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Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey busted for tweeting during congressional hearing

March 28, 2021 No Comments

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey got called out by Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY) for tweeting during today’s congressional hearing on disinformation and extremism. The tech exec’s tweet was likely expressing frustration with the format of the hearing, which once again saw the tech CEOs forced to boil down their answers to complicated questions into simple “yes” or “no” answers — or otherwise be cut off from responding. Cryptically, Dorsey this afternoon tweeted out a Twitter poll with just one question: “?” that had only two answers to choose from: either a “Yes” or “No.”

His post — or social commentary, if you will — did not go unnoticed.

Before Rice moved into her line of questioning, which focused on platforms’ ability to radicalize U.S. veterans’ and military service members, she asked the Twitter CEO about his tweet.

“Mr. Dorsey, what is winning — yes or no — on your Twitter account…poll?,” asked Rice, who sat in front of colorful wallpaper covered with flowers, butterflies, bugs and maybe snakes (??), which we agree was one of the better web conferencing backgrounds of the day — perhaps even besting Dorsey’s decision to Zoom from his kitchen with a cleverly placed blockchain clock behind him. (Because of course it’s a blockchain clock. Of course.)

“Yes,” Dorsey answered simply, in the same monotone he used throughout the hearing, which tends to give the impression of someone who just can’t get worked up over yet another congressional dog-and-pony show.

“Hmmm,” Rice admonished.

“Your multitasking skills are quite impressive,” she snarked, in a tone that did not seem to indicate she was actually impressed.

In case you’re wondering, “Yes” was winning then and continues to win now, with 65.7% of the 65,626 total votes so far, compared with the just 34.3% who voted “No,” as of the time of writing.

Perhaps there’s some optimism left for social media after all?


Social – TechCrunch


Twitter is exploring the use of Facebook-style emoji reactions

March 25, 2021 No Comments

If you’re old enough to remember the outrage that followed Twitter’s decision to replace stars with hearts (aka likes instead of favorites), then you know that Twitter’s user base has strong feelings about how it wants to engage with tweets. Now, Twitter is considering another radical change on this front that could shake things up yet again. The company has been surveying users throughout the month to get input on how they feel about a broader set of emoji-style reactions, similar to what you’d see on Facebook.

“We’re exploring additional ways for people to express themselves in conversations happening on Twitter,” a Twitter spokesperson said of the survey.

Specifically, Twitter’s survey proposed a few different sets of reaction emojis, all of which include the heart (like), laughing face with tears (funny), thinking face (interesting) and crying face (sad).

It then proposed some variations on this basic set, where the “awesome” sentiment could be expressed with either the shocked face or fire emoji, or where a “support” sentiment could be indicated with either the hug emoji or the raised hands.

More controversially, Twitter is considering a way for users to signal a general like or dislike for the tweet with either a thumbs up or thumbs down, a “100” in either green or red to indicate “agree” or “disagree,” or a green up arrow icon or red down arrow icon, reminiscent of Reddit’s upvote and downvote mechanisms.

The survey questions demonstrated that Twitter is aware of the challenges that come with introducing emoji reactions that could imply negative sentiments. It asked the respondents how they would want to take advantage of a downvote or dislike, for example — whether they would use the reaction instead of replying to a tweet, or whether they would downvote irrelevant or offensive tweets, as well.

Twitter also asked how users would feel if their own tweets were downvoted and whether that would discourage them from tweeting in the future, or if they would take it more as “constructive” feedback about their content. (Ha!)

The company clearly understands that the introduction of reaction sets could have a significant impact on how people engage with Twitter content and, potentially, could even lead to a chilling effect on Twitter usage if people became overly concerned about having their tweets downvoted.

That said, the upvote and downvote mechanism — whether as thumbs or arrows or anything else — remains a common way to engage with content elsewhere on the web. This includes not only forum sites like Reddit and others, but also YouTube, Imgur and Pandora, to name a few. A “thumbs up” signal by itself, meanwhile, is even more popular thanks to Facebook’s lead. But today, this like button can also take the shape of an arrow, heart or just a box to click — like when you mark an Amazon.com user review as “Helpful,” for example.

