Welcome to Last Week Was a Beta, our Monday look back on the big stories in tech last week.
Stop the presses: an internet product that lots of reporters use adds a new feature or changes in some way and journalists immediately hate it. This happened and it happened hard last week when Twitter took users’ handles out of the character count for a tweet. Sarah Jeong at Motherboard broke down the user experience problems the change created, and it has ruined the service. Ruined it forever!
Some of the examples are pretty bad, but largely fixable (personally, the extra work of removing someone from a thread aggravates me the most, but your mileage may vary). Opening up more space for robust conversation among multiple people, however, does seem promising. An older Motherboard post by Vijith Assar helps place the shift into the evolving infrastructure of the microblogging service. In short, a tweet used to be a block of text. Today, it is a unique and curious digital object all its own.
Twitter presumably made this latest change to make the service easier for n00bs to understand. We offered our own idea for new users recently, and it would build on what people like about the service. Imagine that. Jack Dorsey, if you’re reading this, let folks edit tweets after publishing so we can fix our dumb typos, and all these writers will forgive much.
You know who’s not going to be that forgiving any time soon, though? Evan Williams of Snap, Inc., will never forgive Facebook for stealing its best feature and copying across all of its apps (such as Instagram and WhatsApp), putting it in front of an audience that dwarfs that of Snapchat. The final shoe fell when the Stories feature went live on Facebook Messenger. (but maybe Zuck hasn’t forgiven Williams for refusing to sell?)
The appeal of Facebook Messenger is elusive, but—for anyone letting Zuck have that close a look into your life—call your member of Congress while you’re in there.
Watching how a technology user messages is really nothing, though. Elon Musk announced last week that he’s launching Neuralink, according to the Wall Street Journal, a company built to integrate brains and computers. Imagine how excited Google will be when it can suggest websites to visit and post ads based on the thoughts that flicker through your head?
Privacy concerns aside, the ability to write or browse in your mind’s eye would be extraordinary. The Economist‘s Babbage podcast last week gave a nice summary of advances that have already been made in terms of brains speaking directly to computers. It’s rudimentary yet, but once engineers know a thing can work it’s just a matter of time before it advances in great lurches.
Video games alone would become crazy fun in a world where one no longer had to manage 18 buttons on a controller. Imagine how addictive that would be? Actually, video games are not addictive, according to two researchers writing in The New York Times this weekend. We heard from one of the researchers, Patrick Markey, before, when he debunked the idea that video games engender violence.
The company that created today’s gigantic video game industry, Nintendo, is fighting for its place in the industry. The Switch may be its last shot at holding onto a spot as one of the world’s video game hardware makers, and Seeking Alpha took a hard look at sales of the device so far. Demand has been high, but not yet decisive.
Nintendo’s problems since the Super NES may reflect a tension between a company and its core consumer not unlike that seen at Twitter. Nintendo has always been a company that has opted for waiting if it isn’t innovating. Twitter may well see itself the same way. At a certain point, though, markets don’t want innovation. They want what they already have, but better.