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Facebook’s testimony to Congress: Libra will be regulated by Swiss

Posted by | Apps, blockchain, Calibra, Congress, cryptocurrency, David Marcus, eCommerce, Facebook, Finance, Government, house of representatives, Libra, Libra Association, Mobile, payments, Personnel, Social, TC, U.S. Senate | No Comments

The head of Facebook’s blockchain subsidiary Calibra David Marcus has released his prepared testimony before Congress for tomorrow and Wednesday, explaining that the Libra Association will be regulated by the Swiss government because that’s where it’s headquartered. Meanwhile, he says the Libra Association and Facebook’s Calibra wallet intend to comply will all U.S. tax, anti-money laundering and anti-fraud laws.

“The Libra Association expects that it will be licensed, regulated, and subject to supervisory oversight. Because the Association is headquartered in Geneva, it will be supervised by the Swiss Financial Markets Supervisory Authority (FINMA),” Marcus writes. “We have had preliminary discussions with FINMA and expect to engage with them on an appropriate regulatory framework for the Libra Association. The Association also intends to register with FinCEN [The U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network] as a money services business.”

Marcus will be defending Libra before the Senate Banking Committee on July 16th and the House Financial Services Committees on July 17th. The House subcomittee’s Rep. Maxine Waters has already issued a letter to Facebook and the Libra Association requesting that it halt development and plans to launch Libra in early 2020 “until regulators and Congress have an opportunity to examine these issues and take action.”

The big question is whether Congress is savvy enough to understand Libra to the extent that it can coherently regulate it. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimonies before Congress last year were rife with lawmakers dispensing clueless or off-topic questions.

Sen. Orin Hatch infamously demanded to know “how do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?,” to which Zuckerberg smirked, “Senator, we run ads.” If that concept trips up Congress, it’s hard to imagine it grasping a semi-decentralized stablecoin cryptocurrency that took us 4,000 words to properly explain, and a six-minute video just to summarize.

Attempting to assuage a core concern that Libra is trying to replace the dollar or meddle in financial policy, Marcus writes that “The Libra Association, which will manage the Reserve, has no intention of competing with any sovereign currencies or entering the monetary policy arena. It will work with the Federal Reserve and other central banks to make sure Libra does not compete with sovereign currencies or interfere with monetary policy. Monetary policy is properly the province of central banks.”

Marcus’ testimony comes days after President Donald Trump tweeted Friday to condemn Libra, claiming that “Unregulated Crypto Assets can facilitate unlawful behavior, including drug trade and other illegal activity. Similarly, Facebook Libra’s ‘virtual currency’ will have little standing or dependability. If Facebook and other companies want to become a bank, they must seek a new Banking Charter and become subject to all Banking Regulations, just like other Banks, both National and International.”

TechCrunch asked Facebook for a response Friday, which it declined to provide. However, a Facebook spokesperson noted that the Libra Association won’t interact with consumers or operate as a bank, and that Libra is meant to be a complement to the existing financial system.

Regarding how Libra will comply with U.S. anti-money laundering (AML) and know-your-customer (KYC) laws, Marcus explains that “The Libra Association is similarly committed to supporting efforts by regulators, central banks, and lawmakers to ensure that Libra contributes to the fight against money laundering, terrorism financing, and more,” Marcus explains. “The Libra Association will also maintain policies and procedures with respect to AML and the Bank Secrecy Act, combating the financing of terrorism, and other national security-related laws, with which its members will be required to comply if they choose to provide financial services on the Libra network.”

He argues that “Libra should improve detection and enforcement, not set them back,” because cash transactions are frequently used by criminals to avoid law enforcement. “A network that helps move more paper cash transactions—where many illicit activities happen—to a digital network that features regulated on- and off-ramps with proper know-your-customer (KYC) practices, combined with the ability for law enforcement and regulators to conduct their own analysis of on-chain activity, will present an opportunity to increase the efficacy of financial crimes monitoring and enforcement.”

As for Facebook itself, Marcus writes that “The Calibra wallet will comply with FinCEN’s rules for its AML/CFT program and the rules set by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) . . . Similarly, Calibra will comply with the Bank Secrecy Act and will incorporate KYC and AML/CFT methodologies used around the world.”

These answers might help to calm finance legal eagles, but I expect much of the questioning from Congress will deal with the far more subjective matter of whether Facebook can be trusted after a decade of broken privacy promises, data leaks and fake news scandals like Cambridge Analytica.

