Snapchat

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.

Powered by WPeMatico

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.

Powered by WPeMatico

Facebook tests Snap Map-style redesign of Nearby Friends

Posted by | ambient location, Apps, Facebook, Facebook Nearby Friends, Location Based App, Mobile, Snap Map, Snapchat, Social, TC, Zenly | No Comments

Helping friends meet up offline has been a massive missed opportunity for Facebook . Whether because the brand is too creepy or the politely opt-in 2015 rollout of its location sharing feature wasn’t creepy enough, Facebook Nearby Friends never quite took off. Only 103 of my 1,120 friends in San Francisco have it turned on.

It’s not the only one struggling with “The quest to cure loneliness.” Foursquare Swarm, Glympse, Apple’s Find My Friends and Google Maps’ real-time coordinate-sharing option have all failed to become a ubiquitous standard.

The redesigned map homescreen of Facebook Nearby Friends

But last year, Snapchat launched a different take on the idea based on its biggest acquisition ever, French app Zenly. With Snap Map, it wasn’t just about the utility of seeing a list of friends’ locations like on Facebook, but also splayed them out across maps that you could dive into to see their latest geo-tagged Stories. It was as much about fun and content as it was about actually hanging out with people in person.

Now Facebook is testing a significant redesign of Nearby Friends that looks a lot more like Snap Map. It replaces the list view of the neighborhoods and cities friends are in with a map that groups friends together by city. A “view list” button opens up the former homescreen, though in both views you still can only see a friend’s approximate location in a neighborhood or city, not their exact coordinates. Facebook confirms to TechCrunch that “We’re testing a new design for Nearby Friends, a tool people have used for the past four years to meet with their friends in person. People have complete control over whether to use Nearby Friends or not. They can turn it on in the Nearby Friends bookmark.”

That statement both subtly promotes Facebook’s opt-in privacy setting for Nearby Friends while urging people to actually go back and activate it. The screenshot was generated from the code of Facebook’s Android app by mobile researcher and frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong. Interestingly, after TechCrunch’s inquiry, Wong tells me Facebook appears to have deactivated server-side the ability to access the map feature.

The reason this matters is that Facebook is desperate for engagement, especially amongst younger users who are slipping away from it to Snapchat and Instagram. If revamped with this map and other improvements, Nearby Friends could become a more popular utility that keeps people opening Facebook. Getting more people to share their real-time location could open new opportunities for local ad targeting. And Facebook could benefit from showing it unlocks meaningful offline connections given its recent brand troubles following election interference and calls that it’s the opposite of “time well spent.”

The existing design of Facebook Nearby Friends

Snap Map was smart, but it’s sadly buried behind an awkward pinch gesture from Snapchat’s homescreen, or inside the search bar where some users wouldn’t expect it. Internal Snapchat usage data scored by Taylor Lorenz for The Daily Beast revealed that Snap Map had sunk from a high of 35 million daily unique viewers after its June 2017 launch to just 19 million by that September — merely 11 percent of Snapchat’s users at the time. Users never seemed to cease on it as a method of browsing Snapchat’s geo-tagged content.

Unfortunately, none of these location apps have figured out that meeting up isn’t all about location. It’s about availability. It doesn’t matter if I see my best friend is at a coffee shop right away if they’re not actually available to hang out. They could be on date, having a business meeting or trying to get some work done. If I drop in just because I see they’re close by, it could be awkward. You’d have to first message them, but you can come off seeming desperate if they can’t or don’t want to meet up with you.

Location apps need an availability indicator similar to the green “online” dot used by many chat apps. You could toggle that on if you wanted to show you’re interested in some spontaneous friend time.

Facebook’s actually spent the last year trying to build this into Messenger in the form of “Your Emoji” status. It lets you pick an emoji like a martini, fork and knife or barbell that’s temporarily overlaid on your profile pic thumbnail to let people know you’re down for drinking, getting dinner or working out. The feature is yet to be widely tested, indicating that Facebook hasn’t quite cracked the nut of encouraging online meetups.

Ideally, Facebook would combine Nearby Friends and Your Emoji to help users share both approximately where they are and whether they want to hang out. The next step would be making it easy to watch a friend’s geo-tagged Facebook Story from wherever they are. And then, Facebook could further copy Snap Map by making public Stories and other location-based content accessible from the map so you could browse it for fun instead of the News Feed or Stories tray.

