Echoes in Twitter Spaces

Periscope’s successor is explicitly built to silence those who are unable to or uncomfortable with using their voice.

Today, I came to a few revelations that led me to feel obligated to write about Twitter’s “new” live audio broadcasting feature, Spaces. Considering how much I read on a daily basis on media and the web, it’s quite pitiful that I would end up discovering their existence as the majority of eventual users will, the app relaunching lands on the Home tab, which now features the Instagram Stories-derived Fleets gallery as the top header. I’m not sure what this looks like for the average user, but for me, it is always stocked with blue-embossed circular profile pictures - all people I followed in the decade+ before I hit my limit., but often cannot recall when or why. Suffice it to say, it’s unlikely I would easily run out of Fleets to watch if I ever find myself in a stage of obsessive Fleet consumption. Spaces only came to my attention when I happened to spot a purple cluster of rounded profile pictures in this menu. Naturally, I tapped immediately, and found myself in a Space run by Matt Daniels and including Mike Elgan as speaker. You might notice, now, following those hyperlinks, that both have the Purple Circle emoji 🟣 in front of their display names on their Profiles. They explained that it’s become a trend among those who’ve been granted Spaces access to indicate that they are testing and discussing Spaces.

I was lucky to happen upon this particular Space - Matt was a fairly-prolific Periscope broadcaster, and that dearest app came up in the conversation just as I was approved as a speaker to mention it. I noted that I’d heard Spaces was built atop the technology Twitter acquired from Periscope in its acquisition and cited my recent observations of my own experiences on that late service, asking whether or not Spaces would eventually meet a similar fate. I’d been suggesting that Periscope was the only entirely-positive social network experience I’d ever encountered, noting that I still wasn’t instinctively compelled to open the app nearly as much as I should have been, however. Matt’s response was quite profound: as a regular and popular Periscope broadcaster, his perspective was that its fundamental problem lied in insufficient filtering of its text chat. He said that Spaces’ exclusion of that feature was an important component of its potential, along with the fundamental implications behind new guests being muted by default. I hadn’t yet figured out a method of recording Spaces (more on that in a bit,) so I would qualify my account of this conversation in a big way, but I vaguely recall Mike chiming in to relay a sentiment he’d heard from Twitter employees in another recent Space: they understood and explicitly intended to continue in the text chat-less direction because of feedback from Periscope creators like Matt.

For myself, the general praise of Spaces (and Clubhouse, adjacently) as a democratizing new social feature definitely resonates. In just that first experience, I was given the opportunity to speak directly to Matt and Mike - the later of whom I have been reading and listening to for my whole adult life. He even followed me after the Space ended. Yesterday, I happened upon a Space hosted by Ben Popper - formerly one of my favorites on The Verge’s masthead - in which he was broadcasting his impressively-disciplined turkey calls from “a shed in the woods.” He approved me as speaker immediately and was incredibly accommodating of my questions about his former colleagues and recent life events. (He’s now living “rurally” and working as Director of Content at Stack Overflow - neither of which I would have ever expected.)

Yet another former Verge staffer, Sam Scheffer, has been the most active Spaces user on my Timeline. Notably, he is one of the only Twitter Tech Media folks I know who has continued to be honest with himself and the world about his feelings about the service. Among a crop of people who once exclaimed shit like “I love Twitter” and “I live on Twitter,” his singular continued use of such terms reflects something significant, I think. Understandably given Tump Hell, it is now very popular to lament Twitter whenever possible, even among those who’s volume of use has not changed in any measurable way. I don’t think it’s reaching to say that Sam and I are alike in our desire to try out whatever we’re tossed the keys to in as extreme a degree as possible. I’ve stopped by a handful of his Spaces - which are often also about Spaces, itself. Most recently however, he approved me to speak in a Space including a host of Silicon Valley folk and at least one Microsoft employee, talking about the future of AR and VR, vaguely in response to Microsoft’s Ignite event, which legitimately disturbed me.

