On Monday morning Twitter's stock was on the cusp of a 52-week low, hovering at around $14, when the news broke that one of the most boring companies in the technology industry (Microsoft) was buying one of the other most boring companies in the technology industry (LinkedIn). Given that this was, technically, a social-media buy, investors started growing reasonably titillated that Twitter could be next on the acquisition list, if not for Microsoft, then for another large company. Since then, the declining stock has risen to well over $16 a share. But just who would want to buy Twitter?
There are indeed a number of companies that would gladly acquire the beleaguered social network. Despite its precipitously declining stock price and stagnant monthly active-user count (a little more than 300 million), Twitter remains a valuable company, due largely to its pure scale, influence, and data. It could be a nice complement to any number of deeply capitalized technology companies still aspiring to get into social media—and a couple that are already entrenched in the space. There are some that believe one possible suitor would be Google, and if that was the case, it wouldn't be the first time. In 2011, when Google was working on Google Plus, Larry Page, its C.E.O. at the time, invited Twitter co-founder and current C.E.O. Jack Dorsey to the colorful Google campus to discuss a deal. Dorsey showed up and was escorted into a large conference room where, after a few minutes, Page emerged only to draw the blinds, sit eerily close to Dorsey, and whisper his acquisition pitch into his ear. Page told Dorsey that he wanted to integrate tweets into search results. (Yes, you heard that correctly, he wanted to buy Twitter to make search better.) Needless to say, the conversation didn't go beyond that conference room.
Five years later, I spoke to the late Bill Campbell, the former Apple board member and a confidant of Page. Campbell told me that Google currently had much bigger problems in its sights than social media, including artificial intelligence and driverless cars, and that Page now had "zero" interest. That being said, Page now runs Alphabet, Google's parent company. If Sundar Pichai, the C.E.O. of Google, really, really, really wanted Twitter (and if Twitter really, really, really wanted Google), I bet Pichai would be able to convince his bosses to let him buy the company.
But, truthfully, I don't think that is going to happen. While there are undoubtedly numerous companies that I'm sure would love to buy Twitter, the sexiest of them would be better off spending their billions elsewhere. That's not meant as a dis to Twitter, but points to the reality that in Silicon Valley, revenue growth is in other corners of the business. For example, people have been saying for a long time that Apple should buy Twitter. But Apple already has an incredibly robust social network in iMessages.
Put that aside and, sure, Twitter would be a fabulous addition to Apple's core products (imagine Twitter and iTunes?), but would it really add to Apple's bottom line? Probably not. Apple, right now, is trying to build a driverless car, and it seems like buying Tesla would be a much safer bet for the future of a company that currently makes smartphones. The same goes for Google and artificial intelligence and driverless cars and virtual reality. There are better financial bets for a two-figure company than a social network.
Speaking of social networks, Facebook might seem, on the face of it, to be a more logical potential buyer. Mark Zuckerberg has tried to scoop up Twitter (twice) and failed (twice). As I noted in my book, Hatching Twitter, he even tried to hire Dorsey over to his empire during one of the Twitter co-founder's interregnum periods. But Zuckerberg has a philosophy of either trying to buy a company, or simply seeking out on a path to destroy it. My feeling right now is that Facebook has entered the latter part of that equation when it comes to Twitter. Twitter, as Dorsey has reiterated repeatedly, is the best service on the planet to discuss what's happening in the moment. When he talks about this, he often uses the word "live." Over the past several months, however, Zuckerberg has been saying the same thing. "Live." "Live." "Live."
It goes without saying, of course, that Twitter is not actually for sale. And I wouldn't expect an acquisition to occur any time soon. As I reported in the summer issue of Vanity Fair, after the former C.E.O. of Twitter, Dick Costolo, announced that he was going to leave the helm of the company last year, there was a brief discussion over whether Twitter should sell itself to the highest bidder. At least until Dorsey, and his co-founder Evan Williams, said, in effect, absolutely no way. Both men see Twitter as too important to end up as just a feature on another platform. And, Dorsey has a lot of different things he wants to try to grow the company into.
What the LinkedIn sale does herald, however, is the notion of what Twitter has become. It may be bought, it might remain as an independent public company, but it isn't going away. Like newspapers, Twitter has become a crucial and integral part of our democracy. It gives everyone a voice, even a number of people who we all wish didn't have one—like the current presumptive Republican nominee. It drives news. It is a mirror of what is happening in the real world at this very moment. I don't see a world in which Twitter ever follows other social networks, like Friendster and MySpace, into the valley of death.
But, it's also unclear if Twitter will ever be able to grow to a point where Wall Street is comfortable investing in it for reasons beyond a possible acquisition. My theory is that eventually someone will try to buy the company. The question is what it will be worth when they do.