That’s why I don’t expect the following statement from Marcus about how Facebook has transformed the state of communication will play well with lawmakers that are angry about how those changes impacted society. “We have done a lot to democratize free, unlimited communications for billions of people. We want to help do the same for digital currency and financial services, but with one key difference: We will relinquish control over the network and currency we have helped create.” Congress may interpret “democratize” as “screw up,” and not want to see the same happen to money.

Facebook and Calibra may have positive intentions to assist the unbanked who are indeed swindled by banks and money transfer services that levy huge fees against poorer families. But Facebook isn’t acting out of pure altruism here, as it stands to earn money from Libra in three big ways that aren’t mentioned in Marcus’ testimony:

  1. It will earn a share of interest earned on the Libra Reserve of traditional currencies it holds as collateral for Libra that could mount into the billions if Libra becomes popular.
  2. It will see Facebook ad sales grow if merchants seek to do more commerce over the internet because they can easily and cheaply accept online payments through Libra and therefore put marketing spend into those efficiently converting channels like Facebook and Google.
  3. It will try to sell additional financial services through Calibra, potentially including loans and credit where it could ask users to let it integrate their Facebook data to get a better rate, potentially decreasing defaults and earning Facebook larger margins than other players.

The real-world stakes are much higher here than in photo sharing, and warrant properly regulatory scrutiny. No matter how much Facebook tries to distance itself from ownership of Libra, it started, incubated and continues to lead the project. If Congress is already convinced “big is bad,” and Libra could make Facebook bigger, that may make it difficult to separate their perceptions of Facebook and Libra in order to assess the currency on its merits and risks.

Below you can read Marcus’ full testimony:

For full details on how Libra works, read our feature story on everything you need to know:

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Snapchat announces new shows from Serena Williams, Arnold Schwarzenegger and others

Posted by | Media, Mobile, Snap, Snapchat, Social | No Comments

Snapchat just announced that it’s making shows with big names like Serena Williams, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Kevin Hart, as well as online stars like Emma Chamberlain, Loren Gray, Rickey Thompson, Baby Ariel and FaZe Banks.

Snapchat launched its original content efforts two years ago, and today it’s unveiling a new program called Creator Shows. As initially announced in the Hollywood Reporter, these will be first-person shows designed around individual creators.

For example, Schwarzenegger will be providing motivational advice in a show called “Rules of Success,” while Thompson will weigh in on fashion and lifestyle trends on “Trend or End” and Gray offers beauty advice on “Glow Up.”

The shows will begin airing this month. They’re all exclusive to Snapchat, and many of them come from creators who have a substantial following on other platforms — Chamberlain, for example, was just described in The New York Times as “the funniest person on YouTube.

Rickey Thompson Premieres July 10

“Snapchat has always been my favorite platform to post random and funny things on because it’s so relaxed,” Chamberlain said in a statement. “My favorite part about it is that I get to watch my own Snapchat Stories a few hours after I post them for entertainment… kind of embarrassing, I know…”

Snap isn’t sharing viewership numbers around its original shows, but it does say that daily time spent watching those shows tripled over the past year.

And as media giants funnel more and more money into original video content, this might be the strategy that Snapchat needs to compete — rather than trying to find the next big-budget hit, it can focus on personality-driven shows from creators with large followings.

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HQ Trivia lays off ~20% as it preps subscriptions

Posted by | Apps, Entertainment, Gaming, HQ Trivia, layoffs, Media, Mobile, Personnel, Rus Yusupov, Social, Startups, Talent, TC, trivia | No Comments

HQ Trivia is struggling after a mutiny failed to oust its CEO. Downloads per month are down 92% versus last June according to Sensor Tower. And now four sources confirm that HQ laid off staff members this week. One said about 20% of staff was let go, and another said six to seven employees were departing. That aligns with Digiday reporter Kerry Flynn’s tweet that 7 employees were let go bringing HQ to under 30 (shrinking from 35 to 28 staffers would be a 20% drop).

