Here’s how Twitter is rethinking its product—so that more people actually use it

More changes ahead.
More changes ahead.
Image: AP/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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Twitter is simple, in theory, but it is also deceptively complicated. As a result, most people who see tweets or visit Twitter’s site don’t get hooked. On the company’s earnings call today, CEO Dick Costolo said the true size of Twitter’s audience—the number of people who visit Twitter every month but don’t log in—is two to three times larger than its active user base of 271 million.

So Twitter, under its new product boss Daniel Graf, is rethinking how Twitter should work—both for new, potential users and its existing user base. “We have a lot of great thinking on the teams about how we can make it better,” Costolo said on today’s call.

Here’s how he describes some of the potential changes Twitter is considering:

“Surfacing the kinds of great conversations that pop up in peoples’ timelines from time to time, making sure that for those users who follow hundreds of accounts, they don’t miss the very, very best pieces of those streams as they flow by, and then…for those users who are new to the platform and are coming to the platform for the first time, getting them value immediately.”

How might this work? We’d imagine that for users who aren’t signed in, instead of simply showing them a registration screen, Twitter might show them a timeline—or something like it—of interesting and popular tweets, plus targeted advertisements. This could be tailored any number of ways, based on Twitter accounts that person has viewed in the past, search queries they’ve performed, or maybe even the websites with Tweet buttons or embedded tweets that they’ve viewed. This could perhaps give people a taste of what it’s like to have a vibrant Twitter stream, and get them signed up.

For existing users, Twitter could potentially highlight “best-of” tweets throughout the timeline, similar to how Facebook offers the—now default—“Top News” view of its timeline, which sorts posts by a complex algorithm that includes popularity as well as timeliness. This could make Twitter seem more interesting, encouraging people to come back more often.

And for everyone, Twitter could expand its special, featured timelines during big, live events—like it did during this summer’s World Cup, which Twitter says helped make its service more addictive. Twitter has become the de facto outlet for following and discussing big news and live events, so it’s smart to bet bigger here.

Twitter World Cup app product
Views of Twitter’s World Cup 2014 section in its iPhone app.
Image: Screenshots

Given how little Twitter has altered itself over the years, changes like these may seem controversial. But Twitter is smart to experiment here. It’s important that Twitter works to close that gap between tourists and residents as best it can. Otherwise, it’s leaving user growth (and money) on the table, and giving Facebook another shot at stealing its supremacy for real-time updates.