How Do You Fix A Problem Like Twitter?
If Apple's financial results this week were bad, at least the company can point to another huge profit to ease any concerns about its real world performance. Twitter, on the other hand, doesn't seem to have anything in the cupboard.
The messaging service missed analysts revenue predictions by some measure and for the fifth straight quarter reported effectively flat user numbers. The company halved its net loss in comparison to last year, but even so another $80m was sucked out of the business.
Twitter has decided to throw its efforts behind video streaming as its revenue source - and its NFL deal may not be its last. That's really an example of trying to be something the service is not and has never been: just another media provider.
Twitter needs to find a way to monetise its core messaging service instead of trying to be something it isn't. How does it do this? There are a few options, and it appears that the service has never investigated any of these.
Premium features for paid accounts. Particularly for businesses using the service to provide support and customer engagement. Twitter is providing the medium for these business to improve their relationships with existing customers and to reach out to potential new customers. Charging those businesses for the privilege seems like a logical step. Where else can you get such a valuable service for free?
If Twitter were to make that premium service charge to businesses $100 a year and converted just one percent of its current user base (or around three million users) it would bank a healthy $300m - or nearly enough to cover its current losses. Political campaigns run on Twitter should obviously attract significantly higher fees.
As well as businesses there are endless hordes of 'celebrity' tweeters using the service to engage with fans. An annual fee to verify those users seems reasonable to maintain that verified status.
Improving cash flow is just one of the issues that Twitter has to address. The other is the perceived height of the barrier of entry to the Twitter community. Two years ago Twitter broke the 250m active user barrier - now it's running at 300m. Which means that almost 85% of its current user base have been active for more than two years.
Why are new users so rare to find? Because Twitter doesn't really make them welcome and incentivise their participation in the conversation. Its a big, bad world out there and its difficult to find a niche as a new user.
How can Twitter fix this? Well it could certainly look to steal a feature that worked well on Google+ - special interest groups. Breaking Twitter down into more consumable, friendly chunks of users talking about specific topics and offering a newbie a chance to find their voice.
Lastly Twitter needs to clean up its act. Its all too easy for mob rule to damage the user experience. Whether right or wrong we don't need to see the kind of witch hunt that drove Stephen Fry from the service, nor the kind of abuse that has dogged users because of their gender, sexual preference, racial origins or even because of a poorly thought out or off the cuff comment.
Users need to be able to prevent their tweets being shared, either individually or across the board and moderation of the sort of whirlwind assaults on Twitter users needs to happen much more quickly.
Ultimately I don't believe that Twitter's problems are related to the content available on the service, rather that by not understanding the value of what they have Twitter's management or going to be sidetracked into a battle with Facebook that it just can't win.