Twitter disclosed today a decline in monthly active users. Now the company knows it’s got to do better. One way it will do that is to adjust the way that users reply to each other’s tweets.
“We are going to fix the broken windows and confusing parts, like the .@name syntax and @reply rules, that we know inhibit usage and drive people away,” Twitter said in its quarterly earnings statement for the fourth quarter of 2015.
The company has done a lot to tweak its product — the algorithmic timeline and Moments are probably the biggest recent changes — but one thing that Twitter users have done to make sure their replies get seen by a wider audience is using a period before typing in a Twitter user’s handle. Otherwise, replies can get buried. This will change.
The “.” thing isn’t necessarily obvious for new users. It’s the type of thing power users know and have begrudgingly embraced as a kludgy workaround. Perhaps this will rub power users the right way. And that will be a good thing considering how many of them have been reacting negatively to the news about algorithmically selected tweets being surfaced in people’s timelines as an opt-in feature.
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Twitter today released the results of its fourth quarter 2015 earnings. It announced that in the prior three months ending December 31, it had revenue of $710 million and an earnings per share of $0.16.
Much of its revenue came from advertising, which was $641 million, an annual increase of 48 percent. As has been the trend, over three-quarters of it came from the mobile space, although there was a 2 percent drop year-over-year, from 88 percent in 2014 to 86 percent in 2015.
Wall Street analysts had anticipated approximately $710 million in revenue and $0.12 earnings per share. The company’s stock dropped 5.94 percent in after-hours trading. It had closed the day up 4.03 percent at $14.98.
To say that Twitter is in trouble would be an understatement as the company has seen no growth in monthly active users this quarter. This certainly has Wall Street analysts worried and could likely affect interest from advertisers. In its shareholder letter, the company announced that in 2015, it made efforts to improve its appeal among brands, including expanding direct response objectives, adding native video capabilities, and more.
More than 130,000 active advertisers are now marketing on the platform, an increase of almost 90 percent annually. Most of them are from small and medium-sized businesses. “We expect that SMB growth will continue as we improve our product, making it faster and easier to run campaigns and improve our direct response tools,” Twitter said.
The company didn’t provide a breakdown on the average revenue per user (ARPU). However, quarterly advertising revenue continued to grow annually across both the United States and overseas, 48 percent and 49 percent, respectively.
Twitter has been in some turmoil over the past quarter, stemming from the massive departures of senior executives, including the ones responsible for product, media, engineer, and human resources. It has spent the past few quarters trying to come up with a compelling reason for people to use the service, including launching television ads during Major League Baseball’s World Series.
To combat this, Twitter today rolled out a new algorithmic timeline that essentially was an extension of its “while you were away” feature, with similarities to Facebook’s news feed. The move is geared to show new users the power of the service and comes days after the community rallied against reported plans to implement a different version of the timeline — something that Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey explained wasn’t coming right away.
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Twitter’s user growth just hit a wall.
In its fourth quarter 2015 earnings announcement today, Twitter revealed it now has 320 million monthly active users (up 9 percent year over year). But that’s not the full story. On a sequential basis, Twitter didn’t add any monthly active users — the company reported 320 million monthly active users in Q3 2015 as well.
Analysts had expected Twitter to report 325 million monthly users, or a 1.5 percent sequential growth. Instead, Twitter grew its total user base 0 percent sequentially. Mobile monthly active users represented approximately 80 percent of the total figure, a number that has been flat since Q3 2014.
It’s not a pretty picture:
Twitter’s user number includes both traditional active users as well as what Twitter refers to as “SMS Fast Followers” (people who receive tweets via text message, popular in emerging markets). Excluding SMS Fast Followers, Twitter’s user base grew 6 percent year over year to 305 million, but was down on a sequential basis from 307 million in Q3 2015. Twitter is trying to save face by saying that its end-of-January data shows a rebound in total monthly active users excluding SMS Fast Followers.
“We saw a decline in monthly active usage in Q4, but we’ve already seen January monthly actives bounce back to Q3 levels,” Twitter stated in its press release. “We’re confident that, with disciplined execution, this growth trend will continue over time.”
For the past few quarters, SMS Fast Followers contributed the majority of new monthly active users Twitter added on a sequential basis. In Q4 2015, the growth there offset the decline for the remaining user base — exactly why Twitter started including SMS Fast Followers in its earnings.
Investors have been worried about Twitter’s slowing growth for a long time, and the results today confirmed their worst fears. While the social network still has a massive user base, more users leaving than joining is always a terrible sign.
But the fact remains that Twitter is not growing users anymore. Even if the figure rebounds in Q1, it will still be an uphill battle to prove the company can reverse the overall trend.
Just when it seemed Twitter was going to take one of its boldest steps toward reinvention ever, it turns out that the company hasn’t ventured as close to the cliff’s edge as we thought.
Today, Twitter officially announced that the company has turned on an algorithm that displays a selection of the most popular or interesting tweets at the top of users’ timelines…if you opt in. The change comes after several days of much wailing and gnashing of teeth by longtime users who feared Twitter would consign their beloved real-time feed to a fiery furnace.
If that sounds a bit overwrought, well, so was the reaction. And the backlash illustrates how Twitter finds itself wearing a straitjacket of its own making.
“Real time” is a deeply flawed and limiting user experience, and it always has been. But for Silicon Valley insiders — engineers and programmers, in particular — it represents a deeply spiritual, romantic notion of what the ever-accelerating information age should be about.
Rivers of data just flowing past us. No intermediaries to tell us what is important and what is not. Just pure, unfiltered, moisty Internet goodness.
