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Twitter takes down ‘a large number’ of Chinese-language accounts ahead of Tiananmen Square anniversary

Posted by on Jun 1, 2019 in China, Policy, Social, Twitter | 0 comments

Twitter has suspended a large number of Chinese-language user accounts, including those belonging to critics of China’s government. It seems like a particularly ill-timed move, occurring just days before thirtieth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4.

“A large number of Chinese @Twitter accounts are being suspended today,” wrote Yaxue Cao, founder and editor of the U.S.-based publication China Change. “They ‘happen’ to be accounts critical of China, both inside and outside China.”

Cao then went on to highlight a number of the suspended accounts in a Twitter thread.

The Chinese government reportedly began cracking down late last year on people who post criticism on Twitter. The author of that story, The New York Times’ Paul Mozur, has also been tweeting about the takedowns, noting that “suspensions seem not limited to accounts critical of China” and that it appears to be “an equal opportunity purge of Chinese language accounts.”

In response, Twitter’s Public Policy account said it suspended “a number of accounts this week” mostly for “engaging in mix of spamming, inauthentic behavior, & ban evasion.” It acknowledged, however, that some of the accounts “were involved in commentary about China.”

“These accounts were not mass reported by the Chinese authorities — this was a routine action on our part,” the company said. “Sometimes our routine actions catch false positives or we make errors. We apologize. We’re working today to ensure we overturn any errors but that we remain vigilant in enforcing our rules for those who violate them.”

By this point, the deletions had attracted broader political notice, with Florida Senator Marco Rubio declaring, “Twitter has become a Chinese govt censor.”

And while Cao acknowledged Twitter’s official explanation, as well as help she’s received from the company in the past, she said, “Per @Twitter’s explanation, it’s cleaning up CCP bots but accidentally suspended 1000s anti-CCP accts. That doesn’t make sense.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Zuckerberg says breaking up Facebook “isn’t going to help”

Posted by on May 11, 2019 in Apps, Chris Hughes, Drama, Facebook, Government, Mark Zuckerberg, Nick Clegg, Policy, Privacy, Social, TC | 0 comments

With the look of someone betrayed, Facebook’s CEO has fired back at co-founder Chris Hughes and his brutal NYT op-ed calling for regulators to split up Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. “When I read what he wrote, my main reaction was that what he’s proposing that we do isn’t going to do anything to help solve those issues. So I think that if what you care about is democracy and elections, then you want a company like us to be able to invest billions of dollars per year like we are in building up really advanced tools to fight election interference” Zuckerberg told France Info while in Paris to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Zuckerberg’s argument boils down to the idea that Facebook’s specific problems with privacy, safety, misinformation, and speech won’t be directly addressed by breaking up the company, and that would instead actually hinder its efforts to safeguard its social networks. The Facebook family of apps would theoretically have fewer economies of scale when investing in safety technology like artificial intelligence to spot bots spreading voter suppression content.

Facebook’s co-founders (from left): Dustin Moskovitz, Chris Hughes, and Mark Zuckerberg

Hughes claims that “Mark’s power is unprecedented and un-American” and that Facebook’s rampant acquisitions and copying have made it so dominant that it deters competition. The call echoes other early execs like Facebook’s first president Sean Parker and growth chief Chamath Palihapitiya who’ve raised alarms about how the social network they built impacts society.

But Zuckerberg argues that Facebook’s size benefits the public. “Our budget for safety this year is bigger than the whole revenue of our company was when we went public earlier this decade. A lot of that is because we’ve been able to build a successful business that can now support that. You know, we invest more in safety than anyone in social media” Zuckerberg told journalist Laurent Delahousse.

The Facebook CEO’s comments were largely missed by the media, in part because the TV interview was heavily dubbed into French with no transcript. But written out here for the first time, his quotes offer a window into how deeply Zuckerberg dismisses Hughes’ claims. “Well [Hughes] was talking about a very specific idea of breaking up the company to solve some of the social issues that we face” Zuckerberg says before trying to decouple solutions from anti-trust regulation. “The way that I look at this is, there are real issues. There are real issues around harmful content and finding the right balance between expression and safety, for preventing election interference, on privacy.”

Claiming that a breakup “isn’t going to do anything to help” is a more unequivocal refutation of Hughes’ claim than that of Facebook VP of communications and former UK deputy Prime Minster Nick Clegg . He wrote in his own NYT op-ed today that “what matters is not size but rather the rights and interests of consumers, and our accountability to the governments and legislators who oversee commerce and communications . . . Big in itself isn’t bad. Success should not be penalized.”

