Company / division: Twitter
Twitter Hires a Permanent CFO from Intuit (Jul 11, 2017)
Twitter is Reportedly Testing a Fake News Button (Jun 29, 2017)
The Washington Post reports that Twitter is testing a button that would allow users to flag tweets or links in tweets which appear to be false or misleading, although it says there’s no guarantee that the feature will ever launch, and Twitter itself says it’s not going to launch anything along these lines soon. On the face of it, this is a logical step for Twitter, which has been one of the biggest vehicles for the rapid spread of fake news over the last year or two, even though its much smaller scale means that Facebook still arguably has a bigger impact, especially given its tendency to reinforce people’s existing biases. But on the other hand, given how the phrase “fake news” has lost all meaning and come to take on distinct partisan overtones, there’s enormous potential for misuse and controversy, and if Twitter does launch something along these lines, it’s going to need either a massive team of its own or several big partners with significant resources to handle the refereeing that will be needed. That alone may prevent Twitter from ever launching the feature, needed though it may be. In addition, given that Twitter has arguably bent its own rules on acceptable content a little for public figures such as President Trump (and candidate Trump before him), there are some big questions about whether tweets from the President and others would be subject to the same rules as those from other users.
Twitter Launches #SeeEverySide Marketing Campaign (Jun 19, 2017)
Back in December, four big US Internet companies signed a voluntary code of conduct with the EU under which they agreed to improve and accelerate the removal of hate speech from their platforms. Now, the EU is reporting good progress on those goals, with twice as high a percent of offending content removed, and Facebook and Twitter removing substantially more content within the first 24 hours, while YouTube slipped a little in this regard for reasons that aren’t clear. As Facebook has discovered, policing content is an expensive and labor-intensive task at the best of times, but having external standards set like this raises the stakes even further. The big risk in the EU and specific European countries is that this moves from voluntary codes of conduct to actual laws with significant consequences for non-compliance, so the big US companies are wise to do what they can to play nicely to try to ward off such outcomes.
Twitter Hires Former Bloomberg Exec to Lead Live Video (May 22, 2017)
Twitter’s three prominent co-founders have all spent time doing other things since its founding but all three are now back at the company in one form or another (Ev Williams has been the one constant, though he shifted out of the CEO role and onto the board a few years back). The latest to return is Biz Stone, who had been running another creation of his, Jelly, for several years, only to sell it to Pinterest a few months back. It sounds like Stone’s role will be that of a sort of internal culture champion and cheerleader rather than a key decision maker, which seems to suit his talents well but means it’ll be tough for outsiders to measure his impact. One of the benefits of Jack Dorsey coming back was that he had the authority of a founder to make big changes to the product (though he spent his first year back in charge failing to do so anyway). Stone’s hiring has a similar benefit in that he has the passion of a founder for the company and clearly believes strongly in its mission and product, and so can hopefully help instill that in other employees at a time when Twitter still feels rather stuck. We’ve seen some signs of more significant change in the product at Twitter lately, especially with its many recent TV deals, but its financial picture continues to be rather bleaker.
★ Twitter Announces a Dozen New Video Deals (May 1, 2017)
Last week, the day before Twitter’s earnings, it briefed BuzzFeed on its plans for 24/7 live video, and this week it’s announcing that it will achieve that objective at least in part through an expanded partnership with Bloomberg. But whereas Twitter has so far just carried the standard Bloomberg stream, this new partnership will have at least some exclusive content and also apparently a broader coverage than the existing, very business news-oriented, channel. As of when I’m writing, all the details aren’t out yet, but the channel is to begin airing sometime in the fall. This is an interesting partnership, but I reiterate what I said last week, which is that just having content is not the same as having compelling content, and even if there’s an exclusive element to this Bloomberg deal, business news or even news in general doesn’t quite fit the bill. I’m intrigued to see the details here, but as of right now I have a hard time seeing this make a big difference to Twitter’s smallish live video audience (just 14% of its monthly active users watched even 2 seconds of one live video last quarter), let alone its overall growth or ability to monetize its audience better.
Update (3:40pm MT): Bloomberg and Twitter have now announced some more details around the new channel, and it’s an interesting idea: become the breaking news network that takes what’s happening on Twitter and curates and verifies the information before feeding it out in a live TV show. Given how central Twitter is to the 24/7 news cycle already, I’m not convinced this is new and different, and if the emphasis here is on verification (certainly not a bad thing) it may actually mean the in-house network is slower to break news than CNN etc. One of the big problems with 24/7 news coverage is also always the challenge of filling time and keeping viewers engaged, which lends itself to sensationalism (to make unimportant stories seem important) and lots of filler material (because there’s never always something newsworthy going on). It’ll be interesting to see if Bloomberg and Twitter can collectively overcome these two, because otherwise we’re just getting yet another always-on news channel with little to differentiate it. The proof is totally going to be in the pudding with this one.
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