Q&A with the hacker that scooped Twitter’s in-app tipping feature

Twitter is exploring a new feature that will allow users to tip someone through the user's profile.

This is the latest tech scoop from Jane Manchun Wong, the Hong Kong-based developer who reverse engineers apps to discover what large tech companies are building behind a cloak of code.

Who is Jane?

Jane finds hidden features in apps months before companies like Facebook, Instagram, and Spotify release the information to the public.
She then publishes the findings on her blog, where she's amassed a large following of people looking for what's next in tech.

One Instagram employee said Jane's insights are "a better source on projects going on across the company than internal comms."

In one of her biggest scoops, the 27-year-old revealed Instagram’s plans to hide likes two weeks before the company tested it publicly. She also brought to light that Spotify was experimenting with a “stories for playlists” feature more than five months before the company announced the feature. In her latest discovery, Jane revealed that Twitter is working to allow users to tip their favorite users.

Some companies have caught onto Wong’s detective work. Following a 2020 Instagram update, Jane found a peculiar feature in the code that was labeled “What’s up Jane?”

Tech execs have also taken note of Jane's sleuthing. Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, and Andrew Bosworth, head of Facebook Reality Labs, are among her thousands of Twitter followers.

I caught up with Jane to talk about her inspiration, influences, and process of uncovering big tech's next moves.

Why do you like digging into apps?

I do this for fun. I don’t want to wait for the news to drop because I get so excited about what the features might look like in a few months. I was in college doing finals and found this entertaining. I started poking around the apps to learn how they run. It was an experimental thing. I find it very interesting.

What are your sources of inspiration?

Philippe Harewood. He’s a bug bounty hunter and a security researcher in Trinidad and Tobago. He posts a lot of Facebook bounty programs, and that opened my mind.

However, long before [discovering Philippe Harewood] I liked taking stuff apart. That’s just the way I learn. I like getting the tools in my hands, fiddling around with them, and learning how they work. I guess the first person that inspired me was my dad and his parental controls on the computer. He put a lock on it, so I had to find a way to get around it. I was just poking around on it and had to try some weird things to systematically get around this block, including replacing Windows with Linux. This rendered his parental controls useless!

What apps do you investigate?

It’s mostly the apps that I like to use personally. When I use an app, it usually means I like it and I’m passionate about using it, so I’m just very curious about the future of the app. I use a lot of social media apps. And sometimes, I take apart Spotify and Medium as well. Usually, it’s the apps that give me the vibe that they care about the features and the product design.

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Have companies ever been upset with you?

I’ve never received any formal notice. It kind of feels like journalism but with code. I like making friends more than finding the features themselves. I never expected people to be fans of my work, but I’m so happy they find it interesting.

What trends are you keeping your eye on?

I’m curious about how companies will change the way they operate based on increased awareness of privacy, and how there might be some companies that have more restrictions on tracking. [I'm wondering] how companies will get around that, or how they’ll they adapt to this change. I'm also wondering how many different companies will create their own Clubhouse within their apps.

What's your favorite media?

Black Mirror. Obviously what’s shown there is what might be possible, but some of it is a bit hyperbolic. They push some aspects of how tech impacts society to the extreme. My favorite episode is Nosedive, and how everything in life is being gamified.

What's your advice for indie hackers looking to grow their following?

Be authentic with your content. Don’t pigeonhole yourself with one specific type of content. I used to just post about finding these features all the time, but it felt very dry. So I started adding some more commentary about tech and just joking sometimes. It feels a lot more organic that way.

What do you think of Jane's scoop about Twitter adding a tipping feature? Share in the comments.

  1. 4

    I'm curious why tech companies ship assets or code of upcoming features in the production releases of their apps. Can't they keep the stuff under development in separate brances and builds?

    1. 4

      One of the main reasons is that in order to build a new feature, that may interact with a lot of stuff in your app. You therefore need to change a lot of existing code as well, and you might have broken something (hopefully not!).

      So the way you usually do it:

      1. Implement the backbone of the feature -- what's needed for the feature to exist. This can be a LOT of code changes
      2. Beta Test it, and then release it to the public
      3. Implement the feature, in stealth mode
      4. Test the feature internally
      5. Release it to the public

      Long story short, after step 2, you can work on your feature (along with other stuff, and other bug fixes), and do several app releases before the feature is complete.

      If people find bugs, you can fix them along the way.

      Not sure how well I've described it, but that's kind of the gist of it.

      1. 2

        This is super helpful. Thank you for sharing @CinematicStudio and thank you for asking the question @PaoloAmoroso!

      2. 1

        All the above is true but don't rule out that sometimes it ships by accident lol

      3. 1

        So they do it to simplify development and test the apps more thoroughly?

        1. 1

          In a nutshell, yes. I've done this a lot, and I'm pretty sure the big companies do it for the same reason.

          Lately, I've had to do some hard core refactoring, to enable some new features -- branching to me seemed not to worth it.

          Also, when you have new code, the longer it's not tested in the wild (= production), the later you find the issues, and you end up with things being waaay harder to fix.

    2. 1

      fbk is famous for this. they live in production. b/c they have so many users, new hires get a small slice of end users to push real (sometimes broken) code to.

      part of their move fast and break stuff mantra

  2. 1

    huh, so this decentralized social media startup is injecting competition into the market...

    which one? bitclout of course. See me there at https://bitclout.com/u/Addanus - haven't spent a dime and my publicly visible balance is clear for all to see...

    times are gr8!

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