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How do you fix Twitter?

A few Silicon Valley luminaries offer up their solutions.

Aaron Levie, Chamath Palihapitiya, Mary Meeker, Nick Bilton
From top left: Aaron Levie, Chamath Palihapitiya, Mary Meeker, Nick Bilton

Twitter needs help.

That’s the general consensus around Silicon Valley right now, where conversations about the social communications company have quickly turned over the past week from “Who will buy Twitter?” to “What comes next?”

With the idea of an acquisition all but lost, the company is back to dealing with the same things it has been dealing with for the past year: A slumping stock price, stagnant user growth and the need to announce something positive to anxious investors next week when it reports Q3 earnings.

No pressure!

So how do you fix Twitter? Everyone has an opinion, and a handful of tech luminaries offered up their advice for the company on Wednesday at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit in San Francisco. Vanity Fair special correspondent Nick Bilton, who literally wrote the book on Twitter, interviewed Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers partner Mary Meeker; Box CEO Aaron Levie; and Social Capital founder Chamath Palihapitiya on the state of Silicon Valley, and asked them how they would turn Twitter around if they were at the helm.

There were a few common themes, like fixing Twitter’s long-standing abuse issue and cutting down on the company’s spending. But ultimately, we learned what we already knew: There’s no obvious, quick fix for Twitter.

Here are some of the panelists’ responses to the question, “What do you do to Twitter to save it?”

Chamath Palihapitiya, CEO of Social Capital:

“The first thing is the cost basis of the company makes no sense. They spend about a third of what Facebook does on its technical infrastructure, which is crazy when that thing is one-eighth the size and you can only tweet 140 characters at a time. On Facebook, I upload HD movies and keep them there forever. So there’s an imbalance that means that the product is functionally, technically broken. That needs to get fixed, that’s problem No. 1. And that probably limits their ability to innovate, which you’ve seen because the product doesn’t change ...

The [last] thing is about leadership and morale. That is a broken culture now. There are people there that are really good, but probably just really sad. People are inherently good, that’s a good company, there are good people there that created something special. You just have to re-energize them.”

Aaron Levie, CEO of Box:

“[You clearly need to] get rid of the abuse and troll problem. You can easily fix it with machine learning and being able to down-vote people [so] they just don’t show up in your stream. That should be fairly trivial.”

Mary Meeker, general partner at Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers:

“The one thing I will say is Rome was not built in 140 characters. What I mean by that is turnarounds are really hard. To effect organizational change, you need at least 100 days if you’re really good to figure out what’s going on and redirect. I’m not that close to what’s going on, I think the points that were made were good. I think some of the things Twitter has been doing with reorganizing the timeline, with NFL ‘Thursday Night Football,’ is actually pretty good ...

What they need to do is increase users and usage. And I think they think they’ve done some things to do that, and they haven’t proved that yet. We need to see if there’s proof of that in the next couple months.”

Nick Bilton, editor at large for Vanity Fair:

“If I was given Twitter, first, it would be my sole job. Second, I would probably cut the number of people who work for the company in half. Third, I would literally focus every single effort I have on solving the trolling problem, because you cannot grow that company, you cannot get people to sign up, you have people leaving — celebrities are leaving all the time. ... That’s the fundamental problem with the company and if they haven’t figured it out in 10 years, someone needs to.”

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