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Twitter Insiders Keep Pitching Messaging as a Separate App, but It's Probably Not Happening

We've seen this pitch before.

Marisa Allegra Williams (@marisa) for Twitter, Inc.

A few weeks ago, Twitter commerce director Eckart Walther pitched an idea to CEO Jack Dorsey: What if we spun out Twitter’s direct messaging feature into its own, standalone messaging app?

The argument, according to multiple people familiar with the pitch, was that such an app could help goose Twitter’s ailing user growth by luring in folks turned off by Twitter’s public nature, and eventually get them onto Twitter’s main service down the road.

More importantly, though, a standalone messaging app could give the company a vehicle to drive its new customer service initiatives, something Twitter first touted at its developer conference in October as a way to encourage users and brands to interact more on the platform. Twitter’s public nature already makes it a good place for these kinds of interactions. A standalone messaging app would (theoretically) make it easier to build tools for companies to use.

Facebook, for example, has built features into Messenger after splitting it out of the main Facebook app in late 2014. Messenger has quickly scooped up partners like Uber, Lyft and even an airline so users can tap the app to arrange travel. Meanwhile, Twitter DMs have traditionally offered a less appealing (and less popular) option for developers.

A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment, but the fact that this idea was suggested at all reminds us of two things:

  1. Twitter is still searching desperately to find ways to get more users engaged. Moments, the Hail Mary pass launched in October to get mainstream users back onto Twitter, doesn’t appear to be helping.
  2. Twitter is still playing catchup when it comes to private messaging, an area it’s clearly thinking about and one that’s also of extreme interest to most of its competitors, including Facebook.

Twitter insiders have pitched the idea of a separate messaging app numerous times before, according to sources. No one I’ve spoken to believes this pitch will lead to a different result. During the company’s hack week right before the holidays, a group of business employees even suggested a standalone customer service app called “Serve” specifically for talking to businesses. It never materialized.

Facebook, Google, Amazon and everyone else are trying to find ways to maintain their dominance on mobile. Building more features into fewer apps, in theory, means users will need fewer apps overall and will spend more time with a small handful of big players.

Twitter wants to be one of those big players, and customer service is one of its key efforts. But there’s a belief by some insiders that Twitter should have honed in on customer service five years ago. It’s clearly trying to revamp its DM product now, but those changes could be too little, too late.

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