Company / division: Twitter
Twitter Aiming to Broadcast Live Video Full Time in Future (Apr 25, 2017)
This is an interesting announcement to make the night before earnings. Twitter broadcast 800 hours of live video in the first quarter, but it’s aiming to broadcast 24/7 eventually, which would be a roughly threefold increase in video just to have a single stream full time, let alone to give people options. And though this piece talks up the idea of being the equivalent to CNBC in airports, the whole value proposition of the latter is that you have nothing better to do. For Twitter to do well with live video, it needs compelling content, not just ambient content. And that’s tough to do when the vast majority of sports rights are sewn up for years to come and Twitter just lost one of the few available packages to Amazon. Beyond sports, there’s not much live content that’s compelling enough for people to tune into deliberately and importantly to watch through a commercial break. Color me skeptical that this effort will make a big difference to Twitter’s user base or its ability to monetize it. Live video still feels like an interesting complement to Twitter’s core value proposition rather than being central to it, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Twitter Opens Advertising Analytics to Third Parties (Apr 10, 2017)
As per the Marc Pritchard interview I covered earlier today, many advertisers are still concerned that they’re essentially being defrauded when placing ads online, because they don’t know which ads are really being seen by human beings as opposed to bots. One of the big requests these brands have had for ad platforms is increased outside auditing by independent firms which have standardized measures for things like viewability and can compare metrics across multiple platforms. We’ve already seen Facebook and Google open up both for outside auditing and for measurement by third parties, and Twitter is now joining them. Twitter’s analytics around advertising have been an area of weakness, so even nothing here directly improves Twitter’s own tools, open up to third parties should at least help some advertisers feel better about the data they’ll get back when advertising on Twitter.
Twitter today announced Custom Hearts, an equivalent of sorts to Snapchat’s Sponsored Filters product for advertisers. Advertisers can now use the Custom Hearts product to replace the standard heart icon that users use to show appreciation for a live video stream in Periscope or Twitter with a brand image of some kind. The example used here is the movie franchise The Fast and the Furious using “F8” as an alternative to promote its eighth film, which premiered over the weekend. It’s a lot subtler than Snapchat’s Sponsored Filters, and it doesn’t have the same social multiplier effect of users applying a sponsored filter to a picture or video and sharing it with their friends, but it’s good to see Twitter innovating to find new forms of advertising given its recent struggles with growing ad revenue. More importantly, it’s also doing more with analytics, something I’ll cover in a second post shortly.
The Trump administration no longer wants Twitter to reveal the owner of an anti-Trump account – Recode (Apr 7, 2017)
Just a quick update on yesterday’s item about the USCIS’s fight with Twitter over revealing who was behind an account critical of the administration. It appears the administration has now backed off and so the lawsuit Twitter filed has been ended as well. What I’d love to know is why – whether calmer heads prevailed and someone in the government realized this was a fight it couldn’t win, or something else happened. Either way, what would have been a big test for Twitter and the administration now won’t be.
Twitter unveils a new API platform, roadmap and vision for its developer community – TechCrunch (Apr 6, 2017)
Twitter has had a rocky and confusing relationship with developers over the years. Early on, it relied heavily on developers and encouraged them to build apps, but then it pulled back from that strategy and also made it harder for developers to create standard Twitter apps in competition with its own. And then it built and subsequently sold off a set of developer tools. So developers could be forgiven for being a little wary of another developer push from Twitter. But the moves Twitter announced today seem largely sensible and should move the company’s developer platform along nicely, aligning the mainstream REST and streaming APIs with its enterprise-grade GNIP APIs, and adding new functionality both today and through 2018 to improve and expand its offerings. All of that should make it easier for developers to build apps to hook into Twitter and take advantage of its data for a variety of purposes, as well as using Twitter as a customer service channel. That’s all good stuff, and if Twitter hasn’t alienated developers entirely, it should help rebuild that relationship over time too, with at least some of them.