Mark Zuckerberg and Chris Hughes

Something certainly must be done to protect consumers. Perhaps that’s a break up of Facebook. At the least, banning it from acquiring more social networks of sufficient scale so it couldn’t snatch another Instagram from its crib would be an expedient and attainable remedy.

But the sharpest point of Hughes’ op-ed was how he identified that users are trapped on Facebook. “Competition alone wouldn’t necessarily spur privacy protection — regulation is required to ensure accountability — but Facebook’s lock on the market guarantees that users can’t protest by moving to alternative platforms” he writes. After Cambridge Analytica “people did not leave the company’s platforms en masse. After all, where would they go?”

That’s why given critics’ call for competition and Zuckerberg’s own support for interoperability, a core tenet of regulation must be making it easier for users to switch from Facebook to another social network. As I’ll explore in an upcoming piece, until users can easily bring their friend connections or ‘social graph’ somewhere else, there’s little to compel Facebook to treat them better.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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India’s most popular services are becoming super apps

Posted by on May 11, 2019 in Apps, Asia, China, Cloud, Developer, Facebook, Finance, Flipkart, Food, Foodpanda, Gaana, Gaming, grab, haptik, hike, India, MakeMyTrip, Media, Microsoft, microsoft garage, Mobile, Mukesh Ambani, mx player, payments, Paytm, paytm mall, reliance jio, saavn, SnapDeal, Social, Startups, Tapzo, Tencent, Times Internet, Transportation, Truecaller, Uber, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, WeChat | 0 comments

Truecaller, an app that helps users screen strangers and robocallers, will soon allow users in India, its largest market, to borrow up to a few hundred dollars.

The crediting option will be the fourth feature the nine-year-old app adds to its service in the last two years. So far it has added to the service the ability to text, record phone calls and mobile payment features, some of which are only available to users in India. Of the 140 million daily active users of Truecaller, 100 million live in India.

The story of the ever-growing ambition of Truecaller illustrates an interesting phase in India’s internet market that is seeing a number of companies mold their single-functioning app into multi-functioning so-called super apps.

Inspired by China

This may sound familiar. Truecaller and others are trying to replicate Tencent’s playbook. The Chinese tech giant’s WeChat, an app that began life as a messaging service, has become a one-stop solution for a range of features — gaming, payments, social commerce and publishing platform — in recent years.

WeChat has become such a dominant player in the Chinese internet ecosystem that it is effectively serving as an operating system and getting away with it. The service maintains its own app store that hosts mini apps and lets users tip authors. This has put it at odds with Apple, though the iPhone-maker has little choice but to make peace with it.

For all its dominance in China, WeChat has struggled to gain traction in India and elsewhere. But its model today is prominently on display in other markets. Grab and Go-Jek in Southeast Asian markets are best known for their ride-hailing services, but have begun to offer a range of other features, including food delivery, entertainment, digital payments, financial services and healthcare.

The proliferation of low-cost smartphones and mobile data in India, thanks in part to Google and Facebook, has helped tens of millions of Indians come online in recent years, with mobile the dominant platform. The number of internet users has already exceeded 500 million in India, up from some 350 million in mid-2015. According to some estimates, India may have north of 625 million users by year-end.

This has fueled the global image of India, which is both the fastest growing internet and smartphone market. Naturally, local apps in India, and those from international firms that operate here, are beginning to replicate WeChat’s model.

Founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Paytm Vijay Shekhar Sharma speaks during the launch of Paytm payments Bank at a function in New Delhi on November 28, 2017 (AFP PHOTO / SAJJAD HUSSAIN)

Leading that pack is Paytm, the popular homegrown mobile wallet service that’s valued at $18 billion and has been heavily backed by Alibaba, the e-commerce giant that rivals Tencent and crucially missed the mobile messaging wave in China.

Commanding attention

In recent years, the Paytm app has taken a leaf from China with additions that include the ability to text merchants; book movie, flight and train tickets; and buy shoes, books and just about anything from its e-commerce arm Paytm Mall . It also has added a number of mini games to the app. The company said earlier this month that more than 30 million users are engaging with its games.

Why bother with diversifying your app’s offering? Well, for Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder and CEO of Paytm, the question is why shouldn’t you? If your app serves a certain number of transactions (or engagements) in a day, you have a good shot at disrupting many businesses that generate fewer transactions, he told TechCrunch in an interview.

At the end of the day, companies want to garner as much attention of a user as they can, said Jayanth Kolla, founder and partner of research and advisory firm Convergence Catalyst.

