Narrative: Twitter is Stuck
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Narrative: Twitter is Stuck (Dec 27, 2016)
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At the time I’m writing this, Twitter stock is off 13% after it reported another set of poor earnings. It failed to grow global monthly active users at all in the quarter (US users actually shrank, offset by modest growth elsewhere), daily active user growth shrank from 14% in Q1 to 12% in Q2, and revenue was down 5% year on year, the second straight quarter of overall revenue declines. Importantly, all of this happened in a quarter when Twitter released a big redesign of its apps and sites and launched its Lite product in India, both of which should have driven good growth if effective. The contrast with Facebook’s results last night couldn’t be starker, with the two companies moving in seemingly opposite directions. The one thing they have in common is that both are working to convince advertisers of the value of spending money on their platforms, but Facebook is doing so from a position of strength, trying to win more TV ad dollars with its targeting and attribution features, while Twitter is mostly still trying to convince advertisers that it has a world-class ad platform at all. In theory, it’s making progress behind the scenes with its ad offerings, and users are responding positively to its product changes too, as evidenced by the fact that DAUs have grown quite a bit faster than MAUs over the past year. But the company also suggested on today’s earnings call that DAUs as a percentage of MAUs haven’t shifted much from three years ago, when that ratio was below 50% in its top markets. The picture that’s emerging here is one of a smaller number – perhaps around 160 million – highly engaged users (likely including most of the bots on the platform) and a constantly cycling second 160-170 million users coming onto and then rapidly leaving the platform as they fail to find value in it, something I first hinted at in this piece last October. Twitter would arguably be best served by emulating Snap’s reporting and ditching MAUs in favor of DAUs, then focusing on growing that number, which it seems to be doing more successfully. And yet it’s bafflingly reluctant to report DAUs directly, probably because that would be a concession that it’s reaching a much smaller engaged audience than it likes to claim. Note that just 17% of its MAUs watched any live videos last quarter, for example. It’s getting tougher and tougher to believe that Twitter is ever going to outgrow its current stagnation.
via Twitter (PDF)
Twitter has a blog post up and apparently also spoke to reporters about its efforts to curb abuse and harassment on the platform. The company released data about the improvements it’s made over the past year and the positive effects it says these are having, such as acting on ten times as many abusive accounts, removing twice the number of repeat offenders, and so on. But there’s nothing in the new data or the blog post about why so many reports still get dealt with as false positives, as reported by BuzzFeed earlier in the week. And there’s no real transparency about how the decisions are made, by whom, or what exactly the guidelines are. Twitter clearly is making progress here – the numbers show that – but the fact that BuzzFeed had no trouble quickly finding cases where it’s still falling short suggests it’s far from done here yet. And though Twitter is clearly taking the problem more seriously today than it was even six months ago, before this current effort began, it’s still too often defensive and closed rather than transparent and honest in talking about why abuse and harassment are still such issues. At root, it feels like Twitter is still erring too much on the side of maximum freedom of speech rather than on the side of protecting users from abuse, while much behavior by Twitter users is utterly unacceptable and yet likely goes unreported simply because it’s not directed at a specific individual.
Twitter is Still Mishandling Abuse and Harassment Reports (Jul 18, 2017)
Twitter Hires a Permanent CFO from Intuit (Jul 11, 2017)
Twitter is Reportedly Testing a Fake News Button (Jun 29, 2017)
The Washington Post reports that Twitter is testing a button that would allow users to flag tweets or links in tweets which appear to be false or misleading, although it says there’s no guarantee that the feature will ever launch, and Twitter itself says it’s not going to launch anything along these lines soon. On the face of it, this is a logical step for Twitter, which has been one of the biggest vehicles for the rapid spread of fake news over the last year or two, even though its much smaller scale means that Facebook still arguably has a bigger impact, especially given its tendency to reinforce people’s existing biases. But on the other hand, given how the phrase “fake news” has lost all meaning and come to take on distinct partisan overtones, there’s enormous potential for misuse and controversy, and if Twitter does launch something along these lines, it’s going to need either a massive team of its own or several big partners with significant resources to handle the refereeing that will be needed. That alone may prevent Twitter from ever launching the feature, needed though it may be. In addition, given that Twitter has arguably bent its own rules on acceptable content a little for public figures such as President Trump (and candidate Trump before him), there are some big questions about whether tweets from the President and others would be subject to the same rules as those from other users.
Twitter Launches #SeeEverySide Marketing Campaign (Jun 19, 2017)
Twitter’s three prominent co-founders have all spent time doing other things since its founding but all three are now back at the company in one form or another (Ev Williams has been the one constant, though he shifted out of the CEO role and onto the board a few years back). The latest to return is Biz Stone, who had been running another creation of his, Jelly, for several years, only to sell it to Pinterest a few months back. It sounds like Stone’s role will be that of a sort of internal culture champion and cheerleader rather than a key decision maker, which seems to suit his talents well but means it’ll be tough for outsiders to measure his impact. One of the benefits of Jack Dorsey coming back was that he had the authority of a founder to make big changes to the product (though he spent his first year back in charge failing to do so anyway). Stone’s hiring has a similar benefit in that he has the passion of a founder for the company and clearly believes strongly in its mission and product, and so can hopefully help instill that in other employees at a time when Twitter still feels rather stuck. We’ve seen some signs of more significant change in the product at Twitter lately, especially with its many recent TV deals, but its financial picture continues to be rather bleaker.