Still, making Nearby Friends work could require Facebook to rethink the privacy element. The friend graph has bloated to include family, co-workers, bosses and distant acquaintances with whom users might not want to share their real-time location. Finding a better way to let you share where you are with just your closest friends could make more people comfortable with the feature.

Facebook needs to rethink its entire product stack to embrace the high-definition cameras, big phone screens and fast network connections that make it easier to convey information through imagery than text. Visual communication is the future, and that goes far beyond Stories.

Powered by WPeMatico

Snapchat shares hit all-time low as search acquisition Vurb’s CEO bails

Posted by | Apps, Bobby Lo, Mobile, snap inc, Snapchat, Social, Talent, TC, Vurb | No Comments

Snapchat’s sagging share price is making it tough to retain talent. Bobby Lo, founder and CEO of mobile search app Vurb that Snap Inc acquired for $114.5 million two years ago is leaving day-to-day operations at the company. That means Lo cut out early on his four-year retention package vesting schedule, which was likely influenced by Snapchat falling to new share price lows. Snap is trading around $9.15 today, compared to its $17 IPO price and $24 first-day close.

That’s down over 7 percent from yesterday following BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield gave Snap a sell rating with a target price of $5 saying “We are tired of Snapchat’s excuses for missing numbers and are no longer willing to give management ‘time’ to figure out monetization.” Greenfield is known as one of the top social network analysts, so people take him seriously when he says “We have been disappointed in SNAP’s product evolution (as have users) and see no reason to believe this will change.”

Vurb is a good example of this. The app let users make plans with friends to visit local places, allowing them to bundle restaurants, movie theaters, and more into shareable decks of search cards. It took over a year after the October 2016 acquisition for the tech to be integrated into Snapchat in the form of context cards in search. But Snap never seemed to figure out how to make its content-craving teen audience care about Vurb’s utility. Snap could have built powerful offline meetup tools out of the cards but never did, and lackluster Snap Map adoption furthered clouded the company’s path forward around local businesses.

Now Lo tells TechCrunch of his departure, “Building experiences at Snap has been a wonderful culmination of my seven-year startup journey with Vurb. My transition to an advisor at Snap lets me continue supporting the amazing people there while directing my time back into startups, starting with investing and advising in founders.”

Lo was early to embrace the monolithic app style pioneered by WeChat in China that’s become increasingly influential in the states. Snap confirmed the departure while trying to downplay it. A spokesperson tells me, “Bobby transitioned to an advisory role this summer, and we appreciate his continued contributions to Snap.”

Given Snap is known to back-weight its stock vesting schedules, Lo could be leaving over half of his retention shares on the table. That decision should worry investors. As a solo founder, Lo already made off with a big chunk of the acquisition price that including $21 million in cash and $83 million in stock, so with the company’s share price so low, he might have had little incentive to stay.

 

Snapchat Context Cards built from Vurb’s acquired technology

Since last July, Snap has lost a ton of talent including SVP of Engineering Tim Sehn, early employee Chloe Drimal, VP of HR and Legal Robyn Thomas and VP of Securities and Facilities Martin Lev, CFO Drew Vollero, VP of product Tom Conrad, TimeHop co-founder Jonathan Wegener, Spectacles team lead Mark Randall, ad tech manager Sriram Krishnan, head of sales Jeff Lucas, and just last week, its COO Imran Khan.

With its user count shrinking, constant competition from Facebook and Instagram, and talent fleeing, it’s hard to see a bright future for Snap. Unless CEO Evan Spiegel, without the help of his departed lieutenants, can come up with a groundbreaking new product that’s not easy to copy, we could be looking at downward spiral for the ephemeral app. At what point must Snap consider selling itself to Google, Apple, Tencent, Disney, or whoever will take on the distressed social network?

Powered by WPeMatico

Snapchat adds new styles as Spectacles V2s get used 40% more than V1

Posted by | Apps, eCommerce, Evan Spiegel, Gadgets, hardware, Mobile, Opinion, Snap, snap inc, Snapchat, snapchat spectacles, Social, TC, Wearables | No Comments

Snapchat isn’t revealing sales numbers of version 2 of its Spectacles camera sunglasses, but at least they’re not getting left in a drawer as much as the V1s. The company tells me V2 owners are capturing 40 percent more Snaps than people with V1s.

