Creators

300M-user meme site Imgur raises $20M from Coil to pay creators

Posted by | alan schaaf, Apps, coil, Creators, Crowdfunding, cryptocurrency, eCommerce, Entertainment, funding, Fundings & Exits, Imgur, Media, Memes, micropayments, Mobile, Patreon, payments, Recent Funding, Ripple, ripple labs, Social, Startups, TC, xrp | No Comments

Meme creators have never gotten their fair share. Remixed and reshared across the web, their jokes prop up social networks like Instagram and Twitter that pay back none of their ad revenue to artists and comedians. But 300 million monthly user meme and storytelling app Imgur wants to pioneer a way to pay creators per second that people view their content.

Today Imgur announces that it’s raised a $20 million venture equity round from Coil, a micropayment tool for creators that Imgur has agreed to build into its service. Imgur will eventually launch a premium membership with exclusive features and content reserved for Coil subscribers.

Users pay Coil a fixed monthly fee, install its browser extension, the Interledger protocol is used to route assets around, and then Coil pays creators dollars or XRP tokens per second that the subscriber spends consuming their content at a rate of 36 cents per hour. Imgur and Coil will earn a cut too, diversifying the meme network’s revenue beyond ads.

Imgur

“Imgur began in 2009 as a gift to the internet. Over the last 10 years we’ve built one of the largest, most positive online communities, based on our core value to ‘give more than we take’” says Alan Schaaf, founder and CEO of Imgur. The startup bootstrapped for its first five years before raising a $40 million Series A from Andreessen Horowitz and Reddit. It’s grown into the premier place to browse ‘meme dumps’ of 50+ funny images and GIFs, as well as art, science, and inspirational tales. With the same unpersonalized homepage for everyone, it’s fostered a positive community unified by esoteric inside jokes.

While the new round brings in fewer dollars, Schaaf explains that Imgur raised at a valuation that’s “higher than last time. Our investors are happy with the valuation. This is a really exciting strategic partnership.” Coil founder and CEO Stefan Thomas who was formerly the CTO of cryptocurrency company Ripple Labs will join Imgur’s board. Coil received the money it’s investing in Imgur from Ripple Labs’ Xpring Initiative, which aims to fund proliferation of the Ripple XRP ecosystem, though Imgur received US dollars in the funding deal.

Thomas tells me that “There’s no built in business model” as part of the web. Publishers and platforms “either make money with ads or with subscriptions. The problem is that only works when you have huge scale” that can bring along societal problems as we’ve seen with Facebook. Coil will “hopefully offer a third potential business model for the internet and offer a way for creators to get paid.”

Coil Micropayments

Founded last year, Coil’s $5 per month subscription is now in open beta, and it provides extensions for Chrome and Firefox as it tries to get baked into browsers natively. Unlike Patreon where you pick a few creators and choose how much to pay each every month, Coil lets you browse content from as many creators as you want and it pays them appropriately. Sites like Imgur can code in tags to their pages that tell Coil’s Web Monetization API who to send money to.

The challenge for Imgur will be avoiding the cannibalization of its existing content to the detriment of its non-paying users who’ve always known it to be free. “We’re in the business of making the internet better. We do not plan on taking anything away for the community” Schaaf insists. That means it will have to recruit new creators and add bonus features that are reserved for Coil subscribers without making the rest of its 300 million users feel deprived.

It’s surprising thT meme culture hasn’t spawned more dedicated apps. Decade-old Imgur precedes the explosion in popularity of bite-sized internet content. But rather than just host memes like Instagram, Imgur has built its own meme creation tools. If Imgur and Coil can prove users are willing to pay for quick hits of entertainment and creators can be fairly compensated, they could inspire more apps to help content makers turn their passion into a profession…or at least a nice side hustle.

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Instagram’s vertical IGTV surrenders to landscape status quo

Posted by | Apps, Creators, Entertainment, IGTV, instagram, Instagram IGTV, Mobile, Social, TC, YouTube | No Comments

A year ago Instagram made a bold bet with the launch of IGTV: That it could invent and popularize a new medium of long-form vertical videos. Landscape uploads weren’t allowed. Co-founder Kevin Systrom told me in August that “What I’m most proud of is that Instagram took a stand and tried a brand new thing that is frankly hard to pull off. Full-screen vertical video that’s mobile only. That doesn’t exist anywhere else.”

