Archive | December 2013

Conjuring a fright: what makes a great horror movie? | Tom Shone

For today’s sophisticated audience, it’s not all about jump scares – the best horror movies keep playing even if you shut your eyes

There’s nothing like genre junkies to cut to the chase. The glory days of drive-in-theatre critic Joe Bob Briggs may be past (“No dead bodies. One hundred seventeen breasts. Multiple aardvarking. Lap dancing. Cage dancing. Lesbo Fu. Pool cue-fu… Joe Bob says check it out”), but his spirit lives on. While movie critics have been going into raptures over The Conjuring – comparing its director James Wan to David Lynch, calling his direction “rhapsodic”, finding his film “a metaphor for moviegoing itself” – horror afficionados have been getting down to basics: how many jump scares does it have? And: are they the right sort?

You know jump scares. The moment in a horror film when the protagonist wipes the steam from a bathroom mirror and sees the psycho standing behind them. The hand coming out of the grave at the end of Carrie. The axe in the back of Scatman Crothers in The Shining. The bed-swallowing in Nightmare on Elm Street. According to The Verge:

“A well-done jump scare breaks down the same way Michael Caine describes illusions in The Prestige, with three distinct steps. First there’s the pledge: a character is introduced into a situation where danger is present. They hear a rattling in the kitchen, or voices when they’re home alone. Then comes the turn, where the character finds a reasonable explanation, or the immediate threat is somehow removed.

Everything seems all right, and the audience lets its guard down. That’s when the filmmakers execute the prestige, hitting an unsuspecting audience with the actual scare – usually accompanied by a shrieking music cue or sound effect.”

The only trouble being that finding an unsuspecting audience these days is like looking for a virgin at summer camp. We’re so well versed in the shot rhythm of the jump scare that audiences get them ahead of the beat: all you need do is cut to a closeup of your heroine, and the audience is tensing it’s abdominals in preparation.

“Deafening noises, bursts of music, faces materializing from nowhere can make the heart skip, send popcorn flying from tubs and reduce one to watching a screen through woven fingers, but after going home and surviving the night, all the just-a-cat moments and demon faces and gore slip from the mind,” said Jake Cole at While admitting that “some jump scares are so ingeniously executed they take on a life of their own,” the fact remains: “Jump scares don’t cause nightmares.”

Nicely said. Early word was that The Conjuring, James Wan loving homage to the days of The Exorcist and The Amityville Horror, was full of them. “We’ve seen swarms of birds, levitating furniture and chaotic third-act exorcisms before, even down to its very last shot, The Conjuring demonstrates a scary – and welcome – amount of care,” said William Goss at The movie was choc-a-block with jump scares, but they punched their weight. “Each of the scares are actually pretty creative in their jump,” said Ain’t it Cool. This was music to the ears of all the horror fans out there, their senses dulled by too many it-was-just-a-cat and oh-it’s-the-caretaker. The debate over jump scares goes back to Hitchcock’s famous definition between shock and suspense, delivered to Francois Truffaut in 1962:

“We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, “Boom!” There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence.

Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: “You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!”

In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed.”

Hitchcock didn’t stick to his own rule, of course, delivering some of the most famous jump scares of all in Psycho: the shower scene, the knife attack on Arbogast, the revelation of Mrs Bates in the basement. It’s the main reason Psycho, of all his films, hasn’t worn so well: shock dates, but suspense does not.

The best horror movies keep playing even if you shut your eyes – they beat on the backs of your eyelids, like ideas that can’t be shut away. Very little of The Shining takes place during the night and the maze in which Nicholson freezes over at the end – Kubrick’s invention, not King’s – could be an allegory for a man trapped in his own mind. A very Kubrickian nightmare, to be sure – shutting yourself in with the maniac – but also a reminder that there are no exteriors in the best horror movies, only interiors, no bogeyman worse than a stray thought. Cole’s top 10 of atmospheric shockers is excellent. Here is mine:

Don’t Look Now by Nicolas Roeg (1973)

Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978)

Cat People (Jacques Tourneur, 1958)

Nosferatu (FW Murnau, 1922)

The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)

Repulsion (Roman Polanski, 1965)

Let The Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2008)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Philip Kaufman, 1978)

Jacob’s Ladder (Adrian Lyne, 1990)

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Mali election: thousands of displaced people face exclusion from vote

Majority of Malians who fled war in the north fail to receive voters’ cards, leaving them without a voice in Sunday’s polls

The vast majority of the half a million people who have fled the war in northern Mali will be excluded from voting in Sunday’s presidential election.

