Instagram Stories

Instagram tests tapping instead of scrolling through posts, first in Explore

Posted by | Apps, instagram, Instagram Explore, Instagram Stories, Mobile, Snapchat, Social, TC | No Comments

The effortless way you fast forward through Stories could be coming to more of Instagram . A screenshot from user Suprateek Bose shows Instagram “Introducing a new way to move through posts — Tap through posts, just like you tap through stories.”

Now Instagram confirms to TechCrunch that it’s testing tap to advance within Explore, and a spokesperson provided this statement: “We’re always testing ways to improve the experience on Instagram and bring you closer to the people and things you love.” As for whether this could come to the main feed, an Instagram spokesperson tells me that not something it’s actively thinking about right now.

Instagram already uses an auto-advance feature in its Videos You Might Like section of Explore, jumping down to the next video when the last one finishes. It previously offered themed video collections around Halloween and top creators too. But for photos where it’s not clear when you’re done viewing, a quick tap is the closest thing to Instagram propelling you through posts automatically.

Next: turn your mind off completely. Succumb to the feed.

Open instagram, and it does the browsing of the feed for you.

Like by smiling.

Comment by grunting one of 5 known emotions at your phone. https://t.co/EzrJWccjbh

— PaSKULL D’Silva 💀 (@pasql) October 11, 2018

Tap to advance, pioneered by Snapchat, eliminates the need for big thumbstrokes on your touch screen that can get tiring after awhile. It also means users always see media full-screen rather than having to fiddle with scrolling the perfect amount to see an entire post. Together, these create a more relaxing browsing experience that can devour hours of a user’s time. Instagram doesn’t show ads in Explore, but tap-to-advance could save your thumb stamina for more feed and Stories viewing where it does earn money. While Snapchat remains the teen favorite, Instagram could cater to seniors with arthritis with this new method of navigation (no, seriously, swiping can be tough on the joints for some people).

The fact that tap-to-advance is now testing but Instagram still hasn’t actually rolled out the Your Activity screentime digital well-being dashboard it says was launching two months ago begs the question of whether it really wants us to be more purposeful with our social media usage.

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9 highlights from Snapchat CEO’s 6,000-word leaked memo on survival

Posted by | Apps, Evan Spiegel, Instagram Stories, Mobile, snap inc, Snapchat, Snapchat Ads, Snapchat Discover, snapchat stories, Social, TC, WhatsApp Status | No Comments

Adults, not teens. Messaging, not Stories. Developing markets, not the U.S. These are how Snapchat will make a comeback, according to CEO Evan Spiegel . In a 6,000-word internal memo from late September leaked to Cheddar’s Alex Heath, Spiegel attempts to revive employee morale with philosophy, tactics and contrition as Snap’s share price sinks to an all-time low of around $8 — half its IPO price and a third of its peak.

“The biggest mistake we made with our redesign was compromising our core product value of being the fastest way to communicate,” Spiegel stresses throughout the memo regarding “Project Cheetah.” It’s the chat that made Snapchat special, and burying it within a combined feed with Stories and failing to build a quick-loading Android app have had disastrous consequences.

Spiegel shows great maturity here, admitting to impatient strategic moves and outlining a cohesive path forward. There’s no talk of Snapchat ruling the social app world here. He seems to understand that’s likely out of reach in the face of Instagram’s competitive onslaught. Instead, Snapchat is satisfied if it can help us express ourselves while finally reaching even meager profitability.

Snapchat may be too perceived as a toy to win enough adults, too late to win back international markets from the Facebook empire and too copyable by good-enough alternatives to grow truly massive. But if Snap can follow the Spiegel game plan, it could carve out a sustainable market through a small but loyal audience who want to communicate through imagery.

Here are the most interesting takeaways from the memo — and why they’re important:

1. Apologizing for rushing the redesign

There were, of course, some downsides to moving as quickly as a cheetah We rushed our redesign, solving one problem but creating many others . . . Unfortunately, we didn’t give ourselves enough time to continue iterating and testing the redesign with a smaller percentage of our community. As a result, we had to continue our iterations after we launched, causing a lot of frustration for our community.

Spiegel always went on his gut rather than relying on user data like Facebook. Aging further and further away from his core audience, he misread what teens cared about. The appealing buzz phrase of “separating social from media” also meant merging messaging and Stories into a chaotic list that made both tougher to use. Spiegel seems to have learned a valuable lesson about the importance of A/B testing.

2. Chat is king

Our redesigned algorithmic Friend Feed made it harder to find the right people to talk to, and moving too quickly meant that we didn’t have time to optimize the Friend Feed for fast performance. We slowed down our product and eroded our core product value. . . . Regrettably, we didn’t understand at the time that the biggest problem with our redesign wasn’t the frustration from influencers – it was the frustration from members of our community who felt like it was harder to communicate . . . In our excitement to innovate and bring many new products into the world, we have lost the core of what made Snapchat the fastest way to communicate.

When Snap first revealed the changes, we predicted that “Teen Snap addicts might complain that the redesign is confusing, jumbling all content from friends together.” That made it too annoying to dig out your friends to send them messages, and Snap’s growth rate imploded, with it losing 3 million users last quarter. Expect Snap to optimize its engineering to make messages quicker to send and receive, and even sacrifice some of its bells and whistles to make chat faster in developing markets.

3. Snapchat must beat Facebook at best friends

Your top friend in a given week contributes 25% of Snap send volume. By the time you get to 18 friends, each incremental friend contributes less than 1% of total Snap send volume each. Finding best friends is a different problem than finding more friends, so we need to think about new ways to help people find the friends they care most about.

Facebook’s biggest structural disadvantage is its broad friend graph that’s bloated to include family, co-workers, bosses and distant acquaintances. That might be fine in a feed app, but not for Stories and messaging where you only care about your closest friends. With friend lists and more, Facebook has tried and failed for a decade to find better ways to communicate with your besties. This is the wedge through which Snapchat can attack Facebook. If it develops special features for luring your best friends onto the app and staying in touch with them for better reasons than just maintaining a Snap “Streak,” it could hit Facebook where it can’t defend itself.

