Advice to Twitter: Think Ahead

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Update: Twitter responds, unofficially, to most of the statements made in this post.

Om Malik spent some time digging up details on Twitter’s supposed funding round and was able to report that they have raised a $15 million round. The VC seems a little unclear but Michael Arrington was able to confirm that, along with their existing VC (Union Squared Ventures), the investor Spark Capital. The amount raised is, almost certainly $15 million, at a $80 million pre-valuation.

And that’s the news part of the post — the rest of it I’ll spend on giving them some extremely, extremely unqualified, naive, nescient advice based on what I’ve seen happening with Twitter lately. Why? Just because I can, but mainly, because it seems very obvious to me and I’m another one of those Twitter fanatics that wants to see the service excel and doing so makes my level of frustration much better.

Twitter’s Problems
So, it’s well known to any avid Twitter user, or any tech news follower for that matter, that Twitter has been having a lot of problems lately. Whether it’s the departure of Blaine Cook, Twitter’s former lead architect, or the multiple draining down times they’ve been repeatedly having and gaining a lot of user frustration from, things have been going wrong for Twitter while they’ve been going right.

A post in the Twitter Blog today by Jack Dorsey, Twitter co-founder and CEO, leaves readers with the message they’ve “tried and tried, don’t know what’s happening, and are on the verge of giving up.” Ok, maybe that’s a little strong, but there’s a sense of helplessness expressed, which no user can probably truly understand, yet the poor folks at Twitter have to deal with every day.

So, what’s Twitter to do? It’s the Valley talk-of-the-moment, (I think) it’s seriously undervalued at $80 million, it can’t sustain itself, the phrase “monetization” (as Obvious as it seems, no pun intended) is as far from the company as can be, and meanwhile it’s experiencing user growth at a level never before.

Twitter’s Solution: Think Ahead
Frankly, I think this is the sign of a weak team that’s been working solely at the moment, for the moment. In Silicon Valley, or in business in general, you simply can’t do that. You have to be thinking 1, 3, 5, 10 years ahead, and working on what’s going to be needed NOW, as opposed to letting the need catch up later, to make that vision happen.

I’ve heard many CEOs and founders and executives talk about the future, what’s coming up, what’s down the pipeline, and I think I only now understand why they prefer to focus on the up and coming as opposed to fixing stuff or answering to the current state of the market. Because when it counts later on, that’s when it matters. Today’s problems only matter today — but tomorrow’s are going to matter for the rest of the company’s existence. So, why can’t Twitter do that?

Digg Did
Digg has so far shown a great example of thinking ahead. When the comments system backlash began, they were just trickling out other, more complex parts of the site and rehauling and restructuring the site all together. Users wanted a new comment system, but thankfully, they did a huge favor to the users by not listening to them, and focusing on a much, much more important aspect of the site: its stability, growth, infrastructure, spam-filtering, and things and features that made Digg’s future, as opposed to Digg’s present, more bright. Two weeks ago, they released a brand spanking new comments system, and the site is now better than ever.

But of course, for a group of people who think ahead, they’re not done, not far from it. Infact, in the latest Digg Townhall broadcast, they even announced that site will be going through a major rehaul once again in the next 12 months — infrastructure-wise — to support them for that next wave of growth. Now there’s a bunch of people that think ahead.

Facebook Did
Another great example of thinking ahead is by Facebook. They launched the News Feed, and users rebelled. Protest groups were started, and it faced a problem. Zuckerberg, or someone in the team, saw the feature as a vital part of the site in the future, and decided to stick. Today, that is one of the things which makes Facebook what it is.

Sure, they’ve made their fair share of mistakes with Beacon and data portability all, but I think they’re learning and I’d be truly, truly surprised if, while the world is hatin’ on Beacon and pointing fingers on their take on data portability, they didn’t have something bigger up their sleeves all together.

And You Can, Too
So here’s some advice to Twitter: think ahead. You’re rehaul of the service — which hopefully isn’t based on Ruby on Rails and deals better with database in/outs and makes improvements to the UI — should already be in the works. You should be concerned about your monetization strategy, or if not concerned, have a million ideas on the table you can experiment with, because frankly, you’re going to need it. If it’s going to make you better, we users can compromise. You should already be buying 10,000 servers and working on setting them up with the rehaul — because, you know what? Google, MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, eBay, Amazon, they all did it, and look where they are now — so there’s absolutely no reason you can’t.

Don’t consume yourself with temporarily fixing today’s problems, but instead, think about how you can solve them permanently, three months, six months, nine months down the line. Because you know what? If you did that three months, six months, nine months ago, you wouldn’t be having this problem right now. You would be on the cover of Newsweek and FastCompany and Time and already be changing the world, working on the next multi-billion dollar company. Instead, look where you are: you have the idea of the century, the hype of a millennium, you are dealing with thousands of frustrated users, you’re not making a dime, and you just raised $15 million at a $80 million (ish) pre-valuation, which frankly, by Sillicon Valley standards, and especially those of today, is pathetic. Surely, you’re worth more than 1/150th of Facebook?!

Conclusion
I know I’ve been a little harsh on Twitter throughout this post, but to be honest, if that doesn’t show how much I love them, I’m not sure what does. I guess their problems only illustrate what happens when big, big things happen to a small, small startup. Maybe that’s why they say scaling matters: because it does. And once you figure it out, you’re up there. My point is, with the resources, the smarts, the VCs, everything going for them, there’s no reason why Twitter shouldn’t be able to scale as well as MySpace, or Facebook, or YouTube did, and end up with the same fate. And more so, there’s no reason why, after going through this dark period, they can’t change things around from NOW.

So Ev, Biz, Jack, if there is one thing you can take away from my very, very unqualified, naive, nescient piece of advice, it’s this: think ahead. Some time later, in the future, when it matters, you’ll be glad you did.