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Twitter Acquires Chat App Sphere to Boost its Communities Push



Twitter’s new Communities offering doesn’t appear to have caught on in a major way yet, but it continues to revise the format and add more options which could, eventually, make Twitter groups a thing, and build another surface for more topic-focused engagement in the app.

And this could help – today, Twitter has announced that it’s acquired chat app Sphere to help expand its Communities project.


As you can see in these screens, Sphere is built around community chats, and optimizing relevant engagement within each group to help build bonds, and maximize engagement.

Its key features on this front are its ‘Zen Flow’ system, which works to highlight the most relevant group chat elements for each member, and ‘Appreciations’, community stickers and tools that enable people to recognize top contributors.

Sphere stickers

As explained by Sphere:

Our feed automatically clears out old or irrelevant chats to prevent groups from feeling chaotic. Our chats call out essential messages (like polls, events, and announcements) and make it more likely for people to respond. Our custom appreciations encourage people to express genuine gratitude.

Which doesn’t sound a lot different to other groups offerings, but where Twitter could glean particular value is in its discussion-highlighting algorithms, which work to showcase the most relevant elements to each user, while its incentive tools may also help to improve Twitter’s Communities offering, and make it a more compelling space.

Though it’s got a task ahead of it. While the idea of Twitter communities makes sense, in providing a way to engage around specific topics in the app, as opposed to broadcasting your every tweet, its practical value is limited, given that most users have already curated their own tweet communities via who they follow in the app. In addition to this, the prospect of actually reducing your tweet reach and engagement by posting exclusively to a Community likely doesn’t hold a lot of appeal to users.

Looking through various tweet communities thus far, this is a common issue – tweets within communities, which are not viewable by all of your followers, only members of that group, see far less engagement in general, and the subsequent conversation is not exactly flowing in each.

That’s anecdotal, of course, and Twitter would have the real insight into what’s happening in its communities overall. But it does seem like Communities somewhat goes against the ‘public square’ nature of the platform, and may be an awkward fit.


But maybe, Sphere’s more advanced algorithms and tools can fix this, and maybe, if Twitter introduces some of Sphere’s engagement prompts and recognitions, that could help to make Twitter Communities more vibrant and active, and that could provide the push that it needs to become a more significant option.

It’s the latest in Twitter’s broader effort to expand its offerings, and become a more comprehensive connection tool, in various ways, as it looks to boost usage, and maximize its business potential. Twitter has also acquired newsletter platform Revue back in January and web reader platform Scroll in May, both of which are now been rolled into new on-platform offerings, largely aligned to its paid subscription tools.

Sphere seems less likely to become a paid tool, but again, as Twitter looks to broaden its focus on topic-based engagement, and building communities in the app, it could provide some key engagement tools that could differentiate its groups offering, and make it a more compelling in-app experience.

We’ll keep you updated on any progress.



Ahead of World Cup, influencer ‘Mr Q’ lifts veil on Qatar



Khalifa Al Haroon, known to his followers as Mr Q, has become a social media hit by partially lifting the veil on World Cup host Qatar

Khalifa Al Haroon, known to his followers as Mr Q, has become a social media hit by partially lifting the veil on World Cup host Qatar – Copyright AFP KARIM JAAFAR

Raphaelle Peltier

At a time when prickly questions are being asked about Qatar and its hosting of the World Cup, Khalifa Al Haroon offers a smile, a sigh and a shrug as he seeks to explain its mysteries.

Known to his growing number of followers as Mr Q, the 38-year-old has become a social media hit by partially lifting the veil over the tiny but mega-rich Gulf state that describes itself as a “conservative” Islamic country.

The first World Cup in an Arab nation has put a spotlight on Qatar’s treatment of foreign workers, gender rights and even the use of air conditioning in stadiums.

Haroon’s cheerful #QTip videos broach everything from saying “Hello” in Arabic to the right way for men to wear the flowing ghutra headdress. There is also an edition on labour rights.

With less than 60 days to the November 20 start of the tournament, he now has more than 100,000 followers on Instagram and more than 115,000 on YouTube. And the numbers keep growing.


Qatar has dozens of online influencers on topics ranging from “modest” but expensive fashion, to the latest sports car being imported into what is now one of the world’s wealthiest nations.

Haroon carved out his niche by elucidating Qatar’s unknowns to its growing expat community — and now the hordes of football fans expected for the World Cup.

Haroon — who was born to a Qatari father and British mother and spent 16 years in Bahrain — said he was first confronted by global stereotypes about Qatar and the Middle East while studying for a law degree in Britain.

He had wanted to become an actor, but instead launched his social media presence in 2008 with a blog.

“I was in the perfect position because I was a Qatari who has never lived properly in Qatar,” he said.

– ‘Trust your own eyes’ –

“In essence, I was like a foreigner in my own country and so I had the same questions that foreigners did, and so it just made it easy for me to start putting together information.”

Haroon said there has to be a distinction between “negative news” and misinformation about his country.


“When it comes to fake news, obviously, I think everybody understands that it’s not true and so the only thing that I could do is show people videos and pictures and show them what we’re really like because you can trust your own eyes.”

Some people, he said, have told him they decided to move to Qatar after watching his videos.

Haroon, who is now a consultant to the Qatar Football Association and an eSports entrepreneur, said he is excited about the World Cup “because people can now come here and experience it for themselves and make their own judgements instead of just believing what’s written”.

His main grouse is how outsiders see something negative about Qatar and then believe that all Qataris “accept it or we all agree with it”.

Many supporters of the 31 foreign countries who will play in Qatar have raised concerns, however, about the welcome awaiting them. Can they drink? And what will happen to same-sex couples in a country where homosexuality is illegal?

The government has insisted that beer, normally restricted, will be available and that everyone is welcome. Haroon wants outsiders to experience “real Qatari hospitality”, with its food and coffee culture.

“Of course there are going to be certain social norms,” said Haroon. “What we are asking for is just respect the country. And of course the country will definitely be respecting everyone that comes.”

“Some people might make mistakes because they don’t know what the rules are and that’s OK,” he added.


“The point is our culture is all about intention, our religion is about intention, so as long as you have good intentions and you want to do the right thing, you have nothing to worry about.”

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