The Undo Tweet screen in Twitter Blue.
Photo: Twitter

Twitter's big subscription experiment

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Good morning! This Wednesday, Twitter Blue seems like a promising experiment, lawmakers want an algorithm-free platform option, and Microsoft takes a big swing at Google.

Twitter Blues itself

Twitter is going where very few social networks have gone before: the paid consumer market. The company on Tuesday launched its Twitter Blue subscription service in the U.S., marking the start of an intriguing experiment in how many paying customers a platform like Twitter can attract with the allure of just a handful of premium features.

Twitter Blue isn't a radical revamp. The undo send feature isn't quite the "edit" button many critics have been clamoring for, but it does serve a similar function by allowing you to quickly correct typos or rethink that questionable hot take before it's fired off to the public.

  • Other than undo send, however, many of the perks of the subscription are previously free services Twitter acquired and tailored for its subscription platform.
  • Scroll, which offered an ad-free news subscription and acquired the Nuzzel aggregator in 2019, makes up much of the backbone of the service. Twitter acquired Scroll and then shuttered Nuzzel earlier this year, and both have been turned into key features inside Twitter Blue in the form of an ad-free article perk and the new Top Articles section.
  • Many of the other features are cosmetic, like being able to change the design of the app icon and pick a colored theme, and none of them is groundbreaking. Subscribing to Twitter Blue doesn't remove standard Twitter ads, for instance. So the jury is out on whether the company's offering justifies its $2.99 per month price tag.

A subscription product isn't exactly a bold gamble, either. Twitter has its standard free product and its existing and stable ad business, neither of which seems likely to be affected by the success or failure of Twitter Blue.

  • But the service does send a signal to the rest of the industry that there could be a different way to monetize social platforms, especially if Twitter Blue becomes a strong revenue driver for the company down the line.
  • Numerous social platforms that don't fit the mold of those operated by Big Tech, like Discord and Reddit, have relied on subscriptions to monetize for years. These approaches have helped alleviate or avoid some of the pressures of operating ad-supported platforms driven by quarterly growth and ever-larger profits.
  • Google and Meta dominant countless software markets by subsidizing free consumer products with data collection and ad targeting. Facebook and Instagram in particular have gone so far as to threaten customers with a paywall of sorts when trying to convince iPhone owners to opt in to mobile tracking after Apple's iOS 14.5 changes.

Still, Twitter Blue feels like a glimpse at an alternative social media landscape. If customers can be convinced to pay for social networking products, then perhaps the entire attention-driven, data-based model that dominates the web today isn't the only way to do business.

  • Many social networks have tried and failed to take privacy-first approaches or offer niche alternatives that deviate from the norm. But there are quite a few success stories.
  • In addition to Discord and Reddit, the social platforms that have centered on community — like Pinterest and Twitch — have thrived by using alternative monetization approaches and avoiding a growth-at-all-costs mentality.
  • One major pitfall to putting all your eggs in the advertising basket is getting caught in the crosshairs of even larger platforms. When Apple introduced App Tracking Transparency earlier this year, it wiped out an estimated $10 billion in revenue from Meta, Snap, Twitter and YouTube, according to a report last month from the Financial Times.

But it could also be a total flop. As of this past summer, when Twitter began verifying users again, the platform had just over 350,000 verified accounts that might qualify as the kinds of power users who would pay for a premium Twitter product. It's not clear how many everyday people get enough value out of Twitter, and see enough value in Twitter Blue, to fork over $2.99 every month just to catch their typos and read the occasional ad-free news article.

But as a demonstration of a premium social networking service that cuts down on ads and gives you more control over your experience, the service feels like a promising start. More tech companies, and social platforms in particular, should feel empowered to charge us for their products, and in the process treat us less like users and more like customers.

— Nick Statt (email | twitter)

A MESSAGE FROM 4-H

"Tractor Supply has been investing in the next generation for years through our work with 4-H. We are expanding our investment in young people by supporting 4-H Tech Changemakers so that teens can hone their leadership skills by teaching their older neighbors how to use new technology." - Mary Winn Pilkington, Tractor Supply Company

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People are talking

Don't get an iPhone if you want to sideload, Tim Cook said:

  • "If you want to sideload, you can buy [an] Android phone. That choice exists when you go into the carrier shop."

