Zenefits makes more cuts; Twitter Selfies; Dropbox profitable*

Zenefits, the online HR platform that ousted its founding CEO recently as a part of a regulatory investigation regarding insurance sales (where the company makes its money), has announced more layoffs, an additional 9% of the company’s workforce, around 100 people. 250 were cut in February, as part of a revamp of sales and operations, following David Sacks — the former CEO of Yammer — assuming the helm as CEO. The company was valued at $4.5 billion in a raise of capital last year, and has disrupted the market for HR tools. Sacks has also jumped on the Zappos’ model of offering money for employees to leave in this reduction of force, he calls this ‘the Offer’. Sacks say he is making a new version of Zenefits: Z2. He spoke with William Alden of Buzzfeed, saying

The company isn’t making The Offer because we don’t want you. We do want you, but we want the best of you.

Twitter now allows self-retweeting, or what I want to call Twitter selfies:
Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 10.38.00 AM

Dropbox CEO Drew Houston says that the company has achieved a milestone that investors will like: the company is free cash flow positive, meaning operating cash minus capital expenditures. This will set the stage for an easier IPO, which is anticipated.

Twitter flip-flops on Politwoops (again)

Twitter has reversed its decision to bar Politwoops, a service which collects and preserves deleted tweets from public officials, from using the public Twitter API.
“Today we’re pleased to announce that we have come to an agreement with The Sunlight Foundation and The Open State Foundation around Politwoops,” the company said. “We look forward to continuing our work with these important organizations, and using Twitter to bring more transparency to public dialogue.”
Both organizations previously criticized Twitter for attempting to hide what public figures said in public but later recanted by deleting their tweets. Here’s what a spokesperson for the Sunlight Foundation, which backs the US version of Politwoops, told me when Twitter moved to block the international version:

‘To prevent public oversight when our representatives try to discreetly change their messaging represents a significant corporate change of heart on the part of Twitter and a major move on their part to privatize public discourse,’ they said.

‘Imagine if the Washington Post printed a retraction of a story, would it demand that all copies delivered to the home with the original story be returned? When a public statement is made, no matter the medium, can it simply be deleted and claimed as a proprietary piece of information?’

Twitter defended the move by saying that the “ability to delete one’s Tweets – for whatever reason – has been a long-standing feature of Twitter for all users” and that the company would “continue to defend and respect our users’ voices in our product and platform.” Providing cover to politicians actually helped other users.
Now the company has reversed its decision — the second time it’s done so where Politwoops is concerned. First it said the tool would be allowed to function on its platform; then it blocked Politwoops’ access to its public APIs; and now it has reversed course so the service can monitor the tweets politicians want to hide.
This flip-flopping makes sense given the importance of politics to Twitter. But, as I wrote when the company shut down the international version of Politwoops, the company’s inability to consistently enforce its rules (let alone uphold certain ideals) is the most worrisome part of the back-and-forth between it and the tool:

Consistent rules can be lived with and worked around. Inconsistent rules, however, lend some credence to the idea that Twitter might not be wise enough to decide what outside groups can do with public tweets. The company should have either shut down Politwoops before or allowed it to run into perpetuity.

In a way, it’s a lot like the controversy created whenever Politwoops did catch deleted tweets that shamed the politicians who sent them. Many of those tweets would have been fine if they hadn’t been deleted; it was only when their senders tried to act like they never existed that problems arose. It’s hard not to appreciate the symmetry between that and Twitter’s current situation.

And here the company has changed its mind again. Let’s see if that remains the case in a few months — we’re due for another reversal of course around March.


