Twitter lost the internet war
Late last night Vanity Fair dropped an investigation into how Twitter continues to struggle to fix its troll problem, and what the forces are that cause it to do nothing for months at a time. I particularly enjoyed this quote:
"At the same time, her defenders say, Harvey has been forced to clean up a mess that Twitter should have fixed years ago. Twitter’s backend was initially built on Ruby on Rails, a rudimentary web-application framework that made it nearly impossible to find a technical solution to the harassment problem."
Now that I've managed to stop laughing, this comment is yet another shrug from a large technology company trying to blame its tools rather than its own actions or responsibilities. Just like Facebook doesn't seem to know how Facebook works, Twitter would like the narrative to be that it's definitely the technology's fault:
You fast forward, and it was like, ‘Hey, shouldn’t we just have basic rules in place where if the suggestion is to suspend an account of a verified person, there should be a process in place to have a flag for additional review, or something?’ You’d think it would take, like, one line of code to fix that problem. And the classic response is, ‘That’s on our product road map two quarters from now.’”
Twitter has been... well, dysfunctional, for years now so this is not really a surprise at all. Until Jack Dorsey came back as sort-of CEO, marking the fourth CEO switch in a short period, the company didn't ship anything for years. Even now a few years later the platform remains largely stagnant as a product (and even basic troll-combatting features don't exist — you can create a full Twitter account with three fields, and it doesn't even verify your email!).
I'm a big fan of Twitter, and have used it vehemently since the very beginning, but it's astounding to see Twitter's inability to execute on its own product on display like this. This is a company that continues to drag its feet on any meaningful, bold changes to the product, and will happily blame technology debt.
The best part about this story isn't that Twitter blames the technology, but the shade the creator of Ruby on Rails is currently throwing, pointing out others successfully using Rails at scale (Shopify, for example).
Facebook executive's grave error
A Facebook executive made a grave error on Friday by sharing on Twitter — the irony is not lost on me — that he was happy with the result of the Mueller indictment on Sunday. Here's the key parts of the tweetstorm:
Very excited to see the Mueller indictment today. We shared Russian ads with Congress, Mueller and the American people to help the public understand how the Russians abused our system. Still, there are keys facts about the Russian actions that are still not well understood. [...] The main goal of the Russian propaganda and misinformation effort is to divide America by using our institutions, like free speech and social media, against us. It has stoked fear and hatred amongst Americans. It is working incredibly well. We are quite divided as a nation.
Executives sounding off on Twitter isn't that weird at Facebook, but this time, it didn't go well: he assumed that the indictment was only what it seemed on the surface, as did other Facebook employees. What happened next was, well, unsurprising.
Trump retweeted the thread, and Facebook suddenly realized it had its back against the wall — on the opposite side.
Now, it seemingly endorsed the narrative that others are trying to spin, and it suddenly found itself on the opposing side, looking like it disagreed with the entire Mueller investigation by endorsing the narrative that it wasn't about the election.
The entire piece from WIRED, summarizing the timeline of these events internally at Facebook, is worth reading to understand the company's role in the investigation and how it's basically in the Kobayashi Maru scenario for the next few years.
FYI: Upcoming events
It's almost events season again! Next week, Mobile World Congress in Barcelona begins. MWC is notable because all of the companies announce their latest phones — with one notable exception. Samsung's S9 is leaking like a sieve right now, but Sony, LG and others plan upgrades too.
SXSW is two weeks later, on March 9-18 as well. I'll make sure you're covered on both! :)
Google's machine learning is tackling heart problems
There's no question that the most interesting problem that AI may help us solve is in the medical realm. Google has begun teaching its 'brain' project about heart problems, and is seeing incredible results when combined with machine vision technologies.
Hackers got Linux running on the Nintendo Switch
I love this, even if it is a little crazy.