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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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Metastatic media

If the medium is the message, what are we to take of a service famous for short text messages evolving into a medium that can be embedded in other messages? The social media platform has, taking a page from YouTube, taken an important step to make media created on its platform metastatic, spreadable and shareable.

While the ongoing to more pictures and video isn’t going to make Twitter into the next Instagram — it’s its own thing — the social platform has certainly come a long way since its text-based origin in 2006!

When I joined Twitter in 2007, I thought it was interesting, combining presence technology with mobile publishing and microblogging. A year later, I saw much more potential in the service than the sarcastic dismissal it tended to receive in the media and business worlds. It wasn’t until a disputed election in Iran in 2009, when online discussion and sharing of documentary evidence leaking out of that country led CNN to change its coverage, that the world started waking up to what Twitter would eventually become. While my embrace of Twitter has led some commentators to consign me to a triumphalist, intolerant cult of scolds, I continue to hold that there’s considerable value to be found here, premature eulogies notwithstanding.

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Twitter co-founder @Jack Dorsey endorses multi-tweet ‘tweetstorm’ as clever

In a series of 17 tweets today, Jack Dorsey endorsed the multi-part “tweetstorm” as a “clever” way around the famous 140 character constraint of Twitter, the social media platform he co-founded in 2006.

“The folks using Twitter daily created the @username, the #hashtag, and the retweet, all within the constraint of 140 characters,” he tweeted. “The @, #, and RT have become cultural movements and have influenced every social and communications service since. Even offline. The “tweetstorm” and #/tweet syntax is a (clever) way around the 140 character constraint. Once again created by people using the service!”

What the co-founder of Twitter had to say in the latter half of his tweetstorm is worth noting as well, particularly in the context of the public social media company’s earning’s report next week. He defended Twitter CEO Dick Costolo from criticism, which in recent months has included a Wall Street Journal feature and influential investors on Wall Street.

Dorsey also highlighted recent product improvements at Twitter, including group messaging and video,

@Jack’s endorsement of the tweetstorm is likely to carry some weight with both users and Twitter itself, although he hasn’t been in a position to directly implement product design for some time. Previously, new features like the #hashtag and RT have been built into the Twitter platform after users adopted them. For that to happen again with the tweetstorm, Twitter would have to alter its publishing interface across operating systems to accommodate series or perhaps acquire an app like that enables easier creation.

One of Twitter’s most voluble users, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen (@pmarca), may be the must public adopter of the tweetstorm format, making news with series on Bitcoin and many other topics. co-founder Ezra Klein is also a fan of the format, sending tweetstorms about whatever he’s covering with some frequency. Other users are as well, like digital media manager Justin Whitaker:

If Twitter does formally adopt the format as its own, don’t expect universal excitement.

Some observers and users of the platform don’t care much for the tweetstorm convention, even going so far as to say that “the tweetstorm trend must be stopped,” as Charlie Worzel did last year:

The fundamental criticism of the tweetstorm™ goes beyond the simple “get a blog” mentality. At its root, the tweetstorm™ feels like an abuse of power/influence or, at the very least, a slightly inconsiderate, oblivious way to engage with people who’ve chosen to follow you (granted, users can obviously choose to opt-out at any time with an unfollow). In earnestly embarking on a tweetstorm™, the tweetstormer™ is tacitly admitting that he or she has many important things to say and an infinite listener attention span in which to say them.

For my part, I can’t say I care much for the convention. While it is more accessible to all than using screenshots of text to get around the character constraint, a form that writer Mat Honan has dubbed the “screenshot, I tend to think that if you have enough to say that many tweets are required, you and the people you want to read whatever you are choosing to communicate will be better off if the series is collected into a blog post and edited.

I took a (decidedly unscientific, highly biased) poll of my followers on Twitter about the practice and confirmed that ‘tweetstorms’ are not beloved by all, but some people do like them.

All that said, now that Jack Dorsey has endorsed tweetstorming, I suspect we’ll see more of them, not less. What I can co-sign, however, is the value Dorsey ascribes to Twitter’s role as a platform for expression and connection around the world.

