Product changes are finally coming to Twitter, but it might be too little too late
Twitter says it's taking bold steps to overhaul a product that many say is too difficult to use and that exposes its users to the abuse of unfettered trolls.
The question now is will it be enough.
During its Q3 earnings report on Thursday the company outlined a series of important planned product changes, and it announced that it was shutting down its Vine video clip service.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey insisted the improvements will increase the company's stalled growth.
"We have a clear plan, and we're making the necessary changes to ensure Twitter is positioned for long-term growth," Dorsey said in a statement.
But to judge by Wall Street's reaction, there's little confidence that the company's product changes will turn things around: Twitter's stock is up about 1% in midday trading on Thursday.
Keep in mind that Twitter doesn't even have anyone to spearhead its product improvement plan - the company's last head of product left back in January and has yet to be replaced.
Still, the product changes will be welcome by Twitter's dedicated users. Here are the key areas that Twitter has targeted for improvement:
Better tools to fight abuse and spam are coming next month
One of Twitter's biggest problems is the rampant bullying and abuse that's forced public figures like actor Leslie Jones to quit the service. Abuse on Twitter has been so bad that it reportedly deterred would-be acquirers like Disney from making formal offers to buy the company.
The good news is that Twitter plans to address its abuse and trolling problems with new tools and policies in November.
"For the past few months our team has been working hard to build the most important safety features and updating our safety policies to give people more control over their Twitter experience," the company said in its third quarter shareholders letter. "Next month, we will be sharing meaningful updates to our safety policy, our product, and enforcement strategy."
Timely notifications with photos and videos
Twitter says that it's using machine learning to make its app notifications smarter. These notifications "drove increased retention for both monthly active and daily active usage" in the second quarter, and Twitter says they will soon show "rich media" like photos and videos in notifications alongside text.
Smarter, customizable timelines of tweets
Twitter was met with backlash when it introduced an algorithmic tweet timeline earlier this year, but the company says the change has driven engagement up across the board.
Going forward, it sounds like Twitter plans to give users customizable timelines based on different topics, like sports or politics. The company also said in its letter to shareholders that it's testing a personalized timeline to go alongside live video broadcasts that's "based on people's interest graphs and a selection of Tweets from key influencers."
Will these changes be enough?
It's been a rough year for Twitter, and now that all potential acquirers have apparently backed out, the company is left to fend for itself without a savior.
Financially, Twitter is doing better than expected, but that's not saying much. Revenue growth in Q3 was a meager 8%, but that was enough to beat Wall Street expectations. It also plans to lay off 9% of its workforce while looking to cut costs and work toward profitability in 2017.
There's a strong perception in the tech industry and on Wall Street that Twitter has failed to innovate and meet the expectations it set years ago to become the next great social network.
While it's clear now that Twitter isn't going to become the next Facebook, it already provides immense value in being the place where news breaks on the internet. If the company can make normal people understand why they should use Twitter, curb abuse on the platform, and reach profitability soon, it has a shot at rebounding.
Then again, Twitter's own perception of itself could be its downfall.
At one point during its earnings call on Thursday, an analyst asked CEO Jack Dorsey if the company had more "revolutionary" products in the pipeline besides live video.
His response: "Our product is already revolutionary."
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