I probably waited too long to speak up, until he was trying to wrap up the Space - but I did chime in about the way the Ignite keynote made me feel and attempted to convey the contrast between the goals of the tech industry and the general attitudes toward AR and VR present in the Midwesterners around me. Essentially, I was granted yet another unique opportunity to ask a question that’s been bothering me for years, now: what the fuck are you doing and why??? It was the Microsoft Man (I can’t find his account, now, sorry) who responded very promptly, considering, with an explanation that actually made a lot of sense. The gist of it was we are contending with the idea that we may never work in an office again, and these technologies offer a difficult-to-explain amends. He specifically used the term “fatigue” in describing his own experiences trying to collaborate remotely and reflected on the benefits of virtual context on the most elemental, sensory components of interaction throughout a workday. From that 45 second response, I feel as though I gained more understanding than I have from years of reading on my own, which further reinforces his observations, in retrospect.

~~[Kali Tweet Embed]~~ (Kali’s account is private right now.)

Already, it would seem Twitter Spaces might have a lot to offer David Blue, going forward. Though I signed up for Clubhouse’s waiting list last year (twice, in fact, but please don’t tell on me,) I have yet to hear back from them. If I was a bitter person, I would be up in arms about this, citing the fact that I would probably contribute more to the wellbeing of the project, technically, than 90% of those who’ve been invited. (I am the physical manifestation of the Stress Test, and I spend an absurd amount of time on beta feedback, even on software I’m fucking paying for.) From what I originally heard, though, Clubhouse was showing real promise as a space where creators of color felt in control of their experience. I hope this has continued to be true and - if it has - I say never invite me.

The Social and The Socialites

Crucially, though, enabling my tech bro ass to engage with famous tech bros about tech bro shit is never going to justifiably occupy anyone’s list of priorities in my lifetime (including my own.) The original promise of the internet did not include amplification of voices already/otherwise at max volume. Instead, it was using technology to deliver new, varying, and universally-empowering tools of expression to those who’d been minimized for all of human history. It didn’t have to be philanthropic - in fact, it was and shall always remain in the best interest of the loudest folks to hear from the other side of the spectrum. The possibilities of this dynamic should be thrilling to all involved, and it used to be for Twitter, Inc. Or so it seemed, anyway. As the company has honed its various loglines over the years, their actions have reflected their truth less and less.

Coincidentally, the most visible co-founder of Periscope, Kayvon Beykpour, is now Twitter’s Head of Consumer product, and he spent this past week doing interviews about Twitter’s late feature frenzy. I want to share two very different podcast episodes with two very different interviewers. Nilay Patel’s Decoder interview should probably be first priority as the more comprehensive and digestible of the two.

We started it from the standpoint of “why are people not tweeting?” It turns out that some of the reasons they’re not tweeting is they don’t feel safe. They don’t feel safe because what they tweet is subject to public scrutiny. Tweets are on the public record, which is terrifying. Anyone can respond to them, and they’re such a popularity contest of likes and retweets and impressions and all of the social mechanics that we’ve built in the product that actually work quite well for a certain purpose, but can work against you if you’re just trying to have a conversation and feel intimidated by that.

“Why are people not tweeting” justifies us taking a moment to indulge some hilarity: imagine Jack and his hellbeard wandering around the abandoned Twitter office screaming that question at the walls, over and over again. Bekypour’s decision to identify one’s “on the public record” Tweets as “terrifying” could easily be tossed back at the company in the center of a dense globule of shit, but one imagines it’d hardly be constructive. I’m going to take my furthest leap here and suggest that we examine who exactly Kayvon was considering - those who find on Twitter a “popularity context of likes and retweets and impressions,” and feel “intimidated” by it. Those I’ve known on Twitter who’ve had negative experiences or have otherwise felt the need to take greater control of a given moment’s interactions generally make use of the “Protect My Tweets” selection in their account’s privacy settings. (This is called “private Twitter,” in case you’re unfamiliar.) This was clearly on the minds of whoever crafted the official Twitter Support page on Spaces:

