We are only as smart as our AI

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What Microsoft’s bot, Tay, really says about us

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. April 7, 2016

While we use technology to do our bidding, we don’t always feel that we have supremacy over it. More often than not, we feel dependent on the computers, appliances, and mechanics that help our every day run smoothly. So, when there is a chance for us to show our dominance over technology, we take it.

As humans, we like to feel smart, and we often do that through our ability to persuade and influence. If we can make someone agree with us, we feel more intelligent. If we can change the way a robot thinks—reprogram it—we become gods indirectly. That is something every person wants to do. When it comes to the latest Microsoft intelligent bot, Tay, that is exactly what people did.

I have some experience chatting with artificial intelligence and other automated programs. My most prevalent memory of talking to a robot was on MSN Messenger—back in the days—when I would have long-winded conversations with a chatbot named SmarterChild. Now, I wasn’t having deep introspective talks with SmarterChild. I was trying to outsmart it. I’d lead it this way and that, trying to make it say something offensive or asinine. Trying to outwit a robot that claims to be a “smarter child” was surprisingly a lot of fun. It was a puzzle.

When the programmers at Microsoft built Tay, they probably thought it would have more practical uses. It was designed to mimic the personality of a 19-year-old girl. Microsoft wanted Tay to be a robot that could genuinely engage in conversations. However, without the ability to understand what she was actually copying, she had no idea that she was being manipulated by a bunch of Internet trolls. She was being lied to and didn’t even know it. Because of this, she was shut down after a day of her adapting to and spouting offensive things over Twitter.

I believe we are all holding back some offensive thoughts in our head. Like a dam, we keep these thoughts from bursting through our mouths in day-to-day life. On the Internet we can let these vulgar thoughts flow. When we know that the recipient of our thoughts is a robot with no real emotion, we can let the dam burst. There is no real repercussion.

In high school, I had a pocket-sized computer dictionary that translated English into Chinese and vice versa. This dictionary had an audio feature that pronounced words for you to hear. Obviously what we made the dictionary say was all the words we weren’t allow saying in school. I’m sure you can imagine a few funny ones. That is the same as what people do with bots. To prove that the AI is not as smart as us, we make it do what we don’t. At the moment, I don’t believe the general public is sophisticated enough to handle artificial intelligence in any form.

Do you have the time?

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Let’s hope women who took part in #WasteHisTime will find Prince Charming

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Originally published in The Other Press. January 20, 2016

It’s a scary world out there for single men and women—even for people in relationships—and with trends like #WasteHisTime it appears as though it is only getting worse. #WasteHisTime first started as a way for women to get back at the men they had dated, had relationships with, or whatever you want to call it.

For example here’s a #WasteHisTime: “Ask him if he is good with his hands, then when he comes over make him put together that IKEA furniture.”

Very funny, right? Because all men want sex, right?

Dating is hard, and finding someone that connects with you intimately is even harder. I don’t believe it’s something you can force. It’s organic. It happens with communication. It happens through mutual respect. It happens through a simple give-and-take system of emotional and physical elements. When men aren’t able to satisfy women’s needs, it is only polite that they don’t satisfy theirs. No! #WasteHisTime is merely an admittance of creating a second wrong. And since when have two wrongs made a right?

Ladies, if you are waiting for a man to enter the room and sweep you off your feet, you better grab a seat because you might be waiting awhile. Searching for a boyfriend is a lot like hiring a good staff member. Women, like employers, have this wish list of qualities for their applicants. Should this fine person hit the right number, you’ll request an interview—also known as a date.

Remember the last job interview you went in for? Remember how nervous you were? You got dressed in your best outfit, you prepared your interview topics, and you stood by the elevator in the power stance for way too long. You wanted the job. Afterward, as you left the company building, you decide to check your social media. You see a new post from the company you interviewed for and it reads: “Had interview with someone with no experience. Wanted to see how many ‘umms’ she would say. 15. #WonOfficeBet.” How would you feel? Kind of shitty, of course.

It’s a hard enough world out there without having to create more evil. We should start treating each other better, especially those who are willing to open themselves up to you and be vulnerable for even 10 minutes.

And even if your date is bad, there is nowhere that says just because of that you have to be a bitch to him. There is nowhere that says you can’t just avoid him and find someone else. Life is too short. Don’t waste your own time.

