Hit the road, Jack Dorsey: Could Parag Agarwal be Twitter's Nadella?

With Dorsey out, Twitter must deliver more real features and less fake news. Can the new CEO disrupt and innovate just as Satya Nadella did for Microsoft?

Twitter has been through a lot in its 15-year history, and Jack Dorsey has played the role of CEO multiple times. This week, Dorsey announced his resignation, effective immediately. In his place is former CTO Parag Agrawal. 

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Twitter, founded in July of 2006 as an offshoot of the short-lived podcast aggregation company Odeo by Evan Williams and Biz Stone, has more than 2 billion monthly users. It has become the pulse of the Internet and social media, where up-to-the-second breaking news and statements from popular -- or shall we say infamous -- personalities are made to their hundreds of millions of followers. Unlike its rival platform Facebook, Twitter's functionality has been more or less static, remaining primarily a short message bus and link broadcast platform. 

Hit the road @Jack #sayonara #hastalavista, #hello @Paraga

Dorsey had been under fire for a while regarding the dearth of innovation on the platform. There hasn't been notable new product development, and many of the products and features that have been launched over the past five years were canceled or disposed of. The company has also been underperforming financially.

Dorsey has been a candle burning at both ends for far too long. He was the CEO of Square (now renamed Block, as of yesterday, focusing more on cryptocurrency and blockchain rather than credit card transactions) at the same time that he was the CEO of Twitter. He has been involved heavily in philanthropic activities while also being very active in cryptocurrency (hence, Block's focus). Realistically, there was no way he could do this with his full capacity, giving shareholders and employees the time and attention they deserve. 

Activist investor groups, such as Elliot Management, have been gunning to replace Dorsey for over a year. There have been concerns that he put more time into Square than Twitter. (Of course,  at Square, they have been saying the opposite.)

Agarwal is more of an insider, having been CTO, so the big question is: Can he bring about the disruptive change that Twitter needs to evolve as a company? 

Twitter stock fell when the company announced Dorsey's replacement; thus, Wall Street has not been happy so far.  But I wouldn't pay too much attention to this early indicator -- other technology companies have successfully promoted insiders to CEO, such as Microsoft with Satya Nadella. Nadella was very much a technologist. Arguably, he is the most successful CEO in the company's history, transforming it into a cloud giant and revitalizing other aspects of its business. 

So can Agarwal be Twitter's Nadella? That remains to be seen. But we certainly need to give him that chance, and he has his work cut out for him.

Hashtag #misinformation #toxicity

While Twitter has gotten better about policing itself, misinformation is also still an issue on its platform and also, of course, on Facebook. In April of 2020, the internet content watchdog Newsguard identified a list of about 85 "Superspreader misinformation accounts" in the US and Europe on both platforms. These misinformation activities include spreading the following falsehoods:

  • COVID-19 does not exist
  • Bill Gates announced that COVID-19 vaccines would result in 700,000 deaths
  • 5G technology is linked to the spread of COVID-19
  • COVID-19 was predicted in a simulation
  • Vitamin C can prevent COVID-19
  • COVID-19 is a "biological weapon which was created in an American military laboratory"
  • Healthy people "suffer no harm" from COVID-19
  • COVID-19 vaccines have microchip tracking technology funded by Bill Gates

Of the 26 accounts that NewsGuard flagged to Twitter for spreading COVID-19 misinformation, 13 have had no action taken against them, and 10 of them have increased their follower number by 358,927 between them, a 23.7 percent increase on average.

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Of the 59 accounts that NewsGuard flagged to Facebook for spreading COVID-19 misinformation, 31 have had no action taken against them, and 9 of them have increased their number of "likes" by 718,000 between them, a 3.9 percent increase on average.

So yes, while Facebook is a more prominent offender of misinformation and toxic content proliferation, Twitter is getting up there. The company, under Agarwal, needs to consider now how it deals with amplified misinformation, by either removing it entirely or flagging these sorts of tweets and links as false information and taking a more active role in removing these types of accounts from its platform.

Hashtag #features #services #monetization #creators #apis

While it had many false starts in its ability to expand its capabilities, Twitter is gradually increasing its offerings beyond simply its free service and advertising revenue. At $3 per user per month, Twitter Blue was released recently and appears to be more of a consumer-based offering.

I recently signed up for Twitter Blue. It offers users various enhanced features such as customized icons, bookmarking of tweets, Top Article lists, Ad-free articles, and a "Reader" to make tweetstorms and long threads easier to read. Its most valuable feature, however, is "Undo," and this is not truly the "edit" that everyone wants -- instead, it delays sending your tweet for up to 60 seconds so that you can make changes to it before it goes out. 

Twitter Blue is a good start. Ultimately, Twitter needs to get better at monetization, particularly for creators. A year ago, the company bought Revue, an email newsletter service similar to Hubspot, Constant Contact, and Mailchimp's competing functionality. Revue allows you to drag and drop your Twitter and other social media and web content into a mailing UX and send it out to a subscriber list, which you then can import with various 3rd-party integrations. While Twitter has Mailchimp integration, it hasn't listed HubSpot and a few major others yet. You can feature the Revue newsletters in your Twitter profile, but currently, there is no way to make it show up in your Twitter feed easily.

Ideally, anyone who has an investment in existing email newsletter services will want to maintain their lists on those services and send the emails through those services rather than Revue's engine. That's going to be a challenge. I'd prefer that Twitter uses Revue to promote the newsletters to one's existing Twitter followers, as sort of a "roll-up" activity weekly or monthly, without spamming email accounts. It should show up for Twitter Blue users, in particular, and I should be able to share these newsletters and circulate them among my Twitter contacts so that we can all expand each other's reach and amplify accordingly.

Twitter "Spaces" is also new -- a live audio chat service built into the official mobile client. Similar to Clubhouse, it allows up to 13 people to have a real-time audio conference, with up to thousands of people at a time as listeners. So far, there is no way to monetize these. There's no master schedule of these chats for discovering them either -- one simply says on your Twitter feed that you will host a talk at a particular time (which the creator can schedule in advance). When you start one, your followers see on their feeds they can join. It's very ad-hoc at this point, so the discovery of these Spaces from a topicality or newsworthy standpoint, at least when compared to how Clubhouse does it, is not well implemented right now.

Ultimately, for Twitter to grow, it needs to get all of these features and services into its APIs and then allow third-party services and platforms to access them fully. That isn't the case today; all of the API features aren't fully implemented for public use. Additionally, most corporations and organizations that use Twitter do not necessarily use the official clients or the Twitter website; they use social media management platforms such as Hubspot and Hootsuite, which can consolidate many social media accounts and provide analytics and other features for integrated digital marketing campaigns.

All of these challenges -- increased monetization capabilities for creators, launching new value-added services, making its APIs more accessible, and removing toxicity from its platform-- are going to be significant hurdles to overcome for the company's new CEO. Can Twitter grow out of its shell with Agarwal and become a trusted, foundational, backbone technology provider for the next-generation Internet? Talk Back and Let Me Know.


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