Twitter has a lofty goal: by the end of 2023, it aims to have added another 100 million daily users, a 50 percent increase from where it is now. To do so, Twitter will need to attract users at a far faster rate than in recent years, as well as create and iterate on new features and encourage people to use the app more frequently.
To that aim, after appointing a new CEO, Parag Agrawal, in November, the firm has continued to shake up its leadership and structure. Jay Sullivan, VP of consumer product, Arnaud Weber, VP of consumer product engineering, and Anita Butler, head of consumer design, were named to the new consumer product leadership team on Thursday, reporting to Kayvon Beykpour, the unit’s general manager.
One of their goals is to address a long-standing issue with Twitter: the reality that most people use the service but don’t tweet. “We don’t have trouble convincing people to sign up for Twitter,” says Anita Butler, head of consumer design. It’s keeping those customers that we’re having difficulties with.”
The Verge spoke with the three executives, who collectively decide the general direction of how Twitter functions for users and developers, about their top objectives and obstacles as the company strives to meet its aggressive growth goals.
RESTRUCTURING FOR FASTER SHIPMENT
According to my talks with Twitter employees over the years, the company’s problems to evolve have been due to internal disfunction rather than a lack of new ideas. Twitter became essentially administered by committee after Jack Dorsey returned as a part-time CEO in 2015, with executives governing their own fiefdoms. Feature development would frequently stagnate or never see the light of day.
As a result, it was telling when Agrawal reorganized the executive team around three key divisions: consumer product, revenue product, and the core technology that supports everything Twitter develops as soon as he became CEO. The organization is designed to empower divisions by providing them with their own teams that span disciplines such as design and engineering.
There hasn’t been a movement in direction under Agrawal, according to Twitter’s new product chiefs, but there has been a shift in how things are done. “Our goal and mission as the discussion layer [of the internet] hasn’t changed under Parag’s leadership, and he was quite direct about this,” adds Sullivan, who now oversees the consumer product teams under Beykpour.
Instead, according to Weber, Twitter’s new head of consumer engineering, Agrawal’s impact is felt in how products are built. He says, “We’re getting more and more data-driven.” “I believe Parag brings about a culture shift in which we are more pragmatic.” We examine metrics, do experiments, expand the size of the experiments, and so on.”
BUILDING MORE INTERESTING TWITTER FEATURES
Agrawal’s top product focus, according to Sullivan, is “making Twitter more relevant to each individual person.” Twitter has traditionally relied on individuals manually following accounts, but it has recently invested in machine learning to surface tweets that it believes users may be interested in.
Topics, which highlights similar tweets around themes like a sports game or TV show, is a standout aspect of this method. “I believe one big part of the challenge is that we have this fantastic stuff on Twitter, which is frequently real-time and often really engaging, and we need to figure out how to offer that content to these new people after we figure out what they care about,” Weber says.
“THE PRODUCT NEEDS TO BE MORE PARTICIPATORY AND APPROACHABLE.”
To address the issue of low engagement, the team has been exploring a tool called Communities, which works like a cross between Facebook Groups and Reddit for tweeting with others who share common interests.
“One of the things I hear from folks is, ‘Hey, I’m a big reader.’ I’m not sure when or why I should tweet, and I’m not sure if I should tweet at all. Sullivan says, “I’d feel better if I was tweeting to a smaller group of people.” “As a result, we need to make the product more interactive and approachable, both for individuals and for people who see themselves as true creators lower down the spectrum.”
Spaces, Twitter’s audio conversation tool that was designed in reaction to the quick rise of Clubhouse during pandemic lockdowns, is the company’s greatest product bet in recent memory. Sullivan says there have been many Spaces regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with over 100,000 listeners in the previous couple of weeks, but the business hasn’t published general usage figures for Spaces yet.
Given how the business lost its early opportunity with the shuttering of Vine, Twitter’s product execs know that the service requires its own response to TikTok’s development. Butler says, “We clearly know that sharing and communication is going more to visual, whether it’s picture, video, or other forms.” She cites a recent public test that transforms Twitter’s Explore page into a near-fullscreen video feed similar to TikTok, claiming that the goal is to “possibly have it be more funny stuff or news content depending on what we know about you.”
Twitter’s interest in crypto was unsurprising, given Jack Dorsey’s infatuation with Bitcoin. But, even now that he’s gone to focus on Block, Twitter is still experimenting with crypto features and investing in Bluesky, an ambitious project that intends to transform Twitter from a centralized firm to something akin to an email service that others may build on.
Bluesky, which began as a joint project between Dorsey and then-CTO Agrawal, is a larger, longer-term attempt to overhaul Twitter’s architecture. “Imagine if there was a clear separation between applications and the underlying data that underpins them,” Sullivan says. “At that layer, there will be multiple choices regarding everything from interface to content moderation and stuff like that,” says the author.
Since Bluesky was just formed with Dorsey on its board and Twitter as a key investor to fund its development, a lot about it is still up in the air. It’s also unclear what Bluesky will mean for Twitter’s business. “How can we build that environment, at least from the user interface or customer experience standpoint,” is a fascinating and intriguing subject.
On a more near timescale, cryptocurrency is still a consideration for Twitter when it comes to allowing users to reward authors. “All of the people who feel like they’re adding value should be able to connect directly with the people who receive value and be paid,” Sullivan says, pointing to the recent inclusion of a tip jar function for accounts that accept Bitcoin and Ethereum. “It may be via cryptography, but it could also be via other techniques.”
Sullivan, on the other hand, does not regard crypto as a one-size-fits-all solution. “I’m agnostic about which things employ crypto and which things don’t as long as you’re solving a consumer problem in a very easy-to-use way,” he says. “I believe the industry has overemphasized Web2 against Web3.” We always grow on the shoulders of previous accomplishments, and we should always prioritize the consumer.”
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