Disclaimers: 1) This is a very long read. Thinking about a company and using its product obsessively for nine years straight will do that to you. 2) My funds and I own a lot of Twitter stock. 3) I do not speak for Twitter. 4) I have no inside information about Twitter. The company could already be building all the stuff below. I sincerely hope they are.
Summary For Executives And Non-Executives Alike:
I believe in Twitter. The company itself is improving, not worsening. The stock market doesn’t get that because Twitter has failed to tell its own story to investors and users. Here is how I think that story could unfold:
Hundreds of millions of new users will join and stay active on Twitter, hundreds of millions of inactive users will return to Twitter, and hundreds of millions more will use Twitter from the outside if Twitter can:
- Make Tweets effortless to enjoy,
- Make it easier for all to participate, and
- Make each of us on Twitter feel heard and valuable.
Accomplishing this isn’t hard and there are obvious, concrete steps to fix it all. Done right, countless users new and old will find Twitter indispensable, use Twitter more, see great ads, buy lots of stuff, and make the company much more money along the way.
The Opposite Of A Summary:
As I wrote last week, I invested in and have been thinking about Twitter since its earliest days. It is a huge part of my life and my business. I am very bullish on Twitter’s future and I can’t imagine life without it. The way I put it, “I Bleed Aqua.”
First, I want to apologize to those of you working in the sensationalist clickbait mines, but this post is not a hit piece. I never said it would be. I am not here to slam the company nor the team. I am not an activist investor.
I am a proud Twitter shareholder and Twitter user. I want this company to succeed. I want the people who work at Twitter to win. I want this stock to be worth more. I own more of it than virtually anyone working at the company. So with that kind of skin in the game, I wrote:
“I am going to post a few things that I personally hope the Twitter team will accomplish.”
If at any point I do sound critical or impatient, it is because I believe Twitter can be so much more than it is today. I assume each one of you who owns Twitter shares, and every single one of you who works at the company would agree. Candidly, I have no doubt that Twitter users have 302 million monthly active opinions as to how the product could be better.
Trying to pin blame on anyone for why Twitter hasn’t made these moves sooner is unproductive. I want Twitter to press forward. I am glad to say there are positive signs that Twitter is once again becoming an organization that can and will ship innovation.
Despite that, my biggest concern is the abundance of public doubt and misunderstanding when it comes to Twitter’s vision and the near future for the service. It’s hard to blame Wall Street or the press. Twitter has failed to tell its own story.
As a private company, Twitter never really had to account for its business to anyone outside the company. Information was tightly guarded and few stakeholders were given the keys. At the same time, investment capital was easy to come by for such a fast growing company, so the company never had to put much effort into pitching itself to raise funding.
The transition to being public has been rough. The company has disappointed Wall Street more often than not. Twitter’s earnings calls are mostly dedicated to playing defense while discussing incremental improvements to sign-up flows and tweaks to the service. Plus, new product launches are soft and rarely get the attention from investors or users that Twitter’s peers drum up. If the company has a bold vision for the future, it doesn’t come across in their communication with us on the outside, and that may very well be a function of pre-IPO legacy.
Over the last few years, my funds put more money into Twitter shares than any other investor in the world, becoming the company’s largest shareholder by the time of the IPO. Raising all that money required me to convince some of the industry’s most skeptical institutional investors of Twitter’s promise. I rose to the challenge, and those investors have enjoyed billions of dollars in profit as a result.
Nevertheless, when I am asked about Twitter’s future on business television, I usually have 90 seconds to answer before they say goodbye and cut to an ad for a Medicare-sponsored scooter. So, let me take this commercial-free chance to tell what I believe should be the focus of Twitter’s story.
What follows is mostly drawn from memos, notes, and presentations I have written over the years through the present day for Twitter management, the company’s board, institutional investors, analysts, power users, and key recruits.
What Is Going Well At Twitter?
- The pace of product development has accelerated dramatically.
- Twitter has shown a willingness to take more risk in making changes to the core product.
- Revenue is growing at 74% year over year. (There is no public company of that scale growing anywhere near as fast.)
- The management team has stopped selling their stock.
- The Google deal is a big win.
- Periscope and TellApart are strong acquisitions. (Periscope may prove to be the most important deal Twitter has ever done.)
Though you wouldn’t know it by looking at the stock price or by reading the headlines, Twitter is owed recognition for ramping up their product development, experimenting with much-needed new initiatives, continuing to grow revenue at astounding rates, and executing well in some marquee M&A and partnership situations. To boot, the executive team has stopped selling the stock and the CFO, Anthony Noto, actually bought a few shares recently. These are all hallmarks of the type of company I want to own.
What’s Not Going Well At Twitter?
- New user growth has stalled.
- Almost one billion users have tried Twitter and not stuck around.
- Direct response advertising has fallen short of hopes.
- Wall Street’s confidence in the management team has diminished.
- Twitter has been unable to convince investors of its potential upside.
