RIP Twitter. It's Walking Dead

Mitch Wagner
2/10/2017
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Twitter is dead. Just push it over and start shoveling dirt on it.

This quarter should have been epic for Twitter Inc. The entire world's eyes were on Twitter, where candidates fought the most contentious US Presidential election in living memory.

And yet even with that big push, Twitter couldn't fly.

In earnings reported Thursday, Twitter said fourth-quarter revenue was $717 million, up a scant 1% year-over-ear. The company lost $167 million or $0.23 per diluted share, according to generally accepted accounting principles. Average monthly active users were 319 million for the quarter, essentially flat for the previous quarter's 317 million, and up a slim 4% year-over-year. Advertising revenue was $638 million, down slightly year-over-year.

Twitter has lost more than $1.5 billion total since it went public in late 2013. Fourth-quarter revenue was significantly short of analyst expectations. Metrics such as cost of revenue and revenue per user are going in the wrong directions, Reuters reports, adding: "With virtually no user growth, Twitter is spending more to generate less revenue per customer."

Twitter's stock was down about 4% Friday, trading at $15.72 mid-morning, after falling 12% on Thursday.

The Wall Street Journal sums it up with a headline that says it all: Even Donald Trump Can't Save Twitter.

Twitter can't make money. It can't attract users. And it's not making the kinds of fundamental changes necessary for prosperity.

Twitter is 2007 technology in a 2017 world. Twitter was initially designed to run on SMS. The service has layered on many features, embedding videos, images and links. But it's still fundamentally a service designed for 2007 feature phones.

Given Twitter's utter failure to capture mainstream usage and turn a profit, Twitter faces two possible outcomes:

Death: That's nearly certain. For Twitter, death will take the form of being sold at firesale prices to a big company. Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Facebook are obvious candidates. They'll continue to run Twitter as long as they can squeeze dimes out of it. But we won't see any further significant growth investment in Twitter. We saw this when Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq: YHOO) acquired Tumblr.

Indeed, Wall Street analysts were once again speculating on Friday about a takeover. Twitter was already shopped around late last year, and failed to find buyers. But if you set the price low enough, it'll sell. (See Twitter Soars on Takeover Rumors – Reports and Will Amazon Buy Twitter?.)

Miracle: When you look at the lifespan of an innovative company like Twitter, you can expect it to follow a nearly inevitable arc: Meteoric rise in popularity and innovation, followed by stagnation, followed by a slow decline as the top management tries to turn the company around and fails, followed by a rapid death as investors suck all the cash out of the company and then discard the mummified husk.

But occasionally you have a miracle. Examples: Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) today under Satya Nadella, Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) after Steve Jobs's return, and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) after Louis Gerstner took the CEO position in 1993. (See Nadella Promotion Ends Microsoft CEO Search.)

These leaders had the intelligence, charisma and courage to gut a company and rebuild it on its still-sound foundation.

That could happen with Twitter. Probably not. But I hope it does. I love Twitter.

To succeed, Twitter would have to leapfrog its competitors into something new.


Want to know more about the cloud? Visit Light Reading Enterprise Cloud.


I don't know what Twitter 2.0 looks like. But I know that if it happens, it'll be unpopular with pundits, just like Steve Jobs's candy-colored iMacs were 20 years ago.

Last year I suggested Twitter's cloud infrastructure could be used for real-time Internet of Things communications. The same real-time, low-latency communications required to send tweets around the world, in the right sequence, could be harnessed to let intelligent devices talk to each other. That's a completely different business from the one Twitter is in now. But we've seen that kind of pivot before, when retailer Amazon decided to go into the cloud business. It worked spectacularly well for Amazon, and could do the same for Twitter. (See Twitter's the Next Hypercloud Star (No Joke).)

Whether Twitter is dying or on the verge of a miracle, expect a complete change of top management. CEO and co-founder Jack Dorsey has had 16 months to turn the company around and failed. He'll be gone soon. Twitter's other founders have had a chance at the big chair and they failed too. These are all brilliant men who have accomplished something great here, but they haven't been able to turn a dollar from it so they're not the leadership Twitter needs now. The top management's replacements will either be visionaries who can give the company a future, or ruthless accountants, who will minimize the company's financial losses and position it for sale at a bargain price.

