Monthly Archives: August 2018
Twitter announced this afternoon it will begin booting accounts off its service from those who have tried to evade their account suspension. The company says that the accounts in question are users who have been previously suspended on Twitter for their abusive behavior, or for trying to evade a prior suspension. These bad actors have been able to work around Twitter’s attempt to remove them by setting up another account, it seems.
The company says the new wave of suspensions will hit this week and will continue in the weeks ahead, as it’s able to identify others who are “attempting to Tweet following an account suspension.”
This week, we are suspending accounts for attempting to evade an account suspension. These accounts were previously suspended for abusive behavior or evading a previous suspension, and are not allowed to continue using Twitter.
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) August 14, 2018
Twitter’s announcement on the matter – which came in the form of a tweet – was light on details. We asked the company for more information. It’s unclear, for example, how Twitter was able to identify the same persons had returned to Twitter, how many users will be affected by this new ban, or what impact this will have on Twitter’s currently stagnant user numbers.
Twitter was not able to answer our questions, when asked for comment.
The company has been more recently focused on aggressively suspending accounts, as part of the effort to stem the flow of disinformation, bots, and abuse on its service. The Washington Post, for example, said last month that Twitter had suspended as many as 70 million accounts between the months of May and June, and was continuing in July at the same pace. The removal of these accounts didn’t affect the company’s user metrics, Twitter’s CFO later clarified.
Even though they weren’t a factor, Twitter’s user base is shrinking. The company actually lost a million monthly active users in Q2, with 335 million overall users and 68 million in the U.S. In part, Twitter may be challenged in growing its audience because it’s not been able to get a handle on the rampant abuse on its platform, and because it makes poor enforcement decisions with regard to its existing policies.
For instance, Twitter is under fire right now for the way it chooses who to suspend, as it’s one of the few remaining platforms that hasn’t taken action against conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
The Outline even hilariously (???) suggested today that we all abandon Twitter and return to Tumblr. (Disclosure: Oath owns Tumblr and TC. I don’t support The Outline’s plan. Twitter should just fix itself, even if that requires new leadership.)
In any event, today’s news isn’t about a change in how Twitter will implement its rules, but rather in how it will enforce the bans it’s already chosen to enact.
In many cases, banned users would simply create a new account using a new email address and then continue to tweet. Twitter’s means of identifying returning users has been fairly simplistic in the past. To make sure banned users didn’t come back, it used information like the email, phone and IP address to identify them.
For it to now be going after a whole new lot of banned accounts who have been attempting to avoid their suspensions, Twitter may be using the recently acquired technology from anti-abuse firm Smyte. At the time of the deal, Twitter had praised Smyte’s proactive anti-abuse systems, and said it would soon put them to work.
This system may pick up false positives, of course – and that could be why Twitter noted that some accounts could be banned in error in the weeks ahead.
We will continue this work in the coming weeks as we identify others who are attempting to Tweet following an account suspension. If you believe your account has been suspended in error, please let us know.https://t.co/RUWvNoQt2G
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) August 14, 2018
Reached for comment, Twitter declined to answer our specific questions and said it could also not go into further details as that would give those attempting to evade a suspension more insight into its detection methods.
“This is a step we’re taking to further refine our work and close existing gaps we identified,” a spokesperson said. “This is specifically targeting those previously suspended for abusive behavior. Nothing to share on amount of accounts impacted since this work will remain ongoing, not just today.”
Updated, 8/14/18, 3:51 PM ET with Twitter’s comment.
A fight the CEO would have trouble winning, according to experts.
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Uber announced a new program today called Profile Recommendations that takes advantage of machine intelligence to reduce user error when switching between personal and business accounts.
It’s not unusual for a person to have both types of accounts. When you’re out and about, it’s easy to forget to switch between them when appropriate. Uber wants to help by recommending the correct one.
“Using machine learning, Uber can predict which profile and corresponding payment method an employee should be using, and make the appropriate recommendation,” Ronnie Gurion, GM and Global Head of Uber for Business wrote in a blog post announcing the new feature.
Uber has been analyzing a dizzying amount of trip data for so long, it can now (mostly) understand the purpose of a given trip based on the details of your request. While it’s certainly not perfect because it’s not always obvious what the purpose is, Uber believes it can determine the correct intention 80 percent of the time. For that remaining 20 percent, when it doesn’t get it right, Uber is hoping to simplify corrections too.