Meanwhile, the use of expanded emoji reactions has become more common since Facebook’s emoji reaction set debuted in 2015. Since then, other social media sites adopted their use, like LinkedIn. Twitter even added emoji reactions to its DMs (direct messages) last year.

Twitter’s survey additionally asked users about how the thought the emoji reactions should be displayed — like whether negative reaction counts should be visible, for instance.

Twitter told TechCrunch the work it’s doing in the space of reactions is exploratory — it’s only running this survey now because the company is thinking about ways people could add more nuance to the conversations they’re having, and how, by doing so, readers would be able to better understand the additional context around those conversations. Plus, Twitter notes that the new emoji reactions would not replace the “heart;” they’re additive.

But although Twitter hasn’t yet built out its emoji reaction set or put it into testing, it appears it’s on the path to do so.

In response to a user’s recent request to test emoji reactions instead of just hearts, Twitter Chief Design Officer Dantley Davis replied, “we’ll have something for you soon.”


Social – TechCrunch


Twitter plans to double revenue by 2023, reach 315M daily users

February 25, 2021 No Comments

Just ahead of its 2021 virtual investor day on Thursday, Twitter this morning announced its three long-term goals focused on user base and revenue growth, and a faster pace of shipping new features across its platform. The company said it aims to “at least” double its total annual revenue from $ 3.7 billion in 2020 to $ 7.5 billion or more in 2023. It also expects to reach at least 315 million mDAUs — that’s Twitter’s self-invented metric for “monetizable” daily active users — by the fourth quarter of 2023.

That would represent a roughly 20% compound annual growth rate from Twitter’s base of 152 million mDAUs reported in the fourth quarter of 2019, the company noted in a new SEC filing.

Active user growth has been difficult for Twitter — the growth tends to be slow or even flat, at times. Per Twitter’s most recent earnings, mDAUs in the fourth quarter 2020 had reached 192 million instead of the 193.5 million expected, for instance. Investors are used to Twitter under-delivering on this metric — or even inventing its own user base metric to hide that its monthly user growth sometimes declines.

In any event, Twitter’s longer-term plans indicate it believes it will finally be able to deliver on user growth — perhaps aided by its investment in new features.

In its filing, Twitter said it would “double development velocity by the end of 2023,” which means doubling the number of features shipped per employee that “directly drive either mDAU or revenue,” it said.

On this front, Twitter has been fairly active in recent months. Late last year, it launched its “stories” feature called Fleets to its global audience. It’s also now testing new features including a Clubhouse rival, Twitter Spaces, and a community-led misinformation debunking effort known as Birdwatch. And it acquired newsletter platform Revue, which is already now integrated on the Twitter website. The company has made smaller acquisitions, as well, to build out product teams, including with social app Squad, stories template maker Chroma Labs and podcasting app Breaker.

New features may help to attract increased Twitter usage, but revenue growth will also come from diversification beyond advertising. Twitter has spoken several times about its plans to build out a subscription product, which the company said would begin in 2021 but wouldn’t impact Twitter revenue in the near-term. The company has also said it may investigate other areas of monetization, like tipping and various paid consumer-facing features.

Today, Twitter said publicly it plans to reach the $ 7.5 billion or more target by “growing our audience and gaining advertising market share in both brand and direct response.” But the company did not speak to its plans for subscriptions.

Investors are already responding favorably to Twitter’s announcements this morning. Twitter stock is up by nearly 7% as of the time of writing.


