Twitter’s Biggest Problem Is That It Doesn’t Know What It Wants to Be
Jack Dorsey’s social network could use some good news right about now.
Image: Howard Lake/Flickr
Twitter has had a rough couple of weeks.
Its stock has been hovering near its all-time low, a raft of high-ranking executives just flew the coop, and it's now battling the perception that it might be better off as part of a larger company rather than standing on its own two feet. (Rumored interest last week from News Corp. sent "finance Twitter" into a tizzy.) The question now is, is this just a temporary blip for the social network, or perhaps signs of a deeper malaise?
The bigger question may be, what is Twitter, and who is it for? Right now there are two separate answers, says Jan Dawson, the Chief Analyst of Jackdaw Research, a research and advisory firm that focuses on the technology sector. "There's not really any such thing as a single Twitter product—there are really two products, though they look like one."
One is a tool beloved by power users that requires some degree of effort to curate a compelling list of accounts to follow. The second is a more lighthearted fare where perhaps you follow a few celebrities or athletes and maybe peek every now and then into features like Discover or Moments, which attempts to surface the "best of Twitter" for you without you having to lift a finger.
"For power users, Twitter as a product is already very good," said Dawson. "But for the mainstream users, especially the ones Twitter needs to either attract or win back, it's still a poor experience."
This gets to the heart of Twitter's main problem right now: User growth, that all-important stat that Wall Street uses to judge how well social networks like Twitter are doing, has slowed to a crawl. Twitter's "poor experience," as Dawson put it, continues to drag the company down.
Analyst Ben Thompson, of Stratechery.com, said in a note on Tuesday that one of Twitter's biggest problems is that the social network still requires too much effort to use effectively—why bother going through the hassle of trying to find celebrities, athletes, and journalists to follow when all of your friends are already on Facebook, sharing photos of babies and cats all day, every day?
"When Dorsey states that he wants Twitter to 'become the first thing everyone in the world checks to start their day and the first thing people turn to when they want to share ideas, commentary, or simply what's happening,'" Thompson wrote, "he is no longer trying to capture an entirely new market, but rather to steal that market from well-established competitors, particularly Facebook, but also services like Snapchat, Instagram, and the messaging services."
Twitter, in short, is now just one of many apps, games, and services that are all vying for your most precious resource: your attention. If getting the most out of Twitter takes too much effort, there's always a cute puppy photo to like on Facebook or a hilarious Snap to imbibe in the meantime.
But if there's a silver lining to Twitter's recent troubles it's that, according to Dawson, much of the hand-wringing in the media over the company's future can be dismissed as inside baseball: The fact is, Twitter isn't some random startup that's going to suddenly run out of money. What the turmoil may suggest, however, is a company without any clear vision of what it wants to be: a useful tool beloved by a relatively small number of power users or something embraced by legions of Beliebers the world over?
Besides, without Twitter, how would we ever have enjoyed gems like this?