Business users can now also assign trip reviewers — managers or other employees who understand the employee’s usage patterns, and can flag questionable rides. Instead of starting an email thread or complicated bureaucratic process to resolve an issue, the employee can now see these flagged rides and resolve them right in the app. “This new feature not only saves the employee’s and administrator’s time, but it also cuts down on delays associated with closing out reports,” Gurion wrote in the blog post announcement.
Uber also announced that it’s supporting a slew of new expense reporting software to simplify integration with these systems. They currently have integrations with Certify, Chrome River, Concur and Expensify. They will be adding support for Expensya, Happay, Rydoo, Zeno by Serko and Zoho Expense starting in September.
All of this should help business account holders deal with Uber expenses more efficiently, while integrating with many of the leading expense programs to move data smoothly from Uber to a company’s regular record-keeping systems.
Google recently updated its search quality rating guidelines, which has had a profound impact on the way that content is created. Publishing a revised 164-page document, the leading search engine is now paying greater attention on what users are searching for and what information they end up reading.
The tech giant has not been afraid to say that it has a focus on enhancing the user experience across the platform, and the changes that have been introduced for content creators reinforce this statement for marketers around the world.
While well-crafted onsite content can help strengthen your brand’s message and highlight your industry expertise, you’ll also need to produce creative offsite content that will help your business secure the best online coverage across a range of publications to increase rankings while amplifying your brand.
There are multiple elements that cover on-site content, and when done correctly, effective on-site content can help increase your website’s search rankings. If you’re looking to become the go-to brand/service for your prospective customers, it’s crucial that you appear at the top of the results page.
Ultimately, blog content on your business website is there to support the user’s journey while providing them with the most insightful information that they need during their visit. This could also support them when making a purchase, as they see you as a more trustworthy figure. There are a few techniques you can use to make sure that your on-site blog content performs exceptionally well.
The first step to creating blog content is to understand who is reading it — usually this will be your main demographic who already have an interest in your products or services. Although you’ve positioned yourself as an authoritative figure, you need to speak to your website visitors as if they’re on your level for both acquisition and retention purposes.
You also want to avoid any industry jargon, as this can be an instant turn off for a reader. It’s important to be transparent with your audience and tell them the information that they need in a concise way that still delivers the same level of information.
You also need to use your blog content as a way to tell your audience that you’re better than your competitors. This can be achieved through showing off your USPs — whether these include next-day delivery or a lengthy warranty on products. If you’re creating an article on your site that drives information to the reader, they won’t mind you being slightly advertorial, as this can also be beneficial to them.
Internal links are a must in your blog post, but only if they are relevant. If you’re discussing a certain product or service that you offer, you should be linking to the relevant page to help improve the overall page authority.
It’s essential that you end your blog post with a call to action, because if a reader has made it all the way through your article, they’re already invested in your business and are more likely to perform an action.
Creating off-site content is completely different from making blog posts for your business website. This time, you’re not trying to appeal to your customers but to journalists and major publications that will drive authority to your website while having the ability to increase brand visibility.
It requires a full team of innovative and creative people to come up with outreach ideas that can support an SEO campaign. You should have an aim to create pieces of content that can be outreached to different publications that cover various niches. For example, an article that discusses how technology has improved health and safety in the workplace would appeal to technology, business and HR websites, all of which can improve your link building strategy for your online marketing campaigns.
This also means that you must carry out extensive research into what is relevant in the news. From an outreach perspective, this can allow you to see what type of content journalists are looking for and what is currently working well in terms of online coverage.
As well as this, you should also be looking at creating content around national or international events or celebrations — as editors are more likely to pick up this type of content because it will appeal to a wide audience and generate an overall buzz. Recently, we saw this with the World Cup and will soon see the same with the upcoming Christmas period.
Publications and journalists will not take content pieces that are too advertorial, as they want to provide readers with content that is informative and unbiased — but that is not to say they won’t credit you with either a brand mention or a link to one of your target pages.
Although content creation for both on-site and off-site may look similar, they can be very different in tone, format and objective.
As tech’s social giants wrestle with antisocial demons that appear to be both an emergent property of their platform power, and a consequence of specific leadership and values failures (evident as they publicly fail to enforce even the standards they claim to have), there are still people dreaming of a better way. Of social networking beyond outrage-fuelled adtech giants like Facebook and Twitter.
There have been many such attempts to build a ‘better’ social network of course. Most have ended in the deadpool. A few are still around with varying degrees of success/usage (Snapchat, Ello and Mastodon are three that spring to mine). None has usurped Zuckerberg’s throne of course.
