27 September 2017 12:51

by Glenn CHAPMAN

Twitter is testing allowing tweets to be expanded to 280 characters — double the existing limit — in the latest effort to boost flagging growth at the social network.

San Francisco-based Twitter said Tuesday that the new limit, a major shift for the messaging platform known for its 140-character tweets, aims to address "a major cause of frustration" for many users.

Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey fired off what may be one of the first expanded tweets.

"This is a small change, but a big move for us," he wrote, calling the previous limit was an "arbitrary choice.

"Proud of how thoughtful the team has been in solving a real problem people have when trying to tweet," Dorsey added.

A "small group" of users will see the new limits before Twitter decides on rolling out the changes more broadly, the company said.

"Trying to cram your thoughts into a tweet — we've all been there, and it's a pain," product manager Aliza Rosen and software engineer Ikuhiro Ihara said in a blog post.

"We're doing something new: we're going to try out a longer limit, 280 characters, in languages impacted by cramming."

Twitter planned to leave the old limit in place for tweets in Japanese, Chinese and Korean because internal data showed written characters in those languages packed plenty into the allotted space.

"Our research shows us that the character limit is a major cause of frustration for people tweeting in English, but it is not for those tweeting in Japanese," Rosen and Ihara said.

"Also, in all markets, when people don't have to cram their thoughts into 140 characters and actually have some to spare, we see more people tweeting."

Twitter, which became a public company in 2013, has never reported a profit, even though it has built a loyal base of celebrities, journalists and political figures, including prolific tweeter US President Donald Trump.

In its most recent quarter, Twitter reported its base of monthly active users was unchanged at 328 million compared to the first three months of the year and up just five percent from a year earlier.

Its growth has failed to keep pace with social network leader Facebook, which has some two billion users, and Facebook-owned Instagram, with 800 million.

'Making it easier’

"We're hoping fewer tweets run into the character limit, which should make it easier for everyone to tweet," Rosen and Ihara said in the blog post.

"We understand since many of you have been tweeting for years, there may be an emotional attachment to 140 characters... But we tried this, saw the power of what it will do, and fell in love with this new, still brief, constraint."

Twitter has been seeking to draw in users by offering more video, including live streaming of sporting events, aiming to broaden its appeal.

"More is better; no doubt," Gartner analyst Brian Blau said of expanding room in tweets.

"It is still not a lot of content, but you can put a lot in there."

Reaction on Twitter was mixed, with some lobbying for the original cap and the pressure it applied to succinctly express thoughts.

"The 280-character limit is a terrible idea," New York Times television critic James Poniewozik said in a Twitter post retweeted 12,000 times and liked 30,000 times in a matter of hours.

"The whole beauty of Twitter is that it forces you to express your ideas concisely."

Analyst Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research fired off a tweet saying: "Worried that we'll lose the inherent glanceability of the vast majority of 140-character tweets. More importantly, not the fix Twitter needs."

Many others on Twitter welcomed the news and said raising the character cap was long overdue. Some people already resort to long strings of rapid-fire tweets, known as "Twitter storms," to string together lengthy comment.

Looking like Facebook?

The messaging platform reported a net loss of $116 million in the second quarter, slightly wider than its $107 million loss a year ago.

It remained an open question whether the new tweet limit would ignite the growth an engagement Twitter needs to compete in the fast-moving social media segment.

"The more they expand, the more they start looking like Facebook," Enderle Group analyst Rob Enderle said of Twitter.

"And if they start looking like Facebook, then Facebook will take them out and has the war chest for it."

The move by Twitter could also be rendered moot by lifestyle changes brought about by trends in voice-commanded digital assistants and looking at the world through mixed-reality glasses, according to Gartner analyst Blau.

"What are tweets in those worlds?" Blau said. "We see Twitter sort of struggling to get this business right while everyone else is moving in a another direction."

Agence France-Presse

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  27 September 2017 12:40

Authorities are on standby to divert flights destined for Bali as increasingly frequent tremors from a rumbling volcano stoke fears an eruption could be imminent.

Mount Agung, about 75 kilometres rom the tourist hub of Kuta, has been shaking since August, threatening to erupt for the first time in more than 50 years and forcing more than 80,000 people to flee their homes.

