People

Twitter Blue is a big bet on power users — and on a new future for Twitter

Right now it's just a few features in a few places. But it's a signal of Twitter's new focus on its most prolific users.

Twitter's new Undo Tweet button in action

Twitter has been publicly exploring subscription options for a while.

Photo: Twitter

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 like folders for bookmarks, a special mode for reading long threads, customizable icons for the Twitter app and 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."

Twitter was careful to note that fundamentally, Twitter will always be free. "This subscription offering is simply meant to add enhanced and complementary features to the already existing Twitter experience for those who want it," Twitter's Smita Mittal Gupta wrote in a blog post announcing Blue. The features in Blue, she wrote, came directly from power-user requests. 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 users 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.

In recent years, most of Twitter's efforts 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.

Twitter's new Reading Mode screen A "Reader Mode" is another of Twitter Blue's subscription features.Image: Twitter

Twitter right now is largely a vessel to other places, a way to find links or share videos or go viral before directing people to your SoundCloud. Now, both for users and for its own business, Twitter is trying to keep people on the platform. 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. With Blue, Twitter builds a special corner of the platform for those special users, and keeps them more engaged on Twitter.

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.

Discord is one potential reason for optimism, by the way. The company has looked into a number of business models over the years, before realizing that Nitro — a $10 monthly subscription that offers higher-quality audio and video, plus some fun personalization features — was popular enough to sustain the company. So far, Twitter Blue looks like a very similar proposition.

Even further into the future, as Twitter continues to look to decentralize and separate Twitter the App from Twitter the Protocol, it will have to figure out ways to curate, organize and monetize the firehose of content in unique and profitable ways. Betting on creators is an obvious one; giving power-users a way to pay is another. And in Twitter's case, those two groups happen to be the exact same people.

Entertainment

Google is developing a low-end Chromecast with Google TV

The new dongle will run the Google TV interface, but it won’t support 4K streaming.

The Chromecast with Google TV dongle combined 4K streaming with the company’s Google TV interface. Now, Google is looking to launch a cheaper version.

Photo: Google

Google is working on a new streaming device that caters to people with older TV sets: The next Chromecast streaming dongle will run its Google TV interface and ship with a remote control, but it won’t support 4K streaming. The device will instead max out at a resolution of 1080p, Protocol has learned from a source with close knowledge of the company’s plans.

A Google spokesperson declined to comment.

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Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

COVID-19 accelerated what many CEOs and CTOs have struggled to do for the past decade: It forced organizations to be agile and adjust quickly to change. For all the talk about digital transformation over the past decade, when push came to shove, many organizations realized they had made far less progress than they thought.

Now with the genie of rapid change out of the bottle, we will never go back to accepting slow and steady progress from our organizations. To survive and thrive in times of disruption, you need to build a resilient, adaptable business with systems and processes that will keep you nimble for years to come. An essential part of business agility is responding to change by quickly developing new applications and adapting old ones. IT faces an unprecedented demand for new applications. According to IDC, by 2023, more than 500 million digital applications and services will be developed and deployed — the same number of apps that were developed in the last 40 years.[1]

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Denise Broady, CMO, Appian
Denise oversees the Marketing and Communications organization where she is responsible for accelerating the marketing strategy and brand recognition across the globe. Denise has over 24+ years of experience as a change agent scaling businesses from startups, turnarounds and complex software companies. Prior to Appian, Denise worked at SAP, WorkForce Software, TopTier and Clarkston Group. She is also a two-time published author of “GRC for Dummies” and “Driven to Perform.” Denise holds a double degree in marketing and production and operations from Virginia Tech.
Enterprise

Why software releases should be quick but 'palatable and realistic'

Modern software developers release updates much more quickly than in the past, which is great for security and adding new capabilities. But Edith Harbaugh thinks business leaders need a little control of that schedule.

LaunchDarkly was founded in 2014 to help companies manage the software release cycle.

Photo: LaunchDarkly

Gone are the days of quarterly or monthly software update release cycles; today’s software development organizations release updates and fixes on a much more frequent basis. Edith Harbaugh just wants to give business leaders a modicum of control over the process.

The CEO of LaunchDarkly, which was founded in 2014 to help companies manage the software release cycle, is trying to reach customers who want to move fast but understand that moving fast and breaking things won’t work for them. Companies that specialize in continuous integration and continuous delivery services have thrived over the last few years as customers look for help shipping at speed, and LaunchDarkly extends those capabilities to smaller features of existing software.

