This article was published on March 29, 2011

Is Jack Dorsey the Steve Jobs of Twitter?

Is Jack Dorsey the Steve Jobs of Twitter?
Axelle Tessandier
Story by

Axelle Tessandier

Talker, greener, thinker, reader, writer, greater, faster, better, P5er, former @GAFFTA Resident and Marketing @scoopit. Talker, greener, thinker, reader, writer, greater, faster, better, P5er, former @GAFFTA Resident and Marketing @scoopit.

Even if Jack Dorsey is not coming back to Twitter as the CEO, what’s going on the doors at Twitter? The Co-Founder who left in October 2008, was just appointed Executive Chairman, leading product design.

This story reminds me of Apple back in the late 90s. While Twitter is far from being in as bad of shape as Apple was when Steve Jobs returned in 1997,  both companies were built on innovative ideas and both lost their ways and visionary founders.

As a product, Twitter is doing very well. They have millions of users and just celebrated their fifth anniversary with one billion tweets per week.

But what about the culture? Twitter has resonated with so many because we have the malleable product our own, bending it into do what we need it to do.  For some of us the platform has become so essential, we don’t want to remember what life was like before. My Twitter persona has become a part of who I am and is fully integrated with my digital existence.

Then came the promoted tweets, the disrespectful #dickbar, the Twitter clients backlash. You can feel the whirlwind of business models; is money making and greed causing the Twitter boat to rock? I feel sometimes that the company is lost, somewhere in the middle of its business requirements and monstrous growth. A nearly $4 billion valuation does not come without any responsibility. The phenomenon has become huge, even mainstream, and with this comes all the hype, but where are the users in all of this?

Twitter is now trendy, popular in itself. Not for what it is doing, but for who is on it. The “startup” is a headquarter you stop by to visit if you are Lady Gaga, a Russian President or a late-night talk show host. Pop culture is gobbling it up.

Their five year anniversary video shocked me. The clip wasn’t anywhere as inspirational as the amazing one they made to announce their complete redesign just months before. It didn’t talk to me as a user. The original video celebrated what they had built and it celebrated us, the twitterers. The video featured the product, what it represents as a change maker and this got us excited about the new release.

The new one is just an ad, in the worst possible way. It is just there to attract new users and drop names?Nothing about Twitter, but a lot of pseudo insights from “celebrities”: Martha, Snoop, Rachel Zoe, they are all there. Oops, did I forget to mention Hilary Clinton?

Just a year later, their strategy seems so different, if there even is a strategy. One day you feel that Twitter is the new place for revolutions. The day after, you are skeptic seeing that Charlie Sheen gets millions of followers in just a few hours without tweeting anything.

What does it mean to be stretched between these two opposites? Is it a place for Justin Bieber fans or a platform to share ideas and make history?

If you do not have a vision, incarnated by a team that knows why you want to create and not only what your product is, you are dead. Social media networks like Twitter are not just products that have to make money at any price. They are tools that let people believe there is a new place for their cause, voice, action or social life. Dick was chosen for his sense of marketing. Ev, Jack and Biz are maybe the ones who knew why and could bring back the culture.

But how do you build an identity when you do not clearly identify one? And even worse how do you do this when you have to make money (and fast)? Building the business model at the same time as defining the product is like trying to stop smoking during a diet (contradictory and very hard!).

The company seems to be at this turning point: struggling to stay meaningful and trying to make the next step for them frictionless for us. It is no coincidence that all these inspirational talks and interviews with Jack Dorsey about his vision and having an impact turned up recently. His obsession with design reminds us once again of Steve Jobs.

I was leading a lot of idea and the vision for where the product was going. Ev was funding and supporting what we were doing. He put the shelter over our heads. And Biz was just an amazingly creative guy. And he was helping come up with words like “follow.”

-Jack Dorsey to the New York Times in January 2011

I believe that this is exactly what is needed right now for Twitter. Steve Jobs explained why we had to Think Different 15 years ago. And the campaign is still a Silicon Valley legend.

Maybe Jack Dorsey will help Twitter to think again, period. We have so many things we’d like to see him change about Twitter. But foremost, Twitter needs to stop celebrating Christina Aguilera’s first tweet to refocus on what is important: the twitterers, the explorers.

To continue this conversation, please reach out to @axelletess

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