All posts in “jack dorsey”

Kim Kardashian could be our best hope for getting a Twitter edit function

Kim Kardashian out there trying to save Twitter.
Kim Kardashian out there trying to save Twitter.

Image: BG005/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Two weeks after meeting Trump to discuss prison reform, Kim Kardashian West is back fighting the good fight, this time trying to fix Twitter.

In a tweet on Tuesday, Kardashian said she had a “very good convo” with CEO Jack Dorsey about the oft-requested feature at Kanye West’s birthday on the weekend.

“I think he really heard me out on the edit button,” she wrote.

In the last year, Twitter has implemented changes to its platform, such as doubling the character limit of tweets from 140 to 280, threaded conversations, and improved its muting options.

Twitter remains stubborn on arguably the most requested feature on the platform, although the case for and against editing tweets suitably has valid points on both sides.

Kardashian first asked Twitter for an edit feature back in 2015. She argued that it’s preferable to deleting tweets that have typos in them, a common complaint among users. At the time, Dorsey said it was a “great idea.”

There hasn’t been much progress since. Questions have arisen about how long after a tweet you should be able to edit it, how many times you can edit a tweet, and whether only verified users should have the ability to edit.

Then there’s the influence of figures like Trump on the platform, with Twitter taking a view that the service helps to make public figures and policymakers accountable. Just imagine if Trump was able to edit his tweets.

In response to Kardashian’s latest tweet, all Dorsey could do was laugh it off.

And by the way, Dorsey really was there at the party.

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Twitter’s new troll filtering might actually prevent more abuse than any ban

Twitter has put its trolls on notice.

On Tuesday, Twitter released promising preliminary results from a test of its new proactive troll filtering tactic. It wanted to see if filtering (but not deleting) content from accounts that exhibited “trolling behavior” could make Twitter more of a platform for conversation and sharing, less an adversarial cesspool. 

In March, CEO Jack Dorsey announced that Twitter would work to measure and then improve the “conversational health” of the platform. The initiative came in response to the revelations of how Russian troll farms had used the platform to inflame the American public. Dorsey’s tweet storm announcing the initiative also seemed to say that Dorsey was taking an earnest look in the mirror at what the platform he created had become, and what it had done to the world. That was a welcome change of tune for the same company that had just a month prior continued to obfuscate Russian trolls’ use of Twitter.

Dorsey said that he wanted Twitter to undergo something of a reckoning, in which it had to actually define what it wanted “healthy conversation” to be. At least publicly, the definition of “conversational health” is still something Twitter is working out; in April, David Gasca, Twitter’s product manager for health, said that Twitter had received 230+ responses to its March Request for Proposals on how to best define, measure, and then improve conversational health on Twitter.

But it appears that the experiment is already underway. For its first improvements to “conversational health,” Twitter decided to see if it could reduce the amount of “disruptive behavior” by trolls.

“Some troll-like behavior is fun, good and humorous,” Gasca, and Del Harvey, VP of trust and safety, wrote in a post announcing the test. “What we’re talking about today are troll-like behaviors that distort and detract from the public conversation on Twitter, particularly in communal areas like conversations and search.”

To do so, it says it found a way to identify accounts that exhibit trolling behavioral markers. These markers include not having email verified accounts, a high volume of tweets directed at people the accounts don’t follow, and more. 

It then delisted the content posted by these accounts from search. And, since so much trolling takes place in the responses to tweets, responses created by these accounts would only be visible by clicking the “see more responses” option. 

Apparently, in its testing markets, Twitter saw a 4% drop in abuse reports from search, and 8% drop from comments. That’s nothing to sneeze at!

The post announcing the test explained the key challenge: how to minimize the voices whose only aim was to inflame or bully, but who weren’t actually posting content or behaving in ways that violated Twitter’s terms of service. Or, as Gasca and Harvey wrote, “how can we proactively address these disruptive behaviors that do not violate our policies but negatively impact the health of the conversation?”

