Home / Technology / Bits: Farhad’s and Pui-Wing’s Week in Tech: Yahoo’s Hacking, Self-Driving Cars and the Future of Twitter

Bits: Farhad’s and Pui-Wing’s Week in Tech: Yahoo’s Hacking, Self-Driving Cars and the Future of Twitter

All I know is that a horde of lawyers and investment bankers must be getting well paid right now to figure it all out.

Farhad: It seems we can never go a week around here without mentioning cars and tech. So here we are: The United States Department of Transportation announced its first guidelines for companies looking to build self-driving vehicles. The rules are pretty much what people in the auto and tech industries had been looking for — they don’t tell companies which specific technologies or approaches to use for creating autonomous vehicles, and instead allow them wide latitude as long as the cars are deemed safe.

I suspect that like me, you’ve noticed a huge change in Silicon Valley recently. From Uber to Tesla to Google to Apple, much of the industry has become obsessed with cars. Where we used to talk about smartphones and apps, we now talk about electric engines, location mapping and ride sharing.

I’m personally gratified to see this happening; cars are expensive, inefficient and environmentally problematic, exactly the sort of big challenge that techies want to fix. But I’ve also heard grumbling both inside and outside the Valley that companies here are biting off more than they can chew in attacking the auto industry. Do you agree?

Pui-Wing: They are biting off more than they can chew — but it’s working!

I usually roll my eyes at all the bright and happy Valley talk of changing the world, but I’ve been impressed with how Silicon Valley has become the world’s transportation hub. In just the last few years, start-ups and some of the big tech behemoths have changed transportation business models (ride sharing), built electric cars (Tesla), and popularized drones (Facebook and numerous start-ups), self-driving trucks (Otto), robot sailboats (Saildrone) and even flying cars (Larry Page’s secret venture). All of that takes imagination and verve, which is the Valley at its best.

Did I really just say that? Eyeroll.

Farhad: You’re starting to sound like me.

Finally, let’s talk about my favorite pastime, Twitter. Several big things happened with the slow-growing 140-character social network. First, the 140 characters got a bit looser. As of this week, when you add images, links or other multimedia elements to your tweet, they won’t count against the character limit. In other words, tweets got just a bit longer.

I know it’s unseemly to crow in front of your boss, but I just want to note, for the record, that I’ve been calling on Twitter to expand tweets since 2011. I’m glad they’re finally listening!

Pui-Wing: Does this mean your tweets will only get longer and more frequent? And that that will give you more opportunity to get into tweet trouble? Hmmmm.

Farhad: The company also recently started its much-hyped live-streaming deal with the N.F.L. The second game — the Patriots trounced the Texans — happened on Thursday night. And on Monday, Twitter will livestream the first presidential debate.

These deals are something of a strategy shift for the company. It’s looking to become a kind of TV network, the place you’ll turn to first when you want to watch something. I think this is a great idea. Livestreaming sports, awards shows and other news events can be a hassle today — you’ve got to find a link, usually log in with your cable-company account, and then you’re often presented with some slow, blurry stream that makes you tear your hair out. Twitter, thankfully, is trying to solve this. It could be pretty handy.

But it also seems a little bit of an odd game plan to save the company, right?

Pui-Wing: The test for whether this odd game plan will work, for me at least, lies with my teenage daughter and her 13-year-old friends. Will they turn to Twitter for live sports, award shows and news? If this younger generation adopts Twitter to watch those live events, then the company is probably golden.

But for now at least, I don’t see it. The 13-year-olds are into Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest, even Musical.ly. Twitter? Not on their radar screen.

Maybe Twitter needs to try something else, like making money off how brands use it for customer service. That sounds incredibly enterprise-y, but those boring businesses are often more predictable and profitable.

Farhad: Funny you should mention that! Early on Friday, Twitter’s stock price jumped after CNBC reported that the company may be preparing for a sale. Among the potential acquirers cited in the report — Google and … Salesforce?

Google isn’t surprising. We’ve heard rumors for years that the search company, which has perennially failed at building social apps, is interested in the microblogging network. But an acquisition by Salesforce is a stranger idea. I don’t immediately get how it would work, and there’s a very high chance that a business-focused cloud company could ruin the freewheeling network. But if Salesforce thinks of some out-of-the-box way to use Twitter as a customer service and lead-generation network, that could be lucrative.

Ugh, now I’m rolling my eyes.

Anyway, thanks for joining me! I hope you spend the weekend bracing for Mike’s return. That’s what I’ll be doing.

Pui-Wing: Thanks for having me!

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