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

Links of the day | 在网上找到

Here’s How Free Basics Is Actually Being Sold Around The World – BuzzFeed News – no real surprises

Hong Kong: Beijing opens a new chapter – – title belies the copy (paywall)

Daring Fireball: Mossberg: ‘Twitter Has Become Secret-Handshake Software’ – interesting debate on user experience

Five for Friday | 五日(星期五)

Things that made my day this week included:

Great interview with Susan Kare

Kare is famous for her icon designs on the first nine versions of the Mac OS.

Luxxury have cut a new slice of 1980s dance music that Maze or Hall & Oates would have been happy with. Take it Slow is out on iTunes

JG Ballard’s High Rise makes it to the big screen alongside some great late 1960s / 1970s set dressing and a Kraut Rock soundtrack that Daft Punk would love

Finally, an Acceptable Use of the Apple Watch | Hackaday and 3D printing for that matter. A lovely Mac Classic homage as watch stand.

Great interview with Greg Wilson and Francois K talking about the early days of modern dance music

Links of the day | 在网上找到

Safari Suggestions bug causes browser crashes in iOS and OS X | Ars Technica – I noticed this first thing in the morning on my Mac, goes to show how dependent we are on network based services

Apple is preparing for a future where individual iPhone sales don’t matter | Quartz – but what about how the investors see it?

Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin takes aim at the global credit card system, promising to become No 1 | South China Morning Post – Dalian Wanda think their internet finance business will upset global credit card payment system (paywall)

Meizu set to layoff 4000 staff | Gizchina – Despite seeing a surge in sales by as much as 350% last year, Meizu are planning to slash its work force by 5%.

No other tech company spends more on lobbying than Google, new stats show – GeekWire – and it doesn’t seem to be doing that much good. Apple needs to up its spend, as does Uber

Spotify Ready to Introduce Video Product – WSJ – tough going up against Netflix, iTunes, Amazon etc (paywall)

Censorship in the social media age – Columbia Journalism Review – news published on third party platforms like social has platform level editorial control on top of the journalistic process. What are the ethics?

LaMem Demo – how interesting is a visual?

The FireChat Post

FireChat became famous due to its mesh networking function that allowed Hong Kong protestors to connect with each other when the mobile network wouldn’t support their discussions. The clever underlying technology belies the key consumer benefit of a messenger application.
Why it's a feature not an app
I logged into FireChat for the time in a while the other day, as I was in two minds to keep the app on my phone as part of my occasional spring cleaning process. I got confronted with the screen shot above. The mesh network technology was very interesting with some largely niche use cases unlikely to drive large adoption of the app. In order for FireChat to get an audience, it has to piggyback on Twitter or Weibo – which delegates it to just becoming a feature rather than a product in its own right.

More information
FireChat | Crunchbase

Links of the day | 在网上找到

I, Cringely Final Prediction #10: Apple will buy Dish Network – I, Cringely – bit of a reach

Hurt by China economic slowdown, luxury sector can recover if… | South China Morning Post – (paywall)

Jack on Twitter: “Was really hoping to talk to Twitter employees about this later this week, but want to set the record straight now:” – staff changes

Apple cut iAd ‘to starve Google’s core business’: column – Business Insider – an interesting theory that the iAd downgrade was part of a much bigger, bolder Apple strategy to crush Google

Yale psychologists have built a mathematical model for selfishness – Ever wonder why some people have a tendency to be nice—even in situations where it costs them—while others are constantly out for themselves?

Streaming-music listeners really don’t care about missing out on CD-like sound quality – Streaming-music listeners really don’t care about sound quality. A recent survey by MusicWatch found that few music fans would pay more to listen to music with better audio quality. Which is interesting when one thinks about how CDs were marketed. Instead streaming media is more like the convenience sales pitch previously made for cassette tapes

Amazon’s strategy for Europe expansion includes armchair grocery shopping – Amazon is gearing up to expand its European footprint, taking several services deeper into the continent, including one that’s already seen success in the UK: online grocery shopping and delivery.

★ Daring Fireball | Anywhere but Medium Dave Winer If Medium were more humble, or if they had competition, I would relax about it. But I remember how much RSS suffered for being dominated by Google.

Yahoo! – how did we get here?

Understanding who Yahoo! is today means understanding changes in the technology and media sectors. These changes occurred over the past 20 years.
Jerry, Liam & David celebrate the new Yahoo! Mail

The Fear

Yahoo! started off as a hack. The directory grew from a list of sites catalogued by Jerry Yang and David Filo. They did this as students in Stanford. This was back in the early 1990s, Microsoft was the dominant technology company. It is hard to understand the power that Microsoft had at the time. Apple was on a fast track to oblivion. This power was later clipped in the Judge Jackson trial of 2000.

