September 5, 2018

Correction: This article originally listed Reuters as a news organization that uses Twitch.

People often ask about the right time to join a new social network.

It’s best to sign up as early as possible to grab your username and experiment a bit, but to wait until that network sees some type of critical mass before committing resources. That time might be here for Twitch, the gaming-focused video streaming platform that Amazon bought in 2014 for $970 million.

Twitch boasts 15 million daily active viewers who spend an average of 95 minutes daily watching live content. The site claims it has 2.2 million content creators, including several big names in news.

Reuters reported that they have had luck with live videos, with a 100 percent year-on-year increase. And given its ownership, it’s no surprise that The Washington Post has launched several shows on the platform, including one called “Playing Games with Politicians.” I don’t think I have to explain to you what that one is about.

Why might a news organization choose to stream via Twitch instead of Facebook or Twitter, networks that feature much larger audiences?

  • Twitch users are more purposefully engaged. They visit the site specifically to watch livestreams, as opposed to stumbling across them amidst other news feed items clamoring for attention.
  • Twitch is a relatively untapped community, at least when it comes to news. The vast majority of content creators are gamers, the majority of which are amateurs with Macgyvered equipment.
  • Twitch’s audience is 81.5 percent male, 55 percent of whom are between 18 and 34 years old. This could be an attractive, highly distilled audience for some news organizations. On the other hand, it also says to me that Twitch has a lot of growing to do. It might pay to get ahead of that curve.

It’s easy to overlook a platform in which the most successful creators play Fortnite for a living and users often chat in obscure emotes. But in a world where advertisers pay millions to appear amidst grown men beating the hell out of each other for possession of an egg made of vulcanized rubber, is it really that outlandish? The future might be unwritten but this looks like a promising draft.


  • A snooze feature in the new version of Gmail makes it easy to remember important emails. Just navigate to an individual email and hit the new clock button at the top of the screen to send the email to your inbox later. (h/t to Burkhard Luber for that one. More from Burkhard in a minute.)
  • Last week, I mentioned that I get loads of out-of-office replies when I send this newsletter. My colleague, Jessi McCarthy, reminded me that it’s possible (and easy) to set up a filter to have emails with “Out of Office” and “Automatic Reply” in their titles skip my inbox and have a label auto-applied. I just did that. Let’s hope it keeps things tidy. Thanks, Jessi!

CRUNCHING NUMBERS: Some parts of climate change are hard to see and, therefore, understand. Glaciers are collapsing but most have never watched it happen. Permafrost is thawing but a majority of people don’t even know what that is, let alone why it’s significant. But most people can feel it getting hotter in the summer. And that’s why this visualization from The New York Times is so great: It shows how much hotter your hometown has gotten since the year you were born.

  • If you’re looking to create powerful, dynamic visualizations and infographics on your own, my recommendation these days is Flourish. Thanks to some help from Google, it’s free for newsrooms. The best thing about Flourish is that almost anyone can use it, even non-developers, once a few templates are in place.

BAD NEWS: Ever buy something in a store, only to see a very specific ad for it online a few days later? You might not be crazy. Details are tight, but Bloomberg reports that Google and Mastercard cut a secret deal to track retail sales. Google reportedly paid Mastercard “millions” for the data, and the two megacompanies discussed sharing revenue gleaned from it. For its part, Google says that it developed encryption technology to prevent it from viewing personally identifiable information.

BROWSER ON FIRE: Want to fight back? Firefox is about to block trackers by default, meaning advertisers and others will be blocked from gathering user information on and across sites. This functionality is currently available on just about every browser through plugins and extensions (I use Privacy Badger for Chrome), but one of the major browsers adopting it as a default is huge. It seems like trackers are facing a watershed moment, much like pop-up ads did a few years back.

ROBOTS RISING: The next time you answer the phone and the caller sounds a little off, imagine this: The person at the other end could be a robot. BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel used software called Lyrebird to simulate his voice and trick his own mom into believing the simulated voice was him. After speaking into Lyrebird for about an hour, Warzel found it could produce a decent rendering of his voice. The tool asks users to read words and sentences aloud and analyzes the cadence and pronunciation to create a disembodied version of the speaker’s voice. The result is far from perfect, but good enough to be scary, as evidenced by this Lyrebird “recording” of Donald Trump.

TECH ON THE BENCH: Leaders from Twitter, Facebook and maybe Google will appear before Congress this week to talk about Russian disinformation and the 2016 elections, and what changes the tech giants have made to combat the issue. Twitter’s Jack Dorsey will also appear before a subcommittee to address claims that Twitter is biased against conservatives. Watch for another “senator, we run ads” moment.

PROTECT YOURSELF: The good news: Americans worry about digital privacy and online security. The bad news: They’re less worried about it than they were in 2015. New Census Bureau shows that while 83 percent of households were concerned about online security in 2015, only 73 percent were last year. Did nobody notice that Equifax, Dropbox and the freaking Democratic National Committee all have had massive data breaches? Seriously, why is this number dropping?

Dr. Burkhard Luber, a lecturer in international politics and international crisis areas based in Germany, often writes in about tools and media news from Europe. I invited him to share more in his own words, which appear in the following news item. If you’d like to contribute to this newsletter, please reach out. I’m only one person.

PICTURE THIS: Cities have noticeable formats, especially when you observe them from above. They look like spiderwebs, chess boards or grids. City formats depend on how they were planned and built over time. Vladimir Agafonkin created a visualization of road orientations in cities worldwide. Type the name of any town in the world and the application directs you to its geographical location, road directions into 64 pieces and accumulates lengths of road segments with corresponding orientations to show how the street net of a town has developed over time. I did it by myself in a test for the small village of Wiedensahl in my neighborhood, which is famous that it consists more or less of one main street. You might also compare cities with centuries-long histories like Rome, Paris, London or New York. And if you are a local reporter: Why not beefing up local stories with such unconventional town images which the readers certainly take by surprise.

THANK YOU SO MUCH: To everyone who wrote in after reading last week’s one-year anniversary email. I’m sorry to those of you who I frightened with the subject line. I appreciate all of your feedback, comments and scathing criticism (just kidding, I didn’t get any of that). I haven’t been able to read or respond to every email yet, but I’m working on it. I can’t say enough how much I really, really treasure your responses.

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Ren LaForme is the Managing Editor of He was previously Poynter's digital tools reporter, chronicling tools and technology for journalists, and a producer for…
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