Social – TechCrunch


Twitter explored buying India’s ShareChat and turning Moj into a global TikTok rival

February 22, 2021 No Comments

Twitter recently held talks to acquire Indian social media startup ShareChat as the company explored ways to expand its presence in the world’s second largest internet market and build a global rival to TikTok, three sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The American firm, which is already an investor in Bangalore-based ShareChat, offered to buy the five-year-old Indian startup for $ 1.1 billion and had committed an additional investment of $ 900 million, two of the sources said. ShareChat, backed by Lightspeed Partners India, Elevation Capital, and India Quotient among others, has raised about $ 260 million to date.

The talks did not materialize into a deal, two sources said, requesting anonymity as the matter is private. TechCrunch could not determine the reason the two companies ended the talks.

Two sources said Twitter had expressed intention to take Moj, a short-form video app that ShareChat owns, to international markets and position it as a rival to Chinese app TikTok.

Twitter declined to comment and ShareChat did not respond to a request for comment.

India’s ban on TikTok last year prompted scores of local startups and international giants to try their hands at short-form video format.

Moj, with over 80 million users already, has emerged as one of the largest players in the category. Earlier this month, Snap inked a deal with ShareChat to integrate its Camera Kit into the Indian short video app. This is the first time Snap had formed a partnership of this kind with a firm in India.

With the buyout offer no longer being entertained, ShareChat has resumed talks with other investors for its new financing round. These investors include Google, Snap, the sources said.

TechCrunch reported in January that the Indian startup was talking to Google and Snap as well as some existing investors including Twitter to raise over $ 200 million. A potential acquisition by Twitter prolonged the investment talks.

ShareChat, which claims to have over 160 million users, offers its social network app in 15 Indian languages and has a large following in small Indian cities and towns, or what venture capitalist Sajith Pai of Blume Ventures refer as “India 2.” Very few players in the Indian startup ecosystem have a reach to this segment of this population, which thanks to users from even smaller towns and villages — called “India 3” — getting online has expanded in recent years.

In an interview with TechCrunch last year, Ankush Sachdeva, co-founder and chief executive of ShareChat, said the startup’s marquee app was growing “exponentially” and that users were spending, on an average, more than 30 minutes a day on the service.

Twitter, itself, has struggled to make inroads outside of bigger cities and towns in India. Its app reached about 75 million users in the country in the month of January, according to mobile insight firm AppAnnie, data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch. It inked a deal with news and social app Dailyhunt to bring Moments — curated tweets pertaining to news and other local events — to the Google-backed Indian app.

The American social network has broadened its product offering in the past year amid pressure from activist investors to accelerate growth.


Social – TechCrunch


Trump circumvents Twitter ban to decry ‘unprecedented assault on free speech’

January 14, 2021 No Comments

Following a comprehensive ban from Twitter and a number of other online services following last week’s assault on the Capitol by his followers, President Trump managed to put out a tweet in the form of a video address touching on the “calamity at the Capitol”… and, of course, his deplatforming.

In the video, Trump instructs his followers to shun violence, calling it un-American. “No true supporter of mine could ever endorse political violence,” he said, days after calling rioters “great patriots” and telling them “we love you, you’re very special” as they despoiled the House and Senate.

He pivoted after a few minutes to the topic that, after his historic second impeachment, is almost certainly foremost on his mind: being banned from his chief instrument of governance, Twitter.

“I also want to say a few words about the unprecedented assault on free speech we have seen in recent days,” he said, although the bans and other actions are all due to documented breaches of the platforms’ rules. “The efforts to censor, cancel and blacklist our fellow citizens are wrong, and they are dangerous. What is needed now is for us to listen to one another, not to silence one another.”

After having his @realdonaldtrump handle suspended by Twitter, Trump attempted to sockpuppet a few other prominent accounts of allies, but was swiftly shut down. What everyone assumed must be plans to join Parler were scuttled along with the social network itself, which has warned it may be permanently taken offline after Amazon and other internet infrastructure companies refused to host it.

In case you’re wondering how Trump was able to slip this one past Twitter’s pretty decisive ban to begin with, we were curious too.

