The billion-strong services

There was two announcements of services that had passed the billion user mark.  There was a comparison between Gmail’s slow and steady approach versus Whatsapp’s swift rise.
messaging services

Gmail was born as a desktop service first. It started just as web 2.0 was starting to take off. The service was invitation only for almost three years, before becoming generally available.  At the time its 1GB of storage for free was revolutionary. A year later they increased the storage to 2GB. By comparison I was paying £60 a year for an IMAP mail account that was separate to my ISP. Hotmail would give you just 4MB of storage in your email.

Gmail set the standard for our expectations of email. Now email accounts will accept 25MB attachments – a standard set by Gmail. My corporate email account has a 1GB capacity copying Gmail at launch.

Yahoo! had to compete and responded with ‘unlimited storage’ after Gmail became generally available. By this time Gmail storage had grown to 2.8GB and gave 2GB. In the space of under three years Gmail had grown to 51 million users.

This was still an era when smartphones weren’t ubiquitous in the same way that they are now. I was fortunate to have mobile email access on my Nokia and Palm smartphones around this time. BlackBerry devices were a business tool, as was Windows Mobile. Data was more expensive and slower than it is now. Although Yahoo! Messenger was available on my phone it was slow. Skype worked best as an indicator of presence on mobile devices.

Smartphone ubiquity through Android and iOS was an enabler for email adoption. But Gmail didn’t receive the same boost from it that Whatsapp did.

If you didn’t have a Gmail account you could still send and receive emails to Gmail account holders. Early adopters of smartphones are likely to have already had an email account. So they would increase user engagement through accessiblity. But they would not drive a similar growth in new accounts.

Whatsapp benefited from being a closed service – you can’t message a WeChat account. Also it rode smartphones as an accelerator, it didn’t have a legacy desktop user base.

Another factor is that its competitors managed to monetise their services earlier. This was at the expense of international adoption. An extreme example of this is Korea’s KakaoTalk.

KakaoTalk has built an absolute ubiquity in South Korea. It has continued to growth beyond 90 per cent of Korean mobile users. Profitability has increased, new services launched; whilst global user numbers declined.

WhatsApp has grown fastest in markets that are hard to monetise. It is big in Latin America, Africa and South Asia. It is only starting to build in features for brands.

Not all users are equal, many present little business opportunity. The billion user mark is an interesting measure, but requires further interrogation.

More information
Yahoo Mail Announces Unlimited Storage
A Comparison of Live Hotmail, Gmail and Yahoo Mail | Techcrunch
Email and webmail statistics | Email Marketing Reports
Gmail Now With 1 Billion Monthly Active Users, Reports Google Chief Sundar Pichai – Tech Times
WhatsApp has a billion users, and it got there way quicker than Gmail did
You May Not Use WhatsApp, But the Rest of the World Sure Does | Wired
Tencent Service Offerings (Q3, 2015) – PDF
duamkakao 1st Quarter 2015 results – PDF
duamkakao 2nd Quarter 2015 results – PDF
Yahoo to partner with Yelp on local searches – Digit
A Brief History of Email – Google Answers
Gmail Now Has 900M Active Users, 75% On Mobile | Techcrunch

Links of the day | 在网上找到

JWT makes a move into wearable tech | Marketing Interactive – ethical minefield – marketers with access to biometric data

Yahoo just admitted it badly overpaid for Tumblr – Quartz – Tumblr needed an incentive to sell to Yahoo!

Twitter API data show the number of tweets is in serious decline – Business Insider – as others have pointed out to me where the Twitter media relations team and why aren’t they responding

At Berkeley, a New Digital Privacy Protest – The New York Times – interesting given Berkeley’s historic place in rights activism (paywall)

Gmail now has more than 1 billion active users | VentureBeat – which puts WhatsApp in perspective

Former Top Executive of Chinese Online Video Giant Youku Tudou Detained on Corruption Charges – Hollywood Reporter

Microsoft Plumbs Ocean’s Depths to Test Underwater Data Center

Lists are the new search — Benedict Evans – the irony of all this for me is especially striking, it is essentially a justification of Yahoo!’s knowledge search approach from a decade ago

Five for Friday | 五日(星期五)

Things that made my day this week:

Simon Kemp‘s decks of digital statistics keep getting better and better each year.