“This is similar to how cable networks such as Fox and Star have built various channels with a wide range of programming to create enough hooks for users to stick around,” Kolla said.

“The agenda for these apps is to hold people’s attention and monopolize a user’s activities on their mobile devices,” he added, explaining that higher engagement in an app translates to higher revenue from advertising.

Paytm’s Sharma agrees. “Payment is the moat. You can offer a range of things including content, entertainment, lifestyle, commerce and financial services around it,” he told TechCrunch. “Now that’s a business model… payment itself can’t make you money.”

Big companies follow suit

Other businesses have taken note. Flipkart -owned payment app PhonePe, which claims to have 150 million active users, today hosts a number of mini apps. Some of those include services for ride-hailing service Ola, hotel booking service Oyo and travel booking service MakeMyTrip.

Paytm (the first two images from left) and PhonePe offer a range of services that are integrated into their payments apps

What works for PhonePe is that its core business — payments — has amassed enough users, Himanshu Gupta, former associate director of marketing and growth for WeChat in India, told TechCrunch. He added that unlike e-commerce giant Snapdeal, which attempted to offer similar offerings back in the day, PhonePe has tighter integration with other services, and is built using modern architecture that gives users almost native app experiences inside mini apps.

When you talk about strategy for Flipkart, the homegrown e-commerce giant acquired by Walmart last year for a cool $16 billion, chances are arch rival Amazon is also hatching similar plans, and that’s indeed the case for super apps.

In India, Amazon offers its customers a range of payment features such as the ability to pay phone bills and cable subscription through its Amazon Pay service. The company last year acquired Indian startup Tapzo, an app that offers integration with popular services such as Uber, Ola, Swiggy and Zomato, to boost Pay’s business in the nation.

Another U.S. giant, Microsoft, is also aboard the super train. The Redmond-based company has added a slew of new features to SMS Organizer, an app born out of its Microsoft Garage initiative in India. What began as a texting app that can screen spam messages and help users keep track of important SMSs recently partnered with education board CBSE in India to deliver exam results of 10th and 12th grade students.

This year, the SMS Organizer app added an option to track live train schedules through a partnership with Indian Railways, and there’s support for speech-to-text. It also offers personalized discount coupons from a range of companies, giving users an incentive to check the app more often.

Like in other markets, Google and Facebook hold a dominant position in India. More than 95% of smartphones sold in India run the Android operating system. There is no viable local — or otherwise — alternative to Search, Gmail and YouTube, which counts India as its fastest growing market. But Google hasn’t necessarily made any push to significantly expand the scope of any of its offerings in India.

India is the biggest market for WhatsApp, and Facebook’s marquee app too has more than 250 million users in the nation. WhatsApp launched a pilot payments program in India in early 2018, but is yet to get clearance from the government for a nationwide rollout. (It isn’t happening for at least another two months, a person familiar with the matter said.) In the meanwhile, Facebook appears to be hatching a WeChatization of Messenger, albeit that app is not so big in India.

Ride-hailing service Ola too, like Grab and Go-Jek, plans to add financial services such as credit to the platform this year, a source familiar with the company’s plans told TechCrunch.

“We have an abundance of data about our users. We know how much money they spend on rides, how often they frequent the city and how often they order from restaurants. It makes perfect sense to give them these valued-added features,” the person said. Ola has already branched out of transport after it acquired food delivery startup Foodpanda in late 2017, but it hasn’t yet made major waves in financial services despite giving its Ola Money service its own dedicated app.

The company positioned Ola Money as a super app, expanded its features through acquisition and tie ups with other players and offered discounts and cashbacks. But it remains behind Paytm, PhonePe and Google Pay, all of which are also offering discounts to customers.

Integrated entertainment

Super apps indeed come in all shapes and sizes, beyond core services like payment and transportation — the strategy is showing up in apps and services that entertain India’s internet population.

MX Player, a video playback app with more than 175 million users in India that was acquired by Times Internet for some $140 million last year, has big ambitions. Last year, it introduced a video streaming service to bolster its app to grow beyond merely being a repository. It has already commissioned the production of several original shows.

In recent months, it has also integrated Gaana, the largest local music streaming app that is also owned by Times Internet. Now its parent company, which rivals Google and Facebook on some fronts, is planning to add mini games to MX Player, a person familiar with the matter said, to give it additional reach and appeal.

Some of these apps, especially those that have amassed tens of millions of users, have a real shot at diversifying their offerings, analyst Kolla said. There is a bar of entry, though. A huge user base that engages with a product on a daily basis is a must for any company if it is to explore chasing the super app status, he added.

