Here's a 2017 to-do list for Twitter's next CTO

Plenty of work remains on the table for Twitter's technical teams in the wake of Adam Messinger's departure.
Written by Chris Kanaracus, Contributor

Twitter has been making the news lately for not-so-happy reasons, such as its plummeting stock price and failure--so far--to find an acquirer. The company has also seen a series of top executives leave the company in recent months and the most significant is CTO Adam Messinger, a former Oracle development executive who logged five years at Twitter.

Messinger said in a tweet that he's leaving to "take some time off" and his departure seems amicable enough from the outside. Twitter's VP of engineering, Edward Ho, will assume Messinger's duties and report directly to CEO Jack Dorsey, according to the New York Times.

Messinger had a broader remit at Twitter than the CTO job might suggest. In January, after a previous wave of executive departures, Messinger gained oversight of engineering, consumer product, design and research, user services and Fabric, Twitter's mobile development platform.

Whether Ho is given a long-term shot at the CTO job, or is just keeping the seat warm for an outside candidate remains to be seen. In either case, Twitter's next CTO has plenty to work on in 2017.

"Consistency is my biggest technical complaint," says Constellation Research VP and principal analyst Alan Lepofsky. "I use twitter.com, tweetdeck.twitter.com and the twitter mobile apps on Android and iPad, and the features available are different on each! For example, the ability to add an image, then tag people in the image (instead of adding their names in the 140 char) is not consistent."

"I think hashtags need some type of bubble help, where people can expand them to understand what they mean and get more information," Lepofsky adds. "And clearly, the noise-to-value ratio needs work. Twitter needs to become far more personalized, understanding the content I want and the people I want to engage with."

Another plus would be improved analytics that help users better understand which of their tweets have had the most impact and why, Lepofsky says. On the organization front, Twitter could use contact and list management features such as sorting, tagging, filtering and grouping, he adds.

Meanwhile, a recent positive development was the full integration of Twitter's live-video streaming capability, Periscope, into Twitter. Users won't need to install a separate Periscope app any longer, which raises the question of whether that dedicated app will be deprecated. Twitter had kept Periscope separate on purpose after acquiring it, hoping it could become a standalone hit much like Instagram has for Facebook.

In any event, with Periscope baked into the main Twitter application, video usage on the service could skyrocket in 2017, which means scalability--a one-time problem Twitter managed to remedy through extensive re-engineering--could be a concern for its incoming CTO.

Then there's the question of Twitter being acquired and all of the technical challenges and organizational changes associated with it.

It would not be wise for a traditional enterprise software vendor to buy Twitter, Constellation Research VP and principal analyst Holger Mueller argued in a blog post earlier this year:

Not a good move, these vendors need to stay on top of digital data to power marketing, sales and service - but social media usage and related data exhaust are fickle - owning one major data source will not allow these vendors to do what they need to: Cross social network sensing, execution and operation of related business functions.

A more natural fit would be Google given the synergy Twitter would have with its advertising business, while also giving a big boost to Google's social strategy, Mueller noted.

Finally, it might be easier for Twitter to get acquired if it can develop a big new hit feature. Maybe, as mentioned, Periscope will be it, but that's far from a sure thing. Coming up with Twitter's next killer app is probably the most crucial task for the company's go-forward technical and product leadership.

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