Beautiful monochrome video for Thug Entrancer. The track is called Ronin

Amerigo Gazaway on Soul Mates Records blended up this sublime mash-up of hip-hop and Marvin Gaye. Do your ears a favour and download this

The rebrand of Dragonair to Cathay Dragon (zipped press pack) was fiercely debated by my Facebook connections. Not sure how I feel about it.

The first mention of house music on television in Chicago, the contrast between the way it was received at home and in the UK is apparent from this news report

Links of the day | 在网上找到

The Guardian website will no longer allow comments under articles about race, immigration and Islam | – controversial given its stance on censorship

Chips on their shoulders | The Economist – THE Chinese government has been trying, on and off, since the 1970s to build an indigenous semiconductor industry. But its ambitions have never been as high, nor its budgets so big, as they are now.

How Facebook tracks and profits from voters in a $10bn US election | US news | The Guardian – there goes the West Wing approach to campaigns

Attackers Use Word Docs to Deliver BlackEnergy Malware | SecurityWeek.Com – The advanced persistent threat (APT) actor behind the recent attacks targeting Ukraine has started delivering BlackEnergy malware using specially crafted Word documents with embedded macros.

Twitter Execs Are Annoyed At Facebook For Referring To Them As “Social Media” – BuzzFeed News – At any moment Facebook trending posts always include 2 stories about things happening “on social media” … — Whitewashing Twitter out of news agenda

Completely Ignoring the DMCA an Option for Torrent Sites? – Rutracker gets blocked in Russia so strips anti piracy bodies of special ‘takedown’ accounts

TransferWise’s revenues grew by 5x in 2015 — but so did losses – For many companies unicorn status seem to share dot bomb characteristics

Does Better Internet Access Wind Up Disenfranchising Lower Income Groups? – As counterintuitive as it seems, reducing the digital divide isn’t necessarily beneficial: Our results show that participation in local elections has dramatically declined in recent years, in part as the internet has displaced other media with greater local news content

Vampire Weekend Played This Classic Song in Honor of Bernie Sanders in Iowa – use of music industry supporters to gather votes is interesting, particularly in the mid-west

Oprah time: China’s Coming War With Asia by Jonathan Holslag

Where do I start with a book title this inflammatory? I went to the trouble of reading the book twice before starting this review. In the end, the only conclusion I can come to is ‘Policy Faultlines in East Asia’ doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Holsag marshals a huge range of facts and opinions within the book. If you want to have a basic understanding of modern Chinese state, the book is a good primer.

He provides insight into the Chinese Communist’s Party’s policy cornerstone of territory maximisation. They were happy to put off their agenda for tactical advantage, but never gave up on their goals. China’s neighbours have similar inflexible policy goals. There is is no win-win solution.

Time has brought increased pressures. A fight for resources to fuel further growth and water rights conflicts. Relative declines in economic growth also fuels nationalistic politics. In China, nationalistic sentiments in citizens grew with prosperity. It has become convenient for politicians to tap into nationalistic sentiments.

Holsag doesn’t attempt to provide a solution for de-escalation of these edges. His book only provides a macro-level understanding of the countries involved. For the reader who wants to understand Asia, Holsag’s book is an excellent primer.  More on China’s Coming War With Asia by Jonathan Holsag.