Accounts with protected Tweets are not able to create Spaces. They are able to join and speak in other people’s Spaces, and their presence will be visible to other participants.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this and come to the conclusion that Kayvon was speaking of a relative minority of Twitter users in his explanation, consciously or not. It’s telling that I was unable to find the statistics of an average Twitter account’s number of daily interactions, but it also means I have to make yet another supposition: even most regular Twitter users rarely experience an overwhelming amount of what I’ll call account-specific notifications (mentions, replies, likes, and retweets, as distinct from algorithmically-sourced content recommendations.) I could be wrong, but I would argue that only the most popular Twitter users - those most visible by way of all sorts of celebredom - are under pressure to consider “the public record.” When Kayvon explains Twitter’s interest in making Spaces ephemeral, he is speaking for the “clients” who make Twitter a (debatably) viable business. This should not be surprising or damning, necessarily, but only so long as it is emphasized.

Early in the interview, Nilay “reframes” the pillars of Twitter’s current development as described by Bekypour. “Health,” he observes, “is basically just the overwhelming content moderation problem that every social platform faces.” A large, most uncomfortable component of this “problem,” is just another manifestation of the age-old dynamic between celebrities and everyone else. The tools Twitter is building along this line are designed to enable the social upper class (if you will) to better manage their interactions with the masses. Abstractly, Twitter sounds like an inherently democratizing space as described to an unfamiliar party. The personal experiences with Spaces I outlined were undoubtedly democratizing for me, but the essence of this new direction Twitter has taken - led by the co-mastermind of what I would call the most democratized social platform of our time - is an explicit, clearer-than-ever commitment to amplify the already/otherwise amplified voices which belt the song of popular relevancy.

Scope History in Scope

The other important Bekypour interview comes via Alex Kantrowitz’s Big Technology Podcast, who is notably much less Vox media glossy than Nilay in his questions. When he asks why Spaces ended up looking so similar to Clubhouse, Bekypour responds with an revealing anecdote on Periscope’s story:

Well, we’ve been thinking about audio for quite some time. And it’s funny, actually, the code name for the project internally is called Kaleidoscope because when we started working a year ago and winding down Periscope, we knew that there were aspects of Periscope that we wanted to live on from a use case standpoint, putting aside the technology.

Indeed, it was under Twitter’s tenure that Periscope first added audio-only broadcasting in September 2018, followed by audio-only guest call-ins in February of the next year. My occasional check-ins with the community and brief skim of the iOS app’s release notes suggest that Periscope’s technical development staff were then quickly diverted to other projects, fired, or killed. The language in the service’s self-published Medium obituary is aggravatingly avoidant of any responsibility for the state of disrepair Periscope has subsequently found itself in:

The truth is that the Periscope app is in an unsustainable maintenance-mode state, and has been for a while.

We have no idea how this happened! What a tragedy! Our sympathies.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen declining usage and know that the cost to support the app will only continue to go up over time. Leaving it in its current state isn’t doing right by the current and former Periscope community or by Twitter.

Read: News networks don’t bother to simulcast to Periscope anymore and we can’t remember the last time any sort of celebrity said something controversial enough on our platform to get in the news. “Nobody at the wheel” has been my recent favorite idiom to staple on software/services that have remained “on the market,” so to speak - still taking money/account signups/other contemporary manifestations of currency exchange, and yet appear abandoned under varying degrees of scrutiny. ( is the most recently relevant example I’ve investigated.) I should disclaim that I have no idea what it’s like to work for a software company - my only real technology employment was for a small-time IT company. I should also disclose that my intentional exploration of the open source/open web/decentralized community since early 2018 has definitely incubated a few biases toward the abstract idealism present in their preferred methodologies. What I’m really saying: I find the whole spectrum of secrecy purveyed and practiced in the realm of proprietary software utterly absurd. The fact that I and others on the beat must speculate if we’re to discuss the history of a given app’s development in any detail is ridiculous for many reasons which are inappropriate to dive into, here.

