Had Twitter priced at $45.10 per share and used the extra proceeds to give out holiday bonuses, it would have worked out to more than $580,000 per employee.
- Fortune’s Dan Primack
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.
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.
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
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
How’s this for profit taking? Carl Icahn on Tuesday unloaded nearly half of his almost 10 percent stake in Netflix, cashing in on a stratospheric 457 percent rise in the company’s stock price since he first made the investment.
A new SEC filing detailing the transaction shows the activist investor sold 2.99 million shares at an average price of about $314.85, far above the $58-per-share average price he paid for them last October.
A phenomenal return, and one that Icahn gleefully celebrated on Twitter this afternoon. “Sold a block of NFLX today,” Icahn tweeted. “Wish to thank Reed Hastings, Ted Sarandos, NFLX team and last, but not least, Kevin Spacey,” he said, in a nod to the star of one of Netflix’s marquee homegrown series “House of Cards.”
At $314.74, Netflix shares are down in after-hours trading after earlier rising some 9 percent following a strong earnings report on Monday.
The distillation of one human life into a few hundred pages is a task herculean enough to trip up even seasoned biographers. Expanding that to include four co-founders and a company with as explosive a history as Twitter’s is begging for disaster.
A new book called Hatching Twitter: A True Story Of Money, Power, Friendship and Betrayal, from New York Times reporter Nick Bilton attempts to do just that. It’s around 300 pages and packs in the nearly seven-year history of Twitter as a company and a bit more.
The introduction rips along, introducing us to the four people most responsible for Twitter: Noah Glass, Evan Williams, Biz Stone and Jack Dorsey.
A quick portrait of each of them is painted, albeit in fairly broad strokes. All talented, all intelligent, all searching for human connections and a way to enhance those connections using the Internet.
Bilton is also careful to note in his introduction that when he attributes emotional states or thoughts to the subjects within, they’re based on things told to him directly by those subjects. This is an interesting inclusion, in light of the recent controversy over Brad Stone’s approach in his book The Everything Store, on Amazon. Stone was criticized by CEO Jeff Bezos’ wife MacKenzie for attributing emotional states to Bezos which he was not privy to. Stone notes in his book that he was denied a direct interview for the book by Bezos.
The Twitter story would be a lot less rich without the scene setting and insight that this close third-person narrative brings. The efforts taken to nail down details like clothing brands, decorations of offices and locations all add to the enjoyable picture that’s painted.
One of the most interesting aspects of Bilton’s book is how he used social media to piece together the goings-on of the founders and other employees of Twitter.
The triangulation of these various bits of public record isn’t exactly new, as it’s a technique that journalists and writers (hi) use quite a bit now. But it takes on an especial poignancy when the subjects themselves posted corroborating details to a network that they helped construct.
“I found it fascinating that I could piece together the interviews with dates of tweets and blog posts and then Flickr and Facebook pics, and in some instances YouTube videos,” Bilton told me. “It was as if the people in the book helped write it, too.”
The book contains plenty of fodder for those interested in corporate machinations. Williams is positioned as a sympathetic, but driven serial entrepreneur that continues to learn hard lessons about the control you give up when outside investment is taken. After forcing Dorsey out of the CEO slot and into a silent Chairman role, Williams is himself deposed for a CEO more equipped to take the company to IPO.
From what I’ve heard from early Twitter employees, the credit given Williams in the book is well deserved, if not light. At every turn he treated employees and investors with respect and was the first to see Dorsey as something more than a quiet engineer. Bilton continuously points out his willingness to help out friends and co-workers financially as well, with no desire for return.
Glass, as much a part of the early genesis of Twitter as any other of the four, finally gets a fair share of the limelight. He’s credited with naming the company and product, and with helping to define some of its core concepts.
Biz Stone is the Jiminy Cricket of this particular production, acting as a conscience for both the company and its investors. He’s positioned as an early advocate for user protection and data privacy, as well as a fierce protector of his friend Williams.
Dorsey, of all of the original founders, gets the roughest treatment in the text.
His part in the removal of Noah Glass from the company, and his willingness for Williams to take the blame is used to set the stage for a series of apparent machinations designed to position himself as the sole inventor of Twitter, and to place him back in control of the company. There is too much evidence here to discount the way that Dorsey has been portrayed altogether. Indeed, the trail of public appearances and documents that make up Dorsey’s time as ‘silent Chairman’ clearly indicate that he made no efforts to disabuse people of the notion that he, alone, was responsible for Twitter.
His transformation from a quiet scruffy hacker to a carefully coiffed ‘auteur’ founder is treated as nothing more than artifice. Everything from his choice of shirt to lack of furniture to his fixation on Steve Jobs as role model is interpreted less as a personal transformation and more as an effort to build on this creation myth. In a culture like Silicon Valley, where so much value is placed on re-invention and the importance of design, why is it so outlandish for a man to re-design himself?
The facts of the situation are well documented, and Bilton’s book refrains from passing judgement for the most part. Still, there is plenty of room for other facets of this story and I’d love to see those explored.
But the book handles almost every aspect of Twitter’s founding with what appears to be a fairly even-handed approach. There will doubtless be many small inaccuracies (which may be interpreted to hold varying levels of importance by those actually involved) in the book, but the evidence and perspective set forth for all of the major events speaks of an intense amount of research, and solid insights throughout.
Thankfully, Bilton handles one of the most important questions very well: who actually created Twitter?
Despite what Dorsey was implicitly pushing all of those months, there was no sole creator of Twitter. Dorsey’s core status concept was far from the way that Twitter ended up, and it owed a debt to many earlier experiments like the ad-hoc text-message network TXTmob created by Evan ‘Rabble’ Henshaw-Plath, and the ‘portable Blogger’ concept Stone had worked on at Google. And without Williams’ insistence that it was about broadcasting ‘what was happening’, not ‘what people were doing’, the focus would have remained insular. Stone offered a moral core that set the tone for future legal positions on giving up user data. And without Glass, the company may never have existed or moved beyond a hack day project at all.
And, in the end, without Costolo – pictured as a no-nonsense and very well-liked leader – Twitter would likely not yet be going public, if ever.
The truth behind Twitter, as it is with any human life – or human endeavor – is massively complex. Bilton’s book is a fantastic, well written and well-researched narrative of the invention of Twitter, but it’s only one narrative. There are other stories out there, other truths about Twitter. Each of the founders no doubt has their own, and some have told it in one fashion or another over the years, and will likely do so again.
And really, who are we to disagree? We’re all inventing ourselves, writing our own stories. Twitter’s story gets an intense examination here, and it’s interpreted through dramatic set pieces of boardroom drama, motivational signs, clothing-as-personality-trait and infighting. Though it’s only one version of the truth, It’s a fantastic read, and worth absorbing for yourself.