Jun 23, 2014 · 5 minutes

Twitter's flock isn't growing fast enough. That sentiment has been repeated ad nauseum, and is often called the biggest problem the not-so-newly public company must face in the future. One way Twitter has addressed the problem is by a partnership with Indonesian telecom firm Indosat that capitalizes on the World Cup to give the carrier's 240 million customers the inspiration to start tweeting.

The partnership is an obvious attempt to use an event over which millions of people have been obsessing for the last month to convince more people that the social network is worth visiting. Indosat's customers will be directed to a specialized sign-up page where they can select their favorite World Cup team and find accounts related to the team they selected. Now, instead of trusting that people will find a use for its network, Twitter is giving them one from the get go.

That might fix the biggest problem with Twitter's service, which is that it's barely-organized chaos often having little to do with much of anything important. Sharing things in 140-character bursts, organizing them with hashtags, and properly replying to someone makes Twitter hard to use; the fact that its most avid users have decided to devote themselves to making the service weirder than it needs to be just makes it even harder to grok.

But one has to wonder what all of those new users are supposed to do after the World Cup has been won. Is Twitter trusting them to stick around? Does it intend to keep using large events -- the Super Bowl comes to mind -- to get people to sign up for its service, if only for a little while? Or is this just a small test to see how many World Cup-related tweets some of its sports-hating users will read before they decide to close the tab?

I suspect that Twitter is hoping for the former. It might also be hoping that World Cup mania can distract from all of its other problems as it tries to imitate Facebook by emphasizing photos, redesigning its profile pages, and nixing the complicated nomenclature that makes its service seem so unapproachable to anyone who didn't sign up for it years ago. The only question is whether or not a few soccer fans can help create a much bigger flock.

Reactions from around the Web

Re/code explains Twitter's user problem:

It’s called the “leaky bucket” in product terms, and Twitter needs to figure out how to patch it.

Part of the problem is something Twitter has known all along. It’s a tough service for a newcomer to understand. Unlike Facebook, there’s a learning curve for Twitter vocabulary, for sending tweets, even for learning how to read the service. And not everyone wants to spend the time figuring it out. The Wall Street Journal describes even less enthusiastic expectations for the service:

According to a forthcoming report from Twopcharts, a website that monitors Twitter account activity, about 40% of the 20 million accounts that are registered on Twitter each month send at least one tweet the month they sign up. This excludes accounts that were suspended or deleted.

By the time Twitter celebrates its ninth birthday next year, Twopcharts estimates only a quarter of those accounts will still be tweeting. Quartz argues that Twitter has a perception problem, not a growth problem:

On the earnings call last month, Costolo compared the Twitter to YouTube, whose content sprawls all over the internet and draws billions of pageviews, far beyond its registered user base. YouTube monetizes this with advertisements in its videos embedded on other sites.

So don’t be surprised if Twitter updates its home page and mobile apps to be more like a “front page” for the service, especially for new users. How it filters the oceans of rich content contained inside its service remains the big question.
Pando weighs in

On Twitter's attempts to become more like Facebook:

There has always been some cross-pollination of features between Facebook and Twitter. While Twitter was busy making its service more approachable to consumers, Facebook was busy adding hashtags and other features to expand the reach of its users’ status updates. Both services have sought to break down the information silos between mobile applications. Both have given their users the ability to share the songs they’re listening to or news they’re reading. The services are more alike than either company is willing to admit.

But the release of this feature after months of complaints from both investors and journalists that signing up for Twitter — or convincing friends that the service is worthwhile — is an ordeal probably isn’t a coincidence. Becoming more like Facebook might introduce more friction into a service previously known for its bare-bones approach to communication, but it will also make Twitter more familiar to the many people who already know Facebook. On its new, Facebook-like profile design:

Users can now pin their favorite tweets to the top of their profiles “so it’s easy for your followers to see what you’re all about,” as Twitter puts it. The new profiles will make tweets with more Favorites and Retweets seem bigger than their less-liked counterparts. The result is a new profile that allows users to become more acquainted with each other than they might have when everything was presented in a single stream of tweets.

Taken together, these recent announcements showcase a Twitter willing to move beyond its simple, what-you-see-is-what-you-get roots in order to create a more approachable service. It just so happens that the new design also shows that Facebook’s decisions with its users’ profile pages were right — people want to view media-heavy profiles that show someone’s best stories instead of barren timelines that are less like a profile and more like a stream of consciousness. On Twitter CEO Dick Costolo's plan to make the service all about entertainment:

While a focus on entertainment may seem less worthy than Twitter’s Arab Spring moment, it’s a smart move. Twitter doesn’t necessarily lose the ability to connect friends or inform people of what’s happening with a broader emphasis on entertainment. And really, Twitter has never been a perfect tool for friends and news. Facebook does things that Twitter can’t when it comes to stalking high-school exes and sharing photos of kids. The real time conversational aspect matters less. Meanwhile the insanely growing “messaging graph” is doing a better job of scratching that what are you doing this moment itch. Real time conversations matter hugely with news. But Twitter is an imperfect way of distributing information– as we’ve seen time and time again when false information spread around the world at a lightening quick pace.

Entertainment doesn’t have to pass a pesky bar of truth and it’s far more universal than wanting to know what your friend is doing right now. [Illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]