Twitter CEO Responds To Furor Over Character Limit With Screenshort

After hours of fierce debate over a report that Twitter was building a way to expand its famous character limit to 10,000 characters, Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey responded by tweeting a picture of a statement, embedded below.

I ran the image through free online optical character recognition software to get the following text:

At its core Twitter is public messaging. A simple way to say something, to anyone, that everyone in the world can see instantly.

We didn’t start Twitter with a 140 character restriction. We added that early on to fit into a single SMS message (160 characters).

It’s become a beautiful constraint, and I love it! It inspires creativity and brevity. And a sense of speed. We will never lose that feeling.

We’ve spent a lot of time observing what people are doing on Twitter, and we see them taking screenshots of text and tweeting it.

Instead, what if that text…was actually text? Text that could be searched. Text that could be highlighted. That’s more utility and power.

What makes Twitter, Twitter is its fast, public, live conversational nature. We will always work to strengthen that. For every person around the world, in every language!

And by focusing on conversation and messaging, the majority of tweets will always be short and sweet and conversational!

We’re not going to be shy about building more utility and power into Twitter for people. As long as it’s consistent with what people want to do, we’re going to explore it.

And as I said at #flight, if we decide to ship what we explore, we’re telling developers well in advance, so they can prepare accordingly.
(Also: I love tweetstorms! Those won’t go away.)

Quick thoughts after reading this:

1) What are users with disabilities to make of this tweet by Twitter’s CEO? No <alt text> for a screen reader. No blog post. No text at all. Social media platforms should be accessible to everyone.

I don’t think this is a great look for Twitter, on this count, but maybe its developers might fix this issue for the website & apps.

2) Twitter’s cofounder used a screenshot of text, or “screenshort,” to get around the very 140 character limit that’s being discussed. There’s enough demand for this feature that ex-Twitter staff built an app just for that called One Shot.

3) Twitter deserves credit for watching what its users are doing on the platform to get around the character constraints.

“We’ve spent a lot of time observing what people are doing on Twitter, and we see them taking screenshots of text and tweeting it,” he said. “Instead, what if that text…was actually text? Text that could be searched. Text that could be highlighted. That’s more utility and power.”

You don’t need to imagine what that would look like: Google+ had no such character limit and amazing text search from the start. (Google’s effort had other issues, leading to a complete redesign and relaunch of Google Plus in November.)

Or consider Facebook, which announced universal search last October after years of development.

4) Can you recall Twitter ever effectively asking its users what we want?

Is Twitter adapting to perceived need or an implicit feature request? Enabling people to tweet more text in that could be searched would indeed be more powerful and useful.

Is that what users want, versus, say, an edit button?

Or is it better search of the billions and billions tweets sent over the last decade, now that Topsy is gone and the Library of Congress archive hangs in limbo?

Or the quality filter that only Verified users (like me) have?

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Dorsey said that “as long as it’s consistent with what people want to do, we’re going to explore it.”

I read that as good news. Let’s see what happens next.

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Character Limits Aren’t What Ails Twitter

twitter gid
Recode reports that Twitter is working on expanding its famous 140 character limit to a 10,000 characters. Users might click “read more” to expand a tweet to the full length.
If it carries through on this change, I think that Twitter needs to retain both high information density and easy browsing of tweets. The existential risk it runs if not is that it would lose product differentiation versus other social media platforms. Facebook has steadily positioned itself as the go-to alternative for media to share news and live stream events. I find that its Mentions app for media is a much better product than anything Twitter provides.
In 2016, Twitter just aping Facebook is risking everything to compete with the biggest social platform on the planet. The question that its executives must be able to answer to media, politicians and the public is why they should tweet (or read tweets) instead of using another platform.
Over the years, I have found that I find the way I use Twitter – to find and share information or news, track live events, learn from others, and discuss ideas – looks like work to many other people. Finding and following (and unfollowing) smart people is crucial to making Twitter useful. Twitter tried to improve this in its onboarding process, using lists of interests, but it’s still not effectively explaining how people who love it and value make the most of the platform.
Twitter tried to address this using Twitter Moments, but I’m not sure it’s working. Character counts won’t either.
I think Twitter will need to invest in Tweetdeck and Tweetbot for its power users, to retain its position as an information utility and preserve the inputs that drive its value to people who prefer to browse, but that’s enough.
Flat user growth suggests that Twitter must make itself much easier to use for mainstream. Elevating user Lists would help, instead of just curating “Moments” internally and publishing them, especially shorn of links. And guess what? Media already make and use Lists. Instead of largely ignoring power users or their frustration, perhaps partner with them? Maybe even offer those users a share of ad revenue if their Lists prove to be the best lens on an event or news or a law or disaster?
I’m obviously spitballing here, but I’m concerned about what’s going to happen to my favorite social media platform in 2016 and beyond.
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Whether you are also are a long-time user or someone who tried it and left, I’d certainly welcome your ideas on what Twitter should do — or be.

