In the Twitter universe, this has become a summer of discontent.
On July 1, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo abruptly resigned as user growth continued to stall for the social network. On Monday, Aug. 4, Twitter shares fell to the lowest point since the company went public in November 2014. This sell-off followed comments made in late July by the company’s Chief Financial Officer Anthony Noto that investors should not expect “sustained meaningful growth” anytime soon.
Too much going on
One only has to look at Twitter’s iOS app to see what might be ailing the company.
After nine years, the company seems to have lost its focus. In recent months, “minor improvements” have changed the Twitter app for iOS right in front of our eyes. From an all-new white version to a brand new “News” section on the bottom tab bar, to very odd button changes, things have gotten confusing. And users can’t help but notice.
Twitter doesn’t rely on focus groups to see what product changes people might like, as some companies do. Instead, the San Francisco, California-based company uses a practice known as A/B testing, which is sometimes called split testing. In doing so, the company changes one part of their public app for some users and then measures how user behavior changes compared to a test group.
While this is common for “data-driven” tech companies, somehow it feels desperate in Twitter’s iOS app. Some of the changes being observed have been somewhat radical. For example, the app’s favorite star button has been replaced with a heart icon for some users. Circled around and colored action buttons have also been added for some subscribers.
As TNW recently noted, these changes are to help improve engagement on the service:
Favorites mean hundreds of different emotions and responses — I’m done talking to you, I saw your message, I hate your message, etc — so simplifying it to a ‘like’ action dumbs it down to Facebook-level reactions. That may simply be because more people understand what the button actually means.
The change seems small enough that it won’t matter, but I think it’ll fundamentally alter the way people use the button.
I understand the importance of engagement and recognize that tweaks are essential for a site or service to remain fresh. Still, I worry that the social network is simply throwing things against a wall, hoping that something sticks. In the process, it seems that Twitter is alienating long-term users such as myself. In other words, Twitter’s desire to pump up engagement could be doing the opposite.
Google to buy Twitter?
This circular firing squad mentality might lead to an unfortunate ending. As Twitter’s stock price continues to dive, calls are growing for the company to find a partner. The most likely savior? Google, apparently. The same Google that is getting ever-closer to killing off Google+, only the latest in a series of social networking failures for the search company.
Hopefully, it won’t get that far. For Twitter to succeed, I’d suggest that they stick with what they know (sorry, Twitter News) and focus on their core business. Otherwise, the Twitter whale will get harpooned.