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Twitter’s New Experiments are Failing to Gain Traction, Which Could Lead to Major Changes at the App

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We need to talk about Twitter, and in particular, its latest efforts to increase monetization, and ramp up its development of new features and tools to incentivize popular users.

Over the past few months, Twitter has significantly accelerated its development velocity, with new features like Fleets, Twitter Blue, Super Follows, Spaces, Communities and more all coming in quick succession.

Twitter Product Lead Kayvon Beykpour recently lauded the efforts of his team on this front, crediting internal culture, and a new strategic vision, for its improvements. But the question here is ‘are these really improvements?’

Twitter’s trying a lot of things, for sure, and it needs to in order to maximize its potential – and there’s no denying that Twitter has dragged its feet on this front for too long. But are its experiments actually going to pay off?

And if they don’t, what then?

The most obvious case in point, of course, is Fleets, Twitter’s own take on the social Stories format which was essentially a worse version of Instagram or Snapchat Stories within the Twitter system.

Fleets

Twitter launched Fleets for all users in November 2020, then shut it down last month, giving it less than a year of operation before pulling the pin. Which it should have done, and Twitter received some praise for having the courage to test something new, then admitting when it had failed.

But in the same vein, Twitter’s other experiments don’t really seem to be paying off either, and if Twitter’s going to stick with its approach, and shut them down too when they don’t produce, that could eventually paint a poor picture of its internal development processes, and the understanding of its executive team in regards to what works, and what doesn’t, in building the platform.

Today, TechCrunch has reported that another of Twitter’s experiments is also stumbling in its early stages, with its Super Follows creator subscriber offering only generating around $6000 in its first two weeks.

Super Follows overview

Super Follows is only available in the US and Canada right now, and two weeks is not an indicative enough time period to write it off as a failure, especially considering that creators will need time to formulate their paid subscription offerings in order to entice people to subscribe to them. But $6000 off the back of a product launch is not great, especially when you also consider that Twitter has over 37 million daily active users in the US.

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At the minimum price point for Super Follows ($2.99), that would suggest that only 2 thousand users – or 0.005% of Twitter’s US user base – has subscribed to anyone in the app. And that’s at the most generous estimate.

There’s also Twitter Blue, its subscription add-on option which enables users to pay for additional features like tweet recall and new color options.

Twitter Blue

Twitter Blue is currently available in Australia and Canada, and we don’t have any stats on usage as yet, but the options on offer are not overly compelling, and it’ll be interesting to see whether people are willing to keep paying a monthly fee to access these new features (anecdotal sentiment seems to suggest that most subscribers found the features interesting, but not worth the extra cost).  

And then you have Communities, its latest big push to expand tweet engagement, and maximize usage.

Twitter launched Communities last week, and again, we don’t have any definitive data on its performance as yet, but a quick look through the current communities on offer doesn’t suggest that it’s ‘taking off’ as yet.

Twitter Communities

The idea of Communities makes sense – people don’t always want to share their comments with all of their followers, so Communities provides a way to have more enclosed group discussion in the app.

But in practice, the process has some flaws.

For one, given that most regular Twitter users have already curated a list of people they want to hear from in their feeds, Communities doesn’t serve any significant purpose in keeping up to date with topics of interest. It could, of course, enable you to find new tweet discussions to join, which could expand your tweeting activity, but the invite-only process means you have to know someone already in a community to join, limiting your options on this front.

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Twitter could remove the invite-only provision, but that would then open Communities up to every spammer and junk tweeter who feels like signing on, so there does need to be some vetting in place (already, giving every new member 5 invites is problematic in this respect).

But the biggest reason that Communities doesn’t seem to be catching on is engagement.

Prolific tweeters already have far more followers on their personal handles than they’ll reach within a Community, so tweeting exclusively to Communities, only to see less engagement, doesn’t seem like an overly appealing prospect.

Again, it’s still too early to say, but right now, it doesn’t seem like an ideal fit, and it could end up being another failed experiment for the platform.

What about Spaces?

Spaces, which latched onto the Clubhouse-led audio social trend, still seems to be showing some promise, and could still become a bigger element in the app, with the public nature of Twitter providing the best exposure potential of the current audio social platforms on offer.

Twitter Spaces

But discovery remains an issue, and when you also see Clubhouse’s popularity in decline, it could be that audio streaming isn’t as big a game-changer as some had anticipated, and without adequate tools to highlight in-progress Spaces to every user, it’s hard to see Twitter making anything major out of the option, at least on a broad enough scale to the move its usage needle in any major way.

Of course, all of these tools are still being developed, and it could be that they all, eventually, gain enough cumulative traction to help Twitter boost its performance, and there are other experiments like Professional Profiles that show promise in their own ways.

