For its 15th birthday on March 21st, Twitter is like a big construction site. Co-founder and boss Jack Dorsey has an evolution in mind that will bring Twitter far beyond the usual short message format. These include automatically disappearing tweets with the name “Fleets”, the “Spaces” talks based on the model of the popular start-up Clubhouse and, in the future, even the option of having tweets sorted by your own algorithms. In addition, Twitter is testing the possibility of making exclusive content or offers available to paying subscribers.
Dorsey’s vision: Twitter should be the place to find out what’s happening – and to talk about it. The way there is rocky. How does everyone find the tweets that are important to them in the flood of millions of messages? How do you as the operator ensure that the sound remains civilized? And that the platform is not used to manipulate public opinion – as in the large-scale Russian campaign for the 2016 US presidential election?
To prevent the latter, Dorsey dared a radical cut: Since the end of 2019, Twitter has not allowed tweets on political topics to be distributed more than advertisements. Nevertheless, the past year was a trial by fire for dealing with controversial content. Twitter decided to take action against tweets containing false or misleading information about the coronavirus and the US presidential election. That drove the conflict between Twitter and its most powerful user for a long time – the now former US President Donald Trump – to extremes.
Late warnings about Trump tweets
For Trump, the Twitter profile was by far the most important communication channel with more than 80 million subscribers. With reference to the historical significance of his tweets, Twitter let him go through insults for a long time, for which ordinary users would have gotten into trouble. But in spring 2020 Trump crossed the red line so far that the fragile agreement crumbled.
Trump claimed in tweets that the postal vote in the corona crisis increased the risk of fraud – and thus prepared the ground for his later attempts to overturn the legitimate election result. Twitter provided warning notices to one Trump tweet after the other. The Republicans quoted Dorsey several times before congressional committees and tried to narrow the scope of online platforms in action against users and content.
“Mr. Dorsey, who the hell voted for you and made you decide what the media can report and what the American people can learn?” Republican Senator Ted Cruz yelled at the Twitter boss shortly before the US election. After the attack by Trump supporters on the Capitol, Twitter banned the then-incumbent president – and emphasized that there was no way back for him on the platform.
This conflict could still be a headache for Twitter if Republicans were to regain control of the US Congress. Twitter is also under pressure elsewhere: Russia recently throttled its service and threatens to block it.
You can also dip in the dark
The beginnings of the service were nowhere near as controversial. A tweet on January 15, 2009 made the whole world aware of the potential of the platform where everyone can share news. “There’s a plane in the Hudson,” tweeted the software entrepreneur Janis Krums, his photo of a passenger plane that he had just thrown into the New York River on a ferry in the Hudson.
During the Arab Spring – the protests that transformed Egypt, Libya and Tunisia – Twitter helped the movement and became a major tool for the demonstrators.
The quick Twitter reaction of the biscuit brand Oreo in the event of a power failure during the Superbowl 2013 – “You can also dip in the dark” – showed companies how to get into conversation quickly.
Mr. Dorsey’s search for the money
Twitter makes its money with advertising. In essence, you pay for getting tweets into users’ timelines. After a long dry spell, Twitter is now firmly in the black with the model. It is not known exactly how many users the service has. For some time now, Twitter has only cited the number of daily users who can be reached with advertising via the in-house app or the web. Most recently it was 192 million.
However, many investors are not satisfied with Dorsey’s performance as Twitter boss. This not only has to do with the comparatively low sales figures, which cannot keep up with Facebook or Google for a long time. The share price has only developed poorly.
Critics accuse Dorsey of approaching certain innovation topics only half-heartedly. For example, he missed making the live video streaming service Periscope, which Twitter bought in March 2015, a success. Instead, the Chinese technology company Bytedance was able to fill this segment with TikTok. The Periscope app, however, will be discontinued at the end of March. After all, the live functionality has been integrated into the Twitter app.
Meanwhile, Dorsey is trying a completely different way of making money with tweets. He’s currently auctioning a digital copy of his first Twitter message. The March 21, 2006 tweet with the words “just setting up my twttr” is the oldest message available on the platform. The highest bid is $ 2.5 million. Dorsey wants to donate the money.