Twitter continues anti-abuse campaign with updated rules

Twitter has made changes to the “Twitter Rules” that dictate how people are allowed to use its service as part of its efforts to curb abuse on the platform.
Former chief executive Dick Costolo recognized Twitter’s abuse problem in February. Since then, the company has devoted more staff to moderating its service, introduced new harassment reporting tools, and taken steps to limit abusers’ ability to spew filth at their target from numerous Twitter accounts.
Now the company has updated the Twitter Rules to make its stance on abuse even clearer. The updated rules bar Twitter users from making violent threats; sharing another user’s personal information; harassing someone; misusing multiple accounts; impersonating others; and encouraging others to self-harm.
“We believe in freedom of expression and in speaking truth to power,” the company says in the new rules, “But that means little as an underlying philosophy if voices are silenced because people are afraid to speak up.” Basically: freedom of expression only works if it has reasonable boundaries.
The updated rules, like some of Twitter’s other attempts to curb abuse on its platform, have been accused of being misguided or meaningless if the company can’t prove that its efforts are more than a public relations gambit that obfuscate harassment whilst allowing the root of the problem to fester like an infection.
Given the reports about Twitter’s shortcomings and the ability of abusers to use for their own benefit the tools designed to stop them, it’s clear that people still aren’t convinced that the company is doing enough. It’s been almost a year since Twitter made harassment a priority but yet the problem continues to hound it.
At least the company knows this. “Keeping users safe requires a comprehensive and balanced approach where everyone plays a role,” wrote Twitter’s Megan Cristina. “We will continue to build on these initiatives to empower our users and ensure that Twitter remains a platform for people to express themselves.”
There’s always next year.

Twitter experiments with a non-reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter has changed a lot in the last few months. It replaced its stars with hearts. It entered the content aggregation business. And now, it’s testing a timeline that doesn’t present tweets in the reverse-chronological order used since its debut. In the process, it’s offering more evidence that it wants to compete with Facebook.
A Twitter spokesperson confirmed that the company is testing a new timeline. “This is an experiment. We’re continuing to explore ways to surface the best content for people using Twitter,” the spokesperson said in an email. “That’s all we have to share on the test at the moment.” Other questions weren’t answered.
The Facebook-ification of Twitter isn’t new. Everyone’s favorite little tweety bird has redesigned its user profiles, removed the limit on direct messages, and even changed its iconic “favorite” to the “like” most often associated with Facebook. But the reverse-chronological timeline continues to differentiate the networks.
Facebook doesn’t trust its users to be content with a time-ordered News Feed. The company uses all kinds of algorithms to determine what’s most likely to make its users scroll down through the status updates, image macros, and videos shared to its service. It’s almost like the company has to spoon-feed its users.
Twitter doesn’t bother with that. It simply regurgitates what other users have said, almost like it’s mama-birding its users with 140-character snippets of text. The stuff Twitter users put into the service is the same stuff (for the most part) that will come out when other users mindlessly check the service for updates.
A timeline like the one with which Twitter’s experimenting changes that. Now instead of an unfiltered feed that people can trust to show them whatever they people they follow have decided to share, now they’ll be presented with whatever view of the world Twitter thinks is most likely to keep their eyes on its service.
This isn’t the first time Twitter has changed the timeline. It’s also inserted tweets from users that a person doesn’t follow to try and get them to interact with new people, selected tweets a user might have missed with a “While you were away” feature, and created an “instant timeline” to acclimate new users to its service.
Though this experiment shouldn’t come as a surprise. Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey said in a second quarter earnings call that the company would “continue to question the reverse chronological timeline” as it attempts to “balance recency with relevance.” This experiment is a step in that direction.
Now the service will see how many of its users preferred to consume whatever Twitter forced back up its digital gullet or if they’ll like the more selective diet afforded by an algorithmically-determined timeline. Perhaps the company could ask Facebook for pointers on how to make its users take whatever they can get.
h/t Motherboard

Twitter improves the way photos are shown on its site

Twitter has changed the way images appear on its website. It used to display cropped photographs in rectangular grids; now it will show the entire un-cropped photo and collect multiple pictures into larger, more dynamic image galleries.
Product manager Akarshan Kumar said in a blog post that the update is part of Twitter’s efforts to move past 140 character missives. “While Twitter began as an all-text platform,” he wrote, “rich media has become essential to the experience.”

A before and after shot for how Twitter handles photos within a user's Twitter feed.

A before and after shot for how Twitter handles photos within a user’s Twitter feed.

Twitter has made other changes to pursue that goal. Its platform now supports automatically-playing videos, better photo-editing tools, and redesigned profiles that make it as easy to view users’ photos and videos as it is to see their tweets.
Perhaps the most noticeable change is the introduction of Moments, a new tool that makes it easy to view photos, videos, and tweets related to specific topics. I said the tool is Twitter’s trending feature done right; others aren’t as keen on it.
Given the mixed reaction to Moments, it’s no surprise that Twitter has swapped the tool’s position on its navigation bar with the notifications tab, which many people are going to use to learn about their new followers, likes, and retweets.
It’s hard not to see that change as underhanded. Combine the little blue line beneath Moments with its new position in a place where people used to find valuable information and this seems like a desperate bid for confused clicks.
The change to how Twitter displays images is a little more straightforward. It’s innocuous, for the most part, and earlier this morning I was asked if I wanted the site to continue to automatically “expand” potentially violent or sexual content, presumably because the update will make that content more noticeable.

