How to turn Twitter into a bigger, bolder, and better company

Twitter is now under new leadership. Jack Dorsey has returned. Now the hard work begins: Making the service a mainstream notification system.

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Welcome back, Jack!

Today marks a landmark shift at my favorite tech company, now that Jack Dorsey is making his triumphant return. Ousted in 2008 due to low employee morale and constant tech glitches, Dorsey went on to start Square while becoming a celebrity entrepreneur and serving on the Twitter board as Chairman -- up until today, when he takes over again as CEO.

Ironically, at least from my perspective, not much has changed since he left. Twitter is still a powerhouse of “data quips” (as you might call them). It’s still the best way to let people know what you are doing, to post interesting links, to make jokes, and to connect quickly with influencers.

Meanwhile, Facebook is becoming something beyond a social network. In many ways, it is more like a second Internet. You can chat with friends, find deals on used furniture, ask a messaging bot to order your spouse some flowers and get them delivered, store all of your photos and videos, hold a virtual funeral, find trending news, and never even leave the site.

LinkedIn has become a business network, of course -- it’s arguably a better place to post original long-form ideas and articles and to find new business contacts. The connections you make with influencers on LinkedIn can be more helpful and develop into something worthwhile, although Twitter is still a better way to make a first impression on an influencer.

Twitter’s biggest change over the past few years is allowing longer Direct Messages (which are sent directly to another person and are not public) and supporting video snippets. I feel this is the main reason the service has stopped growing at 316 million users.

As usual, I have an idea on how to change that predicament.

One of the biggest areas where Twitter needs to improve is with baked-in services. I know your Audi can tweet an update if you have your phone connected. I know a few companies experimented with controlling stuff by tweeting. Twitter -- or at least one of the dashboard apps -- is still one of the first apps many people install first on a new phone.

Yet, “baked in” is partly a branding exercise. I’m currently testing the new Vivint Sky security system with a video doorbell. Twitter is not part of the equation, but why shouldn’t it be? If someone opens my front door when I’m gone, maybe the system can tweet a note to my neighbors. This “soft” notification will at least make them look out the window.

Twitter could be everywhere, not just on your phone. You security system could tweet, but so could your mailbox, your garage door, and your sprinkler system. This is just at home. There are way more branding opportunities in business that go beyond tweeting out a taco special. If your HP printer is out of paper, you should get a tweet. If you miss a phone call, you should get a tweet. We see this functionality in fits and starts. But Twitter should own all short message exchanges. Instead, you get “notifications” on your iPhone -- the worse part about that, though is that you only get them on your iPhone. If Twitter “owned” short messaging, the user counts would rise to many billions.

Also, that Audi that tweets is really just notifying other users. That’s a problem. Baked in services would mean your Audi can notify the dealer when there’s a problem, or communicate behind the scenes to let a meeting organizer know you are running late, or tweet a short message to another car that you are approaching in a blind-spot.

My favorite example is the security system, though. That would be a branding coup. The box would have the Twitter logo on it, because as a homeowner you’d care more about the short message exchanges -- with neighbors, the police, the fire department, and anyone else who cares -- because Twitter has become the primary method of notification. Twitter sees itself as optional and fun; it needs to be a requirement.

Today, with just over 300 million users, it’s really just an oddity. Granted, it’s an incredibly useful oddity. But it has never really gone mainstream. It is not woven into the fabric of society. People know the name Twitter but don't use it. When you think “send a short message” you don’t think of Twitter. Most of us view the service as a way to promote yourself, your brand, and (most importantly) your link. Kim Kardashian uses it. It’s just for social networking, and that's what's keeping it from growing.

We all know about Twitter, and many of us use it. What Twitter has failed to do is become indispensable. It’s not tangled into the web of life. It’s not listed as a spec on your new car or your new fridge. It’s not the primary way to communicate short exchanges. It’s not ingrained in a way that you can't just know about it anymore.

Until then, the biggest change under Dorsey might be hitting 317 million users.

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