Links of the day | 在网上找到

VGA In Memoriam | Hackaday – interesting overview of the technology

Why the iPad Is Going Extinct | New Republic – tablets also have long replacement cycles

What Influences the Influencers? ComRes/Burson-Marsteller 2016 EU Media Poll findings unveiled – Burson-Marsteller – interesting to see Politico rank highly

5 new luxury retail formats to look out for this year – Luxury Daily – Columns – peer to peer fashion lending (AirBnB for bags), sort of the role that the pawn broker played

The trouble with Twitter

You can read elsewhere about the troubles facing Twitter, I have linked to some of the best analyses I found out there at the bottom of this article.
If you don’t have time to go through them, here’s the ‘CliffsNotes’ version:

  • Management turnover. Three different heads of engineering in 18 months, five different product leads in the past two years, three CFOs in 18 months and 2 COOs (mainly because the role was left vacant for over 12 months)
  • Growth in user numbers has been stagnant in the U.S.. The three published quarters of 2015 showed U.S. active users at 66 million. The last two quarters of 2014 were steady at 64 million
  • Growth in user numbers globally has been a modest 11 percent. Growth outside the U.S. was just 13% year on year in quarter three of 2015

James Whatley and Marshall Manson called the user number plateau ‘Twitter Zero’.

There have been product-related issues:

  • The ‘Promoted Moments’ advertising option is confusing to look at
  • Will it, won’t move beyond 140 characters
  • Algorithmic filtering of the timeline
  • Utility of the news feed is becoming diminished for the digerati
  • Likely reduction in user engagement
  • Likely uptake in bot content publication
  • Inability to deal with community issues like #Gamergate
  • Twitter’s auto-playing videos are barely more than a rounding error in the battle between YouTube and Facebook for video supremacy

What less people are talking about is what trouble at Twitter means beyond Twitter.

Advertising purchases are a near-zero sum game. Facebook and other high growth native advertising platforms gain from Twitter not winning business. But for marketers this is not all good news. Facebook is poor at giving marketers actionable insights and intelligence. There is no Facebook firehouse of data. Facebook only provides aggregated data.

The OTT (Over The Top) messaging platforms (WhatsApp, WeChat, LINE, KakaoTalk, Kik) are data black holes. Commercial dashboards on some accounts allow you to see how your account is doing. There is no insight of what is happening across accounts. There is no measure of influence beyond follower numbers and click-throughs.

Twitter’s declining relevance, has a direct effect on social media monitoring and analytics platforms.

Social media analysis of Twitter data is widespread. From consumer insights / passive market research to brand measurement and financial trading models.

I had seen data which showed a direct correlation between brand related market research conducted by respected market research firms and social media analysis using Twitter data. The implication of this was that Twitter data could provide a more cost effective alternative. 

All of these research benefits are moot if Twitter is in decline or becoming irrelevant.

Twitter data has its use beyond market research. It is the source of breaking news for the western media. Twitter’s firehouse also goes into making smarter phones. Apple’s Siri sources Twitter content to answer news-related requests.
Siri using Twitter as news
A poor performing Twitter has implications across the tech sector beyond online advertising. There are no obvious substitute solutions for its data waiting in the wings.

Perhaps Twitter’s earning’s call on February 10 will give a hint of improvements at the company. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

More information
Twitter Inc. quarterly results
How Facebook Squashed Twitter – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
Can Twitter turn stagnation into progress, or has it hit the wall? | Technology | The Guardian
Twitter’s Fiscal 2015: Up, Flat, And Down | TechCrunch
Twitter is teetering because it has turned into one big pyramid scheme | Andrew Smith
Twitter Might Ditch The 140-Character Limit: What This Means For Marketers | SocialTimes
Daily Report: The Tough Realities of a Twitter Turnaround –
Next Twitter boss faces complex challenges, says departing Dick Costolo | The Guardian
Twitter data show that a few powerful users can control the conversation – Quartz
Twitter’s Jakarta office is now open. Here are 6 reasons why Costolo is focusing on Indonesia | Techinasia
Inside Twitter’s plan to fix itself
How efficient is Twitter’s Business Model?
Black Widow | Dustin Curtis – interesting analysis of Twitter and a warning about APIs