The polls are being held to replace a transitional regime so that up to $4bn ( 2.6bn) in international aid can be released to an accountable and representative government.

Large portions of the northern population will, however, have no voice in the process, even though they bore the brunt when separatist and Islamist rebels swept across Mali, and France intervened militarily this year.

According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, fewer than 300 voters’ cards have been distributed among the 173,000 Malians living in camps in neighbouring Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Algeria. Least well-served, according to the agency, are 50,000 refugees in Burkina Faso, where only 38 voters’ cards have arrived.

“The number of voters’ cards delivered is meaningless, given that 20,000 refugees claimed to have registered and 11,000 of them were identified in the electoral database,” UNHCR’s acting head in Mali, S bastien Apatita, said. “A great number of the estimated 353,000 Malians who are displaced within the country are facing the same problem because their voters’ cards have been delivered to the localities where they registered in 2009 or 2010.”

Apatita said he had put the UNHCR’s concerns to Colonel Moussa Coulibaly Sinko, the minister for territorial administration, who is organising the election. “We know that both refugees and internally displaced people are eager to take part. I went to the minister looking to discuss some solutions. But the issue is highly sensitive and the minister quoted the electoral law, which says no one can vote without a voter’s card. The minister said he would release more teams into the field to try to locate missing cards. But in the time left, all we can hope for is a miracle,” he said.

The ministry spokesman, Gamer Dicko, said 82% of Mali’s 6.8 million voters’ cards – known by the acronym Nina (num ro d’identit nationale) – had been collected since distribution began three weeks ago. He said the ministry would set up polling stations in refugee camps and it had done all it could to encourage displaced people to apply to transfer to polling stations in the areas where they currently live.

“We used television and radio advertisements and even traditional methods like griottes to encourage the displaced people. When a figure is given of 300,000 refugees, it includes children, who cannot vote, and people who may be 18 but who do not want to vote,” Dicko said.

But interviews with displaced people and aid workers supporting them suggest there is enormous interest in the presidential election, which may go to a second round on 11 August if there is no outright winner on Sunday.

The elections have been presented to Malians as a way of starting afresh after 20 years of misrule and corruption, which has left the vast expanses of the north of Mali underdeveloped and prey to illicit trades, including smuggling and hostage-taking.

Mali has an estimated population of 16 million, and is among the world’s five poorest countries, ranking 182 of 186 countries in the UN human development index. Children spend an average of two years in school and illiteracy among women has risen to 90%. Northern regions have been the scene of successive rebellions by the Tuareg people. Tuaregs and other northerners comprise a large proportion of those who will not be able to cast votes.

Guitarist Nasser Maiga, 25, has been living with relatives in Bamako since March last year, when he fled Gao after hearing that Islamist guerillas were carrying out house-to-house searches to punish musicians whose output they considered anti-Muslim. He said: “This election ought to be important for us, but I will not be able to vote. It is a big disappointment.”

His friend, Songhai musician Mdas, from Timbuktu, said he would be able to vote. “The government gave us a month to transfer our paperwork, and with various certified documents I managed to get my Nina card transferred to Bamako. But it was a complicated process and it did not work for everyone,” Mdas said.

Fadou Tour , a housewife from Goundam, near Timbuktu, has been living in a cousin’s garden in Bamako since April last year. “My sister is up there so I asked her to get my card in the hopes she could send it to me. She went last Sunday but they could not find it. Everyone in Bamako seems to be planning to vote so I am very disappointed.

Several aid workers confirmed the lack of voters’ cards among displaced people. One, in S gou, south-central Mali, said: “The displaced people have gone to great lengths to get their cards. Those who have the funds have sent a family member to their place of origin to collect everyone’s cards and bring them back. But travel is expensive. Buying food is the displaced people’s priority. I would say only about 15% of the displaced people I know have their cards now.”

