Twitter: The New Laughing Stock of Silicon Valley

With Yahoo soon to be acquired by Verizon and HP split into parts that are even more irrelevant than the whole, Silicon Valley is in need of a new clown company to kick around. There’ve been rumors for a while, but now it’s official: I hereby declare Twitter to be the new laughing stock of Silicon Valley.

Funny that the social news site should achieve this delirious distinction under cofounder Jack Dorsey and not former CEO Dick Costolo, who used to be an improv comedian. Also sad that Costolo didn’t get the laughs he so richly deserved by taking the company public before he knew what it was or how it was going to make money.

But this is Dorsey’s show now, and last week, he was definitely in the spotlight, and not in a good way.

In case you were too busy wrapping gifts and indulging in eggnog over the holidays, Dorsey, aka @jack (not to be confused with the Jack In The Box clown, @JackBox), sent a tweet to his nearly 4 million followers on Thursday asking for product improvement ideas under the hashtag #Twitter2017.

Why does that qualify Twitter to be the laughing stock of The Valley, you ask?

Where do I begin?

If the company was killing it and this was just a fun way to engage users, that would be fine. No such luck. Twitter is a very sick bird with two broken wings trading 75% lower than its post-IPO high. Even so, it’s still too expensive for anyone to acquire without suffering a shareholder revolt, as Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff recently discovered.

Since taking the reins about 18 months ago, Dorsey has tried tweaking the product, the business model and the team, to no avail. To me, his holiday tweet signals a CEO who’s all out of ideas, throwing up his hands in exasperation and saying, Well, I’ve tried everything I can think of; why don’t you guys take a stab at it?  

Can you imagine someone like Tim Cook, Larry Page, Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg pulling a stunt like that? Or Steve Jobs, who shunned traditional marketing and relied on his own focus group of one (or at least very few Apple insiders) to divine what customers wanted, even before they knew it themselves.

Talking about how Apple comes up with the next big thing, Jobs once said they created iTunes and iPod because they all loved music and wanted “the best jukebox” to carry around with them. He quoted Henry Ford’s famous line, “If I’d have asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me ‘A faster horse.’”

Brainstorming product ideas with the masses in a public forum has got to be one of the most boneheaded moves I’ve ever seen a CEO make. Does Dorsey not realize that he has real competitors who are somehow both bigger and nimbler than Twitter?

Not that Zuck or Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel have any interest in emulating the ludicrous sideshow that Twitter has become, but still.

Dorsey even summarized the results for them the following day. The four brilliant themes that came out of this marvelous open exchange of ideas were to stop the trolls, enable some editing of tweets, and make it easier to follow topics of interest and conversations, as opposed to just users.

Not only are those all known issues going back years, but Twitter’s inability to make any meaningful improvements to the product is the very reason why it’s so hard to use and lacks a clear value proposition for customers to engage and advertise. And those are the very reasons why user and revenue growth have both stalled.

So what was the point of the exercise? I haven’t a clue. And neither, in my view, does Dorsey.

All that notwithstanding, the most laughable aspect of Dorsey’s tweet was that he immediately followed it with an identical one, except this one was on behalf of his other company, Square.

That, to me, is the real inside joke. If there was a time when Twitter’s board thought a fulltime CEO was unnecessary, I wonder what Omid Kordestani et al think now. I can just see them scratching their heads and wondering, Why do we have this guy?

That’s why I expect the board to come to its senses and dump Dorsey later this year. Unless of course they like being the laughing stock of The Valley. In that case, he’s definitely killing it.