Unrequited Twitter Spaces Support DM
Unrequited Twitter Spaces Support DM

A relevant, real-world example of the sort of silly mysteriousness this attitude manifests is the process by which I gained “early” access to Twitter Spaces on my main account, @NeoYokel, over the course of this writing. I noticed it’d been enabled almost exactly 24 hours after the timestamp on the DM (screenshotted above) I sent @TwitterSpaces from @dieselgoth - an alt I created last year mostly to spare my longtime followers from live racing Tweet spam which was granted Spaces access first, despite having been almost 100% dormant for months. I don’t think it’d be unreasonable to assume my main account was explicitly/manually given access by a Twitter employee as a direct result of that message, but I’ll never know for sure because it has yet to receive any response. As I Tweeted, I am far from personally up in arms because Twitter, Incorporated decided to leave me on read, but my young imagination conjures a million scenarios involving different sorts of people in which such a lack of acknowledgement certainly would be quite a deal, justifiably or not. All I’d ask is for what reason, exactly?

The most essential acknowledgement I must make, though, is that the two Spaces I’ve started since gaining access received absolutely zero engagement, despite the latter being timed and labeled as optimally as I could personally manage and left open for more than an hour. This is in stark contrast to my early experiences on Periscope, especially, which were the heavyweights contributing to the sum of interactions throughout the history of my account, there. Of further note for context: I garnered a more voluminous, active “following” on Periscope than I have on any other social media service throughout the history of my internet presence. I felt it important to spell this out in the hope that this post would not become (or be regarded as) rudimentary bitching about how this story effects me, because it technically does - in a very specific, crucial manner - more than any other subject discussed in The Psalms. (If it comes across that way, or if you have any other thoughts to share, I would love nothing more than to “hear” them and optionally add them to this post.) I would hope my work has come across as unnecessarily (perhaps even aggravatingly) transparent, this far, but it’s especially essential in this case. As I continue to cite my experiences on my Periscope/Twitter account(s,) I would also like to emphasize that I do so because 1) I don’t want to speak for anyone else and 2) I have access/control to their full documentation as well as my own permission to share it as needed, not because I think (or would argue) that my experience on Twitter properties, going forward, should be served or optimized for in any way. I haven’t already invested two weeks in this subject at this point for the sake of improving my own online life, but to speak for those uncomfortable with revealing their voice (regarding text chat omission in Spaces,) and to critically reflect on what Spaces’ lack of discoverability (in contrast with Periscope, particularly) might mean for all Twitter users.

While we’re this deep in the meta, let me also confess to you that I had long intended to write a thorough celebratory essay detailing my positive experiences on Periscope, but put it off too long. I’ve decided that this post shall have to take its place, so I’m therefore going to share the unedited draft of that essay from ::???:: in its entirety, now, marked by horizontal lines:

A Good Place: Periscope Magic

The Magic of Periscope
The Magic of Periscope

One livestreaming app has always been a fascinating, generally positive, and all around beautiful place.

In April, The Outline - one of my favorite Web Sites ever - closed its virtual doors. I should be more sad about this, but since before they even launched, they never responded to a single one of my emails. I sent them words of encouragement, admiration, spelling and pronoun corrections, and even a few pitches. Some of them were pretty good ideas, but I never once heard back. I pitched this piece, in fact, for their series called "A Good Place," which began with the tag "the internet is too much, but this place is just right." In general, it sought the more wholesome, "positive" bits of The Web and detailed the histories of - and some pseudotheraputic uses for - its often-quaint subjects. In my experience, I have not encountered anything more appropriate and yet mainstream for this supposition than Periscope, the live streaming app which Twitter bought before its independent launch that's quietly taken a place which could only be its very own.

