messaging

Instagram is now testing a web version of Direct messages

Posted by | Apps, Facebook, instagram, Instagram Direct, messaging, Mobile, Snapchat, Social, TC | No Comments

Insta-chat addicts, rejoice. You could soon be trading memes and emojis from your computer. Instagram is internally testing a web version of Instagram Direct messaging that lets people chat without the app. If, or more likely, when this rolls out publicly, users on a desktop or laptop PC or Mac, a non-Android or iPhone or that access Instagram via a mobile web browser will be able to privately message other Instagrammers.

Instagram web DMs was one of the features I called for in a product wish list I published in December alongside a See More Like This button for the feed and an upload quality indicator so your Stories don’t look crappy if you’re on a slow connection.

A web version could make Instagram Direct a more full-fledged SMS alternative rather than just a tacked-on feature for discussing the photo and video app’s content. Messages are a massive driver of engagement that frequently draws people back to an app, and knowing friends can receive them anywhere could get users sending more. While Facebook doesn’t monetize Instagram Direct itself, it could get users browsing through more ads while they wait for replies.

Given Facebook’s own chat feature started on the web before going mobile and getting its own Messenger app, and WhatsApp launched a web portal in 2015 followed by desktop clients in 2016, it’s sensible for Instagram Direct to embrace the web too. It could also pave the way for Facebook’s upcoming unification of the backend infrastructure for Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram Direct that should expand encryption and allow cross-app chat, as reported by The New York Times’ Mike Isaac.

Mobile reverse-engineering specialist and frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong alerted us to Instagram’s test. It’s not available to users yet, as it’s still being internally “dogfooded” — used heavily by employees to identify bugs or necessary product changes. But she was able to dig past security and access the feature from both a desktop computer and mobile web browser.

In the current design, Direct on the web is available from a Direct arrow icon in the top right of the screen. The feature looks like it will use an Instagram.com/direct/…. URL structure. If the feature becomes popular, perhaps Facebook will break it out with its own Direct destination website similar to https://www.messenger.com, which launched in 2015. Instagram began testing a standalone Direct app last year, but it’s yet to be officially launched and doesn’t seem exceedingly popular.

Instagram’s web experience has long lagged behind its native apps. You still can’t post Stories from the desktop like you can with Facebook Stories. It only added notifications on the web in 2016 and Explore, plus some other features, in 2017.

Instagram did not respond to requests for comment before press time. The company rarely provides a statement on internal features in development until they’re being externally tested on the public, at which point it typically tells us “We’re always testing ways to improve the Instagram experience.” [Update: Instagram confirms to TechCrunch it’s not publicly testing this, which is its go-to line when a product surfaces that’s still in internal development. Meanwhile, Wong notes that Instagram has now cut off her access to the web Direct feature.]

After cloning Snapchat Stories to create Instagram Stories, the Facebook-owned app decimated Snap’s growth rate. That left Snapchat to focus on premium video and messaging. Last year Instagram built IGTV to compete with Snapchat Discover. And now with it testing a web version of Direct, it seems poised to challenge Snap for chat too.

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Stealthy wants to become the WeChat of blockchain apps

Posted by | Apps, Battlefield, blockchain, disrupt sf 2018, messaging, Mobile, Social, Startups, Stealthy | No Comments

Meet Stealthy a new messaging app that leverages Blockstack’s decentralized application platform to build a messaging app. The company is participating in TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield at Disrupt SF and launching its app on iOS and Android today.

On the surface, Stealthy works like many messaging apps out there. But it gets interesting once you start digging to understand the protocol behind it. Stealthy is a decentralized platform with privacy in mind. It could become the glue that makes various decentralized applications stick together.

“We started Stealthy because Blockstack had a global hackathon in December of last year,” co-founder Prabhaav Bhardwaj told me. “We won that hackathon in February.” After that, the #deletefacebook movement combined with the overall decentralization trend motivated Bhardwaj and Alex Carreira to ship the app.

Blockstack manages your identity. You get an ID and a 12-word passphrase to recover your account. Blockstack creates a blockchain record for each new user. You use your Blockstack ID to connect to Stealthy.

Stealthy users then choose how they want to store their messages. You can connect your account with Dropbox, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, etc.

Every time you message someone, the message is first encrypted on your device and sent to your recipient’s cloud provider. Your recipient can then open the Stealthy app and decrypt the message from their storage system.

All of this is seamless for the end user. It works like an iMessage conversation, which means that Microsoft or Amazon can’t open and read your messages without your private key. You remain in control of your data. Stealthy plans to open source their protocol and mobile product so that anybody can audit their code.

Some features require a certain level of centralization. For instance, Stealthy relies on Firebase for push notifications. If you’re uncomfortable with that, you can disable that feature.

The company also wants to become your central hub for all sorts of decentralized apps (or dapps for short). For instance, you can launch Graphite Docs or Blockusign from Stealty. Those dapps are built on top of Blockstack as well, but Stealthy plans to integrate with other dapps that don’t work on Blockstack.

“We have dapp integrations in place right now and we want to make it easier to add dapp integrations. If somebody wants to come in and start selling messaging stickers, you could do that. If you want to come in and implement a payment system to pay bloggers, you could do that,” Bhardwaj said. “Eventually, what we want to be is to make it as easy as submitting an app in the App Store.”

When you build a digital product, chances are you’ll end up adding a messaging feature at some point. You can chat in Google Docs, Airbnb, Venmo, YouTube… And the same is likely to be true with dapps. Stealthy believes that many developers could benefit from a solid communication infrastructure — this way, other companies can focus on their core products and let Stealthy handle the communication layer.

