New Patent Shows Twitter May be Looking to Take Selfies to the Next Level. Literally.
As part of their ongoing push to boost user growth and audience engagement, Twitter may be looking to take selfies to the next level. Literally.
A patent filed in June this year, but only made available this week, outlines how Twitter's experimenting with a system in which users would be able to control drones via tweet, and those drones would be able to take photos and videos that could be streamed directly through people’s Twitter accounts.
Sounds weird, right? How would that even work? And why?
According to the patent, the focus of the option would be on improving event coverage – in the documentation, Twitter notes that it's common practice for users to follow accounts which are tweeting coverage of major events (specifically sporting events, concerts, awards shows, festivals and competitions) in order to get a sense and feel of those events from various perspectives. But sometimes that coverage isn’t good enough due to “inaccessibility to certain parts of an event or a lack of knowledge about occurrences at that event”. Twitter’s aiming to solve this by giving users control over drones, via tweet, which they can then use to take photos or live-stream video content of any element of their choosing.
Here’s the summarized explanation from the patent (but be warned, patents are not designed to be an enjoyable read):
“An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) carries a camera, sends data from the camera, and receives commands. The UAV is connected to a messaging platform. Pictures or video clips received from the UAV are selected and placed in messages broadcast by an account associated with the UAV. Video footage from the camera is live-streamed in a card-type message. Account holders of the messaging platform may control the UAV with commands embedded in messages and directed towards an account associated with the UAV. Controllable elements of the UAV include UAV location, camera orientation, camera subject, UAV-mounted lighting, a UAV-mounted display, a UAV-mounted projector, UAV-mounted speakers, and a detachable payload. Some UAV functionality may be triggered through aggregated engagements on the messaging platform. The UAV may include a display screen and/or a microphone to provide for telepresence or interview functionality.”
So it sounds like the drones would act as you, by proxy, and you’d be able to dictate what aspects of events you want to see and how you see them. Which sounds kinda’ cool, but kinda' problematic at the same time. What if there’s a heap of drones at an event, all rushing around to cover different elements? What if multiple people can control each drone?
Interestingly, when Twitter was asked about the patent by CNBC, their response was this:
"Two words: Drone selfies."
Which is totally not what I read in the patent at all, but it could be that Twiter’s ambitions are more modest than they appear – maybe the aim of this project is just to give people a way to quickly capture an image of themselves at a major event – you tweet the drone with location-tracking enabled, it comes your way and snaps a shot, then tweets it out on your behalf. That would be cool - it'd enable people to capture wide angle shots taking in the full perspective of the event, with their face right in the middle of the crowd – but then again, it wouldn't be as cool as using a drone and Periscope as your own, personal window into any event, from any angle, at any time.
But, of course, if that were the intention of this patent, that would open up a whole new range of other legal concerns – Periscope’s already come under scrutiny for facilitating the sharing of pay-per-view events in real-time, and you can imagine those concerns would be amplified if people were able to live-stream events from drones instead of having to pay for actual tickets. Nothing beats being there live, though – maybe that’s the angle Twitter might go with. Ticket sales for movies and concerts haven’t been significantly impacted despite more and more people streaming content from them – you could argue that such actions may actually increase interest because they’re spreading the word about such events to a wider audience (though it’s worth noting that while overall revenues have remained steady, piracy, particularly in the case of film, does have major impacts beyond the base numbers, but live-streaming through social media apps would be a minor part of that equation). Either way, there would be significant ramifications if Twitter were to enable such coverage capability, and it seems unlikely they’d ever be allowed to do so.
But then again, things change. Maybe Twitter’s just getting in on the drone trend to ensure they don’t miss out as other players look to use them for their own purposes.
In the race to find the next big thing, to stay up with trends and move with the times in order the capture the imagination of social media audiences, every major platform is considering what they can do, what can be done with the latest technology. What’s going to blow people away and get them to engage and interact? What’s a new angle on our current, and coming, capacity that'll be exciting and get people talking and sharing content, and draw audiences to the platforms as a result? This is the big question that all social platforms are working to answer – those that can do so, even some of the time, will win out. Those that can’t will falter.
And as noted by investor Jason Calacanis in a recent interview on CNBC:
In this context, it’s no surprise to see Twitter considering new, ambitions concepts.
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