Indeed, there are examples of companies that had the vision to see the benefits of super apps but simply couldn’t muster the requisite user base. As mentioned, Snapdeal tried and failed at expanding its app’s offerings. Messaging service Hike, which was valued at more than $1 billion two years ago and includes WeChat parent Tencent among its investors, added games and other features to its app, but ultimately saw poor engagement. Its new strategy is the reverse: to break its app into multiple pieces.

“In 2019, we continue to double down on both social and content but we’re going to do it with an evolved approach. We’re going to do it across multiple apps. That means, in 2019 we’re going to go from building a super app that encompasses everything, to Multiple Apps solving one thing really well. Yes, we’re unbundling Hike,” Kavin Mittal, founder and CEO of Hike, wrote in an update published earlier this year.

And Reliance Jio, of course

For the rest, the race is still on, but there are big horses waiting to enter to add further competition.

Reliance Jio, a subsidiary of conglomerate Reliance Industry that is owned by India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, is planning to introduce a super app that will host more than 100 features, according to a person familiar with the matter. Local media first reported the development.

It will be fascinating to see how that works out. Reliance Jio, which almost single-handedly disrupted the telecom industry in India with its low-cost data plans and free voice calls, has amassed tens of millions of users on the bouquet of apps that it offers at no additional cost to Jio subscribers.

Beyond that diverse selection of homespun apps, Reliance has also taken an M&A-based approach to assemble the pieces of its super app strategy.

It bought music streaming service Saavn last year and quickly integrated it with its own music app JioMusic. Last month, it acquired Haptik, a startup that develops “conversational” platforms and virtual assistants, in a deal worth more than $100 million. It already has the user bases required. JioTV, an app that offers access to over 500 TV channels; and JioNews, an app that additionally offers hundreds of magazines and newspapers, routinely appear among the top apps in Google Play Store.

India’s super app revolution is in its early days, but the trend is surely one to keep an eye on as the country moves into its next chapter of internet usage.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Facebook sues analytics firm Rankwave over data misuse

Posted by on May 11, 2019 in Apps, Cambridge Analytica, Facebook, facebook platform, Facebook Policy, Lawsuit, Mobile, Policy, Social, TC | 0 comments

Facebook might have another Cambridge Analytica on its hands. In a late Friday news dump, Facebook revealed that today it filed a lawsuit alleging South Korean analytics firm Rankwave abused its developer platform’s data, and has refused to cooperate with a mandatory compliance audit and request to delete the data.

Facebook’s lawsuit centers around Rankwave offering to help businesses build a Facebook authorization step into their apps so they can pass all the user data to Rankwave, which then analyzes biographic and behavioral traits to supply user contact info and ad targeting assistance to the business. Rankwave also apparently misused data sucked in by its own consumer app for checking your social media “influencer score”. That app could pull data about your Facebook activity such as location checkins, determine that you’ve checked into a baseball stadium, and then Rankwave could help its clients target you with ads for baseball tickets.

The use of a seemingly fun app to slurp up user data and repurpose it for other business goals is strikingly similar to how Cambridge Analytica’s personality quiz app tempted millions of users to provide data about themselves and their friends.

Rankwave touts its Facebook data usage in this 2014 pitch deck

TechCrunch has attained a copy of the lawsuit that alleges that Rankwave misused Facebook data outside of the apps where it was collected, purposefully delayed responding to a cease-and-desist order, claimed it didn’t violate Facebook policy, lied about not using its apps since 2018 when they were accessed in April 2019, and then refused to comply with a mandatory audit of its data practices. Facebook Platform data is not supposed to be repurposed for other business goals, only for the developer to improve their app’s user experience.

“By filing the lawsuit, we are sending a message to developers that Facebook is serious about enforcing our policies, including requiring developers to cooperate with us during an investigation” Facebook’s director of platform enforcement and litigation Jessica Romero wrote. Facebook tells TechCrunch that “To date Rankwave has not participated in our investigation and we are trying to get more info from them to determine if there was any misuse of Pages data.” We’ve reached out to Rankwave for its response.

Cambridge Analytic-ish

Facebook’s lawsuit details that “Rankwave used the Facebook data associated with Rankwave’s apps to create and sell advertising and marketing analytics and models — which violated Facebook’s policies and terms” and that it “failed to comply with Facebook’s requests for proof of Rankwave’s compliance with Facebook policies, including an audit.” Rankwave apparently accessed data from over thirty apps, including those created by its clients.

