The big fish gobbles up the little fish. It happens all the time in the tech world. But in this case, it was a big bird gobbling up a web video startup. Twitter -- now a behemoth that chirps 4 million messages a minute -- bought the company Vine in 2012. Yesterday, we found out why. Vine's new app lets you record and share six second video clips on Twitter and other social media. I watched a few, and then talked with Slate Magazine tech blogger and friend of Marketplace Tech Will Oremus. What's the point of sharing tiny video clips that so far are, to say the least, underwhelming?
"A lot of the ones that people are doing today are incredibly boring -- I mean, they're mind numbing," says Oremus. "I think, though, as time goes by, we're going to see people do some really interesting and creative things."
So what exactly does that mean for the future of Twitter, and their quest for world domination?
"If it works, this could be huge for Twitter," Oremus explains. "It's been unclear whether Twitter is going to be kind of a niche social network that a fair amount of people use, but isn't integral to most people's lives. They want to do everything -- they want to be sort of the place for real time updates, from your friends, and from around the world."
Oremus thinks the new app could be huge for the way advertisers use Twitter. "Advertisers are going to see this as a way to get people's attention, to be creative," he says. "Right now, when you see ads almost anywhere on the web or social media, you do your best to avoid them, to get away from them. If people do this right, the brevity of it is going to make it appealing."
More than 600 million people use Skype to make calls and video chat online with loved ones and business partners without too many hiccups. But for activists in China, using the service may be a dicier proposition. Instead, they may be unknowingly using a partner site called TomSkype that looks identical.
"The concern is people go to use Skype think that they're using an American program and the Chinese government has limited access to," says Russell Brandom of the tech website the Verge. "But really they're using TomSkype, this Chinese program, and sort of everything's being monitored."
Parent company Microsoft isn't commenting. But 44 groups, including Reporters Without Borders and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote Microsoft a letter yesterday calling for more openness.
"The demands of the letter are actually very modest," says Brandom. "They're not saying, don't do business with China; they're not saying, under no circumstances cooperate with law enforcement. What they're saying is: 'Tell us what's happening.'"
They want Skype to do a "transparency report." It's something Google is already doing twice a year.
"Well what Google is doing is giving some insight into the kind of requests they get for law enforcement cooperation from different countries," says Marc Zwillinger, a former federal prosecutor.
Zwillinger used to make those requests, as a prosecutor with the Department of Justice. Now he helps clients like Yahoo! field those requests. And he thinks more sunshine is a good thing.
"I think it's a very useful thing for the debate, because otherwise what happens behind the scenes is things that only we who represent the companies and the government who's seeking the information knows about."
Right now Zwillinger says a lot of the debate is over what kind of information the U.S. government can get without a court order. Google says it requires a warrant to hand over email and other data, but not information like where and when you last logged on to Google Chat.