Twitter, take two

By Robert Hackett and Adam Lashinsky
March 8, 2016

People outside the technology industry will be puzzled to read Erin Griffith’s outstanding article in the current issue of Fortune about Twitter.

They will learn about a company worth a “mere” $12 billion (about half its one-time value) that has more than 300 million users (a fraction of Silicon Valley’s truly successful companies, like Facebook and Google) and that has insinuated itself into the global media dialogue (but still isn’t used by enough average folks).

Twitter is the poor little rich kid of an entitled, success-worshiping, good-is-never-great-enough business culture. Only 10 years old, it has gone from curiosity to talking point to phenomenon to much-admired to doormat.

Make no mistake, Twitter’s problems are real. It doesn’t make money, which isn’t okay because although its revenue is growing rapidly, its user rolls are not. Twitter has suffered employee turnover at every level—particularly the very top. Its current CEO, Jack Dorsey, was an early chief executive who went away and came back. He has effectively grown up at Twitter, watching its rise and fall and now hoping to engineer a new rise.

There is much for any company to learn from Twitter’s mistakes. Managing expections is critical. Product development must keep pace with business growth. Believing one’s own press coverage is perilous.

And yet, there’s also much to learn from Twitter’s successes. Indeed, some are betting on Twitter’s turnaround, including former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. He has amassed a 4% stake in Twitter, and I plan to ask him about it Wednesday night when I interview him at a Brainstorm Tech dinner in San Francisco.

Can Twitter make it? I defer on that matter to Griffith, who writes that in “its decade of existence Twitter has survived enough drama and dysfunction to kill 100 startups of its size—it has taken every punch possible … and is still standing. If Dorsey can transform ‘crafty, hack-y’ Twitter into a focused, product-execution machine, the missteps of the past few years should give way to stability and growth.”

From her pen to Twitter’s product developer’s keyboards.

Adam Lashinsky
@adamlashinsky
adam_lashinsky@fortune.com

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BITS AND BYTES

Secret CEO summit on Sea Island. Tech top dogs attended an ultra-private event hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, off the coast of Georgia this weekend where they discussed, among other things, how to prevent GOP frontrunner Donald Trump from winning the party’s nomination. Attendees included Apple CEO Tim Cook, Alphabet CEO Larry Page, and Tesla Motors and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. (FortuneHuffington Post)

Setbacks for Apple in the courts. The company will have to pay $450 million in anti-trust fines after the Supreme Court declined to hear its appeal in the e-book price-fixing case. Meanwhile, in a separate case involving the FBI forcing Apple to help unlock the phone of a drug dealer in New York, the Justice Department has filed an appeal, hoping to overturn a recent ruling that sided with the tech giant. (Fortune, Fortune)

Cheap Internet for all? The Federal Communications Commission is mulling a plan to provide a $9.25 monthly broadband subsidy to low-income households. The agency’s commissioners, which have a Democratic majority, are expected to approve the proposal, which comes as part of a $2 billion phone subsidy program called Lifeline. (New York Times)

Snapchat aims for $300 million. The ephemeral messaging startup is reportedly shooting for $300 million to $350 million in revenue this year—three times more than the company was reportedly on track to bring in last year. Snapchat is valued at $16 billion and recently raised a $175 million round of funding led by mutual fund Fidelity. (Fortune, Recode)

Seagate falls for phishing scam. Would-be identity thieves duped an employee at the data storage giant into handing over W-2 employee tax forms. A company spokesperson said that more than 1,000 people were affected, though less than 10,000. (Fortune, Krebs on Security)

Google picks up 4chan founder. Christopher Poole, better known as “moot,” has joined the search giant’s social arm, he announced via Tumblr. His former site 4chan, which he sold to the creator of Japanese website 2channel last year, became an infamous breeding ground for memes and Internet trolls, while Google’s foray into social networking, Google+, was considered a failure. (Fortune, Chris Hates Writing)

China upset with U.S. export restrictions. The U.S. Commerce Department said it is imposing export restrictions on Chinese telecom equipment maker ZTE and a few other firms for allegedly breaching its Iran sanctions. The Chinese Ministry of Commerce said it opposes the restrictions, which will bar U.S. manufacturers—and foreign ones using U.S.-made parts—from selling components to ZTE and the other firms.


THE DOWNLOAD

Fortune’s Erin Griffith assesses whether Twitter’s worst days are behind it.

Twitter has 320 million monthly active users—impressive, but well short of the billion-user milestone that separates a digital media superpower from an also-ran. Alphabet owns seven billion-user products. Facebook has two. Three years ago at its IPO, most observers thought Twitter could get to the billion-user mark too. But since then, the company’s product has stagnated while competitors—Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat—have continually made their services better and more essential to their users.

Incredible, singular events happen on Twitter, from Kanye West’s wild rants to Donald Trump’s latest bullying. But the best of Twitter gets embedded around the web, analyzed on TV, and even quoted in stodgy old newspapers. So despite Twitter’s 95% brand awareness, many regular people—those who aren’t influencers in media, finance, activism, sports, politics, or pop culture—have decided they don’t need the app. Investors, in turn, have decided Twitter is worth a mere $12.5 billion—a far cry from Alphabet’s $494 billion market capitalization and Facebook’s $308 billion.

 Twitter’s management, led by the would-be superman Jack Dorsey, isn’t giving up. But this could be the company’s last chance to get it right … Read the rest on Fortune.com.


ONE MORE THING

Some iPhone users have been receiving blank email messages from January 1, 1970. The computer bug is related to the “zero” date—the so-called beginning of time—programmed into the family of operating systems known as Unix, upon which Apple built iOS. (Fortune)


Your regular host Heather Clancy is away on vacation. This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Robert Hackett.
@rhhackett
robert.hackett@fortune.com

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