Specifically, Facebook cites that its “Platform Policies largely restrict Developers from using Facebook data outside of the environment of the app, for any purpose other than enhancing the app users’ experience on the app.” But Rankwave allegedly used Facebook data outside those apps.

Rankwave describes how it extracts contact info and ad targeting data from Facebook data

Facebook’s suit claims that “Rankwave’s B2B apps were installed and used by businesses to track and analyze activity on their Facebook Pages . . . Rankwave operated a consumer app called the ‘Rankwave App.’ This consumer app was designed to measure the app user’s popularity on Facebook by analyzing the level of interaction that other users had with the app user’s Facebook posts. On its website, Rankwave claimed that this app calculated a user’s ‘Social influence score’ by ‘evaluating your social activities’ and receiving ‘responses from your friends.’”

TechCrunch has found that Rankwave still offers an Android app that asks for you to login with Facebook so it can assess the popularity of your posts and give you a “Social Influencer Score”. Until 2015 when Facebook tightened its policies, this kind of app could ingest not only a user’s own data but that about their Facebook friends. As with Cambridge Analytica, this likely massively compounded Rankwave’s total data access.

Rankwave’s Android app asks for users’ Facebook data in exchange for providing them a Social Influencer Score

Facebook Delays Coming After Rankwave

Founded in 2012 by Sungwha Shim, Rankwave came into Facebook’s crosshairs in June 2018 after it was sold to a Korean entertainment company in May 2017. Facebook assesses that the value of its data at the time of the buyout was $9.8 million.

Worryingly, Facebook didn’t reach out to Rankwave until January 2019 for information proving it complied with the social network’s policies. After receiving no response, Facebook issued a cease-and-desist order in February, which Rankwave replied to seeking more time because it’s CTO had resigned, which Facebook calls “false representations”. Later that month, Rankwave denied violating Facebook’s policies but refused to provide proof. Facebook gave it more time to provide proof, but Rankwave didn’t respond. Facebook has now shut down Rankwave’s apps.

Rankwave claims to be able to extract a wide array of ad targeting data from Facebook data

Now Facebook is seeking money to cover the $9.8 million value of the data, additional monetary damages and legal fees, plus injunctive relief restraining Rankwave from accessing the Facebook Platform, requiring it to comply with Facebook’s audit, requiring that it delete all Facebook data.

The fact that Rankwave was openly promoting these services that blatantly violate Facebook’s policies casts further doubt on how the social network was policing its platform. And the six month delay between Facebook identifying a potential issue with Rankwave and it even reaching out for information, plus another several months before it blocked Rankwave’s app shows a failure to move swiftly to enforce its policies. These blunders might explain why Facebook buried the news by announcing it on a Friday afternoon when many reporters and readers have already signed off for the weekend.

For now there’s no evidence of wholesale transfer of Rankwave’s data to other parties or its misuse for especially nefarious purposes like influencing an election as with Cambridge Analytica. The lawsuit merely alleges data was wrongly harnessed to make money, which may not spur the same level of backlash. But the case further proves that Facebook was too busy growing itself thanks to the platform to properly safeguard it against abuse.

You can learn more about Rankwave’s analytics practices from this 2014 presentation.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Tinder is preparing to launch a lightweight version of its dating app called ‘Tinder Lite’

Posted by on May 10, 2019 in Apps, asia pacific, dating apps, Match Group, Mobile, Social, Tinder | 0 comments

Tinder is preparing to launch a version of its popular dating app aimed at users in emerging markets. The app, which will be called “Tinder Lite,” offers a smaller, more lightweight version of the current flagship app, the company says. Smaller app size is a defining characteristic of most of today’s “Lite” apps, which are specifically focused on addressing the unique needs of users in areas where data usage, bandwidth and storage space is a concern.

Most major tech companies now offer “Lite” apps for the large and rapidly growing online user base coming from these emerging markets — and specifically India, as of late.

For example, Google has a full suite of lightweight “Go”-branded apps, like Google Go, Gmail Go, Files Go, YouTube Go, Google Maps Go and Google Assistant Go. There’s also Facebook Lite, Instagram Lite, Messenger Lite, Twitter Lite, Uber Lite, Spotify Lite and even TikTok Lite, to name a few others.

Tinder, apparently, believes it too has reached the point of needing a Lite version, given the dating app’s traction and growth. While the company doesn’t share the size of its total user base, the Tinder app averaged 4.7 million paid subscribers in Q1, up by 1.3 million from the same time last year, parent company Match Group said this week when announcing its Q1 2019 earnings. In addition, the BBC estimated in 2017 that Tinder had around 57 million total monthly active users.

