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Twitter faces lingering doubts about its future

The company's stock falls to an all-time low after last week's report of near-standstill user growth.

Can Twitter ever be more than it is?

That's the ultimate question facing the 9-year-old social-networking company as it seeks a new chief executive who can lead it to a rosier future.

To reach that goal, Twitter -- like every other company in the tech industry -- needs to show constant, meaningful growth. In Twitter's case, that growth needs to be in the form of monthly active users, the same metric used to judge rivals, including Facebook and Snapchat. Last week, though, the microblogging service reported second-quarter financial results that came up wanting: The number of people who log into Twitter at least once a month rose less than 3 percent from the previous quarter.


Even worse, Twitter Chief Financial Officer Anthony Noto told investors not to expect "sustained meaningful growth" in the foreseeable future. "Simply said, the product remains too difficult to use," he said during a conference call last week. "This is both a product issue and a marketing issue."

Investors on Monday took that warning to heart. Shares plunged to a record low of $28.69 in the middle of the trading hours. At the end of day, shares had fallen 5.6 percent to $29.30 -- the lowest since May of last year.

The tech boom over the past several years has been fueled on the belief that a company's ability to make money is built on user growth. That's bad news for Twitter. Its 316 million monthly active users pales next to Facebook's 1.5 billion people who regularly use the service every month. Advertisers, naturally, want to reach the biggest, most diverse audiences they can -- and that's not Twitter.

"The bottom line for Twitter is that after nine years of its existence, my mother still doesn't understand what it means to 'hashtag' something," wrote Ben Schachter, an analyst at Macquarie Capital, in a note to investors. "But she does understand what it means to 'like' something," he added, referring to Facebook's ubiquitous feature.

Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Twitter has been working to broaden its appeal to the mainstream. The company has curbed abusive and threatening messages, for example. It has also built a feature called Project Lightning, expected to kick in this fall, which is designed to attract a mass audience by displaying photos and videos of live events.