Social networks face obstacles in road to e-commerce domination

Social networking companies have made no secret of their desire to convince people to purchase things discovered in ads, photos, and other content shared to their services. But the big social players are finding that more difficult than expected, even with the added sales activity from the holiday shopping season.
Over the last year, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest have spent much time developing ways to make shopping easier by eliminating the need to navigate outside the social network with various “buy” buttons. The idea is that if you build purchasing features directly into the social service, people will be more likely to make a transaction than if they were redirected to an online retail site or brand’s website. The problem is that consumers aren’t changing their shopping habits as much as hoped, according to a report from Recode.
The report focuses on the various “buy” buttons that have appeared on these social networks in the last year. It notes that Facebook’s is still seen as a test; that Twitter’s isn’t encountered very often even by its most fanatical users; and that Pinterest’s have led to fewer than 10 purchases a day from a retail partner.
A Facebook spokesperson reiterated the company’s stance — that it’s testing its commerce tools, and that it’s focused on discovering new products as well as allowing people to purchase them with a “buy” button — in an interview. Twitter didn’t respond to a request for comment. Pinterest emailed a prepared response:

Since launching Buyable Pins 6 months ago we are encouraged by the early results for merchants. Although it’s still early days with the program we are hearing from merchants that many of their customers coming through Buyable Pins are new and we are driving higher mobile conversions. We look forward to continuing to deliver value to our partners through the holiday season and a fun, easy shopping experience for our Pinners.

It’s worth noting that criticism of these “buy” buttons doesn’t come amid a holiday shopping slump. Reports indicate that Thanksgiving and Black Friday shopping habits were “perfectly average,” and that an estimated 34 percent of purchases from the last week were made by shoppers on their smartphones.
So it’s not that people are closing their wallets this year, nor that they were too busy eating potentially-worrisome turkey products to use their phones. They’re spending a fair amount and they’re doing so via their smartphones — they just don’t seem to be using social networking companies’ purchasing tools to do so.
This might not be too problematic for Facebook and Twitter. Both companies have introduced features unrelated to commerce — like a not-so-virtual assistant and summaries of breaking news — over the last few months. But Pinterest’s inability to convert digital window shoppers into buyers could be a problem.
Commerce has been Pinterest’s focus for a while. First came the buyable pins; then came a dedicated shopping section in its mobile apps; and then came a new visual search tool designed to allow people to identify products shown in pins. It’s obvious that the company wants people to buy things found on its service.
That makes Recode’s report more damning. A Pinterest spokesperson offered several examples of businesses finding new customers through its service — the same as they do on Facebook and Twitter — but only one of a brand improving sales by a notable margin. And even that was expressed as a percentage of growth instead of an absolute value, which makes it hard to tell how big a bump that really was.
“The effectiveness of buy buttons hans’t been fully realized at this early stage. Mobile users have many options for making purchases and it will take time for this payment route have an impact on overall mobile e-commerce sales,” Gartner analyst Brian Blau told Gigaom. “I think we will see [these companies] make adjustments and continue to configure these purchase points over the coming year to optimize their role in the mobile customer purchase funnel.”
It’s still early in this game. All of these companies have emphasized that their commerce efforts are being tested, and at least for Facebook and Twitter, it’s clear that the companies aren’t focusing all of their efforts on getting people to buy things through their platforms. Those companies will be fine either way.
Pinterest’s success or failure in this regard will be more interesting. The service is often used as a way for people to learn about new products. (Or, as it seems to be used in my house, as a never-ending source of hit-or-miss recipes.) Now it just has to bridge the gap between discovering a product and purchasing it.