A UN diplomat who wished to remain anonymous said the disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of people from the north risked dividing Mali politically. “The fact that displaced people and refugees will not be able to vote will play into the hands of separatists who do not recognise the Malian state. In the worst-case scenario, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad will be able to claim that a low voting rate in the north is proof that the region does not recognise the Malian state.”

Spain train crash: attention focuses on driver, Francisco José Garzón

News agency reports Garz n telling emergency services: ‘I hope there are no dead – they will be on my conscience. I want to die’

Several Spanish rail experts have voiced the opinion that mere negligence cannot explain Wednesday night’s crash: that the “black boxes” recovered from the train will show that a technical fault was partly – or perhaps entirely – to blame for what happened. But the arrest of the driver, Francisco Jos Garz n, and a steady trickle of extracts from the transcripts of conversations he held immediately after the disaster have increasingly focused attention on his role.

While still trapped in the cockpit of his train, the Alvia 151, he is said to have told the emergency service of Spain’s national rail company, Renfe: “I hope there are no dead, because they will be on my conscience.” He also reportedly said over and again: “We’re human.”

The Spanish news agency Europa Press reported that during the same conversation, though it was not clear in what context, Garz n had said: “I’ve fucked it. I want to die.”

His position also appeared to have been compromised by the emergence of a photograph he posted to his Facebook page showing his speedometer at 200km/h.. Garz n is, however, a driver of high-speed trains and he may have been on a stretch of the network where such a speed is permitted.

The photograph went up on 8 March 2012. Renfe’s president, Julio G mez-Pomar Rodr guez, said Garz n had worked on the Ourense-Santiago line for more than a year. Before that, he was on the line between Madrid and Barcelona, which is served by so-called AVE trains that can reach speeds of 310km/h.

The photograph nevertheless surprised Garz n’s friends. One wrote: “You’re going like the bloody clappers, lad. Brake.” The driver replied: “I’m at the limit. I can’t go faster, otherwise they’ll fine me.”

The photograph and the exchange of messages on Garz n’s Facebook page disappeared early on Thursday morning.

The driver of the ill-fated train was born 52 years ago in Monforte de Lemos, a town 70 miles inland from Santiago de Compostela. It was there that he began work for Renfe in his early 20s.

It was not until 2003, however, that he became a driver. Spain’s high-speed railway network was a prime symbol of the country’s prodigious economic growth after joining the European Union in 1986 and, like the other drivers on the network, Garz n is well qualified and regularly evaluated.

To be licensed for the AVE trains, or the slower but still fast Alvias, drivers must have either a higher technical diploma or the academic qualifications for university entry. They have to have spent at least four years driving conventional trains.

They then have to pass a special exam that includes tests designed to show that they are physically and psychologically fit for the job. Even if they pass, they are entrusted with a train only after having demonstrated that they have a full understanding of how it works and the line that it plies. AVE and Alvia drivers, moreover, must renew their licences every three years.

Garz n asked to be transferred to his native Galicia in Spain’s north-west because, he said, he wanted to be able to spend more time with his sick mother. But it was his mother who was at the train driver’s hospital bedside on the Thursday night as police, acting on orders from the investigating magistrate, stood guard nearby.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn to stand trial for pimping, French prosecutors say

Former IMF chief charged with aggravated pimping in connection with alleged prostitution ring at Carlton hotel in Lille

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, is to go on trial on charges of pimping in connection with an alleged prostitution ring at a luxury hotel in the northern French city of Lille

Magistrates in France decided on Fridayto press ahead with charging the former Socialist minister in spite of calls by the state prosecutor for the case to be dropped.

Strauss-Kahn, 64, a former French presidential candidate, has admitted attending the “libertine” parties and having sex with a number of women. However, he has always insisted he did not know that some of them were prostitutes.

The case, known as the Carlton affair after the luxury hotel where the orgies were said to have taken place, centres around allegations that businessmen and police officials in Lille operated a vice ring supplying women for sex parties.