Stealthy is an ambitious company. In many ways, the startup is trying to build a decentralized WeChat with the encryption features of Signal. It’s a messaging app, but it’s also a platform for many other use cases.

A handful of messaging apps have become so powerful that they’ve become a weakness. Governments can block them or leverage them to create a social ranking. Authorities can get a warrant to ask tech companies to hand them data. And of course, the top tech companies have become too powerful. More decentralization is always a good thing.


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Google rolls out Messages on the web for Android users

Posted by | Android, Apple, Apps, computing, emoji, gif, Google, Google Allo, Google Hangouts, imessage, iOS 10, messages, messaging, Software, WhatsApp | No Comments

Messages, Google’s more recent focus for its scattered messaging efforts following its decision to “pause” work on Allo, is now available for web users. The company announced that it would begin rolling out Messages for web starting today, with the full rollout completing over the next week. The feature, along with others including GIF search, smart replies, and more, is part of an updated messaging experience for Android users that aims to be Google’s response to iMessage.

The company earlier this year moved its Allo team to work on Android Messages, Google’s app that utilizes the RCS messaging standard. The standard, adopted by numerous mobile operators worldwide, offers more feature parity with iMessage, thanks to its support for things like read receipts, typing indicators, high-res photo sharing, better group chat, and other features.

Now, Messages is gaining another feature to better compete with iMessage: web support.

Today, Apple users can access iMessage conversations on their Mac using a dedicated app. Google’s Messages for web is similar in the sense that it also offers cross-platform access to messages – that is, it lets Android users view and respond to chats when they’re not on their phone.

However, the implementation of Messages for web is more like WhatsApp for the desktop, right down to how you scan a code on the Message website to sync things up with your phone.

Google says Messages for web will support sending stickers, emoji and image attachments, as well as text, at launch.

The company also announced a few other features that will come to the Messages app over the next week, including built-in GIF search; Smart Replies, which suggest English language text responses and emoji for now; preview web links in conversations; and the ability to copy one-time passwords with a tap.

This last feature is also similar to a new addition coming to iMessage in iOS 12. When you’re logging into a site or app that requires a one-time password sent over text message, iOS 12 will let you paste that into the necessary field with one tap. Google’s system looks like it requires two taps – both the copy and the paste functions – but it’s still a lot easier than before.

To try out the new features, Android users will need to be on the latest version of the Messages app from Google Play.

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WhatsApp has launched person-to-person payments into beta in India

Posted by | Apps, Finance, india, messaging, Mobile, payments, WhatsApp | No Comments

 WhatsApp has begun testing a new payments feature in India that will allow people to send money to other WhatsApp users, excluding merchant accounts. The feature is currently in beta, according to sources familiar with the company’s plans, but hasn’t been publicly announced because it’s not widely available at this time. The company has been  working on support for a… Read More

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Apple to take on messaging rivals with launch of Business Chat

Posted by | Apple, Apps, business chat, messaging, Mobile | No Comments

 Apple is preparing to roll out a new feature in iMessage that will allow consumers to chat directly with businesses through Apple’s messaging platform. The feature, called Business Chat, was announced last year at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference, and will debut this spring with launch partners including Discover, Hilton, Lowe’s and Wells Fargo. The feature will… Read More

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WhatsApp officially launches its app for businesses in select markets

Posted by | android apps, Apps, messaging, Mobile, Social, TC, whatapp, whatsapp business | No Comments

 WhatsApp today officially launched its new WhatsApp Business app in select markets, including Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, the U.K. and the U.S., ahead of its planned worldwide rollout. The addition of business profiles and new messaging tools aimed at business customers is part of the company’s broader plan to generate revenue by charging larger enterprises for advanced tools to… Read More

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Instagram tests letting users post Stories directly to WhatsApp

Posted by | Apps, Facebook, instagram, Instagram Stories, messaging, Mobile, Social, TC, WhatsApp, WhatsApp Status | No Comments

 Last October, Facebook extended the usage (and flexibility) of Instagram Stories — the Snapchat-like feature that lets you patch together photos and videos into a slide show — by making it easy to directly post a Story to Facebook. Now Facebook is looking at how to bring WhatsApp into the fold. Read More

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You can now PayPal friends in Messenger and get help via chat

Posted by | Apps, Facebook, Finance, messaging, Messenger, Mobile, payments, PayPal, Social, TC | No Comments

 PayPal users in the U.S. will now be able to send and receive person-to-person payments over Facebook Messenger, the company announced this morning. The deeper integration with Messenger’s platform, which will also include PayPal’s first customer service bot for handling customer questions and requests for help, follows a series of tie-ups between the two companies. Last year,… Read More

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Echo’s messaging service may add support for SMS texts from your own ‘Alexa number’

Posted by | Alexa, Amazon, Apps, communications, echo, messaging, Mobile, SMS, TC, texting, voice, voice computing | No Comments

 Amazon appears to be planning an expansion of Alexa’s existing messaging capabilities to support sending SMS text messages to friends using your Echo device or Alexa app. That means Echo users could then text anyone using voice commands, not only other Echo owners. According to code found in the Amazon Alexa app, there are references to a new type of phone number – referred to… Read More

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YouTube’s mobile app will soon better display all video formats, add messaging

Posted by | Apps, chat, Media, messaging, Mobile, Social, TC, YouTube, youtube app, youtube messaging | No Comments

 On the heels of a major redesign of its desktop site which delivered an overall cleaner look-and-feel and a “dark mode” for nighttime watching, YouTube this week announced it will soon roll out an update to its mobile app, as well. The new app will better support video shot in other formats and orientations, by dynamically adapting its player to whatever video you’re… Read More

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