Why isn't Twitch a better website?

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What Is Twitch Now?

Back in the fall of 2020, I was convinced Twitch was the future. It was missing a few bells and whistles, sure, but after the pandemic forced a majority of the world behind screens and webcams, it seemed undeniable that the newfound attention around livestreaming would be enough to finally help Twitch break through into the mainstream.

I was, of course, very wrong. None of the issues with the platform were ever meaningfully addressed — I’ll list them out in a sec. And the ensuing years since the pandemic have seen a wave of creator strikes in different markets, an exodus of top users following a proposed, and ultimately scrapped, change to the site’s advertising policies, and there are now more competitors to Twitch than ever, some of which that are literally buying its biggest stars. Even Elon Musk recently convinced Richard “Ninja” Blevins to stream Fortnite directly on X.

The company also has a new CEO, lost some of its top leadership, slashed hundreds of jobs, and, last night, it announced it was shuttering its service in South Korea, arguably the most important country in the world for e-sports. But even before the South Korea news dropped, I was beginning to get an overwhelming whiff of Snapchat vibes emanating off the company when Bloomberg reported that new CEO Dan Clancy was driving around the country in a van on a listening tour hoping to repair relations with the site’s biggest creators.

Before we try and answer why Twitch feels like it’s on shakier ground than ever, though, let’s tackle the Korean dimension of all of this first. According to a blog post last night from Clancy, “the cost to operate Twitch in Korea is prohibitively expensive.” That’s because South Korea uses a “Sending Party Network Pays” (SPNP) model. Here’s a decent explanation of how it works. Basically, both internet service providers and large online services pay for their network usage. If your next question is, like mine was, why we’ve never heard of other American companies dealing with this before, Netflix has actually been battling this in Korean courts for three years. They recently reached a settlement and some kind of partnership with the country’s second-biggest ISP to continue streaming there without, I assume, the exorbitant fees. Twitch, I guess, couldn’t get the resources from their owner Amazon, the fifth-richest company in the world, to go that route.

Based on some chatter I saw on Reddit this morning, though, Twitch probably already lost its hold on Korean e-sports long before this. Seeing as how Riot Korea and the League of Legends Champions Korea tournament already stream on YouTube and the consensus from fans seems to be that it’s an all-around better experience than on Twitch. And Korean streaming platform AfreecaTV, which apparently is an acronym for “Any FREE broadCAsting,” swooped in last year and started sponsoring e-sports teams and tournaments.

My comparison of Twitch to Snapchat isn’t totally one-to-one, but it’s not far off. Snapchat lost its exclusive hold on ephemeral stories to Instagram in 2016 and began its slow march to irrelevance. So too, it seems, has Twitch been watching both of its main niches get yanked away from it.

And that brings us back to the initial question: What is Twitch now? And to answer that I want to, first, define what a video platform even is in 2023. I tend to organize them into three overlapping categories. There are video apps that want you to make videos inside of their CMS, using their filters and tools, like TikTok and Instagram. And there are video apps that push you towards a certain level of professionalism, usually so your content looks better on a television, like YouTube. But there are also video apps that have, at least, unofficially, become places videos get clipped from, getting more views beyond their own ecosystem. Once again, TikTok is the best example of this, with its watermark spreading like a virus across the social web. But it was also true for Vine back in the day or when you would spot the specific font of Snapchat Stories or Instagram Stories out in the wild. What’s interesting about Twitch is that it is, in theory, sitting perfectly between all three categories. Except, in every instance, it sucks major ass.

Its mobile app is terrible for streaming irl and even worse at managing your channel. Its also a major pain in the ass to setup any kind of professional-looking streaming studio. And if you do, it’ll still look terrible on a television. And, as the redditors I linked to above even mention, it doesn’t have decent playback controls. The majority of the YouTube creators I watch use Twitch streams as a way to make content for clipping later, except Twitch’s native clipping is basically useless. And I haven’t even touched on the fact that most of its community features are outsourced to Discord and that it still only uses a basic category-based internal discovery tool inside of its app.

I thought that by the time I reached the end here, I’d have thought of a good example of a site that has been in Twitch’s shoes and corrected course. But there really isn’t one. Twitch had well-defined niches for both its user base and its core feature. It has lost both. Twitch also lost what was maybe the biggest head start coming out of the pandemic of any tech company, aside from maybe Zoom (though that’s been wobbly this year too).

All of that said, it’s not completely apocalyptic for Twitch. While the biggest Twitch streamers are in the US, like the aforementioned Ninja, who has over 18 million followers, dwarfing Korea’s biggest Twitch user, a retired pro league Of Legends player named Liu "Xsq" Han-Dong, who has around 650,000 followers, the fastest growing corner of Twitch is Spanish-language based content. Ibai Llanos, a streamer from Spain, holds the record for most concurrent viewers on the platform, which was 3.3 million. And based on numbers my researcher Adam and I have been tracking all year, Twitch streams for the Kings League, a Barcelona-based soccer league have been far and away the most consistently popular thing on the platform in 2023. (A South Korean stream never made it into one of our top lists this year.)

So it’s possible that the company throwing in the towel in South Korea indicates Twitch has noticed all of this. Maybe Twitch decided to lean away from their diehard gamer audience, towards talk shows and international soccer. Of course, if I was a website that fumbled becoming the ESPN or WWE of e-sports, I would probably not then spin around and try and compete with, uh, you know, the biggest entertainment industries in the world…

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New Garbage YouTube Video

A lot of times I’ll attack a different idea across a bunch of different newsletters, which is fun, but means there isn’t any one specific place for the whole take. So I put together a big video looking at why the internet feels so bad now, how TikTok is largely to blame, why that convinced everyone that Gen Z was stanning Osama bin Laden, and how we can either fix it or, more likely, get used to it. Enjoy!

