In the past couple of years, Twitter's user growth has slowed and then practically ground to a halt. As a result, the company has come under increasing pressure — from both Wall Street and the media — to reinvent the service in order to jump-start growth.
Last summer, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo resigned and was replaced by co-founder Jack Dorsey, who had been busy running his other startup Square. Dorsey has declared Twitter's growth rate "unacceptable" and talked a lot about "questioning our fundamentals." And over the past year, the company has rolled out a number of features designed to broaden the app's appeal beyond the 300 million or so people who have already signed up.
There seem to be two big reasons people believe Twitter is flawed and in need of an overhaul. One is that it's smaller and growing more slowly than rivals such as Facebook and Instagram. The other is that — as Vox's Matt Yglesias puts it — "the Twitter product has been very slow to evolve over the years."
But if you think about it, most of the internet's iconic products have been "slow to evolve." Gmail works basically the same way it did when it was introduced in 2004. Facebook saw a few major changes in its early years — the introduction of the newsfeed might have been the most significant — but it has looked basically the same for close to a decade.
Technology products become hits because they serve a specific community of users. If you try to reinvent a product, you're far more likely to alienate your existing users — like Digg's disastrous version 4 in 2010 — than you are to attract a lot of new ones. Beyond a certain point, technology products tend to become wedded to their existing user bases, and dramatic change becomes increasingly difficult.
Twitter has long since passed this point of no return. Most of the people who are interested in what Twitter has to offer are already using the service. People who are looking for something else are probably going to find it on some other social network. It turns out the number of people who want to snark about current events on Twitter is smaller than the number of people who want to swap baby and wedding photos on Instagram and Facebook. But there's no reason to think an overhaul of Twitter would convince those same users to start tweeting out their wedding and baby photos instead.
What Twitter needs more than anything is a healthy dose of self-respect. Twitter is a hugely successful website, with 300 million users and billions of dollars in ad revenue. The fact that there are other websites out there attracting larger audiences isn't evidence that Twitter is doing anything wrong.
With that said, it's not clear that the latest source of outrage — a reported plan for 10,000-character tweets — actually represents a major overhaul of how Twitter works. Rather, as Dorsey explained in a tweet, it may simply offer a more streamlined process for embedding content — just as you can currently embed an image in a tweet.
But as a heavy Twitter user, I'd like to see Dorsey show a bit more confidence in the excellent product Twitter is today. It serves my needs — and the needs of 300 million other people — quite well. His top priority should be to not screw that up.