This affair, which came to light in late 2011, is the last of a series of inquiries into Strauss-Kahn since his arrest in New York in May 2011 where he was accused of trying to rape a hotel maid.

The charges in the US were eventually dropped because of doubts over maid Nafissatou Diallo’s credibility after she was found to have lied on her immigration claim, but Strauss-Kahn was later forced to pay her substantial damages reported to be in the region of $6m( 3.9m).

Two subsequent cases against the former French finance minister have also been dropped. An allegation of sexual assault against writer Tristane Banon in Paris in 2003 did not result in criminal charges because it had passed the legal time limit. In October last year, French prosecutors decided to drop an inquiry into allegations of gang rape at a hotel in Washington after one of the women involved who had made the claim retracted her evidence.

The state prosecutor had recommended that the Carlton affair charges against Strauss-Kahn be dropped on the grounds of a lack of evidence.

Magistrates decided otherwise; they put aside a charge of “aggravated pimping as part of an organised gang”, but maintained the lesser charge of “aggravated pimping as part of a group”. He is facing trial along with 12 other defendants.

In France pimping can cover a wide range of crimes including aiding or encouraging prostitution. A trial is expected to take place next year. If convicted, Strauss-Kahn could face up to 10 years in prison and a 1.5m ( 860,000) fine.

The former IMF chief has vehemently denied all allegations against him and described them as “dangerous and malicious insinuations and extrapolations”.

“It will all come out publicly before the tribunal and everyone will realise that there is nothing in this case,” Henri Leclerc, one of Strauss Kahn’s lawyers said on Friday.

Leclerc said the legal team was “under no illusions” about the “relentlessness shown by the investigating magistrates” and claimed Strauss-Kahn was being targeted because of his high profile.

“This decision is based on an ideological and moral analysis, but certainly not on any legal grounds. We’re sending someone to court for nothing,” said the lawyer.

After an earlier hearing into the Carlton affair, Leclerc told the French radio station Europe 1 that Strauss-Kahn could not have known whether the women at the parties were prostitutes.

“As you can imagine, at these kinds of parties you’re not always dressed, and I challenge you to distinguish a naked prostitute from any other naked woman,” Leclerc said.

Strauss-Kahn had been a frontrunner as the Socialist party’s candidate to become French president in last year’s election before his arrest in New York. He was forced to resign from his job as IMF chief and his third wife Anne Sinclair, a wealthy heiress and former television presenter, divorced him.

At the Cannes film festival in May, Strauss-Kahn was pictured with a new girlfriend, Moroccan-born Myriam L’Aouffir, 45, who works in the internet and social media department at France Television.

NCAllOnly: New iOS 7 Jailbreak tweak removes “Today” and “Missed” tabs from Notification Center

In iOS 7, Notification Center was revamped with an all-new look and two new tabs for Today and Missed.

If you’re not a big fan of the new tabs, and were looking for a way to remove them then we’ve some good news.

By default, you can only disable the Today view from Notification Center when you access it from the Lock screen, but there is no way to disable the tab or the “Missed” tab.

A new iOS 7 jailbreak tweak called NCAllOnly lets you remove the “Today” and “Missed” tabs from Notification Center. It doesn’t come with any configurations options.


The default Notification Center (left), Notification Center with NCAllOnly installed (right)

You can check out the video walkthrough of the jailbreak tweak below:

NCAllOnly is available for free on Cydia.

Were you looking for something like this? Let me know in the comments below.


Remove “slide to unlock” text and grabbers from iPhone Lock screen with these new iOS 7 jailbreak tweaks

FCC Chairman Wants Carriers to Start Unlocking Phones Pronto

Federal Communications Commission Chair Tom Wheeler told the cellphone industry on Thursday that it is time to take action to ensure consumers can unlock their phones once they have fulfilled their contractual obligations.


In a letter to CTIA-The Wireless Association, Wheeler noted that the FCC has been working with the industry for eight months already. “Enough time has passed, and it is now time for the industry to act voluntarily or for the FCC to regulate. Let’s set a goal of including the full unlocking rights policy in the CTIA Consumer Code before the December holiday season.”

