Much Ado About Twitter

June 23, 2015 / January, 16, 2016

In a June 3, 2015 blog post entitled “What Twitter Can Be,” the venture capitalist Chris Sacca who is [full disclosure] also a major shareholder in Twitter, Inc. (TWTR)  raised once again the question that most everyone has been asking since the day Twitter was launched in 2006: “Why?”  Phrased differently, this question has been posed as: “What Is the Purpose of Twitter?”; “What is the Point of Twitter?”; “What Is Twitter For?”; or “Is There Any Conceivable or Practical Reason Why Twitter Should Exist?”  This last version of the question was, more or less, what Mr. Sacca was asking.  For, what those with vested financial interests in Twitter most want to know is whether and how the company will explain and rationalize its financial soundness.  

Twitter is currently valued at roughly $35 ($18) a share, a decrease of almost $40 (or, put another way, a decrease of over 50%) [you do the math] from the stock’s peak price of $74.73, which it reached on December 26, 2013, only a few months after its IPO.  While, even with the current stock doldrums, the company retains a market capitalization of $24 $12 billion, assessed in relation to its peer companies, i.e., Facebook and Google, and its much vaunted growth potential, it probably should be valued a tad higher.  As a result, Mr. Sacca is not the only one beginning to more openly raise the question of just what Twitter might be and/or might be for.

The unique thing about Mr. Sacca’s blog post was not only that it was very long (over 8500 words, including the title and footnote; something he apologized for at the beginning), but also that he actually attempted to answer the question that so many apart from the highly committed–and, according to Wall Street analysts, fewer and fewer–monthly active users (MAU) of Twitter apparently ask when they first encounter Twitter’s invitation to communicate to the globe “What’s Happening?” Namely, “Why bother?”  Mr. Sacca’s “answer” (really more of a list of steps the company needs to take in order to continue appealing to Wall Street investors and one that may or may not have resulted in the June 11 announcement that current Twitter CEO Dick Costelo would be stepping down as of July 1) has received considerable media coverage and several articles, including those in The New York Times, Quartz, and Fortune have not only parsed the blog post into a more concise form, but even attempted to translate it into 140 characters.  Of course, in the end, and as Mr. Sacca writes, it all really comes down to just 5 characters–“$TWTR”.

Explaining at some length and with some “passion” (of the distinct venture capital variety), Mr. Sacca offers multiple reasons why Twitter has the potential to be a valuable and profitable venture.  The only problem?  It may need to do just about everything differently.  Presenting his recommendations in numbered lists, as bullet points, and sometimes even in whole paragraphs, Mr. Sacca includes some that even get very close to adhering to the 140 character limit, i.e., “Twitter can be indispensable, engaging, and fun for everyone on the planet, and make even more money in the process. So why isn’t that happening?

  1. For most people, Twitter is too hard to use.
  2. For most people, Tweeting is scary.
  3. For most people, Twitter feels lonely.”

Using these three points–the first related to Twitter’s persistent and ongoing usability, or ease of use, issues, the second to its problems with its existential likeability (anxiety is a word that appears frequently in relation to this issue), and the third to its evident lack of non-Kierkkegardian sociability attributes–to structure his  recommendations, Mr. Sacca then lands on one consistent answer that emerges as a potential solution to all three:  “Bring on the Hearts!”

While the idea of substituting the graphic symbol ♥–or would it be 💓, or possibly even 💕?–for the, apparently “too strong a word,” “favorite,” which is the term now used to describe how users acknowledge and save certain Tweets, makes users like me [full disclosure: I enjoy reading raw data feeds] shiver with the knowledge that Twitter may very well be eventually turned into some type of cringe-worthy-Facebook-monstrosity, it also raises some interesting things to consider in relation to Twitter’s current strengths and potential.           

For, missing from Mr. Sacca’s extensive list of recommendations for monetizing Twitter and addressing the “real” problem of “how to tell its story” is one that appears to be the most glaringly obvious to many users and cultural critics.  Is not Twitter the realization of the centuries-long search for the perfect poetry generator?  Offering the near real-time distribution of spoken proclamations masquerading as written inscriptions that employ strict formal constraints, i.e., 140 characters, Twitter is, as many have already noted (including, somewhat surprisingly, Mr. Sacca), not only a kind of muse of the internet, but the perfect tool for distributing both doggerel and some very fine verse to a global audience.  Could 140 characters not be a kind of structured meter–dare I say–a “virtual” iambic pentameter for whatever new global human/machine hybrid language may be emerging as the lingua franca of “our” networked planet?  Mr. Sacca, I hate to break it to you, but you may be looking for gold when what you have really invested in is a literary treasure beyond valuation in strict monetary terms.

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