Twitter CEO Suggests Developers “Did Not Matter”

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey

Twitter (still) has monetization issues. In its most recent earnings call, the company again noted that it had failed to turn a profit in the most recent quarter. It has also cut some services of late, with CEO Jack Dorsey now intimating they were superfluous to the company.

In a call with investors, Dorsey addressed the company’s recent layoffs (it culled around 9 percent of staff late last year) as well as the downturn and shutdown of Vine:

We made tough choices to make sure we can put all of our effort behind Twitter and what has made Twitter great. Live video is a big focus of that. We wanted to cut everything that did not matter.

To parse that statement further, Dorsey is saying the only things that matter to the company are your feed and live video. Twitter recently promoted Periscope co-founder and CEO Keyvon Beykpour to run the company’s broader video initiatives, but lost other key executives along the way. COO Adam Bain left last year, and Fabric boss Jeff Seibert yielded control to Rich Paret as the Fabric team migrated to Google. That’s in addition to the droves of executives and underlings who have been slowly trickling out of the company (most recently, the head of diversity leaving alongside the HR chief).

Twitter, Periscope And Vine

After its acquisition of Vine, many assumed Twitter would find a way to marry it to your feed. It never did; instead, it left Vine alone for the most part, a wholly owned subsidiary devoted to a vague agenda.

Later in its lifecycle as a standalone entity, Vine made changes. It allowed longer-form video, which many saw as an affront to the spirit of Vine. Instead of limiting videos to six-second takes, it used the short-form video as a kind of commercial for the longer video, which could last as long as two minutes.

After an outcry over the announced shutdown, Twitter pivoted Vine as a six-second camera app that posts directly to your timeline.

Dorsey’s view that Vine ‘didn’t matter’ is a strange juxtaposition to news that the company was trying to pay Vine stars in an effort to keep them from jumping to Facebook or YouTube. Its deep-pocketed rivals were courting talent in an effort to encourage homegrown original content; while many stars subsequently branched out to Snapchat and other platforms, quite a few began on Vine.

Twitter COO Anthony Noto further underscored Twitter’s hunger for video, even as it mothballed Vine. In a statement, he wrote: “We’re focusing our investments on revenue products that strengthen our unique value proposition, especially in live and video. We’re hearing positive feedback from our ad partners about our continued acceleration in audience growth and engagement.”

Unlike Facebook and YouTube, Twitter isn’t going after original content. Instead, it wants to be the home for live sports, which can be lucrative for advertisers. It’s not clear how recently-inked deals with the NFL and NBA are faring in terms of viewership, but the company has not earned much praise for its video and streaming efforts (which include an Apple TV app).

Google Fabric

Developers Didn’t Matter

If Dorsey’s position is that Twitter just unloaded “everything that did not matter,” do developers belong in that particular bucket?

Developers have a history of being personae non gratae with Twitter. Years ago, the company drew a proverbial line in the sand on usage of its API, something developers were reluctant to forgive. In 2015, Dorsey took to a conference stage and pleaded with developers to re-engage with his company, saying that developers were “essential.”

In a letter to investors one year ago today, Dorsey positioned developers as one of five key pillars to success for the company:

Fifth, we’re going to continue to invest in developers. We want developers to be able to build their businesses with Twitter. We are investing in mobile with Fabric, our platform that helps developers build, grow, and make money with their apps. Fabric has grown from 0 to 1.6 billion active mobile devices in just 18 months. We believe there’s huge strategic value in building a platform for developers that helps us grow our reach. We are investing in making it easy for developers to discover, curate, and seamlessly publish great, live stories with Twitter content using TweetDeck, Curator, and embedded Tweets. More than one billion visitors to our developers’ sites and apps already see these embedded Tweets every month. We believe that these sites and apps are incredibly important amplifiers that show the huge reach and importance of Tweets. Finally, we will continue to invest in helping developers make their businesses more productive by understanding their customers and markets with Twitter data.

There are two audiences for that statement: native and web developers. Sadly, Twitter has made moves to marginalize both. Embedding Tweets and using Curator doesn’t require a developer’s hand with the tools that Twitter makes available to the public, and it sold Fabric to Google.

But why sell Fabric, its suite of developer tools? If you believe NASDAQ, Twitter sold it off to create a leaner structure in an effort to grow its user base, increase engagement and round out its core product. All told, Twitter saw little value in developers as they relate to its business model.

After all, Twitter didn’t hold a Flight conference in 2016, claiming it was bypassing the large event in favor of smaller satellite get-togethers. Now it seems Twitter was just unwilling to invest in developers as it prepared to sell Fabric, and team members were jumping ship.

Bear Douglas and Romain Huet Live Coding at Twitter Flight 2015. Both have left the company.

Taking Stock

Down 10 percent since its earnings call, Twitter stock continues its middling performance after Dorsey warned next quarter may be worse. As with many other quarters, Dorsey also claimed the problems plaguing the company have since been rectified, and the long-term outlook is bright. It’s not.

Vine never generated revenue for Twitter, which can be blamed as much on its format as Twitter’s handling of the product. It could have spun Vine into a video ad network for the platform proper with minimal work if it had the vision or desire.

Similarly, Fabric was never the money-maker Twitter envisioned. Most of its tools were free to use, providing Twitter with valuable metadata about user behavior in apps. It either never figured out how to have its advertising arm, MoPub, turn a reliable profit using that data – or there’s some urgency for Twitter to offload products.

Interestingly enough, MoPub was not included in the sale of Fabric. Google’s purchase price for Fabric is also unknown.

Between slumping stock, poor user growth and a leaner Twitter, the company is low-hanging fruit for a takeover or outright acquisition. Twitter has been purposefully making moves in that direction, too. Late last year, Twitter was said to be actively seeking a buyer, which may still be the case.

But the people who Twitter once hung its hat on, developers and creators, won’t be coming along for the ride. Both crowds are elsewhere, and likely better off.