Twitter still resembles a clown car

By Heather Clancy
June 2, 2016

Twitter has been described in many ways: a real-time newswire, a global town square, a tool for networked democracy. But Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg came up with one of the most famous (or infamous) descriptions of all when he told a friend that “Twitter is such a mess, it’s like they drove a clown car into a gold mine and fell in.”

Complimentary descriptions of Twitter tend to be about the service, and what it has been able to accomplish in terms of making the world more connected using only short bursts of 140 characters. Zuckerberg’s comment, however, was all about the company behind the service, and the almost Shakespearean levels of drama that took place inside its executive suite as it was taking over the world.

The quote comes from a book that former New York Times reporter Nick Bilton wrote called Hatching Twitter. In it, he details the byzantine machinations at the company, including a coup that kicked out then-CEO Jack Dorsey (via an uprising led by co-founder and friend Evan Williams) followed by a second coup led by Dick Costolo that kicked Williams out as CEO. Since the book was written, Costolo has been kicked out and replaced by Dorsey.

It can be exhausting just trying to keep all the infighting straight—so imagine what it was like trying to run a company while all that was going on. Perhaps it’s not surprising that Twitter has declined at a runaway pace since it went public in 2013. At its peak, the company had a market value of almost $50 billion. Now it is hovering around the $10 billion mark, and user growth has flatlined.

Although many Twitter fans hoped Dorsey’s return would work some magic on the company—as Bilton describes in a Vanity Fair piece that reads like a sequel to his book—it doesn’t appear to have done so. In fact, the stock has lost almost 60% of its market value since Dorsey first returned as interim CEO in July 2015. Perhaps Twitter isn’t a clown car any more, but it doesn’t seem like much of a gold mine either.

Mathew Ingram is a senior writer at Fortune. Follow him on Twitter or reach him via email.

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BITS AND BYTES

Uber raises $3.5 billion from Saudi Arabia. The new funding from the country’s Public Investment Fund doesn’t change the ride-sharing upstart’s valuation, which stands at $62.5 billion. Uber previously said it plans to invest $250 million in the Middle East, where it operates in 15 cities across nine countries. (Fortune)

Oracle whistleblower lawsuit questions cloud accounting. The software giant was sued Wednesday in San Francisco by a former member of its finance team. Svetlana Blackburn alleges that she was instructed to make revenue for Oracle’s various cloud services look better on the balance sheet, by including accruals for “expected” business. Blackburn was fired last October, about one month after she says she questioned the practice. (Reuters)

Sheryl Sandberg: Facebook didn’t know about Peter Thiel’s crusade against Gawker. As you may have heard, Thiel funded Hulk Hogan’s successful privacy lawsuit against the media company, for which it owes $140 million in damages. Some believe the prominent Silicon Valley investor should resign from the social network’s board, given Facebook’s role in the future of journalism. Sandberg says he’s staying. (Fortune)

Aaron Levie: Box’s sales are getting more seasonal. The cloud software company signed up more than 5,000 paying customers during its first quarter, bringing its total count to more than 62,000. But it signed fewer big deals, a sign that it’s maturing. In other words, the ebb and flow of Box’s big contracts will more closely resemble that of a traditional business software company, with more closing later in its fiscal year. (Fortune)

Fitbit names first women directors. The appointments of Laura Alber, president and CEO of Williams-Sonoma, and Glenda Flanagan, executive vice president and CFO of Whole Foods Market, are effective immediately. Both bring crucial retail industry experience. (Fortune)

IBM buys company to help modernize mainframe apps. It is paying an undisclosed sum for Israel’s EZSource, which sells software that helps developers analyze application code. The 13-year-old company’s customers include ING Life, Maybank, and 7-Eleven. (Reuters)

AMD hopes cheaper chips will prod virtual reality sales. The company’s new Polaris processors will cut the price of the personal computer graphics cards necessary for running VR applications or content by approximately $200. But it will still cost at least $1,600 for an entire PC-plus-Oculus Rift setup, for example. VR is one of the markets AMD hopes will return it to profitability in the second half of this year. (Fortune)

Apple Pay is meeting resistance outside U.S. More than 18 months after its introduction, the service is available in just six countries because of technical issues and, in some cases, competitive services being developed by local banks. Last year approximately $10.9 billion in payments were handled on Apple Pay. For perspective, that’s a lower amount than the mobile transactions completed last year in Kenya, a big mobile payments market. (Reuters)

The biggest winner in the Dell settlement was hoping to lose. Back in 2013 when a buyout took Dell private, hedge fund Magnetar Capital was one of the biggest opponents of the deal. Now the Chicago area investment manager, which became famous for making big bucks off the housing bust, is set to become the biggest winner from a case tied to the transaction, scoring an additional $25 million payout, or about 28% more than most other shareholders received per share. (Fortune)

Make that $8.9 billion. That’s how much money SoftBank will raise by selling a big chunk of its Alibaba stock, its first sale involving its position in the e-commerce giant in 16 years. The money will be used to improve SoftBank’s balance sheet. It’s not interested in buying anything from Yahoo, according to President Nikesh Arora. (Bloomberg)

IBM’s CEO thinks every digital business will become a cognitive computing business. The tech giant has weathered 16 consecutive quarters of declining revenue. Still, CEO Ginni Rometty is optimistic that the company’s wager on “cognitive computing,” the term it uses for applied artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies, is the biggest bet the company will make in its 105-year history. The nagging question: Can Rometty help IBM capitalize on this opportunity fast enough? (Fortune)


THE DOWNLOAD

Intel’s CEO is ready to buy another company but doesn’t have a ‘shopping list.’ Chip giant Intel is poised and ready to do more major acquisitions but doesn’t have any current targets, CEO Brian Krzanich told Fortune exclusively on Wednesday.

“We don’t have a shopping list or anything,” he said. “But we also feel like we’re capable, and we know how to do these big acquisitions. So no plans, but I think we’ve gotten past a lot of the issues we’ve had in the past with how to do them.”

Krzanich is looking for as many new ways to ignite growth as possible given the steep pressure on the company’s still-dominant, but shrinking personal computer chip business. More from Fortune senior writer Aaron Pressman’s interview.



ONE MORE THING

Billionaire founders of Airbnb, ESRI, Intuit, and Salesforce join Giving Pledge. The philanthropic organization created by Bill and Melinda Gates, and Warren Buffet has added 17 new members to boost its membership to 154 signatories. Among the newbies: Nathan Blecharczyk, Brian Chesky, and Joe Gebbia (Airbnb); Jack Dangermond (ESRI); Scott Cook (Intuit); and Marc Benioff (Salesforce). (Fortune)


This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Heather Clancy.

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