Twitter CEO points to product shake-up

Dick Costolo outlines four objectives for 2014, two of which represent major deviations from the status quo.

James Martin/CNET

Twitter has problems. But it also has solutions -- that is, of course, if you trust CEO Dick Costolo and crew.

Wednesday, the social network for 140-character updates showed that it could make money, which means the problem isn't revenue or even profit, it's something else entirely. The problem, as Wall Street is wasting no time in reminding the company, is that Twitter can't seem to grow its audience or content consumption rates.

The solution lies in Twitter's 2014 roadmap, as outlined by Costolo, which will see the company go off course to find its way toward more people. Specifically, Twitter is going to get serious about messaging and presenting content outside the boundaries of the reverse chronological stream so characteristic of the service.

"One of our core values as a company is to reach every person on the planet," Costolo said. "And in 2014, we're focused on building a Twitter that its truly accessible and valuable to everyone."

The Twitter that Costolo speaks of could look radically different than the one we know today, particularly given two of the four objectives the company told investors it will follow through on in 2014.

Here's one objective (emphasis ours):

We will continue to invest to make Twitter a better tool for conversation, both public and private. The conversational use case is a daily habit already for many of our users already, and we believe that by building features that enhance conversations and messaging, we will help attract more users to the platform and deepen the engagement of those we already have.

Read those statements carefully, paying special attention to the words "private" and "messaging," and those rumors about a standalone messaging app don't seem far-fetched. Whatever Twitter's plans in the messaging arena, it's clear that the company is no longer willing to sit on the sidelines as mobile messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Line pile on hundreds of millions of users.

And the other eye-catching objective, according to Costolo, is this:

We want to do a better job of organizing content for our users around topic lines rather than just chronological lines. We believe that topic-based discovery on our platform will make Twitter easier to understand and use for everyone.

That's a biggie as Costolo's words are code for a new type of stream. Twitter currently lives in a chronological universe. But for how much longer? The company sounds ready to shake things up a bit. Perhaps it will emulate the style of newsreaders such as a Flipboard or Facebook Paper.

No matter the route, Costolo is clearly paving the way for radical changes. Will the alterations be enough to help Twitter "reach" every person on the planet? Probably not, but so long as they correct for Twitter's growth problems, Wall Street will come back around.

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