Help Wanted: Twitter Seeks Product Direction
At a conference in Paris yesterday, Twitter VP of Product Jason Goldman announced that he is stepping down from his role at the end of the year. Twitter said it is now “looking for someone to lead product management” to replace him.
Goldman offered the news in a conversation at LeWeb, saying he’d maintain an advisory role, that he’s not leaving to start something new, that he’s not going to Facebook or Google and that he just needs “a bit of a break.”
Twitter has no lack of product leaders, including co-founder and former CEO Evan Williams, who recently relinquished the top job to make room for former COO Dick Costolo. Goldman had been a close friend of Williams, having first joined him as business manager of blogging software maker Pyra Labs, before it was bought by Google in 2003. Goldman has led product at Twitter since 2007.
Following Goldman’s departure announcement, a company spokeswoman said that Williams “is going to continue in his co-founder role and help with product vision.” She said that it was not yet clear whether the new head of product management would be an internal or external hire.
But, no surprise, sources familiar with the situation said Williams will likely assume the top product role, as it’s the best-fitting landing place for him at the company. The Twitter service was originally created in 2006 by company co-founder and Chairman Jack Dorsey and others when Williams was CEO of a previous start-up called Odeo. Dorsey left his operating role at Twitter in 2008 when Williams replaced him as CEO.
As the company verges on raising funding that would value the company at $3.5 to $4 billion, the departure of Goldman seems to underscore an issue that has plagued Twitter for a long time: Product development.
Aside from its well-documented reliability problems, new products and major upgrades at Twitter are few and far between.
While it is clear the people who founded and now lead Twitter have been passionate and visionary about personal expression and information-sharing in its simplest form, many techies say they are given pause by Twitter’s deficit of innovation since its first and most powerful iteration.
They assert that Twitter’s product launches to date–retweets, lists, some apps and its #newtwitter Web interface–are minor complements to the simple messaging system. In a tech culture that values shiny new toys, multiple people have said to me that Twitter is the least innovative of any other Internet contemporary.
For example, Twitter still doesn’t offer image hosting or its own link shortener, and still has yet to fully incorporate the search service Summize, which it bought in 2008. Perhaps that’s out of concern for displacing and angering its developer corps of companies, like Bit.ly, but since 25 percent of Tweets contain links, it seems obvious that Twitter should help its users shorten them to help fit into its 140-character limit.
The company tried to set a firm road map last April at Chirp, its first developer conference (pictured at left, the dudes of Twitter held a jokey Q&A session at Chirp).
But since then, eagerly awaited products like “Annotations” (a way to add more information to Tweets) have been delayed as the company concentrated on dealing with World Cup traffic and the release of its new Web site. Twitter is hiring as fast as it can, with its ballooning employee count, now at 325, relatively small for a product now used by eight percent of American online adults.
Still, many laud the sleek new Twitter Web site–for which Goldman, Williams and product manager Kevin Cheng led development. It was rolled out to admirable acclaim and user satisfaction.
But Twitter has only a few weeks to shuffle things around before it launches into the new year with no formal leader of its product team.