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Facebook, Google face first GDPR complaints over ‘forced consent’

Posted by | Advertising Tech, Android, data protection, Europe, european union, Facebook, General Data Protection Regulation, Google, instagram, lawsuit, Mark Zuckerberg, Max Schrems, privacy, Social, social network, social networking, terms of service, WhatsApp | No Comments

After two years coming down the pipe at tech giants, Europe’s new privacy framework, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), is now being applied — and long time Facebook privacy critic, Max Schrems, has wasted no time in filing four complaints relating to (certain) companies’ ‘take it or leave it’ stance when it comes to consent.

The complaints have been filed on behalf of (unnamed) individual users — with one filed against Facebook; one against Facebook-owned Instagram; one against Facebook-owned WhatsApp; and one against Google’s Android.

Schrems argues that the companies are using a strategy of “forced consent” to continue processing the individuals’ personal data — when in fact the law requires that users be given a free choice unless a consent is strictly necessary for provision of the service. (And, well, Facebook claims its core product is social networking — rather than farming people’s personal data for ad targeting.)

“It’s simple: Anything strictly necessary for a service does not need consent boxes anymore. For everything else users must have a real choice to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’,” Schrems writes in a statement.

“Facebook has even blocked accounts of users who have not given consent,” he adds. “In the end users only had the choice to delete the account or hit the “agree”-button — that’s not a free choice, it more reminds of a North Korean election process.”

We’ve reached out to all the companies involved for comment and will update this story with any response. Update: Facebook has now sent the following statement, attributed to its chief privacy officer, Erin Egan: “We have prepared for the past 18 months to ensure we meet the requirements of the GDPR. We have made our policies clearer, our privacy settings easier to find and introduced better tools for people to access, download, and delete their information. Our work to improve people’s privacy doesn’t stop on May 25th. For example, we’re building Clear History: a way for everyone to see the websites and apps that send us information when you use them, clear this information from your account, and turn off our ability to store it associated with your account going forward.”

Schrems most recently founded a not-for-profit digital rights organization to focus on strategic litigation around the bloc’s updated privacy framework, and the complaints have been filed via this crowdfunded NGO — which is called noyb (aka ‘none of your business’).

As we pointed out in our GDPR explainer, the provision in the regulation allowing for collective enforcement of individuals’ data rights is an important one, with the potential to strengthen the implementation of the law by enabling non-profit organizations such as noyb to file complaints on behalf of individuals — thereby helping to redress the power imbalance between corporate giants and consumer rights.

That said, the GDPR’s collective redress provision is a component that Member States can choose to derogate from, which helps explain why the first four complaints have been filed with data protection agencies in Austria, Belgium, France and Hamburg in Germany — regions that also have data protection agencies with a strong record of defending privacy rights.

Given that the Facebook companies involved in these complaints have their European headquarters in Ireland it’s likely the Irish data protection agency will get involved too. And it’s fair to say that, within Europe, Ireland does not have a strong reputation as a data protection rights champion.

But the GDPR allows for DPAs in different jurisdictions to work together in instances where they have joint concerns and where a service crosses borders — so noyb’s action looks intended to test this element of the new framework too.

Under the penalty structure of GDPR, major violations of the law can attract fines as large as 4% of a company’s global revenue which, in the case of Facebook or Google, implies they could be on the hook for more than a billion euros apiece — if they are deemed to have violated the law, as the complaints argue.

That said, given how freshly fixed in place the rules are, some EU regulators may well tread softly on the enforcement front — at least in the first instances, to give companies some benefit of the doubt and/or a chance to make amends to come into compliance if they are deemed to be falling short of the new standards.

However, in instances where companies themselves appear to be attempting to deform the law with a willfully self-serving interpretation of the rules, regulators may feel they need to act swiftly to nip any disingenuousness in the bud.

“We probably will not immediately have billions of penalty payments, but the corporations have intentionally violated the GDPR, so we expect a corresponding penalty under GDPR,” writes Schrems.

Only yesterday, for example, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg — speaking in an on stage interview at the VivaTech conference in Paris — claimed his company hasn’t had to make any radical changes to comply with GDPR, and further claimed that a “vast majority” of Facebook users are willingly opting in to targeted advertising via its new consent flow.

“We’ve been rolling out the GDPR flows for a number of weeks now in order to make sure that we were doing this in a good way and that we could take into account everyone’s feedback before the May 25 deadline. And one of the things that I’ve found interesting is that the vast majority of people choose to opt in to make it so that we can use the data from other apps and websites that they’re using to make ads better. Because the reality is if you’re willing to see ads in a service you want them to be relevant and good ads,” said Zuckerberg.

He did not mention that the dominant social network does not offer people a free choice on accepting or declining targeted advertising. The new consent flow Facebook revealed ahead of GDPR only offers the ‘choice’ of quitting Facebook entirely if a person does not want to accept targeting advertising. Which, well, isn’t much of a choice given how powerful the network is. (Additionally, it’s worth pointing out that Facebook continues tracking non-users — so even deleting a Facebook account does not guarantee that Facebook will stop processing your personal data.)

Asked about how Facebook’s business model will be affected by the new rules, Zuckerberg essentially claimed nothing significant will change — “because giving people control of how their data is used has been a core principle of Facebook since the beginning”.

“The GDPR adds some new controls and then there’s some areas that we need to comply with but overall it isn’t such a massive departure from how we’ve approached this in the past,” he claimed. “I mean I don’t want to downplay it — there are strong new rules that we’ve needed to put a bunch of work into making sure that we complied with — but as a whole the philosophy behind this is not completely different from how we’ve approached things.