4. Discover soars as Facebook Watch and IGTV stumble

Our Shows continue to attract more and more viewers, with over 18 Shows reaching monthly audiences of over 10M unique viewers. 12 of which are Original productions. As a platform overall, we’ve grown the amount of total time spent engaging with our Shows product, almost tripling since the beginning of the year. Our audience for Publisher Stories has increased over 20% YoY, and we believe there is a significant opportunity to continue growing the number of people who engage with Discover content . . .We are also working to identify content that is performing well outside of Snapchat so that we can bring it into Discover.

Discover remains Snapchat’s biggest differentiator, scoring with premium video content purposefully made for mobile. What it really needs, though, are a few must-see tent-pole shows to drag in a wider audience that can get hooked on the reimagined digital magazine experience.

5. But Discover is a mess

Our content team is working hard to experiment with new layouts and content types in the wake of our redesign to drive increased engagement.

Snapchat Discover is an overcrowded pile of clickbait. News outlets, social media influencers, original video Shows and aggregated user content collections all battle for attention in a design that feels overwhelming to the point of exhaustion. Thankfully, Snapchat seems to recognize that more cohesive sorting with fewer images and headlines bombarding you might make Discover a more pleasant lean-back consumption experience.

6. Aging up to earn money

Most of the incremental growth in our core markets like the US, UK, and France will have to come from older users who generate higher average revenue per user . . . Growing in older demographics will require us to mature our application . . . Many older users today see Snapchat as frivolous or a waste of time because they think Snapchat is social media rather than a faster way to communicate. Changing the design language of our product and improving our marketing and communications around Snapchat will help users understand our value . . . aging-up our community in core markets will also help the media, advertisers, and Wall Street understand Snapchat.

Snapchat can’t just be for cool kids anymore. Their lower buying power and life stage make them less appealing to brands. The problem is that Snapchat risks turning off younger users by courting their older siblings or adults. If, like Facebook, users start to feel like Snapchat is a place for parents, they may defect in search of the next purposefully built app to confuse adults to stay hip.

7. Finally prioritizing developing markets

We already have many projects underway to unlock our core product value in new markets. Mushroom allows our community to use Snapchat on lower-end devices. Arroyo, our new gateway architecture, will speed up messaging and many other services . . . It might require us to change our products for different markets where some of our value-add features detract from our core product value.

Sources tell me Snapchat’s future depends on the engineering overhaul of its Android app, a project codenamed “Mushroom.” Slow video load times and bugs have made Snapchat practically unusable on low-bandwidth connections and old Android phones in the developing world. The company concentrated on the U.S. and other first-world markets, leaving the door open for copycats of Stories built by Instagram (400 million daily users) and WhatsApp (450 million daily users) to invade the developing world and dwarf Snap’s 188 million total daily users. In hopes of a smooth rollout, Snapchat is already testing Mushroom, but it will have to do a ton of marketing outreach to convince frustrated users who ditched the app to give it another try.

8. Fresh ideas, separate apps

We’re currently building software that takes the millions of Snaps submitted to Our Story and reconstructs parts of the world in 3D. We can then build augmented reality experiences on top of those models and distribute them as Lenses . . . If our innovation compromises our core product of being the fastest way to communicate, we should consider create [sic] separate applications or other ways of delivering our innovation.

Snapchat has big plans for augmented reality. It doesn’t just want to stick animations over the top of anywhere, or create AR art installations in a few big cities. It wants to build site-specific AR experiences across the globe. And while everything the company has built to date has lived inside of Snapchat, it’s willing to spawn standalone apps if necessary so that it doesn’t bog down its messaging service. That could give Snapchat a lot more leeway to experiment.

9. The freedom of profitability

Our 2019 stretch output goal will be an acceleration in revenue growth and full year free cash flow and profitability. With profitability comes increased autonomy and freedom to operate our business in the long term best interest of our community without the pressure of needing to raise additional capital.

Snapchat is still bleeding money, losing $353 million last quarter. Snapchat ended up selling 2.3 percent of its equity to a Saudi Arabian prince in exchange for $250 million to lengthen its rapidly shortening runway. And last year it took $2 billion from Chinese gaming giant Tencent. [Update: These purchases were both made on the public markets for non-voting Class A Stock, and were not primary equity, so they will not have direct influence on Snapchat’s product decisions.]

Once profitable, Snapchat won’t have to worry so much about struggling with short-term user growth and can instead focus on retention, societal impact and its true purpose — creativity.

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Instagram may divide hashtags from captions to end overhashing

Posted by | Apps, instagram, Instagram Stickers, Instagram Stories, instagram video, Mobile, Social, TC | No Comments

Geofenced sharing, Quiz stickers, Stories Highlight stickers and a separate interface for adding hashtags to posts are amongst a slew of new features Instagram has prototyped or is now testing. The last one could finally #cure #the #hashtag #madness that’s infected many of Instagram’s 1 billion users, causing them desperately to fill up their captions with tagged words that make the feed tough to read in hopes of scoring a few extra views or followers. [Update: Instagram has also confirmed the launch of GIFs in Direct messaging. Details below.]

The pace of iteration at Instagram is staggering, and helping it to leave Snapchat in the dust. With Facebook’s deep pockets funding its product, design and engineering teams, Instagram is able to keep its app full of fresh toys to play with. Here’s a look at three prototypes, one test and one confirmed roll out from Instagram.

Hashtag selector

The feature isn’t released or even necessarily testing yet, and Instagram refused to comment on it. But frequent TechCrunch tipster and mobile researcher Jane Manchun Wong was able to dig the designated hashtag selector prototype out of the Instagram Android app’s code. It shows a dedicated “Add Hashtags” option underneath the caption composer and people tagger. Similar past discoveries by Wong have led to TechCrunch scoops about the eventual release of Instagram video calling, name tags, music stickers and more, though there’s always a chance Instagram scraps this feature before it ever launches.