Twitter tells TechCrunch:

This Tweet is not in violation of the Twitter Rules. As we previously made clear, other official administration accounts, including @WhiteHouse, are permitted to Tweet as long as they do not demonstrably engage in ban evasion or share content that otherwise violates the Twitter Rules.

In other words, while Trump the person was banned, Trump the head of the Executive branch may still have some right, in the remaining week he holds the office, to utilize Twitter as a way of communicating matters of importance to the American people.

This gives a somewhat unfortunate impression of a power move, as Twitter has put itself in the position of determining what is a worthwhile transmission and what is a rabble-rousing incitement to violence. I’ve asked the company to clarify how it is determined whether what Trump does on this account is considered ban evasion.

Meanwhile, almost simultaneous with Trump’s surprise tweet, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey unloaded 13 tweets’ worth of thoughts about the situation:

I believe this was the right decision for Twitter. We faced an extraordinary and untenable circumstance, forcing us to focus all of our actions on public safety. Offline harm as a result of online speech is demonstrably real, and what drives our policy and enforcement above all.

That said, having to ban an account has real and significant ramifications. While there are clear and obvious exceptions, I feel a ban is a failure of ours ultimately to promote healthy conversation. And a time for us to reflect on our operations and the environment around us.

Jack neither reaches any real conclusions nor illuminates any new plans, but it’s clear he is thinking real hard about this. As he notes, however, it’ll take a lot of work to establish the “one humanity working together” he envisions as a sort of stretch goal for Twitter and the internet in general.

 


Social – TechCrunch



Twitter taps AWS for its latest foray into the public cloud

December 15, 2020 No Comments

Twitter has a lot going on, and it’s not always easy to manage that kind of scale on your own. Today, Amazon announced that Twitter has signed a multi-year agreement with AWS to run its real-time timelines. It’s a major win for Amazon’s cloud arm.

While the companies have worked together in some capacity for over a decade, this marks the first time that Twitter is tapping AWS to help run its core timelines.

“This expansion onto AWS marks the first time that Twitter is leveraging the public cloud to scale their real-time service. Twitter will rely on the breadth and depth of AWS, including capabilities in compute, containers, storage, and security, to reliably deliver the real-time service with the lowest latency, while continuing to develop and deploy new features to improve how people use Twitter,” the company explained in the announcement.

Parag Agrawal, Chief Technology Officer at Twitter sees this as a way to expand and improve the company’s real-time offerings by taking advantage of AWS’s network of data centers to deliver content closer to the user. “The collaboration with AWS will improve performance for people who use Twitter by enabling us to serve Tweets from data centers closer to our customers at the same time as we leverage the Arm-based architecture of AWS Graviton2 instances. In addition to helping us scale our infrastructure, this work with AWS enables us to ship features faster as we apply AWS’s diverse and growing portfolio of services,” Agrawal said in a statement.

It’s worth noting that Twitter also has a relationship with Google Cloud. In 2018, it announced it was moving its Hadoop clusters to GCP.

This announcement could be considered a case of the rich getting richer as AWS is the leader in the cloud infrastructure market by far with around 33% market share. Microsoft is in second with around 18% and Google is in third with 9%, according to Synergy Research. In its most recent earnings report, Amazon reported that $ 11.6 billion in AWS revenue putting it on a run rate of over $ 46 billion.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Twitter app code indicates that live video broadcasting app Periscope may get shut down

December 14, 2020 No Comments

Twitter has been doubling down on video services within its app, building out Twitter Live and recently launching Fleets so that users can share more moving media alongside their pithy 180-word observations, links and still photos. But in the process, it appears that it may also be streamlining its bigger stable of services. Code in the Twitter app indicates that Periscope — the live video broadcasting app that launched a thousand fluttering hearts — may be headed into retirement.

Date and other details are still unknown, but super-sleuth developer Jane Machun Wong found a line in Twitter’s app code that indicated a link to a shutdown notice for Periscope (which currently does not go to a live link).

