Weekly output: OpenAI-enhanced customer support, fixed-wireless upgrades, MLS Season Pass, app-store competition report, FCC broadband map, Matter, Next Level Networks, Twitter offer to creators

I blew off work Friday to do something I hadn’t done in four years: go downhill skiing. Slope conditions were not awesome and I had snow guns blowing in my face most of the time, but it still easily beat spending those hours in a warm, dry home office.

1/31/2023: Can OpenAI Tools Help Customer Service Reps Sound More Human?, PCMag

The PR folks for Intercom gave me an advance on their news about adding GPT-based writing assistance to their widely-used customer-support platform.

1/31/2023: How MU-MIMO could change the FWA game for T-Mobile and Verizon, Light Reading

My editor at this trade pub asked me to summarize a rather technical report from Signals Research Group that found signs of a significant capacity upgrade in progress at T-Mobile–which that carrier had not talked up before but confirmed when I asked about it.

2/1/2023: Apple Invites Soccer Fans to Sign Up for MLS Season Pass, PCMag

After writing last summer about Apple signing this deal with Major League Soccer, I had to follow up with the pricing details Apple announced Wednesday.

2/2/2023: Feds Slam Apple, Google for Abusing App-Store Power (But Mostly Apple), PCMag

The lengthy report the National Telecommunications and Information Administration posted on Wednesday didn’t break any major news about the ways Apple and Google have run their mobile app stores, but its recommended remedies were still interesting.

Screenshot of story as seen in USAT's iPad app2/3/2023: Is broadband available near you? This updated FCC map can tell you. Maybe., USA Today

I’d had this topic on my to-do list for a while, and then Federal Communications Commission chair Jessica Rosenworcel offered an update on the FCC’s connectivity-cartography efforts at an event Tuesday.

2/3/2023: With Matter, Apple HomePod 2 speaker aims to connect to devices no matter who makes them, USA Today

USAT publishing this post (a week and change after I filed it) wraps up my CES 2023 coverage.

2/3/2023: This startup aims to green broadband deserts with an old-school idea: Get customers to pay for the network up front, Fast Company

I first read about Next Level Networks from Ars Technica’s Jon Brodkin, then learned that this Bay Area startup was building a fiber network at a development in Sonoma County, Calif.–not far from where I was already spending the holidays with my wife’s family.

2/3/2023: Twitter offers ad revenue share to creators, Al Jazeera

I was able to jump on Skype to offer a value judgment about Elon Musk’s insultingly vague promise of a share of advertising revenue to undefined “creators” who also pay $8 a month for Twitter Blue because I got back from skiing maybe 25 minutes before scheduled airtime.

Weekly output: year-end tech-policy rush, NFL Sunday Ticket, shaving streaming costs, Mark Vena podcast

Christmas can double as Family Sysadmin Day for tech types, and today was not an exception.

12/20/2022: Giant Omnibus Bill Mandates Online Seller Transparency, Cracks Down on TikTok, PCMag

This could have been a shorter post, but I felt obliged to offer some context about the security and privacy risks of TikTok relative to any other social app that’s not owned by a Chinese firm. Then two days later, we learned that four TikTok employees spied on journalists reporting on ByteDance’s social app.

12/22/2022: Google Scores NFL Sunday Ticket Deal for YouTube TV, PCMag

It’s kind of crazy how long DirecTV held on to this exclusive, considering how irrelevant its core satellite-TV business has become over the last 10 years.

USAT streaming-costs Dec. 2022 column12/23/2022: Netflix, Disney and Apple TV prices jump. How to save a bundle on your streaming services, USA Today

TV-entertainment expenses remain an evergreen topic, but this time I could note some progress in the availability of regional sports networks outside traditional pay-TV bundles and suggest a few more ways to get one or more streaming services for less or for free, depending on your choice of wireless carrier and the credit cards in your wallet.

12/23/2022: S02 E42 – SmartTechCheck Podcast, Mark Vena

I rejoined this podcast for the first time in weeks to discuss Elon Musk’s ham-handed “Twitter Files” effort to unmask the alleged sins of previous management, then share some predictions about what CES will bring next week.