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RhinoBird.tv launches collaborative livestreaming app for Android users and the Web

Rhinobird_tv___video_in_real_timeMedia hype around the livestreaming “Meerkat election” helped Twitter, which put up its own Periscope for social livestreaming last month. Today, RhinoBird.tv officially launches its beta during that the spectacle of the running of the 119th Boston Marathon in the greater Boston area, offering an opportunity for thousands of Android users along the race route to download the app and crowdsource livestreaming the event.

The original funding for RhinoBird came from the Knight Foundation in 2012, where a proposal to “aggregate live mobile video streams of breaking news events into an easily searchable world map, connecting users directly to global events as they unfold” won the 2012 Knight News Challenge.

A couple of weeks ago, I talked with Felipe Heusser, the CEO of RhinoBird and a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, about the app and livestreaming in general.

Our video interview is embedded below.

As Heusser notes, along with Android, RhinoBird also works within the Web browser using the open WebRTC project. It is, as they say here in Massachusetts, wicked fast.

Whether its approach to organizing livestreams around channels in a #hashtag convention familiar from Twitter is adopted en masse by hundreds of millions of Android users over the coming months will be fun to watch, along with those watching runners today.

If the app catches on, you’ll be able to watch the #BostonMarathon on RhinoBird.tv. Good luck with your respective races.

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Twitter puts up its Periscope. Will mass adoption of livestreaming follow?



Today, Twitter’s livestreaming app is live in the Apple App Store.

Cue “Periscope Election” hype! More seriously, it’s a slick app: easy to sign up, browse, network and, most importantly, livestream. 



Twitter once asked us “What are you doing?” Now, Periscope asks us “What are you seeing?” 



When I logged on, I saw windows into our shared worlds from all over the globe. 



The Periscope privacy policy & Terms of Service more or less mirror Twitter’s, with a bold reminder that livestreams & archived videos are public. There’s at least one exception: no livestreaming pornography.



Fast wireless broadband service, social networks, and powerful smartphones with great cameras create a new context for livestreaming services, which has led tech companies, entrepreneurs and huge corporations to bet big on them.



I downloaded Stringwire as well this week, but it’s not on par with Periscope’s features, UX or integration. I wonder if NBC Universal will create clear incentives for its use.

As I found some time ago, Google Hangouts can also be streamed live to YouTube. There are an awful lot of a Android devices in the world; I’d keep an eye on how that evolves, along with Facebook’s video features. 

I also wonder about who will use these apps and where. Established celebrities can find their audiences. This morning, I saw people tuned in to see Mario Batali cook this morning. As with Vine and YouTube, unheralded talent may find success as well. 



Most of life is, however, mundane by definition. I look forward to seeing how Periscope and other apps help us choose and share moments that resonate with the rest of humanity.



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After encountering many angry eggs, U.S. Ambassador to Libya quits Twitter

Today, Ambassador Safira Deborah tweeted that she would stop using Twitter herself because doing so was distracting from the twin goals of “peace and stability” that the United States of America had in Libya. It was unclear whether it was her communication choices that led to the decision, the reception she encountered on the platform or some combination of the two factors. Twiplomacy created a timeline of her tweets, if you want to see them natively on Twitter.

The ambassador tweeted out a 8-part statement today, working within Twitter’s character limitations. She offered context for her initial decision to use the real-time social media platform, stating that it the “only way to reach out” for public diplomacy, in the context of Libya’s security situation and that her goal was to “encourage a transparent dialogue with all Libyans.”

