Twitter’s beauty is a well-designed constraint — broadcast what you want to say in 140 characters or less. No middlemen.
The celebrity world flocked to Twitter. For the rest of us, a tweet sounded like a fable’s moral or couplets of yore*- short, simple and [hopefully] memorable. A simple approach that stood the test of time helped propel Twitter.
During the recent earnings call, Twitter’s numbers spoke- 310 million users, 595 MUSD in revenue last quarter. Staunch users continue to be loyal. And Jack Dorsey and his Twitter team have done a remarkable job of keeping them happy. Yet, Jack Dorsey has a challenge. Wall street is baying for Twitter’s growth. Why is Twitter growth apparently stalled?
Jack’s predicament reminds me of a story I watched with fascination in the villages in India.
During my years growing up, every summer, I visited my grandparents in the village. One summer, I noticed something unique in the local mom and pop store in the village- I found sachets hanging visibly. I asked the shopkeeper what they were– he mentioned a local company made shampoo and conditioner in sachets [they looked like Taco Bell sauce packets, a little bigger] and the folks in the village found it convenient.
When the city bred honchos created shampoos- they worked on better and deeper products — upping the ante every year in classier looking bottles. This local company made it into simpler nuggets and reached a larger customer base! By next summer, all the big brands replicated the model. The villager who sometimes masquerades as a storekeeper proudly shared his bigger display during my next summer visit. Back to the shampoo companies, who doesn’t want to grow their customer base!
Could this village story have some parallels for Twitter? I wonder.
Let us look at the big changes Twitter did last year- added a new timeline by algorithm vs. chronology, integrated periscope to timeline, added polls, added moments news channel and many more. It becomes apparent all changes, many overdue, made the product better. The simpler sachets are missing — the closest was the rebranding of favorites to a more generic “like” with a heart sign.
It happens to the best of us — we get drawn deeper into what we know. The bigger question is: do the missing sachets matter? It only matters if there is a market outside your traditional sphere of influence.
Let us look at the age demographics of Twitter vs. other social sites [thank you Pew Institute for your research of internet users in the US]
Facebook is a behemoth — that is the obvious. Outside that, LinkedIn is relatively awesome with GenX and baby boomers and Twitter has ways to go in this demographic.
In conversations with few of them [LinkedIn users who are more muted on Twitter], what dawned on me was how they viewed Twitter — a broadcasting platform with an emphasis on followers — conversations were hardly discussed.
And a common Joe’s odds of a following are as good as or slightly better than his odds of starring in a Hollywood movie as the central figure. When the common Joes act in each other’s movies, that is a different story.
Many a times, I have a hard time figuring out if I am hearing a sour grapes story or a genuine bewilderedness to Twitter style vernacular — #FF, MT, B4 and more. One person shared with a chuckle — “Math has symbols and I was taught those when I was young, Twitter shortcuts is another story. I need the blessings of a shortcut goddess.”
Either way, a different type of simplicity is missing for these crowds.
Making Twitter work for you, me and Twitter’s Investors
What happens if Twitter is cast as a simple extension of browser bookmarks? As the world is moving into the cloud, could this be a natural extension without being a stretch? Is it a bit more appealing as a sachet to this crowd?
I have been experimenting with Twitter for a while as a public bookmark and I found comfort. I liked two features — there is no expiry date to tweets [unlike updates on LinkedIn] and any fellow Joe can drop by and get a feel for my tweet bookmarks at their leisure without conversations hampering the flow of the list.
The upside in all this — any advertiser can look into my bookmark tweets [they are public] and hopefully target better customized ads — if I cannot avoid the ads [I do realize that they help keep content free], let these ads, at least, be more relevant.
More than anything, I use bulk of the 140 characters to remind myself why I bookmarked the article as a tweet.
Have I conquered Twitter? Heck, no. Gradually, I figured out the merits of hashtags and @mentions in my tweet bookmarks. After the fact, I wonder why I did not have the fortitude to make my twitter handle ultra small. I am really envious of Om Malik, the founder of GigaOM (awesome site that is unfortunately erstwhile). He has one of the shortest- @om. [Jack- maybe, you can excuse the long handles from the 140 counts to encourage mentions.]
In all the words in the paragraph above, the word “gradually” encapsulates the beauty of sachets- bookmarks in Twitter’s case. Are they a long-term solution? Obviously, no. Yet, for the common Joe outside the obvious sphere of Twitter — it is a more simple baby step.
And that is what Twitter needs — not the magic of depth, but the simple charm of the breadth. Still propelled by the simplicity of constraints — 140 characters in all.
To each one, her own ideas. Do you have ideas for Twitter to grow rapidly? Please share them in the comments section. Let us have a conversation.
You can “follow” me on Twitter @KarthRajan. I share my favorite reading bookmarks and a few more.
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I enjoy writing at the intersection of analytics and human relationships.
- there is an ancient, collection of wisdom as couplets in Tamil called Thirukkural.- each one of the 1330 couplet is exactly 7 words. Was crafted in 3rd century BC. Every generation still quotes from them!
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