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Twitter in India: Why was rival Mastodon trending?

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-50343054

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A number of India’s Twitter users say Mastodon is a more egalitarian alternative

Some of India’s most influential Twitter users are looking to move to little-known network Mastodon amid an outcry over Twitter moderation methods.

Mastodon’s apparent trend-surge was prompted by Twitter suspending a leading Indian Supreme Court lawyer’s account twice.

Users have told the BBC they believe Twitter has a “highly inconsistent stand” on issues such as hate speech.

In contrast, they argue Mastodon’s anti-abuse systems are far more robust.

The smaller social network’s name was soon trending on Twitter in India as users announced their new accounts.

However, exactly how many have actually set up an account – and how many will abandon Twitter altogether in favour of the rival platform – remains to be seen.

So, why were people angry with Twitter?

The anger began to build against the social network – which is said to have more than 30 million users in India alone – after lawyer Sanjay Hegde had his account suspended twice.

The first time was because he had retweeted a 1936 photograph of Nazi Germany in which a German national, August Landmesser, refused to perform the Nazi salute, which Twitter said violated its rules on “hateful imagery”.

“After a massive outcry, Twitter restored my account but without the photo,” Mr Hegde told the BBC’s Krutika Pathi.

Soon after, Twitter took action against his account again, emailing him a notice to take down a tweet from 2017, in which he retweeted a poem that protested against the hanging of two revolutionaries.

He had added the title of the poem – Hang Him – in his tweet, which he believes “triggered some automated bots on Twitter’s backend”.

The two incidents sparked a larger discussion on how Twitter moderates its content in India, with many saying that the platform tolerates rhetoric against minorities.

Twitter has denied these charges. It put out a statement saying it does not moderate its content based on “ideological or political” viewpoints.

But regular Twitter users, as well as technology experts, say the platform has a blemished history when it comes to moderating content in India.

Nikhil Pahwa, the editor of internet watchdog Medianama, told the BBC that Twitter “hasn’t done enough to address hate speech”.

A recent report from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) found that Twitter removed nearly a million tweets and blocked around 100 accounts in India as part of their “country withheld” policy.

The report said most of the blocked content was critical of the government’s recent move to strip Indian-administered Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status, and were made after requests by the government itself.

“With Twitter, the problem is mounting – there is a growing sense that the platform is closing down or suppressing voices that are critical of the government, so there is a lot of concern over that,” said Nilanjana Roy, an author who recently signed up for a Mastodon account.

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The platform has also come under attack from Dalit (formerly untouchables) activists and writers, who say that Twitter routinely suspends their accounts while allowing problematic trends – #BoycottAllMuslims was a top trend last month – to continue.

“The bias against marginalised groups – Dalits, women, religious minorities – on Twitter is very blatant,” says activist Kavitha Krishnan, who added that she has complained to the platform previously but had never received any response.

Others have also pointed to the lack of action the company has taken when it comes to women on Twitter, who regularly face death and rape threats.

“It’s not fun being a woman on Twitter and watching the abuses go by – you feel as though you are exposed to an industry that is continually polluted,” Ms Roy said.

“What this incident has also shown is that there is a search for something that is beyond Twitter – it might be Mastodon or it might be something else that we haven’t even seen yet.”

What exactly is Mastodon?

Mastodon is an open source network, where users can post, comment, follow other users and publish images and videos like on a conventional platform.

But what is most significant is that it is decentralised and open-source – this means that there is no single entity running the network.

Instead, users create and run their own servers. This means the social network then is made up of many servers – each of which has its own rules. This also allows users to choose servers that they think conform with the policies they agree with.

Mastodon was first released in October 2016 and the network claims to have more than 2.2 million users. Twitter has more than 300 million users.

While many have hailed Mastodon as a great alternative to Twitter, some have pointed out that its not as easy to use, which means its unlikely that Mastodon is going to take over – even in the long term.

Others have dismissed the movement to leave Twitter as “a temporary fad” which is unlikely to make a lasting mark.