And today, Snapchat is launching two new black-rimmed hipster styles of Spectacles V2 — a Wayfarer-esque Nico model and a glamorous big-lensed Veronica model. Both come with a slimmer semi-soft black carrying case instead of the chunky old triangular yellow one, and are polarized for the first time. They look a lot more like normal sunglasses, compared to the jokey, bubbly V1s, so they could appeal to a more mature and fashionable audience. They go on sale today for $199 in the US and Europe and will be sold in Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom later this year, while the old styles remain $149.

 

The new Spectacles styles (from left): Veronica and Nico

Spectacles V2 original style (left) and V1 (right)

Snap is also trying to get users to actually post what they capture, so it’s planning an automatically curated Highlight Story feature that will help you turn your best Specs content into great things to share. That could address the problem common amongst GoPro users of shooting a ton of cool footage but never editing it for display.

The problem is that V1 were pretty exceedingly unpopular, and those that did buy them. Snap only shipped 220,000 pairs and reportedly had hundreds of thousands more gathering dust in a warehouse. It took a $40 million write-off and its hardware “camera company” strategy was called into question. Business Insider reported that less than 50 percent of buyers kept using them after a month and a “sizeable” percentage stopped after just a week.

The new styles come with a slimmer semi-soft carry case

That means the bar was pretty low from which to score a 40 percent increase in usage, especially given the V2s take photos, work underwater, come in a slimmer charging case, and lack the V1s’ bright yellow ring around the camera lens that announces you’re wearing a mini computer on your face. Snap was smart to finally let you export in non-circular formats which are useful for sharing beyond Snapchat, and let you automatically save Snaps to your camera roll and not just its app’s Memories feature.

I’ve certainly been using my V2s much more than the V1s since they’re more discrete and versatile. And I haven’t encountered as much fear or anxiety from people worried about being filmed as privacy norms around technology continue to relax.

But even with the improved hardware, new styles, and upcoming features, Spectacles V2 don’t look like they’re moving the needle for Snapchat. After shrinking in user count last quarter, Snap’s share price has fallen to just a few cents above its all-time low. Given most of its users are cash-strapped teens who aren’t going to buy Spectacles even if they’re cool, the company needs to focus on how to make its app for everyone more useful and differentiated after the invasion of Instagram’s copy-cats of its Stories and ephemeral messaging.

Whether that means securing tentpole premium video content for Discover, redesigning Stories to ditch the interstitials for better lean-back viewing, or developing augmented reality games, Snap can’t stay the course. Despite its hardware ambitions, it’s fundamentally a software company. It has to figure out what makes that software special.

Powered by WPeMatico

Snapchat shrinks by 3M users to 188M despite strong Q2

Posted by | Apps, Mobile, Snap, snap inc, Snapchat, Snapchat earnings, Social, TC | No Comments

The Stories War has officially killed Snapchat’s growth, leading to its first user count decline ever. In Q2 2018 earnings today, Snapchat’s daily active users number shrank 1.5 percent to 188 million this quarter, down from 191 million and positive 2.9 percent user growth last quarter.

Snapchat did beat earnings expectations with $262.3 million in revenue and a loss of $0.14 while Wall Street estimated an EPS loss of $0.17 with $249.8 million in revenue. Snap’s net loss decreased by 20 percent year-over-year, so it only destroyed $353 million this quarter compared to $385 million last quarter. Snap will have some extra cash to extend its runway despite its still-massive losses thanks to a $250 million investment from Saudi Prince Al-Waleed Talal in exchange for a 2.3 percent stake in the company.

Despite its user count shrinking for the first time since its launch in 2011, the improvement to revenue (up 44 percent year-over-year) and reduced losses led Wall Street to give Snap’s shares an immediate 11 percent pop in after-hours trading. But after dodging multiple questions about how it would improve revenues and when its optimized Android app would arrive, shares fell back to just below the day’s closing price of $13.12.

Snapchat is coming off a disastrous Q1 earnings with its slowest-ever user growth rate that led to a 24 percent plunge in its share price in May. But the company has been highly volatile, seeing a 37 percent boost in its share price after surprisingly positive Q4 2017 earnings. Now it’s proving that Facebook isn’t the only social network with growth troubles.