Disambiguating hashtags from captions could make adding them to posts less invasive and distracting, and thereby get more users doing it. That could in turn help Instagram tune its feed algorithm to show you more posts with hashtags you seem to care about, get more users following hashtags and allow it to better sort the Explore page with its new topic channels like Sports, Beauty and Shopping. But perhaps most importantly, it could just make Instagram less annoying. Everyone has that friend that slaps on so many hashtags that their captions become an incoherent mess.

Geofenced posts

Wong also dug out a powerful new feature that could help social media managers, businesses and pro creators reach the right audience. Instagram has prototyped a “Choose Locations” option for posts that lets you select from a list of countries where you want your post to be visible. Instagram declined to comment.

The geofencing feature might enable Instagrammers to design different content and captions for different countries and languages. Facebook has offered geofencing for posts for many years, and Instagram already offers ad targeting down to the ZIP code or mile radius. But if this location chooser launches for everyone’s posts, it could let people and professional accounts express their prismatic identity differently across the globe.

Stories Highlight stickers

Instagram gave me a confirmation that this final find by Wong is officially in testing. It allows users to turn someone else’s Stories Highlight from their profile into a sticker to overlay on their own Story. It’s an extension of the Quote-tweet style feature Instagram started testing in March that lets you turn people’s public feed posts into Stories stickers so you can add your commentary — or dunk on someone dumb. Stories Highlight stickers could create a new path to virality for star creators who could convince their followers to re-share their Highlights and turn their friends into fellow fans.

Quiz stickers

This prototype discovered by WABetaInfo‘s Twitter account allows users to ask a question in their Story and designate a correct answer. The Quiz sticker functions similarly to Instagram’s recently added Poll and Question stickers, but instead of tallying the results or letting you re-post someone’s answer, they’ll immediately see whether they guessed the right answer to your test. This ties into Instagram’s strategy to crush Snapchat by making its own Stories more interactive and turning the connection between fans and followers into a two-way street.

Video tagging

Instagram did confirm the launch of one new feature, tagging people in videos. TechCrunch spotted this last week and Instagram said it was testing, but upon our inquiry told us that it’s now fully rolled out. Video tagging could generate extra visits for Instagram as few people have the willpower to ignore a notification that they were named in a new piece of content. The feature could also help Instagram figure out who to show the videos to by allowing it to place them high in the feed of the best friends of people tagged.

GIFs in Direct

Today Instagram also confirmed that GIFs are rolling out to Direct messaging on iOS and Android, allowing you to search through a GIPHY-powered archive of animated images, or swipe through a trending GIFs section. You can also tap the “random” button after entering some keywords to get a surprise GIF added to your conversation. And after previously obscuring who actually made those GIFs, users can now tap and hold on to them to see the creator and other GIFs they’ve made. Instagram first offered GIFs as Stories stickers in January, and Wong had previously spotted them in Direct in Instagram’s code back in July. Clearly the racist GIF fiasco that led Instagram to temporarily shut down the GIF stickers hasn’t deterred it from expanding its partnership with GIPHY.

Combined, this flurry of new and potential features proves Instagram isn’t allowing its dominance to diminish its shipping schedule. It also demonstrates that Instagram VP of product Kevin Weil’s move to Facebook’s blockchain team and his replacement by former News Feed VP Adam Mosseri hasn’t disrupted the app’s brisk pace of innovation.

The jury is still out about whether Instagram’s biggest new initiatives will take off. IGTV is off to a slow start, but will need time to build a long-form video archive to rival YouTube. And we’ll have to wait and see if users grow addicted to Instagram Explore’s new Shopping channel. But constantly updating the app takes pressure off of any one feature to carry the weight of a billion people’s eyes. Who wants to build a direct competitor to something evolving this fast?

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Instagram Shopping gets personalized Explore channel, Stories tags

Posted by | Advertising Tech, Apps, eCommerce, instagram, Instagram Explore, Instagram Shopping, Instagram Stories, Mobile, Pinterest, Social | No Comments

Instagram is embracing its true identity as a mail-order catalog. The question will be how much power merchants will give Instagram after seeing what its parent Facebook did to news outlets that relied on it. In a move that could pit it against Pinterest and Wish, Instagram is launching Shopping features across its app to let people discover and consider possible purchases before clicking through to check out on the merchant’s website.

Today, Instagram Explore is getting a personalized Shopping channel of items it thinks you’ll want most. And it’s expanding its Shopping tags for Instagram Stories to all viewers worldwide after a limited test in June, and it’s allowing brands in 46 countries to add the shopping bag icon to Stories that users can click through to buy what they saw.

Instagram clearly wants to graduate from where people get ideas for things to purchase to being a measurable gateway to their spending. 90 million people already tap its Shopping tags each month, it announced today. The new features could soak up more user attention and lead them to see more ads. But perhaps more importantly, demonstrating that Instagram can boost retail business’ sales for free through Stories and Explore could whet their appetite to buy Instagram ads to amplify their reach and juice the conversion channel. With 25 million businesses on Instagram but only 2 million advertisers, the app has room to massively increase its revenue.

For now Instagram is maintaining its “no comment” regarding whether it’s working on a standalone Instagram Shopping app as per a report from The Verge last month.  Instagram first launched its Shopping tags for feeds in 2016. It still points users out to merchant sites for the final payment step, though, in part because retailers want to control their relationships with customers. But long-term, allowing businesses to opt in to offering in-Instagram checkout could shorten the funnel and get more users actually buying.

