Reports of Twitter's demise may be premature

At the Open Mobile Summit in San Francisco, Twitter's product chief highlighted the company's strengths as it enters a new era under founder and new CEO Jack Dorsey.

Twitter's product chief Kevin Weil gave an update on the company's progress at the Open Mobile Summit in San Francisco this week. The update didn't include investors' top concerns, such as revenues and subscribers, which led to the departure of former CEO Dick Costello. But he did bring into question the many reports of Twitter's pending demise, most notably Om Malik's piece Jack in a Box: Can Twitter Be Saved?

Weil launched into his update saying that founder Jack Dorsey returned as CEO to an elated Twitter staff. At the event, he seemed personally energized to have Dorsey at the helm. Weil followed Google Ventures partner Rich Miner, who spoke about Jessica Verrilli's departure from Google Ventures out of eagerness to rejoin Twitter and work for Dorsey in her former role leading corporate development.

Many of Twitter's 300 million monthly active users (MAU) have already noticed the changes to Twitter's core feed. It abandoned the reverse-chronological Twitter feed timeline order in favor of ranking the presentation of tweets with the most relevant and meaningful at the top. This break with tradition increases Twitter's value to new users and those less adept at using filtering to pan Twitter streams for gold.

Moments is a new feed that Twitter curates, aggregating tweets and videos into a media-rich story which users scroll through to learn about what's happening in the world. Like changing the timeline order, Moments delivers relevant content to new users and those lacking power-user skills. Weil waxed with satisfaction about Moments' success, but steered clear of mentioning its effect on ad revenue.

Twitter users don't even have to follow any other users to appreciate Moments. Users choose a tab then scroll and follow their interests, like a sporting event or a presidential debate, or more specifically the recent student protests in Missouri that led to the resignation of the University of Missouri's president. After the moments end, the follows are removed, un-cluttering the feed from unwanted future tweets.

Weil explained that renaming “favorites” to “likes” and changing the icon to a heart has increased engagement by 6%, claiming the heart icon and the term “like” bridge more cultures. Weil said that every feature of Twitter was up for reconsideration, including its trademark 140-character limit on tweets. The only immutable company-defining feature not up for reconsideration is real-time openness and inclusivity of citizen journalists that gives it a 15-minute lead reporting news developments over other outlets.

Recognizing the gap between its almost universal brand awareness and declining usage, Twitter began a major multi-channel marketing campaign, including its first television ads, run during the World Series, to capitalize on its awareness to help drive growth.

Weil echoed Dorsey's homage for Twitter's 1 million independent developers. Former CEO Dick Costello was criticized for disrespecting developers. The forced shutdown of Twitpics became the poster-boy of this controversy, unifying many developers against Twitter. Now Twitter has a hidden revenue opportunity that will come from righting the developer relationship. Twitter Fabric is a portfolio of tools used by 225,000 developers and installed with their apps on 1 billion devices. Fabric is very useful to developers. It reports back to the app's creators very granular causes of app crashes that developers find very useful in fixing bugs. Twitter also offers ad serving as part of the Fabric portfolio. Twitter stands to gain ad revenues if developers opt in to advertise using the Fabric crash reporting software developer kit (SDK) installed on all their users' devices.

Weil explained that Twitter's video properties Vine and Periscope are maturing as independent properties that attract users to Twitter. Vine, with over 200 million monthly active users (MAU), is a mobile video app that lets users create six-second videos often used by millennials as a social network. Celebrities (particularly those made famous on Vine) regularly interact with millions of followers.

Periscope's 10 million and growing celebrity and ordinary users broadcast live-stream video from smartphones. Private and public events are broadcast and watched for every reason that can be imagined, and then some: model Tyra Banks entertains, SportsCenter anchors chatter during commercial breaks, and people share personal, one-to-one, real-time experiences, like a sunrise.

Whatever value Periscope and Vine might provide for broadcasters and viewers, these products attract MAU growth and build traffic on Twitter by merging the increasingly popular medium of video into the tweet stream.

At the event, the audience heard about a company that in a short period of time has increased engagement in its main product line, appointed a motivational founder as CEO, recruited a top talent to return to Twitter from a dream job at Google Ventures, and has two fast-growing video properties. These resonate as the right steps forward to meet public investors' demands for growth. With nearly $3.5 billion in cash, Twitter isn't about to fail.  

Dorsey is in the same position as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was three years ago, as he embarked on the mobile-first turnaround that has made the company a star on Wall Street. Hopefully, losses and mistakes under Costello's watch have been written off, giving Dorsey better odds and more time. Weil's report concludes it is too early to write off either Dorsey or Twitter.

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