In hopes of distracting from the shrinking DAUs, Snapchat shared a monthly active user count for the first time: 100 million monthly active users in the U.S. and Canada. Snap says this is the highest it’s ever been, yet the reveal highlights that teens are as addicted to daily Snapchat use as they once were. DAUs are a much more accurate way of measuring engagement and ad revenue potential, as opening a single notification and never returning can still register someone as an MAU.

CEO Evan Spiegel blamed the DAU shrinkage on “a slightly lower frequency of use among our user base due to the disruption caused by our redesign.” But since, he believes “we have now addressed the biggest frustrations we’ve heard” so he’s optimistic about future growth. On the other hand, he credits the redesign as producing an 8 percent increase in retention among users older than 35, demonstrating the new design is more obvious and well labeled.

During the earnings call, Snap’s new CFO Tim Stone mentioned that it’s interested in monetizing every part of the app, including “communication.” That could foreshadow more ads in the messaging inbox beyond the sponsored lenses users can play with to send augmented reality Snaps to friends. Snap is also hoping that after a decline in ad prices as it moved to self-serve auctions, ad prices and revenue will climb.

One big bright point for Snap was that its average revenue per user in the Rest Of World region grew 65 percent just this quarter to reach $0.96. Figuring out how to monetize these developing countries where buying power is lower will be key to the company’s outlook. Snap says it’s still working to re-engineer its Android app to boost performance and reduce churn, since that’s where most of its new users are coming in.

The quarter saw Snapchat escape much of the scrutiny facing other social networks regarding fake news and election interference. But it clearly still has issues with security, as Snapchat accidentally leaked its own source code, which was archived by someone who then posted it to GitHub today, though it was eventually taken down.

Snapchat started running un-skippable ads in its Shows that could be a big money maker if extended to Stories. It began experimenting with e-commerce in earnest, allowing brands to sell things people can buy without leaving the app. It also opened self-serve buying of its augmented reality lens ads that people not only post, but play with for extended periods of time. And it launched its privacy-safe Snap Kit developer platform in hopes that alliances and referral traffic would help revive its user growth.

But problematically, its competitors like Instagram Stories continued to surge, with it now having 400 million daily Stories users and WhatsApp Status now having 450 million. Combined, Facebook has over 1.1 billion daily (duplicated) Stories users across its family of apps. That reach could make it tough for Snap to compete for ad dollars. And with its user count actually decreasing, that could make for a grim future for the teen sensation.

Powered by WPeMatico

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.”

Powered by WPeMatico

Snapchat ‘Storytellers’ finally pairs creators with advertisers

Posted by | Advertising Tech, Apps, Mobile, snap inc, Snapchat, Snapchat Ads, Snapchat Creators, Social, TC | No Comments

Snapchat is arriving very late to the game of courting influencers. Now it hopes to boost ad spend by connecting businesses with its top independent creators, but it won’t take a cut of deals it helps arrange. Today Snap Inc. launches its “Snapchat Storytellers” pilot program that will introduce brands to five of the app’s most popular content makers, including Mplatco, Cyrene Q and Shonduras. They’ll star in ads for Stories and Discover or provide creative direction to brands with their expertise, gleaned from gathering audiences of millions over the past few years, in exchange for cash. Top creators can often earn tens of thousands of dollars or more for deals with brands.

The program is late but a smart move for Snapchat, as it needs to educate businesses about how to make great Stories ads. These often require stylish vertical video that’s a big creative jump from the tiny photo, link and text ads many are accustomed to, or even the pithy landscape videos they’ve learned to make for YouTube or Facebook. If creators can help brands make great-looking ads that perform well, those businesses will be more likely to spend a lot more on Snapchat.

That’s critical for the public company, which lost $385 million last quarter and missed its revenue estimate by $14 million when it brought in $230 million. With Facebook’s Snapchat Stories clones from Instagram and WhatsApp depressing Snap’s user growth rate to a measly 2.9 percent (its lowest rate ever), the company will have to figure out how to squeeze more dollars out of each user it already has. If it can’t do that with better ad creative and performance, it will be forced to rely on annoying unskippable Stories ads, which it rolled out to more businesses yesterday.

