Louise Mensch invents Twitter; shame Twitter already did it

Will you Menshn? Probably not.

The end result of Louise Mensch and Luke Bozier's side-project, MenschBozier, was revealed today by TechCrunch. It's called Menshn, and it's Twitter. Twitter may have already invented Twitter, but that won't stop MenschBozier.

The new site is focused around sending Tweet-like messages (of up to 180 characters, rather than 140, which is a crucial differentiator for some reason) about specific topics. The site will launch in the US only, and be focused around the American elections.

Mensch told TechCrunch:

I had a brainwave over Christmas about Twitter hashtags and the frustration of following one topic, especially in politics.

Then I got my husband on Twitter [Peter Mensch is the manager of heavy metal band Metallica, among others] and although he liked following people in the music industry and what they had to say, he hated the mundane tweets about people having breakfast. He wanted something on topic.

Menshn also aims to encourage quality with a rating system, similar to that on sites like Reddit, and by stripping out many of the features that make Twitter such a vibrant medium, like retweets and mentions (yes, the site's name is a pun on a functionality it doesn't actually have). The site still has its analogue of following someone, likely called something like "Mensching" them, but if your tweet is the top five per cent of tweets, then everyone will see it, whether they follow you or not.

Menshn seems to be the creation of someone who likes twitter but is annoyed that they don't have enough control over it. For Louise Mensch, it will most likely be a better experience; Twitter must be a horrible place for her to be, because the service simply doesn't deal well with people who set out to abuse celebrities and nothing else. But for most other people, all the functions which Mensch and Bozier seem to dislike so much – the "off topic" discussions, personal conversations, viral jokes and ephemerality – are precisely the important functions of the site. Persuading people to give those up for the chance to have their tweet seen by everyone (in a function that absolutely will not scale - can you imagine seeing the "top five per cent" of the 340 million tweets sent per day?) is unlikely to happen any time soon.

Nice website design, though.

Update

Well, we got on Menshn, and first impressions are that it has a bit of a troll problem:

 

Also, the rules are amazing:

menshn is for talking on topic. We're passionate about politics and we love debate. But if you harass, spam, clog feeds and so forth, we can delete your account without notice. So be like Fonzy and be cool.

menshn will grow and change. We can change what menshn does and the service it provides without notification to you or other users. See rule 4. We reckon you'll figure it out if we do.

menshn is not forever...

You can say that again.

The scoring system explained. Screenshot via Techcrunch.com

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.