Shopping joins the For You, Art, Beauty, Sports, Fashion and other topic channels that launched in Explore in June. The Explore algorithm will show you shopping-tagged posts from businesses you follow and ones you might like based on who you follow and what shopping content engages you. This marks the first time you can view a dedicated shopping space inside of Instagram, and it could become a bottomless well of browsing for those in need of some retail therapy.

With Shopping Stickers, brands can choose to add one per story and customize the color to match their photo or video. A tap opens the product details page, and another sends them to the merchant’s site. Businesses will be able to see the number of taps on their Shopping sticker, and how many people tapped through to their website. Partnerships with Shopify (500,000+ merchants) and BigCommerce (60,000+ merchants) will make it easy for retailers of all sizes to use Instagram’s Shopping Stickers. 

What about bringing Shopping to IGTV? A company spokesperson tells me, “IGTV and live video present interesting opportunities for brands to connect more closely with their customers, but we have no plans to bring shopping tools to those surfaces right now.”

For now, the new shopping features feel like a gift to merchants hoping to boost sales. But so did the surge of referral traffic Facebook sent to news publishers a few years ago. Those outlets soon grew dependent on Facebook, changed their news room staffing and content strategies to chase this traffic, and now find themselves in dire straights after Facebook cut off the traffic fire hose as it refocuses on friends and family content.

Retail merchants shouldn’t take the same bait. Instagram Shopping might be a nice bonus, but just how much it prioritizes the feature and spotlights the Explore channel are entirely under its control. Merchants should still work to develop an unmediated relationship directly with their customers, encouraging them to bookmark their sites or sign up for newsletters. Instagram’s favor could disappear with a change to its algorithm, and retailers must always be ready to stand on their own two feet.

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Instagram’s CEO on vindication after 2 years of reinventing Stories

Posted by | Apps, instagram, Instagram Stories, Kevin Systrom, Mobile, Snapchat, Snapchat Clone, Social, TC | No Comments

“I think the mistake everyone made was to think that Stories was a photography product,” says Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom. “If you look at all these interactivity features we’ve added, we’ve really made Stories something else. We’ve really innovated and made it our own.”

His version of the ephemeral slideshow format turns two years old today. By all accounts, it’s a wild success. Instagram Stories has 400 million daily users, compared to 191 million on Snapchat, which pioneered Stories. While the first year was about getting to parity with augmented reality filters and stickers, the two have since diverged. Instagram chose the viral path.

Interactivity > Photoshop

Snapchat has become more and more like Photoshop, with its magic eraser for removing objects, its green screen-style background changer, scissors for cut-and-pasting things and its fill-in paint bucket. These tools are remarkably powerful for living in a teen-centric consumer app. But many of these artistic concepts are too complicated for day-to-day Snapping. People don’t even think of using them when they could. And while what they produce is beautiful, the slides get tapped past and disappear just like any other photo or video.

Instagram could have become Photoshop. Its early photo-only feed’s editing filters and brightness sliders pointed in that direction. Instead, it chose to focus not on the “visual” but the “communication.” Instagram increasingly treats Stories as a two-way connection between creators and fans, or between friends. It’s not just one-to-many. It’s many-to-one, as well.

Instagram Stories arrived three years after Snapchat Stories, yet it was the first to let you tag friends so they’d get a notification. Now those friends can repost Stories you tag them in, or public posts on which they want to comment. You could finally dunk on other Instagrammers like you do with quote-tweets. It built polls with sliders friends can move to give you feedback about “how ridiculous is my outfit today?” Music stickers let you give a corny joke a corny soundtrack or share the epic song you heard in your head while looking out upon a beautiful landscape. And most recently, it launched the Question sticker so you can query friends through your Story and then share their answers there too. Suddenly, anyone could star in their own “Ask Me Anything.”

None of these Instagram tools require much “skill.” They’re designed not for designers, but for normal people trying to convey how they feel about the world around them. Since we’re social creatures, that perception is largely colored by someone’s friends or audience. Instagram lets you make them part of the Story. And the result is a product that grabs non-users or casual users and pulls them deeper into the Instagram universe, exposing people to the joy of creating something that lasts until tomorrow, not always forever.

Snap has been trying to get more interactive too, adding tagging for instance. It’s also got new multiplayer filter games called Snappables where you play with your face and can then post the footage to your Story. But again, they feel overly involved and therefore less accessible than where Instagram is going.

Stories express Instagram’s wild side

Mimicking Photoshop reinforces the idea that everything has to look polished. That’s the opposite of what Systrom was going for with the launch of Instagram Stories. “There will always be an element in any public broadcast system of trying to show off,” Systrom explains. “But what I see is it moving in the other direction. GIF stickers allow you to be way more informal than you used to be. Type mode means now people are just typing in thoughts rather than actually taking photos. Things like Superzoom with the TV effect or the beats — it’s anything but polished. If anything it’s a joke. Quantitatively people feel comfortable to post way more to Stories than to feed.”

Systrom is about to go on paternity leave, and has been using Stories from friends with kids to collect ideas about what to do with his own. When asked if he thinks Stories produces less of the dangerous envy inherent in the feeds of social media success theater we passively consume, Systrom tells me, “Just personally, it’s inspired me rather than it’s created any sense that I’m missing out.” Of course, that might be related to the fact that his life of attending the Met Gala and bicycling through Europe doesn’t leave much to envy.

AR filters have become table stakes for Stories. On the left, Instagram. On the right, Snapchat.

The sense of comfort powered by Instagram purposefully pushing Stories to diverge from its classy feed has contributed to its explosion in popularity — not just for Stories but Instagram as a whole. It now has more than 1 billion users, in part driven by it introducing Stories to developing countries Snapchat never penetrated.

“Remember how at the launch of Stories, I said it was a format and we want to make it original? And there was a bunch of criticism around us adopting this format?” Systrom chides, knowing a fair amount of that criticism came from me. “My response was this is a format and we’re going to innovate and make it our own. The whole idea there is to make it not just about photography but about expression. It’s a canvas for you to express yourself.”