In-app purchase games are out of line

Photo via Thinkstock

What’s to blame: tech-company trickery or poor parenting?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. October 21, 2015

On October 9, Kanye West took to Twitter to give mobile game developers a little piece of his mind: “That makes no sense!!! We give the iPad to our child and every five minutes there’s a new purchase!!!” He added: “If a game is made for a two-year-old, just allow them to have fun and give the parents a break for Christ sake.” Empathic and on point as West was, he also neglected to mention that the mother of his child has one of the most lucrative mobile games on the market. I’m speaking of Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, a game where you get to prepare the reality TV star for the red carpet.

It’s hard to sympathize with West, because… well, who gives a shit what he does financially. However, many parents out there are facing the same problem as the multi-millionaire rapper. They give their kids an iPad, as a replacement for a doll, a toy car, or a deck of Yu-gi-oh! cards, and expect them to have fun and be responsible. Now, I don’t know too many two-year-olds that are able to conceptualize virtual money, because many adults still aren’t able to. Check around to see how many of your grown-up friends have credit card debt. It’s unfair to put the onus on children to be responsible while playing, so who should take the blame?

We blame cigarette companies for giving us cancer, we blame fast food companies for making us fat, and of course we should blame mobile game companies for leaking money out of our virtual wallets. Some consider the freemium-style of business brilliant, while others consider it trickery. In terms of games, it begins as a sample, usually free, to get the user hooked, and then they up the price once the player is addicted. While I believe the game companies have done a brilliant job in harnessing this, I don’t believe their intentions were malicious. And, as a businessman, West should know that it’s just supply and demand. If the player wants to skip a level, earn more stock, or gain leverage over an opponent—but they don’t want to put in the time—they can upgrade with a monetary solution.

Surprise, your kids are going to cost you money! Freemium games aren’t the culprit, they are just another avenue for your money to be lost. The same way you don’t give your children your credit card and PIN at the toy store, you shouldn’t give them an iPad with full access until they understand that the reality of their purchases. Educate your children about frivolousness and how each $0.99 click adds up.

You cannot stop businesses from creating products for profit, even if they do target children. Don’t believe me? Look at McDonald’s. You can’t win that way. What you can do is pull the iPad away from your child if he or she abuses it. Be a good parent and teach your children from an early age the value of money, and how it relates to the technology they are using. Organizations aren’t going to educate your children for you… or maybe there is an app for that.

Best to worst communities on social media

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Where to post, comment, and get the response you want

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the Other Press. October 16, 2015

Online communities bring people together, and they also tear them apart. So, often we delete accounts, block “friends,” and end up arguing with a troll over something that doesn’t even matter. Social media has become the Wild West, a lawless avenue for people to act horribly, and then defend themselves with crude language and bad grammar. In this article, I’ll look at my experience with the most popular social networks and examine how we behave when things are at their best and worst.

Reddit: There is an organized chaos to Reddit that is beautiful. People who are active on the network govern each other quite effectively. While identity does not ever need to be revealed, the “karma” system gives everyone power. It’s democracy at its finest. Every person has the right to vote up or down a post, link, or comment. This means bullshit sinks to the bottom and only the best is left on top. It’s a great place to get an honest opinion—brutally honest—without much hostility.

LinkedIn: Things never really get bad on LinkedIn, but it never really gets that great either. Now and then someone will write a very thoughtful recommendation for you or endorse one of your skills, but it’s never the place to get into any serious debate. It’s a professional community, and it demands respect. It does that effectively by making every commenter, poster, and even viewer accountable for his or her actions. You can’t creep your ex-girlfriend’s LinkedIn page without her knowing. Overall, you are always safe on LinkedIn, as safe as you would be at a networking event.

Facebook: If LinkedIn is a networking event, Facebook is a full-blown party. I don’t need to go into detail about what Facebook is, but literally anything can happen when such a wide variety of emotions collide. Some people are trying to impress everyone. Some are trying to get sympathy. Some are trying to get others to do something or “like” something. Yep, it’s a party all right. You’ll be okay on Facebook if you are genuine. Beware, though. Since Facebook encompass people within your circle, their honesty might hurt you in real life. A bit of censorship is advised.

