Twitter's Ruffled Feathers

Twitter has been getting crucified in the news lately. Its stock is downIts executive exodus continues. As a community of users, Twitter is still rife with excitement. As a company, Twitter appears to be a mess.

Due to all this drama, the tech media have turned an increasingly critical eye on Twitter the company throughout the past week, with articles like: "Is Twitter Doomed?", “Twitter has become secret handshake software”, and “How Facebook Squashed Twitter.”

Twitter has always had doomsayers. In terms of active user numbers, they have always been dwarfed by Facebook. They continue to crawl along at a slow and leisurely pace while its competitors iterate publicly in leaps and bounds.

The great irony of Twitter is this: the company that encourages us (its users) to tell the world our stories has never convincingly told the world its own story.

In fact, given the chance, Twitter has often refused to tell their story.

In a March 2015 interview with Inc., Dick Costolo gave this cryptic, inside-Twitter tidbit:

“I stood up in front of the company on the night of the IPO,” he recalls, “and I said, ‘Let’s celebrate tonight, but just remember that when things are going great, we all know that they aren’t as great as everyone says outside the company. And when the time comes that people outside the company are saying things aren’t great, we’ll know internally that things aren’t as crazy as they think.’ So now I’m able to go back and say, ‘Remember what I told you? It’s happening.’ ”

So perception never matches reality? If Twitter appears bananas, it’s really solid; if Twitter appears solid, it’s on the brink?

Similarly, the now-former head of product Kevin Weil gave a perplexing, long interview with Casey Newton at The Verge in July 2015. The interview acknowledged all the iterative work the company had been doing, but stayed vague about the as-yet-unlaunched “Project Lightning” that would eventually become Twitter Moments. The vagrary extended into possible applications of more “personalization” in the platform, acknowledging (but not explaining) the sudden removal of profile wallpapers, and being as oblique as possible about their efforts to curtail abuse on the platform.1

So far, Jack Dorsey has stayed mum in comparison. He worked to drum up excitement amongst developers at Fabric. Most notably, he has made very clear that the future of Twitter lies beyond 140 characters.

People keep waiting for Twitter to make some big move. With the executive exodus and the low stock price, the pressure on Dorsey to deliver meaningful product changes—and a strong narrative to support it—is higher than ever. The upcoming earnings call in February will be wrought with tension.

Twitter can’t be complacent about doomsaying. It can’t let people like me fill in the gaps they have left open for so long. It can’t keep letting people ruffle its feathers.

We haven’t seen any major changes to Twitter under Dorsey yet. Observers and investors seem to be growing impatient. But Dorsey is showing his ability to shape the narrative without committing to a roadmap or announcing a new feature. Today, Twitter’s all-hands meeting doubled as a pep-rally that, of course, had a unifying hashtag: #oneteam.

Using Twitter-the-service to get Twitter’s employees excited about Twitter-the-company, in front of the whole world. That’s a pretty good trick, Jack.


  1. Weil has already joined Instagram. ↩︎