While the platform and product is still imperfect, not equally representative of all of humanity or absolved from addressing ongoing issues with censorship and abuse, I’ve found that it to be a valuable place to invest time and attention for the past 7 years. I hope that feeling endures.

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On accountability

“If the press won’t represent itself — and the people — by showing some interest in the free flow of government information, who will?” – Margaret Sullivan, public editor, New York Times

If an editor says that she is “very interested in the subject, and in following the legislation,” even if she and her staff are “particularly busy,” I would expect to see her tweet about it and retweet people who do have time to cover it. That wasn’t the case, even when the New York Times editorial pages blog wrote about it and other editors tweeted.

I can’t help but judge this to be a weak reply by the DC bureau chief. It’s particularly disheartening when the bill in question never got a vote in the House yesterday, sending Freedom of Information Act reform to expire in the 113th Congress.

Over the years, I’ve found that being politely persistent with editors over email and Twitter has led to more attention & coverage of boring but important topics. I tried a couple of new approaches to try to get attention on this count, including making “memes” and tweeting about what media companies were covering instead.

I spent the time not just because of the obvious need for FOIA reform but because I care about the New York Times and these other publications. I hoped they would put attention where it has *impact*. I can’t imagine that I made myself popular by doing so, but I’ve faced uncomfortable public questions about why I haven’t covered subjects, or how I did it. I’ve made errors of omission.

In my view, I failed; the vast majority of editors, producers and editorial boards simply didn’t cover FOIA reform, with notable exceptions at The Tennessean, Star Tribune, Review Journal, Cincinnati Enquirer, Bennington Banner, and, at the 11th hour, Newsweek.

The Washington Post did, on Wednesday, but completely blew the headline, putting no pressure on House leadership. I knew cable & broadcast news were unlikely to bother covering FOIA reform. I expected The New York Times would, when I flagged it on Sunday and contacted the public editor.

My bet was that House leadership would judge that they could hold back FOIA reform for a vote because major media would focus elsewhere. If so, they were right, and the public interest lost.
“In a political climate as divided as this, I had hoped that we could come together in favor of something as fundamental to our democracy as the public’s right to know,” said Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), That government transparency and openness would not just be the standard applied to the Obama Administration but what is applied to every future administration. The FOIA Improvement Act would have done just that.”

Postscript: On Friday afternoon, Columbia Journalism Review published a FOIA reform dies while the press looked the other way that quoted David Cuillier of the Society for Professional Journalists, Sullivan and me.

By day’s end, publications that hadn’t covered the bill while it was live covered its death. A “Push to Reform the Freedom of Information Act Collapses in House,” reported Frontline PBS. The U.S. “House Scuttle Bipartisan FOIA Reforms, reported MSNBC. FoxNews published an Associated Press report that Congress Fails to Revise Freedom of Information Act. None of the outlets had informed readers and watchers about the bill over the previous week, or what forces or people prevented its passage.

“If we’re going to be beacons of democracy, we need to walk the talk,” Cullier told CJR.

Post-Postscript: Writing for the Sunlight Foundation, Matt Rumsey managed to publish a somewhat, well, sunny post about the death of FOIA reform.

Sunlight has been strongly supportive of the FOIA Improvement Act because it addresses real world problems faced by requesters every day, specifically targeting overly broad exemptions and limiting unnecessary fees. Just like Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., one of its strongest champions, we aredisappointed that it did not become law.

And yet, we are hopeful for the future.

Most laws never make it out of committee even after repeated attempts spread over multiple years. The FOIA Improvement Act came tantalizingly close to becoming law its first time around.

Rest assured that the FOIA Improvement Act will be reintroduced in the 114th Congress and that the Sunlight Foundation and its allies will be fighting harder than ever for its passage. We want to say a hearty thank you to Leahy, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and everyone else that worked so hard during the 113th Congress to make these needed reforms possible. We’ll see you next year!

The Washington Post, to its credit, did a post-mortem on how this popular government transparency bill died in Congress. The reason the FOIA reform stalled in the House may not simply have been lobbying by the financial industry, however, as had been previously reported.

According to House aides, some lawmakers balked at the legislation because several agencies, including the Justice Department, warned that those making information requests would use the “forseeable harm” requirement as the basis for frequent lawsuits.

