After years of speculation, it appears that Twitter did actually develop a messaging app of its own. But, two caveats, it was intended for emerging markets and it was killed off before ever being released to the masses.
That’s according to a report from BuzzFeed, which claims the app was developed by Twitter’s emerging markets team in India, shortly before Twitter laid off most of its engineers in the country in September.
We contacted Twitter for comment earlier today during Asian business hours but the company has not responded at the time of writing.
The report says that Twitter acknowledged that it has a growth issue in emerging markets like India, where the likes of WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger continue to grow at speed, so it hatched a plan to develop a chat app based around topics and content gleaned from the main Twitter service.
BuzzFeed explains more:
Sources familiar with the messaging app’s development told BuzzFeed News that Twitter intended to identify “influencers” around certain topics — let’s say news or politics or sports — and encourage them to create groups of interest within the app.
Not only could users chat among themselves in these groups, they could also subscribe them to relevant Twitter accounts whose tweets would be pulled in automatically into these groups — functionality that’s similar to what’s already possible in Slack channels.
The idea seems to be to gently introduce new users to the kinds of content that exists on Twitter, with the aim of sparking their interest in using the main service.
There was a time that a Twitter messaging app could have been compelling, but this particular vision seems problematic. Messaging is popular because it is simple, this Twitter app sounds rather complicated just on paper. Perhaps it isn’t a huge surprise that Twitter killed it off following less-than-impressive feedback from trials it conducted among students in India.
BuzzFeed’s sources also claim that the Twitter India engineering team worked on a ‘Lite’ version of the main app for emerging markets. That’s similar to lightweight apps developed by Facebook among others, but Twitter Lite has apparently disappeared without a trace.
Twitter has since shuttered its engineering facility in Bangalore as part of restructuring that saw nine percent of its staff laid off. Unfortunately that was the end of the road for the team working on these test apps, which could perhaps have been tweaked to find the right fit for emerging market users. As it stands, the Twitter service is nothing like as popular as the likes of WhatsApp, Facebook, Messenger, Instagram or YouTube in emerging markets — and it is hard to see that changing any time soon.