The Media Company

At the time, investors and founders were reluctant to go into business against Microsoft. Even the idea that Microsoft may enter a sector was enough for others to stay clear.

The technology sector was full of casualties: Digital Research, Borland, Go and Stac Technologies. Microsoft’s approach to competition of embrace, extend and extinguish was already well known.

Yang and Filo would have had this in mind when they positioned Yahoo! as a media company that happened to be online. Yahoo!’s early business deals such as Yahoo! Internet Life magazine and display advertising are symptomatic of this media thinking.

The advertising display model that Yahoo! operated was reminiscent of print magazine and newspaper businesses. It even went ahead and hired a traditional media sector CEO in 2001. Terry Semel was a former chairman of Warner Brothers. He was brought in following a 30% collapse in online advertising sales. Semel’s efforts to build a media business at Yahoo! didn’t succeed.

The Technology Company

Yahoo! has a history of contributing to key open source technologies including:

  • Debian Project
  • PHP
  • Hadoop
  • Oozie

The work done on Hadoop lead to a spinout technology company called Hortonworks. Hortonworks customers include eBay, Spotify and Expedia. Not bad for ‘media company’.

Panama, was to drive quality and profit in advertising by increasing click through rates. Yet it took too long to develop, many other projects ended up being canceled.

Despite of the technical expertise at Yahoo!. The company bought in many key technologies rather than building themselves. Yahoo! Mail came from acquiring the directory service which owned Rocketmail in 1997. The modern mail web application has its roots in Oddpost, acquired in 2004.

Failure To Make Big Bets

Yahoo! bought video and audio streaming company in 1999 for $5.7 billion. This was the most expensive thing Yahoo! every bought. By comparison Tumblr cost $1.1 billion dollars in 2013. Yahoo! ended up with little to show for it’s $5.7 billion. This meant that Yahoo! developed a culture which made it hard to make big bet the farm kind of changes.  Terry Semel rejected the opportunity to buy Google in 2002 for $5 billion. It also failed to buy DoubleClick. Google bought it instead, and used DoubleClick to speed up growth beyond search advertising.

A secondary effect of not being able to make big bets was a constantly changing set of priorities. Insiders have gone on record talking about the missed changes with aborted projects. This also made it harder to develop and pursue a vision.

The Google comparison

Google started some five years later. Google came into a world where Microsoft looked weaker. The US government filed charges against the company and Linux started to gain momentum. Google’s original business model was to be a search engine provider for web portals. There were other competitors in this space like Inktomi. It wasn’t until 1999 that the company started selling its own advertising. Google waited six years to go public. The size and profitability of its business masked from competitors and customers until 2004.

Google hasn’t been afraid to make big bets or have a big vision:

  • Search
  • Enterprise search
  • Personal productivity
  • Enterprise productivity
  • Mobile operating system

It has thought carefully about focus and vision – which is part of the reason why the Alphabet conglomerate was formed.

More information
New Panama Ranking System For Yahoo Ads Launches Today | Search Engine Land
A Cyber-Arsenal for Road Warriors | BusinessWeek
Reflecting on Yahoo!’s Q2 2015 progress report on product prioritisation
The Yahoo! Post-Bartz post and the perils of Microsoft Excel
Inflection Point | renaissance chambara

Links of the day | 在网上找到

Twist ending of moving company’s sexy topless model ad has a silver lining 【Video】 | RocketNews24 – one of the better 15 second spots I’ve seen

IBM, Ustream-BM, we can’t believe Ustream is now owned by IBM • The Register – this feels a bit Yahoo!-esque as a deal. U-stream is a solid video streaming platform

25% of US companies in China are planning to leave, says AmCham survey – this is interesting as the Chinese government is trying to jump start domestic consumption and these people will lose out

Weibo to copy Twitter, abolish 140-character limitw – Tech in Asia – paid up members are a relatively small group of influencers, celebrities and brands. Chinese people have been doing long weibo posts for years as graphic files

Why Google Quit China—and Why It’s Heading Back | The Atlantic – interesting that Western European government intervention is cited as a justification

Music Geeks Are Retrofitting Old iPods to Keep the Perfect MP3 Player Alive | Motherboard – its the iPod I wished Apple made, now if we could also have an LTE compatiable version of the Nokia 6310i

Five for Friday | 五日(星期五)

Things that made my day this week:

Listening to Portishead’s classic essential mix as great music to work by

I got to hear a few DJ sets by them in 1998 / 1999 whilst living in east London, well worth going along.

… and a bit of Richie Hawtin to liven things up

Boeing are coming up with some interesting concepts around lighting and projections on plane interiors. They might be on to something, I didn’t realise how popular home planetariums are in Japan. This could be good for short and medium haul flights.

