Tag Archive: Twitter


Twitter’s entire premise is based on publicness. “Join the conversation in the global town square!” the company likes to say.

But, over the past year, Twitter has come around to seeing the value of being more discreet.

The company plans to significantly update its direct-messaging product in the near future, according to multiple sources, bringing the long-buried feature to the forefront for the first time in years.

Part of the new reemphasis on direct messaging is already here. For weeks, Twitter has been internally testing a setting that allows users to send and receive direct messages from others without needing to mutually follow one another. And, earlier this week, the company began to roll it out to the public in a limited capacity.

But Twitter’s new vision for direct messages will go further. It has kicked around the idea of launching a standalone direct-messaging application separate from the Twitter app, according to three people familiar with the matter. It is unclear, however, what form the final revamp of direct messages will take.

A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment when asked about future messaging plans.

Twitter’s move comes as a defensive riposte to personal-messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Line and KakaoTalk, all of which have drastically increased in popularity over the past two years. KakaoTalk, in particular, was mentioned as a threat in Twitter’s S-1 IPO documentation, filed earlier this month. To cope with such an increase in attention, other social networks, like Facebook and Path, have also made significant updates to their messaging capabilities.

Twitter paid specific attention to Snapchat, the massively popular ephemeral-messaging service, during its rapid ascent to popular use. Twitter even ran one of its own surveys, according to sources familiar with the matter, finding that people are indeed using Snapchat to engage more with others. And one of Twitter’s updates to Android tablet apps earlier this month borrows heavily from Snapchat’s in-message illustration features.


Earlier in the year, Twitter also met with employees from MessageMe, another popular mobile-messaging application, according to sources.

Moving private messaging up the food chain hasn’t always been in the company’s plans. At one point in Twitter’s history, employees discussed possibly killing direct messaging off altogether, according to multiple sources, making Twitter a truly public service once and for all. It is said that Jack Dorsey was one of the biggest proponents of the “all-public” version of Twitter.

Instead, Twitter went in a considerably less drastic direction. Under the direction of Dorsey and then product VP Satya Patel, the company launched a complete redesign of its desktop and mobile products in December of 2011, plucking the direct-messaging menu from the home screen and burying it under a separate, less visible menu. Eventually, the idea was that the product could have possibly been phased out.

Besides dealing with a public that wants personal-messaging services, Twitter also must attempt to solve its serious growth problem, one that seems to have alienated the service from becoming truly mainstream. The company hopes that an upcoming redesign will put an end to its retention issues and ultimately boost Twitter’s overall user ranks.

It is likely that we will see both updates before the year’s end, perhaps in time for the company’s much-anticipated initial public offering next month.


According to sources close to the situation, Twitter is planning on waiting until after its IPO – which is set to take place next week – to name its first woman to its board.

The move makes some level of sense, mostly because it would be difficult to have any new board member join the San Francisco-based social microblogging company now, given that that person would have to sign off on the public offering with little knowledge of its details.

Sources also added that while many are expecting Twitter to seek out a female director with media or tech experience – and there are many laudable candidates in both those areas – the company’s execs, especially CEO Dick Costolo, believe that one with international expertise is more important.

The reason is clear – Twitter is a global player, and runs into thorny issues all over the world around the proliferation of its open service. You might imagine that, in the future, as it grows, the company will face even more international conundrums that it will need a lot of mental heavy lifting to work out.

While the board had put former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the top of its overall list, she has not been contacted about joining as a director. She’s also likely to not be available, either, especially given that she is expected to run for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States in the 2016 election.

(Sorry, but she’s busy, boys! While Twitter chairman and co-founder Jack Dorsey will be bummed, most there actually considered her a very long shot.)

The number of women with international experience is also long. But if I were to bet on whom Twitter is considering for its top picks, I would name only two: Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright.

Albright, among her many diplomatic roles, was the first woman to become the Secretary of State, named in the Clinton administration. She is now a professor of international relations at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service (disclosure: I went there), and is also chairman of the Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategy firm.