Filtering rather than deleting content or suspending accounts essentially shrinks the microphone of trolls looking to stir up trouble. They can still post to their heart’s content — so there’s no “censorship” here — but the likelihood that people will see (and engage with) their content is just a bit lower. 

Then again, Twitter trolls obviously don’t agree that this isn’t censorship. Ok.

Filtering based on behavioral markers is also a proactive tactic. This addresses a frequent criticism of social and digital media companies: that they react to violate or inappropriate content, instead of preventing it in the first place. Specifically, some asked why so many Facebook group’s ties to Russia weren’t noticed earlier, since they contained obvious markers such as paying for ads about American protests in Roubles. And on YouTube, horrifying videos have made it onto the platform’s kids channels, racking up thousands of views by kids before parents noticed and reported the content.

Of course, proactively preventing abuse without chilling amounts of profiling, or raising cries of censorship, is a difficult challenge. Even in this new experiment by Twitter, trolls could get wise to Twitter’s behavioral flagging, and adjust their behavior to appear more organic. Mashable has asked Twitter if there are additional indicators not mentioned in the post, and whether Twitter will intentionally keep some of its markers private to avoid manipulation by sneaky, determined trolls. We’ll update this post when and if we hear back.

Additionally, abuse reports can certainly reflect whether users are having a bad time on Twitter — but it takes a big, trolling push to get users to actually report an account, instead of just ignore it. It’s not clear yet by what other markers Twitter might measure conversational health.

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ServiceTitan is LA’s least likely contender to be the next billion-dollar startup

The city of Glendale, Calif. seems like an unlikely place to grow one of the next billion-dollar startups in the booming Los Angeles tech ecosystem.

Located at the southeastern tip of the San Fernando Valley, the Los Angeles suburb counts its biggest employers as the adhesive manufacturer Avery Dennison; the Los Angeles industrial team for the real estate developer CBRE; the International House of Pancakes; Disney Consumer Products; DreamWorks Studios; Walt Disney Animation and Univision. “Silicon Beach” this ain’t.

But it’s here in the (other) Valley’s southernmost edge that investors have found a startup they consider to be the next potential billion-dollar “unicorn” that will come out of Los Angeles. The company is ServiceTitan, and its market… is air conditioners.

More specifically, it’s the contractors that service equipment like the heating, ventilation and cooling systems at commercial and residential properties across the U.S.

Founded by Ara Mahdessian and Vahe Kuzoyan in 2012, ServiceTitan is very much an up-and-coming billion-dollar business that’s a family (minded) affair.

Mahdessian and Kuzoyan met on a ski trip organized by the Armenian student associations at Stanford and the University of Southern California back when both men were in college.

Both programmers, the two reconnected after doing stints as custom developers during and after college, and then when they were developing tools for their families’ businesses as residential contractors in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale.

The two men built a suite of services to help contractors like their fathers manage their businesses. Now following a $62 million round of funding led by Battery Ventures last month, the company is worth roughly $800 million, according to people with knowledge of the investment, and is on its way to becoming Los Angeles’ next billion-dollar business.

Battery isn’t the only marquee investor to find value in ServiceTitan’s business developing software managing day labor.

Iconiq Capital, the investment firm managing the wealth of some of Silicon Valley’s most successful executives (the firm counts Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, and senior staff like Dustin Moskovitz and Sheryl Sandberg; Twitter chief Jack Dorsey; and LinkedIn founder and chief executive Reid Hoffman among its clients, according to a 2014 Forbes article), has also taken a shine to the now-gargantuan startup from Glendale.

It was Iconiq that put a whopping $80 million into ServiceTitan just last year — and while the 2017 cash infusion may have been larger, the company’s valuation has continued to rise.

That’s likely due to a continually expanding toolkit that now boasts a customer relationship management system, efficient dispatching and routing, invoice management, mobile applications for field professionals and marketing analytics and reporting tools.