A new front has just opened up in the war between the Trump administration and the tech industry: Twitter is suing the government after it attempted to compel Twitter to reveal the identity of the people behind the @Alt_USCIS Twitter account. That account is allegedly maintained by employees of the US Citizenship and Immigration Service and has been highly critical of the Trump administration and its policies on immigration. In and of itself, that seems like no legal justification at all for unmasking the account’s owners, and that’s why Twitter is pushing back on free speech grounds. But the legal hook here may be that the account is using the name of the agency in its Twitter handle, and as such might just possibly be in contravention of trademark or copyright law, or anti-impersonation regulations. Regardless of the reasoning, this sets up yet another fight between the tech industry and the administration, though in fairness Twitter had resisted some earlier attempts by the Obama administration to get at the people behind accounts as well. It’s also an important test of one of the key tenets of Twitter’s value proposition as a free speech platform.
A little while back, Facebook announced that it had 200 million users for its Facebook Lite product, which provides a more streamlined experience for those on limited wireless data connections, representing over 10% of its total monthly active users. Emerging markets have been really important for Facebook over the last few years, driving a good chunk of its user growth. Twitter, meanwhile, hasn’t had a product optimized for those markets, and has struggled to grow its base much at all. Today, it’s announcing its own Lite product, which is actually a progressive web app designed in partnership with Google, which has been pushing this format as one of several approaches to hybrid web/native apps. As a PWA, Twitter Lite offers some features historically reserved for native apps, like local storage and notifications, and Twitter seems to be promoting it as the option for users in emerging markets, touting the circumvention of app stores as a feature. All this should help Twitter do better with growth in emerging markets, as it’s been a long time coming and there should be at least some pent-up demand there. But it’s also a great validation for the PWA approach at Google, with a big name app out there for the first time to promote the concept. It’ll be well worth watching Google’s I/O this year for signs that it’s continuing to move the concept forward.
via Twitter Blogs
This is an interesting next potential step in Twitter’s push into live video. So far it’s focused on licensing video to show to all visitors (or at least all visitors in a particular country), with one of the big selling points being that users don’t have to hunt through a channel guide, authenticate themselves through a pay TV service, or jump through other hoops. What Twitter is betting on now is that users might be willing to authenticate themselves through a pay TV provider in return for the smaller benefit of watching video and related tweets in a single window, something I’m not sure users will go for. Twitter has, at least, made that tweet curation experience better in recent months, which may increase the attractiveness somewhat, but I suspect a big attraction for the other live video Twitter has shown was that it was free and painless. As anyone who’s used other TVE solutions knows, those words generally don’t apply.
This has some of the background on why Twitter today replaced its famous egg avatar for users who haven’t chosen their own photo with an outline of a person, but the most interesting part is why Twitter is doing this now. My first reaction on reading the piece was that this just means all the negative stuff trolls do on Twitter will now be associated with these head-and-shoulder outlines rather than eggs, this move was clearly designed to take effect after Twitter had taken several actions to curb abuse and harassment on the site, such that the new avatar could potentially start life without those negative associations. The logic is certainly sound, but it feels like this happened just a little too early in this transition. A few months from now, if Twitter’s various changes have indeed curbed abuse, that would be the perfect time to make this switch, but right now there’s still little evidence of that and people’s negative associations with anonymous accounts (regardless of the avatar) are still far too fresh. Much better to have waited six months and seen results from the abuse curbs before unleashing this new blobby avatar.
via Fast Company
This has been a heck of a long time coming – Twitter first announced this change way back in May last year, but it’s taken until now to actually implement the change, supposedly because Twitter has been testing various ways of making it work, though we’ve seen essentially this version in the wild now for some time. Though this change is positive in principle, because it frees up the payload of the tweet from the signaling, allowing more of the 140 characters to be used for content, not everyone is a fan of the implementation. That’s because the indication a tweet is a reply has now been extracted from the tweet itself and put above it in the interface, which makes it harder to see that context. There was no perfect way to achieve this objective without at least some of that tradeoff, but it’s still ridiculous that it took Twitter this long to implement the change when it seems to have been working on this specific implementation for months. It’s just another sign that Twitter continues to move very slowly in evolving its core product, and that fixes for big remaining frustrations are likely to take equally long to emerge.