Also – keep up, Peter Fenton! – she is fluent in French, Russian, Czech, Polish and Serbo-Croatian, serves on important boards such as the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Policy Board, and has written five books.

In addition – and this is just from my several encounters with her over the years – Albright takes no guff.

Neither does Rice, who also has some big cred in her corner. Along with other big government posts, she also served as Secretary of State under former President George W. Bush.

Rice also has some Silicon Valley links, both as a top administrator and professor at Stanford University, and her recent relationship with Khosla Ventures.

The VC firm signed a deal late last year with RiceHadleyGates, the international consulting firm that Rice runs, to “bring global and domestic insight to Khosla’s portfolio companies, helping them achieve their strategic goals in industries such as technology, energy, security and healthcare.”

No matter their gender – although that would also be a plus – either Rice or Albright would certainly be an asset for Twitter. The company has attracted not-undeserved scrutiny over not having a woman – or any diversity at all, really – on its board.

That board now includes: Former Netscape CFO and investor Peter Currie; former News Corp COO and Hollywood mogul Peter Chernin; Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Fenton, of Benchmark Capital; former DoubleClick CEO David Rosenblatt; Jack Dorsey (also CEO and founder of hot payments startup Square); co-founder and serial entrepreneur Evan Williams (now working on an innovative new publishing platform called Medium); and CEO Dick Costolo, who has already attracted controversy over the issue.

The lack of a woman on the board of a company is particularly glaring, given that numerous studies show that more women use Twitter than men, and that it is aiming to be a global company that represents, well, all of humanity.

Whether that will really move ratings, I think we don’t know.

– Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, talking about plans for the “See It” program it is launching next month with Twitter, which is supposed to promote live TV viewing. On an earnings call this morning, Roberts described the program as an experiment, but said he feels optimistic about it.


As part of its continued effort to evolve and broaden its advertising capabilities, Twitter is now touting itself as a platform for effective direct response advertising. The microblogging platform wants advertisers to use Twitter to generate leads, drive app downloads, collect consumers’ email addresses and induce incoming calls from customers, all with the click of a cursor or the tap of a finger. “We’ve always been strong in terms of upper-funnel, brand-oriented goals; engagement, awareness and capturing events and moments,” said Richard Alfonsi, Twitter’s vp of global online sales. “Direct response is thinking about the lower-funnel conversion-oriented goals.” As part of its direct response push, Twitter is beta-testing a “click-to-call” button, which would allow mobile users to engage with a Twitter ad by calling the advertiser directly, Alfonsi said.

Read the full story at DigiDay.


If you’re a news junkie, you’re almost certainly on Twitter. And if you’re a hard-core news junkie, then there’s a very good chance that you’re one of the 6.3 million people following the Breaking News account on Twitter, which churns out updates and links to Very Big News stories more than a dozen times a day.

Now NBC, which owns the Breaking News account, would like to migrate some of those users to its Breaking News apps and mobile site. It’s hoping a big redesign will do the trick.

The main pitch behind the new version of BreakingNews.com and its iOS apps is that they give you a whole lot more news than the Twitter account. But the more interesting selling point is the ways Breaking News is letting its users customize their feeds – and the ways in which it won’t.

Given that the topic of feed filtering and customization is of intense interest to lots of people right now – most notably Facebook and Twitter – it’s worth checking out.

In a nutshell, the Breaking News team – a small subset of NBC News’ digital group – assumes that its users want news and lots of it, so it plucks out stories from hundreds of sources and pushes them out in a familiar stream metaphor.

breaking news ios app

Then it lets users whittle away from the stream. If you see a story about the Boston Red Sox and their World Series win, you can tell Breaking News that you don’t want any more of those. Same for stories about Major League Baseball’s fight with Alex Rodriguez.

But if you want to tell Breaking News that you don’t want to read about sports, period, the service doesn’t make it easy – you’ll need to click through to one of those stories, and then again to an expanded view, and then select a tag to ban. And even if you do ban sports from your feed, Breaking News may show some sports stories, anyway – when they think there’s something really, really important to tell you.