It’s worth noting that Wall Street is the only place in the world where 300 million people using a service and an additional 500 million people visiting a site each month lead to charges that it isn’t “big” or “mainstream.”
That said, Twitter has failed to meet its own stated user growth expectations and has not been able to take advantage of the massive number of users who have signed up for accounts and then not come back. Shortcomings in the direct response advertising category have resulted in the company coming in below the financial community’s quarterly estimates. In the wake of this, Twitter’s efforts to convince the investing community of the opportunity ahead fell flat. Consequently, the stock is trading near a 6-month low, well below its IPO closing day price, and the company is suffering through a seemingly endless negative press cycle.
So Where Can Twitter Go From Here?
Twitter can be indispensable, engaging, and fun for everyone on the planet, and make even more money in the process. So why isn’t that happening?
- For most people, Twitter is too hard to use.
- For most people, Tweeting is scary.
- For most people, Twitter feels lonely.
None of this is a surprise, as Twitter was mostly built by and for its power users. The odds are high that if you are reading this, you are one of those Twitterers who has built lists and muted accounts. You quote Tweets and tag photos with ease, you have multiple group DM threads, and for anything remotely real-time, you turn to Twitter search before Google.
People like you bring incredible value to Twitter and your product experience should never be worsened. Your feedback to the Twitter team has quite literally shaped the product and your passionate opinions remind all of us that there is something really special here. Long live the raw feed and all of its serendipitous glory. Unfortunately, most of the features listed above are complications that chase normal users right back out the door they came in.
The good news is this is all fixable. However, an incremental and iterative approach to improving Twitter will not work. Instead, Twitter will need to take huge risks, deeply question its key assumptions, and launch materially new stuff early and often.
Twitter does have boldness in its bones. It took unreasonable ambition to go from a company where pundits asked “How will you ever make money?” to building a business that will rack up $2 billion in annualized revenue this year. In parallel, it has been no small feat to guide the company from being a wholly text-based service to one teeming with rich media and a growing video monetization business. Even buying Periscope shows the company has the capacity and appetite for taking risk.
But Twitter needs to be bolder still. It needs to place more bets with potentially oversized payoffs. It needs to question aspects of Twitter it has taken for granted. It needs to operate with smaller teams that require less permission to make change happen. Twitter can afford to build the wrong things. However, Twitter cannot afford to build the right things too slowly.
Ultimately, while there is no one Twitter that fits all, there is nothing stopping Twitter from fitting most. There is a Twitter that hundreds of millions more people will embrace and use daily. This is what it might look like…
Using Twitter Could Be So Much Easier.
The world’s very best content is already inside of Twitter. All of the news, sports, entertainment, human interest, music, branding, social justice, humor, politics, celebrities, technology, and beyond. Twitter not only has it all, Twitter has it in real-time, before any other platform in the world.
Yet, for most people, using Twitter to see that great stuff is too hard. Why? Twitter doesn’t work like our minds do. Our brains prefer signal over noise. Yet, on Twitter:
- Timelines are oriented in strict reverse chronological order.
- Twitter’s core timeline building block is an account follow.
Though immediacy does underpin the value of some Tweets, many other great Tweets have long shelf lives and are just as compelling hours or days later. Plus, a timeline rigidly restricted to specific accounts presumes we won’t value anything Tweeted by accounts we don’t follow. As a result of these two constraints, Twitter timelines are spontaneous, but scattered and of inconsistent relevance.
On any given day, 500 million Tweets are sent. Some of them are wonderfully insightful, funny, provocative, inspiring, heartfelt, or even historic. Yet hundreds of millions of those Tweets are noisy distractions. For any sample of accounts, the odds are extremely high that the most recent Tweets are not the best Tweets.
This is where so many new users get hung up. Hardcore Twitterers have the savvy and patience to continuously tune the array of accounts they follow. They even train the nuances of their visual attention to notice only what they care about when scrolling rapidly. However, new users usually get lost in the rough before they have a chance to find any diamonds.
The next few hundred million Twitter users will want to know that they are always seeing the most interesting and most important Tweets. Sometimes that will mean seeing the freshest Tweets posted. However, in many other cases, users won’t care if those Tweets are ten seconds or one hour or two days old. In parallel, they won’t care if the Tweets were posted by someone they follow or not. They just want the best stuff.
So it is time to ditch the assumptions that:
- Recent Tweets are always the best Tweets.
- Only the people we follow post the best Tweets.
Twitter Is Making Real Progress.
I am encouraged by some of Twitter’s recent moves in this direction such as Instant Timelines, While You Were Away, and Highlights for Android.
Twitter’s new “Instant Timelines” have definitely taken some work out of the signup flow. Users frequently give up during the new account step where they select whom to follow. Instant Timelines help focus new users’ timelines around meaningful themes of interest and ensure that their timelines are full from day one.
