We are trying something new. Each Saturday, Farhad Manjoo and Mike Isaac, technology reporters at The New York Times, will review the week’s news, offering analysis and maybe even a few jokes about the most important developments in the industry.
Farhad: Hey, Mike! How was your week? My dishwasher broke and I realized, to my horror, that there isn’t an Uber for dishes. Tech disrupters are asleep at the wheel. Want to come help me wash up after dinner?
Mike: Only if you promise to pay me as a contract worker with no health benefits or 401(k).
Farhad: So, big week in tech. Microsoft released Windows 10, its long-awaited sequel to Windows 8, to mainly positive reviews. Facebook announced another stellar quarterly earnings report; among other things, almost 1.5 billion people now log on to the site monthly, which is almost as many as read this newsletter. Also, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced that they are expecting a future Facebook user of their own. In nonbaby news, Samsung’s earnings were a disaster, and shares in the local-reviews company Yelp lost about a fifth of their value after it forecast underwhelming future earnings.
And then there was Twitter. During a presentation to investors on Tuesday, executives of the troubled 140-character network presented a sobering view of its prospects. The Twitter user base has been stalled at about 300 million people for much of the year, and Anthony Noto, the company’s chief financial officer, said he did not expect the number to grow substantially any time soon. Jack Dorsey, one of Twitter’s founders and now its interim chief executive, said recent product improvements have not paid off. “This is unacceptable, and we’re not happy about it,” Mr. Dorsey said.
Mike: We’re part of the media, so of course we’re completely wrapped up in the fate of Twitter — the platform of choice for narcissists.
Seriously, though, the earnings call this week was fascinating to me. The usual rigmarole is to hear the C.E.O. and C.F.O. give rote statements about the positive trends in the company, even if the building is on fire and investors are running for the hills with bags of money slung over their shoulders.
Mr. Dorsey didn’t really do that. He came in and dropped some truth bombs. We are not where we want to be. Twitter is too hard to use. People don’t know why they need to use it. Wowie woo, that’s not what I’m used to hearing every quarter.
Now, granted, owning up to the company’s shortcomings and plainly saying it would take a while to turn the company around completely obliterated the stock. My favorite story, however hyperbolic, had “Twitter Got Killed” headlining in all capital letters, with Mr. Dorsey sporting some Frankenstein lurch in a photo.
But hey! It sets the stage for the next chief executive to start from dampened expectations. A finance wonk smarter than myself might say that, for once, Twitter is properly valued on the stock market rather than overvalued, and there’s nowhere to go but up. Though I’m not a financier, so I wouldn’t trade on that pearl of wisdom.
Farhad: I’m no finance wonk, but I can easily play the role of someone much smarter than you, so here’s my assessment: Despite the inevitable stock decline, I think the earnings presentation was masterly.
One of Twitter’s primary problems has been a failure to communicate its strategy to investors. Over the last year, Dick Costolo, Mr. Dorsey’s predecessor, had been assembling a product team to improve the experience of using the service. This team is plotting fundamental changes to how Twitter works. It is rethinking Twitter’s commitment to displaying all tweets in chronological order, for instance, and is coming up with new, more flexible definitions of what it means to “follow” someone or some interest on the network. The early fruits of these efforts are due out later this year; everything that I’ve heard and read about the coming features suggests that they will go far in alleviating some of the main challenges of using Twitter.
Mike: “Project Lightning!” Such a supercool code name, if code names were made up by my dad.
Farhad: I’ve heard the real name is going to be “Moments.” That’s even lamer, no?
But even though he was moving to improve Twitter, Mr. Costolo often failed to convince investors that he was doing so. Nor did he give investors much of an idea of the time frame involved. Even if the new features are a major hit — which of course is a huge question — it could take months or years to see a payoff.
It was interesting that Mr. Dorsey, in his presentation, seemed totally on board with Mr. Costolo’s vision for the product — again and again, he ladled praise on the “awesome” coming features that were created under Mr. Costolo. So it’s not that he’s got a different plan for what Twitter should be. It’s just that he’s finally leveling with people that Twitter is in a pickle and that fixing it is hard.
It reminded me of another tech founder who dropped some truth bombs when he came back. Is Jack Dorsey Twitter’s Steve Jobs?
Mike: Ugh, it only took us 800 words to make the Steve Jobs analogy. Right on time.
So I’ve heard a bunch of mixed comments from Square and Twitter employees who were around the first time Jack “came back” to Twitter in 2011, as executive chairman. Heads rolled and tons of shake-ups occurred, product wise, but many were not fans of his leadership. I’m hearing some similar grumbling now.
That said: People grow a lot from experience, and some people think that Mr. Dorsey’s time running Square, the payments start-up that is planning for an initial public stock offering, could have given him the chops to run Twitter for real this time. So there’s optimism.
The big question is, Will Mr. Dorsey dump Square to run Twitter? It’s like picking which child you love best. In, uh, corporate terms.
Anyway, it’s still a guessing game right now, as the C.E.O. search is still on. I guess I’ll just keep tweeting about it until it’s done.
Farhad: We’ll always have Twitter. Or, who knows, maybe not.