There are no shutdown references in any of the code in the currently obtainable version of the Persicope app, Wong told us, but she also pointed out that the two apps do share some code — indeed there are integrations between the two Twitter-owned apps — and “I guess [that] is how the text in the screenshot got slipped into Twitter,” she said.

We are reaching out to Twitter for a response to her discovery and will update as we learn more.

If this does play out with Periscope getting retired, it would be the end of a five-year run for the app.

Twitter acquired Periscope before it had even launched (we broke the news of the acquisition before that), as part of a bold move to double down on video, and specifically live video. At the time, the move was coming as Twitter was really coming into its own as a platform for media companies, “citizen journalists” and simply people who wanted to get the word out more widely on whatever they were thinking about or doing.

At the time, Twitter was also eyeing up and apparently trying to stem the viral growth of Meerkat, “the” app of 2015. That was not going to be an issue for the long run, though. Eventually Meerkat, either because of Periscope or because of the cyclical nature of hype, did fizzle out, only to relaunch as interactive video chat app Houseparty, which eventually got noticed by Fortnite maker Epic, who then bought it.

Periscope, meanwhile, took a different route as part of Twitter from the very start of its launched life.

It remained a standalone app, but its team, and specifically founder Kayvon Beykpour, became a central part of all of Twitter’s product development.

And the central feature of Periscope was the app became a native part of the Twitter app; Twitter Live “powered by Periscope,” which has been expanded with API access and other features. Twitter itself promotes Twitter Live content, not Periscope’s: you can follow @TwitterLive to get highlights of some of the people and organizations using the live feature in the app. (Other leading social apps like Instagram and Facebook have taken a similar route, offering live video features but more as embedded parts of the main platforms, rather than standalone apps where live is front and center.)

Periscope, you might say, has in the meantime been dying a slow death as a standalone brand and app. But it’s not a new story: my former (missed!) colleague Josh pointed out it was sinking at the end of 2016.

Still, it’s just about been bobbing along. AppAnnie’s rankings indicate that it’s essentially among the top 100 social networking apps in most markets — maybe not a bad figure considering how big app stores are now — although when looking at overall rankings, Periscope is generally too low to register in any major markets.

Indeed, it’s definitely not an app that has much buzz, not least because of its owner being popular, but also because video fads have taken a different, TikTok-style turn of late.

The TikTok effect is an interesting one to consider here. Earlier this year it was reported that Twitter was among those interested in potentially acquiring TikTok when the popular app, owned by China’s ByteDance, found itself in some regulatory hot water over national security interests (that is a different story, still playing out and seemingly in limbo right now). Some of the apparent reasoning for Twitter’s interest? It never really got past its regret over killing off Vine.

Vine, if you recall, was the popular short-form video app that Twitter acquired, grew really well for a while as it saw it gain some entertaining virality, but then shut down to focus more attention on — yep — Periscope.

Many in retrospect have wondered “what could have been” had Twitter held on to Vine and put the effort and investment into building it out. (Or indeed, what could have happened if it never sold to Twitter in the first place, but that is also a different story.)

If Periscope sinking away is on the cards, it’s a question that probably still bears asking — what could have been? Even with live video within Twitter’s app, it’s not the star of the show. One can’t help but wonder if live video might next appear front and center elsewhere, made by a different company, much like short-form video finally had its day in a ByteDance way.


Social – TechCrunch


Twitter acquires screen-sharing social app Squad

December 12, 2020 No Comments

Today, Twitter announced that it is acquiring Squad and that the team from the screen-sharing social app will be joining Twitter’s ranks. Squad’s co-founders, CEO Esther Crawford and CTO Ethan Sutin, and the rest of the team will be coming aboard inside Twitter’s design, engineering and product departments, Twitter tells us. Crawford specifically notes that she will be leading a product in the conversations space.

What isn’t coming aboard is the actual Squad app, which allowed users to share their screens on mobile or desktop and simultaneously video chat, a feature that aimed to find the friend use case in screen-sharing beyond the enterprise use case of presenting. The app will be shutting down tomorrow, Twitter confirms, an unwelcome surprise for its user base largely made up of teen girls.