And, while you can tell Breaking News to send you push alerts about particular topics, and you can dive deep into a single topic, you can’t create a personalized news “portfolio.” There’s no easy way to get Breaking News to just serve you up news about media, tech and sports, for instance.

All of which might make Breaking News unusable for lots of people if it were run by computers and algorithms. But the service has at least one or two human editors staffing its feed nearly 24 hours a day, hand-selecting each item it publishes. Cory Bergman, Breaking News’ general manager, figures that his staff, combined with the service’s opt-in nature – you’re not coming to Breaking News unless you really care about news – gives him the authority to serve up a broad swath of stories.

There are some other interesting tweaks to check out while you’re there. For instance, there is now a “whoa” button that gives users a chance to tell Breaking News that they think a story is a big deal, without “liking” it (useful, say, when reading a story about an NFL coach collapsing during halftime).

And there are now native ads, of course – GE has bought an initial slate of feed headlines, which appear in a different color than the rest of the stories, with a light-gray “advertisement” heading above them.

But I’m most interested in Breaking News’ main proposition – that it can give Twitter users who are already consuming a ton of news a reason to come and get even more stuff from the service.

So far, Breaking News is a fairly niche service. Its iOS and Android apps have generated a million downloads, but it won’t say how many active users it has; comScore pegs its U.S. traffic at a million users a month. Perhaps its combination of limited personalization and human curation will find a larger audience.


By now, it should be a familiar adage: For such a simple idea, Twitter is a tough service for newcomers to figure out.

But now, in the days before its IPO, the company is putting on its best face for the public.

On Monday evening, Twitter quietly rolled out an entirely new “About” section on its company homepage, giving it a near-complete visual refresh while adding a number of detailed, informative sections.

Learn_more_about_Twitter___Discover 2

Much of it is what you’d expect from a company on the verge of going public – a press section, a rundown of executive bios and headshots, a list of Twitter’s milestones and high-level data points.

The most telling section, though, comes at the bottom of the company’s products page, an icon that beckons you to discover what you can do with Twitter.

It is, in essence, a complete visual blueprint of what Twitter is in its most basic terms, a sort of Grey’s Anatomy for the body of a tweet. The breakdown answers simple questions – ones that someone like you, an AllThingsD reader, would likely take for granted – such as “What’s in a tweet?” and “What is following?”

It also offers a simple sign-up flow (smart for onboarding) and a host of slick design flourishes, complete with animations and a nifty tweet counter toward the bottom.

Is this all incredibly rudimentary? Yes, it is.

But, more than that, it is the long overdue arrival of what should be considered table stakes for Twitter, a company that aims to go truly mainstream upon its public market debut, come Thursday. No doubt the increased media attention, too, will drive new users and prospective investors to investigating exactly how Twitter ticks.

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To be sure, this has been a long time coming. Under comms VP Gabriel Stricker, Twitter expanded the scope of its communications department in April to include marketing duties, a move that came after previous hiring missteps.

The company has also experimented with a number of cutesy videos and data visualizations to win over laypersons. And, just a few months ago, Twitter poached former Facebook marketing head Kate Jhaveri to further expand the team.

Obviously, Twitter has much more work to do if it wants to be as easily accessible as something like, say, Facebook. An upcoming product redesign could aid the company on that front.

Still, this is a small but noteworthy step in making the service that much more digestible to the masses. And, frankly, it’s about time.


A handful of times a year, clusters of Twitter engineers will line the walls of the company’s cavernous main hall, gathering around smartphones, monitors or poster board setups. The large, open-air room buzzes with excitement as employees show off the slap-dash project they hacked together over the past four days. It is Twitter’s officially sanctioned “Hack Week” – a time where all bets are off and employees can work on whatever they want.

