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Twitter still doesn’t get it

Twitter Chairman and co-founder Jack Dorsey, and co-founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone, wait for the opening bell to be rung at the New York Stock Exchange, Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013. If Twitter's bankers and executives were hoping for a surge on the day of the stock's public debut, they got it. The stock opened at $45.10 a share on its first day of trading, 73 percent above its initial offering price. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
AP Photo/Richard Drew
It’s simple—really.
By Alice Truong

Deputy editor

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Since Jack Dorsey’s triumphant return as chief executive of Twitter nearly a year ago, he has said countless times that a turnaround depends on the social network gaining mainstream traction.

So, given its priorities, it seems curious that the company’s latest project is a standalone app for the most hardcore of its users. As its name suggests, Twitter Engage gives the platform’s power users a set of tools to monitor tweet analytics, identify opportunities to increase engagement, and view mentions and follows from other influentials.

In other words: This app is not for you.


Twitter Engage isn’t the only product news coming from the company today (June 21). The social network is also increasing the length of its video uploads from 30 seconds to 140 seconds, and letting Vine creators upload videos, which it says will give them more monetization opportunities. And on the heels of a major video acquisition, Twitter is debuting a design tweak that will surface a feed of videos after users click on one. While these updates may please existing users (which may be the motivation), the last is likely the only one that will affect its broader user base, and it alone probably won’t lead to people signing up for accounts in droves.

Dorsey has repeatedly emphasized that the company needs to convince the world—not just techies, journalists, and other niche groups—of its value. But recent updates, such as new rules easing up on its hallmark 140-character limit, have only reinforced how confusing and technical the service really is.

Thus far, the most heartfelt attempt at simplifying Twitter has been Moments, a tab showing collections of curated tweets around topics and live events. It’s no coincidence this highly anticipated project launched the day after Dorsey was appointed Twitter’s permanent CEO last October (he had served as interim CEO since July when Dick Costolo stepped down). For newbies intimidated by Twitter’s rapid-fire stream or confused about hashtags, Moments was supposed to break down these technical barriers and demonstrate why people should come to the social network.

Yet it’s been unclear how successful Moments has been. User growth has remained distressingly slow, even dipping into negative territory the quarter of Moments’s debut. It also seemed telling that a beta release on Android omitted the feature entirely, though Twitter later said that was “just a bug.”

Update: A Twitter representative added that today’s news shows the company remains committed to its creators, and cited Dorsey’s first-quarter shareholder letter, which said that Twitter wants “to be the best place for creators and influencers to build an audience.”

Surely, with a team of 3,800 highly paid employees, Twitter must have more than Moments to show for its turnaround. From outside, however, it seems the company has focused lately entirely on the wrong target: Twitter power users, who don’t need convincing to sign up for and use the service.

This story was updated with a comment from a Twitter representative.

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