At the time, Systrom also told me, regarding copying Snapchat, “They deserve all the credit.” But Stories has since emerged as how Instagram expressed itself too, allowing it to break away from the staid perfection of the feed, becoming something much more goofy.

That success has emboldened it to try something truly new. IGTV lets people share longer-form vertical videos up to an hour in length in an age when vertical is for 15-second Stories and lengthy clips only exist in landscape mode.

“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,” Systrom beams. “So the question is can we pull that off, and the early signs are really good.” We’ll see if that’s born out in the numbers. Stories benefited from early adopters immediately knowing what to post thanks to Snapchat. The price IGTV pays for originality is a steep learning curve.

Swallowing his pride saved Facebook

Last week when Facebook announced its revenue was decelerating as users shifted attention from its lucrative News Feed to Stories where it’s still educating advertisers, its share price tanked, deleting $120 billion in market cap. Yet imagine how much further it would have dropped if Systrom hadn’t been willing to put his pride aside, take Snapchat Stories, and give it the Insta spin? Instead, it led the way to Facebook now having more than 1.1 billion (duplicated) daily Stories users across its apps. That poises Facebook and Instagram to earn a ton off of Stories.

“There was a long time that desktop advertising worked really, really well, but we knew the future was mobile and we’d have to go there. There was some short-term pain. Everyone was worried that we wouldn’t monetize as well,” Systrom remembers. “We believe the future is the combination of feed and Stories, and it just takes time for Stories to get to the same level or even exceed feed.”

So does he feel vindicated in that once-derided decision to think of Stories not as Evan Spiegel’s property but a medium meant for everyone? “I don’t wake up everyday trying to feel vindicated. I wake up everyday trying to make sure our billion users have amazing stuff to use. I just feel lucky that they love what we produce,” Systrom says with a laugh. “I don’t know if that fits your definition of vindicated.”

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Why unskippable Stories ads could revive Facebook

Posted by | Advertising Tech, Apps, Facebook, Facebook ads, Facebook Earnings Q2 2018, Facebook Stories, Instagram Stories, Media, Mobile, Opinion, Snapchat Ads, snapchat stories, Social, stories, TC | No Comments

Prepare for the invasion of the unskippables. If the Stories social media slideshow format is the future of mobile TV, it’s going to end up with commercials. Users won’t love them. And done wrong they could pester people away from spending so much time watching what friends do day-to-day. But there’s no way Facebook and its family of apps will keep letting us fast-forward past Stories ads just a split-second after they appear on our screens.

We’re on the cusp of the shift to Stories. Facebook estimates that across social media apps, sharing to Stories will surpass sharing through feeds some time in 2019. One big reason is they don’t take a ton of thought to create. Hold up your phone, shoot a photo or short video and you’ve instantly got immersive, eye-catching, full-screen content. And you never had to think.

Facebook CPO Chris Cox at F8 2018 charts the rise of Stories that will see the format surpass feed sharing in 2019

Unlike text, which requires pre-meditated reflection that can be daunting to some, Stories are point and shoot. They don’t even require a caption. Sure, if you’re witty or artistic you can embellish them with all sorts of commentary and creativity. They can be a way to project your inner monologue over the outside world. But the base level of effort necessary to make a Story is arguably less than sharing a status update. That’s helped Stories rocket to more than 1.3 billion daily users across Facebook’s apps and Snapchat.

The problem, at least for Facebook, is that monetizing the News Feed with status-style ads was a lot more straightforward. Those ads, which have fueled Facebook’s ascent to earning $13 billion in revenue and $5 billion in profit per quarter, were ostensibly old-school banners. Text, tiny photo and a link. Advertisers have grown accustomed to them over 20 years of practice. Even small businesses on a tight budget could make these ads. And it at least took users a second to scroll past them — just long enough to make them occasionally effective at implanting a brand or tempting a click.

Stories, and Stories ads, are fundamentally different. They require big, tantalizing photos at a minimum, or preferably stylish video that lasts five to 15 seconds. That’s a huge upward creative leap for advertisers to make, particularly small businesses that’ll have trouble shooting that polished content themselves. Rather than displaying a splayed out preview of a link, users typically have to swipe up or tap a smaller section of a Story ad to click through.

And Stories are inherently skippable. Users have learned to rapidly tap to progress slide by slide through friends’ Stories, especially when racing through those with too many posts or that come from more distant acquaintances. People are quick with the trigger finger the moment they’re bored, especially if it’s with an ad.

A new type of ad blindness has emerged. Instead of our eyes glazing over as we scroll past, we stare intensely searching for the slightest hint that something isn’t worth our time and should be skipped. A brand name, “sponsored” label, stilted product shot or anything that looks asocial leads us to instantly tap past.

This is why Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg scared the hell out of investors on the brutal earnings call when she admitted about Stories that, “The question is, will this monetize at the same rate as News Feed? And we honestly don’t know.” It’s a radically new format advertisers will need time to adopt and perfect. Facebook had spent the past year warning that revenue growth would decelerate as it ran out of News Feed ad inventory, but it’d never stressed the danger as what it was: Stories. That contributed to its record-breaking $120 billion share price drop.

The shift from News Feed ads to Stories ads will be a bigger transition than desktop ads to mobile ads for Facebook. Feed ads looked and worked identically, it was just the screen around them changing. Stories ads are an entirely new beast.

Stories ads are a bigger shift than web to mobile

There is one familiar format Stories ads are reminiscent of: television commercials. Before the age of TiVo and DVRs, you had to sit through the commercials to get your next hit of content. I believe the same will eventually be true for Stories, to the tune of billions in revenue for Facebook.