Now a dedicated hub for multi-minute portrait-mode video won’t exist anywhere at all. Following lackluster buy-in from creators loathe to shoot in a proprietary format that’s tough to reuse, IGTV is retreating from its vertical-only policy. Starting today, users can upload traditional horizontal landscape videos too, and they’ll be shown full-screen when users turn their phones sideways while watching IGTV’s standalone app or its hub within the main Instagram app. That should hopefully put an end to crude ports of landscape videos shown tiny with giant letterboxes slapped on to soak up the vertical screen.

Instagram spins it saying, “Ultimately, our vision is to make IGTV a destination for great content no matter how it’s shot so creators can express themselves how they want . . . .  In many ways, opening IGTV to more than just vertical videos is similar to when we opened Instagram to more than just square photos in 2015. It enabled creativity to flourish and engagement to rise – and we believe the same will happen again with IGTV.”

Last year I suggested IGTV might have to embrace landscape after a soggy start. “Loosening up to accept landscape videos too might nullify a differentiator, but also pipe in a flood of content it could then algorithmically curate to bootstrap IGTV’s library. Reducing the friction by allowing people to easily port content to or from elsewhere might make it feel like less of a gamble for creators deciding where to put their production resources,” I wrote.

The coming influx of repurposed YouTube videos could drive more creators and their fans to IGTV. To date there have been no break-out stars, must-see shows or cultural zeitgeist moments on IGTV. Instagram refused to provide a list of the most viewed long-form clips. Sensor Tower estimates just 4.2 million installs to date for IGTV’s standalone app, amounting to less than half a percent of Instagram’s billion-plus users downloading the app. It saw 3.8 times more downloads per day in its first three months on the market than than last month. The iOS app sank to No. 191 on the US – Photo & Video app charts, according to App Annie, and didn’t make the overall chart.

Instagram has tried several changes to reinvigorate IGTV already. It started allowing creators to share IGTV previews to the main Instagram feed that’s capped at 60 seconds. Users can tap through those to watch full clips of up to 60 minutes on IGTV, which has helped to boost view counts for video makers like BabyAriel. And earlier this week we reported that IGTV had been quietly redesigned to ditch its category tabs for a central feed of videos that relies more on algorithmic recommendations like TikTok and a two-wide vertical grid of previews to browse like Snapchat Discover.

But Instagram has still refused to add what creators have been asking for since day one: monetization. Without ways to earn a cut of ad revenue, accept tips, sign up users to a monthly patronage subscription or sell merchandise, it’s been tough to justify shooting a whole premium video in vertical. Producing in landscape would make creators money on YouTube and possibly elsewhere. Now at least creators can shoot once and distribute to IGTV and other apps, which could fill out the feature with content before it figures out monetization.

For viewers and the creators they love, IGTV’s newfound flexibility is a positive. But I can’t help but think this is Instagram’s first truly massive misstep. Nine months after safely copying Snapchat Stories in 2016, Instagram was happy to tout it had 200 million daily users. The company still hasn’t released a single usage stat about IGTV usage. Perhaps after seemingly defeating Snap, Instagram thought it was invincible and could dictate how and what video artists create. But the Facebook pet proved fallible after all. The launch and subsequent rethinking should serve as a lesson. Even the biggest platforms can’t demand people produce elaborate proprietary content for nothing in return but “exposure.”

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Twitch launches a four-person ‘Squad Stream’ feature to help creators get discovered

Posted by | broadcasting, Creators, Gamers, Gaming, Media, streaming, Twitch, Video, video player | No Comments

Twitch today announced the launch of a new feature called “Squad Stream,” which offers a way for up to four creators to go live and stream together within one window. The feature will allow creators to grow their communities by teaming up with others, as it gives streamers increased exposure by playing to a wider range of fans.

Helping viewers find new people to follow is an area of ongoing interest for the company which has, in the past, faced accusations from smaller streamers who complain they just broadcast to empty channels and have trouble growing a fan base.

