Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Amazon Buys Twitch For $970 Million

 Live Streaming Site To Up Its Game

Twitch (formerly is a video streaming site which has become one of the premier social platforms for gamers to share the experience of playing through games, and even to play them collaboratively as in the great Internet social experiment Twitch Plays Pokémon.

It’s one of the biggest sites you’ve probably never heard of, with 55 million monthly visitors. It accounts for 40% of all streaming traffic online, and during peak hours even has 2% of all internet traffic in the U.S. running through it – only Netflix, Google, and Apple account for more. All this is very impressive for a company which was only set up three years ago as an offshoot of, a site set up so that founder Justin Kan could broadcast his life 24/7 (‘lifecasting’).

And so, naturally, it has been snapped up by one of the web’s big players – in this case Amazon. This week the ecommerce giant announced that it was purchasing Twitch for $970 million cash.


The move is a little surprising considering that earlier this year Google-owned YouTube was reportedly in talks with the site for a similar amount. While the world’s foremost video-hosting site may have seemed a more natural choice to take over Twitch, there were allegedly anti-trust issues in play which tripped the deal up in its later stages.

Additionally, in a statement accompanying the announcement of the deal, Twitch CEO Emmett Shear stated that ‘Being part of Amazon will let us do even more for our community’. The implication, mirroring that reported by inside sources, seems to be that Twitch was offered more freedom under Amazon’s wing. It will remain independent, but backed by the deep pockets and international infrastructure of Jeff Bezo’s company.

It is this infrastructure and ready capital which will prove so important to Twitch. While the company was offered hundreds of millions of dollars in funding by venture capital investors, they felt that what they really needed was an established system of distribution which they could piggy-back on rather than undertake the onerous task of establishing a global network themselves.

Amazon is a perfect fit in this regard, and the licensing deals which it holds with many media companies means that negotiating the tricky copyright issues around the live broadcasting of games will be considerably easier.

amazon ceo jeff bezos

The decision also makes sense for Amazon, who have been looking to move into game development for some time now with their Amazon Game Studio to round out the media development wing of the website. Their aggressive expansion into television production in particular could be a model for how they hope to crack the lucrative gaming market. Amazon are already the second-largest sellers of games behind Valve’s online Steam store, and by bringing Twitch into the fold they are buying the eyes of millions of gaming customers.

Twitch’s legions of loyal users probably won’t experience a huge shift after this deal, particularly considering Shear’s expression of intent to remain as independent as possible. It’s also very much in Amazon’s interests to let Twitch do what they do best, which is to build what is fast becoming the most popular social platform for gamers in history.

Instagram Introduces New Analytic Tools

 App Becomes A More Viable Tool For Brand Promotion

Ever since Facebook bought Instagram for a cool $1 billion back in 2012, the photo sharing site has been in an enviable position. With the economic support of Zuckerberg’s social media empire behind it, it has been able to grow and develop without the immediate pressure of having to monetise the attention of its 150 million+ dedicated users.

Nothing good lasts forever, though, and the time has come for Instagram to start turning its attention to the uncool issue of revenue generation. That spectre has been floating around the app for about a year now, since Instagram started inserting ads into users’ feeds back in late 2013. Additionally Facebook leaked their Snapchat rival bolt via an Instagram banner ad last month, so users have had plenty of time to get used to the idea of beautifully filtered photos trying to sell them stuff.

instagram marketing

Now it seems as though the app is starting to get serious about appealing to marketers. It’s rolled out a suite of deeper analytics to allow advertisers greater insight into how their campaigns are performing and being shared – or not, as the case may be. Although the service has been selling ads for a year, it’s been difficult for those investing to have any real ideas about the returns they’re getting. So far the system has relied upon the Instagram team manually updating advertisers on how their campaigns are getting on, which is good for building relationships with marketers but not so great if clients want a more data-heavy idea of how they’re doing.

While the new system will allow advertisers to see how their campaigns are doing in real time, they won’t be able to make adjustments with the same flexibility; for example, by making increased on-the-fly investments in campaigns which are garnering unexpected levels of attention. Presumably this won’t be long in coming, however.