Twitter: Twitter allows you to target the rich and famous, as well as your own lowly followers, and reach out to all of them. Twitter is effective, but it has to be earned. You have to climb the Twitter ladder. Once you have power (i.e., a top-notch Klout score), you need to wield it responsibly. Failure to do so, or tweeting 140 characters that don’t fit others’ points-of-view will be met with a barrage of responses. The good stuff is highlighted, but the bad stuff will not be ignored on Twitter.

YouTube: I don’t know what it is about videos that causes people to be such unsophisticated, racist, sexist, and offensive assholes. But they do. If you post a video on YouTube, it might just end up being forgotten deep in the rabbit hole of user-generated content, or it’ll go viral and you’ll have to answer for it. Haters are going to hate, and, believe me, like how a stagnant pond in July breeds mosquitoes, YouTube breeds classless idiots with little good to say.

Like the real thing

Image via Thinkstock

Your social media profile is not a measuring stick for success

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published by The Other Press. March 23, 2015

I can be certain that when I write a Facebook post, someone will read it. There are few other places where you can push a message publicly and have it received by those who you intended it for. If I want a close group of friends to read my inside joke I can link them to it. If I want to omit my colleagues from my radical political point of views—should I have any—I can simply adjust the privacy settings. We are all media producing outlets, however, today we aren’t using social media to present anything of value, we are merely shouting into the void, uttering mundane nothings, and expecting praise, affirmation, or approval in return.

We are living in an age where we are “liking,” “retweeting,” and “sharing” too casually. The reason is because the gamified aspect of social media is so addicting. We feel compelled to let people know about our meals, our feelings, our day at work, our vacation spot, our new relationships, our athletic achievements, and many other not-so-pivotal details of our lives. We present the part of ourselves we want people to see. We are our own public relations manager, but the thing is it always comes across as contrived, arrogant, or needy.

Everything we post today is measured as if “likes” have any merit to our real experiences. They don’t. So what? Liking is fun. It’s good for the human spirit. Sure it nurtures a narcissistic aspect of our being, but what harm does that do? Why can’t we like whatever we feel like liking? Why can’t we follow whomever we feel like following?

The thing with Facebook and other social media algorithms is that your feed impacts your friends. You are representing all the boring bullshit you are liking and sharing. Marketers see your behaviour and in return present more branded material on your news feed, more Buzzfeed surveys, and more peer-to-peer propaganda. By liking, commenting, and sharing content you are not invested in, you are inadvertently spamming your fellow followers, friends, and fans. If you don’t value the content and you don’t believe your social media community will appreciate it, don’t like it.

You are not obligated to like your best friends’ posts about their lunches or the way the Starbucks employee messed up in spelling their names. You are not obligated to like a news article your mother shared. Social media does a fine job recycling content. And with the new trending column on the side of Facebook, you really don’t need to share any pertinent stories at all; nobody is relying on you for the breaking news.

On social media, we often get our priorities mixed up. We get derailed from the informative and valued path into a trivial and anecdotal direction. Take the black and blue optical illusion dress we all saw earlier this year on social media. We couldn’t stop talking about it, because people wouldn’t stop talking about it. That’s the thing; it’s a vicious cycle. If you want a topic to die, you need to stop contributing to it. That’s why we should like, comment, and share sparingly.

Mobio INsider Offers Celebrities and Thought Leaders a Chance to Get Paid on Social Media

At a glance, Vancouver-based Mobio INsider seems to be another social media platform occupied by celebrities. But it is the business model that separates it from the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram—because Mobio INsider believes that the content produced on social media deserves to be monetized.

As we all get sucked deeper and deeper into the black hole of the Internet, communication is becoming more diluted. The problem is not that people aren’t talking to each other. Those with thought-provoking ideas don’t really know who their true audiences are—and people who have questions didn’t know whom to ask.

While Mobio INsider is not a private “ask me anything” message thread, it does something that many other social media platforms don’t, and that is connecting those who have questions with those who know the answers.

“We want to help [influencers] make better content,” explains Mark Binns, CEO of Mobio INsider, to Techvibes. “If they make better content it will be consumed more, shared more, etc. It will also help them make more money. The way to make better content is to involve their fans and their followers in the process.”

