Can social networks ever be friends again?
Good morning! This Friday, Instagram and Twitter feign friendliness, OSHA sets a deadline for getting employees vaccinated, and NYC Mayor Eric Adams wants to be paid in *checks notes* bitcoin? Sure.
"Let's all be friends!"
It was a nice thought, in a nicer era of the internet, when Twitter co-founder Biz Stone wrote those words in 2008. The landscape of social networks was far from settled, MySpace still had more American users than Facebook and there was more to be gained from building bridges than walls. A startup called FriendFeed sprang up with the notion of linking all your networks together so you wouldn't have to choose.
Mark Zuckerberg had a different notion: domination. Twitter had turned down a buyout offer, and a decade-long war ensued. He bought FriendFeed, too, and shut it down. Link by link, app by app, connections were severed.
A detente emerged this week, seemingly out of nowhere. Instagram and Twitter announced that previews of Instagram photos would once again show up in tweets.
- Why this is a big deal: Instagram unexpectedly yanked the previews in 2012, leaving just raw links.
- This was at a time when Twitter was trying to establish itself as a place for breaking visual news. (Remember that plane landing in the Hudson?)
There's history to this beef. Facebook blocked Twitter's attempt to access its friends list in 2010. Twitter blocked a similar Instagram feature in mid-2012, as it tightened up access generally for competing apps — just months after Twitter tried and failed to buy Instagram and Facebook walked away with the billion-dollar prize.
- Twitter instead bought Vine, a short-video app — and the day it launched its iOS app, Facebook yanked Vine's access to its friends lists. Instagram Video followed shortly thereafter. Vine never had a chance.
- Cambridge Analytica wasn't a well-known name in 2015, but the British company's misuse of a quiz app's access to friends' data gave Facebook reason to tighten its policies for third-party apps further.
- A new consensus emerged: Don't try to build social apps on top of Facebook or Twitter. They'll just shut you down.
TikTok changed the game. In its eagerness to gain new users, the Chinese-made video app made it easy to post clips everywhere.
- Soon Facebook and Instagram's story feeds were full of videos that ended with a quick blip of the TikTok logo. TikTok didn't need programmatic access to friends lists, it turns out, because its algorithms didn't rely on who you followed. Its users' viral videos spread the word anyway.
- Facebook had been growing increasingly worried about attracting young users. If Twitter showed previews of TikTok videos but not Instagram, that was one more battleground Facebook was losing.
- All it took to undo the beef was a tweet by tech journalist Casey Newton, which led to a dinner of wine and sausages between Instagram head Adam Mosseri and Twitter product chief Kayvon Beykpour. Mosseri said it only took a few engineers to restore the previews, which users had been asking for.
- A decade of pettiness is also a bad look. Among the many criticisms of dominant social apps circulating in Washington is the notion that they discourage competition by locking out competitors. The calculus has changed: Facebook once again has more to gain from opening its apps up than keeping them closed off.
Is this a preview of more changes to come? There are other signs of the social pendulum swinging back to openness.
- Twitter has had a rocky relationship with app makers over the years. But it just updated its API, allowing developers to do more with tweets.
- Facebook is now Meta, and in discussing its metaverse focus, executives are talking more about open standards and protocols.
- California and the European Union's data privacy laws have various requirements for data portability. And the FTC is looking into Facebook's withholding of API access to hurt competitors as part of its broad-ranging antitrust probe.
The bottom line: It's still risky to bet your company on someone else's data. Don't expect a return to the happy days of 2008, when social networking was still relatively young and entrepreneurs and investors saw nothing but opportunity. But a combination of competitive and regulatory pressures may force the big social apps to feign friendliness. Even that's a welcome change from the past decade's wars, where users lost the most.
A MESSAGE FROM ALIBABA
In China, brands & retailers are connecting with the world's most digitally savvy consumers. By partnering with Alibaba, businesses can develop immersive and entertaining shopping experiences to engage customers in overseas markets. As a result, thousands of U.S. businesses are finding success reaching over 900 million consumers on Alibaba's platforms.
People are talking
Platforms like Facebook shouldn't need more time to comply with regulation, U.K. Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said:
- "It's nonsense that platforms have been given two years to make themselves ready for what would be criminal action. They know what they're doing wrong now."
Eric Adams, New York City's new mayor, wants to take his first three paychecks in bitcoin:
- "NYC is going to be the center of the cryptocurrency industry and other fast-growing, innovative industries! Just wait!"
It would be risky for Elizabeth Holmes to testify, legal analyst Danny Cevallos said:
- "If the jury finds even a tiny portion of her testimony to be dishonest, they will likely consider her completely dishonest."
Google's remote work pay cut is unfair, an anonymous Google software engineer said:
- "Any pay cut is unacceptable, and it's been presented as a 'take it or leave it' proposition … I love the work we do, but that's a lousy bargain."
TradeStation is going public. The online broker is merging with a SPAC in a deal valued at $1.43 billion.
HashiCorp is looking to IPO. The software company wants to raise up to $100 million in new funding.
Zip is introducing a physical "buy now, pay later" card. It's working with WebBank on the card, which lets customers make an in-store purchase and pay it off in four installments.
Brandon Yoon is leaving Apple, sources told Bloomberg. Yoon has served as Apple's general manager and head of sales for South Korea and recently helped handle legal proceedings over the country's new app store rules.
Brian Brooks is Bitfury's new head. Brooks was the CEO of Binance.US for a few months before resigning in August.
Lori Landew is moving up at Audible to general counsel. She's been VP of content legal at the audiobook and podcast company for a couple years.
In other news
OSHA wants big companies to crack down on employee vaccinations. The Biden administration set a Jan. 4 deadline for companies with 100 employees or more "to ensure that as many of their workers are vaccinated as quickly as possible."
Apple is losing its mask mandate for customers at some U.S. retail locations, according to Bloomberg. The requirement will end today for over a third of the company's retail stores, but employees still need to wear masks.
Facebook wants creators to make money through Groups. The platform is experimenting with ways to pay creators through subgroups, like charging for exclusive access to discussions in subgroups or allowing admins to run online shops.
Jeff Bezos won't get his lunar lander deal. Blue Origin lost its lawsuit challenging NASA's decision to give SpaceX the $2.9 billion contract. Bezos is sad about it, but he's got other things to focus on anyway.
Google has a plan to comply with South Korea's app store rules: It'll knock down its in-app purchases cut from 30% to 26%, and some other media services will only have to pay a 6% fee.
The FTC is handing Amazon Flex drivers over $60 million. The money represents tips the commission says were illegally withheld from drivers, and all the cash is being given out in checks ranging from a few hundred to thousands of dollars.
Alphabet is launching Isomorphic Labs, which will use AI to find new drugs. The new company branches off Alphabet's DeepMind, which also uses technology that aims to develop new drugs.
Snapchat's return to 'The Office'
Now that "The Office" is off Netflix, the show almost feels like a distant memory. But Snapchat recently made a deal with NBCUniversal that would bring back remnants of the show — or at least audio from it.
Snapchat users will be allowed to use audio from shows including "The Office" and movies including "Bridesmaids" and "Shrek." And if you don't use Snapchat, don't worry about lip-syncing to "Bears. Beets. Battlestar Galactica"; it's just another example of companies figuring out ways to introduce more audio into their platforms.
A MESSAGE FROM ALIBABA
U.S. brands – big and small – are growing their global businesses by selling on Alibaba's online marketplace of over 900 million Chinese consumers. By engaging customers in immersive, virtual shopping experiences, they can directly tell their stories and connect with consumers across the world.
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