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What We Hope To Learn During Twitter's Q4 Earnings Report

As Twitter reports its fourth-quarter financial results, we're keeping an eye on these issues.

[Photo: Flickr user Anthony Quintano]

Twitter is set to report its fourth-quarter earnings on Wednesday, and guidance from the company's executives can't come soon enough. The social network's stock has plummeted in recent weeks amid stagnant user growth, controversial product changes, high-level staff departures, and concerns over how the company is addressing harassment and terrorist propaganda.

CEO Jack Dorsey said during Twitter's previous earnings call in October that one of the company's major goals for 2016 is to make "all of Twitter better and easier to understand." With so much about Twitter in flux, here are the issues we will be monitoring on Wednesday.

Algorithmic Timelines

Last Friday, outraged Twitter users began tweeting "#RIPTwitter" after a report in BuzzFeed suggested that the social network would soon shift from reverse chronological feeds, which have been fundamental to Twitter since its inception, to a more algorithmic timeline, a la Facebook. Dorsey responded to the uproar on Saturday, tweeting, "We never planned to reorder timelines next week... We love the live stream. It's us. And we're going to continue to refine it to make Twitter feel more, not less, live!"

But moving to a more algorithmic approach has been on Twitter's agenda for some time now—as the site struggles to retain new users, its leadership recognizes that the fast-paced, real-time feeds can be unwieldy for casual visitors. The release of Moments last year, a new section of Twitter that features curated collections of tweets around trending topics, represented "a real shift in our thinking," Dorsey said last October, noting that Moments is just one part of Twitter's larger plan to become more more accessible to users.

It's likely that these product changes—and algorithmic timelines specifically—will come up during the earnings call tomorrow. We'll see how Dorsey addresses the push-back from long-time Twitter users, and whether he provides more details as to how Twitter is working to make its feeds feel more live.

Harassment

On Tuesday, Twitter announced a new anti-harassment initiative, called the Twitter Trust & Safety Council, aimed at ensuring "people feel safe expressing themselves on Twitter." Online harassment, especially of women and minorities, has been a major problem for Twitter over the years.

This new initiative, which involves partnerships with more than 40 organizations around the world, appears to be the company's biggest effort yet at combating harassment on its platform. Hopefully Twitter will provide more information tomorrow about how the Trust & Safety Council will work, and what it will mean for users.

Terrorist Networks

Twitter revealed in a blog post last week that it has banned more than 125,000 terrorism-linked accounts since mid-2015, and also announced that it had increased the number of employees who monitor reports on flagged accounts. "We condemn the use of Twitter to promote terrorism and the Twitter Rules make it clear that this type of behavior, or any violent threat, is not permitted on our service," said the blog post. "As the nature of the terrorist threat has changed, so has our ongoing work in this area."

With the rise of the terrorist group ISIS, whose members often use social networks to communicate and spread propaganda, many tech companies have begun working with the U.S. government to combat terrorist activities online. We'll see tomorrow whether Twitter outlines further efforts to keep terrorists off its platform.

User Growth

Last year, Twitter's user base grew just 8% to a total of 307 million monthly active users worldwide—a downright sluggish pace compared with the exponential growth seen at other social networks. And recently leaked data suggests that Twitter users are sending significantly fewer tweets than they did in 2014.

Twitter's executives acknowledge the problem and blame the very format of Twitter—the strictly reverse chronological timeline—for being unfriendly to new users. "We need to simplify the product so everyone can get value from Twitter faster," said CFO Anthony Noto last summer.

Among these efforts to simplify are Moments and While You Were Away, a feature that highlights popular tweets in a user's network since their last visit. An algorithmic timeline seems to be in the cards as a way to boost user growth, but, as we've seen, Twitter's dedicated users are strongly against such a change. During the earnings call, expect Dorsey to address this issue in depth.

Executive Departures

Five high-level executives left Twitter in January: head of media Katie Jacobs Stanton; head of product Kevin Weil; Vine head Jason Toff; senior VP of engineering Alex Roetter; and VP of human resources Brian Schipper.

The shakeup appeared to be a clearing-out of allies of former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo. Dorsey is likely to address what this reshuffling means for Twitter going forward.

We'll be covering the earnings report and investor call on Wednesday, starting at 5 p.m. ET.

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