That will leave the company short-handed as it attempts to diversify revenue with the upcoming launch of monthly subscriptions. “HQ Words Everyday. Coming next month . . .  Bigger prizes . . . More ways to win. $9.99/mo. subscription” the company tweeted from the account for its second game, the Wheel Of Fortune-style HQ Words. The company has been trying to regain momentum with new hosts since the departure of Quiz Daddy aka Scott Rogowsky, HQ Trivia’s original host.

hq trivia app 1

The cuts hit HQ’s HR, marketing, and product engineering teams, according to LinkedIn profiles of employees let go. The cuts could further hamper morale at the startup following a tough first half of the year. HQ Trivia and co-founder Rus Yusupov did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

HQ Trivia employees petitioned to remove co-founder Rus Yusupov from the CEO position

Following the tragic death of co-founder and CEO Colin Kroll, Yusupov retook control. But staff found him difficult to work with as he’d allowed the product to stagnate and popularity to decline. Yusupov was slow to make changes to the app, and “no one wanted to work under Rus” a source told me.

That led 20 of 35 staffers to sign a letter to HQ Trivia’s board asking them to remove Yusupov, though it was never formally sent. Yusupov caught wind of the plot and fired two of the leaders of the petition. That further sunk morale, leading to the exit of HQ Trivia’s SVP of brand partnerships and its marketing manager. The board began a search for a new CEO, though it’s unclear how that’s panned out.

Since then, new games HQ teased in April haven’t materialized as its download rate continued to suffer. It’s dropped to the #731 US game on iOS according to AppAnnie. HQ Trivia saw just 827,000 downloads from January through June 2019, down 92% from the 10.2 million it saw in the same time frame in 2018 according to Sensor Tower. That’s the same percentage drop in downloads from June 2019 versus June 2018, indicating Rogowsky’s replacements that started in April couldn’t turn things around.

Interest in the live game show format seems to be waning as a whole. HQ Trivia fan site HQTrivia.fan shut down this week fearing the end was near for the official game, and the (Business) INSIDER-run clone of the game on Facebook Watch called Confetti stopped airing at the end of June.

HQ Words Everyday. Coming next month.

🗓 Play HQ Words every day.
💰 Bigger prizes.
🕹 More ways to win.
🔥 $9.99/mo. subscription.

RT and reply with your username for a chance to win a free year. #wordseveryday

— HQ Words (@hqwords) June 26, 2019

Rather than solely monetizing a waning audience via in-app purchases and sponsorships, HQ Words announced it would debut a $9.99 monthly subscription sometime this month that would grant access to winning “bigger prizes”. This could be a smart way to squeeze more dollars out of a smaller but more diehard audience.

While HQ Trivia was an inspiring approach to mobile gaming, its twice-daily games didn’t fit the always-on nature of mobile. It’s failed build a proper onboarding experience that gives users a taste of it games right away rather than forcing them to wait for the next scheduled match as we suggested over a year ago. Gamers are fickle, craving instant gratification, and HQ hasn’t tried to meet them in middle.

Perhaps there’s a future for HQ on cable television, or as a small but steady business on mobile catering to loyalists. But all the unfortunate events and mismanagement may make it difficult to exceed the $100 million valuation it raised money at during its peak.

 

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Atlan raises $2.5M to stop enterprises from being so bad at managing data

Posted by | Asia, funding, india, InMobi, Mobile, ratan tata, Recent Funding, Social, Startups, unilever, wpp, zoom | No Comments

Even as much of the world is digitizing its governance, in small towns and villages of India, data about its citizens is still being largely logged on long and thick notebooks. Have they received the subsidized cooking gas cylinders? How frequent are the power cuts in the village? If these data points exist at all, they are probably stored in big paperbacks stacked in a corner of some agency’s office.

Five years ago, two young entrepreneurs — Prukalpa Sankar and Varun Banka — set out to modernize this system. They founded SocialCops, a startup that builds tools that make it easier for government officials — and anyone else — to quickly conduct surveys and maintain digital records that could be accessed from anywhere.

The Indian government was so impressed with SocialCops’ offering that it partnered with the startup on National Data Platform, a project to connect and bring more transparency within many of the state-run initiatives; and Ujjwala Yojana, a project to deliver subsidized cooking gas cylinders to poor women across the nation.

“This is a crucial step towards good governance through which we will be able to monitor everything centrally,” India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said of National Data Platform. “It will enable us to effectively monitor every village of the country.”

Two years ago, the duo wondered if the internal tools that they built for their own teams to manage their projects could help data teams around the world? The early results are in: Atlan, a startup they founded using learnings from SocialCops, has secured more than 200 customers from over 50 nations and has raised $2.5 million in pre-Series A funding led by Waterbridge Ventures, an early stage venture fund.