“ServiceTitan’s incredibly fast growth is a testament to the brisk demand for new mobile and cloud-based technology that is purpose-built for the tradesmen and women in our workforce,” said Battery Ventures general partner Michael Brown — who’s taking a seat on the ServiceTitan board.

What distinguishes the ServiceTitan business from other point solutions is that they’ve taken to targeting not mom-and-pop small businesses but franchises like Mr. Rooter and George Brazil. Gold Medal Service, John Moore Services, Hiller Plumbing, Casteel Air, Baker Brothers Plumbing and Air Conditioning and Bonney may not be household names, but they’re large providers of contractors who work under those brands.

The company counts 400 employees on staff, and will look to use the money to continue to grow out its suite of products and services, according to a March statement announcing the funding.

And as Battery Ventures investor Sanjiv Kalevar noted in a blog post last year, the opportunity for software companies serving blue-collar workers is huge.

For people sitting at our desks and working behind laptops on programs like Microsoft Office, it can be easy to overlook the large, sometimes forgotten, workforce out there in construction, manufacturing, transportation, hospitality, retail and many other multi-billion dollar industries. Indeed, more than 60% of U.S. workers and even more globally fall into these “blue collar” industries.

By and large, these workers have not benefitted much from recent technology improvements available to office-based workers—think new email and workplace-collaboration technologies, or advanced sales and HR systems. Never mind the long-term opportunities for companies in these sectors from technologies like artificial intelligence, drones, and virtual or augmented reality; hourly and field workers are dealing with much more basic on-the-job challenges, like finding work, getting their jobs done on time and getting paid. These more basic needs can be solved with seemingly simple technologies—software for billing, scheduling, navigation and many other business workflows. These kinds of technologies, unlike AI, don’t automate away workers. Instead, they empower them to be more efficient and productive.

Some hard truths about Twitter’s health crisis


It’s a testament to quite how control freaky and hermetically sealed to criticism the tech industry is that Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey went unscripted in front of his own brand livestreaming service this week, inviting users to lob awkward questions at him for the first time ever.

It’s also a testament to how much trouble social media is in. As I’ve written before, ‘fake news’ is an existential crisis for platforms whose business model requires them to fence vast quantities of unverified content uploaded by, at best, poorly verified users.

No content, no dice, as it were. But things get a whole lot more complicated when you have to consider what the content actually is; who wrote it; whether it’s genuine or not; and what its messaging might be doing to your users, to others and to society at large.

As a major MIT study looking at a decade’s worth of tweets — and also published this week — underlines: Information does not spread equally.

More specifically, fact-checked information that has been rated true seems to be less sharable than fact-checked information that has been rated false. Or to put it more plainly: Novel/outrageous content is more viral.

This is entirely unsurprising. As Jonathan Swift put it all the way back in the 1700s: “Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it.” New research, old truth.

What’s also true is that as social media’s major platforms have scaled, so too have the problems blasted through their megaphones zoomed into mainstream view.

Concerns have ballooned. We’re now at a structural level, debating societal fundamentals like cohesion, civility, democracy. Even, you could argue, confronting humanity itself. Platform as a term has always had a dehumanizing ring. Perhaps that’s their underlying truth too.

Dorsey says the “health” of conversations on his platform is now the company’s “number one priority” — more than a decade after he typed that vapid first tweet, “just setting up my twttr”, when he presumably had zero idea of all the horrible things humans would end up using his technology for.

But it’s also at least half a decade after warnings that trolls and bots were running rampant on Twitter’s platform.

Turns out the future comes at you eventually. Even if you stubbornly refuse to listen as alarm after alarm are being sounded. “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee,” wrote John Donne, meditating on society and the individual, back in 1624.

A #280 assessment of what a buzzcut, bearded and careworn Dorsey now says he sees as Twitter’s main problem and thus priority boils down to something like this…

We know our platform is being used negatively, people are hurting and public conversation is being damaged. But we don’t know how to fix it because we don’t understand how to measure the individual and societal impacts of our technology. We think more tech can help. Pls help us.

