The oft cited on again, off again sales prospects of beleaguered tech giant Twitter took yet another turn last week, as other tech giants (such as Google and Apple) announced that they would not be placing a bid on the company. Disney has also explicitly stated that they would also pass on purchasing Twitter. While bidding is said to be ongoing, it is clear that Twitter does not face a rosy outlook of their sale.
Perhaps the question is not who will buy Twitter, but who would want to buy Twitter?
Undoubtedly stained in a number of controversies, nontroversies and internet drama, Twitter went from being the coolest expression of silicon valley’s libertarian bent to the saddest example of the inherent unprofitably of the internet. After a few brutal years marred with horrific press, almost universal criticism and a lack of direction, Twitter faces an internal crisis which has dampened its marketability considerably.
Twitter went from a media darling for its forward thinking attitude on free expression to a social pariah, infamous for its part in controversies like the Leslie Jones abuse and Gamergate. Twitter did not need bad press like that as it was considering putting itself up for sale; perhaps those scars are only good in retrospect because it distracted people from the massive losses the company was posting.
In the face of the scandals and disastrous financial results, Twitter attempted to clean up its act, engaging in a number of anti-harassment campaigns and banning polarizing figures. Contrary to Twitter’s intent, ridding itself of trolls and growing its user base thanks to a safer and friendly platform, but at last check, Twitter has seen a huge drop in daily users.
That information brings us back to the original question: who would want to buy Twitter? A few years ago, speculation centered on Twitter eventually being sold for billions as a fast moving mobile platform that could reach countless active users in a meaningful and engaging way. At this point, one might wonder which company is foolish enough to wade into the swamp that Twitter has become to wager money on turning the platform around.
An apt metaphor for this would be Goldman Sachs, or another suitably powerful financial institution, scouring the American countryside to finance car title loans on a three wheeled 1977 Buick Riviera. After 2008 we found out financial companies are capable of unfathomable stupidity, but capital investments into Twitter, at this point, would be downright madness.
Tech and media giants are going to great lengths to assure people that they will not be bidding on Twitter, a clear sign that investors are extremely negative on the prospects of a Twitter turnaround. TWT undoubtedly retains a large user base and a core group of dedicated followers, but its ship has sailed and its popularity is unlikely to ever return.
Twitter is yet another example of an emerging truth about the internet. Ugliness and cheap thrills are what brings users in, but it’s also what scares advertisers away. Catering one invariably alienates the other. While every platform seeks to be advertiser friendly, people will go where the exciting content is; if your platform caters too heavily towards being advertiser friendly, the exciting content will go elsewhere.
For a brief time, it looked like Twitter would successfully toe the line and succeed at being both content and advertiser friendly, but that time, like Twitter’s best days, have sadly past.
Twitter will likely be purchased by an unlikely tech company that is either looking to diversify or harvest user data. It faces a sad end to once was a promising future.