The startup, which employs about 80 people, has also received backing from Ratan Tata, Chairman Emeritus of conglomerate Tata Sons, Rajan Anandan, the former head of Google Southeast Asia, and 500 Startups. On Tuesday, Singapore-headquartered Atlan moved out of stealth mode.

The premise of Atlan’s products is simple. It’s built on the assumption that the way most people in enterprises deal with data is inefficient and broken, Sankar and Banka told TechCrunch in an interview. Typically, there is no central system to keep track of all these data points that often live in their own silos. This often results in people spending days to figure out what their compliance policy is, for instance.

“Atlan wants to democratize data inside organizations,” said Sankar.

Atlan Discovery 2

Teams within a typical company currently use a number of different tools to gather and manage data. Atlan has built products — dubbed Discovery, Grid, and Workflows — to create a collaboration layer, bringing together diverse data (from internal and external sources), tools and people to one interface.

“We are reimagining every human interaction with data. For instance, code has a profile on GitHub—what would a “profile” of data look like? What if you could share data as easily as a Google Sheets link, without worrying about the size or format? Or what would a data versioning and approval workflow look like? What if data scientists could acquire external data within minutes, instead of the months it takes right now?” said Banka.

The startup has also built a product called Collect that allows an organization to quickly deploy apps to collect granular data. These apps can collect data even when there is no internet connection. All of these data points, too, then find their way to the interface.

Atlan intends to use the capital it has raised on product development and sign more customers. It has already won some big names including Unilever, Milkbasket, Barbeque Nation, WPP and GroupM, Mahindra Group and InMobi in India, Chuan Lim Construction in Singapore, ServeHaiti in Haiti, Swansea University in the UK, the Ministry of Environment in Costa Rica, and Varun Beverages in Zambia.

In a prepared statement, Manish Kheterpal, Managing Partner at WaterBridge Ventures, said, “companies are struggling to overcome the friction that arises when diverse individuals need to collaborate, leading to project failure. The IPOs of companies like Slack and Zoom are proof that we live in the era of consumerization of the enterprise. With its sharp focus on data democratization, Atlan is well-positioned to reimagine the future of how data teams work.”

As for SocialCops, Sankar said it will live on as a data science community and pursue its signature “social good” mission.

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Facebook SDK bug crashed apps like Timehop

Posted by | Apps, Developer, Facebook bug, facebook developers, facebook platform, JoyTunes, Mobile, Social, Startups, TC, Timehop | No Comments

A malfunction in Facebook’s Software Development Kit that lets apps add Login With Facebook, sharing, and other features caused apps that integrate it like Timehop to repeatedly crash for about three hours. TechCrunch received a tip that developers were getting tons of user complaints and crash reports starting around noon pacific today due to a problem with the Facebook for iOS SDK. TechCrunch’s testing verified that products like Timehop, Joytunes’ Simply Piano, Momento GIFs, and more kept breaking when users access Facebook features or in some cases just opened the app.

This is a big issue for Facebook because it relies on these apps to drive user lock-in. If people use Facebook to log into or share from other apps, they’re less likely to delete their account. But if the Facebook developer platform screws up like this morning, developers could instead highlight sharing via Twitter or SMS, and divert ad buys to other platforms. Most problematically, the bug could push developers to other login platforms like Google’s or Apple’s new Sign In With Apple.

[Update: 3:45pm PT: Facebook has fixed the bug and apps integrated with the SDK are starting to work normally again. A Facebook spokesperson tells me “We started to work on the issue as soon as it was reported to us, and it has been resolved.” Facebook engineer Ram Sharma posted that “Our engineering team worked to resolve this issue as soon as it was discovered. It is now mitigated and app function should be restored.” Developers confirm the bug has been fixed. The rest of this article remains as originally published.]

Facebook SDK Bug

The bug was initially submitted to Facebook’s developer forums by Ryan Layne. These crashes thwart normal usage of other apps, costing their developers ad views and in-app purchases, or leading their users to uninstall or abandon them.