This is principally because Facebook acquired Instagram and WhatsApp. It has also bought and closed down smaller potential future rivals (tbh). So by hogging network power, and the resources that flow from that, Facebook the company continues to dominate the social space. But that doesn’t stop people imagining something better — a platform that could win friends and influence the mainstream by being better ethically and in terms of functionality.
And so meet the latest dreamer with a double-sided social mission: Openbook.
The idea (currently it’s just that; a small self-funded team; a manifesto; a prototype; a nearly spent Kickstarter campaign; and, well, a lot of hopeful ambition) is to build an open source platform that rethinks social networking to make it friendly and customizable, rather than sticky and creepy.
Their vision to protect privacy as a for-profit platform involves a business model that’s based on honest fees — and an on-platform digital currency — rather than ever watchful ads and trackers.
There’s nothing exactly new in any of their core ideas. But in the face of massive and flagrant data misuse by platform giants these are ideas that seem to sound increasingly like sense. So the element of timing is perhaps the most notable thing here — with Facebook facing greater scrutiny than ever before, and even taking some hits to user growth and to its perceived valuation as a result of ongoing failures of leadership and a management philosophy that’s been attacked by at least one of its outgoing senior execs as manipulative and ethically out of touch.
The Openbook vision of a better way belongs to Joel Hernández who has been dreaming for a couple of years, brainstorming ideas on the side of other projects, and gathering similarly minded people around him to collectively come up with an alternative social network manifesto — whose primary pledge is a commitment to be honest.
“And then the data scandals started happening and every time they would, they would give me hope. Hope that existing social networks were not a given and immutable thing, that they could be changed, improved, replaced,” he tells TechCrunch.
Rather ironically Hernández says it was overhearing the lunchtime conversation of a group of people sitting near him — complaining about a laundry list of social networking ills; “creepy ads, being spammed with messages and notifications all the time, constantly seeing the same kind of content in their newsfeed” — that gave him the final push to pick up the paper manifesto and have a go at actually building (or, well, trying to fund building… ) an alternative platform.
At the time of writing Openbook’s Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign has a handful of days to go and is only around a third of the way to reaching its (modest) target of $ 115k, with just over 1,000 backers chipping in. So the funding challenge is looking tough.
The team behind Openbook includes crypto(graphy) royalty, Phil Zimmermann — aka the father of PGP — who is on board as an advisor initially but billed as its “chief cryptographer”, as that’s what he’d be building for the platform if/when the time came.
Hernández worked with Zimmermann at the Dutch telecom KPN building security and privacy tools for internal usage — so called him up and invited him for a coffee to get his thoughts on the idea.
“As soon as I opened the website with the name Openbook, his face lit up like I had never seen before,” says Hernández. “You see, he wanted to use Facebook. He lives far away from his family and facebook was the way to stay in the loop with his family. But using it would also mean giving away his privacy and therefore accepting defeat on his life-long fight for it, so he never did. He was thrilled at the possibility of an actual alternative.”
On the Kickstarter page there’s a video of Zimmermann explaining the ills of the current landscape of for-profit social platforms, as he views it. “If you go back a century, Coca Cola had cocaine in it and we were giving it to children,” he says here. “It’s crazy what we were doing a century ago. I think there will come a time, some years in the future, when we’re going to look back on social networks today, and what we were doing to ourselves, the harm we were doing to ourselves with social networks.”
“We need an alternative to the social network work revenue model that we have today,” he adds. “The problem with having these deep machine learning neural nets that are monitoring our behaviour and pulling us into deeper and deeper engagement is they already seem to know that nothing drives engagement as much as outrage.
“And this outrage deepens the political divides in our culture, it creates attack vectors against democratic institutions, it undermines our elections, it makes people angry at each other and provides opportunities to divide us. And that’s in addition to the destruction of our privacy by revenue models that are all about exploiting our personal information. So we need some alternative to this.”
Hernández actually pinged TechCrunch’s tips line back in April — soon after the Cambridge Analytica Facebook scandal went global — saying “we’re building the first ever privacy and security first, open-source, social network”.
We’ve heard plenty of similar pitches before, of course. Yet Facebook has continued to harvest global eyeballs by the billions. And even now, after a string of massive data and ethics scandals, it’s all but impossible to imagine users leaving the site en masse. Such is the powerful lock-in of The Social Network effect.