Snapchat is cornered by Facebook’s competition and desperate to avoid missing revenue estimates again. So this week, it rolled out unskippable vertical video ads it actually calls “Commercials” to 100 more advertisers, and they’ll soon be self-serve for buyers. Snap first debuted them in May, though the six-second promos are still only inserted into its longer-form multi-minute premium Shows, not user-generated Stories. A Snap spokesperson said they couldn’t comment on future plans. But I’d expect its stance will inevitably change. Friends’ Stories are interesting enough to compel people to watch through entire ads, so the platform could make us watch.

Snapchat is desperate, and that’s why it’s already working on unskippable ads. If Facebook’s apps like Instagram and WhatsApp were locked in heated battle with Snapchat, I think we’d see more brinkmanship here. Each would hope the other would show unskippable ads first so it could try to steal their pissed-off users.

But Facebook has largely vanquished Snapchat, which has seen user growth sink significantly. Snapchat has 191 million daily users, but Facebook Stories has 150 million, Messenger Stories has 70 million, Instagram Stories has 400 million and WhatsApp Stories (called Status) leads with 450 million. Most people’s friends around the world aren’t posting to Snapchat Stories, so Facebook doesn’t risk pushing users there with overly aggressive ads, except perhaps amongst U.S. teens.

Instagram’s three-slide Stories carousel ads

That’s why I expect we’ll quickly see Facebook start to test unskippable Stories ads. They’ll likely be heavily capped at first, to maybe one to three per day per user. Facebook took a similar approach to slowly rolling out auto-play video News Feed ads back in 2014. And Facebook’s apps will probably only show them after a friend’s story before your next pal’s, in-between rather than as dreaded pre-rolls. Instagram already offers carousel Stories ads with up to three slides instead of one, so users have to tap three times to blow past them.

An Instagram spokesperson told me they had “no plans to share right now” about unskippable ads, and a Facebook spokesperson said “We don’t have any plans to test unskippable stories ads on Facebook or Instagram.” But plans can change. A Snap spokesperson noted that unlike a full 30-second TV spot, Snapchat’s Commercials are up to six seconds, which matches an emerging industry trend for mobile video ads. Budweiser recently made some six-second online ads that it also ran on TV, showing the format’s reuseability that could speed up adoption. For brand advertisers not seeking an on-the-spot purchase, they need time to leave an impression.

By making some Stories ads unskippable, Facebook’s apps could charge more while making them more impactful for advertisers. It would also reduce the creative pressure on businesses because they won’t be forced to make that first split-second so flashy so people don’t fast-forward. Employing unskippable ads could also create an incentive for people to pay for a hypothetical ad-free Facebook Premium subscription in the future.

If Facebook makes the Stories ad format work, it has a bright future that contrasts with the doomsday vibes conjured by its share price plummet. Facebook has more than 5X more (duplicated) Stories users across its apps than its nearest competitor Snapchat. The social giant sees libraries full of Stories created each day waiting to be monetized.

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Facebook was never ephemeral, and now its Stories won’t have to be

Posted by | Apps, Facebook, Facebook Stories, Instagram Stories, Mobile, Snapchat Clone, snapchat stories, Social, TC | No Comments

Before Snapchat made social media about just today, Facebook made it about forever. The 2011 “Timeline” redesign of the profile and keyword search unlocked your past, encouraging you to curate colorful posts about your life’s top moments. That was actually an inspiration for Snapchat, as its CEO Evan Spiegel wrote in its IPO announcement that “We learned that creativity can be suppressed by the fear of permanence.”

Now Facebook is finding a middle ground by optionally unlocking the history of your Stories that otherwise disappear after 24 hours. Facebook will soon begin testing Stories Highlights, the company confirmed to TechCrunch. Similar to Instagram Stories Highlights, it will let you pick your favorite expired photos and videos, compile them into themed collections with titles and cover images and display them on your profile.

The change further differentiates Facebook Stories from the Snapchat Stories feature it copied. It’s smart for Facebook, because highly compelling content was disintegrating each day, dragging potential ad views to the grave with it. And for its 150 million daily users, it could make the time we spend obsessing over social media Stories a wiser investment. If you’re going to interrupt special moments to capture them with your phone, the best ones should still pay dividends of self-expression and community connection beyond a day later.

Facebook Stories Highlights was first spotted by frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong, who specializes in generating screenshots of unreleased features out of the APK files of Android apps. TechCrunch inquired about the feature, and a Facebook spokesperson provided this statement: “People have told us they want a way to highlight and save the Stories that matter most to them. We’ll soon start testing highlights on Facebook – a way to choose Stories to stay on your profile, making it easier to express who you are through memories.”

These Highlights will appear on a horizontal scroll bar on your profile, and you’ll be able to see how many people viewed them just like with your Stories. They’ll default to being viewable by all your friends, but you can also restrict Highlights to certain people or make them public. The latter could be useful for public figures trying to build an audience, or anyone who thinks their identity is better revealed through their commentary on the world that Stories’ creative tools offer, opposed to some canned selfies and profile pics.

Facebook paved the way for Highlights by launching the Stories Archive in May. This automatically backs up your Stories privately to your profile so you don’t have to keep the saved versions on your phone, wasting storage space. That Archive is the basis for being able to choose dead Stories to show off in your Highlights. Together, they’ll encourage users to shoot silly, off-the-cuff content without that “fear of permanence,” but instead with the opportunity. If you want to spend a half hour decorating a Facebook Story with stickers and drawing and captions and augmented reality, you know it won’t be in vain.

Facebook Stories constantly adds new features, like this Blur effect I spotted today

While many relentlessly criticize Facebook for stealing the Stories from Snapchat, its rapid iteration and innovation on the format means the two companies’ versions are sharply diverging. Snapchat still lacks a Highlights-esque feature despite launching its Archive-style Memories back in July 2016. Instead of enhancing the core Stories product that made the app a teen phenomenon, it’s concentrated on Maps, gaming, Search, professional Discover content, and a disastrously needless redesign.

