Whither Twitter?

My comment piece in today’s Observer.

If there’s one thing Wall Street and the tech industry fears, it is the idea that something potentially profitable might peak or reach some kind of equilibrium point. Endless exponential growth is what investors seek. Whereas you or I might think that a company with more than 300 million regular users that pulls in $710m in revenues is doing OK, Wall Street sees it as a potential zombie.

At the root of the dissonance is the fact that Twitter is a public company. At its flotation in November 2013 it was valued at $32bn, a figure largely based on hopes (or fantasies) that it would keep modifying its service to attract mainstream users, that its advertising business would continue to grow at a phenomenal rate and that it would eventually be bigger than Facebook.

It didn’t do all these things, for various reasons, the most important of which is that it wasn’t (and isn’t) a “social networking” service in the Facebook sense. At the heart of the distinction is the fact that, whereas it is easy to give an answer to the question “What is Facebook?”, the answers for Twitter depend on who you ask…

Read on

How the BBC iPlayer came to be


Fabulous story by Tony Ageh. Long read, but well worth it, and tells you a lot about innovation, serendipity and organisational politics. Also tells you what’s wrong with the iPlayer. Make some coffee, pull up a chair and savour…

So I take this guy out, and I say, ‘We have to go drinking tonight,’ and he says, ‘You’re going to sack me, aren’t you?’ I said, ‘Not necessarily, but we are going to go drinking.’ We go down the stairs to the bar at Bush House, which stays open all night, because that’s where the World Service is, and I said, ‘We’re not leaving this bar until we’ve come up with such a great idea that I can’t sack you, because I’m going to have to tell her tomorrow that you can’t be sacked, because you’ve got the greatest idea the BBC has ever had.’

Read on



Most passengers in UK trains seem to fiddle with their smartphones. But not all. This from a commuter train yesterday. Mind you, they’re all reading the same (free) newspaper, so maybe it’s not as hopeful as I thought.

The ad-blocking quandary

Interesting Forbes column by Lewis DVorkin:

It was my first day of class as a first-time Skype instructor, so I got right to it: “How many of you pay for content?” I asked a dozen or so University of Iowa journalism students as the fall semester got under way at my alma mater. Two, maybe three, gently raised an arm. Then came my follow-up question: “How many of you use ad blockers?” Nearly everyone put a hand straight up, proudly admitting to installing software that snuffs out display ads from their daily Web browsing experience. “That’s wonderful,” I said. “You don’t want to pay for content and you don’t want to see the ads that fund the content you don’t want to pay for. You might want to consider another profession.”

He goes on to describe how Forbes tackled the problem.

Since Dec. 17, 2015, a small percentage of those with ad blockers received this message:

Thanks for coming to Forbes. Please turn off your ad blocker in order to continue. To thank you for doing so, we’re happy to present you with an ad-light experience.

The remainder of visitors using ad blockers became the control group. They didn’t receive a message and continued to have full access to the site.

And the results?

1) From Dec. 17 to Jan. 3, 2.1 million visitors using ad blockers were asked turn them off in exchange for an ad-light experience.

2) 903,000, or 42.4%, of those visitors turned off the blockers and received a thank you message.

3) We monetized 15 million ad impressions that would otherwise have been blocked.

As important, the ad-light experience has focused our attention on faster delivery of our digital screens to consumers.

Interesting. And resourceful.

YouTube’s first decade


YouTube turns ten this year. ArsTechnica has a nice post that reflects on its history and its significance.


The site has become so indispensable that it feels like a basic part of the Internet itself rather than a service that lives on top of it. YouTube is just the place to put videos, and it’s used by everyone from individuals to billion-dollar companies. It’s obvious to say, but YouTube revolutionized Web video. It made video uploading and playback almost as easy as uploading a picture, handled all the bandwidth costs, and it allowed anyone to embed those videos onto other sites.

The scale of YouTube gets more breathtaking every year. It has a billion users in 61 languages, and 12 days of video are uploaded to the site every minute—that’s almost 50 years of video every day. The site just continues growing. The number of hours watched on YouTube is up 50 percent from last year.

It’s easy to forget YouTube almost didn’t make it. Survival for the site was a near-constant battle in the early days. The company not only fought the bandwidth monster, but it faced an army of lawyers from various media companies that all wanted to shut the video service down. But thanks to cash backing from Google, the site was able to fend off the lawyers. And by staying at the forefront of Web and server technology, YouTube managed to serve videos to the entire Internet without being bankrupted by bandwidth bills…

Great read. Recommended.

Medium is its own message

“Rather than casting our writing into the open maelstrom of the internet, Medium provides a sheltered space where writers don’t have to compete with other forms of content. Here, the written word rules, and everyone is an eager reader. If the internet is a city, Medium is a village.”

From an interesting essay by Marius Masalar reflecting on Medium as a publishing platform for writers and bloggers.