“While You Were Away” is a very positive step toward recognizing that, while real-time Twitter can be astounding, there are countless Tweets that do age well. This is a big, positive shift away from some lingering religion at the company. It shows Twitter is beginning to recognize that recency may not always equal value.
With “Highlights for Android” Twitter casts off restraints around both timing and whom we follow. Instead, Highlights works to show us what it thinks we will agree were the best Tweets of the day regardless of when they were sent and who sent them.
While it is still very early, the quality of the Twitter experience for users touched by these three efforts is dramatically improved. After years of discussing products like these, the fact that Twitter has launched them into the wild leaves me cautiously optimistic that the progress will continue. Going forward, Twitter should boldly push the envelope of these new explorations and try evolving the core product in three directions: Live, Channels, and a Save Button.
Live Is The Biggest Opportunity Yet.
No one else can do live like Twitter and Periscope. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and even YouTube can’t hold a hashtag to Twitter’s live content. Facebook has certainly tried more than once to pinch Twitter’s game, to no avail.
Everything that is happening is happening on Twitter. Every game, every show, every debate, every war, every storm, every ceremony, every tragedy, every election.
Live events tug at the very threads of our being. We all crave shared experiences. Jokes are funnier when we have someone to laugh with. Victories are more exhilarating when we have someone to high five. Catharsis goes deeper when we can cry on the shoulder of another.
In a world of pre-fabricated and polished appearances, live events are raw, authentic, and vulnerable. They bring us together and reveal our commonality.
Yet, experiencing live events on Twitter today can be extremely hit or miss. Why?
- We may not know they are happening at all.
- We may know they are happening but don’t follow all of the right accounts to get the most immersive coverage.
- We are distracted by the rest of our scattered timelines while trying to experience an event.
- Even if we are all watching the same event, we have very distinct timelines among us.
Again, this is all fixable. The company can build a high-quality, captivating immersion experience for major live events. The necessary elements are:
- A separate tab in Twitter (or app).
- Thoughtfully curated follows to build the initial stream.
- Human editors.
- Scheduling and promotion to build traffic.
- No permanent commitment nor login required.
Live Twitter can be built right into the main Twitter app, but it should certainly have its own tab so we can concentrate on the live experience free of distraction. Once we click on that tab, we should see a stream of Tweets prioritized not just for immediacy but for relevance as well.
The event stream will be anchored in following a group of accounts that are directly relevant. For television shows, it might be the actors themselves, the show’s official account, some parody accounts, hobbyist commentators, and celebrities who are known to be big fans of the show. Twitter could also tap comedians and critics to live-Tweet along with the show. As described up to this point, the experience doesn’t seem like more than a well-organized Twitter list. That’s where the human editors come in.
During each event, the company should have an editor or two reviewing the Tweets in stream in real-time and culling them for relevancy, importance, humor, and value. Anything that is noisy will get cut from the stream seconds after it has been published. In parallel, the editors will watch all of Twitter for event-themed Tweets that are earning a lot of hearts and retweets. Anything particularly resonant will be inserted quickly and artfully into the event stream.
To ensure the broadest participation in live events, Twitter will promote them in the main stream and encourage us to subscribe to our favorites, essentially building a calendar of anticipation. The rollout will start with the biggest award shows, the most pivotal sporting events, key political events, and a couple of influencer-heavy shows like Game of Thrones and Shark Tank. This programming will ensure that the most interested audiences won’t ever miss a live feed and it will bring us all back to the service again and again as the range of covered events expands. Done right, live Twitter will have sports scores and TV listings front and center and will be the place everyone visits first to see how the game is going or when the show starts.
Soon after the live events are over these dedicated streams will go away and be replaced by suggestions for other events. No long-term commitment needed. No obligation to stay tuned to accounts of reporters in Egypt after the protests are over. No need to keep the golf commentator in our main feed after the Masters. Our core timelines remain untouched.
Notice also that nothing about this live Twitter format would require any of us to log in. Site visitors to Twitter would be just as engaged and very easy to monetize due to their easily identifiable interests, any search intent that brought them, location and time awareness, plus potential bonus targeting due to prior cookies.
Users will be delighted by the ease of these live events on Twitter. Event tabs will require no effort whatsoever from us. Plus, we will all be watching the same stream together as we enjoy the same show or game or debate, etc. Those shared moments will be intimate and unforgettable. Soon, everyday people will find Twitter to be indispensable during live events.
The best part? Twitter already built a tool that makes a feed like this possible: Curator. Currently, Curator is aimed at traditional media broadcasters who want to cull the best Tweets from the firehose and make them visible to their viewers. Twitter itself would likely need a stronger tool to accomplish this at scale. But once again, it is encouraging to see Twitter building more in the direction of live events.
The other best part? Periscope. I talk more about it in a separate section below. But the only thing more live than Periscope is being there in person. That acquisition was genius and it reinforces that live events are Twitter’s most obvious place to win.
All told, nailing live events will give new and existing users a compelling reason to regularly use Twitter and will be a strong impetus to bring back inactive users who signed up long ago.
