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Twitter app code indicates that live video broadcasting app Periscope may get shut down

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Twitter has been doubling down on video services within its app, building out Twitter Live and recently launching Fleets so that users can share more moving media alongside their pithy 180-word observations, links and still photos. But in the process, it appears that it may also be streamlining its bigger stable of services. Code in the Twitter app indicates that Periscope — the live video broadcasting app that launched a thousand fluttering hearts — may be headed into retirement.

Date and other details are still unknown, but super-sleuth developer Jane Machun Wong found a line in Twitter’s app code that indicated a link to a shutdown notice for Periscope (which currently does not go to a live link).

There are no shutdown references in any of the code in the currently obtainable version of the Persicope app, Wong told us, but she also pointed out that the two apps do share some code — indeed there are integrations between the two Twitter-owned apps — and “I guess [that] is how the text in the screenshot got slipped into Twitter,” she said.

We are reaching out to Twitter for a response to her discovery and will update as we learn more.

If this does play out with Periscope getting retired, it would be the end of a five-year run for the app.

Twitter acquired Periscope before it had even launched (we broke the news of the acquisition before that), as part of a bold move to double down on video, and specifically live video. At the time, the move was coming as Twitter was really coming into its own as a platform for media companies, “citizen journalists” and simply people who wanted to get the word out more widely on whatever they were thinking about or doing.

At the time, Twitter was also eyeing up and apparently trying to stem the viral growth of Meerkat, “the” app of 2015. That was not going to be an issue for the long run, though. Eventually Meerkat, either because of Periscope or because of the cyclical nature of hype, did fizzle out, only to relaunch as interactive video chat app Houseparty, which eventually got noticed by Fortnite maker Epic, who then bought it.

Periscope, meanwhile, took a different route as part of Twitter from the very start of its launched life.

It remained a standalone app, but its team and specifically founder Kayvon Beykpour became a close and critical part of all of Twitter’s product development.

And the central feature of Periscope the app became a native part of the Twitter app, Twitter Live “powered by Periscope” which has been expanded with API access and other features. Twitter itself promotes Twitter Live content, not Periscope’s: you can follow @TwitterLive to get highlights of some of the people and organizations using the live feature in the app. (Other leading social apps like Instagram and Facebook have taken a similar route, offering live video features but more as embedded parts of the main platforms, rather than standalone apps where live is front and center.)

Periscope, you might say, has in the meantime been dying a slow death as a standalone brand and app. But it’s not a new story: my former (missed!) colleague Josh pointed out it was sinking at the end of 2016.

Still, it’s just about been bobbing along. AppAnnie’s rankings indicate that it’s essentially among the top 100 social networking apps in most markets — maybe not a bad figure considering how big app stores are now — although when looking at overall rankings, Periscope is generally too low to register in any major markets.

Indeed, it’s definitely not an app that has much buzz, not least because of its owner being popular, but also because video fads have taken a different, TikTok-style turn of late.

The TikTok effect is an interesting one to consider here. Earlier this year it was reported that Twitter was among those interested in potentially acquiring TikTok when the popular app, owned by China’s ByteDance, found itself in some regulatory hot water over national security interests (that is a different story, still playing out and seemingly in limbo right now). Some of the apparent reasoning for Twitter’s interest? It never really got past its regret over killing off Vine.

Vine, if you recall, was the popular short-form video app that Twitter acquired, grew really well for a while as it saw it gain some entertaining virality, but then shut down to focus more attention on — yep — Periscope.

Many in retrospect have wondered “what could have been” had Twitter held on to Vine, and put the effort and investment into building it out. (Or indeed, what could have happened if it never sold to Twitter in the first place, but that is also a different story.)

If Periscope sinking away is on the cards, it’s a question that probably still bears asking — what could have been? Even with live video within Twitter’s app, it’s not the star of the show. One can’t help but wonder if live video might next appear front and center elsewhere, made by a different company, much like short-form video finally had its day in a ByteDance way.

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Elon Musk says Tesla Semi is ready for production, but limited by battery cell output

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk said on the company’s 2020 Q4 earnings call that all engineering work is now complete on the Tesla Semi, the freight-hauling semi truck that the company is building with an all-electric powertrain. The company expects to begin deliveries of Tesla Semi this year, the company said in its Q4 earnings release, and Musk said the only thing limiting their ability to produce them now is the availability of battery cells.

“The main reason we have not accelerated new products – like for example Tesla Semi – is that we simply don’t have enough cells for it,” Musk said. “If we were to make the Semi right now, and we could easily go into production with the Semi right now, but we would not have enough cells for it.”

