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Twitter’s User Growth Has Stalled, All Those Big Changes Haven’t Helped, and Wall Street Has Noticed

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Remember the new Trust & Safety Council that Twitter announced two days ago, in an effort to prove their newfound commitment to making their social network feel less hostile? That change, along with several other rumored changes (e.g. algorithmic timelines), may have come too little too late. According to Twitter’s own data, the network has been losing users at an alarming rate.

Let’s speculate as to the reasons for that decline, shall we? A week ago, Business Insider pointed out that Twitter usage rates began to drop off significantly in August of 2014 — when Gamergate began. This second graph goes back much further, and indicates that Twitter user growth has been on a steady decline for much longer than that:

Twitter’s “harassment problem” began long before Gamergate, although Gamergate was certainly the point at which Twitter harassment started to make it into national news cycles. The company seems to have dragged its feet in the past few years when it comes to implementing structural changes that might prevent something like Gamergate from happening as easily. Change is always slow within corporations, to be sure, but given how often Silicon Valley brags about its fast-paced “disruption” techniques, you’d think that Twitter would have found a way to rapidly “disrupt” the hostility happening on their platform.

Twitter must have been reluctant to believe that their users’ slow-but-steady abandonment of the service indicated that changes needed to happen. Perhaps they’ll be less reluctant now that their investors’ interest has plummeted as well? According to the NY Times, “shares of Twitter have been pummeled in the last year, dropping around 67 percent.” Yesterday, after Twitter shared its most recent report, the company saw their stock decline that night during after-hours trading.

Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey returned to the company last year and has been attempting to right the ship ever since. However, none of Dorsey’s changes seem to have had any effect on user growth over the past year. That could be because all of the changes came too late, and Twitter’s reputation as a harassment generator and generally un-fun place has stuck. Perhaps making some big changes two years ago could have helped the company’s image, but it’s hard to see what could be done this late in the game to make Twitter seem like a cool, hip place to be.

I would love to share a revelatory “I told you so” moment with you all, since I know I’m in good company here by insisting that Twitter needed to make changes to its harassment-prone structure long ago … but I also happen to enjoy Twitter’s weird constraints. It’s the social network that I use most often, and I complain about it so often because I genuinely care about it and I want it to be better. I’ll be sad if it fades into the sunset like MySpace and Friendster and LiveJournal (yes, technically, MySpace and LJ still exist, but they’re post-apocalyptic wastelands at this point).

Still, I know that no social network lasts forever, and I didn’t expect Twitter to last forever either. It’ll be interesting to see which platform(s) rise to prominence instead, should Twitter end up forgotten. Where do you think you’ll migrate instead, if Twitter gets branded as inherently uncool?

(via Boing Boing, image via Indianapolis Monthly)

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Maddy Myers, journalist and arts critic, has written for the Boston Phoenix, Paste Magazine, MIT Technology Review, and tons more. She is a host on a videogame podcast called Isometric (relay.fm/isometric), and she plays the keytar in a band called the Robot Knights (robotknights.com).