On a functional level, businesses will not only be able to see how their investments are working but will be able to plan and execute them via a dashboard interface on their desktop – previously advertisers have had to operate via mobile along with the rest of Instagram’s users.

instagram marketing

When it comes to encouraging marketers to see their site as a viable option for investment, developers have two ways to go. They can alter the experience of using the app to make it easier for advertisers to get greater access to users, as Twitter have done in their recent decision to insert favourited tweets in people’s Timelines, even by people who the user doesn’t follow. The problem with this, as Twitter have discovered, is that people don’t like having unwanted content shoved in their faces for sake of appealing to marketers.

The alternative, which is the route Instagram seems to be following (for now), is to set up a sophisticated set of tools for marketers behind the scenes so that they can best manipulate the platform as it is. The main advantage of this, of course, is that since users don’t see anything they don’t have anything to complain about, apart from a sneaking sense of discomfort as posts which seem to prominently feature Coke products start to crop up more and more.

Majority Of Digital Media Now Consumed Via Apps

 Smartphones And Tablets Rule, Apparently

It doesn’t take much to realise the ubiquity of the smartphone. Just step outside, or look around your group of friends, or look at your own hand – you’re probably holding one right now. You can run your whole life from your phone, from banking to booking holidays to replying to emails to watching videos of baby pandas. All the most vital aspects of modern life are in your pocket.

It seems like something of a formality, then, for a recent survey to reveal that mobile apps account for the majority of our time spent using digital media. 52% of our online activity takes place through apps, and if you include mobile browsing that figure jumps to 60%. Desktop-based digital media consumption thus accounts for only 40% for our online lives.

smartphone apps

Also somewhat notably, while people are consuming more digital media than ever (a 24% increase on last year) that media is coming from fewer and fewer sources. 42% of all app time on smartphones takes place in the user’s most used app – which in most cases means Facebook, especially with those aged 25-34 who spend 18.5% of their time on apps on the social network. Three out of every four minutes of app usage takes place on one of the user’s top four apps.

What the data also shows, interestingly, is that there is a dedicated base of app power users: 7% of smartphone users account for almost half of all download activity in a given month. Most users, however, spend their time on a few main apps. Discounting functional apps like Google Maps and Gmail, Facebook is by far the most used followed by YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter. Despite all the fuss made over exciting new social networks, amongst the older generation there is a lean towards old stalwarts: Words With Friends and Solitaire both beat out Pinterest in the 55+ demographic.

The main takeaway from all this, though, is that social networking, and the internet in general, is going mobile at a far more rapid pace than anyone really seems to be anticipating. Just as ten years ago the idea that someone would move into a new house and not bother to install a landline phone would seem ridiculous, perhaps a decade from now the desktop computer will be seen as an anachronism in comparison to the ease and portability of smartphones and tablets. Particularly with the gradual shift of data off local servers and into the cloud – the placing of the iCloud app as the 11th most used app reinforces this – means that the additional memory which a PC provides is of less and less relevance.

young people apps

What is clear, from the fact that social media takes up a quarter of all time spent on mobile apps, is that the increase in mobile usage is driven by a desire for connectivity as much as for convenience. Especially among the 18-24 demographic, where all but three of the top ten apps by use are social (the three exceptions being Pandora Radio, Netflix, and iFunny – the latter of which is arguably at least partly social), it is clear that social networking and the app market make for perfect, and lucrative, bedfellows.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

OKCupid Co-Founder Speaks Further On User Experimentation

 OKCupid Lies To You Almost As Much As You Lie To It

Christian Rudder, co-founder of OKCupid, has spoken further about his company’s experimentation with users following his controversial blog post ‘We Experiment On Human Beings!’ last week. After admitting that the post was ‘sensationally written’ and at least partly intended to incite active debate around the topic, he defended the dating website’s actions on the grounds that it was part of the ‘scientific method’ – that without this kind of experimentation no website could ever hope to improve its users’ experience.

okcupid dating
The backlash against OKCupid (and Facebook, for a similar experiment that they admitted to conducting earlier this year) has mainly centred on the idea that there is some implicit agreement between user and company, that the obligation rests with these companies to represent our data in a reasonable and expected way.