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These ten enterprise M&A deals totaled over $40B in 2019

It would be hard to top the 2018 enterprise M&A total of a whopping $87 billion, and predictably this year didn’t come close. In fact, the top 10 enterprise M&A deals in 2019 were less than half last year’s, totaling $40.6 billion. This year’s biggest purchase was Salesforce buying Tableau for $15.7 billion, which would…

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These ten enterprise M&A deals totaled over $40B in 2019

It would be hard to top the 2018 enterprise M&A total of a whopping $87 billion, and predictably this year didn’t come close. In fact, the top 10 enterprise M&A deals in 2019 were less than half last year’s, totaling $40.6 billion.

This year’s biggest purchase was Salesforce buying Tableau for $15.7 billion, which would have been good for third place last year behind IBM’s mega deal plucking Red Hat for $34 billion and Broadcom grabbing CA Technologies for $18.8 billion.

Contributing to this year’s quieter activity was the fact that several typically acquisitive companies — Adobe, Oracle and IBM — stayed mostly on the sidelines after big investments last year. It’s not unusual for companies to take a go-slow approach after a big expenditure year. Adobe and Oracle bought just two companies each with neither revealing the prices. IBM didn’t buy any.

Microsoft didn’t show up on this year’s list either, but still managed to pick up eight new companies. It was just that none was large enough to make the list (or even for them to publicly reveal the prices). When a publicly traded company doesn’t reveal the price, it usually means that it didn’t reach the threshold of being material to the company’s results.

As always, just because you buy it doesn’t mean it’s always going to integrate smoothly or well, and we won’t know about the success or failure of these transactions for some years to come. For now, we can only look at the deals themselves.

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Jumia, DHL, and Alibaba will face off in African ecommerce 2.0

The business of selling consumer goods and services online is a relatively young endeavor across Africa, but ecommerce is set to boom. Over the last eight years, the sector has seen its first phase of big VC fundings, startup duels and attrition. To date, scaling e-commerce in Africa has straddled the line of challenge and…

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Jumia, DHL, and Alibaba will face off in African ecommerce 2.0

The business of selling consumer goods and services online is a relatively young endeavor across Africa, but ecommerce is set to boom.

Over the last eight years, the sector has seen its first phase of big VC fundings, startup duels and attrition.

To date, scaling e-commerce in Africa has straddled the line of challenge and opportunity, perhaps more than any other market in the world. Across major African economies, many of the requisites for online retail — internet access, digital payment adoption, and 3PL delivery options — have been severely lacking.

Still, startups jumped into this market for the chance to digitize a share of Africa’s fast growing consumer spending, expected to top $2 billion by 2025.

African e-commerce 2.0 will include some old and new players, play out across more countries, place more priority on internet services, and see the entry of China.

But before highlighting several things to look out for in the future of digital-retail on the continent, a look back is beneficial.

Jumia vs. Konga

The early years for development of African online shopping largely played out in Nigeria (and to some extent South Africa). Anyone who visited Nigeria from 2012 to 2016 likely saw evidence of one of the continent’s early e-commerce showdowns. Nigeria had its own Coke vs. Pepsi-like duel — a race between ventures Konga and Jumia to out-advertise and out-discount each other in a quest to scale online shopping in Africa’s largest economy and most populous nation.

Traveling in Lagos traffic, large billboards for each startup faced off across the skyline, as their delivery motorcycles buzzed between stopped cars.

Covering each company early on, it appeared a battle of VC attrition. The challenge: who could continue to raise enough capital to absorb the losses of simultaneously capturing and creating an e-commerce market in notoriously difficult conditions.

In addition to the aforementioned challenges, Nigeria also had (and continues to have) shoddy electricity.

Both Konga — founded by Nigerian Sim Shagaya — and Jumia — originally founded by two Nigerians and two Frenchman — were forced to burn capital building fulfillment operations most e-commerce startups source to third parties.

That included their own delivery and payment services (KongaPay and JumiaPay). In addition to sales of goods from mobile-phones to diapers, both startups also began experimenting with verticals for internet based services, such as food-delivery and classifieds.

While Jumia and Konga were competing in Nigeria, there was another VC driven race for e-commerce playing out in South Africa — the continent’s second largest and most advanced economy.

E-tailers Takealot and Kalahari had been jockeying for market share since 2011 after raising capital in the hundreds of millions of dollars from investors Naspers and U.S. fund Tiger Global Management.