It was this sacred belief that seemed threatened last Friday by a report from BuzzFeed claiming Twitter intended to switch to an algorithmic timeline. This sent users into a such a frenzy that they soon had #RIPTwitter trending.
A day later, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey responded to the hysteria by insisting that Twitter still hearts “real-time” and that it would remain core to the experience.
Twitter is live. Twitter is real-time. Twitter is about who & what you follow. And Twitter is here to stay! By becoming more Twitter-y.
— Jack (@jack) February 6, 2016
Now we know that the timeline change is, at best, trivial. Essentially, it’s a modest expansion of Twitter’s “while you were away” feature that has already been in place for some time now. It’s disappointing that Twitter wasn’t ready to make a bolder move away from its real-time roots.
The problem with the real-time experience, from both a design and user perspective, is that it places an enormous burden on most users to paddle furiously through a tidal wave of data in order to find one or two nuggets actually worth their time. That is the kind of work most people simply can’t or won’t do.
Data is fine, but people also want context and insight and entertainment. Most people don’t want everything. They just want the best, without being told that they have to work even harder to get it.
Twitter is perhaps more associated with the idea of real-time information than any other company, probably because it did so much to make the idea fashionable. Within three years of Twitter’s founding, fever for real-time everything gripped Silicon Valley. The “Real-Time Web” got its first Wikipedia article.
“On the real-time web, the Internet is a live and constantly changing entity,” read the first entry on June 15, 2009. “This enhanced ability to search the activities of people via social media raises value of user-generated content.” Such a romantic notion!
As with most over-hyped trends in Silicon Valley, the mania eventually faded into the background. In some cases, the real-time experience got baked into products, like Google’s search engine. In other cases, the wave of so-called real-time startups simply collapsed under the weight of unrealistic expectations.
But, as Dorsey proudly notes, the concept of real time remains core to the Twitter experience after more than 10 years. Yet, watching my own account each day is all the reminder I need of real time’s limitations.
Let’s say I open my feed on Twitter.com in a desktop browser. I walk away and come back 10 minutes later. It tells me I’ve missed 202 tweets. And this is early afternoon in Europe, so most people I follow aren’t even online.
What am I supposed to do about 202 tweets? Or the thousands and thousands more that I never see during the day? They’re all pretty useless. Did any of them matter? I’ll most likely never know. Or care.
Twitter’s topic pages are an improvement, but only just a bit. Let’s say I’m interested in the New Hampshire Primary results, an event tailor-made for real-time coverage. For Twitter, I have to know about hashtags and then search for #NewHampshirePrimary.
The “Top” category tab is somewhat useful. But if I switch to the “Live” tab, the full-on real-time experience, it’s pretty much just pure noise. It’s either nonsense, or people tweeting links to the same news stories or results over and over.
Twitter’s trending sidebar is more of an invitation to solve a mystery than it is a feature. If you want to know why #GreetTheAliensIn5Words is the top trending topic in the U.S. today, you’re going to have to scroll through a lot of tweets to figure it out.
All this groping around for meaning on Twitter is in stark contrast to Facebook, which understands better how to use design and algorithms to help people have a better experience.
Every now and then, someone in my Facebook feed complains about this, venting that Facebook is hiding stuff from them and wishing they could see their whole feed. But even if you think you want this, you don’t. If every update from every friend was actually appearing in real time, the important ones would get pushed out of sight unless you stared at Facebook 20 hours a day.
Snapchat also understands this. Snapchat’s “Live Stories” has a growing team of more than 40 curators who scour users’ snaps, pick the best ones, and assemble them into stories. According to Re/Code, as of last summer, the handful of Live Stories Snapchat posts each days were drawing an average of 20 million viewers per day.
Twitter belatedly came at this approach by launching “Moments” last October in the U.S. Like Snapchat, it featured a team curating the best tweets to create a more useful experience. I’m eager to see how it’s going, but it’s not yet available where I live in France either on the Web or on the mobile app.
This is the kind of thing that Twitter needs to do more often (and more quickly).
Instead, for now, Twitter seems incapable of escaping the gravity of the real time fetish it did so much to define. Its longtime users, with pitchforks ever at the ready, have become the biggest enemies of change.
It seems a confrontation with its core users is inevitable if Twitter wants to evolve and grow. But for now, with today’s announcements, the company has opted to kick that can a little further down the road.
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Vine has introduced new features that will give you more control over your viewing experience. Starting today, the six-second video app lets you not only briefly edit captions on your post, but also enables sorting on someone’s profile in order to find the most interesting clips, and has added 3D Touch support.
With video sorting, you can now reorder how Vines appear in someone’s profile so that the newest, oldest, or most popular ones appear at the top, instead of being in chronological order like an average Twitter feed. Some people may not have a lot of videos posted, making this type of sorting unnecessary, but if a creator is prolific, it can be time-consuming to find the Vine you’re looking for.
Also included is a feature to edit your captions after you’ve posted a Vine. No longer will you have to delete the entire post and do it all over again. “For a brief period,” the company said, you’ll be able to make caption tweaks. Twitter declined to comment about how brief “brief” is, so it could be a few seconds. However, it’s worth noting that on Instagram, you can make limitless edits to your caption after posting it.
To make edits to a caption, Vine said to tap on the “…” menu after the video has been published. Caption editing is currently available on Android, but is coming soon to iOS.
Vine for iOS users are getting a feature special only to their operating system: 3D Touch support. By pressing and holding on Vine’s app icon, you can easily create a Vine or search for videos posted by others.
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