The White House and a number of key members of Congress have also come out in favor of unlocking requirements. The issue heated up after the Library of Congress determined that unlocking cellphones without a carrier’s permission violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Wheeler’s letter lays out a number of steps that should be part of policies regarding unlocking, including a requirement that carriers notify consumers when their devices are eligible for unlocking.

CTIA, for its part, said it wants to work with Wheeler on the issue, but noted efforts already in progress and highlighted that technical hurdles – not just business issues – preclude full interoperability. It also noted it has worked with legislators on one of the many proposed bills pending before Congress.

“Today’s U.S. consumers have a wide variety of unlocked device and liberal carrier unlocking policies available to them,” CTIA regulatory affairs VP Scott Bergmann said in a statement. “While CTIA supports giving consumers a robust set of options, it is important for consumers to note that an unlocked phone doesn’t necessarily mean an interoperable phone, given the technological and engineering realities of wireless networks.”

In an interview this week, Wheeler pledged to represent the American people rather than the tech industry in his new role.

Sina Khanifar, who started the White House petition on the unlocking issue, praised the FCC move, including Wheeler’s five recommendations for what a carrier unlocking policy should include.

“The CTIA should respond by moving quickly to enact his recommended policies,” he said in an email. “However, it’s important that actions by the FCC not derail the important work being done in Congress on the issue. Congress needs to pass a bill that would enable consumers to unlock their devices on their own, without requiring carrier cooperation.”

Nokia Shareholders to Approve Microsoft Deal


Nokia’s shareholders have done what everyone expected them to do, approving the sale of the Finnish company’s devices and services business to Microsoft.

At a general meeting in Helsinki Tuesday morning, the gathered investors rubber-stamped the $7.35 billion deal, which will see Microsoft acquire Nokia’s devices and services business and license the company’s mapping services, a move that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer characterizes as “a bold step into the future.”

According to the AFP, the deal was almost unanimously approved ahead of today’s meeting, with some 99.7 percent of shareholders who registered voting in favor of it.

The green light from Nokia’s investors marks the end of an era for the company. Once the world’s largest manufacturer of cellphones, Nokia will now evolve into a telecom equipment and services firm.


  • Microsoft CEO Promises to Limit Nokia Phone Names to 10 Syllables or Less
  • Samsung, HTC Mum on Any Interest in Windows Phone Post-Nokia
  • Elop in July: It’s “Hard to Understand the Rationale” for Selling Nokia’s Devices Business
  • Microsoft Is Getting Nokia’s Phone Business for a Song
  • Nokia Shares Rise, Microsoft Falls in Reaction to Deal
  • So Much for BlackBerry’s “Clear Shot” at Being No. 3 in the Smartphone Market
  • Selling Nokia Was Hard Emotionally, But Right Thing to Do, Says Interim CEO
  • Marko Ahtisaari, Nokia’s Top Designer, To Leave Company in November
  • Steve Ballmer on Why Buying Microsoft’s Biggest Phone Partner Makes Sense
  • Nokia Interim CEO: We Have Three Strong Businesses Remaining
  • Barcelona Rendezvous, 50 Nokia Board Meetings Led to Microsoft Deal
  • Microsoft’s Nokia Deal By The Numbers
  • Microsoft Confirms It Gets Less Than $10 Per Nokia Windows Phone Sold
  • Stephen Elop Is Now Microsoft CEO Candidate to Beat
  • Microsoft Wants to Keep Licensing Windows Phone to Others, Post-Nokia Deal
  • Microsoft Explains the Rationale Behind the Nokia Deal
  • Microsoft to Buy Nokia’s Device Business in Deal Worth $7.17 Billion

The Ratings Are in for Alpha House, Amazon’s First Made-for-the-Web TV Show

Alpha House_Amazon Studios

Last Friday Amazon started streaming the first three episodes of “Alpha House,” its first home-grown TV show. Wouldn’t it be great to know how many people watched it?

Sure it would! But you are much more likely to take a ride on the Hyperloop than you are to get any meaningful statistic out of Amazon.

So instead, the company has announced that over the past weekend, “Alpha House” was its “number one most-watched show.”