Twitter declined to share further terms of the deal.

Image via Twitter

The app’s functionality seems like a natural fit for the service, though the company did not confirm whether any tech was coming aboard as part of the deal. Twitter hasn’t been keen to keep separate apps functioning outside of the core Twitter app. Vine was infamously shut down, upsetting users who likely later rallied behind TikTok, a massive success story and perhaps one of the biggest missed opportunities for American social media companies. Meanwhile, Periscope which has largely bumbled along over the years, is in a particularly fragile place with app code emerging just today that indicates an impending shutdown for the app.

Squad was notably partnered closely with Snap and was an early adopter of many of the company’s Snap Kit developer tools. Building so much of the app using Snap’s developer tools could have made porting the tech to Twitter’s infrastructure a more complicated task, especially when considering how often Snap Kit apps are tied quite closely to the Snapchat user graph.

Squad raised $ 7.2 million in venture capital from First Round, Y Combinator, betaworks, Halogen Ventures, ex-TechCrunch editor Alexia Bonatsos’s Dream Machine and a host of other investors. Squad was in the right place at the right time in early 2020. When the pandemic first struck, CEO Esther Crawford told TechCrunch that usage of her app spiked 1,100%.

Crawford spoke at length about the challenges of scaling a modern social app while avoiding the pitfalls of toxicity that so often seem to come with reaching new heights. In an interview with TechCrunch last year, she told us her team was “trying to learn from the best in what they did but get rid of the shit.”

In a Medium post, Crawford also took the opportunity of her startup’s exit to lobby investors to start backing more diverse founders.

“I hope that our exit will tip the scale a bit more toward convincing investors to put money into diverse teams because each success is another proof point that we, the historically under-capitalized and underestimated founders, are a good bet,” Crawford wrote in a Medium post. “Invest in women and people of color because we will make you money.”


Social – TechCrunch


Twitter finally shuts down its abandoned prototype app twttr

December 5, 2020 No Comments

Twitter is shutting down its experimental app twttr, which the company had used publicly to prototype new features back in 2019. The app was first introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2019, then launched to testers that March. Its primary focus had been on trying out new designs for threaded conversations, including things like how to branch replies, apply labels and color-code responses, among other things. Some of those tests eventually turned into Twitter features and the twttr app was no longer being used.

The idea to design in public was an interesting experiment by Twitter.

Most companies roll out internal beta tests, followed by smaller-scale A/B tests to a percentage of their public user base to get feedback about new ideas. But with twttr, the company actually invited its users to be a part of the much earlier-stage development process.

The concept for twttr had been spearheaded by Twitter’s then Director of Product Management, Sara Beykpour (then Sara Haider — she and Twitter Product Lead Kayvon Beykpour have since married). But Sara announced last year she would be stepping into a new role at the company and Twitter’s new product director in charge of conversations would be Suzanne Xie, who had joined by way of Twitter’s acquisition of Lightwell.

Work on twttr appeared to stop around the time Xie stepped in, as no other significant updates were released to twttr’s TestFlight user base. And Xie left Twitter this fall for Stripe.

Now, it seems that maintaining the largely unused app no longer makes sense for the company.

Twitter announced its plans to formally shut down twttr today, saying it was turning off the app in order to work on new tests related to the conversation taking place on Twitter itself. The shutdown appears to be immediate. Though the app may still function for those who have it installed, when the TestFlight build expires in 26 days, that may no longer be the case.

It’s not likely that twttr had many dedicated users at this point, especially as the app lacked Twitter’s newer features like Topics and Fleets, for example, and was no longer offering new experiments to test. The test twttr originated, threaded replies using connecting lines, has also been shut down.

Twitter is not ruling out using twttr again at some point in the future, though. A spokesperson said the company is “exploring potential next steps for twttr,” as it develops its future plans to test new products.


Social – TechCrunch