Twitter floats. But there's a problem

It won't make money as easily as Facebook.

Late last week, Twitter officially revealed its plans for a $1 bn initial public offering. For an IPO of this size, alongside a valuation of $10 bn, even though it has never turned a profit, this is pretty punchy. One thing that is for sure, Twitter’s floatation is the most hotly anticipated since Facebook’s nearly 18 months ago. However, once the morning bell has been rung and the hype and frenzy calms down, you can bet there will be anxious stakeholders and investors, keen to see some rapid return.

Such is the scrutiny on it, Twitter has to justify this valuation. And fast. If it is going to be a financial success, it has to monetise its biggest asset, its audience. But this is where Twitter may come unstuck. Similarly to Facebook, it will likely look to advertising to its users to claim revenues – both on desktop and on mobile. It is clearly taking the latter especially seriously, with its recent $350 million acquisition of MoPub, which will certainly facilitate the process of advertising to its mobile userbase. It should also be noted that Twitter has undoubtedly done phenomenally well to recruit over 200 million users into its environment. However, the big difference is that its particular environment is not especially advertiser friendly.

Think how quickly tweets appear and then disappear on a timeline; consider the potentially intrusive nature of ads in your conversation stream. At a moment in time therefore, capturing engagement – so key to targeted advertising –  is limited, which puts the brakes on meaning, purpose and potential wastage.

The additional problem is that this is all happening within Twitter’s own four walls. A tweet can be there and gone within seconds within Twitter, but it can live on across the entire Web in a number of different forms – email, IM link, shortened URL. But Twitter, similar to other noteworthy social networks and portals, is currently not able to engage, target and therefore make money across the open Web, which makes the walled garden it sits in seem even more claustrophobic.

Another major pressure Twitter is facing is, quite simply, the affiliation with the word “social”. There is undoubtedly a sentiment, whether in the City or on Wall Street, that if you are a “social media business”, you are automatically going to be worth billions. The term seems to have become the sole domain of the major networks, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. However, this is not a fair representation of social media. These sites certainly command a great deal of active users, but the truth is they only actually account for a relatively small percentage of what is actually being shared and communicated across the Web. Think how much is shared via other methods, such as copy and pasting, IM and even good old email (which is still by far and away the most used way to share content). The only entity that truly represents global social interaction is the Internet at large. And this needs to be considered when labelling a company as “social”, especially one that has to operate within its own confines. The sooner this recognition starts happening, the sooner the inordinate amount of pressure on networks, such as Twitter, to show instant return will ease.

I’m not saying Twitter will not be highly successful but people have to stop over cooking the dish. This is the largest Silicon Valley offering since Facebook’s last year. And with the limitations it has, it is going to have to work very hard to appease anxious stakeholders wanting to see an early return. Let them exist and be happy as a very successful and smart business but don't hype it and assume they have to make billions in ad dollars!

Photograph: Getty Images

Rupert Staines is European Managing Director at RadiumOne

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Leader: History is not written in stone

Statues have not been politicised by protest; they were always political.

When a mishmash of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, Trump supporters and private militias gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia on 12 August – a rally that ended in the death of a counter-protester – the ostensible reason was the city’s proposal to remove a statue of a man named Robert E Lee.

Lee was a Confederate general who surrendered to Ulysses S Grant at the Appomattox Court House in 1865, in one of the last battles of the American Civil War – a war fought to ensure that Southern whites could continue to benefit from the forced, unpaid labour of black bodies. He died five years later. It might therefore seem surprising that the contested statue of him in Virginia was not commissioned until 1917.

That knowledge, however, is vital to understanding the current debate over such statues. When the “alt-right” – many of whom have been revealed as merely old-fashioned white supremacists – talk about rewriting history, they speak as if history were an objective record arising from an organic process. However, as the American journalist Vann R Newkirk II wrote on 22 August, “obelisks don’t grow from the soil, and stone men and iron horses are never built without purpose”. The Southern Poverty Law Center found that few Confederate statues were commissioned immediately after the end of the war; instead, they arose in reaction to advances such as the foundation of the NAACP in 1909 and the desegregation of schools in the 1950s and 1960s. These monuments represent not history but backlash.

That means these statues have not been politicised by protest; they were always political. They were designed to promote the “Lost Cause” version of the Civil War, in which the conflict was driven by states’ rights rather than slavery. A similar rhetorical sleight of hand can be seen in the modern desire to keep them in place. The alt-right is unwilling to say that it wishes to retain monuments to white supremacy; instead, it claims to object to “history being rewritten”.

It seems trite to say: that is inevitable. Our understanding of the past is perpetually evolving and the hero of one era becomes a pariah in the next. Feminism, anti-colonialism, “people’s history” – all of these movements have questioned who we celebrate and whose stories we tell.

Across the world, statues have become the focus for this debate because they are visible, accessible and shape our experience of public space. There are currently 11 statues in Parliament Square – all of them male. (The suffragist Millicent Fawcett will join them soon, after a campaign led by Caroline Criado-Perez.) When a carving of a disabled artist, Alison Lapper, appeared on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, its sculptor, Marc Quinn, acknowledged its significance. “This square celebrates the courage of men in battle,” he said. “Alison’s life is a struggle to overcome much greater difficulties than many of the men we celebrate and commemorate here.”

There are valid reasons to keep statues to figures we would now rather forget. But we should acknowledge this is not a neutral choice. Tearing down our history, looking it in the face, trying to ignore it or render it unexceptional – all of these are political acts. 

The Brexit delusion

After the UK triggered Article 50 in March, the Brexiteers liked to boast that leaving the European Union would prove a simple task. The International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, claimed that a new trade deal with the EU would be “one of the easiest in human history” to negotiate and could be agreed before the UK’s scheduled departure on 29 March 2019.

However, after the opening of the negotiations, and the loss of the Conservatives’ parliamentary majority, reality has reasserted itself. All cabinet ministers, including Mr Fox, now acknowledge that it will be impossible to achieve a new trade deal before Brexit. As such, we are told that a “transitional period” is essential.

Yet the government has merely replaced one delusion with another. As its recent position papers show, it hopes to leave institutions such as the customs union in 2019 but to preserve their benefits. An increasingly exasperated EU, unsurprisingly, retorts that is not an option. For Britain, “taking back control” will come at a cost. Only when the Brexiteers acknowledge this truth will the UK have the debate it so desperately needs. 

This article first appeared in the 24 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia