In today's "wait, what year is this again?" moment, Twitter is once again trying to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up - and because it’s Twitter, of course it did it in public:
The company's CMO, Leslie Berland […] in a speech at CES 2017 […] aimed to redefine Twitter and explain why 317 million people use it every month.
And what ultimate definition did Twitter’s CMO come up with for her big speech?
"So, we were a platform, a product, a service, a water cooler, a time square, a microphone, and we are every single one of those things"
Ugh - why not just say it's a dessert topping and a floor wax?
It does get better, as Ms Berland at least recognises the category Twitter needs to be playing in:
"The first thing we did is we actually took ourselves out of the social networking category in the app stores and we put ourselves where we belong, which is news"
After the year we have just had, I don’t think anyone can deny that Twitter is where news happens. US president-elect Donald Trump does not take to Facebook every morning to post his rants, and the Black Lives Matter movement did not start on Instagram or Snapchat. Twitter is a news platform, as is underlined by its asymmetrical nature.
Now there's dessert topping all over the floor
On a true social network such as Facebook, relationships are symmetrical and transitive: if I am your friend, you are also my friend.
On Twitter, that is not the case; I follow accounts that do not follow me, and I have followers that I do not follow. Twitter is where news is made, announced, and discussed; that is its role and its value.
Didn’t we go through all of this last time?
Twitter is not a social network. Not primarily, anyway. It’s better described as a social media platform, with the emphasis on "media platform." And media platforms should not be judged by the same metrics as social networks.
Social networks connect people with one another. Those connections tend to be reciprocal. […]
Media platforms, by contrast, connect publishers with their public. Those connections tend not to be reciprocal.
The issue for Twitter is, as ever, how to monetise its role at the heart of the news cycle. Arguably it is shackled by the misplaced expectations of early investors who were looking for another Facebook. I for one hope that they manage to extricate themselves from their current difficulties without getting borged in a totally inappropriate acquisition by Google or whoever.
In particular, these investor expectations for continuing exponential growth are suspected to be interfering with some much-needed changes to curb ongoing abuse on the platform - whether simple problems like follower spam, or the truly nasty harassment that many experience every day. Both of these activities can look like user engagement, at least from a distance, potentially discouraging their prevention.
This is the strategy tax that Twitter is paying: the choices that it finds difficult to take today, because of the choices it made in the past. Some suggest that an acquisition would both inject some much-needed cash, and help break this trap.
I disagree. Twitter needs to be its own thing, not Google's latest attempt to buy more social visibility for itself. There is value in Twitter just being Twitter, if Twitter's management can figure out how to unlock that value.