Like Facebook, Twitter is pushing ads into more and more places, including videos on its platform, in an attempt to drive ad growth at a time when that rate of growth has been slowing. In Facebook’s case, the slowdown is due to saturating ad load, whereas for Twitter it’s a combination of anemic user growth and ineffective ad formats. Pre-roll ads for live video are likely to be a bit of a turnoff for users, but if the video is important (and long) enough then they may just put up with them anyway. But this is yet another sign that Twitter is willing to try lots of new things when it comes to finding new sources of revenue, on top of last week’s reports about testing a paid subscription service.
via The Verge
Facebook, Amazon, Twitter and YouTube are bidding to stream the NFL’s Thursday night games – Recode (Mar 24, 2017)
When Twitter won these rights last time around in their first year as a separate set from television rights, it turned out to be something very different from what many of us expected. Rather than a massive splurge on a very valuable set of rights, it turned out that the winner merely got the right to show the games along with advertising mostly already sold by broadcasters, meaning there was very little additional revenue opportunity, and as such Twitter got the rights for a paltry $10 million. These NFL games have actually been a good fit with Twitter’s overall live strategy, which has mostly been focused on winning audiences rather than lots of new revenue, but it seems others are interested in taking another crack this year. It would obviously fit well with Facebook’s recent push into professionally produced live video, but also with YouTube’s recent investment in e-sports rights and with Amazon’s foray into TV bundles and Twitch video streaming. It’s less of a good fit with Apple’s current focus in the TV space, so it’s not surprising that its name doesn’t appear here. I’ll be very interested to see if the NFL is pitching the same kind of package as last time or whether the winning bidder will have the right to sell more of its own ads this time around.
I’m in two minds about this report. On the one hand, I’ve thought for a while that some kind of premium subscription service would be a great way to allow the heaviest users of Twitter to pay for the value they get out of it (while potentially avoiding ads), and serve as a useful additional revenue stream at a time when Twitter’s ad revenue has been stagnating. On the other hand, the news that this will effectively be an enhanced version of Tweetdeck is less appealing. Tweetdeck is for a particular type of Twitter user – one who wants lots of tabs open at once with various different feeds – but that’s not all power users by any stretch. And as an app Tweetdeck has a somewhat miserable reputation for reliability – the only times I ever see it mentioned on Twitter itself are when it’s crashing on people. I’ve used it occasionally in the past, but not for some time now, not least because it’s been neglected as a native app on macOS since 2015. If this new option really is limited to and centered on Tweetdeck, it’ll have appeal mostly limited to a certain kind of power user (mostly companies, brands, and professional social media managers), but if it’s instead aimed at power users broadly and supports other endpoints too, then it’s more interesting. We’ll probably have to wait until Twitter concludes its testing to know one way or the other, though.
via The Verge
The ANA represents 1000 large advertisers including many of the largest companies in the US, so what it says definitely counts for something when it comes to advertising policy. And in this case it’s saying that it wants other big tech companies to submit to outside audits alongside Facebook and Google, who have already committed to do so. Strangely, Instagram is on the list anyway, alongside other independent names like Twitter and Snapchat. There really seems to be increasing pressure from advertisers for transparency and consistency, and this was one of the themes of P&G exec Marc Pritchard’s talk a few weeks back in which he called on the ad industry to do better on several fronts.
It looks like Twitter debuted a new Top Commentary tab in its live video screen last night for President Trump’s address to Congress. This should have been there from the beginning – the uncurated selection of tweets that has been shown against most live video since it launched on Twitter has been an unusable mess, and this new tab is a huge improvement. For the first time, this actually demonstrates the value of a curated stream of top tweets for a real-time event, something most active users of Twitter likely already grasp, but new users tuning in for a live video event don’t. Showing them the value – and power – of watching a well selected stream of tweets in real time is critical to converting them to active users of the platform. But of course Twitter should be doing this kind of real-time curation constantly for major topics across the site, especially given that it appears the feature is algorithm-driven, which means it’s much more scalable than something curated by human beings.