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Tom Krazit

Tom Krazit ( @tomkrazit) is Protocol's enterprise editor, covering cloud computing and enterprise technology out of the Pacific Northwest. He has written and edited stories about the technology industry for almost two decades for publications such as IDG, CNET, paidContent, and GeekWire, and served as executive editor of Gigaom and Structure.

Boost 2

Can Matt Mullenweg save the internet?

He's turning Automattic into a different kind of tech giant. But can he take on the trillion-dollar walled gardens and give the internet back to the people?

Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic and founder of WordPress, poses for Protocol at his home in Houston, Texas.
Photo: Arturo Olmos for Protocol

In the early days of the pandemic, Matt Mullenweg didn't move to a compound in Hawaii, bug out to a bunker in New Zealand or head to Miami and start shilling for crypto. No, in the early days of the pandemic, Mullenweg bought an RV. He drove it all over the country, bouncing between Houston and San Francisco and Jackson Hole with plenty of stops in national parks. In between, he started doing some tinkering.

The tinkering is a part-time gig: Most of Mullenweg’s time is spent as CEO of Automattic, one of the web’s largest platforms. It’s best known as the company that runs WordPress.com, the hosted version of the blogging platform that powers about 43% of the websites on the internet. Since WordPress is open-source software, no company technically owns it, but Automattic provides tools and services and oversees most of the WordPress-powered internet. It’s also the owner of the booming ecommerce platform WooCommerce, Day One, the analytics tool Parse.ly and the podcast app Pocket Casts. Oh, and Tumblr. And Simplenote. And many others. That makes Mullenweg one of the most powerful CEOs in tech, and one of the most important voices in the debate over the future of the internet.

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Workplace

Building an antiracist company: From idea to practice

Twilio’s chief diversity officer says it’s time for a new approach to DEI.

“The most impactful way to prioritize DEI and enable antiracism is to structure your company accordingly,” says Lybra Clemons, chief diversity officer at Twilio.

Photo: Twilio

Lybra Clemons is responsible for guiding and scaling inclusion strategy and diversity initiatives at Twilio.

I’ve been in the corporate diversity, equity and inclusion space for over 15 years. In that time, I’ve seen the field evolve slowly from a “nice-to-have” function of Human Resources to a rising company-wide priority. June 2020 was different. Suddenly my and my peers’ phones started ringing off the hook and DEI leaders became the most sought-after professionals. With so many DEI roles being created and corporate willingness to invest, for a split second it looked like there might be real change on the horizon.

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Lybra Clemons
Lybra S. Clemons is a seasoned C-suite executive with over 15 years of Human Resources, Talent and Diversity & Inclusion experience at Fortune 500 companies. She is responsible for guiding and scaling inclusion strategy and diversity initiatives across Twilio's global workforce. Prior to Twilio, Lybra was global head of Diversity & Inclusion at PayPal, where she managed and oversaw all global diversity initiatives. Lybra has held critical roles in Diversity & Inclusion with Morgan Stanley, The Brunswick Group and American Express. She serves on the board of directors of Makers and How Women Lead Silicon Valley Executive Board of Advisers, and has been recognized by Black Enterprise as one of the Top Corporate Women in Diversity.
China

Why China is outselling the US in EVs 5 to 1

Electric cars made up 14.8% of Chinese car sales in 2021, compared with 4.1% in the U.S.

Passenger EV sales in China in 2021 jumped 169.1% to nearly 3.3 million from a year ago.

Photo: VCG/VCG via Getty Images

When Tesla entered China in 2014, the country’s EV market was going through a reset. The Austin, Texas-based automaker created a catfish effect — a strong competitor that compels weaker peers to up their game — in China’s EV market for the past few years. Now, Tesla’s sardine-sized Chinese competitors have grown into big fishes in the tank, gradually weakening Tesla’s own prominence in the field.

2021 was a banner year for China’s EV industry. The latest data from the China Passenger Car Association shows that total passenger EV sales in China in 2021 jumped 169.1% from a year ago to nearly 2.99 million: about half of all EVs sold globally. Out of every 100 passenger cars sold in China last year, almost 15 were so-called "new energy vehicles" (NEVs) — a mix of battery-electric vehicles and hybrids.

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Shen Lu

Shen Lu covers China's tech industry.

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