Twitter has an enormous goal: the company wants to add another 100 million daily users by the end of 2023 — a growth of about 50 percent from where it is today. To do that, Twitter is going to need to add users at a far faster pace than it has in recent years, launching and iterating on new products and getting users to engage with the app more regularly.
To that end, the company has continued to shake up its leadership and structure after appointing a new CEO, Parag Agrawal, in November. On Thursday, the company announced its latest changes, appointing three new consumer product leaders under the unit’s general manager, Kayvon Beykpour: Jay Sullivan, VP of consumer product, Arnaud Weber, VP of consumer product engineering, and Anita Butler, head of consumer design.
Among their goals is fixing an age-old problem with Twitter: the fact that most people come to the service and don’t post. Anita Butler, head of consumer design, puts it bluntly: “We don’t have trouble getting people to sign up for Twitter. What we have trouble with is retaining those customers.”
The Verge spoke with the three leaders, who together set the overall direction of how Twitter works for users and developers, about their top priorities and challenges as the team tries to hit its aggressive growth targets.
Restructuring to ship faster
The company’s struggles to evolve haven’t been for a lack of new ideas
Based on my conversations with Twitter employees over the years, the company’s struggles to evolve haven’t been for a lack of new ideas, but rather internal disfunction. After Jack Dorsey returned as a part-time CEO in 2015, Twitter became largely governed by committee, with executives controlling their own fiefdoms. Features would regularly languish in development or never see the light of day.
So it was telling when the first thing Agrawal did as the new CEO was reorganize the executive team around three core divisions: consumer product, revenue product, and the core technology that underpins everything Twitter builds. The structure is meant to empower divisions with their own teams spanning disciplines like design and engineering.
Twitter’s new product chiefs indicated that there hasn’t necessarily been a shift in strategy under Agrawal, but there has been a shift in how things get done. “Under Parag’s leadership, and he was very direct about this, our purpose and our mission as the conversation layer [of the internet] hasn’t changed,” says Sullivan, who now leads the consumer product teams under Beykpour.
Instead, Agrawal’s influence is being felt in how products are developed, according to Weber, Twitter’s new leader of consumer engineering. “We are becoming more and more data-driven,” he says. “I think Parag brings a cultural change where basically we are pragmatic. We look at metrics, we do experiments, we increase the size of the experiments, et cetera.”
“We are becoming more and more data-driven.”
Building stickier Twitter features
According to Sullivan, a top product priority under Agrawal is “making Twitter more relevant to each individual person.” Twitter has historically relied on users manually following accounts, but the company has recently been investing in machine learning to surface tweets it thinks users will want to see.
A tentpole feature of this approach is called Topics, which shows related tweets around themes like a sports game or TV show. “I think one key part of the problem is that we have this amazing content on Twitter, which is often real-time and often very engaging, and we need to find ways to show that content to these new users once we understand what they care about,” says Weber.
“We need to make the product more participatory and approachable.”
To address its engagement problem, the team has been testing a feature called Communities, which acts like a mix of Facebook Groups and Reddit for tweeting with others who share specific interests.
“One of the things I hear from people is, ‘Hey, I read a lot of stuff. I’m not necessarily comfortable tweeting or don’t know when or why I should tweet. I would feel better if I was tweeting to a smaller community of people,’” says Sullivan. “And so we need to make the product more participatory and approachable, both for individuals and further along the spectrum, for people who view themselves as true creators.”
The biggest Twitter product bet in recent memory is Spaces, its audio chat feature that was built in response to the rapid rise of Clubhouse during pandemic lockdowns. The company hasn’t shared general usage stats for Spaces yet, but Sullivan says that, in the last couple of weeks, there have been multiple Spaces about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with over 100,000 listeners.
Twitter’s product leaders recognize that the service needs its own answer to the rise of TikTok, especially given how the company squandered its early opportunity with the shuttering of Vine. “We definitely know that sharing and communication is moving more to visual, whether it’s imagery or video or other forms,” says Butler. She points to a recent public test that turns Twitter’s Explore page into a near-fullscreen feed of video like TikTok, saying the hope is to “potentially have it be more lighthearted content or news content depending on what we know about you.”
Opportunities in decentralization
Given Jack Dorsey’s obsession with Bitcoin, Twitter’s interest in crypto wasn’t a surprise. But even now that he has left to focus on Block, Twitter is continuing to experiment with crypto features and invest in Bluesky, an ambitious project that aims to change Twitter from a centralized company to something like an email app running atop an open protocol others can build on.
Bluesky, which started as the brainchild of Dorsey and then-CTO Agrawal, is a bigger, longer effort to rebuild the architecture Twitter runs on. “Imagine if you had basically a separation between applications and the core data underneath those applications,” Sullivan says. There will be “different choices at that layer about everything from interface to content moderation and things like that.”
“I think the industry has made too much of Web2 versus Web3.”
A lot about Bluesky is undecided and murky, since the entity was just stood up with Dorsey on its board and Twitter as a key investor to fund its development. What Bluesky ultimately means for Twitter’s business is also unclear. The question of “how do we create that environment, at least from the UI or the customer experience, is actually really fascinating and interesting.”
On a more immediate timeline, crypto still factors into the ways Twitter is thinking about allowing users to incentive creators. “For all the people who feel like they’re adding value, they should be able to directly connect with the people who receive value and get paid,” Sullivan says, pointing to the recent addition of a tip jar feature for profiles to accept Bitcoin and Ethereum. “It could be through crypto, but it could be through other mechanisms.”
Sullivan doesn’t see crypto as a singular solution, though. “I think as long as you’re solving a customer problem in a very easy-to-use way, then I’m agnostic about which things use crypto and which things don’t,” he says. “I think the industry has made too much of Web2 versus Web3. We always build on the shoulders of the previous things, and we should always put the customer first on that.”