The first problem is that we don’t see everything we theoretically ‘should’ on social media sites anyway. Facebook rolled out its Top Stories feature some time ago, wherein it was the most popular and commented-upon posts which took up most of the space on users’ feeds rather than relying on pure chronology. Users grumbled, but there was still the option to view posts by ‘most recent’ and clearly enough people were happy with Top Stories for it to stay.

Likewise, as Rudder pointed out, OKCupid already uses certain metrics and algorithms to determine who is compatible and who isn’t. These are not written on tablets of stone, contrary to popular belief – thousands of years of human intellectual endeavour have gone into the figuring out what makes people fall in love, and it seems unlikely that a couple of guys managed to crack it on their first try (even if they did go to Harvard). Constant tweaking and refinement is the name of the game when it comes to perfecting user experience, and doubtless these same people would be kicking up a fuss about some other aspect that wasn’t running according to their exact preferences.

okcupid dating
Perhaps most importantly, everyone who has complained about this is a shameless hypocrite. To launch into self-righteous indignation over how you are represented on a dating site of all places seems to lack so much self-awareness as to be comic. The stereotype of the 22 stone, thrice-divorced chain smoker who lists themselves as having an athletic body and enjoying long walks on the beach is beyond a cliché by this point, but the fact remains that everyone misrepresents themselves on dating sites as well as on the internet in general.

Steven Furtick said that ‘the reason we struggle with insecurity is because we’re comparing our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel,’ and yet that doesn’t stop us posting pictures of our amazing safari but not of us curled up in bed with the flu, of fancy dinners with friends but not eating McDonalds alone in our car. Perhaps one day we’ll reach a stage of self-confidence sufficient to represent our true selves both online and off, but until that mythical point it’s hard to blame OKCupid for fiddling with a few profiles to try and find out who we really are, and who we might really love.

WWI Remembered On Social Media

 People Come Together To Commemorate Losses Of The Great War

Wilfred Owen, as he watched his fellow soldiers die beside him the trenches, asked ‘What passing-bells for those who die as cattle?’ Now, a hundred years later, on the centenary of the beginning of World War I, people have taken to social media to remember and commemorate those who gave their lives during the conflict.

wwi centenary
While the politicians’ speeches and newspaper articles were about the big picture, social media gave people a chance to speak out about the personal effect of the Great War; people spoke of grandparents, neighbours, teachers who gave their lives.

Engagement with social media also gave organisations a chance to make public information about the War in new and innovative ways. The Greater London Reserve Forces’ and Cadets’ Association (GL RFCA) created a Facebook page for a fictional soldier from Battersea called Walter Carter which was then updated in real time with posts about events leading up to the outbreak of war, incorporating real historical documents and references.

On Twitter the hashtag #WWIcentenary was trending, with people using it to share the memories which had been passed down to them. Since Harry Patch, the last British veteran of the trenches died in 2009 the importance of maintaining this history has become more acute and social media acted as a forum for people to collectively share and store these memories. Almost sixty thousand people tweeted with the hashtag #WWI in July alone, with many of these being concerned with personal memories and experience: according to the website, 1200 of those tweets alone mentioned ‘home,’ and over 1600 mentioned ‘love.’

wwi memorial
The coinciding of the centenary with the Commonwealth games gave an additional poignancy to proceedings, with the contributions from all the former nations of the British Empire being recognised. David Cameron used #WWIcentenary to talk about a special service at Glasgow Cathedral to recognise the contributions of the Commonwealth nations, and individuals used social media as a platform to speak about those who they feared may be forgotten – such as the 400,000 Muslims who fought for the Allies during the conflict.

People also took the opportunity to launch campaigns to bring this mass remembrance offline. The hashtag #lightsout was created to encourage people to switch off their lights between 10 and 11 pm tonight, a reference to Sir Edward Grey’s remark at the outbreak of war that ‘The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.’

All this helps to remind us that social media is not simply a platform for a display of our own lives, or a tool to facilitate business – it is what it says it is: a society. Its strength is not something inherent, but only a product of the interaction of the billions of individuals who use it, and one may hold out some hope that that the kind of international conversation and cooperation seen on this anniversary is something of a guarantee that that which is being remembered is truly being consigned to history.