What Twitter’s crisis tells us is that tech companies are terrible listeners. Although those of us outside the engineering room knew that already.

It’s hardly a surprise that techies suck at listening when they sit inside their hermetically sealed pods thinking it’s both their special gift and libertarian right to control levers that remotely affect other people’s lives while channelling the spice and dollars their way.

So it is a good sign, albeit horribly overdue, to see a nervous and contrite-seeming Dorsey stand in front of the firehose of user opinion — for 50 or so raw, unedited minutes.

Hopefully this performance — which he said would be repeated regularly, from here on in — signals an absolute conversion to reformation. A realization that social media platforms can’t engineer around societal responsibility. That listening and understanding is absolutely their day job.

Head-in-the-sand-ism will catch up with you eventually. Just as playing fast and loose finally overtook Uber’s founder and landed his company in all sorts of legal hot water.

So how did Dorsey and select members of his safety ‘A-team’ do in their first ‘awkward questions’ Periscope?

Fair to middling, is my assessment. It’s clear they still don’t really know how to fix the mess they are in. Hence Twitter soliciting proposals from the public. But admitting they don’t know what to do and reaching out for help is a big and important step.

To put it colloquially, they’ve realized the shit they’re in. And the shit that’s at stake. Hashtag #changeforreal

Dorsey seemed visibly uncomfortable with the Periscope process, which again is testament to how closed a box and operating shop Twitter has been. He hasn’t always been CEO but he is a founder so he’s absolutely on the hook for that.

And Twitter’s bunker mentality has clearly compounded its problems in identifying and responding to content issues that first flared on its platform and then raged. Unpicking that won’t be easy.

Indeed, he said several times that the changes he wants to happen “won’t happen overnight”. That changing Twitter will require a lot of work.

He also admitted the company has “a lot of historical divisions” and said it has not always been as collaborative as it could have. tl;dr inside Twitter there’s a bunch of other bunkers — which truly sounds like a culture nightmare.

So when he talked about the hard work coming I don’t think Dorsey just meant reengineering lots of systems and cranking out lots more user surveys. Because changing an ingrained culture and its processes is a beast. Which is why it’s much better to start from a place of enlightenment. But hey, silver lining, here Twitter finally, finally is, admitting it screwed up and wanting to start over.

At least it’s now saying it wants its product to have a holistic and healthy impact on the world. That it wants to try and reset the coarsening of public discourse that social media has wrought. Certainly it’s a more evolved mission statement than its previous one — which was basically: ‘Eat our free speech.’

That said, Dorsey’s focus on a new type of measurement — this idea of a ‘health metric’ — as the solution for toxic content seems to me problematic. Almost, you could say, like the trigger response of an engineer confronting an ethics textbook for the first time.

Because Twitter’s content problems really boil down to Twitter failing to enforce the community standards it already has. Which in turn is a failure of leadership, as I have previously argued.

A good current example is that it has an ads policy that bans “misleading and deceptive” ads. Yet it continues to accept advertising money from unregulated entities pushing dubiously obscure crypto exchanges and flogging wildly risky token sales.

Twitter really doesn’t need to wait for a new metric to understand that the right thing to do here is to take crypto/ICO ads off its platform right now.

Shucks, even Facebook has done this.

Yet Dorsey and his team omitted to mention ads when he was asked about crypto scams during the Periscope. They just talked about what they’re doing to tackle Twitter users trying to tweet-scam others into sending a bit of crypto.

Continuing to accept ad money attached to what’s still an essentially unregulated space, when there are so many visible and public concerns because scams really are part of the furniture, really is indefensible. Banning these ads is both common sense and just the right thing to do.

And so if Twitter needs to wait for someone else to invent some kind of holistic wellness metric in order to make that low-hanging Satoshi drop then, well, its culture change is going to be much harder and much more painful than Dorsey imagines.

Obsession with measurement and the search for a universal problem-solving metric — to try to quantify the “health, openness and civility of public conversation”, as Twitter puts it — also looks very much like a strategy to buy time.