Bali attracts millions of foreign visitors every year to its palm-fringed beaches and an eruption would be a major blow to its tourism-dependent economy.

The airport in Bali's capital Denpasar has not been affected but several countries including Australia and Singapore have issued travel advisories warning travellers to exercise caution.

In anticipation of an eruption, Indonesia plans to divert flights headed for Bali to ten other airports, including on nearby Lombok and to the capital Jakarta.

"The planes will be diverted to their nearest location or where it originally took off from," transport minister Budi Karya Sumadi said. 

Airlines are watching the situation closely and 100 buses have been prepared to evacuate tourists.

Virgin Australia said it would be making an extra fuel stop in Darwin for some of its flights between Australia and Bali in case it is forced to turn back.

Singapore Airlines said customers travelling between September 23 and October 2 could rebook flights or ask for a refund.

Officials announced the highest possible alert level on Friday due to the increasing volcanic activity, and told people to stay at least nine kilometres away from the crater.

The Indonesian Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation recorded almost 300 tremors Wednesday morning. A thin column of smoke can be seen rising from the mountain's summit.

Indonesia lies on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" where tectonic plates collide, causing frequent seismic and volcanic activity.

Mount Agung last erupted in 1963, killing nearly 1,600 people.

 

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  19 September 2017 12:30

by Hla Hla HTAY with Aidan JONES in Yangon

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi reached out to the global community Tuesday in a broad appeal for support over a refugee crisis the UN has decried as "ethnic cleansing", urging outsiders to help her nation unite across religious and ethnic lines and offering a pathway back to the country for some of the Rohingya Muslims forced to flee by army operations.

Communal violence has torn through Rakhine state since August 25, leaving hundreds dead and driving more than 410,000 of the Rohingya minority from Myanmar into Bangladesh.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate, has been decried for failing to speak up publicly for the stateless Rohingya or urge restraint from the military.

But in 30-minute televised speech Tuesday she reached out to her critics, deploying the soaring rhetoric that once made her a darling of the global rights community.

"Hate and fear are the main scourges of our world," she said.

"We don't want Myanmar to be a nation divided by religious beliefs or ethnicity... we all have the right to our diverse identities."

While expressing her sorrow for "all" groups displaced by violence, she said her country stood ready "at any time" to take back refugees subject to a "verification" process.

It was not immediately clear how many of the estimated 410,000 Rohingya who have fled Myanmar would qualify to return.

But the subject of their claims to live Myanmar is at the heart of a toxic debate about the Muslim group.

Myanmar's army has previously it will not take back people linked with "terrorists" — suggesting many came from the hundreds of Rohingya villages that have subsequently been burnt to the ground.

Inside Myanmar, supporters say the 72-year-old lacks the power to rein in the army, with whom she is in a delicate power-sharing arrangement.

The UN has accused Myanmar's army of "ethnic cleansing" over a campaign of alleged murder and arson that has left scores of Rohingya villages in ashes.

The army denies that, insisting its operations are a proportional response to the late August raids by Rohingya militants, who they label "extremist Bengali terrorists".

Since then just under half of Rakhine's Rohingya population has poured into Bangladesh, where they now languish in one of the world's largest refugee camps.

A further 30,000 ethnic Rakhine Buddhists as well as Hindus have also been displaced -- apparent targets of the August 25 attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) militant group.

Suu Kyi skipped this week's UN General Assembly in New York to manage the crisis at home and deliver her televised address -- the biggest yet of her time in office.


Siege mentality

Analysts say Suu Kyi must walk a treacherous line between global opinion and Islamophobic anti-Rohingya views at home, where the military has curdled hatred for the Muslim minority.

While stories of weary and hungry Rohingya civilians streaming into Bangladesh have dominated global headlines, there is little sympathy for the Muslim group among Myanmar's Buddhist majority.

Many reject the existence of a Rohingya ethnicity and insist they are "Bengalis" — illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

That narrative has justified the denial of citizenship for the estimated one million Rohingya who lived in Rakhine before the recent crisis.

Loathing for the Rohingya has brought the public, including prominent pro-democracy activists, into an unlikely alignment with an army that once had them under its heel.