SafiraDeborah@SafiraDeborah: “Dear Tweeps -and not so dear Tweeps- when I opened a Twitter account last year it was to encourage a transparent dialogue with all Libyans,” she tweeted. “Given the security situation in #Libya, Twitter was the only way to reach out and I am pleased to have developed a following of over 49k .” [Mon, Mar 23 2015 17:54:09]

What she found on Twitter lately appears to have led her to conclude that such a dialogue was not possible:
“Unfortunately, it seems there are some more focused on parsing and distorting “tweets” than reading actual statements of US policy,” she tweeted. “I have from time to time gone on strike against Twitter militias and those who resort to vulgar personal attacks in lieu of arguments. I have concluded it is best to cease efforts to communicate via Twitter insofar as it distracts from our goal of peace & stability 4 #Libya.” [Mon, Mar 23 2015 18:05:40]
Thumbnail for U.S. Embassy - Libya (@USAEmbassyLibya) | TwitterThe ambassador clarified that, while she would go silent, the United States delegation to Libya would continue to use Twitter on the embassy’s official account,@USAEmbassyLibya.
“We shall continue to post official statements on our embassy FB account. To all those responsible & thoughtful Tweeps out there, thank you.
She then offered thanks and tweeted the Arabic phrase for “goodbye.”
“Getting to know thoughtful, dedicated Libyans via Twitter has been an inspiration & given me great hope 4 Libya’s future. I wish you well. Masalaamah.”
There was some context for her apparent decision, from a few hours before the statement: the ambassador tweeted about violence in Tarhouna, a town to the southeast of Tripoli, and experienced a wave of angry tweets in response.
“Terrible news today from #Tarhouna where 8 innocent displaced #Tawergha killed in air strikes. This violence serves no one’s interests. My last tweet based on sources on both sides. Numbers may need correction but bottom line remains: violence serves no one. Fascinating reactions when I didn’t assign blame just decried the ongoing violence. Says so much about #Libya and why peace so difficult. Condemning violence also means condemning the reported killing of Colonel Hibshi’s family members and innocents who support Dignity. This info followed info on the other strikes: both are wrong and we condemn both. The violence must cease. Period. The unacceptable violence in #Tarhouna against innocents-whether Col Hebshi’s family or others-underscores the need for Leon to succeed. P.S. Sadly, I have begun to block those who use vulgarity or call for harm to me or my family. Disagree with me but do so with dignity.”
If you search Twitter for her username, the response to her decision to leave a field of engagement in what might fairly be described as an information war was heated. In the wake of this choice, it will be interesting to see whether the State Department offers any additional guidance for its ambassadors using social media to directly engage the people in the countries their mission is in. Will angry, abusive tweets that harass or threaten ambassadors prove sufficient to poison the well for public diplomacy in less than 140 characters?

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As “Meerkat Election” hype grows, the presidential primary winner is Twitter

The New York Times “First Draft” and Politico Playbook picked up the “Meerkat Election” idea today, so get ready for the hype cycle to wash through the commentariat. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush “meerkatted” yesterday — which is to say, used an app integrated with Twitter on his smartphone to livestream an event online. If that doesn’t sound revolutionary in 2015, congratulations: you’ve been paying attention to mobile technology over the last decade.

When you read posts that predict Meerkat’s prominence in 2016, keep a couple things in mind.

First, Twitter did change how political reporters covered the campaigns in 2012, so everyone is looking for the “next thing,” particularly in the New York and DC media world. Politicians and media using a shiny new app that “conquered all at SXSW” makes for easy copy and gets clicks. The integration of Meerkat into Twitter means that social network will drive more attention and adoption, although the app’s access to the company’s social graph bears watching. By the time 2016 rolls around, Twitter’s native live streaming function may be the new new killer campaign app. Steel yourself for the “Periscope Election,” friends.