This detail led Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, to argue that it was the Justice Department that secretly tried to stop FOIA reform, despite the text of the legislation being almost word-for-word the poilcy that the agency itself embraced in 2009.

Writing for the National Security Archive, Nate Jones looked for lessons from the death of the unanimously supported FOIA bill and decried “Janus-faced support for open government.”  Here was his key takeaway:

Many people –in Congress, in the agencies, in the White House, in the media– proclaim they believe in open government, but don’t really.  To me, that’s the only plausible reason a FOIA bill could garner unanimous approval (thrice in the Senate over the past seven years!) and still die; that’s the only plausible reason agencies whisper that instructions about FOIA currently on the books will ruin the federal government as we know it; that’s the reason for White House silence on the benefits the FOIA Ombuds office not being forced to run its reports though the Department of Justice so they can be “rosified;” that’s the reason the New York Times wins Pulitzers for its FOIA-based reporting, but doesn’t assign a Congressional beat reporter to cover the bill’s death.

How do we overcome these FOIA Januses?  First, we must avoid being stalled out.  We should force Speaker Boehner to act on his pledge that he “look[s] forward to working to resolve this issue [FOIA reform] early in the new Congress.”  FOIA champions Senators Leahy, Cornyn, and Grassley remain in the Senate Judiciary Committee; these senators have an impressive history of defending and working to reform FOIA, no matter which party is in the majorly.  Replacing Representative Issa on the House Oversight Committee is Jason Chaffetz (R-Ut); Democratic FOIA champion Elijah Cummings remains.  Encouragingly, Chaffetz has said he “wants to address the Freedom of Information Act and the difficulties many have in getting the executive branch to comply with FOIA requests.”  Both houses should immediately reintroduce the FOIA bill.  More than 440 members who voted for FOIA reform remain in Congress.

On Saturday, December 20, the New York Times editorial board called for the 114th Congress to revisit the freedom to see government records.

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Reports of Twitter shifting to an algorithmic timeline raise concerns about user control and experience

Twitter is signaling that it’s going to change how it shows the timeline to users, or at least experiment with it. Here’s what the company CFO actually said yesterday, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

“Twitter’s timeline is organized in reverse chronological order, a delivery system that has not changed since the product was created eight years ago and one that some early adopters consider sacred to the core Twitter experience. But this “isn’t the most relevant experience for a user,” Noto said. Timely tweets can get buried at the bottom of the feed if the user doesn’t have the app open, for example. “Putting that content in front of the person at that moment in time is a way to organize that content better.”

Mathew Ingram read the WSJ report and interpreted it to mean that a “Facebook-style feed is coming, whether you like it or not.” Twitter CEO Dick Costolo objected to that headline and characterization:

After Ingram’s post, both Mashable’s Karissa Bell suggested and Buzzfeed’s Charlie Warzel have suggested that users shouldn’t freak out about a filtered feed because Twitter isn’t turning into Facebook — yet. Like Ingram, Warzel notes that this change to product might be an improvement for normal or new users:

For average Twitter users, an algorithmic feed might be just the incentive to head to Twitter for breaking news like so many journalists and news fiends. Given the newsgathering makeup of the social network, the content is already there. And this would certainly help expose a great number of tweets to a larger audience.
Of course this is a terrifying prospect for Twitter’s most obsessive crowd. The ones who live on Twitter. And for good reason! For plenty of journalists Twitter is a key tool in their day to day work and, for some, an integral platform in advancing their careers. But there’s nothing in Noto’s comments to suggest that this incarnation of Twitter — the core component of the social network that’s led to the platform’s meteoric rise, IPO, and global success — can’t co-exist with an algorithmically-driven timeline.

At the risk of giving Twitter too much credit, it seems preposterous that the company’s executives and product team would toss out the very core of the site and almost maliciously alienate its most ardent supporters and users. Sure, there’s wide concerns that Twitter’s product team doesn’t have the same relationship to the product as most intense newsgatherers, but it seems odd that the company, which employs a Head of News executive and frequently touts the importance of the raw feed during live events, would be clueless as to the platform’s standing in the news community.