Good Twitter, bad Twitter (latest in a series)

Friday neatly encapsulated what I still like about Twitter and what I’ve increasingly grown to hate at the service under its new and erratic management. I know which slice of the service I want to see prevail, but I increasingly doubt that will happen.

First, let’s cover the good side of Twitter. Friday afternoon, I tweeted out my confusion at seeing Twitter owner/overlord Elon Musk declare his intention to liberate 1.5 billion usernames that had been abandoned for years. Could there be that many abandoned accounts when Twitter reported only 237.8 million monetizable daily active users in its second quarter?

Seven minutes later, tech journalist Tom Maxwell replied that he’d heard former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo say on a podcast that 80 percent of new users abandoned it after a day. I asked if he happened to remember the name of the podcast, and about half an hour later he replied with a link to the podcast episode in which former exec Ryan Sarver (see, memory can lead any of us astray) said the service had already hit a billion abandoned accounts when he left in 2013.

Twitter's bird icon, as seen on a t-shirt that I picked up at the Online News Association's conference in 2014, with a series of concentric white circles in the background.

Unexpected and fast enlightenment on a subject is always a delight, and Twitter remains remarkably effective at that.

Then came Friday’s night edition of Twitter Files, Musk’s attempt to smear the previous management’s content-moderation practices as an in-kind contribution to the Democratic Party. Matt Taibbi, one of a few writers to whom Musk has given vast access to internal documents and records, uncorked an overwrought, 67-tweet thread about the booting of President Trump from the platform after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that portrayed Trump as the real victim.

Taibbi’s unwillingness to note the essential context–that by repeatedly lying about election procedures, Trump was violating published rules in a way that would have gotten a less high-profile account booted a long time ago–makes this thread and all its screengrabs of Slack threads an infuriating read. Especially if you, like me, served as a poll worker in the 2020 election.

But Taibbi, like his Twitter Files collaborator Bari Weiss and his recent Twitter cheerleader Glenn Greenwald, seems to have made rejecting the Establishment Narrative part of a personal #brand. Even if that requires him to call a Trump tweet demanding that every mail-in ballot uncounted by the end of Election Day remain uncounted–thereby disenfranchising millions of Americans–“fairly anodyne.”

This thread and two earlier threads in this series–one Dec. 8 from Weiss, one Dec. 2 from Taibbi–have also revealed some interesting details about how content moderation decisions happen quickly behind the scenes, often on the basis of incomplete and fast-moving information, and how undocumented much of this corporate gear-grinding has been.

But as many others have noted, they don’t show a conspiracy afoot unless you think content moderation should parcel out equal pain on both parties. And that is an absurd expectation when so much of the GOP under Trump has bought into lies about elections, vaccines, climate change, trans people, all non-straight people, and so much else that have no comparable counterparts among Dems.

(I remain anxious to see party politics ease down to conversations about which problems actually require the government’s intervention and how to do that in the most efficient and effective manner.)

But because Twitter is also a context-destroying machine, and because Musk has been amplifying these alleged exposés to his nearly 121 million followers, I expect that many more people now believe this fraudulent depiction of how Twitter struggled to apply its published rules to an increasingly deranged president. And to keep its spaces palatable to the advertisers that keep it in business.

What must those advertisers now think about Musk ransacking Twitter and letting neo-Nazis, QAnon kooks, and Charlottesville and January 6 rioters back on the platform? And how do they feel about Musk’s most recent meltdowns, in which he’s lashed out at past Twitter employees for allegedly ignoring child sex abuse on the platform and then called Twitter “both a social media company and a crime scene”?

Musk may yet realize that he has a business to run, and that business is not providing “fan service for aggrieved conservatives who exist in the Fox News Extended Universe,” as George Washington University professor Dave Karpf tweeted Friday.

But Musk has a lot of money, even if the bank loans he took on to complete the Twitter purchase he spent months trying to wriggle out of leave his new property owing more than $1 billion a year in interest. He can probably afford to stew in his rapidly-curdling delusions for a while.

Either way, it might be prudent to leave my @robpegoraro Twitter handle off my next batch of business cards.