Second, when you hear hype about technology like this breathless account in Politico from political reporters and operatives, be extra skeptical. Remember, 2008 was the “MySpace Election” and 2004 was to be the “Friendster Election. Heck, 1860 was the “Telegraph Election!” (Ok, the last one isn’t quite true, but you get the idea. )

Third, at present Meerkat videos are not archived on the site or embeddable . While that could certainly change in the months before the election, particularly if the startup gets funding, it is a consideration for journalists. That doesn’t mean, however, there isn’t another option: Ben Rubin, the developer of the app, told me that you can save Meerkat streams to your phone and upload the archived session to video sharing platorms like YouTube, an ability I subsequently confirmed. 



“We are in the business of the participation, not video-on-demand,” he commented.

 Finally, livestreaming is not new to American politics. Presidential candidates like Senator Chris Dodd were using uStream in 2008. Ask President Dodd if it changed the election. A couple comments on Medium add some context, including one by Matt Browner Hamlin, who worked on the Dodd campaign.

Livestreaming was available in the last two presidential campaign cycles, but it didn’t fundamentally change our politics. It didn’t even shift the primary in 2008, as Browner Hamlin noted on Medium

To state the obvious, the Dodd campaign’s innovative use of live streaming technology and public engagement via streaming video did not move the needle an inch in the Democratic presidential primary. Maybe it’s because we were eight years ahead of our time. But more likely it’s because the forces of political sentiment in America are too big to be influenced by one technology platform or one medium of engagement.

A covert video did affect Governor Mitt Romney’s campaign, but the reality of small video cameras had been part of the fabric of our lives for years before.

I wrote this post entirely on my iPhone, so it’s fair to acknowledge that media has evolved in recent years. (I’ve also been guilty of hype about new platforms myself.) 

It’s also fair to acknowledge that Meerkat does something that defines innovation: it makes it easier to livestream on your phone. 

 “I think that because we remove friction to watch or go live (everyone can consume or contribute on the go with one click) it makes it easy for people to gain a larger audience while keeping the intimacy with the audience,” commented Ben Rubin, via email. 

 Faster connections, powerful smartphones and much high social media adoption do change the context from past election cycles, but will they change the outcomes or the dynamic? 

We’ll see. The White House press secretary is doing a Meerkat interview today: maybe someone will ask him whether the size of the lens, camera and screens used to view it are a revolution or an evolution.

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17 tips for parenting with omnipresent mobile devices, YouTube and apps

Before I dove into the sometimes controversial waters of technology and development, I talked to a lot of people about parenting and screen time, including some experts. I wrote about what I learned in a column about the parenting challenges that ubiquitous screens pose in the 21st century.

Following is a quick list of insights to scan & share, with a big lift from danah boyd at the end.

1) Screens are ubiquitous in modern life. How we integrate them into our own lives will influence our children.

2) Engagement with our children as we consume media, whether on TV, tablets, or print, is critical to their learning.

3) “Parents can’t go wrong if they engage in “dialogic learning.” As you read or watch screens, talk about the stories.

4) There’s an important difference between children passively consuming media on a screen andusing it to be social. Watching a video isn’t the same as Facetiming with grandparents.

5) Parents should consider if screen time consuming media may be replacing human-to-human interaction.

6) Kids generally learn better with materials they can touch, vs what they see on a screen. 3D > 2D.

7) Not all screen time is detrimental. It should be age appropriate, time-limited, & involve parents.

8) Children learning through play are negatively impacted by screens playing in the background.

9) Watching TV or videos 2 hours before bedtime can have negative impacts on children’s sleep.

10) Common sense: use of mobile devices by parents, ignoring children, can lead to them acting out.

11) Too much interactivity in ebooks and games can actually distract from story lines and learning.

12) From danah boyd: “Parents: check your own screen engagement when you’re with your kid. We set the norms.

13) “When you’ve got younger kids, talk through every interaction you have with a screen” — danah boyd

14) “When your kids are older, talk them through how they want to allocate their time in general” — danah boyd

15) “It’s not about ‘screen vs. non-screen’ because homework is now screen. It’s about thinking about what time should look like.” — danah boyd

16) “What makes screen time ‘educational’ is…how the tech or media is integrated into life more generally”- — danah boyd

17) “Forgive yourself for using tech as a babysitter sometimes.”— danah boyd. Have empathy for other parents, too, especially on plane rides or long bus rides.

Fellow parents, your comments and thoughts on screen time, kids and learning are welcome.

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