Match Group this week announced its plans for Tinder Lite for the first time during an earnings call with investors.

The company didn’t share an exact launch date for Tinder Lite, but, according to Match Group CEO Mandy Ginsberg, the app is “coming soon.”

Ginsberg was speaking about the promise of Southeast Asia in particular when she mentioned Tinder Lite. She noted that internet penetration had grown by nearly 15% in the region over the past five years, which made it a key area to target.

“This area has more than a dozen high-density cities with over a million people, and more young people are moving to large cities. These are really important factors that make the need for our app high,” she explained. “…We are excited about the Tinder Lite app that will be coming soon. It’s a big step forward addressing the needs of consumers there. Tinder Lite will be a smaller app to download. It will take less space on your phone, making Tinder more effective, even in more remote areas or regions. And keep in mind, these are regions where data usage still comes at a premium.” Ginsberg said.

Tinder already has a presence in the key Indian market, and its parent company Match Group recently restructured its Asia-Pacific team with the aim of further growing its dating app brands, including Tinder, in the region.

Tinder Lite, like some of other “Lite”-branded apps from tech companies, may remove some of Tinder’s heavier features to focus on the core experience of swiping and matches. But the company hasn’t said what will or will not be included in the slimmed-down version.

“As a result of our continued investment and growth in this region, we expect that APAC will make up one-fourth of our company’s total revenue by 2023,” Ginsberg added.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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You might hate it, but Facebook Stories now has 500M users

Posted by on Apr 24, 2019 in Advertising Tech, Apps, Facebook, Facebook ads, Facebook Earnings, Facebook Earnings Q1 2019, Facebook Stories, Facebook Stories Ads, instagram, Instagram Stories, Mobile, Social, TC, WhatsApp, WhatsApp Status | 0 comments

You might think it’s redundant with Instagram Stories, or just don’t want to see high school friends’ boring lives, but ephemeral Snapchat-style Stories now have 500 million daily users across Facebook and Messenger. WhatsApp’s Stories feature Status has 500 million dailies too, and Instagram hit that milestone three months ago. That’s impressive, because it means one-third of Facebook’s 1.56 billion daily users are posting or watching Stories each day, up from zero when Facebook launched the feature two years ago.

For reference, Stories inventor Snapchat has just 190 million total daily users.

Facebook Stories

CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the new stats on today’s Facebook Q1 2019 earnings call, which showed it’s user growth rate had increased but it had to save $3 billion for a potential FTC fine over privacy practices.

Facebook isn’t just using Stories to keep people engaged, but to squeeze more cash out of them. Today COO Sheryl Sandberg announced that 3 million advertisers have now bought Stories ads across Facebook’s family of apps. I’d expect Facebook to launch a Stories Ad Network soon so other apps can show Facebook’s vertical video ads and get a cut of the revenue.

Facebook’s aggressive move to clone Snapchat Stories not just in Instagram but everywhere might have pissed users off at first, but many of them have come around. If you give people a place to put their face at the top of their friends’ phones, they’ll fill it. And if someone dangles a window into the lives of people you know and people you wish you did, you’ll open that window regularly.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Instagram hides Like counts in leaked design prototype

Posted by on Apr 18, 2019 in Apps, instagram, Instagram feed, Instagram redesign, Jane Manchun Wong, likes, Mobile, Social | 0 comments

“We want your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get. During this test, only the person who share a post will see the total number of likes it gets.” That’s how Instagram describes a seemingly small design change test with massive potential impact on users’ well-being.

Hiding Like counts could reduce herd mentality, where people just Like what’s already got tons of Likes. It could reduce the sense of competition on Instagram, since users won’t compare their own counts with those of more popular friends or superstar creators. And it could encourage creators to post what feels most authentic rather than trying to rack of Likes for everyone to see.

The design change test was spotted by Jane Manchun Wong, the prolific reverse engineering expert and frequent TechCrunch tipster whose spotted tons of Instagram features before they’re officially confirmed or launched. Wong discovered the design change test in Instagram’s Android code and was able to generate the screenshots above.

You can see on the left that the Instagram feed post lacks a Like count, but still shows a few faces and a name of other people who’ve Liked it. Users are alerted that only they’ll see their post’s Like counts, and anyone else won’t. Many users delete posts that don’t immediately get ‘enough’ Likes or post to their fake ‘Finstagram’ accounts if they don’t think they’ll be proud of the hearts they collect. Hiding Like counts might get users posting more since they’ll be less self-conscious.

