Here’s a potential Twitter acquirer you may not have considered: The service’s own users.
Sounds crazy? The movement garnered enough attention that a proposal to explore the co-op idea has made it onto the official agenda for the company’s annual shareholder meeting set to take place in May.
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If the proposal passes, it would require Twitter to “prepare a report on the nature and feasibility of selling the platform to its users,” according to Twitter’s proxy filing submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission last week.
In other words, Twitter needs to look into the idea, although that doesn’t mean it would ever actually happen.
Not surprisingly, Twitter’s board is not keen on selling the company to its customers.
“We believe that preparing a report on the nature and feasibility of selling the ‘platform,’ and doing so only to ‘its users,’ would be a misallocation of resources and a distraction to our board of directors and management,” the company argued in the proxy.
Still, the co-op idea is, at the very least, intriguing to think about.
Twitter is a service that often feels like it’s dominated by a highly-dedicated, vocal minority. Twitter’s social impact vastly outweighs its business impact, and supporters of the co-op idea believe that if users owned the company, the pressure to produce quarter-over-quarter growth would be diminished. Twitter could simply focus on building a better product with more direct input from its user base.
“Wall Street thinks the company is a failure, because it’s not raking in enough profit for shareholders,” the petition reads. “That means that Twitter is up for sale, and there is a real risk that the new owner may ruin our beloved platform with a narrow pursuit of profit or political gains.”
How might a Twitter co-op actually work, though? Nathan Schneider, who first proposed the co-op idea in an op-ed for The Guardian last fall, believes there are a number of different formats that could work, which is why he wants the company to look into options.
One idea would be a hybrid ownership model, Schneider suggested to Recode, where a portion of the voting shares would be set aside into a trust controlled by actual users; those shares would also control a few board seats. He pointed to the Associated Press, a not-for-profit cooperative, as a successful example of the co-op idea working in the real world.
“It struck me that this [Twitter sale process] was a spectator sport and what was up for grabs was a valuable entity,” Schneider explained in an interview with Recode. “[The idea] isn’t to blow up everything. Shared ownership of this kind is really the best path for Twitter.”
Almost 3,500 people have signed the petition, but it seems highly unlikely the proposal will get the majority of votes required for it pass, especially considering Twitter’s board has openly opposed it.
There’s also this argument: Twitter’s one-vote-per-share stock structure already provides users with a chance to “own” the company and have a say in how it’s run. That’s why this co-op proposal even made it on the agenda in the first place.
Oh, and this one: Twitter, despite its struggles, is still worth more than $10 billion. Not exactly pocket change. The NFL’s Green Bay Packers, which is often pointed to as a shining example of a “user”-owned entity, has an estimated value of just $2.3 billion.
—By Kurt Wagner, Recode.net.
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