6 million users had installed third-party Twitter clients

Twitter tried to downplay the impact deactivating its legacy APIs would have on its community and the third-party Twitter clients preferred by many power users by saying that “less than 1%” of Twitter developers were using these old APIs. Twitter is correct in its characterization of the size of this developer base, but it’s overlooking millions of third-party app users in the process. According to data from Sensor Tower, six million App Store and Google Play users installed the top five third-party Twitter clients between January 2014 and July 2018.

Over the past year, these top third-party apps were downloaded 500,000 times.

This data is largely free of reinstalls, the firm also said.

The top third-party Twitter apps users installed over the past three-and-a-half years have included: Twitterrific, Echofon, TweetCaster, Tweetbot and Ubersocial.

Of course, some portion of those users may have since switched to Twitter’s native app for iOS or Android, or they may run both a third-party app and Twitter’s own app in parallel.

Even if only some of these six million users remain, they represent a small, vocal and — in some cases, prominent — user base. It’s one that is very upset right now, too. And for a company that just posted a loss of one million users during its last earnings, it seems odd that Twitter would not figure out a way to accommodate this crowd, or even bring them on board its new API platform to make money from them.

Twitter, apparently, was weighing data and facts, not user sentiment and public perception, when it made this decision. But some things have more value than numbers on a spreadsheet. They are part of a company’s history and culture. Of course, Twitter has every right to blow all that up and move on, but that doesn’t make it the right decision.

To be fair, Twitter is not lying when it says this is a small group. The third-party user base is tiny compared with Twitter’s native app user base. During the same time that six million people were downloading third-party apps, the official Twitter app was installed a whopping 560 million times across iOS and Android. That puts the third-party apps’ share of installs at about 1.1 percent of the total.

That user base may have been shrinking over the years, too. During the past year, while the top third-party apps were installed half a million times, Twitter’s app was installed 117 million times. This made third-party apps’ share only about 0.4 percent of downloads, giving the official app a 99 percent market share.

But third-party app developers and the apps’ users are power users. Zealots, even. Evangelists.

Twitter itself credited them with pioneering “product features we all know and love,” like the mute option, pull-to-refresh and more. That means the apps’ continued existence brings more value to Twitter’s service than numbers alone can show.

Image credit: iMore

They are part of Twitter’s history. You can even credit one of the apps for Twitter’s logo! Initially, Twitter only had a typeset version of its name. Then Twitterrific came along and introduced a bird for its logo. Twitter soon followed.

Twitterrific was also the first to use the word “tweet,” which is now standard Twitter lingo. (The company used “twitter-ing.” Can you imagine?)

These third-party apps also play a role in retaining users who struggle with the new user experience Twitter has adopted — its algorithmic timeline. Instead, the apps offer a chronological view of tweets, as some continue to prefer.

Twitter’s decision to cripple these developers’ apps is shameful.

It shows a lack of respect for Twitter’s history, its power user base, its culture of innovation and its very own nature as a platform, not a destination.

P.S.:

twitterrific

Facebook says it “disagrees” with the New York Times’ criticisms of its device-integrated APIs

Facebook has responded to a New York Times story that raises privacy concerns about the company’s device-integrated APIs, saying that it “disagree[s] with the issues they’ve raised about these APIs.”

Headined “Facebook Gave Device Makers Deep Access to Data on Users and Friends,” the New York Times article criticizes the privacy protections of device-integrated APIs, which were launched by Facebook a decade ago. Before app stores became common, the APIs enabled Facebook to strike data-sharing partnerships with at least 60 device makers, including Apple, Amazon, BlackBerry, Microsoft and Samsung, that allowed them to offer Facebook features, such as messaging, address books and the like button, to their users.

But they may have given access to more data than assumed, says the article. New York Times reporters Gabriel J.X. Dance, Nicholas Confessore and Michael LaForgia write that “the partnerships, whose scope has not been previously reported, raise concerns about the company’s privacy protections,” as well as its compliance with a consent decree it struck with the Federal Trade Commission in 2011. The FTC is currently investigating Facebook’s privacy practices in light of the Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal.

“Facebook allowed the device companies access to the data of users’ friends without their explicit consent, even after declaring that it would no longer share such information with outsiders,” the New York Times story says. “Some device makers could retrieve personal information even from users’ friends who believed they had barred any sharing, The New York Times found.”

Facebook said in April it would begin winding down access to its device-integrated APIs, but the New York Times says that many of those partnerships are still in effect.

Facebook is already under intense scrutiny by lawmakers and regulators, including the FTC, because of the Cambridge Analytica revelation, which raised serious concerns about the public APIs used by third-party developers and the company’s data-sharing policies.

“In the furor that followed, Facebook’s leaders said that the kind of access exploited by Cambridge in 2014 was cut off by the next year, when Facebook prohibited developers from collecting information from users’ friends,” the New York Times says. “But the company officials did not disclose that Facebook had exempted the makers of cellphones, tablets and other hardware from such restrictions.”

Facebook told the New York Times that data sharing through device-integrated APIs adhered to its privacy policies and the 2011 FTC agreement. The company also told the newspapers that it knew of no cases where a partner had misused data. Facebook acknowledged that some partners did store users’ data, including data from their Facebook friends, on their own servers, but said that those practices abided by strict agreements.

In a post on Facebook’s blog, vice president of product partnerships Ime Archibong reiterates the company’s stance that the device-integrated APIs were controlled tightly.

“Partners could not integrate the user’s Facebook features with their devices without the user’s permission. And our partnership and engineering teams approved the Facebook experiences these companies built,” he continued. “Contrary to claims by the New York Times, friends’ information, like photos, was only accessible on devices when people made a decision to share their information with those friends. We are not aware of any abuse by these companies.”