— Mitch Wagner, Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editor, Light Reading Enterprise Cloud

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kq4ym
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kq4ym,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/22/2017 | 8:19:22 AM
Re: Paging Mr. Twain
Despite having "lost more than $1.5 billion total since it went public," Twitter still hangs in there. I'm not a regular user and don't go there to get info or news at all. The idea of incorporating IoT devices and messaging is an intriguing idea and I suspect there's going to have to be some new and unique service that can generate some revenue to allow Twitter to survive another decade.
SophiaBeirne
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SophiaBeirne,
User Rank: Light Beer
2/14/2017 | 9:29:17 AM
Agree
Interesting, I've been thinking about Twitter the same way for some time now. Nice to see someone put it in words. I'll be following on any updates.
danielcawrey
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danielcawrey,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/11/2017 | 5:04:36 PM
Re: Dubious
The 140 character limit allows Tweets to be easily readable. It's also created a shorthand that makes the main stream really digestible. I think some of the things they've done to incorporate images has been good - but it really hasn't helped the company make any money. 
Mitch Wagner
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Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
2/11/2017 | 4:41:38 PM
Re: Dubious
I had a sentence or two about the 140-character limit in my original draft of this article, but I cut it out. Twitter's core users love the limit. 
Mitch Wagner
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Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
2/11/2017 | 4:37:11 PM
Three unique characteristics of Twitter
1- It's bite-sized. Easy to post, esay to read, doesn't require a time commitment. You can look at it on the supermarket checkout line, and put it down the instant something else requires your immediate attention. 

2- It's just as easy and fast to post. 

3- It's by default a public forum. Facebook is private by default -- you share only with your friends. Though it's possible to post publicly to facebook, it feels like a bolt-on. With Twitter, it's built that way from the beginning. Same for anonymity. 

These are the foundations on which a successful revival for Twitter would be built. 
Technica98661
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Technica98661,
User Rank: Light Beer
2/11/2017 | 1:30:24 PM
Cloud wasn't really a pivot for AMZN, it was an expansion
I think of pivots as when you change your business model for something else.  A think a better example is how Apple went from a PC manufacturer to a Phone maker.

Bezos is all about economies of scale.  He had to build a big server farm to support his operation, he thinks he can sell that and save himself, and customers, money.

But, that's a quibble.  I agree Twitter is dead or dying and pivoting for them would be a great idea.

I thought they were onto something with the video/TV tie-ins, but that doesn't seem to be going anywhere very fast.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/11/2017 | 8:12:34 AM
Re: Social media is social
@Mitch: And I'd like to go back to MS-DOS and Windows 3.x.  Maybe occasionally taking advantage of one of those free-trial months on AOL if I got *really* bored.

Frankly, I was much happier using Windows Terminal to log into and manage dial-up BBSes, and relying on the local cable company for video content.  (It forced me to be creative about entertaining myself when there wasn't a show I liked that was on.)
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/11/2017 | 8:09:50 AM
Re: Social media is social
@mhh: hahaha!  Doesn't that make it, um, not quite open?  ;)
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/11/2017 | 8:09:07 AM
Dubious
I dunno.  I'm dubious.  I remember people saying much the same thing about Twitter's imminent death about 5 years ago.

Twitter is far from the only "major" Silicon Valley company to be losing money fist under fist and still be around and "going strong."  (Pandora, for instance, comes to mind.)  And the profitability of companies like Uber and Airbnb is suspect given that they *don't* use generally accepted accounting principles when they claim that they are "profitable."

That said, the points about Twitter's 2007 technology are well-taken.  But I think they'd do better to embrace that rather than to keep trying to update it.  (For instance, people always kvetch about the 140-character limit -- but the 140-character limit is what keeps people reading!  Scrap the character limit, and you just have an uglier Tumblr with less functionality.)

And hey, if Twitter or any other Silicon Valley darling really goes in the toilet, maybe they can count on Altaba -- the unpurchased portion of Yahoo that's turning into an investment company -- to buy it.  ;)
mhhf1ve
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mhhf1ve,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/10/2017 | 5:43:00 PM
Re: Social media is social
Ironically, the open web might actually make a comeback-- but it'll be encrypted.
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