retweet with comment" to go into the original tweet, and then try either back button, it doesn't take me back to the "retweet with comment".

"Hatching Twitter" claimed they smoke a lot of dope in the offices there. I'm inclined to believe it.

Zuck was 100% apropos: it's a clown car that fell into a gold mine and now doesn't know what to do with it.


Perhaps the question is not 'why is it failing to grow' but 'why should it grow?' I ask this as someone who does not have a twitter account. What I see of Twitter is filtered through second-hand sources. From where I sit, I wonder, what value is using this going to add to my life? And the answer seems to be, none. If they're going to grow, they need to prove a value proposition to people who aren't already using it, and I think that's going to be hard.


The real reason: everybody that wants Twitter already has Twitter.


> They range from a lack of clear vision coming from the top

This.

> to the rampant, flagrant, unchecked abuse unleashed on prominent minorities, women, and ...

No, this is the audience. This is the open and free internet and trying to blame it for business failures is part of the previous fault. Belief in this as a fault, is the result of this gullible and simple minded audience affected by a sensationalist media (who are only slightly more sophisticated).


I've come across so many otherwise intelligent people who just reflexively go "oh I don't _get_ Twitter at all". It reminds me of the people who are all "I hate / don't understand / can't do math" without giving it a chance. What I'm pondering here is maybe there's a mental hurdle here at play, in addition to the UX issues cited in these other comments.


I'm surprised more commenters aren't noting the racism/sexism/anti-semitism component. By far that's one of the worst parts of twitter - if you follow any prominent women/minorities, you'll notice the kind of daily maintenance they need to do just to be able to use the service properly.


No website wants to support Twitter login because Twitter refuses to share its user's email address.


It's just there are better ways to discover and consume news than over-crowded micro-blogging platform saturated with info-noise. It has it's number of addicts already, much in the same way the number of weed-smokers does not grow exponentially no more.


Not a very good article. Almost clickbait. There is no way Twitter would've replaced Bloomberg (though the comparison is a good insight although stretched). Monetizing Twitter is not what hurt twitter, Facebook is certainly monetizing. Though moving out a product CEO for an Ad CEO could've hurt it. It's unlikely getting rid of third-party clients hurt Twitter...not having them never hurt Facebook. Twitter is certainly not a utility to most people the way Facebook is, that's fair enough...maybe it is around being "the pulse of planet" but in Twitter really is that as it's cited ridiculously often for reactions and really the pulse of the globe...regardless a more product-focused CEO could potentially transform Twitter into something more like a utility service, but the author doesn't really tell us how or why or know what that would be.


Because everyone who sees value in a twitter account already has a twitter account?


Pretty much. You can't grow double-digit percentages every year without running out of customers at some point. At that point you'd better be making money.


I have a twitter account even I do not see value in it. I don't even remember when was the last time I logged in. I've tried it, it did not work for me.


Thing to keep in mind about Twitter is that it started out as a SMS "broadcast" service.

the web accessible log was virtually an afterthought that only in hindsight became their main feature.


Do they really need nearly 4,000 employees and san francisco office space? those two variables could be tweaked for profitability.


Perhaps Twitter is big enough? It grew to the propper size and there it can stay...


Because it's already big, but it's not a standard and it's proprietary?


So, too late to open up the API?


I just keep waiting for Twitter to show some fucking adaptability.


The guy that runs the blog has really good copy writing skills.


Twitter... SAD! :P


No one has suggested duration yet. Some activities have a fixed length of life. Take for example CB radio which also peaked around 1/10th of all cars, interesting how twitter similarly peaked around 1/10th of internet users.

Perhaps twitter is exactly like Fondue pots. Until it exists demand accumulates for decades perhaps. It bursts on the scene and for awhile the stockpiled demand results in exponential fad like growth until virtually all weddings in the 70s received at least one fondue pot as a wedding gift. Eventually the centuries of stockpiled demand for crusty bread and delicious hot cheesy sauce subside to normal business as usual demand levels, in other words use of fondue pots dropped from absolutely everyone because they were the hot new gadget to perhaps less than 1%. Most of the demand for fondue went into the nacho sector, arguably modern loaded nachos are a superior form of cheez sauce delivery over fondue. Or perhaps the loaded baked potatoe is the descendant of the 70s fondue. Or what little 2010s fondue exists today is the descendant of 1970s fondue.

The point being that nothing existed like Fondue, I mean twitter, before, so its going to burn the underbrush of society like a forest fire very brightly for a short amount of time before declining back into normal obscurity much like telephone modem BBSes of the 80s, perhaps.

I'd postulate that "Television" is a long term bubble. The viewership numbers are horrible looks like newspapers. Everyone over 65 watches like 16 hours per day and no one under 20 watches TV. My kids don't watch TV other than streaming a couple series they learned about online or from friends. Its kind of funny that when I was a little younger it was a holiness signalling fad to declare my kids will not watch TV all day like me and my parents generation and we're gonna not own a TV blah blah blah like most social signalling no one did it or believed it but just enjoyed basking in the hype. However now that I have kids, kids don't watch TV anymore once they get past babysitter era stuff like animated PBS stuff. I can't get my kids to watch TV so I can get the social status from claiming to cut them off, LOL.