A Real Good Idea

Why Are Platforms So Obsessed With Celebrities?

Earlier this week, Spotify cut almost a fifth of its workforce, including some beloved podcasts that were purchased by Spotify when they acquired the podcast production company Gimlet. Making all of this even stranger is that, as Scott Nover in Slate wrote this week, podcasting is good right now actually!

This has led many to wonder if this means Spotify is going to double down on their bizarre obsession with celebrity podcasts. Also, the app is now blasting me with recommendations for audiobooks, which are also entirely from celebrities.

Spotify, though, is absolutely not the only platform that loves to trot out a bunch of celebrities for their new widget. But I find it interesting that tech companies are still doing this. I mean, Instagram recently launched those weird AI chatbots that had celebrities’ faces, but not their names or personalities. (Did you also forget that happened two months ago?) Even as these tech platforms have fundamentally changed and, possibly broken, how celebrity works, they still fall back on this.

My theory is this functions as a sort of growth trap for enshitting platforms like Spotify. The logic goes like this: Elevate a select few of your own creators, usually the ones mass-producing cheap low effort content slop like Joe Rogan or that mean white woman who harasses rappers. They function as a carrot for your other creators to strive for, which you need as filler for your content library. Then you bring in Real Celebrities because they represent a possibly non-existent audience you believe is still outside of your own platform. You buy their name, a bit of their time, and a fleeting, almost worthless iota of their fanbase, which isn’t cheap, but juices your metrics in the short-term and is a lot easier to plan around than the long, hard work of winning Pulitzers and building real fanbases that last.

At least, that’s my theory.

New World’s Most Advanced AI Model Dropped

Google’s Gemini AI is here. According to Google’s published research, it outperforms OpenAI’s GPT-4 in big ways. In fact, once again, according to Google, the only area GPT-4 still does better with is “commonsense reasoning for everyday tasks.”

Hilariously, as with all of Google’s AI products, it’s not nearly as simple as going over to a web app and trying Gemini, though it is supposedly now integrated into Bard. I asked Bard if it was running on Gemini and it could not “confirm or deny whether” it was “running on Gemini specifically.” Bard, also, is still very bad.

But Google’s big AI strategy, which is probably smart from a business sense, is going the opposite direction of OpenAI’s one-chatbot-to-fit-them-all model. Gemini will roll out across Google’s suite of apps, start integrating with the Pixel 8 Pro, as well as Google’s Generative Search, which I’ve had running for the last month or so and is, unfortunately for everyone who makes money directly from web traffic, getting better every day. No word on whether Gemini will roll out to Google Nest/Home smart devices, which only matters to me, the last person on Earth who still likes and uses them, apparently.

In many ways, this was the big AI rollout I’ve been waiting for. If — and that’s a real big if — Google can make Gemini work, they’ve got the hardware and the services ecosystem to lock in a lot of users with their AI.

Everything I’ve Learned About DINKs Has Been Against My Will

A lot of Verified guys on X right now are having completely deranged meltdowns over random TikTok videos of users who identify as “DINKs,” which means “double income no kids.” You can imagine why these videos are so triggering to a demographic obsessed with race science and generational wealth and breeding your secretary or whatever.

I also didn’t know that DINKs called themselves DINKs out loud. It’s pretty impossible to not sound silly when you’re calling yourself a “dink”.

Anyways, this reminds me of one summer night a few years back when my friend and I were both in our hometowns grabbing a drink at a local bar. We ended up doing the math and realized that our parents would go to that very same bar when they were our age, except we both had already been born. We also found out that the bar used to even have a playpen for kids. Which made us realize that 25-30 years ago, there were people our age settling down at roughly the same time. Which meant that many of the things these DINKs say they get to enjoy because they don’t have kids were probably possible to do while raising children as recently as a generation ago. Obviously, it wasn’t perfect, I mean, it was the 80s, but you get the idea.

Anyways, probably nothing worth learning there. No, you either get to be a happy DINK, a miserable parent, or whatever the Verified X guys are. Oh well.

A Beautiful Romance

I’m Considering Paywalling My Comments

So, I’ve had a paid-only Discord for a few years now and I love it. I’m lurking in there all day basically. And I’ve left my comment section on the actual newsletter open to whoever wants to use it. Sometimes people come yell at me, but I actually find that pretty useful sometimes.

That said, Substack is clearly changing. There are white nationalists and neo-Nazis brazenly publishing and commenting on the platform now and Substack seemingly does not care. In fact, there are neo-Nazis even commenting on my newsletter now.

I got an alert this morning from Substack saying that there were “new comment reports” to review. Substack’s comment system isn’t the best, so I can’t tell if these are new comment reports or if it just hasn’t been pinging me. So I ended up with a page of reported comments from the last year. Including one user named Herr wolf.

The Herr wolf user has since been banned and their comments are gone, but I don’t want these people on my newsletter and blanket paywalling comments seems like the easiest solution, unfortunately. I’m going to weigh out what to do here over the next couple days, but if you feel strongly about keeping my comment section free and open, let me know.

Conner O'Malley Made The AI-Powered Gooning Anthem Of 2024

This gets fairly NSFW towards the end. The probability of you finding this funny is probably directly proportional to how much Garbage Day you read.

Some Stray Links

P.S. here’s Grumpkin Spice

***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***

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