So how did things turn out in West and Southern Africa? In 2014, the lead investor of a flailing Kalahari — Naspers — facilitated a merger with Takealot (that was more of an acquisition). They nixed the Kalahari brand in 2016 and bought out Takelot’s largest investor, Tiger Global, in 2018. Takealot is now South Africa’s leading e-commerce site by market share, but only operates in one country.

In Nigeria, by 2016 Jumia had outpaced its rival Konga in Alexa ratings (6 vs 14), while out-raising Konga (with backing of Goldman Sachs) to become Africa’s first VC backed, startup unicorn. By early 2018, Konga was purchased in a distressed acquisition and faded away as a competitor to Jumia.

Jumia went on to expand online goods and services verticals into 14 Africa countries (though it recently exited a few) and in April 2019 raised over $200 million in an NYSE IPO — the first on a major exchange for a VC-backed startup operating in Africa.

Jumia’s had bumpy road since going public — losing significant share-value after a short-sell attack earlier in 2019 — but the continent’s leading e-commerce company still has heap of capital and generates $100 million in revenues (even with losses).

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Airbnb’s New Year’s Eve guest volume shows its falling growth rate

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between. It’s finally 2020, the year that should bring us a direct listing from home-sharing giant Airbnb, a technology company valued at tens of billions of dollars. The company’s flotation will be a key event in…

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Airbnb’s New Year’s Eve guest volume shows its falling growth rate

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

It’s finally 2020, the year that should bring us a direct listing from home-sharing giant Airbnb, a technology company valued at tens of billions of dollars. The company’s flotation will be a key event in this coming year’s technology exit market. Expect the NYSE and Nasdaq to compete for the listing, bankers to queue to take part, and endless media coverage.

Given that that’s ahead, we’re going to take periodic looks at Airbnb as we tick closer to its eventual public market debut. And that means that this morning we’re looking back through time to see how fast the company has grown by using a quirky data point.

Airbnb releases a regular tally of its expected “guest stays” for New Year’s Eve each year, including 2019. We can therefore look back in time, tracking how quickly (or not) Airbnb’s New Year Eve guest tally has risen. This exercise will provide a loose, but fun proxy for the company’s growth as a whole.

The numbers

Before we look into the figures themselves, keep in mind that we are looking at a guest figure which is at best a proxy for revenue. We don’t know the revenue mix of the guest stays, for example, meaning that Airbnb could have seen a 10% drop in per-guest revenue this New Year’s Eve — even with more guest stays — and we’d have no idea.

So, the cliche about grains of salt and taking, please.

But as more guests tends to mean more rentals which points towards more revenue, the New Year’s Eve figures are useful as we work to understand how quickly Airbnb is growing now compared to how fast it grew in the past. The faster the company is expanding today, the more it’s worth. And given recent news that the company has ditched profitability in favor of boosting its sales and marketing spend (leading to sharp, regular deficits in its quarterly results), how fast Airbnb can grow through higher spend is a key question for the highly-backed, San Francisco-based private company.

Here’s the tally of guest stays in Airbnb’s during New Years Eve (data via CNBC, Jon Erlichman, Airbnb), and their resulting year-over-year growth rates:

  • 2009: 1,400
  • 2010: 6,000 (+329%)
  • 2011: 3,1000 (+417%)
  • 2012: 108,000 (248%)
  • 2013: 250,000 (+131%)
  • 2014: 540,000 (+116%)
  • 2015: 1,100,000 (+104%)
  • 2016: 2,000,000 (+82%)
  • 2017: 3,000,000 (+50%)
  • 2018: 3,700,000 (+23%)
  • 2019: 4,500,000 (+22%)

In chart form, that looks like this:

Let’s talk about a few things that stand out. First is that the company’s growth rate managed to stay over 100% for as long as it did. In case you’re a SaaS fan, what Airbnb pulled off in its early years (again, using this fun proxy for revenue growth) was far better than a triple-triple-double-double-double.

Next, the company’s growth rate in percentage terms has slowed dramatically, including in 2019. At the same time the firm managed to re-accelerate its gross guest growth in 2019. In numerical terms, Airbnb added 1,000,000 New Year’s Eve guest stays in 2017, 700,000 in 2018, and 800,000 in 2019. So 2019’s gross adds was not a record, but it was a better result than its year-ago tally.

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