Cook also said he's a crypto fan and owns some himself:

  • "I'm not giving anyone investment advice, by the way."

Adam Neumann said WeWork's $47 billion private valuation got the best of him:

  • "The valuation made us feel like we were right, which made me feel that whatever style I was leading at was a correct style at the time."

On Protocol | Workplace: Everyone's trying to get into the productivity app market, and Airtable's Howie Liu is OK with that:

  • "The rising tide lifts all the boats."

The new infrastructure bill doesn't make sense for the crypto industry, The Blockchain Association's Kristin Smith said:

  • "It's sort of like saying, 'Hey, that armored delivery truck that's moving the cash from one bank to another needs to collect the information and report it to the IRS.' No, the bank is the one with the customer. They're the ones that can report it."

Making moves

Netflix games are coming to iOS. A handful of games are available on iPhone and iPads, and the games will be listed in the Netflix app beginning today.

Unity Technologies is buying Weta Digital for $1.625 billion. The purchase means Unity gets Weta's visual effects features and pipeline used in tons of popular movies.

Alex Gorsky is joining Apple's board. He's been the head of Johnson & Johnson for close to a decade.

Eric Muhlheim is Mozilla's new CFO. He last served as a startup consultant and has held roles at BuzzFeed and The Walt Disney Company.

Anne Perrot is a top pick for France's new antitrust head, sources told Reuters. Perrot is an economist and has pressed for more Big Tech regulation.

In other news

Facebook is getting rid of ad targeting for "sensitive" content, kind of like it did for users under 18 years old. That includes topics dealing with politics, health and religion, and the change will go into effect mid-January.

Google still has to pay its $2.8 billion EU antitrust fine. A judge ruled against Google's appeal to overturn a 2017 ruling related to shopping search results, in a decision a lot of folks see as a signal of what's to come for other tech giants.

House lawmakers want an algorithm-free platform. A group of representatives introduced a bill that would require tech companies to let people choose a version of their platform that doesn't use algorithms, according to Axios.

Microsoft is coming for Chrome OS. It introduced the Surface Laptop SE, running a variation of Windows 11, that's meant for students. It's meant to make Chromebooks in price, storage and other features.

Peloton is doing cameras now. The company will introduce a strength-training device next year that plays workouts while monitoring your body movements. It will be Peloton's cheapest product to date.

Facebook's Oversight Board is moving too quickly for Facebook. The group has made dozens of recommendations since the beginning of the year, but the platform said it's having trouble responding by the board's 30-day deadline.

The chase for top tech talent isn't as intense as it seems. Just ask "Angelina Lee," a tech worker whose fake resume packed with experience — and extra curriculars, like the frat record for most vodka shots in a night — got callbacks from all over Silicon Valley.

What's the point of launching a new search engine? More privacy and a different look for search results, apparently. That's the idea behind ex-Salesforce scientist Richard Socher's You.com, but it has a bit of work to do to stand out.

Customers of Bubba Gump Shrimp (and a couple others) can earn bitcoin with their purchase. That means you can get shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo, pineapple shrimp, deep fried shrimp, stir-fried shrimp and a side of crypto.

Yelp's endless eats

Seeing a mouth-watering pasta dish on your Instagram feed is a treat. But what if you could scroll through an endless supply of appealing meals, for however long you want? Yelp is trying that out.

The company is rolling out scrolling feeds that let you look through content from nearby restaurants, photos from other Yelp users and popular bites in the area. Depending on what image you click on, you could be taken to a restaurant's website or see more photos of the same popular dish. It's like doomscrolling that makes you really, really hungry.

A MESSAGE FROM 4-H

"It's this type of bold action that the private sector can continue to lead the way on and why efforts like the 4-H Tech Changemakers program are so important as we leverage the skills of young people to help create opportunity for all." - Tina May, Land O'Lakes

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