Project Mixtape, for example, was a way to suggest and send a list of good people to follow for any friends you’ve invited to try Twitter for the first time. Another group’s project involved a small Vine button stuck inside the Twitter app, a quick way to take and tweet videos inside of Twitter proper. And one set of engineers developed a way to play with location-based discovery of nearby users and tweets from people you weren’t following.

Many employees see the event – the Friday that ends Hack Week – as Twitter at its best, a testament to the company’s capacity for innovation.

But some view these days as among the most depressing of the year: A parade of Twitter features that will never see the light of day.

The Problem

Simply put, Twitter has a product problem. Engineers inside the company have long grumbled that there are few direct paths for moving product changes up the ladder at an efficient pace. Twitter’s occasional “experiments,” or ideas for change, sometimes sit in their requisite testing phase with 1 percent of users for an inordinately long amount of time, stagnating without any decision being made to move the product forward or kill it.


In a nutshell: It’s a product culture that’s basically the opposite of Facebook’s. Where the social giant is willing to “move fast and break things,” sometimes pushing out new features in the span of weeks, changes to Twitter’s core product often languish for months – or even years – in limbo.

While the issue is hardly a new one for the company – product pipeline problems have plagued Twitter for years – the stakes now are especially high; Twitter has to answer to the public markets, as well as to its public user base. Being slow to innovate, or even to iterate, could affect the company’s ability to push its microblogging service deep into the mainstream. And to some degree, it has inhibited the company’s ability to retain talent. Twitter has already lost a number of engineers and product managers who were frustrated by its failure to ship things in a timely manner.

The problem’s origins are two-fold, sources said. The product divisions are messy, with an absence of efficiency and sometimes a lack of clarity around which executive has the last word on whether a feature change is good enough to ship. Many in the organization have also expressed frustrations about working with Michael Sippey, Twitter’s VP of product, whose hesitation on pushing changes through has created problems with some middle managers. (My colleague Peter Kafka interviewed Sippey at our Dive into Mobile conference last spring.)

The other problem is perhaps the larger one: Twitter’s aversion to risk when it comes to its marquee product, the core Twitter timeline. According to sources, some of Twitter’s top people – including a few from the company’s executive ranks – fear any major changes will meddle with the company’s revenue products. These products, in just a handful of years, took Twitter’s revenue from zero to hundreds of millions of dollars.

As one insider put it: “Twitter hasn’t been playing to win. It’s playing not to lose.”

When asked, Twitter declined comment on any current or future product plans.

The Solution?

The situation isn’t hopeless.

Twitter has shown some willingness to change in just the past few months. A few weeks ago, IT pushed out in-stream photos and Vine videos in a major enhancement to the home stream – an area the company rarely touches.

It should be noted, however, that these changes had been ready to go for years, according to sources, born out of an idea called “Project Skyline” – the result of yet another Twitter Hack Week. Due to its existential product struggles, however, Twitter didn’t push the new design out the door until this October.


The company also introduced a thin blue line to its app recently, an attempt to make it easier for infrequent users to get up to speed on conversations happening between people they follow.

But that, too, was controversial. According to one senior Twitter executive, the company considered killing off the blue line altogether just weeks after introducing it to widespread dissatisfaction. (Whether Twitter will actually go through with killing the conversations line isn’t clear. For now, Twitter swapped the blue for a gray line, one hopefully less obtrusive to users.)

Twitter is also working on its personnel problem. Sources tell AllThingsD that VP Michael Sippey now reports to COO Ali Rowghani on growth and product issues instead of directly to CEO Dick Costolo and the board – an apparent demotion. That may help with some of the complaints around process and expediency. Multiple insiders, however, said this move was a head-scratcher, seeing as Rowghani has little background in growth and product issues. Not to mention that it is atypical for a tech company’s VP of product to report to the COO.

The biggest indicator of a product division shift: Twitter’s upcoming redesign, a makeover which truly attempts to court the mainstream. We’ll hopefully see that, or steps toward it, before the end of the year.

Keep in mind, this “Twitter reinventing itself” story is nothing new. Twitter has already undergone multiple internal reorgs in the span of just two years, removing some product and engineering execs and replacing them with others – all to no avail.

