Outside the media bubble, Twitters processes and protocols can be confusing. yet its future depends on attracting new users, and encouraging them to stay

Twitters chief executive Jack Dorsey needs Ann Feely, a 51-year-old wine marketer in Californias Bay Area, to keep posting about her favorite vintages if hes going to convince investors that Silicon Valleys once hottest startup has a future.

The problem: Feely hasnt tweeted since June. Twitter, she says, is corked.

Its overwhelming, says Feely, a Facebook and Instagram regular. Its just an enormous time-suck for the amount of information you get from it.

Then theres the Chicago grad student who said using Twitter makes him feel regret. Or the British theater director who compared posting on the service to throwing a pebble into a really unfriendly canyon. And the Facebook group called WHY IS TWITTER SO CONFUSING!!!?!?!?!?!?!

Posting disappointing earnings on 10 February, Twitter announced it was overhauling itself to make it more attractive for normal people to use. It comes as Twitter has seen user growth stall a critical metric by which Wall Street judges the service. Some 320 million people counted as monthly active Twitter users in the three months ending 31 December, exactly the same as the three months before.

Twitters predicament in some ways is a magnified version of a challenge many Silicon Valley firms face this year as tech stocks dip and investors look more critically at many darlings of the sectors second boom (which followed the boom and bust of the first dotcom bubble in 2000). Even if some startups were a hit with the plugged-in and early adopters, many of the services appear to have hit a ceiling.

This, of course, is true with any product. But in tech, where many companies dont make profits under traditional accounting measures, the promise of ever-growing popularity is a companys main selling point to investors and employees. And without investors or employees, there isnt much of a startup.

We are going to fix the broken windows and confusing parts, the company said in its earnings announcement, that we know inhibit usage and drive people away.

That could be a mighty task, based on interviews the Guardian conducted with dozens of attempted and frustrated Twitter users. Some wanted more attention for their 140-character missives. Some dreaded it. A lot of people said they were spending too much time watching arguments between people they didnt know and werent quite sure how to join in. All of them regularly use some other form of social media.

I want to say something that catches fire, said Alphonso Pines, retired union organizer in Atlanta. I still havent really figured it out.

Pines, 63, said he started using Twitter frequently about a year ago to try and participate in national political debates he follows at home. He, for instance, wanted to express his frustration with Joe Scarborough, the former Republican congressman and current host of MSNBCs Morning Joe program.

But so far, neither Scarborough nor anyone else has taken much interest in Pines Twitter posts, which include things like: #Morningjoe why does how much money Hilary make upset you so much?

Organizing protest online, it turns out, isnt as easy as organizing workers.

McKinsey Bond, a technology consultant in Washington DC, had the opposite problem. What do I have to say to somebody in this instance? said Bond, who created an account in 2011 and stopped using it. Its intimidating.

Some of this comes from Twitters origins, which are closer to a programmers internet chat than a platform to share baby pictures. Founded in 2006, the service is famous for giving people handles instead of names (@dannyyadron) and its reliance on hashtags to categorize posts. These can be one word (#twitter) or several smashed together (#twitterishardforsomepeople). Early Twitter users could actually view every single tweet being posted in chronological order.

This can overwhelm some, or at the very least seem like too much work to keep up with acquaintances.

Its a bit like talking to your friends through a loudspeaker, said Mengfei Chen, who works for a western publishing firm in China. Chen, however, did say she thought Twitter provided a good feed of the news, like a free version of Time.

In its securities filing, Twitter said it may make it easier to reply to people and may make it so not all posts are presented in chronological order. And for all the talk of Twitter being only useful for people trying to sell themselves, their ideas or a product, the service has undeniably influenced the lives of normal people. Just look at the Arab Spring or how information spreads among survivors now during natural disasters.

But instead of crediting Twitter for creating a global community, several people described the service as cliquish, alienating and preying on their insecurities.

It reminded me of being at school with the cool girls, said Hazel Gould, the 39-year-old British director. If I suddenly said something theyd all stare at me.

Gould, for instance, described her habit of following debates between feminist thinkers on the platform and pondering whether to chime in. She said she understood Twitters basic functions, such as reading posts or adding her own. But she found other parts, such as checking mentions or what other people are saying about another user, hard to navigate. Id feel like a luddite, she said.

Twitter doesnt disclose numbers on how many people have signed up for the service and stopped using it regularly. Some have estimated this number is in the hundreds of millions, but coming up with a firm estimate is tricky many Twitter accounts that were used briefly are bots, or spam accounts, and dont count as a discouraged user.

Executives said that the company in January started seeing an increase in resurrected users, or people who tried Twitter, went dormant and then returned.

But anecdotal examples of those who have stayed away abound.

Feely, the wine marketer who last tweeted in June after signing up in 2010, said she ultimately left because of the existential questions Twitter raises.

I have no idea why I need to share my life with potentially however many followers you get, she said.

Then she asked: How do I get followers?

Read more: www.theguardian.com