Timehop Facebook SDK Crash

Hitting the Connect Facebook button on Timehop causes the app to crash. Developers in Facebook’s bug reporting forum pile on saying their apps are breaking

The situation highlights the increasing centralization of the web as more and more companies depend on a small number of mobile, hosting, and social platforms. Earlier this month, a Google Cloud outage knocked down Snapchat and Discord. While these tools make it simpler to start a company or launch an app without having to build everything in-house, they introduce platform risk. Beyond technical outages, there’s also the concern that a platform could use its insights to copy its clients, or block them if they compete with the gatekeeper too vigorously as Facebook has done to chat and social media apps in the past.

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Facebook squeezes money from Instagram with new ads in Explore

Posted by | Advertising Tech, Apps, Facebook, instagram, instagram ads, Instagram Explore, Media, Mobile, Social, TC | No Comments

Half of Instagram’s billion-plus users open its Explore tab each month to find fresh content and creators. Now the Facebook-owned app will do more to carry its weight by injecting ads into Instagram Explore for the first time. But rather than bombard users with marketing right on the Explore grid, Instagram will instead only show ads after users tap into a post and then start scrolling through similar imagery.

The move feels like a respectful way to monetize Explore without annoying users too much or breaking the high visual quality of the space. Instagram’s director of business product marketing Susan Bucker Rose tells me she believes the ads will feel natural because users already come to Explore “in the mindset of discovery. They want to be exposed to new accounts, people, and brands.”

Instagram Ads In Explore Tab

Instagram will test the ad slots itself at first to promote its ailing IGTV feature before they “launch to a handful of brands over the coming weeks” Rose says. That includes both big name corporations and smaller advertisers looking to drive conversions, video views, or reach. Instagram hopes to roll the ad format out broadly in the next few months.

Advertisers will buy the slots through the same Facebook ads manager and API they use to buy Instagram feed and Stories space. At first advertisers will have to opt in to placing their ads in Instagram Explore too, but eventually that will be the default with an opportunity to opt out.

Here’s how ads work in Instagram Explore. When you open the tab it will look the same as always with a scrollable grid of posts with high engagement that are personalized based on your interests. When you tap into a photo or video, you’ll first see that full-screen. But if you keep scrolling down, Instagram will show you a contextual feed of content similar to the original post where it will insert photo and video ads. And if you tap into one of the themed video channels and then keep scrolling after watching the clip to check out more videos in the same vein, you may see Instagram video ads.

Instagram describes the introduction as “slowly and thoughtfully” — which makes it sound like the volume of ads will ramp up over time.

Explore was first launched in 2012, some two years after Instagram itself, as a merger of the app’s search and “popular” tabs, with an aim of using algorithms that were informed by your existing interests to give you a new way to discover new people and themes to follow in the app beyond those you might pick up by way of you own social circles. It’s had a few revamps, such as the addition of topical channels and hashtags, and the addition of Stories, the format that has proven to be such a hit on Instagram itself. There won’t be any ads in Stories that recently started appearing in Explore.

But interestingly, through all of that, Instagram stayed hands-off when it came to advertising and Explore. The idea is that the content that each person sees in Explore is individualized, with algorithms detecting the kinds of things you like to show you photos, videos and subjects you might most want to see. Apparently Instagram didn’t want to deter browsing of this content.

On the other side of the coin, this has meant that up to now, individuals and brands have not been able to proactively request or pay to be in anyone’s specific Explore tab — although that doesn’t mean that people don’t game this situation (just Google “how to get on Instagram Explore” and you will find many how-to’s to show you the way).

Instagram Explore Ads

The move to bring ads into the Explore experience has some logic to it. Even before monetization made its way to Instagram in the form of feed advertising, shoppable links and sponsored content posted by influencers, brands and businesses had started using the platform to promote products and to connect with customers. Instagram says that today, 80 percent of its users follow at least one business on Instagram. Now instead of trying desperately to game the Explore algorithm, Instagram can just sell businesses space instead.

With Facebook’s News Feed usage in danger as attention shifts to Stories that it’s still learning to monetize, the company is leaning more on Instagram to keep revenue growing. But Instagram must be sure not to suffocate the golden goose with too many ads.

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

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

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

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

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

Imgur

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

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

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

Coil Micropayments

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

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

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

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Facebook may finally let you turn off those annoying notification dots

Posted by | Apps, digital well-being, Facebook, Facebook Notifications, Facebook Policy, Facebook time well spent, Mobile, Social, TC, Time Well Spent | No Comments

Sick of those anxiety-inducing red dots constantly appearing on the Groups, Watch, or other tabs in your Facebook app? Well the social network may be easing up a little in its unending war for your attention. Facebook is now testing a toggle to turn off the red in-app notification dots on its homescreen. Until now you had to manually open each of Facebook’s features to extinguishing the maddening flame of the notification badge. This could make Facebook feel more tranquil, and keep you focused on whatever you actually opened the app to do.