Here’s what people think about Twitter ‘likes’

It’s been a little over 24 hours since Twitter replaced its star-clad favorite button with a like button that flashes a congratulatory heart when pressed. In that time the social network has been abuzz with comparisons to Facebook, complaints about the implications of a digital heart over a virtual star, and tongue-in-cheek calls for people to use star emoji instead of the like button.
Ultimately, only one thing matters: Does this make Twitter a better service? Switching button labels could prompt people to click ‘like’ more often, thus boosting engagement. But perhaps hitting ‘like’ will also lead to fewer retweets, which, in turn, could have its own set of changes. It’s a little early to tell how the switch to “likes” instead of “favorites” might affect the social network. It’s clear what the company wants to happen, and the most vocal of its existing users have made their opinions known, too. (I asked Twitter about some of these issues, and whether or not there’s been a difference in usage in the day since the switch, but have yet to hear back.)
That said, one of the most common complaints I’ve seen is that changing “favorite” to “like” makes it harder to use the button to communicate different ideas. The veneer of positivity implied by the jovial red heart has proven anathema to Twitter users who rely on sardonic lingo to communicate with each other. That’s hogwash; “like” isn’t more overtly positive than “favorite” used to be.
Another frequent complaint might be more valid: The idea that replacing a simple star with a heart — which has symbolized romantic love longer than it’s been an interaction tool on social networking platforms — could make it easier for men to harass women on the service. Twitter already has a harassment problem, and according to the backlash against the change, hearts won’t help.
I haven’t noticed a change in how I’m using this button. Besides the novelty of a new animation (who isn’t a sucker for hearts that pop into being?) this seems like another change that people will whine about and promptly forget. And it doesn’t matter what Twitter’s existing users think about the hearts: This is all about helping people new to the service feel a little more welcome.
That might actually be the biggest problem with the new “like” button. Much like other changes that make Twitter more scrutable to newcomers, from the redesigned profile pages to the updated conversation view, this changeup has Twitter users scared their playground of self-involved witticisms might soon be filled by people who are sincere and kind to each other. Oh, the humanity!
Those people might be in for a surprise. UserTesting found that many people (74 percent of those polled) liked the new hearts, whether it’s because of the animation that accompanies it or because they think it’s more user-friendly than the stars used to be. Another 16 percent of respondents didn’t care; only 10 percent preferred the old way. Most people won’t mourn these dead stars.
Of course, those findings are based on a 50-person survey. Maybe a different batch of 50 people would have different feelings. But I suspect the most damning finding — which is that 72 percent of people didn’t even notice the change until it was pointed out to them — won’t vary across different groups. Twitter’s core users are upset about something most people won’t even see.
Not that all of this will matter in a few days anyway. It’s only a matter of time before Twitter users move on with their lives and forget that a small icon was switched to another small icon with a different name. Call it Twitter’s stages of grief: anger; humor; acceptance; and forgetting anything ever happened. Eventually the service’s updates always win over users’ hearts and minds.
(Pun intended.)

Twitter swaps the ‘favorite’ for the ‘like’

Twitter has done away with the “favorite” button in a move that signals yet more changes for the social network.
Twitter has steadily become more like Facebook over the last few years. It’s redesigned its profiles, emphasized photos, and removed the character limit from its direct messages. All of these changes make its service more welcoming to people who have only ever used Facebook as their primary social network.
With today’s update, whenever someone wants to indicate their approval of a decent tweet or Vine, they’ll be asked to “like” it instead of being given the option of clicking the “Favorite” button. The intent is the same — it’s just that the name for pressing that button, which is now a heart instead of a star, has received an update. (Basically, instead of seeing a star to favorite, you’ll now see a heart.)
Periscope users won’t notice a change. The live-streaming service has featured since its debut multi-colored hearts people send whenever they like what they see. Twitter believes that bringing these hearts to its other services (the main Twitter service and Vine) will make them easier for newcomers to understand.
“You might like a lot of things, but not everything can be your favorite,” Twitter’s Akarshan Kumar says in a blog post. “The heart, in contrast, is a universal symbol that resonates across languages, cultures, and time zones. The heart is more expressive, enabling you to convey a range of emotions and easily connect with people. And in our tests, we found that people loved it.”
Kumar’s reasoning might be a little dramatic, but being a global service requires Twitter to find a symbol that everyone can understand. And it doesn’t make sense for one Twitter app to feature hearts while the others have stars. But there might be another reason for this change: Being more like Facebook.
Changing the “favorite” to the “like” is another small way Facebook users could feel more welcome on Twitter. The language was confusing — a person really should only be able to have one “favorite” tweet at a time — and different from Facebook’s “like” merely for the sake of distancing Twitter from that service.
Will it mean much in the long run? Not really. People will complain about the change at first, then they’ll use it the same way they used the “favorite” button, and then a whole bunch of Twitter users will never know that button existed. But even this small of a change could make Twitter a little more approachable.
“We want to make Twitter easier and more rewarding to use,” Kumar says in his post, “and we know that at times the star could be confusing, especially to newcomers.” Now that itty-bitty barrier to entry has been bulldozed over.

