Twitter: the future's bright - but more like Facebook than ever

Twitter On Screen

Just two days ago, there was a consensus, of sorts, around Twitter’s predicament. Its stock had fallen 44% over the course of the year, partially because of a drop-off in the number of new users it was getting each month.

That led the company’s chief executive, Dick Costolo, to admit that the service wasn’t easy enough for newbies to get their head around.

Worse, the average revenue per user wasn’t rising anywhere near as quickly as Facebook’s; without the massive levels of personal data that its main competitor has, Twitter can’t deliver targeted ads with the same degree of accuracy.

Its competitive advantage lies in real-time advertising, charging companies to promote their tweets alongside sports, TV shows and current events, but analysts complained that it hadn’t come far enough along in the practice to justify its valuation.

There were even rumours that Twitter was about to shift the goalposts, introducing new metrics to replace standard measures such as monthly active users (MAU) or revenue per user. That would have highlighted their strengths, but also been seen as an admission that they weren’t playing the same game as Facebook.

But after Twitter filed its quarterly financial report on Tuesday, the old fears were dead – and users were facing new ones.

The company reported revenue more than doubling to $312.2m, and MAU rose alongside, hitting 271 million people, a 24% year-on-year increase. Four-fifths of the its total ad revenue came from mobile ads in the quarter, and Twitter accounts for 2.5% of the world’s mobile ad.

Its growth is starting to vary, too. Twitter is growing the fastest in Asia-Pacific, according to figures from eMarketer, and is expected to increase its user base there by more than a third in 2014. Against that background, shares spiked, rising over 30% in after-hours trading, although still not undoing the tumble in the first half of 2014.

But if good news for Twitter means that users can sit back and be comfortable that there’s no major shake-ups ahead, Costolo has other thoughts.

Asked whether the company was considering rolling out an algorithmic timeline, taking inspiration from Facebook’s heavily algorithmic newsfeed, Costolo answered “I think it’s fair to say that we are not ruling out any kinds of changes that we might deliver in the product, in service to bridging that gap between signing up for Twitter and receiving immediate value… you will see a number of kinds of experiments that we produce there”.

If Twitter did make such a change, it wouldn’t be the first time the two major social networks had taken inspiration from each other.

Despite launching with radically different focuses, both Twitter and Facebook – as well as smaller networks like Google+, and LinkedIn – have been converging.

Nowhere is that more obvious than in the design of profile pages: all feature a large “header image” with a smaller profile picture inset on the side; all feature personal information going down one side, with a semi-curated selection of recent updates down the other; all feature rich media, embedded within the posts, as well as short excerpts from outgoing links.

But it’s not just profiles. In December 2012, just months after Facebook bought Instagram, the company added the ability to put filters on photos.

In January 2014, Facebook introduced “trending topics”, attempting to seize a portion of Twitter’s prowess in real-time updates for itself. Reports from mobile users suggest Twitter is even experimenting getting rid of its trademark “@-reply”, in favour of a Facebook-style mentions feature, while Facebook itself recent launched a “Mentions” app, bringing Twitter-style replies to Facebook.

Its latest acquisition, of French image search firm Madbits, points to far more intelligent interpretation and contextualisation of images, which could give it more power to try and compete with Facebook’s powerful sharing currency of photos.

Yesterday, Twitter was doomed. Today, it’s reborn from the ashes. But none of that changes that tomorrow, it’s going to be more like Facebook than ever. The great convergence of the social networks is upon us.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Alex Hern, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 30th July 2014 15.54 Europe/London

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