But the question, as noted, is what happens if these new tools don’t catch on, which could be the key consideration in Twitter’s next shift.

Because while Beykpour overlooked this element in his reasons for Twitter’s increased development momentum, the real major motivator here is Twitter’s board, and a group of investors who forced their way onto it last year, in a bid to oust current CEO Jack Dorsey over concerns with his direction at the company.

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Those board members, from Elliot Management Group, are not convinced that Dorsey, who also heads Square, is the right man to run Twitter, and they made a deal with Dorsey and Twitter’s management team last year on growth targets and momentum, which lead to Twitter’s renewed development focus, announced at its Analyst Day back in February.

Twitter growth targets

If Dorsey and Co. don’t meet these targets, it’s fair to assume that changes are coming, and that could see the end of Twitter’s executive structure as we know it, and a whole raft of new changes coming to the platform.

So while ‘culture’ and other factors are playing a part in Twitter’s new development focus, the truth here is that Twitter needs at least some of these bets to pay off, otherwise it stands little chance of meeting these targets. And while it is on track now, and usage is steadily rising (particularly in developing markets), the risks for the platform are very real, and the initial response data is likely provoking concern in this respect.

But Twitter needs to experiment, it needs to test, it needs to try new things in order to maximize usage, while the broader ‘creator economy’ shift also forces its hand, in some respects, in attracting and maintaining creative talent.

The problem is, most of these additions are solutions looking for problems – they’re additional pieces in the Twitter puzzle which look like they should be there, but maybe, ultimately don’t fit.

There’s still much to come, and Twitter does have opportunity on several fronts. But it’ll be interesting to see just how many of these new projects gain traction, and what that means for those approving their launch.

Socialmediatoday.com

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Germany weighs ban on Telegram, tool of conspiracy theorists

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Germany has seen regular, sometimes violent, protests against Covid-related government restrictions


Germany has seen regular, sometimes violent, protests against Covid-related government restrictions – Copyright AFP Wakil KOHSAR

David COURBET

The German government is considering a ban on encrypted messaging app Telegram after it was repeatedly used as a channel for spreading anti-vaccine conspiracy theories and even death threats.

The app has also played a key role in mobilising turnout at some of the most violent protests in opposition to the German government’s Covid-19 policies since the start of the pandemic.

With parliament due to begin debating compulsory vaccination on Wednesday, authorities fear that the controversial issue could risk firing up another wave of rage.

With this in mind, politicians have set their sights on tighter controls on Telegram.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser will unveil plans by Easter to require the app to delete messages that contain death threats or hate speech and identify their authors.

If Telegram fails to comply, the government could even ban the service completely.

“We will ensure that those spreading hate are identified and held accountable,” Faeser told the Bundestag lower house of parliament in mid-January.

She also told Die Zeit newspaper that Telegram could be deactivated in Germany if it failed to comply with local laws and “all other options have failed”.

Telegram chat groups, which can include up to 200,000 members, have been used by some anti-vaccine protesters to share false information and to encourage violence against politicians.

In December, German police seized weapons during raids in the eastern city of Dresden after a Telegram group was used to share death threats against a regional leader.

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The same month, Telegram was used to mobilise a group of coronavirus-sceptics to mass outside the house of Petra Koepping, the health minister of Saxony state, armed with flaming torches.

A message viewed by 25,000 people had called for people opposing Covid restrictions to share private addresses of German “local MPs, politicians and other personalities” who they believed were “seeking to destroy” them through pandemic curbs.

– New avenues –

At the height of a refugee crisis that erupted in 2015, online social networking tools Facebook and Twitter fell foul of the authorities as they were seized by the far-right to spread virulent anti-immigrant content.

In 2017, Germany passed a controversial law that requires the social network giants to remove illegal content and report it to the police.

Facebook said in September it had deleted accounts, pages and groups linked to the “Querdenker” (Lateral Thinkers), a movement that has emerged as the loudest voice against the German government’s coronavirus curbs.

But that pushed opposing voices to other platforms, with Telegram emerging as the app of choice.

“Since the big platforms like Facebook no longer allow racist, anti-Semitic hate and far-right content like Holocaust denial, people who want to spread this are looking for new avenues,” Simone Rafael, digital manager for the Amadeu Antonio anti-racism foundation, told AFP.

“Currently, the most popular one in Germany is Telegram,” Rafael said.

While Facebook has an interest in maintaining a presence in Germany and has gradually submitted to national legislation, this is not the case with Telegram, the expert said.

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“Telegram is not cooperating with the judicial or security authorities, even on indisputably punishable and reprehensible matters such as child pornography,” a behaviour that “deprives the state of any capacity for action”, Rafael said.

With Telegram not budging, German federal police are even planning to start flooding the company with requests for content deletion to push it into action, reported Die Welt daily.