Here’s how much Twitter’s restructuring is expected to cost

Twitter has released its third quarter earnings report under its newly appointed CEO. And besides sharing that ad revenues have jumped, monthly active users have stayed relatively flat, and trumpeting its recent product changes, the company also revealed that it expects corporate restructuring to cost between $5 million and $15 million next quarter.
That news comes as new-again chief executive Jack Dorsey lays off employees to cut the social network’s costs. In a not-so-jargon-free letter published with a tweet, Dorsey confirmed that Twitter expects to “part ways” with up to 336 people from “across the company,” with a special focus on the engineering team.
“Product and Engineering are going to make the most significant structural changes to reflect our plan ahead,” Dorsey wrote in the letter announcing the layoffs. “We feel strongly that engineering will move much faster with a smaller and nimbler team, while remaining the biggest percentage of our workforce.”
The layoffs came as a surprise to many in the company, at least some of whom found out they would have to start looking for work when they attempted to access their Twitter email accounts and were told their logins no longer worked. Others heard the news through phone calls or, if those were missed, voicemail.
Dorsey announced plans to give one-third of his Twitter stock (roughly 1 percent of the company) to remaining employees a little over a week later. That equates to a $200 million giveaway, which Dorsey explained as him preferring to “have a smaller part of something big than a bigger part of something small.” It seems the corollary is that he’d rather share a big chunk of money with a smaller team.
Now there’s a dollar amount attached to all the changes Dorsey plans to make now that he’s back at Twitter’s helm. The company’s stock fell in after-hours trading when the earnings report was published.

Facebook search tools take aim at Twitter’s relationship with news

Facebook is updating its search tool to make it easier for users to find things that interest them among the 2 trillion items archived by the company’s index.
The update boasts personalized search suggestions, the ability to search through public posts in addition to those made by friends or family, and a new tool that allows people to view public conversations around news stories. That last item is by far the most interesting — and the one most likely to worry Twitter.
Twitter often bills itself as a forum for public conversations. Unless someone makes their entire account private, every 140-characters-or-fewer missive is indexed and can be found by anyone using the service’s search function. This makes it relatively easy to find and participate in active conversations — especially when used in conjunction with hashtags, Twitter’s defining mark. Facebook has basically just recreated one of the most useful parts of Twitter.
I doubt this will convince Twitter users to suddenly use Facebook as a home for their pithy, snarky-or-smarmy remarks about the day’s news. And that’s OK. Facebook has many times as many monthly active users as Twitter; and with more and more people using services like Instagram or Messenger, it’s already established itself as the social network of choice for more than a billion people. Now, it just has to make sure those people don’t have dalliances with other apps.
Put another way: Facebook has just removed another reason people might decide to sign up for Twitter instead of remaining content with its services. (Or, at the very least, given casual Twitter users one less reason to occasionally stray from Facebook.) The company has become a magician willing to pull anything — Snapchat clones, standalone messaging apps, improved search tools, etc. — from its hat to prevent its all-but-captive audience from checking out another exhibit.
The changes to Facebook’s search tool will likely seem weird to people who joined the network for the purpose of staying in touch with their real-life social circles. But if Twitter and other platforms (like Reddit) have shown us anything, it’s that many will also want to have conversations with interesting folks they’ve never met, and discuss topics that might not appeal to the people in their daily lives. It’s a very kumbaya-esque mission to connect people with random people who happen to share their interests as well as the people in their everyday lives.
Still, the changes are unlikely to make Twitter a ghost town. Twitter users have their cliques; they prize their follower counts; and probably value having a place where they can express an opinion without repercussion. One of the main things stopping people from having public conversations on Facebook’s platform is the “real name” policy that prevents users from hiding their identities. (Or in some cases embracing their true selves, trying to escape dangerous situations, or simply using whatever unique name their parents gave them.) Twitter and Reddit are both popular at least partly because they don’t have policies like that.
Then again, Facebook doesn’t have to win anyone’s heart or mind — it just has to hold its users’ attention tightly enough that it doesn’t wander. This improved search feature is just the latest beast it’s pulled from its hat to do just that.