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At A Time Of Turmoil, Twitter Aims To Keep Pace With Silicon Valley


It's time for All Tech Considered.


MCEVERS: Twitter is one of the most well-known and influential social media platforms. It helped launch revolutions in the Middle East, and it's a big source of news around the world. But its financial success doesn't always match its name recognition. And now there's news of some layoffs this week. NPR's Laura Sydell joins me now to talk about Twitter's struggles. And first, tell me about these layoffs that Twitter is expected to make.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Well, it's been widely reported that layoffs could come as early as tomorrow. I've had it confirmed by a very knowledgeable source, though at this point we don't know how many people are going to be laid off. So we will find that out a little later this week.

MCEVERS: So why is Twitter struggling?

SYDELL: You know, I think part of Twitter's issue is that it's got other companies snapping at its heels, taking up social media time. You've got Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. And Instagram's growing much more rapidly than Twitter. Over a period of nine months, Instagram went from 300 to 400 million users. Meanwhile, Twitter has been hovering at around 300 million users and growing much more slowly.

MCEVERS: Yeah. I mean, Silicon Valley, it's all about growth. I mean, why isn't Twitter keeping up?

SYDELL: I think part of the issue is that compared with some of these other sites, it's actually harder to use. It has this 140-character limit and it's this open platform, right? And you can see anyone's tweets, but you have to follow them. And knowing who to follow can be confusing for a lot of people. So in a recent post on his website, early Twitter investor Chris Sacca claimed that a billion people had actually tried Twitter over the years, yet only about 316 million have stuck around. And I would say there's also this sense that Twitter still doesn't really know what it wants to be when it grows up. My sources tell me that even inside the company its mission isn't really crystal-clear. And some people say Twitter's a news site; other people say, you know, it's really just a social media site. So I think one of the new CEO's biggest jobs - Jack Dorsey - is going to be to make Twitter's mission clearer.

MCEVERS: Tell me a little bit about Jack Dorsey. He's also one of the founders of Twitter. He's actually gone on to found another company, the mobile payment company Square. Is he going to stay on as the CEO of Square while he's running Twitter?

SYDELL: Yeah, actually he is.


SYDELL: I will say this is not unprecedented, Kelly. You know, Steve Jobs ran both Pixar and Apple for a while. Right now, you have Elon Musk, who's running both Tesla and SpaceX. So - and it's not clear that, you know, Dorsey is as talented as either Steve Jobs or an Elon Musk.

MCEVERS: OK, so he's already been running the company for a few months. And you talked about these layoffs. Has he made any other changes to Twitter as a product, anything to make it more attractive to users?

SYDELL: Something called Moments is what he's added. And it starts to assemble the best tweets around a topic. You know, say, when Kevin McCarthy decided to take himself out of the running for speaker of the House. You could see tweets from people like Sen. Harry Reid. And Twitter has officially partnered with, say, The New York Times and The Washington Post, so anybody will be able to look and get the latest tweets about a particular news item. You know, and I think the hope here is that you're going to get more ads, and this is going to be an easier place for advertisers. But I think the challenge is - remember, Chris Sacca said a billion people have already tried Twitter. How are you going to get those people to come back and try it again?

MCEVERS: OK, that's NPR's Laura Sydell. Thank you so much, Laura.

SYDELL: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laura Sydell
Laura Sydell fell in love with the intimate storytelling qualities of radio, which combined her passion for theatre and writing with her addiction to news. Over her career she has covered politics, arts, media, religion, and entrepreneurship. Currently Sydell is the Digital Culture Correspondent for NPR's All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, andNPR.org.