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Biz Stone On Press Cycles, *That* Fortune Article And Why Twitter Is Like Rocky Balboa

Yesterday we documented an article in the latest edition of Fortune magazine (“Trouble @Twitter”) which suggested that Twitter’s once shining star has begun to dim, and that disgruntled co-founders, boardroom politics and development misfires could be sucking the company into a black hole.

We also wrote about Business Insider’s interview with forgotten Twitter founder Noah Glass, who spoke about how he felt ‘betrayed’ by Twitter.

So: a pretty big negative PR day for the social platform. How did Twitter respond?

Last last night, Twitter’s Biz Stone wrote about the Fortune piece in a blog post he’s titled “The Trouble Bubble”, in which he suggests the Fortune backlash is very similar to critical coverage the magazine gave to both Google and Facebook in the past, only to then turn around and start acting all bullish again on both organisations.

The crux of Biz’s argument is as follows:

  • Twitter is long overdue negative press coverage
  • The press moves in cycles – wary/positive/critical/negative/wary/positive etc
  • Twitter is just like Rocky Balboa

We founded Twitter, Inc. in March of 2007 and while we have long said it’s about the users, not the service, we have nevertheless enjoyed favorable media coverage. What took so long for somebody to write the article that says we are falling apart? The normal press cycle is to put a company on a pedestal and then knock it down. It’s much more interesting that way. Twitter has had so many ups and downs you’d think we would have had more negative press. To me, it’s like watching the movie Rocky—he’s up, he’s down, he’s out, he wins!

(Told you.)

Fortune magazine finally stepped up to knock us down with a cover article, “Trouble@Twitter.” Here are some examples of how this works. After mostly positive coverage of Facebook, Fortune finally published an article in April of 2009 titled, “Is Facebook Losing Its Glow?” However, later that year they published, “What Backlash? Facebook Is Growing Like Mad.” Google received similar treatment. In July 2010 Fortune published, “Google, The Search Party Is Over.” Later that year, they published, “Google Continues To Gain Search Marketshare.”

We’ve had lots of positive press from Fortune in the past. In July of 2010 they published an article titled, “Twitter’s Business Model: A Visionary Experiment.” The article ended with, “Facebook might want to take notes.” It may seem odd, but from my perspective, this means we are being taken very seriously. Twitter is an important company and it’s under scrutiny from journalists—this is exactly how it’s supposed to work. Now it’s our job to prove the reporters wrong so they can write an article later about how we have made dramatic progress.

The Twitter team is an incredibly dedicated group of people who truly believe they are doing the most meaningful work of their lives. It’s also a very small group of people when compared to the other companies Fortune is investigating. We still have under 500 employees—many of them working weekends and nights to fulfill a potential that is palpable. For a long time, we refused to hire a communications group and now that we have one, I’m having fun teasing them about this Fortune article but the truth is, we’re long overdue to be knocked down by the press.

A pretty philosophical attitude, you’ll agree. But you’ll also notice that aside from the tone of Fortune’s essay, Biz doesn’t actually address any of their (numerous) points head-on. Yes, the press does like to build things up and knock them down, but let’s be fair: Twitter has given them a lot of reasons in the past year or so, including:

  • The mishandled internal retweet functionality
  • Underwhelming promotional ad platform
  • Fundamentally ill-advised Dickbar
  • Turning on developers
  • Being overly cagey and protective with user data

(You’ll have your own gripes, too.)

And while both Evan Williams and Jack Dorsey have written tweets that give some weight to Glass’s claims…

(See this Fast Company article for a richer look at Dorsey’s submissions about Twitter’s early days.)

… it’s still all a little bit wishy-washy. A little bit off the record.

A little bit Twitter.

I’ve made this point many times, but Twitter could close the door on a lot of this mostly speculative fuss and rhetoric by being a lot more forthcoming with official data, and having a greater transparency around internal developments. I mean, everybody likes to point the finger at Facebook, but while they’re far from the tech pundit’s dream-team they’ve always been massively more open with this stuff.

Of course, as a private company Twitter is free to write pretty much whatever they like. But then, by that same token, so is everybody writing about Twitter. Swings and roundabouts, Biz. Swings and roundabouts.

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