Twitter’s product innovation hurdle

 

Since its founding, Twitter has made a religion of listening to users. After all, they came up with some of the company’s best ideas — including the hashtag, reply and retweet. After the flow of good ideas from users stopped, Twitter was hard-pressed to come up with its own.

Bloomberg: Why Twitter Can’t Pull the Trigger on New Products

It’s a really good article, and covers interesting points on product development, management and leadership. Please do read it.

The first part of that quote is a fact – users came up with hashtag, reply, and retweet, and Twitter (the company) adopted them.

However, I disagree with the second part (highlighted in bold), though. It isn’t that the flow of good ideas has stopped – from users, or from competitors. The problem, in my view, is two fold.

One, the metrics that Twitter (as a listed company) wants to drive with new products have became divorced from the things that user wants. Users come up with things that empower their intentions1, not innovations to drive the company’s metrics. For a while, the two aligned well for Twitter, and we got the hashtag, retweet and reply features. For a while now, they haven’t.

Two, Twitter killed off the 3rd party user app ecosystem. This ecosystem provided the test bed where all the new innovations initially gained support. The third party apps supported replies and hashtags long before Twitter itself did. These apps provided an easy test bed to see which user-driven innovations were taking off. The 3rd party developers also had an incentive to keep innovating – they were invested in keeping the Twitter ecosystem growing.

Twitter killed off the third party ecosystem to “unify” the “twitter experience”, probably so it could sell more ads. While its ad machine is puttering, the innovation from the third party app ecosystem is long dead.

These two reasons, more than anything else, have contributed to the product ideas stream from Twitter’s users drying up.

It still doesn’t cover the fact that Twitter has been abysmally slow in executing on whatever ideas they still had – from users, internally, from Chris Sacca, and from twitter evangelists everywhere (I was one!).


  1. Tweetstorms were used by users long before Twitter formally adopted Tweet threading.
    Tweet editing has been requested by users for even longer, and yet there hasn’t even been a small, discrete test by twitter to try it out. 

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