Who rules Twitter?

Wired explores the clashes between Twitter users and staff

There's a fascinating piece on Twitter in the latest issue of Wired, highlighting the creative tension between the site's users and managers. The user-driven evolution of Twitter (responsible for innovations such as retweets and hash tags) has left the site's adherents acutely sensitive to any formal changes.

For instance, a Suggested Users List, a collection of around 200 celebrities, companies and thinkers for newcomers to follow, prompted an outraged reaction from users who felt it to be unreasonably hierarchical.

The article also explores the perennial question: "How will Twitter make money?" The site's executives reasonably remind us that Google and Facebook (which turned a profit for the first time last year) didn't begin with a business model, either.

According to the piece, Twitter is on track to bring in $4m in revenue this year. Does anyone know where the money will come from? Is it just interest from the capital they've raised?

One possibility canvassed by the article is that Twitter could make money from analysing the information contained in the billions of tweets on its site. I still think that targeted advertising offers a far more reliable revenue stream, albeit one likely to lead to further user disquiet.

The site's cute image certainly belies a remarkable ambition. As the Twitter chief executive, Evan Williams, puts it: "We want to make Twitter indispensable, so it tells people what they need to know and what they want to know and hopefully not much else."

Should he succeed, it will be a remarkable victory for simplicity. As Wired's Steven Levy writes: "Essentially, Twitter left a ball and a stick in a field and lurked on the sidelines as its users invented baseball." How to referee this unending game is the challenge the firm's leaders now face.


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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.