Jack Dorsey is on a mission to save Twitter.
The founder and CEO’s latest move? The social network plans to stop counting photos and links in the 140-character link for tweets within “the next couple of weeks,” according to a new report from Bloomberg.
The move will free up more space for text, and Twitter users have largely heralded it as long-overdue.
But the change — while welcome — does little to fix Twitter’s underlying malaise.
In fact, it typifies the main problem at the heart of Twitter: CEO Jack Dorsey has been running the company part-time for nearly a year, and little has changed since he returned to the company.
Twitter has an impressive list of woes
Let’s look at where Twitter stands right now. Its stock sits at $14.28 a share, just above all-time lows of $13.90 (earlier this month) and far, far below its record highs of $69 way back in 2014. The app has become a comfortable home for bullies, trolls, and bigots, who have poisoned the atmosphere for regular users. Its active userbase is flatlining around the 300-million-mark, albeit with a minor bump in the last quarter. The number of tweets sent on the service has plummeted, according to API data — with 303 million sent in January 2016, down from 661 million in August 2014, the social network’s peak.
In short, it’s no secret that Twitter is struggling — especially when compared to the runaway success of rivals like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. It is struggling to gain users, its existing users are tweeting less, and investors are losing faith.
These problems are a key part of why Jack Dorsey, who founded the company and was CEO before being ousted in 2008, was brought back as CEO in June last year. The intention was that Dorsey would have “the moral authority as a founder to push teams to make big, bold changes to Twitter,” as Twitter COO Adam Bain put it.
But the changes that are being pushed aren’t really that big or bold.
The ship has sailed on millions of potential users
Twitter is not a young company. Launched in July 2006, it is now a decade old, and is well-recognised by most thanks to the massive cultural influence of its most high-profile users (one of its enduring successes). If people don’t use Twitter, it’s not because they haven’t heard of it. It’s because they don’t want to, or have used it before and didn’t stick around.
Previous CEO Dick Costolo acknowledged how difficult Twitter can be for newcomers to get their heads around, with its hashtags and “[email protected]” replies. He has said that the “remarkable language is superhard to understand.”
Dorsey’s innovations to date do little to change this. If you joined Twitter back in 2011 and were put off by its arbitrary message sizes and weird communication conventions, then learning that Twitter plans to stop counting photos towards character limits isn’t going to inspire you to boot up the social network and give it another whirl. For Twitter’s disillusioned former users, the response will be a resounding “so what?”
If you’ve tried a product once and found it lacking, you’re unlikely to take the plunge again.
What’s more, the reception to a more radical change, Twitter Moments — human-curated collections of tweets — has been largely lukewarm. According to a report from The Information, some Twitter employees already view it as a “failed product.”
It didn’t have to be this way.
What’s frustrating is that social networks are capable of a reinvention of their core product. Facebook shows it is possible.
The conventional wisdom has always been that while Twitter is for news and real-time events, Facebook is for social. But the Mark Zuckerberg-owned social networking behemoths is increasingly taking steps to eat Twitter’s dinner. More and more, Facebook is pushing into the news space, introducing Trending Topics on its homepage and coming to be the dominant traffic source for nearly every publisher around the world. Which social network really dominates the spread and consumption of news online? It’s Facebook: Twitter refers only a tiny fraction of the news traffic that Facebook does.
Zuck now says he wants Instant Articles, Facebook’s news-hosting service, to be the “primary news experience people have.” Its Live video push straddles both media and real-time markets — and is a direct threat to Periscope, the live video product owned by Twitter.
Had Dorsey exercised his “moral authority” faster, then the social network might have pushed beyond its core userbase and transformed its future. But now, with tweets declining and countless users disinterested, it might be too late.