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Alpha Males, Fighting Founders And Rejecting $2 Billion From Facebook: Is There Trouble At Twitter?

Fortune magazine has a cracking piece that takes a (lengthy) look at Twitter’s past and present, and how “boardroom power plays, disgruntled founders, and CEO switcheroos”, alongside a number of poor technical decisions, has left the key players at odds with each other, the rest of the board largely impotent and the users, always the most important part of the equation, increasingly dissatisfied with the service.

In March, Twitter’s co-founder and current executive chairman Jack Dorsey did a Q&A session with an entrepreneurship class at Columbia Business School. Dorsey was asked about his level of commitment to his new role at Twitter – he is, after all, also CEO of Square – and how Twitter’s policy towards senior staff was “like a revolving door.” (Which of course it is.)

“You know, we’re just individuals,” Dorsey replied. “We’re just humans running these companies.”

Quite – and it’s that very nature that comes with being a human that seems to be putting Twitter consistently at odds with itself, certainly when it comes to the founding members. Couple that with a stall in US traffic and a leadership attitude to development that doesn’t even seem to understand what their own product is, and all of a sudden things look very fragile indeed.

Allegedly, even Mark Zuckerberg is unimpressed.

It has been months — an eternity in Silicon Valley — since the company rolled out a new product that excited consumers. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg used to watch developments at Twitter obsessively; now he pays much less attention to the rival service. Meanwhile companies are hungry to advertise, but Twitter hasn’t been able to provide marketers with enough opportunities. Last year the company pulled in a mere $45 million in ad revenue, according to research firm eMarketer. Facebook brought in $1.86 billion.

Part of the problem is that Twitter themselves don’t seem to be able to pinpoint exactly what it is that they have built. The senior team consistently insist that Twitter isn’t a social network, so what is it? A period of stronger leadership, moving away from that ‘revolving door’ mentality, might help to put the platform on firmer footing.

And with Williams taking less of a role – “Focus was always a big problem for me. I think about my last company, and in the last year before I shut it down I started 32 projects, one of which I completed,” he said back in 2009 – Twitter might be moving in the right direction. Jack Dorsey was there at the beginning, and it’s fitting that he’s there again. The big question is: for how long?

Product development will fall to Dorsey and new hire Satya Patel, who earlier spent four years working on AdSense at Google — but Patel also plans to keep board seats on the startups he advises. Dorsey, too, will continue to run Square, which is currently in high-growth mode. On the day the announcement was made, Dorsey, who declined requests to be interviewed for this article, tweeted, “Today I’m thrilled to get back to work at @Twitter leading product as Executive Chairman. And yes: leading @Square forevermore as CEO.” Though Dorsey, through a spokesman, denies saying it, three people close to Square say Dorsey told them that he views his involvement with Twitter as short term.

There’s an update in the piece on the numbers involved in Facebook’s (admittedly still fairly murky) attempted acquisition of Twitter, which has long-been rumoured to be in the region of $500 million. Fortune suggest it was closer to $2 billion. Twitter’s board don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, but they did show Facebook the door.

There’s plenty more to read in Fortune’s article, including more historical detail, a tease on new features and advertisement products and a slightly bizarre period where Twitter employed the services of a ‘startup whisperer’, which you can find here.

(Source: Fortune.)

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