– ‘Very bad signal’ –

One option for the government could be to require Google or Apple to remove Telegram from their app stores. However, this would not affect users who have already downloaded the app.

For Rafael, the only solution is to ban the app completely.

That would make Germany the first Western country to outlaw Telegram, created in 2013 by Russian brothers Nikolai and Pavel Durov, two opponents of Russian President Vladimir Putin who sought to avoid surveillance by their country’s secret services.

The company is currently headquartered in Dubai, with its parent group in British Virgin Islands.

Telegram is already banned or heavily regulated in China, India and Russia.

But a move against the app could also spark further dissent in Germany.

Such a drastic step would “send a very bad signal”, according to digital journalist Markus Reuter.

“On the one hand we are celebrating Telegram’s lack of censorship and its importance for democratic movements in Belarus and Iran, and on the other, we are then disabling the service here” in Germany, he said.



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Meta Looks to Sell Off its Diem Cryptocurrency Project Due to Ongoing Challenges and Restrictions

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Meta Looks to Sell Off its Diem Cryptocurrency Project Due to Ongoing Challenges and Restrictions


After three years of development, and a raft of changes to its name, scope, leadership and purpose, it seems like Meta’s trouble cryptocurrency project may soon come to an end.

According to reports, Meta’s looking to pull the pin on its Diem/Novi crypto project, with company representatives seeking expressions of interest on its sale.

As reported by Bloomberg:

The Diem Association, a cryptocurrency initiative once known as Libra backed by Meta Platforms Inc., is weighing a sale of its assets as a way to return capital to its investor members, according to people familiar with the matter. Diem is in discussions with investment bankers about how best to sell its intellectual property and find a new home for the engineers who developed the technology, cashing out whatever value remains in its once-ambitious Diem coin venture, said the people, asking not to be identified because the discussions aren’t public.”

That would be a significant step back for Meta, which launched its original Libra crypto project to much fanfare in 2019, with former PayPal chief David Marcus at the helm of the initiative.

But the project saw strong resistance from the start.

Maybe it’s because it was coming from Meta (then Facebook), or maybe it was due to widespread distrust of crypto projects, but many regions came straight out and said that they would not support the company creating its own currency. The public backlash saw many of the initial big-name backers pull out, including Visa, Mastercard and PayPal, all key names which had leant credibility to the initial concept.

That, already, put the entire experiment in limbo, because without the support of major financial institutions, Meta’s options for the project were limited. It seemed, then, that the project would likely fade away, but then in May 2020, Meta announced that it was changing the name of its crypto wallet from Calibra to Novi.

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In October last year, after a long period of no news, then Novi chief David Marcus announced the next major step forward for the project, with the launch of a pilot of its Novi digital wallet in the US and Guatemala, enabling users to send and receive money between the two regions.

Novi

That was the first concrete steps we’d seen in making the project a workable reality, but still, many regions are still very skeptical of cryptocurrency, and with India, in particular, moving to ban cryptocurrencies outright, the value of the project was also lessened, potentially to the point where it’s now no longer viable in broader terms.

India, it’s worth noting, is where Meta sees the most potential for money transfers and eCommerce, as it looks to cement its apps as key connective tools in the emerging market.

Shortly after the launch of the Novi payments pilot, David Marcus left the project, and maybe that was the final flag, the signal that it was just never going to make it.

Which now leads to these new reports, that Meta’s looking to sell it off – though it is worth noting that the reports suggest that Meta is looking to get out of the Diem Association, the parent group overseeing the project, with no mention of the Novi payment project specifically.

I would assume that they are intrinsically tied together, but maybe there’s a way for Meta to continue to support and develop its Novi payments option independently, though that does seem like a stretch.

So what would a sale of Diem, and the failure of Meta’s crypto push, mean for crypto more broadly?

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I mean, resistance is steadily growing for cryptocurrencies in general, with more regions now moving to cut them off completely, including Russia, China and Indonesia in recent months. A report published the Library Law of Congress late last year showed that the number of countries and jurisdictions that have either banned or restricted cryptocurrencies has more than doubled since 2018, due to concerns around scam activity, market price fluctuations, and environmental impacts as a result of crypto ‘mining’.

Yet, at the same time, many western nations are seeing a boom in sales of crypto-aligned projects like NFTs, and with Web3 advocates essentially tying the growing tech movement into crypto development, it is actually gaining momentum in some circles, despite concurrently rising concerns.

But as noted, western markets are not where Meta saw the most potential value in its crypto project. Meta’s real aim has been to build native, in-stream payments into its apps, in order to further embed their use into developing markets, like India and Indonesia. Both of these regions see high remittance activity, with people transferring money back to family, and Meta originally saw Diem as a vehicle for removing fees from such exchanges, which would then get more people moving their money through Facebook and WhatsApp.

