What do you think of when you think of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey?

For me, it's black knit caps and beards, $1.40 annual salaries, and the kind of guy who taps somebody to give a keynote speech at a big conference, literally 45 minutes before the speech is set to begin (true story).

But most people think about Twitter.

And when Dorsey sat for a 25-minute roundtable at the TED Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia this week (embedded below), he floated a few ideas that would probably overhaul not just Twitter -- but pretty much everything most of us imagine when we think about Twitter itself. 

Among the big ideas:

  • De-emphasizing the "like" function and the number of followers that Twitter users have. (Dorsey said if he were starting over, he might not include either metric).
  • Shifting the Twitter algorithm's "bias" away from people you follow, and instead towards things that you're interested in
  • Letting Twitter users hide replies to their tweets

Actually that last item is coming for sure -- Twitter announced it's being rolled out as a temporary experiment for a limited number of users, beginning in June.

He also talked about a four-part analysis that he said Twitter is using now to determine the "health" of conversations on Twitter, which involves weighing the degree to which a conversation has: (a) shared attention, (b) shared reality, (c) receptivity, and (d) variety of perspective.

But, I have to say, having watched the interview twice, I don't understand exactly what Twitter hopes to do with this analysis. And that might be the big takeaway.

All of this debate and inquiry comes in response to a bevy of complaints that Twitter users have had over the years. 

As host Chris Anderson put it, many Twitter users feel like they've been pointing out the problems for years, but that Dorsey is an executive who makes a show of listening, but is slow to react:

We're on this great voyage with you on this ship called "the Twittanic." And there are people in steerage who are expressing discomfort. And you .. are saying: "Talk to me. I want to hear."  

And they say, "We're worried about the iceberg ahead."

And you go, "that is a powerful point. And our ship frankly hasn't been built for steering as well as it might. ..."

And you go to the bridge, and we're waiting, and we look in. And you're showing this extraordinary calm.

But we're outside, saying, "JACK! TURN THE [F-ING] WHEEL!"

Twitter doesn't have nearly the following of Facebook or some other social networks. But, it drives important conversations, in part because as Dorsey pointed out, almost every conversation on Twitter is visible to the entire world -- if you know where to look.

That's why it matters. And yes, it sounds like Dorsey has some big ideas on how to steer the ship. The question is: Will he actually do it?

Published on: Apr 18, 2019
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