Jack Dorsey is on a mission to save Twitter.
The founder and CEO's latest move? The social network plans to stop counting photos and links in the 140-character limit for tweets within "the next couple of weeks,"according to a new report from Bloomberg.
The move will free up more space for text, and Twitter users have largely heralded it as long overdue.
But the change--while welcome--does little to fix Twitter's underlying malaise.
In fact, it typifies the main problem at the heart of Twitter: Dorsey has been running the company part time for nearly a year, and little has changed since he returned to the company as CEO.
Twitter has an impressive list of woes
Let's look at where Twitter stands right now. Its stock sits at $14.28 a share, just above its all-time low of $13.90 (earlier this month) and far,far below its record highs of $69 way back in 2014. The social-media app has become a comfortable home for bullies, trolls, and bigots, who have poisoned the atmosphere for regular users. Its active-user count is flat-lining at about 300 million, albeit with a minor bump in the latest quarter. The number of tweets sent on the service has plummeted,according to API data, with 303 million sent in January--down from a peak of 661 million in August 2014.
In short, it's no secret that Twitter is struggling--especially when compared with the runaway success of rivals like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. It is struggling to gain users, its existing users are tweeting less, and investors are losing faith.
These problems are a key part of why Dorsey, who founded the company and was CEO before being ousted in 2008, was brought back as CEO in June. The intention was that Dorsey, who had also become the CEO of the mobile-payments company Square, would have "the moral authority as a founder to push teams to make big, bold changes to Twitter," as Twitter COO Adam Bain put it.
But the changes that are being pushed aren't really that big or bold.
The ship has sailed on millions of potential users
Twitter is not a young company. Launched in July 2006, it is now a decade old, and is well recognized by most thanks to the massive cultural influence of its highest-profile users (one of its enduring successes). If people don't use Twitter, it's not because they haven't heard of it. It's because they don't want to or have used it before and didn't stick around.
Previous CEO Dick Costolo acknowledged how difficult Twitter could be for newcomers to get their heads around, with its hashtags and ".@" replies. He has said the "remarkable language is super hard to understand."
Dorsey's innovations to date do little to change this. If you joined Twitter back in 2011 and were put off by its arbitrary character limits and weird communication conventions, then learning that Twitter plans to stop counting photos toward character limits won't inspire you to boot up the social network and give it another whirl. For Twitter's disillusioned former users, the response will be a resounding, "So what?"
If you've tried a product once and found it lacking, you're unlikely to take the plunge again.
What's more, the reception to a more radical change, Twitter Moments--human-curated collections of tweets--has been largely lukewarm. According to a report from The Information, some Twitter employees already view it as a "failed product."
It didn't have to be this way
What is frustrating is that social networks are capable of a reinvention of their core product. Facebook shows it is possible.
The conventional wisdom has always been that while Twitter is for news and real-time events, Facebook is for social. But the Mark Zuckerberg-owned social-networking behemoth is increasingly taking steps to eat Twitter's dinner.
More and more, Facebook is pushing into the news space, introducing Trending Topics on its homepage and coming to be the dominant traffic source for nearly every publisher around the world. Which social network really dominates the spread and consumption of news online? It's Facebook: Twitter refers only a tiny fraction of the news traffic that Facebook does.
Zuck now says he wants Instant Articles, Facebook's news-hosting service, to be the "primary news experience people have." Its Live video push straddles both media and real-time markets--and is a direct threat to Periscope, the live-video product owned by Twitter.
Had Dorsey exercised his "moral authority" faster, then the social network might have pushed beyond its core user base and transformed its future. But now, with tweets declining and countless users uninterested, it might be too late.