But the New York Times report claims that Facebook’s partners were able to retrieve user data on relationship status, religion, political leanings and upcoming events, and were also able to get data about their users’ Facebook friends, even if they did not have permission.

“Tests by The Times showed that the partners requested and received data in the same way other third parties did,” it says. “Facebook’s view that the device makers are not outsiders lets the partners go even further, The Times found: They can obtain data about a user’s Facebook friends, even those who have denied Facebook permission to share information with any third parties.”

Adobe CTO leads company’s broad AI bet

There isn’t a software company out there worth its salt that doesn’t have some kind of artificial intelligence initiative in progress right now. These organizations understand that AI is going to be a game-changer, even if they might not have a full understanding of how that’s going to work just yet.

In March at the Adobe Summit, I sat down with Adobe executive vice president and CTO Abhay Parasnis, and talked about a range of subjects with him including the company’s goal to build a cloud platform for the next decade — and how AI is a big part of that.

Parasnis told me that he has a broad set of responsibilities starting with the typical CTO role of setting the tone for the company’s technology strategy, but it doesn’t stop there by any means. He also is in charge of operational execution for the core cloud platform and all the engineering building out the platform — including AI and Sensei. That includes managing a multi-thousand person engineering team. Finally, he’s in charge of all the digital infrastructure and the IT organization — just a bit on his plate.

Ten years down the road

The company’s transition from selling boxed software to a subscription-based cloud company began in 2013, long before Parasnis came on board. It has been a highly successful one, but Adobe knew it would take more than simply shedding boxed software to survive long-term. When Parasnis arrived, the next step was to rearchitect the base platform in a way that was flexible enough to last for at least a decade — yes, a decade.

“When we first started thinking about the next generation platform, we had to think about what do we want to build for. It’s a massive lift and we have to architect to last a decade,” he said. There’s a huge challenge because so much can change over time, especially right now when technology is shifting so rapidly.

That meant that they had to build in flexibility to allow for these kinds of changes over time, maybe even ones they can’t anticipate just yet. The company certainly sees immersive technology like AR and VR, as well as voice as something they need to start thinking about as a future bet — and their base platform had to be adaptable enough to support that.

Making Sensei of it all

But Adobe also needed to get its ducks in a row around AI. That’s why around 18 months ago, the company made another strategic decision to develop AI as a core part of the new  platform. They saw a lot of companies looking at a more general AI for developers, but they had a different vision, one tightly focussed on Adobe’s core functionality. Parasnis sees this as the key part of the company’s cloud platform strategy. “AI will be the single most transformational force in technology,” he said, adding that Sensei is by far the thing he is spending the most time on.”

Photo: Ron Miller

The company began thinking about the new cloud platform with the larger artificial intelligence goal in mind, building AI-fueled algorithms to handle core platform functionality. Once they refined them for use in-house, the next step was to open up these algorithms to third-party developers to build their own applications using Adobe’s AI tools.

It’s actually a classic software platform play, whether the service involves AI or not. Every cloud company from Box to Salesforce has been exposing their services for years, letting developers take advantage of their expertise so they can concentrate on their core knowledge. They don’t have to worry about building something like storage or security from scratch because they can grab those features from a platform that has built-in expertise  and provides a way to easily incorporate it into applications.

The difference here is that it involves Adobe’s core functions, so it may be intelligent auto cropping and smart tagging in Adobe Experience Manager or AI-fueled visual stock search in Creative Cloud. These are features that are essential to the Adobe software experience, which the company is packaging as an API and delivering to developers to use in their own software.

Whether or not Sensei can be the technology that drives the Adobe cloud platform for the next 10 years, Parasnis and the company at large are very much committed to that vision. We should see more announcements from Adobe in the coming months and years as they build more AI-powered algorithms into the platform and expose them to developers for use in their own software.

Parasnis certainly recognizes this as an ongoing process. “We still have a lot of work to do, but we are off in an extremely good architectural direction, and AI will be a crucial part,” he said.

Veriff wants to make it simple to present identification online

Whenever you are doing something online that requires you to present an official ID like a passport or driver’s license to complete the transaction, it presents risk to both parties. Consumers want to know they are secure and brands want to know the person is using valid credentials. That’s where Veriff comes in.

Kaarel Kotkas, CEO and founder of the company, says the goal is to be “the Stripe of identity .” What he means is he wants to provide developers with the ability to embed identity verification into any application or website, as easily as you can use Stripe to add payments.

The company, which was originally launched in Estonia in 2015, is a recent graduate of the Y Combinator winter class. When you undertake any activity on the web or a mobile app that requires a valid ID, if Veriff is running under the hood, you can submit an ID such as a driver’s license. It uses a secret sauce to determine that the ID being presented is an officially issued one and that it belongs to the person in question.

When you consider that there were over 15 million identity thefts in the US in 2016 alone, you know it’s not a simple matter to identify a forgery. Fake IDs can be quite good and it’s often difficult to identify fraudulent ones with the naked eye.

It’s hard to tell the difference between the real and fake IDs in this shot. Photo: Veriff

If you want to open a bank account online for instance, you have to provide proof of identity for the bank. With Veriff, you take a picture of yourself, then submit a picture of your official ID and Veriff analyzes it to make sure it’s valid.

The idea is to make the ID process easy and quick for the consumer, while providing an accurate way for the brand to check IDs online. Consumers also benefit because someone can’t use their identity online to get credit or other services.

If there is an issue with the ID, the person can be directed to a human for a video chat where they can discuss it if need be.

The company currently has 20 customers and is on track to do $100,000 in revenue this month, according to data they provided at their Y Combinator Demo Day presentation. They plan to make money by charging $1 per verification.