Channels Will Make Twitter Easy, Easy, Easy.
Almost all media in our lives comes to us through some sorting and categorization. We have come to rely upon filters to help us focus our attention topically. Most of us have a few preferred websites for news and entertainment, we reach for a particular section of the newspaper, we have a handful of magazines we like best, and we know which are our favorite channels on television.
This makes the diversity and meandering of a typical Twitter stream feel dizzying to a normal person. While there is some value in the serendipity of discovering the unexpected, the energy expended to parse a busy stream is overwhelming for too many.
Twitter has shown that they understand at least part of this. As discussed above, their Instant Timelines launch takes a big step forward in orienting a new user’s stream around themes of interest. The result is a good start, but ultimately the user experience is muddied by multiple interests and subject matter all being forced into a single stream.
This can be done better and in a way that is immediately intuitive to most people with the introduction of channels that are oriented by:
When it comes to media, people like programming. We like focus. We like doing the same thing at the same time and being told where to go next. For instance, in the realm of TV, with only a few exceptions, DVR audiences don’t compare to the size of live audiences, even for re-runs. We want to watch it together in the moment. Ever notice that whatever long forgotten movie TBS is playing on Saturday afternoons almost always trends on Twitter? We are sharing that moment.
To be successful, Twitter channels would require:
- A separate tab (or app).
- Consistent, focused content.
- Human editorial enhancement.
Topics Bring Focus And Consistency To Streams.
A natural extension of the Instant Timeline approach would be to launch simple subject matter Twitter streams on separate tabs or in separate apps. This would not be a major departure from Instant Timelines except that these channels would be concentrated on a single topic and would not just be algorithmically generated, relying also on human editorial contributions.
Topical channels would be less about immediacy and rather more closely resemble the Techmeme model of making sure that the most important content ultimately makes it into the stream. Plus, all of us watching a feed would see the same Tweets at the same time.
The most obvious channels to kick off would be news, politics, sports, entertainment/gossip, comedy, gaming, and a “Best of Twitter” highlighting the most popular content on the service overall. Never underestimate each of our desires to tend toward the mean and feel at home within a big group. Too much personalization can be exhausting. Overall, I can’t imagine there would be much objection within Twitter to this approach yet, it would immediately make so much sense to everyday people.
Location Is An Intuitive Yet Enriching Way To Stream Tweets.
In the early days of Twitter, there used to be views into Tweets that were oriented by the location from which those Tweets were sent. You could literally watch Tweets appear on a map.
So much relevancy and value can be inferred by the sender’s location. A Tweet about a protest would take on increased importance if you could see that it was sent from Baltimore or Ferguson. Tweets about the Super Bowl are that much more thrilling when we know they come from inside the stadium. In the midst of earthquakes and storms, Tweets have so much more value to us if they are written by others nearby.
For years, location has been neglected within Twitter. Despite a fantastic deal that Twitter signed with Foursquare for place data, and a fair amount of location tagging on Tweets, there is today no mainstream location-oriented view of Tweets. Yet, even Twitter’s newest users would immediately understand and enjoy that kind of interface.
Popular Content Wins Every Time.
A third way to organize content from Twitter is to highlighting what the Tweets are linking to. If you’ve used Nuzzel (disclosure: one of our portfolio companies) you know exactly what I mean and how simple yet magical that experience can be. If you haven’t used it, try it. Nuzzel makes Twitter better.
Want to know what are the most popular articles linked to on Twitter? That should be a channel. What are the most popular sites linked among the people we follow or people that our friends follow? Great channel. Which books are people Tweeting about? Channel. Which videos are garnering the most attention? Channel. Any particular .gifs blowing up? Channel.
In each case, Twitter already has all the information it could want. There is often a temptation to overthink this and try to build more science around it than necessary. Basic link counts work pretty damn well. Twitter just needs to surface this lens. Once again, everyday users would immediately wrap their heads around this and come back again and again.
Twitter Can, And Should, Live In Separate Apps.
The channels described above and live Twitter itself could very well thrive in standalone apps. If Twitter acquired Nuzzel, it could become Twitter News tomorrow. The day’s most important news as determined by who we each follow? Obvious and easy to use. Not logged in? Doesn’t matter. Twitter still knows exactly which news was most popular and engaging across the network.
The company could also launch experiences with the governing bodies for each major professional sport. Instead of having a Twitter tab buried within a sport network’s app, Twitter could build apps that look and feel just like Twitter but with strong subject matter concentration, scores, and highlights.
For example, Twitter NBA could build off of the company’s fantastic relationship with the league and include a focused and live-driven stream full of the very best Tweets and the instant-replay video content under the company’s existing Amplify deal. NBA fans would be thrilled to use that app while the game is on and the ease of advertising in that app would generate plenty of money to share back with the content partners. The same approach would work for the biggest global soccer and cricket leagues as well as the WNBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL. Twitter should consider integrating a fantasy partner like Draft Kings as well to make it a must-open app. While there are a number of fantastic mobile experiences for hardcore fans, no one has built the perfect live-action companion app for casual sports viewers. Twitter has the best shot at it.
