June 4, 2021
Good morning! This Friday, Twitter releases its subscription service called Twitter Blue, Facebook gets its first chief business officer, Tesla might be slipping, and please, please remember to unmute (or mute!) yourself on Zoom.
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The Big Story
Twitter gives supertweeters a way to pay
On its face, Twitter Blue, the company's new subscription service, looks more like a beta-testing program than a premium offering. In the early version of Blue that is currently rolling out to iOS users in Canada and Australia (with more platforms and countries coming "in the near future"), subscribers will get access to a short list of power-user features, including an Undo Tweet button that is definitively not an edit button. These are all features people have wanted for years, and ones that could end up on the broader platform before long.
Still, don't mistake Blue's small launch as Twitter's lack of ambition. Twitter has been publicly exploring subscription options for some time.
- Jack Dorsey said on Twitter's earnings call in July 2020 that he had "a really high bar for when we would ask consumers to pay for aspects of Twitter," but acknowledged that the company was exploring a number of ways to make money outside of advertising.
- "We do think there is a world where subscription is complementary," Dorsey said in that same earnings call, "where commerce is complementary, where helping people manage paywalls … we think is complementary."
- One thing Blue likely won't do? Remove ads. Dorsey has always held that advertising and subscription businesses don't need to compete with or cannibalize each other.
Blue is very much designed for a small set of people who use Twitter heavily. Which makes sense, given that those are the people most likely to pay, and given how much power-users have historically shaped the way Twitter works anyway. Increasingly, though, that top tier of tweeters is also the group that Twitter is spending more time thinking about in general as it tries to find ways for creators to make more money on the platform.
Most of Twitter's efforts in recent years have been focused on trying to make the platform more palatable to casual users, using Trends and suggested lists to help everyone get more from the platform. Now its perception has shifted.
- Studies consistently show that 10% of Twitter users do the vast majority of the tweeting, and those are the people who keep the rest of Twitter coming back. So Twitter's new goal is to support those supertweeters, in hopes that they'll in turn bring the broader public into the fold.
- It bought Revue to give Twitter stars a newsletter option, bought Scroll to turn Twitter into a better news platform, bought Breaker for podcasts, launched Twitter Spaces and Super Follows and the Tip Jar, and in general is searching for ways to help people with an audience on Twitter build a business there, too.
More broadly, this is one of the first real-world tests of a longstanding debate in the tech industry: What would happen if social networks started charging? Ad-based business models have let these companies grow big and fast with free products, but they come with privacy and feature trade-offs that are beginning to make some users uncomfortable.
- Plus, thanks to tracking changes coming from Google and Apple in particular, ad-based models are under threat in general.
- "Just charge users!" has always been a popular response. Twitter's about to find out whether, and how many, people are actually willing to pay for the platform they use.
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People Are Talking
On Protocol | Policy: The Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a former police officer in Van Buren v. United States, which has big ramifications for the tech industry:
- "If the 'exceeds authorized access' clause criminalizes every violation of a computer-use policy, then millions of otherwise law-abiding citizens are criminals. Take the workplace. Employers commonly state that computers and electronic devices can be used only for business purposes."
Every business needs to make moves to prevent cyberattacks and ransomware, U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Anne Neuberger said:
- "The private sector also has a critical responsibility to protect against these threats. All organizations must recognize that no company is safe from being targeted by ransomware, regardless of size or location."
Patrick Collison dropped a pretty crazy stat about the state of digital transformation:
- "More businesses launched on Stripe since the start of 2020 than did in the rest of Stripe's history before then. Overall rate of migration to the internet economy is hard to overstate."
Jason Calacanis would like you to know he's very good at his job:
- "Many investors think I'm the world's best person at picking startups, which is not true. I'm certainly in the top five."
- But some people, like Ashley Welch, said he can be tough to work with: "If it works out with Jason, awesome. If you rub Jason the wrong way, you may never hear from him again. He's like your rich friend who you don't want to piss off."
Marne Levine is Facebook's new (and first) chief business officer. She's been at Facebook for years and will oversee marketing, sales and partnerships.
Jony Ive is poaching Apple designers. At least four members of the fabled design team have joined Ive's LoveFrom firm in recent months.
The SPAC king SPACs again: Chamath Palihapitiya filed for four new blank-check companies this week, looking to raise $800 million between them.
Getir tripled its valuation to $7.5 billion, just three months after being valued at $2.6 billion. Rival grocery app Gorillas, meanwhile, is reportedly raising $1 billion at a $6 billion valuation, and the 6-month-old Flink has already raised $240 million. Like we said Monday: Next-hour commerce is the next big thing.
Ben Bear is the new CEO of Spin, and the Ford-owned company is also getting back into the bike-share game. Spin's co-founders are all now strategic advisers to the company.
Kamau Bobb was reassigned within Google. He was previously the company's head of diversity strategy and research, but after a 2007 blog post he wrote titled "If I were a Jew" was shared widely, he's being moved onto a STEM research team.
In Other News
- On Protocol | Policy: EU and U.K. regulators launched antitrust investigations into Facebook's ad data use. The European Commission said it was investigating whether Facebook used ad data to compete with advertisers on classified ads, while the U.K.'s Competition and Markets Authority said it was looking into similar allegations around online dating as well.
- All those UFOs aren't definitely aliens ... but we can't rule it out. That's what a long-awaited U.S. government report will say, the New York Times reported, after investigating more than 120 UFO incidents over the last two decades.
- Google is following Apple's privacy lead. It's cracking down on some of the ways developers have found to track even those users who have opted out of sharing their advertising ID. No sign of a pop-up that'll petrify the industry, though.
- Is Tesla slipping? Its global EV market share continues to fall, according to analysts, and The Information reported that its sales in China fell by nearly half between April and May.
- There's a culture clash happening at Medium. After Ev Williams sent a memo attempting to reset some internal conversations in the midst of the company's latest editorial pivot, TechCrunch reported that a lot of employees are leaving.
- On Protocol | Policy: President Biden signed an executive order banning investment in Chinese defense and surveillance firms. It lists 59 companies by name, including Huawei and Hikvision.
- What everyone's reading: Coda's Shishir Mehrotra wrote a "Rituals for hypergrowth" guide based on his time at YouTube, which is like a graduate degree in product management all in one place.
- The White House announced almost $1 billion in available grants for bringing broadband to tribal lands in the U.S. through the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program.
- On Protocol | Policy: As the Indian government cracks down on social media platforms, critics and human-rights organizations are worried that other countries will follow its lead.
- Walmart is developing an app for its store workers. It will let them clock in, find merchandise and talk to each other while at work. The goal is to make workers and stores more efficient, the company said.
One More Thing
Look, life's been tough during the pandemic. We get it. But even as there's a light at the end of the tunnel, one thing continues to get worse: Executives just absolutely cannot figure out how and when to unmute themselves. Per Sentieo data, Vox's Rani Molla found that the word "unmute" showed up in the transcripts of 77 earnings calls in May, the highest number yet. ("Mute" is on a similar roll, it appears.)
Here's a pro tip, everybody: When you're on Zoom, mute by default, and when you want to speak just press and hold the Space bar. You'll be unmuted while you're hitting Space, and muted when you stop. It's like a press-to-talk button, and it'll make your life much easier.
Or just stay muted, turn the camera off, ditch the call entirely and blame technical difficulties. Works every time.
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