Through this service, I have watched - and watched with - people from all over the world and met apparently lifelong friends. I've spoken to users in their first 3 weeks trying to learn English and laughed with many more who couldn't understand each other whatsoever. I've streamed out hundreds of hours of live improv piano and had conversations with folks lasting late into the night on just about everything. I have observed Martin Shkreli be a dick and popped into live interviews with celebrities at the beautiful, surreal Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. Periscope is embedded more deeply in society than one would think, considering how little it's mentioned in media.

In February 2014, Kayvon Beykpour and Joe Bernstein founded Periscope with a seed round from angel investors "including Adobe executive Scott Belsky." A year later, Twitter bought it for some $50-100 million (not even Business Insider knows for sure.) The app was briefly in direct competition with Meerkat - the since-extinct arguably originating service in the space.

By building a dead-simple broadcasting interface that piggybacks on Twitter‘s interest graph for identity, communication, and distribution, Meerkat made the first mobile livestreaming app that “just works."

Meerkat was an important rung in the ladder, but it ultimately died at the hands of Periscope due to its lack of a stream archive. "The surprise emergence of Meerkat as a social phenomenon this year has been accompanied by a frequent complaint: the links are usually dead by the time you click them," reported Casey Newton for The Verge.

For everything it got right, Meerkat still looks like an app built in eight weeks — which it was. Periscope has been in development for more than a year, and the app arrives showing nice attention to detail.

Periscope, by contrast, maintains an archive of past broadcasts for a significant period and allows users to save broadcasts locally on their phones. We have to remember how much has changed in the past five years in mobile terms. Dan Frommer in Quartz:

What has changed? Almost everything. Mobile phones are faster and more powerful, with large screens capable of displaying beautiful, high-definition video. Mobile networks—where LTE service is available, at least—can now easily handle high-quality streams in both directions. Data service is frequently affordable.

In 2015-2016, I worked afternoons (3-11PM) at a grocery store gas station in a moderately-sized shopping center on the South side of Columbia, Missouri. After work, I'd sit in my old Jaguar parked in front of the laundromat (for the WiFi) chainsmoking cigarettes on Periscope, talking about anything. I found my only real following, ever there. Friends like Juanita and Nicole were made. Ashers bought me a pack of cigarettes once (thank you!)


Yes, that’s where I stopped on June 14th of last year. Perhaps one day - assuming Twitter’s going to stick to its word and maintain an indefinite archive of all currently-viewable broadcasts - I will be able to justify investing further time in digging out more of my favorite scopes from others, but for now, I have begun a Twitter List specifically for mutuals I met on Periscope, but it’s limited to those who have a public Twitter profile linked to the Periscope account I know them from. I also (sortof accidentally) uploaded the 43 video files of my own broadcasts I had in my possession (obtained with tools like Scopedown) to a playlist on Extratone’s YouTube channel, not intending that they clog up the feed as they did.

The Magic Left Out

Yes, that’s where I stopped on June 14th of last year. Given just the exchanges I’ve had about Periscope in the past week, I suspect I would find writing its full history in non-fiction narrative form to be an incredible, desperately unique experience, just as the app has. As I write, the mobile app, itself, has five and half days left to live (before it’s removed from both the Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store.) Early yesterday morning, as I opened the app to my feed, I was unable to find any recent or currently-live broadcasts which made any mention of this reality, despite spirited scrolling. The same uncanny noise of Periscope’s trademark, infinitely-wide spectrum of use continued beneath the banner embedded above, which was only very recently updated with The End’s specific date. It doesn’t really agitate my own personal urgency, either (if you cared to know,) because I’ve endured the luxury of existence from a perspective of such thorough latency with reality for so long that I have all but forgotten the experience of actually expecting to finish anything on time.1

==Okay… So I cannot go back any further without expanding the foldout, I guess.==

(…I feel like at this point, I should have probably started another note.)


  1. I’ve even managed to exhaust the stage where I found my own slow pace entertaining, which is a definite first. It’s not even funny how long it takes me to do anythihng anymore, it’s just a fact.  ↩