Twitter gave a standalone music app a shot a couple years ago. It didn’t pan out, but that had more to do with its limited functionality than anything else. My hope is that Twitter sees the Twitter Music experience as proof that radical experimentation is relatively painless in the end and worth revisiting again and again.
Additionally, new apps would give Twitter a fresh shot at mobile notifications. This was a primary driver of Facebook’s move to break out Messenger as a separate app. So many users had turned off Faceboook mobile notifications that Messenger had no chance at immediacy within the main Facebook app. More notifications equals more use and attention, so a renewed notification setting would be great for Twitter.
Overall, the focus and simplicity that would come with standalone Twitter apps would be irresistible to hundreds of millions of new users and would substantially improve the experience of countless existing users all while being exceedingly easy to monetize.
Twitter’s Save Button Would Let You Keep All The Good Stuff.
So much of the time, Twitter moves too fast. If we follow a couple hundred active accounts or more, the Tweets often come in faster than we can read them. As a result, we feel pressured to keep refreshing rather than dive in meaningfully and take our time to explore the stuff that interests us. At the same time, really intriguing Tweets and links go by and we don’t have a way to save them for later. Poof, they’re gone.
In parallel, fast streams are incredibly hard to monetize with commerce and direct response ads. We are living in the age of sales conversion, and Mary Meeker’s recent presentation highlighted that the next big trend in apps is indeed the inclusion of “buy buttons.” Twitter’s TellApart acquisition was very smart and will dramatically improve the intelligence behind the company’s direct response offering. However, if Twitter genuinely wants users to buy things at scale, they have to give us a chance to consider the offers and make a decision in a matter of minutes/hours/days, not just seconds.
Building the right conditions to bring commerce forward and more deeply integrated into Twitter should be a priority. Twitter has the former CEO of Ticketmaster heading up commerce. Very few people in the world know how to sell things online better than he can. It’s time to take advantage, and here is one idea how.
We have a wonderful company in our portfolio called Rex. It’s in a closed beta, but for anyone reading this they have offered a peek. Go install the app: Rex.is/here and use the signup code: SACCA.
Right away you’ll see Rex is a feed of interesting things posted by users in a follow model. It’s a place to showcase anything we love. Books, movies, restaurants, albums, gadgets, apps, etc. One feature that distinguishes Rex, is something we have been talking about around Twitter for years: the concept of a “Vault.”
See anything in the Rex app you want to remember or come back to later? One click and it is stored in your Vault. Later that week when you are thinking about which movie to watch? Check your Vault and see which you stashed there. Wondering where to go eat? Look at the new restaurants you saved to your Vault. Saw a cool drone in your Rex feed earlier and now have the time to read the reviews and decide on pulling the trigger? Good thing it is saved in your Vault. In fact, everything in your Vault is beautifully organized by the category of item it is. It’s a truly delightful experience.
Twitter should buy the folks at Rex and have them come on board to build what we have often called a “Save Button” for Twitter. (For what it’s worth, we have also have referred to it as a “Keep Button” or a “Twitter Keeper.”)
Imagine if every single thing we saw on Twitter could be saved/stored indefinitely. Not just every article or link like with Pocket, but every Tweet, every photo, every video. We could keep every product we saw mentioned, every book that looked interesting, every destination we wanted to visit someday, every concert we wanted to go see, and every ad that piqued our curiosity. All of this could be saved to a Vault within Twitter with just one button in line with the RT and Fav buttons in each Tweet.
That Vault would also be where brands could present offers to users. Using the same tech that targets those promoted Tweets very well today, Twitter could show us direct response and buy button offers but in a much slower-moving, and conducive environment.
Want to take time to consider Virgin America’s ticket sale? No worries, it will be waiting for you here in the Vault. Twitter knows you are a big Golden State Warriors fan? The Vault will be the perfect place for the team to make you an offer on tickets and merchandise.
The Vault will also be the ideal location in Twitter for iBeacons and real-time, location-aware offers. Walking into a store that has a great deal coming your way? If they put that into the main stream it will be lost. Instead, notify us the users, and let the offer remain in the Vault where we can read the fine print, discuss it with our partners, do some comparison searching online, and consult reviews sites.
Twitter can accomplish all this just by building a slower place in the app. A safe place where we can keep anything we want for as long as we want, cementing Twitter’s permanence in our lives. A place where everything we save is neatly categorized for us. A place where buy buttons and deals can linger long enough to let us all consider and act thoughtfully upon them. A place where we don’t feel rushed.
In all, live Twitter, channels, and Twitter’s Vault will evolve Twitter to feel more familiar and approachable to hundreds of millions of new users. By prioritizing events, Twitter can capture the excitement and intimacy that come with shared experiences. For new and existing users alike, channels will take so much of the work out of extracting good, predictable value from Twitter. The Vault will ensure that the best things we ever see, experience, and are tempted to buy on Twitter stay with us.