To address this, Twitch today offers a feature called Raids, which allows creators to work together to grow their respective communities by driving traffic to each other’s channels. Squad Streams is an expansion on that as it’s actually allowing streamers to broadcast together. That is, instead of redirecting traffic, they’re sharing it.

To participate in Squad Streams, creators can join up with one another from their dashboard by way of a new Squad Stream widget. They can then start their own squad by inviting others to join in, or they can accept an invite to join another squad. By default, any channels the streamers follow, have friended or are on the same team can send out Squad Stream invites. But this can be changed in the settings.

During streams, viewers get to watch all creators in one window, which gives them different views on the action, Twitch explains.

During streaming, fans can chat or cheer whoever is in the primary slot — an option they get to choose by clicking on any of the channels’ video player to make in the larger screen. Ads will play only in the primary slot, and viewership also only gets counted when a channel is in the primary slot, Twitch also notes.

Unfortunately, the feature is launching first to Partners — the top-level streamers who are less in need of growing their community than smaller streamers. Twitch says this rollout strategy is due to the need for video quality options (transcodes) on the Squad Streams — an option Partners have on their streams by default. (Affiliates only receive them as they’re available, with priority access.)

The video quality options allows the Squad Stream feature to display the video in the non-primary slots in a lower-quality mode, like 480p. Most streamers, however, stream in 720p or above, which is why the options are needed for Squad Stream to work, says Twitch.

The company says its plan is to roll out Squad Stream to Affiliates and all other streamers in time, as it expands its transcodes capacity.

Squad Stream’s launch is being kicked off by a schedule of four-person streams over the weeks ahead. (A full schedule is here.) Users can also look for the Squad Stream tag on the main Twitch page to find these streams.

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Instagram thinks you want IGTV previews in your home feed

Posted by | Apps, Creators, IGTV, instagram, Mobile, Opinion, Social, Video | No Comments

If you can’t beat or join them… force feed ’em? That appears to be Instagram’s latest strategy for IGTV, which is now being shoved right into Instagram’s main feed, the company announced today. Instagram says that it will now add one-minute IGTV previews to the feed, making it “even easier” to discover and watch content from IGTV.

Uh.

IGTV, you may recall, was launched last year as a way for Instagram to woo creators. With IGTV, creators are able to share long-form videos within the Instagram platform instead of just short-form content to the Feed or Stories.

The videos, before today, could be viewed in Instagram itself by tapping the IGTV icon at the top-right of the screen, or within the separate IGTV standalone app.Instagram’s hope was that IGTV would give the company a means of better competing with larger video sites, like Google’s YouTube or Amazon’s Twitch.

Its users, however, haven’t found IGTV as compelling.

As of last fall, few creators were working on content exclusively for IGTV, and rumor was the viewing audience for IGTV content remained quite small, compared with rivals like Snapchat or Facebook. Many creators just weren’t finding it worth investing additional resources into IGTV, so were repurposing content designed for other platforms, like YouTube or Snapchat.

That means the bigger creators weren’t developing premium content or exclusives for IGTV, but were instead experimenting by replaying the content their fans could find elsewhere. Many are still not even sure what the IGTV audience wants to watch.

IGTV’s standalone app doesn’t seem to have gained much of a following either.

The app today is ranked a lowly No. 228 on the U.S. App Store’s “Photo and Video” top chart. Despite being run by Instagram — an app that topped a billion monthly users last summer, and is currently the No. 1 free app on iOS — fewer are downloading IGTV.

After seeing 1.5 million downloads in its first month last year — largely out of curiosity — the IGTV app today has only grown to 3.5 million total installs worldwide, according to Sensor Tower data. While those may be good numbers for a brand-new startup, for a spin-off from one of the world’s biggest apps, they’re relatively small.Instagram’s new video initiative also represents another shot across the bow of Instagram purists.

As BuzzFeed reporter Katie Notopoulos opined last year, “I’m Sorry To Report Instagram Is Bad Now.” Her point of concern was the impact that Stories had on the Instagram Feed — people were sharing to Stories instead of the Feed, which made the Feed pretty boring. At yet, the Stories content wasn’t good either, having become a firehose of the throwaway posts that didn’t deserve being shared directly on users’ profiles.