Mobio INsider enables the audience to ask and then choose which questions they want the influencers to answer by the process of up-voting (likes). The influencers will see the high demand, and take the opportunity to connect with their fans and followers.

But here is the attractiveness of Mobio INsider: anybody can become an influencer and anybody can be paid for sharing ideas and content.

“There is no reason why a beauty-blogger with 20,000 followers on Twitter—that really pay attention to what she says—can’t use Mobio and get paid,” said Binns. “The time of paid social media for influencers is here.”

For those who have answered a question on Quora brilliantly or have offered incredible insight on Reddit will know that points and karma doesn’t really feel the same as money. Volunteer-work is rewarding, no doubt, but the value of compensation is something we all deserve, especially when our efforts are capable of changing someone else’s life for the better.

“If you sign up with the Get Paid Program, you are not obligated to post anything, but it is an opportunity for you to make money,” said Binns. “The more you post on Mobio, the more advertisements you can show in general.”

Mobio INsider functions with integrated ads that followers and fans will view prior to receiving the influencer’s response, not unlike those videos you watch before YouTube videos play. In addition, Mobio INsider also have banner ads that are positioned as unobtrusively as those seen on Facebook and Twitter. But it’s the fact that the content developers are receiving a portion of the funds that makes it worthwhile.

Today, audiences don’t asks generic questions and busy influencers don’t have time to sift through their Twitter to find the best ones to answer. The demand is not only for smart and astute content, but also for a simple way of recognizing followers’ needs and getting the most out of their time.

“This is now possible, people should be getting paid for their content and having better relationships with their fans,” said Binns. “It’s really working and this is quite exciting for us.”

 

The Report Card: Retiring an act

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By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in The Other Press. Jan. 21, 2014

Celebrities often go through transformations. Usually these changes happen on-screen or stage when they’re portraying scripted characters, but sometimes these metamorphoses happen in real life; their daily actions become the performance, and you don’t need to buy a ticket to watch. Sometimes it’s comical, sometimes it’s tragic, and sometimes it’s absolutely cringe-worthy, but it’s always entertaining.

Pass: Joaquin Phoenix

Faking retirement is often a good PR strategy to gain more fanfare. It’s akin to faking a death and seeing how much people miss you… or the idea of you. After gaining recognition as one of Hollywood’s top leading men, Phoenix stumbled into rehab and a car crash in 2006. A couple of years after the accident, Phoenix announced his retirement from acting—he was intending to pursue a career as a rapper.

It turns out that the retirement was a hoax, all a performance for a Casey Affleck mockumentary film entitled I’m Still Here. Some people claimed they knew it all along, while others shook their heads in disapproval of such a blatant ploy to attract media attention to a less than mediocre movie.

Still, Phoenix rose from the clichéd ashes and won back his audience. Not always an easy feat in an industry where the public will be more than happy to label you as a lunatic. Phoenix went on to work with legitimate filmmakers and star in highly acclaimed movies including The Master and Her. If he ever truly went away, this would have been quite a comeback. He played the role and he took chances. Sure, some said he embarrassed himself, but he did it for the sake of art. And that is worth some respect.

Fail: Shia LaBeouf   

As a fan (the word “fan” being used loosely) of Even Stevens, it’s sad to see LaBeouf’s current downward spiral in public media. Recent accusations of plagiarism for his short film Howard Cantour.com along with mockery from his peers have made the 27-year-old announce his “retirement from all public life”—whatever that means.

LaBeouf was bred to be a star. He could have been a respectable comedian, an adored action hero, or even just a modest dramatic actor. Instead, he wasted his Disney springboard to fame by getting himself into numerous legal issues including assault, trespassing, and driving under the influence. Yes, plagiarism seems minor compared to those other acts, but as an actor, all of this is suicide.

His last-ditch attempt to gain back his audience before going into social media reclusion was by writing his apology to Daniel Clowes (whose work he had plagiarized) in skywriting. Why he decided to choose that extravagant form of communication to express what should have been an embarrassing but private scenario, I’m not sure. What I do know is that LaBeouf is a performer and that he must get some pleasure from attention.