Enjoying Twitter can be so much easier for so many more people.
Tweeting Shouldn’t Be So Scary.
Since the earliest days of Twitter, we have known that a huge obstacle to people joining or frequently using Twitter is some version of:
“I wouldn’t know what to Tweet. I don’t really have anything to say.”
Feeling obligated to post to Twitter creates so much anxiety that it actually keeps hundreds of millions of people from sticking around. The company hears it all the time, and I have no doubt that you have heard it from friends as well.
However, we all know that you don’t need to Tweet to derive value from Twitter. The company has said that as much as 40% of the active user base only ever reads Tweets. In principle, that’s just fine. However, since Twitter is a company that gets paid based on engagement ads and not display ads, they can do better.
Every one of us wants to feel heard. It is a universal human desire. Twitter could be the perfect platform to make us all feel like our self-expression registered somewhere. Let’s run through some examples of how we might all contribute to Twitter without having to stare down the menacing white space of that Tweet compose box. These are in order from most user effort required to the least:
Nudges – Questions from an ever-evolving list would prompt free-form but focused responses from users. Example: “Who influenced you the most growing up?” “What is the grossest thing you’ve ever eaten?” Everyone has an answer to questions like these and feel very little risk in answering. The questions could be served up in the compose interface on a rotating basis. Any Tweets resulting would appear within the Quote Tweet construct showing our Tweet as a response to the original question.
What Do You Think About This? – Interesting articles could either be selected organically or as a result of paid promotion by a publisher. We would be pointed to the piece, driving partner traffic, and then asked to Tweet our reaction. Again, the resulting Tweet would be displayed within the Quote Tweet context.
Question Of The Day – Either ripped from the headlines or appealing to a popular approachability, Twitter could post a single question of the day for all. Feature it in the compose window and on the trends/search page. An editor could grab the best of our responses and feature them.
Show Us Your Best/Favorite/Goofiest – Capitalize on the engagement around Throwback Thursdays by giving people more opportunities and prompts to post images and video. “Show us your goofiest ever Halloween costume.” “Show us the best holiday lights in your town.” “Show us your favorite puppy.” The challenges would last only for the day and the best results would be posted in a digest the next day. Very engaging, adds some urgency, and gets users to load more media onto the system which we know makes them more likely to stick around longterm.
Surveys/Polls/Multiple Choice – Within our streams we might find an interactive Tweet asking us to click buttons to answer questions like: “Who will win Best Actor tonight?” “Who performed best in the GOP debate?” “Who will be the next voted off American Idol?” “Which should be the next Doritos flavor?” “Who should be the NBA Finals MVP?” “Which song should Beyonce start the show with?” They don’t have to be commercial or promoted, but they obviously can be. Questions like these are irresistible, particularly if we get to see how our choices stack up against the results.
This Or That? – Same as above but with only two choices. “Will Cleveland or Golden State win?” “Who should win this election?” “Who wore it best?” “Tastes Great or Less Filling?” Incredibly simple interfaces native to Twitter cards that invite to just click one side or the other.
In each example above, more and more burden is taken off of us to create Tweets from scratch. Yet in each we still feel like we have an opportunity to express ourselves and that our voice will be counted.
The good news is that, after a long time of talking about it, I have recently seen hints that the company is moving in this direction. An ad for the new Entourage movie had a click button quiz to determine “Which member of the Entourage crew are you?” quiz. Alluring to many users, pleasing to advertisers, and overall good for the level of user participation on Twitter.
Some of you who are power users and Twitter purists might be throwing up in your mouths a little what with all of the sponsored and interactive content mentioned above. I hear you and I will reiterate my support for always keeping the complexity of the raw feed alive. But the challenge for Twitter is to attract and retain the next few hundred million users and it’s clear the current product isn’t exactly doing it. So the doors need to be opened to fresh uses.
However, I have some things in mind that you too might like:
Native OneShot – It’s no coincidence that a former Twitter employee created an intuitive way to quote text while posting a visually engaging Tweet linking to the source article. The result has been rich Tweets with strong context and very high engagement. Twitter should acquire OneShot to be built directly into Twitter. With a little work, Twitter’s OneShot could probably learn to recognize optical characters in any imported photo or screenshot. Powerful stuff.
Autocomplete Links And Media – Today, Twitter suggests autocompletions for any user handles or hashtags as we start typing them. Twitter should extend this capability into making good guesses about what may be relevant links and media that we might want to embed in our Tweets. For example, if Twitter sees me typing about Steph Curry’s monster game, in the lower third of the compose pane it could suggest links to articles about the game. Similarly, Twitter could suggest public photos, Vines, or Amplify videos I might want to include in my Tweet. Twitter already knows which links and which media are seeing the most engagement, so why not give my Tweet a quality boost by ensuring it has the best content embedded?
