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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 (TWTR) 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.