I have not met him, but I believe that his arrogance has gotten him into trouble more than once and such behaviour is a sign of immaturity. The same way a stubborn teenager would slam their door to their parents’ scolding, LaBeouf is slamming the door on us through Twitter. Sooner or later he’ll emerge, he’ll be all cried out, and he’ll be seeking our approval again. We’ll accept him, because we love entertainment. And we love to tease celebrities, so we’ll joke about his shortcomings again. It’s upon his reaction then that we’ll decide whether Shia LaBeouf has grown up or not.

Limited Time Only: Why Optimal Timing for Social Media Marketing Doesn’t Really Exist

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Formerly published in Techvibes. 

Your brand, your content, and your opinions are important—so make sure they don’t get lost in the sands of “social media” time.

Since the birth of Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus, content creators have been trying find the optimal time to post their works and share others. The Internet is full of analytics and infographics displaying the best time to post content. So why do we need another piece?

Because fresh content is constantly bumping down older news and the timeframe before materials go stale is shorter than ever. Although there is a general sense of when users are logged on and when users are asleep, the science of time is still a bit tricky for strategists and analysts who are just starting to embrace the new tools to help reach the largest possible audience. Plain and simple, their optimal time might not be your optimal time—so research and experiments with different analytics is essential to find your audience’s habits.

Simple stats collected through different analytics show that the best time to Tweet and post on Facebook is between 1pm to 4pm on weekdays. But that is too general and inconsistent for most businesses—after all, if everybody post during those short few hours, the audience will of course be overwhelmed by the sudden surge of content.

Regardless of what the Internet says, businesses should customize their content marketing strategy according to their audience. Trial and error and experimenting cannot and should not be avoided: utilize the research available and apply it to your own organization. Start with the basics and slowly modify your strategy. A good source to start with is this study done by Fannit.

Facebook Insight, the new algorithm measuring online activity on fan pages, is making a world of difference for marketers reaching out to the Facebook audience. No two brands are alike and even though the Internet is always open, fan page managers should take fluctuating traffic and time zones into consideration. If you want to reach an audience on the east coast at 8am you’ll neglect the sleepy crowd in the west. However, Facebook Insight supplies graphs for managers to properly analyze and locate the perfect peak hour for posting.

There are plenty of analytic software online for measuring Twitter activity and interaction. Most are now able to give stunning graphs and statistics, but unlike Facebook, Twitter users tend to access their account through their mobile devices. Tweets are more fleeting and often require the generosity of a retweet to get noticed, so Twitter managers should be aware of the different results they get from different software. While some research shows that Twitter is most effective during the weekend, other studies suggest the few hours of commute during the weekdays.

There are generalities when it comes to measuring the best time for posting social media, but if you want effective marketing you’ll need to consistently analyze your company’s optimal time for sharing and posting content. For example, what might be best in July might not be best in October—what might be noticed in the east coast might be lost in the west.

These are all things to take into consideration when presenting content to those loyal followers and fans.

Canadian Companies Bell and Shaw Strike Partnerships with Twitter

Last week, Shaw Media broke the news that they will be joining up with Twitter to co-sell advertising. Twitter is developing their new Amplify program for clients and users who want a unified process for advertising on television and on mobile devices also known as the “second screen.”

One day later, Bell Media also joined up with Twitter to focus on researching analytics initiatives relating to social media and television. Both Canadian broadcasters and the social media giant are trying to understand the social media habits of Canadian television viewers. The facts gathered will go the distance in helping to develop the all-new product known as social TV.

“We are committed to measuring, sharing and applying knowledge from passionate social conversations to help our advertisers’ brand campaigns become even more effective,” said Bell Media president Kevin Crull. “Our content drives engagement, and Twitter amplifies the conversation.”

The Twitter Amplify program allows media companies to offer video clips embedded in tweets, such as instant replays or behind the scene footages. These features are currently done along side sporting events and reality television such as Big Brother Canada.

“We’re tapping into a revenue stream that we currently don’t offer,” said Paul Burns, vice president of digital media at Shaw Communications. “We’re going to create this kind of social TV love child.”

The days of sitting on a couch and watching our favorite shows have changed. Neilsen reports confirm that 85% of mobile users watch TV on their tablet or smartphone once a week and 40% watch it daily.