Going Beyond 140 – I definitely think the 140 character limit per Tweet should remain sacred. It’s a beautiful constraint that has inspired a whole new form of writing. However, when users do need to type more than a sentence or two, it pains me to see them take that traffic and attention off the Twitter platform. Twitter should deeply integrate Medium and/or WordPress (disclosure: we are investors in both) into the Tweet compose interface. Need to write something long form? The first 140 characters would be your Tweet and the rest would be directly embedded into your Tweet and hosted in a Twitter-friendly way, already optimized for cards. Landing page monetization could easily follow.
Everything covered in this section would increase the number of people who are each adding value and content to Twitter. The light touch methods would reel in and retain new users who have traditionally been anxious. The deeper integrations would embolden the incredibly valuable power users to bring more great material than ever into Twitter.
Using Twitter Doesn’t Need To Feel As Lonely.
Most of us have a Facebook and an Instagram account. When we post our thoughts or photos to those services we are bound to get many likes, hearts, and comments from our friends and followers. Even users with the smallest followings receive these interactions.
Engagement like that with our content and our accounts triggers a dopamine response. As humans, we love getting attention. We crave approval. Those likes quite literally make us feel good at an emotional and a chemical level.
Yet, post that same material to Twitter and, though more people may actually see what we shared, we are unlikely to get much interaction with our Tweet. In fact, most Tweets will never be starred nor retweeted nor replied to at all. Thus, Twitter starts to feel lonely and less fun. This can be fixed. Twitter can make sure each of us sees more activity and feels more noticed and appreciated by considering the following:
Favorite Is Too Strong A Word – A very high bar is set by using the word “Favorite” on Twitter. Favorite is a superlative. It implies a ranking. In the early days of Twitter many of us interpreted the word literally and only keep a few Tweets in our favorites that were truly, well, our favorites. Today, many of my friends and I use the star as a “Like” button equivalent or even a simple acknowledgement that we saw a Tweet. Whereas other people use favorites as bookmarks. However, the majority of users are baffled by favorites and they don’t end up using the star much, if at all.
Bring On The Hearts – It is high time to introduce “Hearts” to Twitter. For years, folks at Twitter struggled with whether to use a more casual gesture. Suggestions even included buttons that said “Good” or “Thanks.” It is now clear from across the Internet and throughout the world of apps that the heart is universally understood and embraced. (In fact, Periscope’s unlimited heart repetition has elevated the social feedback loop to a mind-blowing new level.) If Twitter integrated a simple heart gesture into each Tweet, engagement across the entire service would explode. More of us would be getting loving feedback on our posts and that would directly encourage more posting and more frequent visits to Twitter.
Double Click To Heart – Instagram’s double-click to heart is a killer feature. Tweets are filled with so many actionable click opportunities that there isn’t an obvious way to make an entire Tweet double-clickable to put a heart on it. Nevertheless, there are two clear opportunities to incorporate the gesture into Twitter. First, all uploaded pictures and videos on Twitter should be double-clickable to heart. (They can still be pinch zoomable and single click playable.) As noted above, users would be thrilled by the love shown to their posted media and it would greatly encourage the uploading of more. Second, double click to heart should be introduced to Direct Message threads as a way to acknowledge and love a message.
Read Receipts Will Blow Minds – So many Twitter users are here among us just to follow celebrities or “VITs” (Very Important Twitterers). Twitter is uniquely great for that. However, following those VITs can sometimes feel distant. It’s impossible for a high profile user with millions of followers to meaningfully interact with them all. So Twitter should introduce Read Receipts. For example, if we follow Tyra Banks, the next time she scrolls through her notifications tab and sees that we followed her, we should get a notification in our feed saying “Tyra Banks saw your follow.” To feel like we just shared a moment with such a famous person and she saw that we exist? So cool, heads will explode. Similar notifications will be sent whenever a VIT sees that we hearted or retweeted their own posts. The same amazed reaction will result. Thus, even users who never Tweet will consistently see incredible activity in their notifications simply as a consequence of engaging VITs on Twitter.
Thank You Bombs – To kick it up one more notch, each VIT with a huge following should be given a button that triggers a “Thank You” notification to all of their followers at once. Again, it will create a sense of recency and togetherness with all of us who follow the VIT as well as give the VIT an efficient way to express gratitude to their entire following. The timing of it would be such a meaningful gesture and would draw the VIT’s following community together.
Trending Credit Where Credit Is Due – If a user retweeted, hearted, or mentions a theme or a hashtag that later starts to trend, put a notification in their activity stream acknowledging their contribution and the role it played in helping the make the trend possible.
Timehop And MorningPics Make Every Day Throwback – These two apps both do a fantastic job of bringing up past posts and pictures from a feed, sometimes going years back. Who doesn’t love looking at their own history? These services trigger instant nostalgia and make for really endearing content. Twitter would do well to explore working with them to build its own twist on such a feature. Speaking of, Facebook just launched something similar this week.