Musk added that the company does expect to have sufficient cell volume to meet its needs once it goes into production on its 4680 battery pack, which is a new custom cell design it created with a so-called ‘tables’ design that allows for greater energy density and therefore range.

“A Semi would use typically five times the number of cells that a car would use, but it would not sell for five times what a car would sell for, so it kind of would not make sense for us to do the Semi right now,” Musk said. “But it will absolutely make sense for us to do it as soon as we can address the cell production constraint.”

That constraint points to the same conclusion for the possibility of Tesla developing a van, Musk added, and the lifting of the constraint will likewise make it possible for Tesla to pursue the development of that category of vehicle, he said.

Tesla has big plans for “exponentially” ramping cell production, with a goal of having production capacity infrastructure in place for a Toal of 200 gigawatt hours per year by 2022, and a target of being able to actually produce around 40% of that by that year (with future process improvements generating additional gigawatt hours of cell capacity  in gradual improvements thereafter).

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Pro-Trump Twitter figure arrested for spreading vote-by-text disinformation in 2016

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The man behind a once-influential pro-Trump account is facing charges of election interference for allegedly disseminating voting disinformation on Twitter in 2016.

Federal prosecutors allege that Douglass Mackey, who used the name “Ricky Vaughn” on Twitter, encouraged people to cast their ballot via text or on social media, effectively tricking others into throwing away those votes.

According to the Justice Department, 4,900 unique phone numbers texted a phone number Mackey promoted in order to “vote by text.” BuzzFeed reported the vote-by-text scam at the time, noting that many of the images were photoshopped to look like official graphics from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Some of those images appeared to specifically target Black and Spanish-speaking Clinton supporters, a motive that tracks with the account’s track record of white supremacist and anti-Semitic content. The account was suspended in November 2016.

At the time, the mysterious account quickly gained traction in the political disinformation ecosystem. HuffPost revealed that the account was run by Mackey, the son of a lobbyist, two years later.

“… His talent for blending far-right propaganda with conservative messages on Twitter made him a key disseminator of extremist views to Republican voters and a central figure in the alt-right’ white supremacist movement that attached itself to Trump’s coattails,” HuffPost’s Luke O’Brien reported.

Mackey, a West Palm Beach resident, was taken into custody Wednesday in Florida.

“There is no place in public discourse for lies and misinformation to defraud citizens of their right to vote,” Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Seth D. DuCharme said.

“With Mackey’s arrest, we serve notice that those who would subvert the democratic process in this manner cannot rely on the cloak of Internet anonymity to evade responsibility for their crimes.”

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Tesla is willing to license Autopilot and has already had “preliminary discussions” about it with other automakers

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Tesla is open to licensing its software, including its Autopilot highly-automated driving technology, and the neural network training it has built to improve its autonomous driving technology. Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed those considerations on the company’s Q4 earnings call on Wednesday, adding that the company has in fact already “had some preliminary discussions about licensing Autopilot to other OEMs.”

The company began rolling out its beta version of the so-called ‘full self-driving’ or FSD version of Autopilot late last year. The standard Autopilot features available in general release provide advanced driver assistance (ADAS) which provide essentially advanced cruise control capabilities designed primarily for use in highway commutes. Musk said on the call that he expects the company will seek to prove out its FSD capabilities before entering into any licensing agreements, if it does end up pursuing that path.

Musk noted that Tesla’s “philosophy is definitely not to create walled gardens” overall, and pointed out that the company is planning to allow other automakers to use its Supercharger networks, as well as its autonomy software. He characterized Tesla as “more than happy to license” those autonomous technologies to “other car companies,” in fact.

One key technical hurdle required to get to a point where Tesla’s technology is able to demonstrate true reliability far surpassing that of a standard human driver is transition the neural networks operating in the cars and providing them with the analysis that powers their perception engines is to transition those to video. That’s a full-stack transition across the system away from basing it around neural nets trained on single cameras and single frames.

To this end, the company has developed video labelling software that has had “a huge effect on the efficiency of labeling,” with the ultimate aim being enabling automatic labeling. Musk (who isn’t known for modesty around his company’s achievements, it should be said) noted that Tesla believes “it may be the best neural net training computer in the world by possibly an order of magnitude,” adding that it’s also “something we can offer potentially as a service.”

Training huge quantities of video data will help Tesla push the reliability of its software from 100% that of a human driver, to 200% and eventually to “2,000% better than the average human,” Musk said, while again suggesting that it won’t be a technological achievement the company is interested into keeping to themselves.

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