What exactly does that mean? An Amazon rep semi-clarifies via email: “It means more Amazon customers watched Alpha House than any other series on Prime Instant Video over the weekend.”

Of course, if this wasn’t true, it might have qualified as news, since Amazon made sure that Alpha House was heavily promoted to Prime Instant Video users. I saw ads for the show every time I logged in to watch “The Good Wife” over the weekend. And I definitely would have watched it, except that I saw the first three episodes last week at a schmancy event Amazon hosted at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The show, a Washington satire written by Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau, is pretty good, by the way. And it seems to pick up steam as it goes along, so I’m interested to see future episodes, which Amazon will start doling out once a week, instead of doing a Netflix-style dump.

And here we should note that Netflix, which often does provide some level of detail about its business, hasn’t offered any specific viewing data about its own Washington show, “House of Cards,” or any of its other made-for-the-Web streamers.

Ahead of Christmas, ZowPow Launches Plush Toy Controllers That Interact With Mobile Games


Like moths to a flame, kids gravitate toward iPad and iPhone games. But for parents that want their children to still be exposed to real-world toys, a new startup called ZowPow is offering a way that they can do both.

The company makes plush toys that can control gameplay.

One of their very first toys is a tiny plane that can control up-and-down movement for a paired game called “Tiny Plane,” which is published by EA’s Chillingo.

The game controller they built has built-in sensors and accelerometers that can tell which direction the plane is facing, so that the plane in the game mimics its movement through Bluetooth LE (see the video below).

The two-person startup, which was just accepted for Y Combinator’s upcoming batch, is launching with two partner companies. The other is Get Set Games, a fairly well-known smaller studio that’s behind Mega Jump and Mega Run. The franchise’s protagonist Redford is getting his very own plush toy controller that costs $29.99.

The startup is selling both of their toys through their online store. This is just an initial start. Co-founder Jennifer Lu, who came from a business development background at Andreessen Horowitz-backed game developer TinyCo, says the startup plans to sign up many more titles from third-party developers.

They don’t plan to focus on building their own intellectual property in-house, and instead would rather partner with developers that already have their own unique characters and audiences. There’s a revenue share with the original developer for each toy they sell.

ZowPow’s platform supports iOS devices that are the iPhone 4S or later, the iPad 3 or later, then the iPad Mini and the iPod Touch 5. They can also connect to TVs if the iOS device owner has an HDMI adapter or AirPlay.

Twitter Is About To Officially Launch Retargeted Ads [Update: Confirmed]


Twitter is ready to roll out retargeted ads fueled by browser cookies, sources confirm. Twitter could make the announcement as soon as tomorrow, expanding retargeted ads beyond the “experimental” phase that started in July. The secret sauce of Twitter’s retargeting is the use of your account as a cross-device identity layer, allowing it to target ads on mobile based on where you’ve been on the web. Update: Confirmed, Twitter has now announced the program.

Some details of the announcement are hazy. It’s said to be somewhat of a “soft launch” in that all advertisers might not be immediately eligible to buy the ads, and they might not show up to all users. Retargeted Promoted Tweet ads will almost surely become available for purchase, though it’s unclear if Promoted Accounts will, too. I haven’t heard whether Twitter will be expanding email address retargeting either. Twitter declined to comment on this story.

[Update: Twitter has confirmed our scoop with the announcement of Tailored Audiences – its name for retargeted ads. Available globally to all advertisers via a slew of adtech startup partners, advertisers will be able to target recent visitors to their websites with retargeted Promoted Tweets and Promoted Accounts. While we nailed most of the details including the launch date and how Tailored Audiences work, rather than selling retargeted ads directly to advertisers as we expected Twitter to do in continuation of the retargeting alpha program, it will sell them through partners Adara, AdRoll, BlueKai, Chango, DataXu, Dstillery, Lotame, Quantcast, ValueClick, and [x+1].]

Cookie retargeted ads could make sure the ads you see on Twitter are for things you actually want. For example, if I visited the pricing webpage for a Financial Times subscription, it could later retarget me with this promoted tweet, which I’m likely to click as I was already considering buying a subscription.