An Instagram confirmed to TechCrunch that this design is an internal prototype that’s not visible to the public yet. A spokesperson told us: “We’re not testing this at the moment, but exploring ways to reduce pressure on Instagram is something we’re always thinking about.” Other features we’ve reported on in the same phase, such as video calling, soundtracks for Stories, and the app’s time well spent dashboard all went on to receive official launches.

Instagram’s prototypes (from left): feed post reactions, Stories lyrics, and Direct stickers

Meanwhile, Wong has also recently spotted several other Instagram prototypes lurking in its Android code. Those include chat thread stickers for Direct messages, augmented reality filters for Direct Video calls, simultaneous co-watching of recommended videos through Direct, karaoke-style lyrics that appear synced to soundtracks in Stories, emoji reactions to feed posts, and a shopping bag for commerce.

It appears that there’s no plan to hide follower counts on user profiles, which are the true measure of popularity but also serve a purpose of distinguishing great content creators and assessing their worth to marketers. Hiding Likes could just put more of a spotlight on follower and comment counts. And even if users don’t see Like counts, they still massively impact the feed’s ranking algorithm, so creators will still have to battle for them to be seen.

Close-up of Instagram’s design for feed posts without Like counters

The change matches a growing belief that Like counts can be counter-productive or even harmful to users’ psyches. Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom told me back in 2016 that getting away from the pressure of Like counts was one impetus for Instagram launching Stories. Last month, Twitter began testing a design which hides retweet counts behind an extra tap to similarly discourage inauthentic competition and herd mentality. And Snapchat has never shown Like counts or even follower counts, which has made it feel less stressful but also less useful for influencers.

Narcissism, envy spiraling, and low self-image can all stem from staring at Like counts. They’re a constant reminder of the status hierarchies that have emerged from social networks. For many users, at some point it stopped being fun and started to feel more like working in the heart mines. If Instagram rolls the feature out, it could put the emphasis back on sharing art and self-expression, not trying to win some popularity contest.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Wonderloop’s networking app lets you swipe left on video profiles instead of pictures

Posted by on Apr 17, 2019 in Apps, Europe, Social, TC | 0 comments

There isn’t much left to be done in online networking apps. We are all familiar with professional (LinkedIn), social (Facebook), realtime (Twitter), and dating (Tinder, Bummble etc). But profile photos of the people you’re interacting with only get you so far. And we’ve all known that person who looked smart in the photo and turned out to be not so amazing in real life. Photos don’t communicate a person’s energy, body language or their voice.

An app called Wonderloop hopes to solve this problem, with video profiles, like this one.

It’s now added swiping people, Tinder-style. Left for “later and right for “favorite”. In addition, you can see who’s “Nearby” with a location feature, making it more likely you may even bump into this person. How’s that for making your day more… interesting?

Founder Hanna Aase says Wonderloop is not so much “LinkedIn with video” as much as it is “About.me with video”. Why? Well, because it also has a web-platform, allowing you to share your video profile outside the app, as well as message inside it.

I must admit, it’s fair to say that the impression you get from a person from watching them for 10 seconds on a video is pretty persuasive.

Aase says Wonderloop could end up being your personal “video ID” providing each user with their unique video profile. She says Wonderloop’s aim is to create a search engine out of people on video.

“To see people on video creates trust. Wonderloop’s goal is that every person in the world should have a video identity. We want to help users get seen in this world. You use Wonderloop for the first step of turning a stranger into a potentially cool person in your life,” she added.

She thinks the app will be used by people to make new friends, connect influencers with fans, connect entrepreneurs, connect freelancers and travelers and of course a bit of dating here and there.

She’s also hoping the app will appeal to Millennials and Generation-Z who, as frequent travelers, are often into meeting people “nearby.” “We did research and were surprised to the extent the age group 16-20 wish to find new friends,” she says. For instance, apps like Jodel are used by young people to reach out to chat to complete strangers nearby (although with no names attached).

Right now the app is invite-only, but users can apply inside the app. Aase says: “We hope to do it in stages as the company grows and in a way where users feel the community is a place they feel safe and can share who they are on video. But being invite-only also makes us differentiated to all other services.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Twitter acqui-hires highlight-sharing app Highly

Posted by on Apr 17, 2019 in acquihire, Apps, Exit, Fundings & Exits, Mobile, Screenshots, Social, Startups, TC, Twitter | 0 comments

Quotes from articles are much more eye-catching than links on Twitter, so the social giant is scooping up the team behind highlight-sharing app Highly. This talent could help Twitter build its own version of Highly or develop other ways to excerpt the best content from websites and get it into the timeline.

