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This article was published on December 9, 2011

How Twitter is unifying to reach 7 billion people

How Twitter is unifying to reach 7 billion people

In case you missed it, a new version of Twitter is coming. In fact, a new version of Twitter is already here, if you’re on mobile, and you may even have unlocked the Web version already. If not, you shouldn’t have too long to wait.

The Next Web was at one of the announcement events yesterday at Twitter’s central London office, where Director of Platform Ryan Sarver and UK General Manager Tony Wang gave us the lowdown on where the microblogging platform is heading.

Simultaneously, at Twitter’s new office in-waiting in San Francisco, The Next Web’s Drew Olanoff was in front of two Twitter stalwarts being told more or less the same thing, minus a handful of UK-specific updates.

“Dick Costello and Jack Dorsey are currently in our new space in San Francisco as we speak”, said Tony. “They’re in what will be our future HQ addressing our US press. So we’re very excited to talk to you at the same time in parallel.”

Ryan chimed in later that this was the first such multicast press event they’d held – two locations at the same time, being told more or less the same thing. And in many ways, this was symbolic of what the company is trying to achieve with its platform. Unification.

Twitter: The world in your pocket

“You might’ve heard Jack talking about Twitter as like the world in your pocket”, said Tony. “He likes to talk about connecting you not only to the world, but your world. There’s a big global opportunity there before us. I often get asked how big do you think Twitter is going to be. The answer to that is, well, how many people are there in the world?”

Twitter is ambitious. There’s no doubt about that. It has taken its time to build a user-base and is now pushing – slowly – ahead with plans to take it truly to the masses. But you think 800m is cool, Facebook? How about 7 billion?

The last time The Next Web caught up with Ryan Sarver was back in October, when he was talking about the company’s healthy and viable billion-dollar ecosystem. We asked him about when Twitter had fallen under a fair bit of criticism earlier in the year for the way it was trying to curb third-party client apps. Ryan had said at the time that developers shouldn’t create new apps “that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience.”

TweetDeck was a colossal client in terms of users, so it made sense for Twitter to buy it outright rather than let it fall into the grasp of another big company. But Twitter made it clear that it wanted to create a more consistent core experience across the Twittersphere, which meant the myriad of Twitter apps that “looked kind of like Twitter, and did sort of the same thing” weren’t going to be encouraged. “While I think we could’ve improved the way we messaged it, the message itself is still a credible and important one to give”, says Ryan.

Yesterday, Ryan reiterated this point. “Twitter needs to be ubiquitous and consistent”, he said. “As the Twitter experience moves from feature phones in Kenya to smartphones in London, to the Web, to all those 7bn users…it needs to flow seamlessly between those experiences. And do so in a way that’s ubiquitous, consistent and incredibly simple.”

So that’s what Twitter has been doing and is trying to do. Whilst it has come in for a bit of flak over the years for not monetizing and for taking too long to find a sustainable mode, it hasn’t really had to rush it. There’s been no shortage of funding, and its user-base has been steadily growing. Now, Twitter is all about unification across the board.

“For us, it’s about looking at how users are interacting with the product and how that’s changed over time”, said Ryan. “Today is about what’s in the evolution of the product to match those needs, listening to our users and hear what they want. We want to try and reach those 7bn users.”

This was a common theme through both press events yesterday, as Drew reported from San Francisco. Can it do it though? Is it too ambitious?

Tweets: A single package

“Tweets are everywhere. But what we’ve learned over time, is that tweets aren’t just 140 characters”, said Ryan. “They’re not just a message. Tweets are everything that’s wrapped around it – the actions, the ability to retweet and favourite, it’s the place it was tweeted from, it’s the thing that they’re sharing a photo of. We’re starting to see that as a single package – the content isn’t disconnected from the actions and intent of that original share.”

However, for Twitter to grow it needs to really grab that large section of society that know all about Twitter, but don’t know what it does or how to use it. “We hope to close the gap between awareness and understanding”, adds Ryan.

Basically, a lot of folk do sign up to Twitter but don’t know what to do with it, this will be the big challenge, and this is where the new ‘Discover’ feature may help. “Discover is probably the newest and biggest area you’re going to see here”, said Ryan. “With 100m active users, our job is to help connect the right people to the right content at the right time. We’ll be heavily investing in this area over the next year.”

For new users, Twitter hopes Discover will help give immediate relevance and purpose. “We need to do a better job of letting people see those things out in the real world”, says Ryan. “Come to Twitter and connect with things they care about. Be that X-Factor, their favourite footballer, whatever it might be – they need to be able to make that connection much easier.”

Twitter: Everywhere and nowhere

Twitter is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It seems to be heavily used in some circles, but not at all in others, within the same sections of society. That is the big challenge, and that is what they’re working hard at to remedy.

“Everyday, over 250m tweets flow through Twitter”, said Ryan. “That’s over a billion tweets a week. Users may follow 10, 100 maybe 1,000 accounts. They get a very specific slice of the world. Twitter is focused in 2012 and beyond, in helping surface all that other great stuff that goes on that you’re interested in and bring it to the forefront. It’s not just about you curating that experience but about Twitter trying to make some decisions and bring some content that we think you’ll be interested in, right in front of you.”

As we wrote yesterday, Facebook’s most shared-story in the UK in 2011 was the BBC’s celebration of Planet Earth hitting the magic 7bn population milestone. And it’s this number that Twitter is aiming for – not 500m, not 1bn…7bn. That’s a hell of a lot of people. But you don’t get anywhere without ambition. Whoever said “It’s better to shoot for the stars and miss, than aim at the gutter and hit it” may have had a point.

“The new Twitter is a really clean, simple experience”, added Ryan. “It’s really focused on making that experience as simple as possible for users old, and users new.”

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