Screen shot 2013-12-04 at 4.55.26 PM

At first, Twitter will likely continue working with advertisers directly as it did in the small retargeting alpha program this summer. But eventually it may recruit help from retargeting specialists called demand-side platforms that could sell its ads and handle a real-time bidding process. Adtech startups it might tap include TellApart, AdRoll, and Triggit. These are some of the partners Facebook worked with when launching its retargeted ad exchange, FBX, in June 2012.

But Twitter is charging into something Facebook has been tiptoeing around. Twitter’s bringing retargeting to mobile.

No Cookies, No Problem

Twitter’s users are on mobile. Seventy percent of its ad revenue already comes from the small screens, and it likely follows that a majority of engagement is on mobile, too. That means to really move the needle and boost revenues past the $169 million it made in Q3 2013, the new advertising product has to work on mobile.

And historically, retargeting hasn’t worked on mobile. That’s because phones and tablets don’t save a trail of breadcrumbs about what sites you’ve visited the way laptops and desktops do.

Screen shot 2013-12-04 at 5.02.24 PM

Typically, retargeting happens like this. You visit a website, say a travel booking site, and look at a page for buying a flight to Hawaii. You chicken out at the last minute, don’t buy, and navigate away, but the site has dropped a cookie for that Hawaii flight page on your browser. Then, when you visit other sites or social networks that run retargeted ads, they detect that cookie, and the travel site can show you an ad saying “It’s cold in SF. Wouldn’t a vacation to Hawaii be nice?” to try to get you to pull the trigger and buy the flight it knows you were already interested in.

But without cookies on mobile, you can’t retarget there…

…unless you can tie the identity of a mobile user to what they do on the computer. And Twitter can. It’s one of the few hugely popular services that individuals access from multiple types of devices.

Our sources say that creating this unified identity layer for advertising is the key to Twitter’s ability to display retargeted ads on mobile. Essentially, when you log into your account on your full-size computer, Twitter will analyze the cookies in your browser to see where you’ve been on the non-mobile web. Then, when you log in to that same account on mobile, it can still use your web cookies to hit you with retargeted ads.

As Zach Coelius, CEO of retargeted ads startup Triggit tells me, “Twitter is in a unique position because people log in on both the web and phone. That’s a really big deal because mobile phones don’t have the ability to set cookies so you can’t do retargeting. [Twitter’s method] gives it a huge advantage, enabling them to provide relevant targeted ads on mobile phones.”

Screen shot 2013-12-04 at 4.20.28 PM

Relevant ads lead to clicks that lead to revenue for Twitter. That “relevance” can also be perceived as “creepiness” to some privacy enthusiasts. When I talked to Gokul Rajaram last year when he was the head of Facebook ads, he said Facebook wanted to be sure it could handle the privacy of retargeting right before expanding the program to mobile or combining it with Facebook’s standard biographical targeting capabilities. Facebook only recently began allowing retargeted ads on mobile, and only through a “custom audiences” targeting program separate from FBX.

Lucky for Twitter, most of what people do on it is public, so it doesn’t spark the same privacy concerns as Facebook. Twitter also offers an opt-out of retargeting under Promoted Content on its Security And Privacy settings page. Plus it honors Do Not Track for users that enable it in their browsers. In fact, Twitter’s handling of advertising privacy has been praised by the EFF.

Tweeters With Intent

Retargeting is a major stepping stone in Twitter’s quest to become an advertising powerhouse and validate the $23.8 billion valuation proposed by its $43.69 share price. It acquired mobile ad network MoPub for $350 million in September. It’s also recently opened up keyword targeting so advertisers can reach people who’ve tweeted certain words.

Between keyword targeting and cookie retargeting, Twitter is breaking out of the demand generation and into the lucrative demand fulfillment part of the advertising funnel where Google’s search ad business lives. Advertisers are willing to pay top dollar if you can deliver them someone ready to buy their product. And there’s no better sign of someone’s intent to buy than having recently visited a site and almost made the purchase already. Cookies could be very tasty for Twitter.

[Image Credit: Flickr/goaliej54]