Tech

X Challenger Pebble Thinks AI-Generated Posts Can Help Lure Users Away From Elon Musk


Newcomers to Pebble will find that its AI-generated suggestions include posts to introduce yourself on the service or welcome recent joiners. Ideas also encourages playful banter with Pebble’s official account, which itself is a bot powered by generative AI. It can also suggest replies to posts from others.

During my experiments last week, Ideas suggested replying to a post from Katie Harbath, who runs the tech policy consultancy Anchor Change. She had linked to her newsletter discussing social media companies’ election-related content policies. I posted Pebble’s suggested reply in full: “Interesting analysis! It’s crucial to understand how platforms navigate the political landscape. With the upcoming 2024 elections, their approaches will undoubtedly shape the digital political sphere. Thanks for sharing! #PlatformPolitics.”

Although I feared that response came off as spammy, Harbath says it “didn’t scream AI to me.”

Early testers of the AI feature, which is also powered by OpenAI’s GPT-3.5, have edited 85 percent of its suggestions before posting them, Cselle says. The system will learn from users’ feedback, so he’s hopeful Ideas should get better and more personalized over time. “We really want these tools to help people be the best version of themselves and get them to a pure sense of their voice, not replace or strip it,” says Pebble COO and trust and safety policy head Sarah Oh.

More posts are great, but Pebble might not get far without a bounty of new users. It’s significantly smaller than other platforms trying to recapture the spirit of Twitter.

Meta’s Threads signed up over 100 million users, though app-tracking data from Sensor Tower indicates a small fraction are active, and Mastodon, known for its complicated interface, had 1.7 million monthly active users last week. Post registered over 440,000 users as of June, and its active users have been growing 30 percent month over month, with the active users spending an average of 30 minutes per day on the service, CEO Noam Bardin says.

Spoutible gained over 100,000 users within a month of launching in February and is working on an AI assistant to be launched soon, says CEO Christopher Bouzy. It will help users schedule their posts, offer suggested responses to other users, and also help curate content, he says.

Pebble’s Cselle says he’s sticking to his strategy of taking it slowly. He recently added an algorithmic feed to the service and plans to soon court celebrities, brands, and public figures to join up. He says data from the service are encouraging. About one in five users log in on the 30th day after they first sign up, a figure ahead of averages by some reckonings for the common industry measure of retention. Over 30 percent of active users are writing posts and replies.

One convert to Pebble, Limhi Montoya, who helps clients become “the MVP of their lives,” says the service has been the Twitter replacement best fostering a digital town square. The oversight of new users and Ideas, which he had early access to, are significant contributors. “It has that strong communal feeling,” he says. “People are encouraged to talk to each other.” Starting today, more of what users say on the service may not be wholly their own words.

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