“It’s related to the work we’re doing with the well-being team. We’re thinking about how people spend their time in the app and making sure that it’s time well spent” a Facebook spokesperson tells me. Many people can’t feel settled if there are red dots begging to be tapped — a psychological quirk Facebook takes advantage of. The company seems to be realizing that its growth hacking can backfire if its pleas for engagement actually deter us from opening its app in the first place.Turn Off Facebook Notification Dots

The Facebook Notification Dots setting was first spotted in its prototype form by reverse engineering specialist Jane Manchun Wong, hidden in the Android app’s code earlier this summer. Today, social media consultant Matt Navarra noticed the feature being publicly tested. Facebook now confirms to TechCrunch that this is a new global test that started recently on iOS and Android for a subset of users. “We are testing new ways to give people more control over the notifications they receive in the Facebook app” a spokesperson tells me.

Facebook plans to continue offering additional ways to personalize notifications so you don’t miss what’s important but aren’t drowned in noise. “People don’t necessarily want to see a notification on the badge [the in-app dots on tabs] if they’re already getting notifications in the jewel [the red counter on the Facebook app icon on your phone’s homescreen]” the spokesperson tells me. It considered a snooze option but went with an on/off switch that’s the least confusion. The Notification dots feature is likely to roll out to everyone unless it suddenly proves to decimate Facebook usage.

Facebook Notification Dots

How To Turn Off Facebook Notification Dots

If you have access to this feature test, you’ll find the option in your Facebook app under the three-lined More/Menu tab -> Settings & Privacy -> Settings -> Notifications -> Notification Dots. There you can “Choose which shortcuts will show you notifications dots” with options for “Videos On Watch”, “Profile”, “Groups”, “Menu”.

One tab/shortcut where you can’t disable the dots is Notifications, which actually makes sense since that’s the main way the app alerts you to activity around your profile and content. But since you already get a heads-up about new Groups posts or when you’re tagged in a photo there, the notification dots on the other tabs are just redundant and distracting.

Facebook notification settings

If you want to control which activities trigger alerts in your Notifications tab, you can go to More/Menu tab -> Settings & Privacy -> Settings -> Notifications -> Notification Settings -> Mobile. There you can see a list of your recent notifications and turn off ones like it in case you’re sick of hearing about friends starting fundraisers, reminders about upcoming events, or comments after yours on a Group post. The Notification Settings page also lets you turn off sound for Facebook notifications, axe them from specific groups or other apps, turn down the frequency of On This Day alerts, and choose what notifications get bumped up to email or text message.

Confusingly, there’s also a totally separate menu that’s accessible from the Notifications tab’s settings gear icon. There you can temporarily or permanently mute push notifications and choose where you receive each type. Obviously there should be a link between these two different spaces. A great next step for Facebook would be allowing user to batch notifications, Instead of either being constantly pestered or totally in the dark, it could let users opt for an occasional digest of notifications, like once per day or when they get to 10 alerts.

Facebook and Instagram Your Activity Counter

A year ago Facebook trumpeted how it launched a Time Well Spent dashboard in its app and Instagram for showing how long per day you use the apps with an option to set a reminder to stop after enough minutes. But buried inside Menu -> Settings & Privacy -> Your Time on Facebook, the toothless feature we’d previously scooped isn’t doing much good. If Facebook wants to be a principled citizen of our devices, it shouldn’t be so hard to say when we do or don’t want to be nagged for attention.

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‘This is Your Life in Silicon Valley’: Former Pinterest President, Moment CEO Tim Kendall on Smartphone Addiction

Posted by | Apps, Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, mental health, Mobile, Moment, MySpace, Pinterest, podcast, podcast transcript, screen time, smartphone addiction, Social, Startups, sunil rajaraman, TC, This is Your Life in Silicon Valley, tim kendall, Venture Capital | No Comments

Welcome to this week’s transcribed edition of This is Your Life in Silicon Valley. We’re running an experiment for Extra Crunch members that puts This is Your Life in Silicon Valley in words – so you can read from wherever you are.

