Twitter has some 300 million regular monthly users — and possibly as many views about the company’s long-term purpose and value.
Since last Friday, Twitter’s market value has increased about 25 percent, to $20 billion, on speculation that the company will be purchased. There have been reports of at least three potential buyers, including Salesforce.com, Disney and Microsoft.
None of these companies will comment on what they term market speculation. The variety of these possible acquirers, though, underlines peculiar quandaries that have dogged Twitter most of its life: What exactly is this social network about, and what might it become?
To Disney, Twitter might be tamed into a chatty consumer site with an online video capability that suits Disney’s family-friendly businesses. For Salesforce, which specializes in sales and marketing software, Twitter’s stream of lightweight commentary could be mined for information about consumer trends, useful for product design and manufacture.
For Microsoft, which at a meeting in Atlanta on Monday stated its aims to be a giant of artificial intelligence, the social data could matter as much as the product information, insight into how information flows around the world.
“All signals, wherever there is a social interaction, is interesting,” said Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, in an interview Monday. He warned, however, that with a company like Twitter “you can overstate the value of public signals.” While making no comment on whether Microsoft would bid for Twitter, he talked about the importance of putting personal privacy safeguards in any data Microsoft mined.
That is just one of the engineering hurdles any acquirer of Twitter might face. Another is the high cost of the engineers themselves: As Michael de la Merced writes, Twitter gave employees about $1.2 billion in stock-based compensation from 2013 to 2014. That is an eye-popping number, since revenue in 2015 was only $2.2 billion.
Any company that picks up Twitter wants to hold onto many of those employees. With companies like Disney or Salesforce, that would mean joining very different kinds of organizations, in terms of how they make money and possibly how they run their technology businesses.
Right now, Twitter’s talent is looking at 25 percent more stock wealth since Thursday, which they’ll begin to realize if there is a takeover. The new owner would then have to give them cause to stay, which in the tech world usually involves some kind of world-changing mission that also makes them even richer.
Another prospect, of course, is that no one buys Twitter, in which case its market value is likely to revert to something like Thursday’s price. At that point, stating the Twitter mission falls to its existing leadership.