Saatchi & Saatchi and Toyota Know What You Like…on Facebook | AgencySpy – which features a lubricous amounts of spots filled that are then targeted at Facebook users based on aspects of their profile

New ‘Suicide Squad’ posters released before new trailer | BGR – it looks like an amazing film, but I love the stencil art posters and distressed background

Edelman’s trust barometer 2016

Edelman’s Trust Barometer has become a kind of zeitgeist meter for the kind of people who go to the World Economic Forum at Davos.

This year Edelman talks about the Grand Illusion, that everyday people will follow the global elites. Income inequality and a growing realisation that the future won’t get better has gradually changed perceptions. It is yet another data point that signals the death of the American Dream and according to Citi the end of Pax Americana.

It is also worthwhile looking at BAV Consulting research on ‘the best countries in the world’ to see how country brand equity are now perceived.

More information
Prepare for the Post Pax-Americana era, says Citi – FT (paywall)
2016 Trust Barometer: Divide Opens Up Between Global Elite And Public | Holmes Report
U.S. News & World Report, WPP’s BAV Consulting & The Wharton School on best countries in the world | PR Newswire

Links of the day | 在网上找到

Focus On The User – interesting lobby and direct consumer action that is very EU focused

Why WhatsApp scrapped its $1 annual subscription fee | VentureBeat – no more shadowy gateways you buy online for marketing messaging but proper corporate accounts that you pay for – only years behind LINE, KakaoTalk and WeChat…

People trust Google for their news more than the actual news | Quartz – its a reputation engine rather than just a search engine

Recovering Teletext data from VHS recordings / Boing Boing – it takes such “phenomenal processing power” to accurately and reliably scan VHS recordings of text that we’re only now on the cusp of being able to do so. That hundreds, even thousands of frames of each teletext page are required to OCR each one is also a powerful tribute to just how astoundingly awful VHS is.

GM says you don’t own your car, you just license it / Boing Boing – which will affect the right to repair or modify your car and possibly even resell it

MI5 agent on how surveillance of Islamic State terrorists works – Business Insider – Because they’ve had this golden opportunity with technology and the internet, because they could and did hoover up as much info as they can, that’s actually hampering their work and damaging national security.

Burson·Marsteller | World leaders on Facebook – nice collection of government usage examples on Facebook

Microsoft decrees that new PCs will ONLY be able to run Windows 10 | SiliconAngle – Microsoft is stepping up its efforts to push the world onto Windows 10 by revising its support policy in a way that means newly purchased PCs will no longer support older editions of its OS. Given how much of China is on cracked versions of XP; expect legal trouble ahead

Nobel Prize-Winning Economist: We’re Headed for Oligarchy – The Atlantic – this is so like William Gibson’s latest novel The Peripheral

Chinese factory replaces 90% of humans with robots, production soars – TechRepublic – but does have some limitations

How Tumblr Can Save Yahoo — Thoughts on Media — Medium – there is delicious irony to this post being hosted on Medium. The problem is that a lot of the magazine content which has failed is also hosted on tumblr, how could Yahoo! be trusted to monetise third party content any better

Jargon watch: McRefugees

McDonalds Restaurants in Hong Kong is famous to Economist readers for consistently providing the best value in the publication’s ‘tongue-in-cheek’ ‘Big Mac Index’ McDonalds Chinese sign

The restaurants are ubiquitous, offering cheap consistent food. And many of them remain open 24 hours a day, which contributes to Hong Kong’s ‘up all night’ lifestyle alongside the ubiquitous convenience stores. They are a neighbourhood haven to office workers, students and those on shifts. Their relative low costs mean that they prove attractive to homeless people. McSleepers and McRefugees were the interchangeable labels given to the homeless people sleeping in McDonalds to escape the oppressive heat of summer or the cold around lunar new year. It became a thing in the media last year when a woman lay dead in a restaurant for 24 hours before being discovered. The tragedy masks the unintentional social role McDonalds is playing for the poorest in Hong Kong society.

More information

Hong Kong ‘McRefugees’ up sharply, study shows – Hong Kong Economic Journal Insights

Save our McRefugees: Woman’s lonely unnoticed death in Hong Kong McDonald’s highlights need to help homeless | SCMP

Hong’s Kong’s lack of affordable housing fuels ‘McSleeper’ trend, where the homeless sleep at McDonald’s | SCMP Homeless woman found dead at Hong Kong McDonald’s 24 hours after she sat down as unaware customers ate | SCMP

‘McRefugee’ reunites with son in Singapore through media report on Hong Kong’s McDonald’s sleepers | SCMP

The lonely life of the McSleepers, the poor who call McDonald’s home | SCMP

Links of the day | 在网上找到

Growing up Habbo: My so-called life in the first social network for teens | The Kernel – gen-y journeys in computing

Chinese luxury shoppers increasingly turning online: KPMG | Shanghai Daily – interesting move to online purchases for luxury products

NTT Docomo planning to increase handset prices – so it can provide discounts to users who use less data. Which begs the question is there a ‘peak data’ point’, a limit at which phone services reach in terms of consumer desire for mobile computing versus phone services?