On top of all this, it seems the Instagram Feed is now going to be cluttered with IGTV previews. That’s. Just. Great.

Instagram says you’ll see the one-minute previews in the Feed, and can tap on them to turn on the audio. Tap the IGTV icon on the preview and you’ll be able to watch the full version in IGTV. When the video is finished, you’re returned to the Feed. Or, if you want to see more from IGTV, you can swipe up while the video plays to start browsing.

IGTV previews is only one way Instagram has been developing the product to attract more views in recent months. It has also integrated IGTV in Explore, allowed the sharing of IGTV videos to Stories, added the ability to save IGTV Videos and launched IGTV Web Embeds.

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YouTube is closing the gap with Twitch on live streaming, report finds

Posted by | Creators, games, Gaming, Live, live streaming, Media, streaming, streams, Twitch, YouTube | No Comments

Twitch continues to dominate the live streaming market, with approximately 2.5 billion hours watched by viewers in the third quarter of 2018, according to a new industry report out this morning. While YouTube still trails, it’s begun to close the gap with Twitch, it appears. YouTube’s live streaming platform, YouTube Live, started the year with 15 percent of the overall live streaming market’s viewership, but by September 2018, it had grown to roughly 25 percent of all live streaming hours viewed.

These findings, and more, were the subject of a “state of the industry” report released today by StreamElements, which also dug into what’s making these live streaming sites tick.

Of course, Twitch is still the market leader, with around 750 million monthly viewers, on average, who watched over 813 million hours in September. YouTube Live, by comparison, saw over 226 million hours that month, and Microsoft’s Mixer saw just 13+ million.

Also of note is that Twitch’s growth is now coming from the long tail, the report claims. Its top 100 channels haven’t grown much since the beginning of the year – in fact, they’re down a bit, according to the findings. In January 2018, viewers watch around 262 million hours on the top 100, which dropped to 254 million in September.

In addition, Twitch is growing viewership thanks to its expanded focus outside of gaming content. IRL streaming – meaning, watching creators “in real life” going about their day, vlogging, or participating in other activities, for example – is now one of the site’s most consistently growing categories, with 41 million more hours watched in Q3 2018 than in Q1.

This growth likely impacted Twitch’s recent decision to do away with the overarching “IRL” category to instead break down the content into subcategories like music, food & drink, ASMR, beauty, and more, and other organizational changes to its site.

StreamElements also claims that game streams and other content – but not the competitions known as “esports” –  are what’s attracting viewers.

Esports viewership now makes up 9 to 17 percent of overall Twitch viewership, the report says. (This is consistent with findings Newzoo has reported in past years, as well.)

The report’s data, however, is not first-party – it comes from StreamElements’ position as a production and community management solutions provider for live streamers, which allows it some insight into live streaming trends. The company also partnered with streaming analysts StreamHatchet to compile this report, it says.

That being said, it’s not the only one to point to YouTube’s more recent growth. In StreamLabs’ Q2 report this year, it also found that YouTube’s live gaming streams were on the rise, as was viewership. But StreamLabs tends to look at concurrent streams and viewership, so it’s not a direct comparison.

YouTube recently did away with its standalone YouTube Gaming app, and incorporated gaming content more directly into its main site. This could impact its future growth even more than is reflected in this Q3-focused report.

Finally, the report also found that Fortnite’s popularity may have peaked – it’s still the most watched game on Twitch, but since reaching over 151 million hours watched in July, it’s been shedding viewers. The game saw 20 million fewer hours viewed in August, then dropped by another 25 million hours in September.

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YouTube to shut down standalone Gaming app, as gaming gets a new home on YouTube

Posted by | Apps, Creators, games, Gaming, live streaming, Mobile, Video, YouTube, youtube gaming | No Comments

YouTube will no longer maintain a separate app targeting gaming and live game streaming, the company announced today. The YouTube Gaming app, which first arrived in 2015, will be sunset sometime next spring as its host of features make their way over to YouTube’s main site.

Over the years, the YouTube Gaming app has been a place where YouTube experimented with features catering to game creators and viewers who like to watch live and recorded esports. Here, it tested things like Game Pages to make games more discoverable, Super Chat, and Channel Memberships – features which the Amazon-owned game streaming site Twitch had also popularized among the game community.