A siege mentality has emerged in Myanmar with the UN, international NGOs and foreign media the focus of ire for apparent pro-Rohingya bias.

Many Facebook users changed their profile picture on Tuesday to carry a banner with a photo of 'The Lady' and saying "We stand with you Daw Aung San Suu Kyi" -- using an honorific.

Tensions over the status of the Rohingya have been brewing for years in Myanmar, with bouts of anti-Muslim violence erupting around the country as Buddhist hardliners fan fears of an Islamic takeover.

Although the military stepped down from outright junta rule in 2011, it kept control of security policy and key levers of government.

Any overt break from the army's policy in Rakhine could enrage the generals and derail Suu Kyi's efforts to prevent a rollback on recent democratic gains.

Observers say the military may be deliberately destabilising her government with one eye on 2020 elections.

Commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing has emerged during the crisis as an unexpectedly popular figure, pitching himself as a defender Myanmar's territorial integrity and the Buddhist faith.

Agence France-Presse

 

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Tunggul Kumoro  28 August 2017 13:35

Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir struck another gold after triumphing against China's Zheng Siwei and Chen Qingchen in the 2017 BWF World Championships mixed doubles final.

During Sunday's match at the Emirates Arena, Glasgow, Scotland, the world number two pair went less satisfying and lost the first set 15-21.

Tantowi and Butet could not help themselves but switching to high-pressure play, forcing the opponent to commit errors halfway through the game and allowing the Indonesian pair to wrap up the second set 21-16.

Zheng and Chen's more mistakes on the third set let Rio Olympics winners dominated and decided the game. Tontowi's hard smash turned the final score to 21-15.

The victory gave the second world championship title for Tontowi and Liliyana who had earlier won the 2013's edition of the competition in Guangzhou, China.

 

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Ahada Ramadhana  28 August 2017 09:30

Rifda Irfanaluthfi, born on October 16, 1999, is an Indonesian athlete who won gold on Women’s Balance Beam at SEA Games 2017.

She also brought back home four other medals: silver on vault, bronze on uneven bars, bronze on floor, as well as bronze on team all-around.

Let’s take a sneak peek at Rifda’s performance in SEA Games as shared on her Instagram account:

1. Vault, first jump (silver)

2. Vault, second jump (silver)

3. Uneven bars (bronze)

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  23 August 2017 11:49

Rockers Linkin Park said Tuesday that they were planning a public memorial for frontman Chester Bennington, a month after he committed suicide.

The band in a Facebook post revealed only that the "special public event" would take place in Los Angeles, saying that more details would be announced later.

"Just wanted to say thank you to all our fans around the world for the tremendous outpouring of love, which has strengthened our spirit during this incredibly difficult time," the band wrote.

Bennington — whose raw, angry metal voice dueled with guitarist Mike Shinoda's hip-hop asides to create the band's "nu metal" sound — was found hanging at his Los Angeles home on July 20.

The 41-year-old had struggled throughout his life with drugs and alcohol and the trauma of child abuse.

Fans around the world have organized dozens of events to remember Bennington after his death, with his shocked bandmates voicing support but not taking part.

Agence France-Presse

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  22 August 2017 15:34

A koala at an Australian zoo has given birth to a rare white joey, staff announced Tuesday.

Handlers at the Australia Zoo on Queensland's Sunshine Coast say the pale animal born in January owes its white fur to a recessive gene inherited from mother Tia.

The mother has given birth to light-colored joeys in the past.  

"In veterinary science it’s often referred to as the 'silvering gene' where animals are born with white or very pale fur and, just like baby teeth, they eventually shed their baby fur and the regular adult coloration comes through," said the zoo's wildlife hospital director Rosie Booth in a statement.

Koala fur differs in color— from light grey to brown — depending on their environment. Animals in the south of Australia tend to have thicker and darker fur than those in the north.

But a white koala is incredibly rare, Booth said, and "quite unfortunate" if born in the wild, since it is more visible to predators.

The much-loved koala has been under increasing threat across Australia in recent decades, particularly from habitat loss, disease, dog attacks and bushfires.

The joey is yet to be named and Tourism Australia is set to encourage suggestions.

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