UNDER CONSTRUCTION

Dear Twitter, here are some suggestions tech luminaries have for you

Obsession
Mobile Web
Obsession
Mobile Web

Last October, Twitter named a new product head—its second in six months and fifth in as many years. Kevin Weil, who previously oversaw revenue products for the social network, has a tall task ahead of him: to bring Twitter to the mainstream—and to do so without ticking off its most fervent users.

To make Weil’s job easier, we asked a handful of notable tech startup founders and product experts what changes they’d like to see on Twitter. Their wide-ranging answers touch on a number of priorities, from making it easier for new users to enjoy Twitter to helping foster a Twitter app ecosystem.

Their responses below have been condensed and edited for clarity.

Josh Elman, a partner at the venture capital firm Greylock Partners, was a former product lead at Twitter.

  • Grow out of its geeky phase: “It’s way too geeky, and it’s impossible for my mom to understand, like the dot before the @ name.” (A workaround to start a tweet with another user’s name so it’s visible to followers—otherwise not everyone will see the tweet.)
  • Develop an architecture for experimentation: “All these amazing brilliant minds work at Twitter, but if you count the actual changes to the app and site and experimentation in the last year, it’s far too little. The only way to change that stuff in a significant way… is a better architecture for experimentation.”
  • Figure out what to do with Vine: “Vine is a great model for creative product stuff. They’ve got to integrate [Vine] better. I go to Twitter, and I can’t record a Vine off the Twitter app. … I can’t do video on Twitter natively. I worry for them that Vine is going static instead of accelerating.”

Ryan Holmes is the founder and CEO of the social media dashboard Hootsuite.

  • Better new-user experience: “The paradigm for Twitter for so many years is getting people to onboard and then getting them to create content. If you look at web usage, there’s an asymmetrical balance between content creators. As they become more mainstream, or desire to be more mainstream, the focus needs to be on content consumption.”
  • Improve content discovery: “I still think that content discovery is kind of a second-class citizen to content creation. I look at companies like Flipboard, and I think they’re doing really interesting work in helping people discover content. I think that type of experience is going to be critical for Twitter to crack.”
  • Improve direct messages: “When we look at what’s going on with Whatsapp and other apps like that, from a chat perspective, I see a huge opportunity there.”

Laura Fitton was CEO of oneforty, an early Twitter app store acquired by Hubspot in 2011.

  • Foster an ecosystem: “[A Twitter ecosystem] could be a tremendous profit center for the company if managed well and if entrepreneurs building on it were protected by clear communication and boundaries. I was CEO of oneforty, a Twitter app store. Round one of the flourishing Twitter apps ecosystem came to a screeching halt when Twitter did a series of about-faces on what developers could and could not build on the APIs. So to revive that innovation, clarity around: what you can build, data access costs, what changes are coming… I believe there’s plenty of revenue available to Twitter if they allow an ecosystem of tools to grow and then sell the profitable tools the data requires.”

Paul Berry, former CTO of the Huffington Post, is founder and CEO of the social media and publishing platform Rebelmouse.

  • Make it easier to tune: “[Twitter] is like turning on the TV. If you tune it right, you should start seeing everything you know about the world and what you care about. [But] tuning into things you care about is really hard.”
  • Make it easier to tune out: “How can you make tuning in less granular and be sort of temporal? I want to tune into the Oscars and get all this great content coming into my feed and tune out of it when it’s over, just like I do with TV.”
  • Leverage locational context better: “Location is only relevant when it’s relevant. Pictures tend to be more valuable with location. You have to think about it very conceptually. Where we’re having this conversation is pretty irrelevant on a location basis.”

Cory Doctorow is coeditor of the blog BoingBoing.

  • Level the playing field: “I think that there’s a difficult asymmetry in the access to the Twitter firehose. Astroturfers and bot herders who want to influence public discourse are run by, or work for, state-level actors and multinational corporations, so they can buy the firehose and use it to target their bots/turf—but the scholars, activists, etc. who are being targeted by these entities, or who want to reveal their activities, are priced way, way out of the market for the firehose.”

Nico Sell, cofounder and CEO of private messaging app Wickr, doesn’t use (or allow her kids to use) Twitter, citing privacy concerns.

  • Notify users when location is turned on: “I don’t think a lot of people realize they are leaving their geotags and a trace of exact physical location out there.”
  • Don’t store direct messages on its servers: “Those DMs you send to a friend are still on the Twitter server and Twitter can see it. I don’t think that’s really direct. To implement true private messaging is something you think they would be thinking about, but again it depends on the business model. If you’re trying to make money off private messages, [then] I don’t know.”
  • Stop collecting information on users’ apps: “I think what they’re doing collecting what other apps are on your phone is completely intrusive and offensive, and they should take off that feature immediately. People don’t know it happens.”

Twitter is already working on some of these concepts. It has, for example, pledged support to a new developer platform called Fabric (though it’s unclear whether developers are ready to trust Twitter again after it decided to limit the growth potential of some apps). Twitter was also reportedly working on an improved messaging product. But there is still plenty of room for improvement.

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