Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Will Twitter Abandon Real-Time?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Will Twitter Abandon Real-Time?

Article excerpt

Popularity isn't always profitable.

Twitter has become a ubiquitous force in politics and pop culture worldwide, but an annual report shows that since its founding in 2006, the social network has also lost more than $2 billion, Time reported Monday, a loss that has sent CEO Jack Dorsey on a quest for a wider, deeper user base's advertising dollars.

Any attempts by Mr. Dorsey to change Twitter, however, may clash with savvy core users' vision of the company: up-to-the-minute news and opinion, from a company happy to get out of the way and let Tweets unfold without much "interference."

Despite more than 300 million active users, Twitter lost $520 million in the last year alone, continuing a depressing trend that's driven the team towards new innovation.

In 2013, they unleashed Vine, letting users share up to six- second videos; live video sharing came in 2015, when the company purchased Periscope for $86 million.

"Faves" were swapped for "likes," leading to a modest boost in engagement. Twitter has also coyly suggested, but not guaranteed, that it will expand Tweet-boxes to 10,000 characters, since so many users try to get around the usual 140 limit by screenshotting longer texts, anyway.

The new services are meant to "demonstrate our value proposition to a larger audience," as the 10-K says. It's a two-fold audience: users themselves, since growth has been somewhat stagnant (up 9 percent since December 2014), but also the advertising they could attract. Nine tenths of Twitter's revenue came from ads in 2014 and 2015, the filing says, noting "to the extent our logged-in user growth rate slows, our success will become increasingly dependent on our ability to increase levels of ad engagement on Twitter."

But one reason advertisers are wary is that potential new users just don't get Twitter: how to use it, or what it's for. As the 10- K says,

There may be a perception that our products and services are only useful to users who tweet, or to influential users with large audiences. Convincing potential and new users of the value of our products and services is critical to increasing our user base and to the success of our business.And changes to attract the less media- obsessed crowd could set Twitter's vision on a collision course with old-time users, for whom its real-time livestream is valuable for the way it differs from more "cultivated" social sites like Facebook.

No changes encapsulate that conflict more than the home screen "feed" itself, typically an unruly, constantly-changing tumult of followed users' likes, retweets, links, photos and posts on any and all topics of public or almost pointlessly personal interest. The pure speed of Twitter's approach made it an early favorite with media experts, journalists, and activists, and many credit it with playing a crucial role in protests around the world, from the Arab Spring movements to Black Lives Matter. …

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