Tag Archive | Twitter

Pinterest Now Tracks Everybody by Default, but You Can Opt Out

Pinterest will now compile profiles of people who visit sites that contain Pinterest buttons, so their social bookmarking experience can be automatically personalized around interests that correspond to those sites.


This will happen both for people who are currently logged in to the Pinterest website, and for people who have never even joined Pinterest, via anonymized tracking.

“So, if you’re planning a party and have gone to lots of party sites recently, we’ll try to suggest boards to make your event a hit,” Pinterest software engineer Ke Chen explained in a blog post.

“Pin It” buttons and other Pinterest widgets are used on just about every page of major sites, including Amazon, eBay, Nordstrom, REI and Bon Appetit.

Their original purpose was so that that shoppers and other users could easily save items they come across to their Pinterest boards. Since Pinterest sends lots of traffic back to the sites, the buttons are all over the place.

People who want to opt out of Pinterest tracking can enable “Do Not Track” on their browser, change their account settings, or tell Pinterest not to use that data when they sign up.

Pinterest announced the initiative today by emphasizing its support for Do Not Track, a privacy initiative that has had trouble getting off the ground because people can’t agree how to implement it, and tracking users is a key ingredient for personalizing services and targeting advertising. As an emerging Internet giant, Pinterest’s endorsement for the standard is important.

However, the more notable aspect of today’s news doesn’t seem to be Do Not Track – it’s that Pinterest is tracking people who don’t even use the service.

That’s because Pinterest wants to provide a good experience for new users the first time they visit, said company spokesperson Malorie Lucich.

“One of our hopes is that, when people join Pinterest, we’ll be able to suggest better content to them, so they have a good new-user experience (and see stuff that interests them),” she said. “As part of the sign-up process, they can tell us not to use that type of data. (There is a clear check-box.)”

Data collected about users who are logged out of Pinterest will be anonymized, she said.

Lucich explained, “We think the websites you visit are a good indicator of your interests (and Pinterest is all about your interests). So as people visit sites with the Pin It button (or other Pinterest widgets), we can use that information (if they’re interested) to recommend better boards to follow.”

She compared the Pinterest feature to one that Twitter launched in 2012, which suggests accounts for new users to follow.

The Twitter suggestions are said to be based on monitoring people who visit sites with Twitter widgets on them, to see what accounts they commonly follow. If the new user has also visited one of those sites in the past 10 days, some of those accounts will be suggested.

Both moves are a little creepy when you think about it – some site that you’ve never even joined is ready and waiting to personalize itself for you, whenever you show up.

That said, this is not uncommon. Tracking cookies are used all over the Web, and few people know or care about them.

Pinterest said it would be adding the features “in the next few weeks.”

The NYT’s Nick Bilton Talks About His Book on IPO-Ready Twitter (Video)


I always like to indulge in a little logrolling in our own time, but this video interview I did with New York Times columnist Nick Bilton about his new book is pretty fun.

“Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal” officially comes out on Tuesday. But it is already being reviewed and munched over by many for its controversial stories about the founding of the San Francisco-based social microblogging phenom.

Including: Former CEO and co-founder Jack Dorsey fired! Former CEO and co-founder Evan Williams hired! Dorsey returns! Williams fired! Current CEO Dick Costolo hired! Costolo almost fired!

Essentially, it is like a Spanish telenovela over there at Twitter, except it’s all dudes falling in and out of bromances.

Bilton noted to me that it reads like a mystery novel, akin to the game of Clue. As in: Board member and VC Peter Fenton in the server room with a virtual hammer!

Since Twitter is going public this week – ya might have heard – Bilton’s timing could not be better.

Here’s my interview with Bilton, who showed up at my house in the Castro on Halloween night. (It is an annual costume apocalypse in my neighborhood, so this guy really wants to sell that book!)

Here’s the interview:

QOTD: #happyholidays

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

Does anyone still use Twitter #Music? Why the Web and iOS app are quickly fading into obscurity

162642967 520x245 Does anyone still use Twitter #Music? Why the Web and iOS app are quickly fading into obscurity

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.

twittermusic1 Does anyone still use Twitter #Music? Why the Web and iOS app are quickly fading into obscurity

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.

twittermusic2 Does anyone still use Twitter #Music? Why the Web and iOS app are quickly fading into obscurity

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

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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]

Does Anybody Really Care About Egypt?

Twitter and Egypt

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:

Interest in Egypt

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:

Interest in Income Equality

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:

Concern Index

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.

Vatican: Following the Pope on Twitter Means Less Time in Purgatory

Pope Francis

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.

Icahn Cashes Out — And Cashes In — On Netflix Stake


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.

Vine Adds Some Basic Editing Tools

Vine app logo

Here comes another incremental update for Vine, Twitter’s short-form video app. The service pushed out an update on Thursday morning, allowing for slightly more control over how users make videos.

The two main tweaks: You’re able to save videos in progress, and return to them later before publishing them to Vine. Also, you can edit clips by shuffling around the order in which you shot them.

It’s a reminder of how basic and limited Vine was when it launched earlier this year – which, at the time, I assumed was by design. Simplicity and ease can make for an easier pitch to a wide array of new users.

I’m curious to see if Vine continues in this slightly more complicated direction. Twitter, of all companies, should know that sometimes a little restraint goes a long way.

Twitter Book Offers Singular, But Fascinating Narrative Of Invention

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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.