I’ve been very critical of Twitter over its poor response to abuse and harassment on the platform, so I don’t think they should get a free pass now just because they’ve finally decided to do something about it. However, kudos to them for finally acting on these issues after the years of bizarre prevarication on this point – they’ve now moving quickly, as promised (here are two other steps taken in the last few weeks). These latest changes are actually some of the best they’ve announced during this period, because they actually remove content proactively from your feed based on algorithms. This has always seemed like it would have to be a big part of the answer – human curation was never going to be able to deal with the volumes involved here. But another positive change is more feedback on abuse reports users submit, which has been largely missing from the app itself so far. There’s still a risk of false positives and Twitter definitely needs mechanisms for appeal and reinstatement where those occur, but it does finally feel like Twitter is making meaningful progress here.
Unlike last week’s changes, which were mostly about changes in the user interface of non-abusive users, this change is directed specifically at limiting the reach of abusive users, which feels like a more important and urgent priority. The limits are only temporary – no-one is getting kicked off the platform for this abusive behavior, merely having their reach limited for 12 hours or so in the cases so far. I wonder if – by analogy to an iPhone lock screen – the lockout period will be longer after each offense until eventually the user is banned; that’s something Twitter doesn’t seem to have commented on yet publicly. But it’s also not clear that there’s an appeal mechanism, which is a bit worrying because Facebook, Twitter, and others have sometimes blocked innocuous users either by mistake or through mis-application (or over-zealous application) of policy. I’m all for Twitter cracking down on abuse – it should be a key priority – but it needs to happen in a way that’s transparent and appealable. So there’s definitely progress here, but we still need more.
Twitter’s results this morning were a great illustration of the quandary Twitter presents: on the one hand, it’s never been more important or relevant in the world, and on the other it just doesn’t seem to be able to turn that into meaningful user growth, revenue growth, or profitability. Revenues were actually down year on year, especially in the US, while losses also increased due partly to restructuring costs. Monthly user growth was anemic again, while daily user growth accelerated, though Twitter bafflingly continues to refuse to provide actual DAU numbers (it’s likely that they’re well under half of its MAU number of 319 million, so around 150 million). Meanwhile, Twitter is still talking about exactly the same shortcomings in its ad product around measurement, targeting, delivering ROI, and creative capabilities that it’s been talking about for ages now. And it sounds like it’s rethinking a number of its direct response ad formats and may kill off some that are actually delivering revenue because they’re too resource-intensive. At this point in Twitter’s history (almost 11 years in) and Jack Dorsey’s second tenure (a year and a half in), the company really shouldn’t be about to undergo yet another major reset in its strategy. In the meantime, Twitter management is asking investors to take it on trust that they can convince advertisers that the underlying growth in DAUs and impressions means they should spend more money on Twitter. We’re certainly due for at least one more really shaky quarter, but there’s a good chance we won’t see meaningful financial progress in 2017 at all. I’ve done a slightly more in-depth take at Beyond Devices here.
via Twitter (PDF)
This is one of those times when the word “finally” seems the apt response. Twitter has denied and stalled its way around the abuse issue, and never seems to have taken it nearly seriously enough, but the promise last week that it was finally ready to start moving faster seems to be bearing at least some fruit. And as I said last week, it’s presumably not a coincidence that Twitter’s Q4 results are out on Thursday – I’m sure the company would like to defuse the abuse issue a little and focus on other things on its earnings call. The changes announced today are positive, but I see at least two flaws: firstly, there’s no real transparency over the rules used to designate tweets or replies as either unsafe or “less relevant”. I understand the desire not to spell out exactly what filters are used to avoid malefactors gaming the system, but this is likely to trigger lots of complaining when an opaque algorithm gets things wrong. Secondly, and in a bigger picture sense, this is all still about presentation and not about actually policing the platform for true abuse – so many reports of abuse and harassment have gone entirely unheeded by Twitter, and none of this will address that fundamental issue.