Facebook’s family of apps seized on the stagnation of Snapchat Stories and its neglect of the international market. It copied whatever was working while developing new features like Instagram’s Superzoom and Focus portrait mode, the ability to reshare public feed posts as quote tweet-style Stories and the addition of licensed music soundtracks. While writing this article, I even discovered a new Facebook Stories option called Blur that lets you shroud a moving subject with a dream-like haze, as demonstrated with my dumb face here.

The relentless drive to add new options and smooth out performance has paid off. Now Instagram has 400 million daily Stories users, WhatsApp has 450 million and Facebook has 150 million, while Snapchat’s whole app has just 191 million. As Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom admitted about Snapchat, “They deserve all the credit.” Still, it hasn’t had a megahit since Stories and AR puppy masks. The company’s zeal for inventing new ways to socialize is admirable, though not always a sound business strategy.

At first, the Stories war was a race, to copy functionality and invade new markets. Instagram and now Facebook making ephemerality optional for their Stories signals a second phase of the war. The core idea of broadcasting content that disappears after a day has become commoditized and institutionalized. Now the winner will be declared not as who invented Stories, but who perfected them.

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Instagram Stories now lets its 400M users add soundtracks

Posted by | Apps, instagram, Instagram Stories, Mobile, Snapchat, Social, TC | No Comments

The right music can make a boring photo or video epic, so Instagram is equipping users with a way to add popular songs to their Stories. TechCrunch had the scoop on the music feature’s prototype in early May, and now it’s launching to iOS and Android users in 6 countries including, the U.S. Thanks to Facebook’s recent deals with record labels, users will be able to choose from thousands of songs from artists including Bruno Mars, Dua Lipa, Calvin Harris and Guns N’ Roses. The launch could make Instagram Stories more fun to post and watch in a way that copyrights won’t allow on Snapchat, while giving the app a way to compete with tween favorite Musical.ly.

And just a week after revealing its app has 1 billion monthly users, the company also announced today that Instagram Stories has 400 million daily users, up from 300 million in November and 250 million a year ago. That means Instagram Stories is growing about six times faster than Snapchat’s whole app, which only added 13 million daily users over the six months of Q4 2017 and Q1 2018 to reach 191 million.

Snapchat’s growth rate fell to its slowest pace ever last quarter amidst a despised redesign, while Instagram Stories has steadily added unique and popular features like Highlights, Superzoom and resharing of public feed posts. Instagram said last September that it had 500 million total daily users, so it’s likely that a majority of community is now hooked on the Stories format Snapchat invented.

Instagram Stories music

“Now you can add a soundtrack to your story that fits any moment and helps you express how you’re feeling,” Instagram writes. To access the new music feature, users will be able to choose a special song sticker after they shoot a photo or video. They can search for a specific song or artist, or browse by mood, genre or what’s popular. Once they select a song, they can pick the specific snippet they want to have accompany their content. Alternatively, iOS users can switch to the Music shutter mode in the Stories camera to pick a song before they capture a photo or video so they can sync up their actions to the music. That will come to Android eventually, and the whole feature will roll out to more countries soon following today’s launch in Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Sweden, the UK and the U.S. [Correction: The feature is launch in version 51 of Instagram, not in 51 countries.]

When friends watch a music-equipped Story, the song will post automatically. They’ll also be able to tap on the sticker to see artist and song title info, but for now these stickers won’t link out to a musician’s Instagram page or their presence on streaming services — though that would certainly be helpful. I also suggest that Instagram should create deeplinks that artists can share with their fans that automatically opens the Stories camera with that song’s sticker added.

It’s easy to imagine users lip syncing to their favorite jams, adding clashing background music for comedic effect or earnestly trying to compose something emotionally powerful. Suddenly people ‘Gramming from home will be a new way to entertain themselves and their pals.

Instagram tells me that musicians and rights holders will be compensated for the use of their songs, but wouldn’t specify how those payments would work. Facebook secured deals with all the major record labels and many independents to pave the way for this feature. Facebook has since announced that users can also add copyrighted music soundtracks to videos on their own before uploading and they wouldn’t be taken down like before. It’s also started testing a Lip Sync Live feature with a collection of chart-topping hits.

The big question will be whether the “thousands” of songs available through today’s launch will cover what most users want to hear, otherwise they might just be disappointed. With a few enhancements and a widened catalog, Instagram Music could become a powerful way for artists to go viral. All those shaky phone camera clips are going to start looking more like indie music videos you’ll watch til the end.

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Instagram code reveals upcoming music feature

Posted by | Apps, Entertainment, Facebook, Facebook Sound Collection, instagram, Instagram Stories, Mobile, Social, TC | No Comments

Instagram is preparing to let you add music to your Stories, judging by code found inside its Android app. “music stickers” could let you search for and add a song to your posts, thanks to licensing deals with the major record labels recently struck by Facebook. Instagram is also testing a way to automatically detect a song you’re listening to and display the artist and song title as just a visual label.

Listenable music stickers would make Instagram Stories much more interesting to watch. Amateur video footage suddenly looks like DIY MTV when you add the right score. The feature could also steal thunder from teen lip syncing app sensation Musically, and stumbling rival Snapchat that planned but scrapped a big foray into music. And alongside Instagram Stories’ new platform for sharing posts directly from third-party apps, including Spotify and SoundCloud, these stickers could make Instagram a powerful driver of music discovery.

TechCrunch was first tipped off to the hidden music icons and code from reader Ishan Agarwal. Instagram declined to comment. But Instagram later confirmed three other big features first reported by TechCrunch and spotted by Agarwal that it initially refused to discuss: Focus mode for shooting portraits, QR-scannable Nametags for following people and video calling, which got an official debut at F8.

[Update: Jane Manchun Wong tells TechCrunch she was briefly able to test the feature, as seen in the screenshot above. The prototype design looks a bit janky, and Instagram crashed when she tried to post anything using the music stickers. Beyond the music sticker search interface seen on the right, Wong tells us Instagram automatically detected a song she was currently playing on her phone and created a sticker for it (not using audio recognition like Shazam).]