Meanwhile, if Snap extends the program to more creators, it could be a good way to help them monetize and stay loyal to the platform. YouTube has long offered ad revenue shares and Facebook’s ad breaks let creators insert commercials into their videos for a cut of the money. Both are experimenting with subscription patronage and tipping options to help creators earn money. Facebook recently launched its Brand Collabs manager that offers an entire search engine of creators that brands can sort by audience demographics.

But Snapchat still doesn’t have any of these options, and its Storytellers program looks half-hearted in comparison. As the social media influencer space matures, many creators are sick of giving away their content for free, and will bring their best work to whichever network helps get them paid.

Still, Snap will take a relatively hands-off approach in terms of how deals between brands and creators are struck. It’s not going to take a cut, nor will creators get locked into exclusivity contracts with Snap or the businesses. Basically, Snap is adding the five creators that include Geeohsnap and Georgio Copter to its Creative Partners list alongside ad agencies and creative studios. If advertisers express interest in a creator, Snap will make an introduction, then leave them to work out the deal.

It’s dumbfounding that Snapchat waited this long to launch this program, and it didn’t even come up with it. It was the endearingly weird former Vine star Shonduras that suggested Snapchat build the program during its first Creators Summit back in May. That shows how out of touch with the creator community Snap was until now. If it can’t grow its user count quickly, it should be doing everything it can to keep creators and advertisers from straying to Facebook’s Stories platforms with a lot more users.

[Correction: Nicholas Megalis made “Gummy Money,” not Shonduras.]

Powered by WPeMatico

Snapchat will shut down Snapcash, forfeiting to Venmo

Posted by | Apps, eCommerce, Mobile, payments, snap inc, Snapchat, Social, Square, TC | No Comments

Snapcash ended up as a way to pay adult performers for private content over Snapchat, not just a way to split bills with friends. But Snapchat will abandon the peer-to-peer payment space on August 30th. Code buried in Snapchat’s Android app includes a “Snapcash deprecation message” that displays “Snapcash will no longer be available after %s [date]”. Shutting down the feature will bring an end to Snapchat’s four-year partnership with Square to power the feature for sending people money.

Snapcash may have become more of a liability than a utility. With apps like Venmo, PayPal, Zelle, and Square Cash itself, there were plenty of other ways to pay back friends for drinks or Ubers, so Snapcash may have seen low legitimate usage. Meanwhile, a quick Twitter search for “Snapcash” surfaced plenty of offers of erotic content in exchange for payments through the feature. It may have been safer for Snapchat to ditch Snapcash than risk PR problems over its misuse.

TechCrunch tipster Ishan Agarwal provided the below screenshot of Snapchat’s code to TechCrunch. When presented with the code and asked if Snapcash would shut down, a Snapchat spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch that it would, explaining: “Yes, we’re discontinuing the Snapcash feature as of August 30, 2018. Snapcash was our first product created in partnership with another company – Square. We’re thankful for all the Snapchatters who used Snapcash for the last four years and for Square’s partnership!” The spokesperson noted that users would be notified in-app and through the support site soon.

Snapcash gave Snapchat a way to get users to connect payment methods to the app. That’s increasingly important as the company aims to become a commerce platforms where you can shop without leaving the app. Having payment info on file is what makes buying things through Snapchat easier than the web and draws brands to use Snapchat storefronts.

We’ll see how Snapchat plans evolve its commerce strategy without this driver. Earlier this month, TechCrunch revealed that Snapchat’s code contained mentions of a project codenamed “eagle” that’s a camera search feature. It was designed to allow users to scan an object or barcode with their Snapchat camera and see product results in Amazon. But since our report, mentions of Amazon have disappeared from the code. It’s unclear what will happen in the future, but camera search could give Snapchat new utility and monetization options.

Snapcash won’t be a part of that future, though. Given Snapchat’s cost-cutting efforts including layoffs, its desperate need to attract and retain advertisers to hit revenue estimates its missed, and its persistent bad rap as a sexting app, it couldn’t afford to support unnecessary features or another scandal.

Powered by WPeMatico

Snapchat code reveals team-up with Amazon for ‘Camera Search’

Posted by | Amazon, Apps, eCommerce, Mobile, Snap, snap inc, Snap Store, Snapchat, Snapchat Search, Social, TC | No Comments

Snapchat is building a visual product search feature, codenamed “Eagle,” that delivers users to Amazon’s listings. Buried inside the code of Snapchat’s Android app is an unreleased “Visual Search” feature where you “Press and hold to identify an object, song, barcode, and more! This works by sending data to Amazon, Shazam, and other partners.” Once an object or barcode has been scanned you can “See all results at Amazon.”

