Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) needs a new direction.
The company has jettisoned CEO Dick Costolo, installing co-founder Jack Dorsey in the position on an interim basis. While it searches for a new leader (and politely ignores Snoop Dogg's lobbying for the job), the social messaging site is moving forward with some fairly major changes.
Costolo, it seems, was not the right leader, but the strategies he has been implementing are not being scrapped. It's an odd situation that included the outgoing CEO and his interim replacement appearing on CNBC together. In that interview, they pledged to stay the course and carry out the strategies laid by the exiting chief executive.
Investors did not take that well, but Chris Sacca, a longtime shareholder who has spoken out about the company, shared his translation of what the two executives were trying to say on his blog. He said that when Costolo and Dorsey said the plan was not to change direction, they meant both believed solid plans were in place to turn the struggling company around. Sacca wrote that this is what he thinks Costolo and Dorsey were trying to say:
We are nearly ready to launch the products that we are confident will reaccelerate our user growth. We have been working on this stuff for months, ever since Kevin Weil took the product helm. You have seen that our current team has been launching new products at a dramatically faster pace than ever before. These releases, and those to come very shortly, are all part of a comprehensive strategy that we know will attract and retain hundreds of millions of new users. Why would we change that strategy now?
Of course, the unstated piece is that while the plan might be good, Costolo is clearly not the person to execute it. That might explain why the departing CEO will remain on the company's board despite giving up his job.
Here's a look at the big changes spearheaded by Costolo that will be enacted by someone else.
No limit on characters for direct messages
Twitter has always been about brevity. The social media network's 140-character limit makes sense of the public-facing part of its brand. It also gave the company a hook that makes it different from Facebook (NASDAQ:FB). That limit, however, made less sense in private, direct-message conversations in which the goal is to have a conversation, not to impress a mass audience with your wit.
The company agrees and in July plans to eliminate the character count in direct messaging. That simple change makes Twitter more versatile for personal and business conversations. It also gives the company a rival to Facebook's fast-growing Messenger and WhatsApp platforms.
Twitter plans more live event coverage?
Tweeting in real time during a live event has always been one of the social platform's most important uses, and the company has a new initiative to make that work better. Dubbed Project Lightning, the company plans a new "product to curate tweets and other content about major sports contests, entertainment events and breaking news," according to The Wall Street Journal.
Though it could change before launch, the new offering features a live tab with a lightning bolt icon that will be added to the company's mobile app, the newspaper reported:
Clicking on the icon will take a user to a guide of "events" that could include the premiere of a TV show, an NFL game, or a breaking-news event such as election results. Tapping on an event will surface full-screen views of videos, photos and tweets related to that topic -- unlike the waterfall of tweets that currently appear in users' timelines.
It's a sensible step that takes advantage of how people use Twitter while offering more organization. Project Lightning seems like it could improve the user experience and create a sense of community around certain events.
The social site has to change
Twitter has to become something more than it is now if it hopes to grow under whoever takes the CEO reins. Both of these initiatives address the company's core problem: People aren't sure why they should go to Twitter.
Execution, however, will be a challenge. The DM character-count limit change comes at a time when over 600 million people are using Facebook Messenger and over 800 million are on WhatsApp. Breaking into that market will be a challenge, but Twitter can focus on grabbing more interaction and time on site from its existing user base.
Project Lightning has strong potential as well, because Twitter's biggest problem is also its biggest strength. The volume of content can be overwhelming; making an effort to curate it based around live events could make the site more useful, and in the best scenario might make it even more of a destination during live events.
The company is clearly charging forward with Costolo's plans. It will be interesting to see if the ideas of the former CEO can make the next one a success.