Twitter confirmed to TechCrunch that the deal was an acqui-hire, and a spokesperson provided this statement: “We are excited to welcome the Highly team to Twitter. Their expertise will accelerate our product and design thinking around making Twitter more conversational.” We’ve asked about what data portability options Highly will offer.

Highly will shut down its iOS and Slack app on April 26th, though it promises that “No highlights will be harmed.” It’s also making its paid “Crowd Control” for private highlight sharing plus Highly For Teams free in the meantime.

“Social highlights can make sharing stories online feel personal, efficient and alive — like retelling a story to a friend, over coffee. They give people shared context and spark meaningful conversations,” the Highly team writes.

Quotes can make the difference between someone breezing past a link they don’t want to leave Twitter to explore, and getting a peek at what’s smart about an article so they know if it’s worth diving deeper. Many people use OneShot to generate Twitter-formatted screenshots of posts. But Highly lets you just rub your finger over text to turn it into an image with a link back to the article for easy tweeting. You could also search an archive of your past highlights, and follow curators who spot the best quotes. Its browser extensions and native app let you highlight from wherever you read.

“Sharing highlights, not headlines — sharing thinking instead of lazily linking — helps spark the kind of conversation that leaves participants and observers alike a bit better off than they started. We’d like to see more of this,” the Highly teams writes. That’s why it’s joining Twitter to work on improving conversation health. Founded in 2014, Highly had raised a seed round in 2017.

Twitter’s shift to algorithmic ranking of the timeline means every tweet has to compete to be seen. Blasting out links that are a chore to open and read can lead to low engagement, causing Twitter to show it to fewer people. Tools like Highly can give tweeters a leg up. And if Twitter can build these tools right into its service, it could allow more people to create appealing tweets so they actually feel heard.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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After Christchurch, Reddit bans communities infamous for sharing graphic videos of death

Posted by on Mar 15, 2019 in Reddit, Social, TC | 0 comments

In the aftermath of the tragic mosque massacre that claimed 49 lives in Christchurch, New Zealand, tech companies scrambled to purge their platforms of promotional materials that the shooter left behind. As most of the internet is now unfortunately aware, the event was broadcast live on Facebook, making it one of the most horrific incidents of violence to spread through online communities in realtime.

As Twitter users cautioned others from sharing the extraordinarily graphic video, some Reddit users actively sought the video and knew exactly where to look. The infamous subreddit r/watchpeopledie was quarantined (making it unsearchable) in September 2018 but until today remained active for anyone to visit directly. The subreddit has a long history of sharing extremely graphic videos following tragic events and acts of violence, like the 2018 murder of two female tourists in Morocco.

After Thursday’s shooting, the subreddit became extremely active with users seeking out a copy of the video, which was shot in first-person perspective from a head-mounted camera.

After the flurry of interest, one the subreddit’s moderators locked the a thread about the video and posted this statement:

“Sorry guys but we’re locking the thread out of necessity here. The video stays up until someone censors us. This video is being scrubbed from major social media platforms but hopefully Reddit believes in letting you decide for yourself whether or not you want to see unfiltered reality. Regardless of what you believe, this is an objective look into a terrible incident like this.

Remember to love each other.”

Late Thursday, the subreddit’s members were actively sharing mirrored links to the Christchurch video, though they did so largely via direct messaging. After watching the footage, many users returned to the thread to express that the content was extremely disturbing and to caution even their most violence-hardened peers from seeking the video.

The subreddit remained active until some time late Friday morning Pacific Time, when Reddit banned the controversial community.

Reddit declined to provide details about its decision to ban the long-running community after this particular act of violence. “We are very clear in our site terms of service that posting content that incites or glorifies violence will get users and communities banned from Reddit,” a company spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Subreddits that fail to adhere to those site-wide rules will be banned.”

The subreddit’s many detractors consider the act of seeking and sharing such graphic depictions of death both inherently disturbing and disrespectful to victims and their families.

The subreddit is unquestionably grisly but remains surprisingly well-loved by some devotees, who insist that its graphic depictions of death are in fact life-affirming.

“Definitely saved me and helped me figure out I didn’t necessarily have tomorrow to get my shit in order,” one former member said in a thread discussing the since-banned community.

“Don’t think it is the kind of place to spend too much time in but, we all need reminders.”

Reddit banned the adjacent subreddits r/gore and r/wpdtalk (“watch people die talk”) on Friday as well.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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