Some of YouTube Gaming’s features became so well-received that the company brought them to YouTube. For example, this June YouTube introduced channel memberships to its main site. And before that, it had brought Super Chat – a way for creators to make money from live streams – to its broader community, as well.

But while gaming remains one of YouTube’s top verticals, no one was really using the standalone YouTube Gaming app, the company says.

“We have 200 million people that are logged in, watching gaming content every single day,” Ryan Wyatt, YouTube’s Director of Gaming Content and Partnerships, tells TechCrunch. “And the majority of them, quite frankly, are just not using the YouTube Gaming app for their gaming experiences,” he says.

However, data from Sensor Tower shows the app had over 11 million installs across iOS and Android, and those installs have remained consistent over time. That indicates a large number of people were at least willing to try the app. But the firm also found that its daily users were a “tiny fraction” of Twitch’s on iOS, which confirms Wyatt’s point about lack of usage.

Instead, gamers are logging into YouTube to watch gaming, Wyatt explains.

They watch a lot of gaming, too – over the last twelve months, fans streamed more than 50 billion hours of gaming content, and YouTube has over 500,000 quarterly active live gaming streamers.

In other words, YouTube’s decision to sunset the standalone app should not be seen as an admission that it’s ceding this space to Twitch – rather, that it’s now deciding to use the power of YouTube’s flagship app to better compete.

On that front, the company is today launching a new YouTube Gaming destination at youtube.com/gaming. The destination is first available in the U.S., and will roll out globally in the months ahead.

A link to the new vertical will appear in the left-side navigation bar, where you find other top-level sections like Trending and Subscriptions.

The Gaming destination will feature personalized content at the top of the page, based on what you like to watch, along with top live games, the latest gaming videos from your subscriptions, and dedicated shelves for live streams and trending videos.

Another feature, “gaming creator on the rise,” will highlight up-and-coming gaming creators who are still trying to build an audience. That’s something that many say is still an issue on Amazon-owned Twitch – often, their early days are spent streaming to no one. They soon find that they need the blessing of an existing influencer to bring more viewers to their channel.

Wyatt points out, too, that YouTube Gaming won’t be all about live streams.

“The other thing that we learned through this process was that the gaming app, and the narrative around it, was very heavily live-focused. Everybody always talked about all the live streaming and live gaming,” he says. “But what that did was underserve the vast gaming

business. So by moving it over to YouTube main, you have this beautiful combination of both the living gaming streams that are continuing to grow massively on YouTube, as well as all the other VOD content on the platform.”

There are several things that YouTube’s new Gaming destination still lacks, however. Most notably, the ability to live stream gameplay right from your phone.

That’s why the YouTube Gaming app won’t immediately disappear. Instead, it will stick around until March or maybe even April 2019, while YouTube works on porting the experience over to its main site and app.

“We’re still working through that,” Wyatt admits, when asked how the live streaming component will come to YouTube proper. “We haven’t made a decision on if [live game streaming] will be in there by March, but we do need to have a solution for easy mobile capture from the phone,” he says.

The YouTube Gaming app was never a global release, as it was only live in select markets, we should note. YouTube’s Gaming vertical will eventually be launched worldwide. That could make it more of a challenge to Twitch, as it taps into the eyeballs of YouTube’s 1.8 billion users, while also expanding to take advantage of other new YouTube features like Premieres or Merchandise.

“It’s a great opportunity to use those features,” Wyatt notes, regarding the shift from YouTube Gaming to YouTube proper. “And we’re going to keep creating more features that will that will really lend themselves to live, but ultimately we’ll be thinking about really unique ways to apply them to VOD as well,” he says.

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Instagram’s “IGTV” video hub for creators launches tomorrow

Posted by | Apps, Creators, Entertainment, instagram, Instagram IGTV, instagram video, Mobile, Snapchat Clone, Snapchat Discover, Social, TC, Video, YouTube | No Comments

TechCrunch has learned that the Instagram longer-form video hub that’s launching tomorrow is called IGTV and it will be part of the Explore tab, according to multiple sources. Instagram has spent the week meeting with online content creators to encourage them to prepare videos closer to 10-minute YouTube vlogs than the 1-minute maximum videos the app allows today.

