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Why Twitter's new head of product could be the one to fix it

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Kevin Weil is the first insider to lead consumer product in years

Even in an industry where things move quickly, 2014 has seen a dizzying amount of change for Twitter. In the last 10 months, Twitter has lost: its chief operating officer, its chief financial officer, its head of product, its head of news, its head of engineering, and (just this week) one of his deputies. Then today came another twist: the company promoted Kevin Weil, its head of revenue products, to oversee the entire product organization. That means that Daniel Graf, the former Google Maps executive who Twitter hired away with some fanfare six months ago, has effectively been demoted.

It's tempting to dismiss all this reshuffling as Twitter-as-usual; the company's internal divisions are the stuff of legend. The company floats along regardless of the turmoil; it turned a profit in the last quarter, even as user growth fell short of expectations. Goosing user growth is part of what the head of consumer product is supposed to do: Twitter remains difficult for newcomers to grok, and the company has experimented endlessly with tweaks to the service designed to make it more engaging. But for all the tweaks, Twitter still mostly looks and feels the way it has for years.

Graf spent much of his time re-organizing teams

The last two times it replaced its head of product, Twitter looked outside: first to Michael Sippey, and then to Graf. Both were outsiders who struggled to ship changes to the product once they were brought in. Sippey's tenure was most notable for a revamp to Twitter profiles and the first changes to the main timeline, particularly chaining related tweets together with blue lines. Graf has less to show for his six months at the helm; employees say he had spent much of his time re-organizing various teams.

Twitter on iPhone

Meanwhile the team led by Weil, a 31-year-old engineer, was shipping some of the most significant developments to the product in ages. Crucially, Weil is an insider — he's worked at the company since 2009, and is popular among his coworkers. It shows in what he has been able to ship: Last week at Flight, the company's first developer conference in four years, Twitter unveiled an ambitious plan to kill the password, called Digits; improvements to Twitter's ad platform, MoPub; new features for Crashlytics, its suite of developer tools. That came a month after Twitter added commerce to its platform, letting you buy things directly from tweets.

If you're cynical, you might see Weil's elevation to the head of product as evidence the company is more concerned with revenue than the consumer experience. But one person I spoke with at Twitter says it's just the opposite — that if anything, Weil will have less time for revenue products than before. And Ryan Sarver, a former head of Twitter's platform who is now a venture capitalist, welcomed the news.

Bold choices: it's something you hear lots of people inside and outside the company asking to make when it comes to product. For too long, Twitter's product organization has been focused on a series of endless A/B tests that haven't amounted to much. There's danger in big change, of course; Twitter's most passionate users, myself included, often resist major changes to the service. But members of Twitter's product team have been looking for someone to help them break the logjam above their heads for some time now. Weil just might be the person to do it.

Correction, 7:41 p.m.: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that Twitter's head of engineering, Chris Fry, left in the spring; it was his deputy, Jeremy Gordon, who left this week.