Facebook and Instagram’s video editing features have been in a sad state for a long time. I wrote about the big opportunity back in 2013, and in 2016 called on both Facebook and Instagram to add more editing features, including soundtracks. Finally in late 2017, Facebook started testing Sound Collection, which lets you add to your videos sound effects and a very limited range of not-popular artists’ songs. But since then, Facebook has secured licensing deals with Sony, Warner, Universal and European labels.

For years, people thought Facebook’s ongoing negotiations with record labels would power some Spotify competitor. But streaming is a crowded market with strong solutions already. The bigger problem for Facebook was that if users added soundtracks themselves using editing software, or a song playing in the background got caught in the recording, those videos could be removed due to copyright complaints from the labels. Facebook’s intention was the opposite — to make it easier to add popular music to your posts so they’d be more fun to consume.

Instagram’s music stickers could be the culmination of all those deals.

How Instagram music stickers work

The code shows that Instagram’s app has an unreleased “Search Music” feature built-in beside its location and friend-mention sticker search options inside Instagram Stories. These “music overlay stickers” can be searched using tabs for “Genres,” “Moods,” and “Trending.” Instagram could certainly change the feature before it’s launched, or scrap it all together. But the clear value of music stickers and the fact that Instagram owned up to the Focus, Nametags and Video Calling features all within three months of us reporting their appearance in the code lends weight to an upcoming launch.

It’s not entirely clear, but it seems that once you’ve picked a song and added it as a music sticker to your Story, a clip of that song will play while people watch. It’s possible that the initial version of the stickers will only display the artist and title of the song similar to Facebook’s activity status updates, rather than actually adding it as a listenable soundtrack.

These stickers will almost surely be addable to videos, but maybe Instagram will let you include them on photos too. It would be great if viewers could tap through the sticker to hear the song or check it out on their preferred streaming service. That could make Instagram the new Myspace, where you fall in love with new music through you friends; there are no indicators in the code about that.

Perhaps Instagram will be working with a particular partner on the feature, like it did with Giphy for its GIF stickers. Spotify, with its free tier and long-running integrations with Facebook dating back to the 2011 Open Graph ticker, would make an obvious choice. But Facebook might play it more neutral, powering the feature another way, or working with a range of providers, potentially including Apple, YouTube, SoundCloud and Amazon.

Several apps like Sounds and Soundtracking have tried to be the “Instagram for music.” But none have gained mass traction because it’s hard to tell if you like a song quickly enough to pause your scrolling, staring at album art isn’t fun, users don’t want a whole separate app for this and Facebook and Instagram’s algorithms can bury cross-posts of this content. But Stories — with original visuals that are easily skippable, natively created and consumed in your default social app — could succeed.

Getting more users wearing headphones or turning the sound on while using Instagram could be a boon to the app’s business, as advertisers all want to be heard, as well as seen. The stickers could also get young Instagrammers singing along to their favorite songs the way 60 million Musically users do. In that sense, music could spice up the lives of people who otherwise might not appear glamorous through Stories.

Music stickers could let Instagram beat Snapchat to the punch. Leaked emails from the 2014 Sony hack showed Snap CEO Evan Spiegel was intent on launching a music video streaming feature or even creating Snapchat’s own record label. But complications around revenue-sharing negotiations and the potential to distract the team and product from Snapchat’s core use case derailed the project. Instead, Snap has worked with record labels on Discover channels and augmented reality lenses to promote new songs. But Snapchat still has no sound board or soundtrack features, leaving some content silent or drowned in random noise.

With the right soaring strings, the everyday becomes epic. With the perfect hip-hop beat, a standard scene gains swagger. And with the hottest new dance hook, anywhere can be a party. Instagram has spent the past few years building all conceivable forms of visual flair to embellish your photos and videos. But it’s audio that could be the next dimension of Stories.

For more on the future of Stories, read our feature pieces:

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Facebook and Instagram Stories open to sharing from other apps

Posted by | Apps, F8 2018, Facebook, facebook platform, Facebook Stories, instagram, Instagram Stories, Mobile, Snapchat Clone, Social, TC | No Comments

Facebook is recruiting help to make its Stories more interesting than Snapchat’s. Starting with Spotify, SoundCloud and GoPro, third-party apps can now let their users share to Facebook Stories and Instagram Stories. Rather than screenshotting, users will be able to hit a button to share a photo or video of a playlist, song or mini-movie from another app into Facebook or Instagram’s Stories camera, where they can embellish it with effects and post it to their friends. GoPro’s integration actually lets you edit your movies inside Facebook’s apps, while you can immediately start listening to songs shared from Spotify and SoundCloud.

Facebook’s CPO Chris Cox announced the feature at Facebook’s F8 conference, saying that he’s excited to see what developers build. Other launch partners include selfie editor Meitu, lipsyncing app Musically, Indian streaming music service Saavn and more.

While this new wing of the Facebook platform is opening to all developers, only approved partners that go through a review process like the three mentioned will have attribution watermarks added to the shares.

This platform move mirrors what Facebook did with its Open Graph launch 7 years ago at F8 2011. That let developers push stories about in-app activity to Facebook’s Ticker and News Feed. Eventually Facebook dropped the Ticker and phased out these Open Graph auto-shares in favor of explicit sharing, where the user is in full control. Facebook is taking this more cautious approach with Stories too, rather than make users worry their guilty pleasure listening or private imagery could be unknowingly shared to their Story.

The plan deviates significantly from Snapchat’s strategy, which has shunned third-party developers like music video-maker Mindie in the past. Now Snapchat lets developers create augmented reality lenses and geofilters that users can unlock, but the content creation happens in Snapchat’s app. Facebook hopes that by recruiting developers and getting them to build special content users can share to their Stories, it will avoid the feature growing stale from the same old selfies and sunsets.

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