FFS, Twitter. It's not that hard

A clear and simple guide to get from implosion to success


Howto With the news that Twitter is looking for yet another head of product – the fifth in under three years – it's clear the social media company is still at a loss over what to do next with its service.

So here is a simple guide to turn things around and go from the company that everyone shakes their heads at to a bastion of the modern internet era, a less creepy Facebook, a more engaging Snapchat. You're welcome, Mr Dorsey.

In fact, the first point is specifically for you, Jack.

1. Cheer the fuck up

Every company develops a corporate culture, pulled from the company's founders and longest-serving employees but molded by successive CEOs. Here's the thing: Twitter culture is a total mess and you stand right in the middle of it, Jack.

The success of Twitter was so incredibly unlikely and bizarre. Glorious seat-of-the-pants stuff, riven with personal feuds yet somehow the end result still contributed to a series of actual political revolutions in the Middle East.

They were great times. But that weird magic is not Lennon and McCartney. You don't need to keep it alive; in fact, you need to kill it. The rapidly rotating focus and willingness to ditch things (and people) at a fast pace is killing Twitter, not making it.

And the answer to bending the culture back to a useful path? Cheering up. Twitter is huge; all the founders are rich; life is good. Kick back a little. Stop fretting and start imagining again.

In the same way that guy on BART is unbearable if you're in a bad mood but just, you know, Bay Area if you're in a good one. That's what Twitter needs. Some good vibes. And when you've got that, you can move onto issue number two.

2. Shut down the trolls, bullies and sociopaths

Being on Twitter used to be a wonderful exploration. Hey, I like that comedian – wow, I can now follow his daily thoughts and life experiences – cool. Someone followed me – who are they? Huh, they like the same stuff as me.

Now, however, because Twitter can't seem to figure out how to retain freedom of expression while also letting its users have their own space, Twitter has gone from amazing daytime plaza to early-hours dive bar in the worst part of town.

The answer to getting it back to a fun, buzzy place is the same as turning around bad bars: throw open the shutters and windows, let the light in. Knock down some of the walls; create cozy areas for people to sit. Give them good service. Make it unpleasant for unpleasant people and welcoming for decent people.

In reality, that means doing a whole lot more for users and doing it in a relaxed way. People don't want to have to constantly ask people to be quiet. Twitter lets you "mute" or "block" obnoxious people – why so aggressive? Think in terms of real-world conversations.

Find ways to provide social cues – a smile, a chuckle, a raised eyebrow – that don't impede the conversation. And find ways to stop people from barging into a conversation and taking over just by talking loudly and incessantly. Twitter the company needs to be the guy that walks over and says "excuse me, can I have a word" and lets everyone get back to where they were.

Users also need to be able to decide on the size of their own conversations in natural ways. In the real world, talking groups are quite small and someone new needs to be effectively invited into the conversation. Let's create that and leave the obnoxious people on the outside. They will temper their behavior, or find someone else who isn't annoyed by them, or leave. And everyone will be much happier.

3. Remember what makes Twitter so original

Despite a seemingly endless number of social media apps, Twitter is still remarkable in one thing: it is fast. It is faster than news organizations; faster than Google or Facebook. It is the place online where news and commentary is instantly transmitted. It is where we all go when there is a major live event: be it a TV show or a game or a news event or a speech. It is unique.

So stop copying Facebook just because Facebook has found its way of making money. Find the Twitter way of making money. And yes, that's much harder because it is a more transient form of communication – but it is also what could make Twitter a revolutionary company again.

Advertisers love it if they can select people of a certain age, in a particular industry in a particular city - and pay to have their ads appear in front of them. That is amazing for Facebook. But it doesn't work for Twitter.

Twitter has to stop thinking in terms of individuals and start thinking in terms of events. The crowd at a Warriors game covers every age, race, job, every segment of society: what ties them is that they are at a Warriors game. And companies pretty quickly figure out whether that sort of person is going to be interested in what they have to sell – and then advertise to them.

Twitter can do the same. You would have to build a fast-moving, intelligent platform that recognizes what conversations are happening and why – but that's no bigger a leap that what Google did with its systems.

The moment some news drops – a celebrity event, or a last-minute sports victory, or a piece of TV magic – and people pile into Twitter, the ad system has to be able to pull from a pool of relevant ads and shove it in the feed.

Advertisers aren't going to like it at first – it throws off their ability to develop ads slowly and thoughtfully – but the moment someone gets it right, and the ad offers people what they want, responding in real time, with click-throughs at an all-time high. Well then everyone will want a piece of it.

4. Change the awful, sucking UI and open up

What is this long scrolling list of words? Sure you can add pics or animated GIFs and headshots of people – but the user interface sucks. It's stuck in version 1.3 when by now it should be 4.6.

What do you do about it? Two things: one, get a great design team and shield them from the engineers for a while. And second, let other people in.

Twitter was taking off – lots of clients, new and novel ways of structuring Twitter information, reaching out to all corners of the internet – when Corporate Twitter went mad and started shutting everyone down, pulling their access, changing APIs.

Sure, it was getting a bit messy but why not let Twitter be the center of an ecosystem around which other companies revolve. Let some of them fail; let some of them make you uncomfortable; but stop pretending just Twitter employees have the answers. They don't, as has been shown time and time again.

Stop treating developers like people feeding off Twitter's teats and start encouraging their wild, creative sides. Because if you do, in the spate of six months they will develop a better UI than Twitter has managed in six years. Especially if they think they will get lauded for it rather than punished.

5. Stop being so Silicon Valley

There is a huge opening for a tech company that doesn't behave like an egomaniacal bunch of white nerds that think they know better than everyone else.

Twitter can be the future of tech companies – one focused on giving users the best experience and letting them decide what it looks like for themselves, rather than deciding what's best for them. One that embraces the ethereal nature of life rather than tries to store all their thoughts to sell products off the back of. Be as open as possible.

Easiest way to do that: get out of SoMa and move to Oakland, expand your horizons.

Oh, and ditch that idiotic NFL deal. ®

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