The first step to solving a problem is recognizing there is one. Twitter, which today reported disappointing earnings at a critical time for Wall Street's faith in the company, is now telling investors one of its core functions — having a conversation with someone — is confusing and needs to be revamped. The number of monthly active Twitter users, excluding those who use the service via SMS, fell from 307 million to 305 million last quarter, prompting the company to explain its path to recovery in great detail in letter to shareholders today.
"We are going to fix the broken windows and confusing parts, like the .@name syntax and @reply rules, that we know inhibit usage and drive people away," the letter reads, echoing sentiments expressed by CEO Jack Dorsey over the last few months. "We're going to improve the timeline to make sure you see the best Tweets, while preserving the timeliness we are known for." Twitter says it's also going to improve how it acclimates new users to the service, speed up the act of tweeting, and make it easier to be "more expressive" with text, photos, and video, whatever that means. "Relentlessly refining Twitter will enable more people to get more out of Twitter faster."
"We are going to fix broken windows and confusing parts."
Dorsey reiterated Twitter's commitment to fix replies on an earnings call this afternoon. “We have some really weird rules around conversations," he said. “Nobody understands, and we just need to fix those things." He also made mention of Twitter's onboarding process, calling it "not ideal" and pledging to address how the company guides Twitter users through their first few weeks on the platform.
It's unclear how Twitter will revamp its reply system given how ingrained it is the social network's culture at this point, let alone achieve any of the other goals it's set out. However, restoring some semblance of usability to attract and retain new users is integral to the company's survival. The Verge's Walt Mossberg, writing late last month, says Twitter has become "secret-handshake software," understood only by power users who either use Twitter as part of their job or already have massive followings. Twitter's biggest effort to solve the issue, following the news and events-focused Moments tab, is reorganizing users' timelines algorithmically to try and show the best tweets first, similar to the Facebook News Feed.
Update at 6:58PM, Wednesday, February 10th: Added comments from earnings call.