By moving past the favorite and introducing the heart, Twitter will invite levels of activity and engagement that the service has never seen before. New users will find the hearts familiar and comforting. Overall feedback will increase dramatically making Twitter a friendlier and more compelling place for users new and old. Plus, Read Receipts, Thank You Bombs, and Trending Credits will make every single one of us feel heard and valued on Twitter every day.
Periscope Will Be Bigger Than You Think.
As I mentioned earlier, Periscope may prove to be the most important acquisition in Twitter’s history. If Twitter’s unique advantage is real-time, then Periscope takes that lead to the next level. The audience response to Periscope broadcasts is emotionally visceral. There is live, and then there is standing just one selfie away from the planet’s most interesting people.
I have been very impressed by Kayvon, Periscope’s co-founder and CEO. With incredibly limited resources, he and his team have built a beautiful and intuitive product. He is sharp, thoughtful, and gets shit done with a smile.
Of course there are things I would like to see improved like removing the spammy and entrenched Periscope leaderboard, featuring more of the network’s high quality content, improving high value broadcaster discovery, allowing for broadcasters to schedule upcoming streams, and so on. But, Kayvon has his team executing very quickly and I have no doubt they will tackle all that they need to soon enough. With one exception…
The current 24-hour expiration of videos is heartbreaking. All broadcasts on Periscope need to be archived for playback permanently, unless the broadcaster chooses to delete the recording. So many treasured moments have been shared on Periscope only to vanish a day later. David Blaine has showed us some rare magic tricks, Oprah has brought us behind the curtain and into her life, Commander Hadfield played “Major Tom” in his living room, and Richard Branson gave us all entrepreneurial advice from his private island. Each of those videos would otherwise be interesting and watchable for a long time to come, but now they are gone.
This concerns me not just as a user, but as an investor. Ultimately when the time comes to monetize Periscope (which I agree is not yet), the easiest path will be to place very short/Vine-length ads just before the playback of archived broadcasts. There is absolutely no need to place ads into a livestream and interrupt the user experience. The archived video playback alone will generate incredible cash-flow in addition to being perfect for search results and a huge honeypot for attracting new users. Beyond that, Periscope will also be able to do promoted broadcasts and promoted accounts just like within the Twitter model.
As I said, Kayvon’s product instincts have been strong. Look no further than his team’s innovation around the constantly streaming hearts in the app for an example of that. I have no doubt he will deftly guide Periscope for years to come. Watch this space.
Conclusion: Twitter Can And Will Be Huge.
Twitter’s biggest challenges today are its slow-growing user base, its high number of inactive users, and a product flow that makes direct response and commerce transactions challenging. All of this is compounded by Twitter’s unsuccessful attempts to convince investors and the public that it has a clear vision and product roadmap that will accelerate growth. The stock price reflects the resulting misunderstanding and doubt.
In the absence of any better metric, investors and the public have focused on Monthly Active Users (MAU). While MAU can be one helpful guide, it certainly misses the entire picture of the state of the business. Logged in users are always nice to have, but Twitter’s logged out visitors will continue to be increasingly valuable. Between search and referrer intent, geographic and time context, TellApart data, cookie data, data gathered from developer tools, and inferences from engaged participation in the stream, there is no ceiling on the potential to make money from this logged out audience.
Twitter has already shown it knows how to build a healthy business at scale and continues to grow faster than any public company of its size. In addition, with every proposal in this post, obvious opportunities for additional monetization emerge. Everything I discussed can be thoughtfully and effectively promoted. Plus, by creating a save button, Twitter can build a home for a significant direct response and commerce business.
On top of all this, Periscope will grow to be the world’s most compelling and intuitive app supported by a YouTube scale business monetizing some of the most valuable and engaging content archives in history.
Since 2009, when I decided to start buying all the Twitter stock I could find, and through all the years I convinced huge institutions to invest in the company with me, I have focused on one measure of the health of Twitter’s business:
“How big is the audience they can show ads to?”
Nail that, and everything else works itself out. So, to make sure no one is ever surprised by the answer to that question again, Twitter simply needs to:
- Make Tweets effortless to enjoy,
- Make it easier for all to participate, and
- Make each of us on Twitter feel heard and valuable.
Done right, and done soon, hundreds of millions of new users will join and stay active on the service, hundreds of millions of inactive users will return to the service, and hundreds millions more will use Twitter from the outside. Countless users, new and old, will find Twitter indispensable, use Twitter more, see great ads, buy lots of stuff, and make the company much more money along the way.
I believe Twitter can do it. I hope now you do too.
(Footnote: I didn’t touch on Direct Messaging, Vine, Developer Tools, Niche, Search, Digest and Offer Emails, nor a host of syndication and M&A opportunities. Each of those is an exciting area with material potential. For now, I chose to focus on the most core and attainable goals that I believe will have the largest and fastest impact. Plus, for the love of god, this thing is already 8,500 words long.)