Perhaps, if the product division can truly change its mentality, the company will actually start to live up to its somewhat ironic “#shipit” motto that some employees chant.

As always, though, there’s no guarantee it’ll actually work.

162642967 520x245 Does anyone still use Twitter #Music? Why the Web and iOS app are quickly fading into obscurity

It’s been a little over three months since Twitter #Music was launched on the Web and iOS. The release signalled Twitter’s desire to broaden its influence on the Web. To be more. To leverage the ever-increasing number of tweets to disrupt the status-quo.

Yet for all its hype, Twitter #Music has been a disappointment. The mobile app sits patiently in a folder on my iPhone, gathering virtual dust and a sense of increasing irrelevancy. I have no desire to open it. Perhaps that’ll change with a future update, but for now it remains rather useless.

It’s not just me either. I’ve asked friends and family what their go-to app is for listening to music on the move. Spotify, Rdio and the default iOS Music app rank high. Twitter #Music does not.

Admittedly, that’s a small group of people to poll. But a quick inspection of the top free music apps in the App Store tells a similar story. Alongside the apps I just mentioned are Deezer, Soundcloud and Shazam, as well as a bunch of emerging services such as Bloom.fm filling out the top 20.

Twitter #Music isn’t featured. Nor is it in the top 50. Top 100? Nope. Top 200? Nope. At the time of writing, the app sits ranked 285. Ouch.

So why is no-one using it?

The purpose of the Twitter #Music app is three-fold; help listeners discover new music; act as an overlay for playing said music; incentivize the music industry – particularly artists and labels – to continue engaging with their fans on Twitter.

To help users find a bunch of brilliant new records, the app offers five charts with rather ambiguous names such as ‘Emerging’, ‘Unearthed’ and ‘Hunted’. They all sound inviting, but I couldn’t tell you what the difference is between any of the three.

twittermusic1 Does anyone still use Twitter #Music? Why the Web and iOS app are quickly fading into obscurity

Tapping one reveals a very compact grid filled with tiny square display pictures. Each of them represents an artist and they’re ranked in accordance with their popularity. The interface is pretty terrible though and at times completely bewildering. The various images are the size of my fingernail and reveal next to nothing about the artist or the sort of music they play. Twitter has also chosen to show their Twitter handle by default – rather than the artist’s name – which only adds to the confusion.

Selecting a specific artist then reveals a jarring profile page that tries to blend both their Twitter account and more of these tiny cuboid images. It’s the same story in the app’s ‘Suggested’ and ‘#NowPlaying’ sections. Everything feels unrefined and lacks consistent aesthetics.

Too many alternatives that are just better

Discovering new music should be a visually stunning and frictionless experience. Soundwave, Bloom.fm and even the ‘Discover’ tab in Spotify do a much better job of this than Twitter #Music by keeping their respective interfaces refreshingly simple and uncluttered. Twitter’s mobile app just feels messy in comparison.

Twitter #Music would also be a novel proposition if it offered its own digital storefront or an on-demand streaming service. But it doesn’t do that either. Tracks are either 30-second previews from iTunes with direct store links – another bid to get music labels and artists on side – or only supported with an active Spotify or Rdio subscription.

twittermusic2 Does anyone still use Twitter #Music? Why the Web and iOS app are quickly fading into obscurity

It begs the question though: why would a Spotify or Rdio subscriber leave their dedicated mobile app for this? There’s no way to create custom playlists, queue tracks or access premium features offered by these more robust and expansive services. The idea, presumably, is to reinforce Twitter #Music’s discovery options by giving users the ability to listen to new tracks in their entirety.

Twitter #Music lacks a defining feature or hook to keep users engaged. It’s an odd blend of ideas that never seem to mesh or offer a significant value proposition to the listener. There’s some potential here though and plenty of time for Twitter to turn it around – but no wonder it’s performing so poorly in the App Store at the moment.

