On Tuesday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey came to TED and shared his biggest regret about Twitter. Surprisingly, the standout wasn't the policing of hate groups or the devolution of conversations. Arguably, it is the one decision that allowed all of them to happen.
Dorsey said, "If I were to start service again, I wouldn't emphasize follow account, I wouldn't emphasize the Like account, or even have a Like button in the first place. It doesn't facilitate the healthy conversations."
Metrics determine your culture
How do you measure success? If you're an individual, it impacts the curve of your career: Prioritizing financial wealth means you may miss the opportunity to build deep relationships, create work-life balance, or create sustainable growth.
If you're a leader or a founder, though, then your measurement and focus becomes the company's DNA. Travis Kalanick's thumbprint is still on Uber, for better or worse. Ousting Mark Zuckerberg will not radically change Facebook's culture, either.
It's why beginnings matter so much. My own startup went from 0 to 100,000 users within the first week. Whatever culture we had--in this case, whatever metrics we used to measure success--was cast into stone immediately and remained so until we sold it a year later. It's not always that dramatic, but perhaps it's easier when it's sudden, as you immediately realize what's happening.
As Dorsey acknowledged to TED interviewers Chris Anderson and Whitney Pennington Rodgers, Twitter has a super messy history. After his return as co-founder, most of his energy was spent fixing the past.
May not be fixable, at least not in time
The foundational issues, to use Dorsey's terms, are being addressed by systematically monitoring the health of the conversations. However, Dorsey seems much more optimistic and confident about them being handled.
The main problem, Anderson argued, was the basic metric: daily average users. In short, if your board members, investors, and advertisers are leaning on this metric, then the quality of the conversation can quickly become secondary.
"It's like a moth to a flame. We are addicted because we see something that pisses us off," Anderson said. "Daily average usage seems like a dangerous metric to emphasize."
And, as Anderson said, Dorsey may not be capturing the urgency. "It is democracy at stake."