A Peek Inside Twitter’s Prospective Platform Health “Cures”
Are Twitter’s vital signs really on an upswing? We take a deeper look at their efforts to move toward a clean bill of health.
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Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey has stated publicly over the last several months that the next great frontier for the platform is establishing what he vaguely referred to as “platform health.” Such promises are common among tech founders, and can often feel like lip service to those still challenged by the toxic environment that these platforms maintain even as progress is being made. But some of Twitter’s latest moves seem to hold the key to, if not a cure, at least some substantive treatment for what ails them.
Crackdowns on API Abuse
Starting June 19th, Twitter will be conducting an audit of any third-party apps that meet a certain threshold of access, ensuring that their use of the site’s APIs is safe and legitimate. The goal, according to Twitter’s head of site integrity Yoel Roth, is “ensuring that out platform is safe and promoting the privacy and safety of our users, and providing a level playing field commercially.” Developers using it for legitimate consumer use or for research will be largely unaffected by the review’s results. Those using these touches in a B2B capacity will be asked to enter into a commercial licensing agreement. And those using it in a manner that breaks policy will be booted from the program; 162,000 users were removed in late 2018, so there’s no reason to doubt how seriously the company is taking this new initiative.
The magic number of touches: 100,000 requests per day. When asked why 100,000, Roth (along with senior product developer Rob Johnson) responded, “Because this limit allows us to make concrete progress to combat inappropriate use of our developer platform, while isolating the impact to the developers using these endpoints the most” – and, I would imagine, in a legitimate fashion.
While the company didn’t frame it this way, TechCrunch was frank in attributing the move to a desire to avoid its own “Cambridge Analytica moment.” And indeed, the crackdown could make the site more attractive to developers than Facebook, whose recent string of challenges have made it a less trustworthy option. The safety this move provides is about more than trust; the lead time is designed to help developers get their proverbial houses in order before their audits; prior API policy changes were deployed too fast, resulting in service outages for developers…and accompanying frustration. Stronger relationships with these developers will hopefully serve as one major component of making Twitter a safer and “healthier” place to be online.
“It’s no secret that, as great as Twitter is at connecting you with people across the world, it’s also great at connecting you with bots, trolls, and spam,” Engadget’s Edgar Alvarez shared in a recent piece about Twitter’s aspirations toward platform health. “Unsurprisingly, Twitter wants that to end.” Alvarez correctly points out that these conversations are the biggest indicator of a platform’s health (or, in this case, sickness). He, along with TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez, have spent some time with Twitter’s latest attempt at a cure – the prototype twttr – and feel hopeful about its impact on what ails the site.
twttr’s prototypical methodology allows users to sign up to experiment with new features for the site, ahead of their large-scale deployment on the main app. Its features are more sparse than the typical app (Alvarez lamented this version’s lack of the recently upgraded camera capability), but differs in ways that could change the face of the full site as we know it. Currently, it exists to explore new ways of displaying and denoting conversations. Among the changes, according to TechCrunch’s Perez:
Hidden engagement stats: to see a tweet’s likes or retweets, you have to click on the post directly
- Reply threads: more reminiscent of a message board, replies are indented and replies coming from people you follow appear with a blue line (making them easier to find if a tweet goes viral or is otherwise cluttered with replies)
- A “show more” option: not all replies will be displayed. Instead, high quality or otherwise preferable responses will migrate toward the top, and others can be displayed when clicking “show more.”
- Feedback on the proposed changes can be easily shared from the menu bar, giving users the opportunity to share their likes and dislikes efficiently with Twitter engineers.
“It’s too early to tell whether these experimental features will manage to successfully filter bots, trolls, or spammers completely out of your mentions, Alvarez conceded. I personally wonder about the opinions and results of those who find themselves targeted with higher frequency, namely those from marginalized communities or those with large profiles and therefore larger targets on their proverbial backs. But as it happens, Twitter is trying to be more transparent in how it brings these individuals into their ranks- another possible factor on their path to health.
There are features, experiences, and processes on Twitter that can have disproportionate impact on certain populations- as an example, I can see the recently discovered “subscribe to conversations” feature’s potential for abuse fairly clearly. The company, recognizing its blind spots in a number of areas, is committing to bringing on individuals who can ask these questions.
Their recently released diversity report included a rise in female, Black, and Latinx employees, in areas including overall leadership and technical roles. But attrition numbers were also high among those populations, and the company voiced a dedication to exploring and eventually reducing that. They also voiced an aspiration to be at 5% Black and 5% Latinx employees overall, as well as better numbers on gender identification, sexual orientation, disability, and military status- goals that will contribute to their larger wish for platform health.
With better representation in all of these areas, consulting on major advances in third party access and how conversations are structured and prioritized, they’ll have better feedback and more voices in the room about how proposed features contribute to platform “illness” for underrepresented communities- and, in turn, for Twitter’s community of users as a whole.
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