Twitter riding the redesign growth spurt

Ronny Kerr · November 1, 2010 · Short URL:

Media coverage, official mobile devices, and now the site redesign bring in fleets of new users


Remember when Twitter hit that dangerous growth slump? Maybe not. It was at its worst about a year ago and nobody at the company, especially co-founder and then-CEO Evan Williams, wanted to talk about it.

Things aren't looking so gloomy anymore.

Twitter now has 175 million registered users, up from 145 million in early September and 105 million in April. If, between April and September, the site was adding around ten million members monthly, Twitter is now seeing 15 million members joining the site each month.

Of course, if we attribute the current amassing of users to the Twitter redesign (#NewTwitter), the rate of new registrants won’t stay that high. Twitter has seen three major growth spurts in the last couple years and each can be directly assigned to individually significant site developments.

Twitter’s first growth spurt, in early to mid-2009, was a direct result of widespread media coverage of the site, which initially sprung from high-profile celebrity tweeters like, most famously, Ashton Kutcher. The pandemonium of tweets swirling around the Iranian election protests and Michael Jackson’s death only fueled media reports on the young news-breaking microblogging site.

By the fall, however, the site hit a serious growth slump and even the company’s executives seemed legitimately worried. It wouldn’t be until the following spring, when Twitter got serious about its smartphone offerings, with the launch of official iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry apps, that new registrations would flow like a flood again. (Twitter had its official Windows Phone 7 app available on launch day.)

And now, the site is growing like crazy again and it’s all because of the site redesign. But what comes next?

What can Twitter do now to attract more users? It’s more than a little doubtful that Promoted Products will bring new users in droves, but that feature is meant to attract advertisers, not users. (Actually, Twitter has to very careful to keep Promoted Products relevant for users, or else they run the risk of actually losing users.)

More realistically, the products of Twitter Hack Week could be cool enough to spark the interest of new users. Last week, Twitter engineers were told to hack away at whatever features they wanted to implement on the site. No word yet on what they made, but we eagerly await their public debut.

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What is Twitter?

Twitter is an online information network that allows anyone with an account to post 140 character messages, called tweets. It is free to sign up. Users then follow other accounts which they are interested in, and view the tweets of everyone they follow in their "timeline." Most Twitter accounts are public, where one does not need to approve a request to follow, or need to follow back. This makes Twitter a powerful "one to many" broadcast platform where individuals, companies or organizations can reach millions of followers with a single message. Twitter is accessible from, our mobile website, SMS, our mobile apps for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, our iPad application, or 3rd party clients built by outside developers using our API. Twitter accounts can also be private, where the owner must approve follower requests. 

Where did the idea for Twitter come from?

Twitter started as an internal project within the podcasting company Odeo. Jack Dorsey, and engineer, had long been interested in status updates. Jack developed the idea, along with Biz Stone, and the first prototype was built in two weeks in March 2006 and launched publicly in August of 2006. The service grew popular very quickly and it soon made sense for Twitter to move outside of Odea. In May 2007, Twitter Inc was founded.

How is Twitter built?

Our engineering team works with a web application framework called Ruby on Rails. We all work on Apple computers except for testing purposes. 

We built Twitter using Ruby on Rails because it allows us to work quickly and easily--our team likes to deploy features and changes multiple times per day. Rails provides skeleton code frameworks so we don't have to re-invent the wheel every time we want to add something simple like a sign in form or a picture upload feature.

How do you make money from Twitter?

There are a few ways that Twitter makes money. We have licensing deals in place with Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft's Bing to give them access to the "firehose" - a stream of tweets so that they can more easily incorporate those tweets into their search results.

In Summer 2010, we launched our Promoted Tweets product. Promoted Tweets are a special kind of tweet which appear at the top of search results within, if a company has bid on that keyword. Unlike search results in search engines, Promoted Tweets are normal tweets from a business, so they are as interactive as any other tweet - you can @reply, favorite or retweet a Promoted Tweet. 

At the same time, we launched Promoted Trends, where companies can place a trend (clearly marked Promoted) within Twitter's Trending Topics. These are especially effective for upcoming launches, like a movie or album release.

Lastly, we started a Twitter account called @earlybird where we partner with other companies to provide users with a special, short-term deal. For example, we partnered with Virgin America for a special day of fares on that were only accessible through the link in the @earlybird tweet.


What's next for Twitter?

We continue to focus on building a product that provides value for users. 

We're building Twitter, Inc into a successful, revenue-generating company that attracts world-class talent with an inspiring culture and attitude towards doing business.