Image Credit: David Ramos/Getty Images

Twitter and Egypt

It’s far from a scientific sample, but I noticed a lot of people in my Twitter feed over the past few weeks lamenting a lack of thorough media coverage surrounding the political crisis in Egypt. Certainly, when the George Zimmerman trial reached its apex, one might have assumed things in Egypt had reached a peaceful resolution, given how little news could be found in the mainstream US media.

It turns out that media companies are pretty astute at knowing what their audiences want to see, even if it doesn’t jibe with the smaller but more vocal Twitterati. Turn on your local network news for five minutes and you’ll figure out the formula: If people aren’t interested in a given topic, the media doesn’t spend a lot of time trying to change our minds.

What about Egypt?

Egypt seems to have all the makings of a sensational news topic, with its mass protests, violence, and intrigue. But do Americans really care?

We surveyed over 2,000 US adults over the past few days to gauge how concerned they were about the crisis in Egypt. Here’s how they answered:

Interest in Egypt

Over two-thirds of Americans have some degree of concern, with a full 30 percent characterizing themselves as Very Concerned. Thirty-two percent don’t seem to care at all. When we looked at demographics, we found that women were much more likely than men to be Very Concerned, as were people over age 45, and those with an advanced education.

This doesn’t tell us much, though, without comparing Egypt to other issues. So, we looked at 19 other issues we’ve studied using the exact same question format, like this one:

Interest in Income Equality

Most topics we follow on a daily basis (for our long-term tracking questions, we looked at results over the past 3 months), but a few issues were timely, like last December’s Fiscal Cliff. We included a mixture of both for contrast.

To develop a consistent “Concern Index,” we took the percentage of people who said “Very Concerned” and multiplied it by two, then added the percentage of people who said “Somewhat Concerned” (this did NOT take a Carnegie Mellon-trained data scientist). Based on this system, the crisis in Egypt would have a score of 98 ((30% x2) + 38%). Income inequality achieves a score of 115.

Now let’s look at a litany of other issues to see how the crisis in Egypt compares:

Concern Index

What Stands Out?

Let’s first address the elephant in the room. No matter how we sliced our numbers, the public health implications of texting-while-driving (“TWD”) produced the highest concern score. These were all large samples sizes, over 5,000 respondents, reweighted to match the full US adult population. So we can’t argue with the numbers. TWD is a big deal to a lot of people.

The next items on the list should come as little surprise. Health Care and Public Education rank slightly above the Economy and Jobs, but within a thin margin of error. Consumer Privacy has surged in recent months, making it to #7 on the list, just behind Gas and Energy Prices.

It’s interesting to note that issues like last year’s Fiscal Cliff and Bullying in Schools rank so highly above Crime and Violence and Climate Change among the general population. Clearly, these numbers might be different among respondents across the socio-economic and ideological spectrum.

We don’t find the Crisis in Egypt until #17, ranking more highly than only Concussions in the NFL and last summer’s LIBOR interest rate scandal. These are niche topics, to say the least.

If the mainstream media is providing little coverage of the Eqypt dispute, they may know what they’re doing. Our data makes a pretty convincing case that most consumers are concerned more about issues that impact their everyday lives, like failing schools, out-of-control health care costs, tight job markets and, most importantly, that college kid in the car in front of them sending a text to his girlfriend.

Pope Francis

The Vatican has taken another step in its efforts to embrace social media by offering “indulgences” to followers of Pope Francis’ (@Pontifex) Twitter account. Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reports that the church will reduce the time Catholics have to spend in purgatory if they follow official Vatican events on TV, radio, and through social media. One such event is the Catholic World Youth Day, commencing in Rio de Janeiro on July 22nd. The Apostolic Penitentiary, a Vatican tribunal responsible for issues relating to the forgiveness of sins, will award the privilege to the faithful that follow the event using different forms of media. Pope Francis’ followers are not immediately granted an indulgence for tracking the event, with the penitentiary noting that it would hinge on the user having previously confessed and being “truly penitent and contrite.”

Read the full story at The Verge.

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