He may have failed in that task, judging by the accidental tweet sent out by Twitter CFO Anthony Noto yesterday. Noto appeared reveal the fact that the company is considering a new acquisition:
On the one hand, it’s just a simple human error by Noto, and we can’t read too much into it. Noto is new to Twitter, after all. But on the other, Twitter is a public company and news of impending acquisitions can move the stock up or down — Re/code has a list of some the companies Noto could have been referring to, which includes Storehouse, Shots, Secret, Prismatic, Drawbridge and Shopular. So this is serious — the company’s CFO is having difficulty using his own product, and it may have consequences for investors.
Twitter has a longstanding problem with its confusing user interface that it has not solved. Plenty of people get the DM thing wrong: Anthony Weiner, the congressman who fell from grave after sending naked photos of himself on Twitter, made the same mistake.
In February, Costolo said Twitter would be redesigned so that users were less confused by its navigation and interface.
While Twitter is useful, the more you use it the more elaborate and complicated your dashboard can become, with separate streams for your home feed, sent tweets, direct messages, notifications and “activity.”
As a longtime Twitter user, I can tell you that there have been only tiny, subtle changes to the Twitter user interface. It’s still a complicated product that seemingly requires you to learn a separate shorthand of RTs, MTs, @, “.”, #’s and bitly links in order to get the best from it.
And it is easy to confuse a private direct message, or DM, and a public reply tweet — which is what Noto seems to have screwed up yesterday. The litmus test: I still would not recommend that my mother begin using Twitter, but I’ve begged her to get onto Facebook so we can share photographs better. (My mum is a bit of a gadget nerd by the way — she’s already got an iPhone 6 and Apple TV.)
This isn’t trivial. Costolo believes that getting the user experience right is what will drive monthly active user (MAU) growth. Right now, that user growth is feeble. In Q3 it reported 283 million MAUs, up 21% for the year. That sounds like a lot but remember that Facebook has more than 1.3 billion users. Instagram overtook Twitter in popularity a long time ago. Snapchat probably has faster growth than Twitter, although fewer users overall.
There is a case to be made that Twitter should not, in fact, be a mass medium for every single person. The company has a lot of valuable data and does not need to be as big as Facebook to succeed. But as long as Costolo keeps telling investors that reaching everyone on the planet is achievable, then the company needs to make its product easier and simpler to use.
Disclosure: The author owns shares of Twitter (TWTR).