22 March 2016 08:23:50 IST

Now Trending – Twitter’s 10th birthday

Twitter is in search of an identity that goes beyond being a 140-character texting megaphone

Ten years ago, on March 21, 2006, Jack Dorsey put out the first tweet — “just setting up my twttr” (the ‘i’ and 'e' came later), using his handle, @Jack. Cut to the present, and on March 21, 2016, he was busy tweeting ‘thanks for the love the world has shown the microblogging platform’. Can you believe it? It has already been a decade of tweeting, hashtagging, following, favouriting and, lately, trolling.

The folks at Twitter had a super busy Monday, celebrating the platform’s tenth birthday (technically, the 10 th anniversary of the first tweet, since Twitter wasn't open to the public till July 15, 2006) as they put out GIFs, blog posts, data visualisations and tweets, thanking hundreds of celebrity users personally.

And with countless users sharing their experiences on the platform, #LoveTwitter was a globally trending hashtag.

Not all rosy

But the tenth birthday also brought Twitter’s unprofitable status into renewed focus. Although comparisons are odious, Facebook at ten (in 2014) had over a billion users (1.1 billion, to be precise) and was posting revenues of $5,287 million.

Twitter, on the other hand, has only about 320 million active users currently, and the user base has been stagnating, despite its best efforts to bring more users on board.

LinkedIn, which turned 10 in 2013, had only 200 million members at that time, and the platform too has been facing slowing growth. So, why the intense speculation only around Twitter?

Because of the micro-blogging site’s early promise of its meteoric rise, which it hasn’t quite lived up to. Despite pulling in decent revenues, it has had a profitless history so far and is struggling with its monetisation model, unlike Facebook and LinkedIn, both of which have strong income streams.

Enter Instagram

LinkedIn also operates in a niche territory and is a strongly differentiated product, whereas Twitter finds a lot of celebrities now deserting it for photo-sharing platform Instagram.

Late last year, Facebook-owned Instagram surged ahead of Twitter in terms of user base (it is at 400 million users). Significantly, Instagram’s new growth has come largely from outside the United States, and it is fast becoming an advertisers’ darling.

Meanwhile, Twitter continues to be an acquisition target, with speculations constantly cropping up about a possible buy by Google. And even the return of Jack Dorsey to helm the company after Dick Costolo stepped down last year, has not improved matters or put speculations to rest.

Dorsey began by laying off 8 per cent of the company’s workforce — not an easy decision. And by making a lot of tweaks to Twitter’s format. But some of the changes have not gone down well with long-time users — especially the nasty rumour that the 140 character limit might go. Thankfully, Dorsey snuffed it out, assuring that the rule, that defines Twitter, is here to stay.

Yet, Twitter’s stock has nosedived from $50 per share a year ago to less than $17 per share.

What lies ahead?

A lot of format changes are going to happen for sure. We have seen the timeline change into an algorithm-driven one. We have seen the launch of Moments, a tool that bundles videos, photos and news and delivers it to people. There has been some clever work on emojis and symbols, that beautifully complement Twitter’s best tool, the hashtag. For instance, on Women’s Day, the minute you typed the hashtag, the symbol would take over.

But it’s not all bad news for the company. While Wall Street may be bearish about Twitter’s prospects, Madison Avenue remains bullish. The marketing world is unfazed by eMarketer’s pessimistic projections on Twitter’s 2016 global ad revenue (it has lowered its estimate from $2.95 billion to $2.61 billion), and feels that Twitter’s new innovations could help take its ad campaigns further.

Many have begun rolling out Gif-driven or emoji-ready ads. Twitter’s base of advertisers has also grown to 130,000, a near 90 per cent increase from year before.

Also, of late, Twitter has been pushing videos in a big way with its Life, Camera, Action initiative, teaching users to share life’s big moments through moving pictures. So, from a texting megaphone, it could well be on its way to become a video-based public address system.