And once they’re already shifting their money around in its apps, that would make it much easier for Meta to parlay that behavior into eCommerce, expanding utility, and importance, for the millions of people in these markets.

But it does seem like that’s not to be – and given that, it makes sense for Meta to move on.

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Though it’s not a great endorsement for the potential of crypto, in a broader sense. If Meta, with all of its resources and influence, can’t find a real use case for crypto, does that suggest that its potential value is not as high as some advocates think?

That might be a stretch, but as more regions move to ban crypto projects, and more big players step away from the sector, it does seem like the challenges are rising, which could, eventually, put the brakes on the entire crypto movement.    





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China restricts activists’ social media ahead of Olympics

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Multiple Chinese activists have seen their WeChat accounts restricted or disabled entirely in the lead-up to the Winter Olympics in Beijing


Multiple Chinese activists have seen their WeChat accounts restricted or disabled entirely in the lead-up to the Winter Olympics in Beijing – Copyright AFP Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV

Laurie CHEN

Human rights activists and some academics in China have had their WeChat messaging app accounts restricted in recent weeks, multiple people affected have told AFP, as Beijing cracks down on dissent before the Winter Olympics.

China hopes to make next week’s Games a soft power triumph, although the lead-up has seen some Western powers launch a diplomatic boycott over Beijing’s rights record and cybersecurity firms warn athletes of digital surveillance risks.

For China’s ever-dwindling community of activists, the imminent arrival of the world’s best athletes has triggered a familiar clampdown.

Eight individuals told AFP that their WeChat accounts had been restricted in some form since early December, with some unable to use their accounts entirely and forced to re-register.

The restrictions came as authorities detained two prominent human rights activists, lawyer Xie Feng and writer Yang Maodong, while a third rights lawyer missing since early December is believed by relatives to be in secret detention.

“This storm of shuttering WeChat accounts is too strong and unprecedented,” said veteran journalist Gao Yu, whose account had features like group chat messaging permanently disabled for the first time on December 20.

China routinely suppresses the social media accounts and physical movements of dissidents during politically sensitive periods such as Communist Party gatherings in Beijing or key anniversaries like the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.

A major Party Congress will take place towards the end of this year when President Xi Jinping, China’s most authoritarian leader in a generation, is expected to further cement his rule with a third term.

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The arrival of the Winter Olympics has presaged a clampdown similar to those surrounding other major events.

“The government now wants to make sure that people don’t cross the line online to poke the facade of a perfect Winter Olympic Games,” said Yaqiu Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch.

– Ubiquitous app –

Tencent’s app WeChat is a mainstay of daily life in China, with users relying on it for a range of services including payments and scanning health codes that permit entry to public venues.

“I know many people who’ve been banned from posting in group chats or posting WeChat Moments lately,” a Beijing lawyer whose account was restricted last month said on condition of anonymity.

Beijing-based writer Zhang Yihe said her WeChat group chat and Moments functions — similar to Facebook’s Wall or Instagram Stories — were restricted on January 8.

Tsinghua University sociology professor Guo Yuhua confirmed her account was permanently blocked the same day, while prominent legal scholar He Weifang said he encountered the same on January 9.

“Isn’t this equal to removing an individual from a public space?” said Zhang, adding she can now only send WeChat messages to individual users.

“Before and during the Olympics is a major sensitive period,” added a Beijing-based activist whose account was restricted twice in the past two months.

Tencent, the owner of WeChat, did not respond to a request for comment.

– Offline crackdown –

In recent weeks, Chinese police have detained two prominent rights activists on suspicion of “inciting state subversion”, according to official notices shared with AFP.

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One of them, Yang Maodong, was unable to reunite with his wife in the United States before her death in early January.

Relatives of Tang Jitian, a human rights lawyer who vanished last month en route to an EU Human Rights Day event in Beijing, told AFP they believe he is being held under a form of secret detention commonly used against dissidents, possibly in his home province of Jilin.

“We don’t know where he is. I’ve reported him missing to the police but with no result,” said a relative who did not wish to be identified for fear of reprisal.

“They said it doesn’t meet the requirements for filing a (missing persons) case and that he had scanned the Jilin province health code.”

People arrested for national security offences in China can disappear for months at a time into incommunicado detention before authorities charge them or reveal their fate.

Both Jilin and Beijing’s public security bureaus did not respond to requests for comment.

The International Olympic Committee said in an emailed response that it “has neither the mandate nor the capability to change the laws or the political system of a sovereign country”, adding that it “must remain neutral on all global political issues”.

Beijing Games organisers told AFP they “oppose the politicisation of sports” and were “not aware of these matters”.

Meanwhile, those still free lament mounting restrictions on speech under the current political climate.

“The space for public discourse is getting smaller and smaller,” said He.



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