Visual product search could make Snapchat’s camera a more general purpose tool for seeing and navigating the world, rather than just a social media maker. It could differentiate Snapchat from Instagram, whose clone of Snapchat Stories now has more than twice the users and a six times faster gro

wth rate than the original. And if Snapchat has worked out an affiliate referrals deal with Amazon, it could open a new revenue stream. That’s something Snap Inc. direly needs after posting a $385 million loss last quarter and missing revenue estimates by $14 million.

TechCrunch was tipped off to the hidden Snapchat code by app researcher Ishan Agarwal. His tips have previously led to TechCrunch scoops about Instagram’s video calling, soundtracks, Focus portrait mode and QR Nametags features that were all later officially launched. Amazon didn’t respond to a press inquiry before publishing time, and it’s unclear if its actively involved in the development of Snapchat visual search or just a destination for its results. Snap already sells its Spetacles v2 camera glasses on Amazon — the only place beyond its own site. Snap Inc. gave TechCrunch a “no comment,” about visual search but the company’s code tells the story.

Snapchat first dabbled in understanding the world around you with its Shazam integration back in 2016 that lets you tap and hold to identify a song playing nearby, check it out on Shazam, send it to a friend or follow the artist on Snapchat. Project Eagle builds on this audio search feature to offer visual search through a similar interface and set of partnerships. The ability to identify purchaseable objects or scan barcodes could turn Snapchat, which some view as a teen toy, into more of a utility.

What’s inside Snapchat’s Eagle eye

Snapchat’s code doesn’t explain exactly how the Project Eagle feature will work, but in the newest version of Snapchat it was renamed as “Camera Search.” If you remember, Snap used another animal name, “Cheetah”, as the secret word for its big redesign. The app’s code lists the ability to surface “sellers” and “reviews,” “Copy URL” of a product and “Share” or “Send Product” to friends — likely via Snap messages or Snapchat Stories. In characteristic cool kid teenspeak, an error message for “product not found” reads “Bummer, we didn’t catch that!”

Eagle’s visual search may be connected to Snapchat’s “context cards,” which debuted late last year and pull up business contact info, restaurant reservations, movie tickets, Ubers or Lyfts and more. Surfacing within Snapchat a context card of details about ownable objects might be the first step to getting users to buy them… and advertisers to pay Snap to promote them. It’s easy to imagine context cards being accessible for products tagged in Snap Ads as well as scanned through visual search. And Snap already has in-app shopping.

Snapchat’s Camera Search could become a direct competitor for Pinterest’s Lens, which identifies objects and brings up related content. Pinterest has evolved the product, embedding it inside the apps of retailers like Target. Beyond shopping, Camera Search could let Snapchat users find Stories that contain the same object they’re snapping.

Being able to recognize what you’re seeing makes Snapchat more fun, but it’s also a new way of navigating reality. In mid-2017 Snapchat launched World Lenses that map the surfaces of your surroundings so you can place 3D animated objects like its Dancing Hotdog mascot alongside real people in real places. Snapchat also released a machine vision-powered search feature last year that compiles Stories of user-submitted Snaps featuring your chosen keyword, like videos with “puppies” or “fireworks,” even if the captions don’t mention them.

Pinterest’s Lens visual search feature

Snapchat was so interested in visual search that this year, it reportedly held early-stage acquisition talks with machine vision startup Blippar. The talks fell through with the U.K. augmented reality company that has raised at least $99 million for its own visual search feature, but which recently began to implode due to low usage and financing trouble. Snap Inc. might have been hoping to jumpstart its Camera Search efforts.

Snap calls itself a camera company, after all. But with the weak sales of its mediocre v1 Spectacles, the well-reviewed v2 failing to break into the cultural zeitgeist and no other hardware products on the market, Snap may need to redefine what exactly that tag line means. Visual search could frame Snapchat as more of a sensor than just a camera. With its popular use for rapid-fire selfie messaging, it’s already the lens through which some teens see the world. Soon, Snap could be ready to train its eagle eye on purchases, not just faces.

In related Snapchat news:

Powered by WPeMatico