Twitter’s Adage: Too Many Engineers Spoil the UX

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Twitter Today

By now you have probably heard the news that Twitter has laid off up to 336 jobs – or roughly 8% of its workforce. You may have also heard most of the layoffs are engineers. This is a particularly interesting decision given Twitter’s current state of affairs.

Jack Dorsey signed on as permanent CEO at the beginning of October after four months holding the position in an interim capacity. Within a week he announced the layoffs and said they were necessary to follow a “streamlined roadmap for Twitter, Vine and Periscope... focused on the experiences which will have the greatest impact”.  

If that sounds familiar, it’s because Twitter said something very similar not too long ago.

Back in 2013

Hidden within the tranche of paperwork filed while going through their IPO, Twitter spelled out their businesses risks, priorities and opportunities. 

Twitter set down a roadmap focused on improving user experience to keep current users interested, attract new users, and make the beast that is Twitter accessible to newcomers in new and existing markets.

With advertising revenue the lifeblood for Twitter, more users spending more time directly translates into increased potential revenue and a healthy return for their investors.

Playing Catch Up

To date Twitter has been playing catch-up both as an advertising offering and as a social media channel. Following its market capitalisation in November of 2013, Twitter has been alternately introducing features that serve the needs of advertisers as well as pleasing users while steadily acquiring advertising and ecommerce startups to bootstrap their capabilities. 

Following the acquisition of mobile advertising startups Mopub, TapCommerce and Namo, Twitter introduced a series of advertiser oriented features and analytics tools.

Ecommerce startup CardSpring was also acquired allowing Twitter to offer a “buy” button as well as “Twitter Offers” and shoppable pages.

With new features allowing the ability to target ads by device and type of internet connection, the option to retarget ads, promoted accounts in search results and mobile app install ads Twitter is now where Facebook was in 2013. 

UX has also been overhauled with the introduction of a slew of features reminiscent of Facebook and Instagram with more customised feeds, more conversational and visual layouts, direct messaging, camera roll integration and autoplaying videos. 

Many of these additions are long overdue, but they follow Facebook’s playbook pretty closely, leading some to question whether Twitter is shaping up to be a ‘me too’ business rather than steering its own course.

So what now?

User growth has steadily slowed to 12% year on year in Q2 2015 since 2012’s height of 58%. This is despite Twitter’s efforts internationally with tweets now indexed by google search and with data-free “Twitter Access” in emerging markets such and its partnership with Deutsche Telekom.

So what else is twitter doing to address it’s slow down? Paradoxically, they’re pulling money out of innovation. 

Going through their most recent investor’s prospectus, Twitter’s spend on research & development as a percentage of expenses is clearly trending down.

After going public R&D accounted for 45% of expenditure in 2013. The figure has since declined to 36% in 2014 and 16% so far in 2015. 

There could be two reasons for this, either Twitter has reached some innovative new tech milestone with features they’ve yet to release, or they’ve caught up to other social networks enough that they are happy to rest on their laurels for the time being. 

Our Take

With this information it’s understandable that less engineers are required in Jack Dorsey’s roadmap. The job-axing announcement really isn’t all that shocking, especially given this information has been available since August, still, our condolences naturally go out to the now ex-Twitterites out in the cold.

We’ve been taking advantage of the new features as they’ve come through, and would love to see Twitter to continue to push forward with better user experience, new features and new ways for brands to engage their audience.

As with a lot of social media developments, we’ll have to wait and see what Jack Dorsey’s smaller nimbler teams can bring to market.

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