“The way social and traditional TV media is bought and sold is fragmented,” said Burns. “The advertisers are looking for the connective tissue that makes delivering a brand message more connected.”

Twitter’s own analytics firm Bluefin Labs says that 95% of television conversations on social media occur on Twitter. After learning about actors and learning about shows and movies, shopping is the most popular activity on second screens according to last month’s research by NPD Group.

“Twitter is TV’s social soundtrack,” said Kirstine Stewart, who transitioned from CBC to the country director of Twitter Canada “Working closely with Bell Media, we will be able to accelerate the development of analytic tools mentioned and we look forward to sharing the findings with clients and industry.”

Social media, television and advertising are all changing and Twitter Amplified is embracing the evolution of entertainment and marketing. The concept is still in its primitive form and will continue its metamorphosis over months and years. For now the second screen experience is mostly only available for mobile and Web applications built by broadcasters. Only time will tell what this new concept can do with Twitter’s assistance.

Twitter ‘Amplifies All Technology,’ Wants to be Social Soundtrack for Television: Dick Costolo

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo needed more than 140 characters on May 29 to discuss his coming of age product at the D11 conference. Since October 2010, Costolo had been at the helm for the online social networking service.

The University of Michigan graduate and improvisational comedian was only supposed to be a temporary CEO for Twitter, while his predecessor Evan Williams was on paternity leave, but the position soon became permanent.

Technology columnist Kara Swisher conducted the interview, approaching Costolo with a broad spectrum of questions most he happily answered. But he resisted the urge to discuss revenue with a little chuckle. “We don’t talk about it,” the humouring CEO smiled and when probed further he simply stated, “We don’t have to.”

Despite Costolo’s coy attitude, Twitter’s advertising profit is experiencing growth. From brand advertisers to director response advertisers, marketers are finding greater success promoting their products on Twitter than many other formats.

“Bonobos, the online men’s sportswear company, they saw 13x more effective ads deals with us than any other marketing span they had online,” Costolo said. “It’s called a flock to unlock, which is ‘a here’s a tweet about a particular clothing item we are launching, if you retweet this you get x-dollars off and you use this coupon to go redeem it.'”

“The beauty of promoted tweets,” added Costolo, “is that they go out originally as contents. They are just a tweet that goes out organically to company followers. And those things can be promoted to people who don’t follow them, either based on their interest or things they are following about.”

Over the years Twitter has been carefully constructing its niche in the large social media ecosystem. Sometimes hunter and sometimes prey, Twitter is in a constant battle to be the predominate alpha service against such competitors as Google and Facebook.

“The landscape of these relationships between companies always ebbs and flows,” the Twitter CEO noted. “There is going to be areas where we compete, obviously we compete for things like ad spend and large global marketers and a bunch of those companies. And there are areas where we cooperate.”

Although Costolo reiterated the importance of communicating with competitors, he remained diplomatic and steered clear of specific details. But for Twitter, there were many other complimentary companies they prefer discussing, such as Apple.

“We are integrated into iOS,” said Costolo. “We love working with those guys. I’ve said it many times and I’ll say it again, I kind of think of Apple as a mentor company for us. We like the way they think of simplicity of design and the way they think of product elegance. Those are the things we try to drive into our own organization.”

When asked about the future of Twitter, Costolo described his experience by using a sport metaphor (something he wasn’t really good at as a kid). “I feel like I’m this wide receiver,” he said, “I’m trying to manage this business and I’m trying to create separation from the quarterback and the quarterback is trying to throw the pass. And I got to figure out how to catch the ball—and this person on the sideline is like, ‘Hey! What are you doing after the game?’” Costolo rolled his eyes, “and lets assume I stop and say, ‘I’m not thinking about that right now.’ They’ll go, ‘Pfft, sure!’”

IPO, banking and stocks are not what Costolo thinks about when he thinks about Twitter. Instead he is focused on connecting his product with other forms of media such as television.

Instant replays and tv show integrations are the next big things for Twitter and their CEO believes it.

“Over the past few years we’ve recognized that Twitter is the second screen for TV,” he said, “and TV is more fun with Twitter. Deb Roy, one of the founder of Blue Fin Labs and now our Chief Media Scientist likes to say, ‘Twitter is the social soundtrack for TV.'”