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Twitter suffering from growing pains (and Facebook comparisons)

Matt Kapko | Feb. 19, 2014
Twitter faces growing pressure to attract new users and dramatically increase engagement on the platform. Can it ever rival the numbers and growth of Facebook?

Pointing to field research and internal data on how users engage with the platform, he hints at a series of new features and design changes that are expected to drive new user growth. Twitter's vault of data and newfound capability to experiment with multiple beta tests simultaneously has "informed a very specific road map for the kinds of capabilities we want to introduce to the product that we believe will drive user growth," says Costolo.

He is quick to point out, however, that no single product feature or change to the platform will lead to a "quantum leap change in growth." Instead it will be an accumulation of numerous tweaks throughout the year that give him confidence. "You're going to be seeing a significant amount of experimentation of different ideas we have," he says.

While dispelling concerns about lagging growth in the recently closed quarter, Costolo says there was no specific event or trend during the quarter that meaningfully impacts how the company thinks about user growth. Indeed, improvements made during the finals months of 2013, particularly in messaging and discovery, have already paid off. Favorites and retweets rose 35 percent from the previous quarter and direct messages jumped 25 percent over the same period, according to Twitter.

"I'm starting to see those interactions do what we hoped they would do," he says. "It's more about pushing the content forward and pushing back the scaffolding of Twitter."

The company also hopes to attract new users by simplifying its on-boarding process and dramatically reducing the 11 steps a new account currently requires.

Under the Shadow of Facebook

Twitter has successfully maneuvered through its fair share of challenges before. Be it the fail whale sightings and power struggles of its early days or the feverish hunt for ad revenue of late, the company has found its way.

But now with its first complete quarter as a public company in the rear view, the demands for growth from investors will only get louder with each passing quarter. Twitter will have to deliver some big numbers in 2014 to keep Wall Street happy, but Costolo's comments also suggest that much of that success will depend on a clear differentiation between Twitter's role in the world and that of Facebook.

"Twitter is this indispensable companion to life in the moment," Costolo says. "If you think about it as a product, I think that misses the impact and the reach of what we really believe is a content, communications and data platform."

By that distinction, the opportunities afforded to Twitter are "enormous," says Costolo. "We believe we are the only platform where you get an understanding of wide reach in the moment while it's happening."


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