This is Your Life in Silicon Valley was originally started by Sunil Rajaraman and Jascha Kaykas-Wolff in 2018. Rajaraman is a serial entrepreneur and writer (Co-Founded Scripted.com, and is currently an EIR at Foundation Capital), Kaykas-Wolff is the current CMO at Mozilla and ran marketing at BitTorrent. Rajaraman and Kaykas-Wolff started the podcast after a series of blog posts that Sunil wrote for The Bold Italic went viral.

The goal of the podcast is to cover issues at the intersection of technology and culture – sharing a different perspective of life in the Bay Area. Their guests include entrepreneurs like Sam Lessin, journalists like Kara Swisher and politicians like Mayor Libby Schaaf and local business owners like David White of Flour + Water.

This week’s edition of This is Your Life in Silicon Valley features Tim Kendall, the former President of Pinterest and current CEO of Moment. Tim ran monetization at Facebook, and has very strong opinions on smartphone addiction and what it is doing to all of us. Tim is an architect of much of the modern social media monetization machinery, so you definitely do not want to miss his perspective on this important subject.

For access to the full transcription, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Sunil Rajaraman: Welcome to season three of This is Your Life in Silicon Valley. A Podcast about the Bay Area, technology, and culture. I’m your host, Sunil Rajaraman and I’m joined by my cohost, Jascha Kaykas-Wolff.

Jascha Kaykas-Wolff: Are you recording?

Rajaraman: I’m recording.

Kaykas-Wolff: I’m almost done. My phone’s been buzzing all afternoon and I just have to finish this text message.

Rajaraman: So you’re one of those people who can’t go five seconds without checking their phone.

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Trash uses AI to edit your footage into a fun, short videos

Posted by | Apps, hannah donovan, Mobile, Social, Startups, trash | No Comments

Trash is a new startup promising to make it easier for anyone to create well-edited videos.

Social video is an area that CEO Hannah Donovan knows well, having previously served as general manager at Vine (the video app that Twitter acquired and eventually shut down). She said that in user research, even though people had “really powerful cameras in their pockets,” when it came to editing their footage together, they’d always say, “Oh, I’m not technical enough, I’m not smart enough.”

Donovan, who also worked as head of creative at Last.fm, said she “got curious about whether we could use computer vision to analyze the video and synthesize it into a sequence.”

The result is the Trash app, which comes with a straightforward tag line: “You shoot, we edit.”

Donovan demonstrated the app for me last week, shooting a few brief clips around the TechCrunch New York office, which were then assembled into a video — not exactly an amazing video but much, much better than anything I could have done with the footage. We also got to tweak the video by adjusting the music, the speed or the “vibe,” then post it on Trash and other social networks.

Donovan founded the company with its Chief Scientist Genevieve Patterson, who has a Ph.D. from Brown and also did postdoctoral work with Microsoft Research.

Patterson told me that Trash’s technology covers two broad categories. First there’s analysis, where a neural network analyzes the footage to identify elements like people, faces, interesting actions and different types of shots. Then there’s synthesis, where “we try to figure out what are the most cool and interesting parts of the video, to create a mini-music video for you with a high diversity of content.”

The app should get smarter over time as it gets more training data to work with, Patterson added. For one thing, she noted that most of the initial training footage used “Hollywood-style cinematography,” but as Trash brings more users on-board, it can better adapt to the ways people shoot on their phone.

It’s starting that on-boarding process now with what Donovan calls a “creator beta,” where the team is looking for a variety of creators — particularly talented photographers who haven’t embraced video yet — to try things out. You can request an invite by downloading the iOS app. (Donovan said there are plans to build an Android version eventually.)

Trash screenshot

Trash has raised $2.5 million from sources as varied as the National Science Foundation, Japan’s Digital Garage and Dream Machine, the fund created by former TechCrunch Editor Alexia Bonatsos. Donovan said the startup isn’t focused on revenue yet — but eventually, it could make money through sponsorships, pro features and by allowing creators to sell their footage in the app.

And if you’re wondering where the name comes from, Donovan offered both a “snarky response” (“I don’t give a damn and I don’t take myself too seriously”) and a more serious one.

“We believe that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure,” she said. “With filmmaking, as you know, there’s a lot of things that get left on the cutting room floor. That’s one of the product concepts, in the longer term, that we want to explore.”

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