Intel Raises Tech Worries About Sales in China and the Cloud | WSJ – (paywall)

Jawbone Raises $165 Million at Half Its Last Valuation – The New York Times – Jawbone, the once-hot wearable technology start-up, said on Friday that it had raised $165 million in funding at a valuation of $1.5 billion, or roughly half the amount that the company was valued at as recently as 2014, continuing a burgeoning trend of start-ups raising money at lower values than before. (Paywall)

Apple To Start Charging For iTunes Radio – BuzzFeed News – Apple would have to pay me to listen to Zane Lowe

Japan business leaders urge real globalisation – – Central to a globalised psychology, he says, is an acceptance that you are in business for the customers, something missing when Japan first started spreading its sales forces across the globe

Tackling the Tiers in China – Anyone who has any interest in China will already know that hundreds of millions of Chinese people are entering the middle classes and that hitherto unknown cities in the lower tiers

Nest Thermostat Glitch Leaves Users in the Cold – The New York Times – dumb is good. Trying to buy a dumb TV at the moment

#Twitter10K – 10,000 character Twitter posts and long Weibo posts

At the beginning of the year Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey alluded to a possible change in the 140 character limit. Dorsey didn’t have far to look for this innovation.
HK 1962 058
In common with most Twitter ‘innovations’ the idea of 10,000 character Twitter posts came from Weibo, here’s one that Emma from the team I ran in Hong Kong created for our client at the time. CIVB is the marketing body for Bordeaux Wines.

This one was for Singles Day in China. Single’s day is a huge shopping day, held on November 11 each year (all the 1s)
They have proven to be very effective for marketers in China when Weibo was at its full power. We would spend time creating text dense infographic type images, so it didn’t contribute to the searchable data on Weibo. Jack Dorsey’s response to the public disclosure of the 10,000 character was on a similar kind of essay in an image.
long tweet
Of course something that’s being effective in China, doesn’t guarantee success elsewhere. The writing system of Chinese means that you can be more expressive in a 140 characters than you could be in western languages like English, Spanish or Finnish.

The types of languages don’t guarantee success either. Weibo hasn’t been as successful in Hong Kong, but Facebook and WhatsApp is ubiquitous. On the other side, Facebook doesn’t do terribly well in Japan and it has been a rare success story for Twitter.

Whilst the product of Weibo is similar to Twitter, the context of Weibo is very different. It is not a reliable predictor of success for Twitter going to 10,000 characters.

Will McInnes of Brandwatch outlined some of the pros and cons as he saw them.

Twitter10K pros

  1. Twitter10k will create a world of “read more” tweets, which will motivate publishers and media to post ever more articles and content to Twitter, adding additional context and detail. This will further Twitter’s position as the source for breaking news in real time.
  2. With more and longer content, Twitter will become the one-stop shop for readers seeking news and information sharing, while retaining all its conversation and engagement features.
  3. Twitter could transition to a qualitative writing and content platform rather than a simple micro-blogging platform
  4. For marketers, product developers, and business professionals, there’ll be a huge increase in the volume of social data and insights that can be tapped and applied through social listening and analytics

Twitter10k cons

  1. Publishers are still grappling with the new reality of the shift to distributed content
  2. With the addition of more content, engagement in the form of replies and retweets will inevitably take a hit
  3. Breaking news just doesn’t align with verbosity. The 10,000-character limit is not effective for the real-time global event coverage that Twitter is known for
  4. Why bother? Twitter users won’t take kindly to the implied suggestion they should be writing more

Reading through Will’s points, some of them seem to counteract each other, representing either, or scenarios. Will eventually errs on the side of negatively pointing out that a longer word count hasn’t helped Google+, or got more celebrities using Medium.

There are a whole host of other reasons not to use Medium and other reasons why Google+ hasn’t been the social platform that Google originally envisioned.

The more positive views from agencies revolves around more contextual information gained from longer posts. That really depends on how the Twitter firehose scales to address it.

Judging by the use of Weibo, just because people can publish 10,000 character posts doesn’t mean that we’ll suddenly be deluged with War & Peace in our feeds. On its own it probably won’t be enough to pick up the four quarters of no growth that Twitter has experienced in the US, but it might get the creative juices of marketing agencies going.

More information
Jack Dorsey on the 10,000 character tweet limit
Twitter Expanding to 10,000 Characters: Good for Users, Great for Marketers | Mobile Marketing
Twitter10k: A good idea, but a bad idea | VentureBeat