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Twitter’s future is newsletters and podcasts, not tweets

With Revue and a slew of other new products, Twitter is trying hard to move past texting.

Twitter’s future is newsletters and podcasts, not tweets

We started with 140 characters. What now?

Image: Liv Iko/Protocol

Twitter was once a home for 140-character missives about your lunch. Now, it's something like the real-time nerve center of the internet. But as for what Twitter wants to be going forward? It's slightly more complicated.

In just the last few months, Twitter has rolled out Fleets, a Stories-like feature; started testing an audio-only experience called Spaces; and acquired the podcast app Breaker and the video chat app Squad. And on Tuesday, Twitter announced it was acquiring Revue, a newsletter platform. The whole 140-characters thing (which is now 280 characters, by the way) is certainly not Twitter's organizing principle anymore. So what is?

Twitter was always just about speed. The initial 140-character limit that became associated with the platform was a technical limitation — required to fit everything into a text message, then the quickest way to reach people — not a statement about brevity being the soul of anything. Many of the moves Twitter has made over the years have been in service of making Twitter even faster: faster to show users good stuff with algorithms, faster to publish with Fleets, faster to spread information with RTs and quote tweets. Even when Twitter decides not to do something, the reasons usually come back to speed. Take the much-desired edit button: One reason Jack Dorsey has given for not including one is that it "means we'd have to delay sending that tweet out … we'll probably never do it."

Rather than think of Twitter as a social network or a 140-character writing tool, it's helpful to think of Twitter the way Dorsey does. "At its core Twitter is public messaging," he said in 2016. "A simple way to say something, to anyone, that everyone in the world can see instantly."

That tweet came in part in response to a Recode story that claimed Twitter was considering expanding its text limit to 10,000 characters. Dorsey didn't quite acknowledge the plan, but he didn't shoot the report down, either. He also explained why longer-form text might be a powerful part of Twitter. "We've spent a lot of time observing what people are doing on Twitter, and we see them taking screenshots of text and tweeting it," he tweeted (in a Notes app screenshot, of course). "Instead, what if that text … was actually text? Text that could be searched. Text that could be highlighted. That's more utility and power."

Increasingly, Twitter is also thinking about what Twitter looks like outside of its own apps. With Project Bluesky, the company is investigating turning Twitter into a protocol rather than a platform, so the Twitter that users know today would be just one way to tap into the social graph and content flowing through it. And with Revue, Twitter is heading into users' email inboxes. Revue appears to be a good fit at Twitter, actually: Its platform has always focused on curation, making it easy for newsletter writers to grab a bunch of links, add commentary and send it to subscribers. Which sounds an awful lot like Twitter — only longer.

The Revue acquisition, and some of Twitter's other recent moves, also make clear where the company is headed as a business. It's leaning into working with creators, trying to help people build audiences and make money on the platform so that they'll keep spending time there. Twitter is way behind on this front. Twitter is, for most creators, a marketing vehicle, a public way to send fans to the Instagram/Twitch/TikTok/Substacks that make them actual money.

By acquiring a newsletter provider, Twitter brings at least one part of that in-house. "Revue will accelerate our work to help people stay informed about their interests while giving all types of writers a way to monetize their audience," Twitter's Kayvon Beykpour and Mike Park wrote in the blog post announcing the acquisition. The same could soon be true for Breaker with podcasts, and Spaces with audio events. If 280-character Twitter can continue to be a powerful marketing engine, but all that marketing can drive toward Twitter's other, higher-fidelity messaging tools, Twitter stands to be a useful home for lots of creators. And, of course, if creators stay, so do users.

When Dorsey said last year that Twitter was thinking about what a subscription model for Twitter might look like, these are almost certainly the products he was thinking about. "$9.99 a month for the really good tweets" is a tricky line to walk for an ad-based business, and it's not in line with the way Dorsey has always thought about Twitter. (After all, is there anything slower than a paywall?) But paid newsletters, paid podcasts, ticketed Spaces events and all manner of other similar products could add new revenue streams. Twitter could also be trying to make money from creators themselves, too: It has at least run surveys asking how users would feel about paying to upload longer videos, get better analytics, or add custom badges to their profile.

There's no guarantee any of this will work. Twitter's history with integrating new products is spotty, and many creators are still wary of the company after it was so quick to kill Vine. But this is what Twitter wants to be: the internet's universal communication tool, with all the new features that requires.

Power

Google wants to help you get a life

Digital car windows, curved AR glasses, automatic presentations and other patents from Big Tech.

A new patent from Google offers a few suggestions.

Image: USPTO

Another week has come to pass, meaning it's time again for Big Tech patents! You've hopefully been busy reading all the new Manual Series stories that have come out this week and are now looking forward to hearing what comes after what comes next. Google wants to get rid of your double-chin selfie videos and find things for you as you sit bored at home; Apple wants to bring translucent displays to car windows; and Microsoft is exploring how much you can stress out a virtual assistant.

And remember: The big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Sponsored Content

The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

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Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
People

No editing, no hashtags: Dispo wants you to live in the moment

David Dobrik's new photography app harkens back to the days of the disposable camera.

Dispo turns the concept of a photography app into something altogether different.

Image: Katya Sapozhnina, Diana Morgan, Amanda Luke

Instagram was once a place to share Starbucks cups and high-contrast pet photos. After Facebook acquired it in 2012, it has turned into a competition of getting as many likes as possible (using the same formula over and over: post the best highly-curated, edited photos with the funniest captions). More recently, it's essentially become a shopping mall, with brands falling over themselves to be heard through the noise. Doing something "for the gram" — scaling buildings, posting the same cringe picture over and over — became the norm. Pop-up museums litter cities with photo ops for posts; "camera eats first"; everything can be a cute Instagram story; everything is content.

And to be clear, Dispo — a buzzy new photography app that just came out of beta — is still a place for content. It probably isn't going to fix our collective online brains and their inclination to share everything about our private lives with others online. It's still an app, and it's still social media, and it encourages documenting your life. But it runs pretty differently than any other image-sharing app out there. And that might be what helps it stand out in an oversaturated market of social networking apps.

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Jane Seidel

Jane Seidel is Protocol's social media manager. She was previously a platform producer at The Wall Street Journal, creating mobile content and crafting alert strategy. Prior to that, she worked in audience development at WSJ and on digital editorial at NBC Universal. She lives in Brooklyn.

Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Doxxing insurrectionists: Capitol riot divides online extremism researchers

The uprising has sparked a tense debate about the right way to stitch together the digital scraps of someone's life to publicly accuse them of committing a crime.

Rioters scale the U.S. Capitol walls during the insurrection.

Photo: Blink O'faneye/Flickr

Joan Donovan has a panic button in her office, just in case one of the online extremists she spends her days fighting tries to fight back.

"This is not baby shit," Donovan, who is research director of Harvard's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, said. "You do not fuck around with these people in public."

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Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
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