Regulation could present a greater threat to Facebook, though others argue more rules will simply cement its current dominance.
Openbook’s challenger idea is to apply product innovation to try to unstick Zuckerberg. Aka “building functionality that could stand for itself”, as Hernández puts it.
“We openly recognise that privacy will never be enough to get any significant user share from existing social networks,” he says. “That’s why we want to create a more customisable, fun and overall social experience. We won’t follow the footsteps of existing social networks.”
Data portability is an important ingredient to even being able to dream this dream — getting people to switch from a dominant network is hard enough without having to ask them to leave all their stuff behind as well as their friends. Which means that “making the transition process as smooth as possible” is another project focus.
Hernández says they’re building data importers that can parse the archive users are able to request from their existing social networks — to “tell you what’s in there and allow you to select what you want to import into Openbook”.
These sorts of efforts are aided by updated regulations in Europe — which bolster portability requirements on controllers of personal data. “I wouldn’t say it made the project possible but… it provided us a with a unique opportunity no other initiative had before,” says Hernández of the EU’s GDPR.
“Whether it will play a significant role in the mass adoption of the network, we can’t tell for sure but it’s simply an opportunity too good to ignore.”
On the product front, he says they have lots of ideas — reeling off a list that includes the likes of “a topic-roulette for chats, embracing Internet challenges as another kind of content, widgets, profile avatars, AR chatrooms…” for starters.
“Some of these might sound silly but the idea is to break the status quo when it comes to the definition of what a social network can do,” he adds.
Asked why he believes other efforts to build ‘ethical’ alternatives to Facebook have failed he argues it’s usually because they’ve focused on technology rather than product.
“This is still the most predominant [reason for failure],” he suggests. “A project comes up offering a radical new way to do social networking behind the scenes. They focus all their efforts in building the brand new tech needed to do the very basic things a social network can already do. Next thing you know, years have passed. They’re still thousands of miles away from anything similar to the functionality of existing social networks and their core supporters have moved into yet another initiative making the same promises. And the cycle goes on.”
He also reckons disruptive efforts have fizzled out because they were too tightly focused on being just a solution to an existing platform problem and nothing more.
So, in other words, people were trying to build an ‘anti-Facebook’, rather than a distinctly interesting service in its own right. (The latter innovation, you could argue, is how Snap managed to carve out a space for itself in spite of Facebook sitting alongside it — even as Facebook has since sought to crush Snap’s creative market opportunity by cloning its products.)
“This one applies not only to social network initiatives but privacy-friendly products too,” argues Hernández. “The problem with that approach is that the problems they solve or claim to solve are most of the time not mainstream. Such as the lack of privacy.
“While these products might do okay with the people that understand the problems, at the end of the day that’s a very tiny percentage of the market. The solution these products often present to this issue is educating the population about the problems. This process takes too long. And in topics like privacy and security, it’s not easy to educate people. They are topics that require a knowledge level beyond the one required to use the technology and are hard to explain with examples without entering into the conspiracy theorist spectrum.”
So the Openbook team’s philosophy is to shake things up by getting people excited for alternative social networking features and opportunities, with merely the added benefit of not being hostile to privacy nor algorithmically chain-linked to stoking fires of human outrage.
The reliance on digital currency for the business model does present another challenge, though, as getting people to buy into this could be tricky. After all payments equal friction.
To begin with, Hernández says the digital currency component of the platform would be used to let users list secondhand items for sale. Down the line, the vision extends to being able to support a community of creators getting a sustainable income — thanks to the same baked in coin mechanism enabling other users to pay to access content or just appreciate it (via a tip).
So, the idea is, that creators on Openbook would be able to benefit from the social network effect via direct financial payments derived from the platform (instead of merely ad-based payments, such as are available to YouTube creators) — albeit, that’s assuming reaching the necessary critical usage mass. Which of course is the really, really tough bit.
“Lower cuts than any existing solution, great content creation tools, great administration and overview panels, fine-grained control over the view-ability of their content and more possibilities for making a stable and predictable income such as creating extra rewards for people that accept to donate for a fixed period of time such as five months instead of a month to month basis,” says Hernández, listing some of the ideas they have to stand out from existing creator platforms.
“Once we have such a platform and people start using tips for this purpose (which is not such a strange use of a digital token), we will start expanding on its capabilities,” he adds. (He’s also written the requisite Medium article discussing some other potential use cases for the digital currency portion of the plan.)