Social media is dead now except for middle aged women sharing pix of cats if they're left wing or kids if they're right wing. We live today in the era of interruption where being interrupted by your phone and watch proves you're important and well informed. The content interrupting you is unimportant, what matters is being seen in public being very active online, constantly being interrupted and posting stuff. VLM's law is all social media interaction eventually devolves to Tamagotchi.

Twitter is more than a fad in that a fad has nothing to perpetuate it beyond social signalling. But its less than a major change in society like "cars" or "suburbs" or "industrialization".


why does it need to grow?

it is big already


I don't really like censored social networks in general but:

Anybody who thinks its our economy and mindset is sick? Why is something deemed as "failing" when its not growing. Twitter has millions of people on it. If its userbase stays exactly like it is I don't consider this "failing".


I think you're absolutely right. The impression you walk away with is that Twitters problem is the lack of new users. While it certainly would be nice, for Twitter, to have even more users, I would say that the main issue is their inability to make money on their existing users.

The mindset is that growth will somehow fix the broken business model. Well if that's true, then give us the number of users that will make Twitter profitable. I mean would Twitter be better of with 500 million users, perhaps a billion?


I agree with you, but the fact that they lost $500 million last year means that they have to do something. IMHO they should focus on trimming the fat and try to get to a sustainable, long term business model.

This neverending focus on growth isn't healthy at all.


I think your nature analogy is flawed.

Adults grow on intellect but not on body size, and if only in a bad way because they get fat. So no you don't die if you stop growing.

Its our money and banking system with money created out of dept and dept must be payed that does not exist. While the banks print money out of thin air. This system is very unnatural and this is exactly what causes our economy to constantly need to grow, produce more next year, get more users ... to essentially pay off the ever growing dept.


[dead]


Grow AND Die. If it lives, it must die. Only then can we move forward to the next iteration.


About two years ago, and +2,000 followers I deleted my twitter account. Why pray tell?

Because they wanted my cell phone number, and my personal Identification, not unlike paypal.

Twitter was anonymous, and now its not; I think its not growing just like gmail.com, before when it was all anonymous many people were joining, now going in people know they have no anonymity, thus many simply don't complete the registration process once they know that twitter is collecting everything about them, and knows exactly who there are, & where they are ( cell phone tracking device ).

Game over for anonymity, and that marked the end of growth for social networking.

About two years ago for twitter.


Yet another "ads are bad, third party clients are good" post. Seen it at least a dozen times and still yet to see any evidence of an alternate strategy that has actually been thought through.

FourSquare made a data business work because location data is valuable from the largest to the smallest business. Twitter data isn't and so the comparison is tenuous at best. And Bloomberg, really ? The idea that Twitter could be an alternative completely misreads the industry.


I agree with you. Twitter's route may not have been successful but "continue to give everything away for free and keep crossing our fingers" is not really a better strategy. And I agree that there is no way an uncurated stream from nearly-anonymous sources like Twitter can replace relevant news hand-picked by experts (Bloomberg), though that stream could be used as part of the feed that the humans review.

I think Twitter has two real value propositions: one, they are a great way for people with a following to broadcast messages. Two, they are a great way for people to engage with others whom they admire, because they seriously mitigate the problem of fan interaction for anyone with a following. People get Twitter accounts because they believe that when they tweet someone, that person sees it, and may respond to it. For example, @pmarca replied to a tweet I sent.

You'll notice that both of these benefits center on broadcasters and not nobodies. Twitter got confused and thought the nobodies were the drivers of value, whereas it's really having broadcasters that nobodies a) want to hear from and b) want to have a hope in engaging with.

Maybe there's an alternate universe where Twitter was offered as niche software to publicists at ungodly annual sums, and the general public was invited in to participate, witness, and grovel freely.


Disruption (REAL disruption) happens when janky, poorly-featured products come along and do one key, valuable thing much better than their established, mature, full-featured competitors.

The janky upstart uses that small edge (and its much lower costs, price points, or other efficincies) to get a foothold, then steadily builds out a complete solution that is more compelling than the status quo...which then finds itself disrupted.

With that context in mind, here's the opening line of Bloomberg's Terminal Info page:

"The Bloomberg Terminal brings together real-time data on every market, unparalleled news and research, powerful analytics, communications tools and world-class execution capabilities — in one fully integrated solution."

I'd like to draw your attention to that first two parts: "real time data on every market, unparalleled news.."

To gather and process that data and unparalleled news, Bloomberg employs an army of human news gatherers. The company is private, so I don't know their financials, but I'd be willing to wager that its news gathering organization is one of the top contributors to Bloomberg's COGS.

Meanwhile, how many trades (and how much $$$) in equities, currencies, and commodities happen every day based on information about something that just happened in the world?

How much of an advantage does having that information first confer to the person who gets it?

Is it not conceivable that, had Twitter had focused 100% on turning the one billion-plus everyday humans with smartphones into news gatherers and leveraged a mix of software and professional analysis to turn it into data and info that traders would love to pay for...that it could have beaten Bloomberg at the "real time data and unparalleled news" game with a MUCH lower cost structure?

And then...


> Is it not conceivable that, had Twitter had focused 100% on turning the one billion-plus everyday humans with smartphones into news gatherers and leveraged a mix of software and professional analysis to turn it into data and info that traders would love to pay for...

People are posting pictures of their food and calendar quotes; it's not that Twitter cannot utilize the information ... there's just not much to work with in the first place.




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