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Why did Twitter buy little-known start up Yes, Inc.?

Keith Coleman, not much of a Twitter user himself, will take on the increasingly difficult task of creating new products and reigniting the platform's user growth.

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A Twitter app is displayed on an iPhone screen. The social media giant has acquired the app maker Yes, Inc., in part for the brainpower of its personnel.

Richard Drew/AP/File

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Twitter recently acquired a small San Francisco startup called Yes, Inc. – gaining not just its cutting edge applications, but its personnel. Twitter will add Yes, Inc.'s chief executive officer and seven other employees to its team.

If Twitter’s hiring method was unusual, so is the hire himself.  

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Yes, Inc.'s chief executive officer Keith Coleman has an impressive social media résumé. He was a longtime product manager at Alphabet Inc.'s Google, overseeing the development of products such as Gmail, Inbox, and Gchat before starting social-networking app maker Yes, Inc. 

Surprisingly, Mr. Coleman, who is the new vice president of product at Twitter, isn't much a of a Twitter user himself. He joined Twitter in 2007 and has tweeted only 147 times since, mostly in recent weeks, TechCrunch reports. But beginning on Monday he will take on the increasingly difficult task of creating new products and reigniting the platform’s user growth, which has swung between flat and 2 percent for the past year. He will be the sixth product chief since 2007.

The role of vice president of product has been vacant for nearly a year, as Twitter has undergone a significant turnover in upper level staff in recent months. In addition to layoffs, as the social media site aims to cut up to 8 percent of its workforce in order to hone its direction, several executives have made the choice to leave.

Alex Roetter, Twitter's former head of engineering, left early this year, and last month, chief operating officer Adam Bain said he would step down to explore other opportunities as well. Former product head Kevin Weil left Twitter to run product development for photo-sharing app Instagram, now owned by Facebook. Chief technology officer Adam Messinger has filled the product role since Mr. Weil’s departure.

The turnover is representative of a turbulent year for Twitter. Under the leadership of new chief executive Jack Dorsey, the company has been juggling potential sales to Salesforce.com Inc., Walt Disney Co., and Alphabet Inc., all of which fell through.

Despite the fact that users send out 500 million tweets a day and that President-elect Donald Trump kept the media spotlight on his campaign through his off-the-cuff tweets, Twitter has struggled in recent years to stay relevant, while other social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat have their time in the spotlight. But Twitter executives, as well as media critics, believe that Twitter still has a role to play.

"The core ideals that made the product great are not lost, yet, even if they’ve been obscured," tech journalist Joshua Topolsky wrote in a New Yorker piece early this year. "The directness and power at the heart of Twitter – short bursts of information that can make you feel that you’re plugged into a hulking hive mind – are still its greatest asset. The company just needs to find the right way to show the power of those connections to a bigger audience, and the value of that audience to advertisers and partners. Not a simple task, but for Twitter an unavoidable one."

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That task will now be up to Coleman. 


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