At this nascent prototype and still-not-actually-funded stage they haven’t made any firm technical decisions on this front either. And also don’t want to end up accidentally getting into bed with an unethical tech.
“Digital currency wise, we’re really concerned about the environmental impact and scalability of the blockchain,” he says — which could risk Openbook contradicting stated green aims in its manifesto and looking hypocritical, given its plan is to plough 30% of its revenues into ‘give-back’ projects, such as environmental and sustainability efforts and also education.
“We want a decentralised currency but we don’t want to rush into decisions without some in-depth research. Currently, we’re going through IOTA’s whitepapers,” he adds.
They do also believe in decentralizing the platform — or at least parts of it — though that would not be their first focus on account of the strategic decision to prioritize product. So they’re not going to win fans from the (other) crypto community. Though that’s hardly a big deal given their target user-base is far more mainstream.
“Initially it will be built on a centralised manner. This will allow us to focus in innovating in regards to the user experience and functionality product rather than coming up with a brand new behind the scenes technology,” he says. “In the future, we’re looking into decentralisation from very specific angles and for different things. Application wise, resiliency and data ownership.”
“A project we’re keeping an eye on and that shares some of our vision on this is Tim Berners Lee’s MIT Solid project. It’s all about decoupling applications from the data they use,” he adds.
So that’s the dream. And the dream sounds good and right. The problem is finding enough funding and wider support — call it ‘belief equity’ — in a market so denuded of competitive possibility as a result of monopolistic platform power that few can even dream an alternative digital reality is possible.
In early April, Hernández posted a link to a basic website with details of Openbook to a few online privacy and tech communities asking for feedback. The response was predictably discouraging. “Some 90% of the replies were a mix between critiques and plain discouraging responses such as “keep dreaming”, “it will never happen”, “don’t you have anything better to do”,” he says.
(Asked this April by US lawmakers whether he thinks he has a monopoly, Zuckerberg paused and then quipped: “It certainly doesn’t feel like that to me!”)
Still, Hernández stuck with it, working on a prototype and launching the Kickstarter. He’s got that far — and wants to build so much more — but getting enough people to believe that a better, fairer social network is even possible might be the biggest challenge of all.
For now, though, Hernández doesn’t want to stop dreaming.
“We are committed to make Openbook happen,” he says. “Our back-up plan involves grants and impact investment capital. Nothing will be as good as getting our first version through Kickstarter though. Kickstarter funding translates to absolute freedom for innovation, no strings attached.”
You can check out the Openbook crowdfunding pitch here.
Researchers have demonstrated that sending a single malicious fax is all it takes to break into a network.
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Whether you’re a data analyst, marketer, or e-commerce specialist, keeping on top of your data and making informed choices can make significant impact on your business. With that in mind, the Google Analytics team has introduced a new video series on YouTube: Measure Matters. Hosted by Analytics Advocates Krista Seiden and Louis Gray, the series covers best practices on leveraging our suite of products, rounds up highlights from the larger measurement community, and reviews recent product updates – so you never miss a thing, even with your busy schedule.
Measure Matters kicked off in May with a deep dive into Machine Learning, where we talked about automatic insights within Google Analytics, and whether the machines were coming for our jobs. (Spoiler alert: they’re not)
Our second episode covered finding your North Star, being sure to try new approaches and take risks, but to make choices based on data, rather than hacking your way through without a clear plan.
The third episode focused on how app developers can literally change the game through mobile app analytics, leveraging Google Analytics for Firebase.
What’s Coming Next
Measure Matters is scheduled to stream live every two weeks, with most events taking place at 10 a.m. Pacific time on Wednesday. Our next event will take place on Wednesday, June 27th, with the topic of Hearts, Charts and Shopping Carts — how you can evolve your marketing measurement with data. See our playlist for upcoming and past episodes.
How You Can Participate
Measure Matters is not a one-way broadcast. Krista and Louis regularly stream live on YouTube and answer questions taken via YouTube or on Twitter, using the hashtag #measurematters. So send us your questions, ideas, or content you think belongs on our show, and it just may make our next episode.
Posted by Krista Seiden and Louis Gray, Analytics Advocates
- Twitter is purging accounts that were trying to evade prior suspensions
- Elon Musk’s Tesla Tweets Could Spark a Fight With the SEC
- New Uber feature uses machine learning to sort business and personal rides
- The difference between on-site blog content and off-site content
- Openbook is the latest dream of a digital life beyond Facebook