Twitter At Eight


On the 21st March 2006, Jack Dorsey sent the first ever tweet. Fast-forward eight years, and Twitter is a fully-fledged cultural phenomenon, with 241 million active users. At the Oscars, Ellen Degeneres’ celebrity selfie was retweeted 3.4 million times. With figures like this, it’s not surprising that Twitter felt it was time to go public in November of last year. But with this will come increased scrutiny from shareholders and the market in general, leading to some of Twitter’s biggest obstacles yet.

Twitter’s first quarterly report displayed revenue of $242.7 million, and a growth in total user numbers. So far so good, but the report also revealed a slowing rate of user growth and a decrease in the number of timeline refreshes.

This raised alarm bells on Wall Street. Without an engaged, growing user-base, it’s debatable whether Twitter will be able to drive the revenue growth (and profit) to live up to its valuation. The effect of these revelations was immediately felt on the bottom line: share prices fell 30% on the day of the report.

So why is Twitter experiencing this lull? The answer requires us taking a couple of steps back. Because actually, to a fresh set of eyes, Twitter is pretty bewildering; @ mentions, RTs, MTs, DMs, hashtags… The vocabulary is new and requires additional explanation, while the real time set-up makes it difficult to consume. And unless you’re spending lots of time on it, you’re going to miss at least some of the information that’s contained within it. A huge amount of people just don’t ‘get’ Twitter.

Added to that, relationships on Twitter are much weaker than on other social platforms. As a forum Twitter is top-heavy. It’s dominated by journalists, public figures, entrepreneurs, businesses and brands, all of whom are trying to engage an audience that aren’t interacting in its majority. Unlike Facebook, Twitter connections aren’t always friends. So when it comes to passive engagement, it’s not hard to see how it can be less of a ‘must-check’ when there’s so much else vying for our attention.

This doesn’t mean it’s game over for Twitter, though. The social network is fully aware of the barriers it faces, and is trying hard to overcome them. It’s focused on making the social network more accessible and interesting for the average user. CEO Dick Costolo has revealed he aims to “push the scaffolding of the language of Twitter to the background…and make it more likely new or casual users will find this service as indispensable as our existing core users do”.

Just yesterday, for example, it was revealed that Twitter has started testing a new Android update that removes @ mentions, hinting it may be remove the mechanic entirely. Twitter also began testing a “Fave People” feature this week, which helps users manage their timelines, giving them more control over the content they receive.

So despite being a big player in social, and home of some of the world’s most shared moments, there’s still work to be done. In its ninth year we’ll be seeing Twitter put a much greater focus on the everyman, providing a more accessible and immersive experience. Is this a good thing? Only time will tell.