Still, even the possibility of the change has riled a lot of people up, particularly media, and for good reason: the defaults do matter, particularly when the vast majority of users access the service using, or the official mobile applications. There’s good reason to be concerned, as Ingram highlighted:

The most recent example of how stark the differences can be between a filtered feed and an unfiltered one was the unrest in Ferguson, Mo. and how that showed up so dramatically on Twitter but was barely present for most users of Facebook. As sociologist Zeynep Tufekci noted, that kind of filtering has social consequences — and journalism professor Emily Bell pointed out that doing this makes Facebook and Twitter into information gatekeepers in much the same way newspapers used to be.

Tufecki holds that Twitter should not algorithmically curate users’ timelines, even if algorithms will always serve tweets:

It’s simple: Twitter’s uncurated feed certainly has some downsides, and I can see some algorithmic improvements that would make it easier for early users to adopt the service, but they’d potentially be chopping off the very—sometimes magical—ability of mature Twitter to surface from the network. And the key to this power isn’t the reverse chronology but rather the fact that the network allows humans to exercise free judgment on the worth of content, without strong algorithmic biases. That cumulative, networked freedom is what extends the range of what Twitter can value and surface, and provides some of the best experiences of Twitter.

I’m inclined to take these concerns seriously but I’ll keep my powder dry just yet, with respect to upset. My take (yeah, I know) is that if Twitter experiments with giving users of its website an algorithmically curated stream to improve the relevance of what they see, OK… new users may appreciate that product. Or not. Either way, I hope that the company preserves API access for 3rd party clients, like Tweetbot. I hope Twitter preserves user’s ability to use Tweetdeck to view the timeline of people you follow and lists in reverse chronological order. I want to be able to decide, just as I do on the Facebook newsfeed with “Most Recent” vs “Top News,” and just as I want to know that I see every tweet from the people I’ve chosen to follow or put on the list.

If any of that access or control actually changes, then you’ll see me getting genuinely upset about Twitter breaking Twitter, just as I was when they crippled the free flow of information over the service in the name of spam and phishing prevention. Ironically, the Wall Street Journal also reported that Twitter is going to put more emphasis on messaging after it neglecting it for years, perhaps enabling “group chats” after adding pictures earlier this year. If so, I hope the company adds more domains to the small white list it currently allows. Tufecki, for her part, has an even longer wish list for improvements:

…there are many, many things Twitter could do to address all of that without breaking its networked, human-prioritizing logic. Much much better tutorials seems like such an obvious step (I have hardly seen good ones). Better suggestions for users to follow, perhaps a dozen at a time, and better ways of trying following groups of people. Right now, it’s all individual and arduous, and that should remain the core option, but the entry ramp could be much faster. Better filtering, too, especially of mentions would be very welcome. I’m craving a timed mute, for example—let me mute out someone who I don’t happen to want to listen that day or that week, without having to mute them permanently. Group chat for DM? Woohoo. DM is among Twitter’s most powerful features because it only allows contact from people one chooses to follow which is a better filter than email, but not as strict a one as Facebook which operates differently. Also, brevity makes DM more powerful. And lists! Twitter can do so much more to make lists more useful to its users to let users decide how to deal with signal/noise and interest ratios.

There is so much Twitter can do try to improve the user experience, for both the experienced and the beginner. But I hope that it does not algorithmically curate the feed, not because I love the chronology per se, but because I value people’s judgement. Yes, Twitter can make it easier to access that judgment in more varied ways but stepping between people I choose to follow and me is not the answer.

Asked for comment on these reports, Twitter spokesman Jim Prosser pointed me to Costolo’s reply to an analyst during Twitter’s earning call this July:

Vis-à-vis the additional products we could see I mentioned that I really again the kinds of experiences we created around topics and live events during the World Cup. We will run a number of experiments to that broader audience those unique visitors I talked about and I wouldn’t want to be specific about the sequence with which roll those out or when you would see those. On your second question, algorithmic timelines for example versus manually curated follow lists I think it’s fair to say that we are not ruling out any kinds of changes that we might deliver in the product in service to bridging that gap between signing up for Twitter and receiving immediate value and you will see a number of kinds of experiments that we produce there.


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