It may ultimately turn out to be misdirection too; an attempt to deflect blame and divert criticism via solutioneering.

By outsourcing a challenge, and seeking to co-opt the energy and ideas of third parties, Twitter is also reframing what’s broken in a way that starts to spread responsibility for the problems its platform is causing. (Maybe it’s taken a leaf out of Facebook’s playbook on that.)

Content moderation is certainly a hard problem if you understaff it. But if you employ enough machine-aided humans to properly enforce your community standards then it’s quite possible to shrink a toxic content problem.

Throw enough resources in and content problems can become vanishingly small, even insignificant. This is known as community management.

Yes there are counter risks. Especially if, like Twitter, you’ve historically advertised yourself as the free speech wing of the free speech party.

But if you’re having trouble drawing service red lines around, for example, known neo nazis, for whom hate speech and agitating for violence is a way of life, then setting out on a long and winding quest to deconstruct the anatomy of society in the hopes of eventually being able to build algorithms that do a better job of keeping toxic content off your platform, well, that probably isn’t the fundamental fix you should be searching for.

The problem right now is that Twitter doesn’t have the courage — or, heck, the imagination — to enforce its own community guidelines.

Though the hard truth may well be that it just cannot afford to. That the business model never did stack up. Not if you have to factor in the cost of staffing up to properly moderate all the shit that’s being uploaded and thrown about.

Meanwhile the costs of toxic, hate inciting messages blitzkrieging public conversation via the amplifying megaphone of social media keep on rising…

In his Periscope plea for help, Dorsey also said he wants Twitter to be “one of the most trusted services in the world”. But if he thinks he can build a for-all-technotopia where liberals co-exist peacefully alongside neo nazis — thanks to a shiny new set of augmented reality controls that fade view from counter view — he’s still thinking fatally inside the tech industry black box.

Social media has always bled offline. Its wounds, like its users, are human. Its shaping impacts are felt by people and across society.

Another old truth: You can’t please all of the people, all of the time. So if Dorsey thinks he can find a technology fix for that age-old challenge he’s going to waste a whole lot more money and a whole lot more time — while the rest of us bleed.

Featured Image: TechCrunch/Bryce Durbin

Twitter is working to expand its verification to everyone

Now you can feel special too: Twitter is looking to open up its verification process to regular folk.

CEO Jack Dorsey revealed in a Periscope stream on Thursday that the company is working to expand its blue verification checkmark to all users.

“The intention is to open verification to everyone,” Dorsey said. “And to do it in a way that’s scalable, where we’re not in the way and people can verify more facts about themselves, and we don’t have to be the judge or imply any bias on our part.” 

It comes after Dorsey admitted verification is “broken” on the platform, and a small team under Twitter product director David Gasca has been tasked to rethink how the verification system works.

Originally intended for users to distinguish between the real and parody Twitter accounts of high profile celebrities, the blue checkmark became a symbol of credibility and status — something Gasca said is a “problem.” 

“In user research, when you ask people what do you think when you see the checkmark, they think of it as credibility.”

That’s the result of Twitter handing verification to public figures, even though the platform sees the checkmark as merely a verifier of identity.

“In user research, when you ask people what do you think when you see the checkmark, they think of it as credibility,” Gasca said, joining Dorsey for the live broadcast.

“Like, Twitter stands behind this person … Twitter believes what they’re saying something great and authentic, which is not at all what we mean by the checkmark. So it creates a lot of confusion.”

Dorsey didn’t offer up any details on what the new verification system would look like, but Gasca said that the future of verification may look to “increase context,” to help users interpret their message based on who they are.

Gasca offered the example of a basketball player, and how additional context in verification will aid readers in understanding their comments about another sport, or basketball itself.

It could be a little while off until everyone gets a checkmark. Dorsey said the company’s priority is verification around candidates in the 2020 U.S. election, to ensure people see credibility on the platform. 

Fair enough, considering Twitter’s role in the last presidential election.

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