Instagram is focusing its efforts around web celebrities that made their name on mobile rather than more traditional, old-school publishers and TV studios that might come off too polished and processed. The idea is to let these creators, who have a knack for this style of content and who already have sizeable Instagram audiences, set the norms for what IGTV is about.

Instagram declined to comment on the name IGTV and the video hub’s home in app’s Explore tab. We’ll get more information at the feature’s launch event in San Francisco tomorrow at 9am Pacific.

Following the WSJ’s initial report that Instagram was working on allowing longer videos, TechCrunch learned much more from sources about the company’s plan to build an aggregated destination for watching this content akin to Snapchat Discover. The videos will be full-screen, vertically oriented, and can have a resolution up to 4K. Users will be greeted with collection of Popular recent videos, and the option to Continue Watching clips they didn’t finish.

The videos aren’t meant to compete with Netflix Originals or HBO-quality content. Instead, they’ll be the kind of things you might see on YouTube rather than the short, off-the-cuff social media clips Instagram has hosted to date. Videos will offer a link-out option so creators can drive traffic to their other social presences, websites, or ecommerce stores. Instagram is planning to offer direct monetization, potentially including advertising revenue shares, but hasn’t finalized how that will work.

We reported that the tentative launch date for the feature was June 20th. A week later, Instagram sent out press invites for an event on June 20th our sources confirm is for IGTV.

Based on its historic growth trajectory that has seen Instagram adding 100 million users every four months, and its announcement of 800 million in September 2017, it’s quite possible that Instagram will announce it’s hit 1 billion monthly users tomorrow. That could legitimize IGTV as a place creators want to be for exposure, not just monetization.

IGTV could create a new behavior pattern for users who are bored of their friends’ content, or looking for something to watch in between Direct messages. If successful, Instagram might even consider breaking out IGTV into its own mobile app, or building it an app for smart TVs

The launch is important for Facebook because it lacks a popular video destination since its Facebook Watch hub was somewhat of a flop. Facebook today said it would expand Watch to more creators, while also offering new interactive video tools to let them make their own HQ trivia-style game shows. Facebook also launched its Brand Collabs Manager that helps businesses find creators to sponsor. That could help IGTV stars earn money through product placement or sponsored content.

Until now, video consumption in the Facebook family of apps has been largely serendipitous, with users stumbling across clips in their News Feed. IGTV will let it more directly compete with YouTube, where people purposefully come to watch specific videos from their favorite creators. But YouTube was still built in the web era with a focus on horizontal video that’s awkward to watch on iPhones or Androids.

With traditional television viewership slipping, Facebook’s size and advertiser connections could let it muscle into the lucrative space. But rather than try to port old-school TV shows to phones, IGTV could let creators invent a new vision for television on mobile.

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Snapchat finally gives creators analytics

Posted by | analytics, Apps, Creators, Mobile, snap inc, Snapchat, Social, TC | No Comments

 Snapchat has always been terrible at analytics, only showing daily Story view counts that content creators had to screenshot just before they disappeared every 24 hours in order to prove their worth to sponsors. But starting today, tens of thousands creators who make official Stories or have large followings will start seeing a slew of view count and demographic analytics on their Snapchat… Read More

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Patreon Lens is Snapchat for creators’ paid fans only

Posted by | Apps, Creators, Mobile, Patreon, Patreon Lens, Snapchat Clone, Social, Startups, TC | No Comments

 Exclusive content is how creators get patrons to pay them a monthly subscription fee on Patreon, so the startup is equipping them with a Snapchat-like tool to turn their private lives into “behind-the-scenes” footage. Patreon Lens launches today so creators can share photos and videos that disappear in 24 hours just with those who pay them at least a $1 a month. Read More

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Facebook lets you tip game live streamers $3+

Posted by | Apps, Creators, Facebook, Gaming, payments, Social, TC, Twitch, Video Game Streaming, YouTube | No Comments

 Facebook Live is launching monetization for video gameplay streamers, allowing users to tip creators a minimum of $3 via the desktop site. Right now, the contributor of the tips doesn’t get any special call-out or privileges, though Facebook tells me it’s considering different options for creators and gamers. Read More

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