“In order to be able to give people the tools to connect in all the ways they want and build community a lot of philosophy that is encoded in a regulation like GDPR is really how we’ve thought about all this stuff for a long time. So I don’t want to understate the areas where there are new rules that we’ve had to go and implement but I also don’t want to make it seem like this is a massive departure in how we’ve thought about this stuff.”

Zuckerberg faced a range of tough questions on these points from the EU parliament earlier this week. But he avoided answering them in any meaningful detail.

So EU regulators are essentially facing a first test of their mettle — i.e. whether they are willing to step up and defend the line of the law against big tech’s attempts to reshape it in their business model’s image.

Privacy laws are nothing new in Europe but robust enforcement of them would certainly be a breath of fresh air. And now at least, thanks to GDPR, there’s a penalties structure in place to provide incentives as well as teeth, and spin up a market around strategic litigation — with Schrems and noyb in the vanguard.

Schrems also makes the point that small startups and local companies are less likely to be able to use the kind of strong-arm ‘take it or leave it’ tactics on users that big tech is able to unilaterally apply and extract ‘consent’ as a consequence of the reach and power of their platforms — arguing there’s an underlying competition concern that GDPR could also help to redress.

“The fight against forced consent ensures that the corporations cannot force users to consent,” he writes. “This is especially important so that monopolies have no advantage over small businesses.”

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Snapchat launches less creepy Send and Request Location features

Posted by | Apps, location sharing, Mobile, snap inc, Snap Map, Snapchat, Social, TC | No Comments

Snapchat is taking another shot at location after its always-on coordinate-broadcasting Snap Map proved a bit invasive for some users. Snapchat now lets you send your ongoing real-time location to a friend, or request theirs, which show up on the Snap Map and within your message thread.

Essentially, this is location sharing built for the intimacy people love about Snapchat, rather than the foreign and a little freaky idea of giving a wide swath of your contacts access to your whereabouts through Snap Map. As Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp ruthlessly exploit their clones of Stories, it’s the more private, close friends features like this and ephemeral messaging that are Snapchat’s best shot at staying relevant.

TechCrunch was tipped off to the location feature by our reader Chand Sethi (thanks!) and now Snapchat confirms it’s been slowly rolling out to iOS and Android users over the past few weeks. Snap Map, which launched last June, has always offered the option to only share with specific friends instead of all of them. Still, the whole idea of location broadcasting might have scared some users into staying in only-me Ghost Mode. This new feature is Snap’s chance to get them on board, one friend at a time.

Now when you long-press on a friend’s name or hit the three-line hamburger button on a chat thread, you’ll get the option to Send Location or Request Location. It only works with bi-directional friends, so you can’t ask for the spot of your favorite Snap star if they don’t follow you back, and you can turn off getting requests in your settings if people are spamming you.

Location shared through this feature will only update live for eight hours after you last open the app. You can cancel someone’s access at any time through the Snap Map. And if you’ve never enabled it, you’ll go through the location consent flow first.

By letting users dip their toes in, Snapchat could get more users active on Snap Map. After its June 2017 launch, it hit 35 million daily viewers, but that number was at 19 million and sinking by November, according to leaked data. In February, when it launched on web, Snapchat said it had 100 million monthly users — but as Snap never shares monthly user numbers and instead relies on daily counts, the fact that it had to go with a monthly stat here showed some insecurity about its popularity.

Along with Discover, Snap Map represent one of the app’s best differentiators. Investing in improvements here is wise. After all, it might only be a matter of time before we see an Insta Map.

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Meet the speakers at The Europas, and get your ticket free (July 3, London)

Posted by | accelerator, Advertising Tech, Apps, artificial intelligence, Asia, augmented reality, automotive, Banking, biotech, blockchain, Book Review, brazil, Built In, cannabis, Cloud, Collaborative Consumption, Community, Crowdfunding, cryptocurrency, Developer, Distributed Ledger, Diversity, Earnings, eCommerce, Education, Enterprise, Entertainment, Europe, events, Finance, food, funding, Fundings & Exits, Gadgets, Gaming, Government, GreenTech, Hack, hardware, Health, Hiring, Mobile, Social, Startups, TC | No Comments

Excited to announce that this year’s The Europas Unconference & Awards is shaping up! Our half day Unconference kicks off on 3 July, 2018 at The Brewery in the heart of London’s “Tech City” area, followed by our startup awards dinner and fantastic party and celebration of European startups!

The event is run in partnership with TechCrunch, the official media partner. Attendees, nominees and winners will get deep discounts to TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin, later this year.
The Europas Awards are based on voting by expert judges and the industry itself. But key to the daytime is all the speakers and invited guests. There’s no “off-limits speaker room” at The Europas, so attendees can mingle easily with VIPs and speakers.

What exactly is an Unconference? We’re dispensing with the lectures and going straight to the deep-dives, where you’ll get a front row seat with Europe’s leading investors, founders and thought leaders to discuss and debate the most urgent issues, challenges and opportunities. Up close and personal! And, crucially, a few feet away from handing over a business card. The Unconference is focused into zones including AI, Fintech, Mobility, Startups, Society, and Enterprise and Crypto / Blockchain.

We’ve confirmed 10 new speakers including:


Eileen Burbidge, Passion Capital


Carlos Eduardo Espinal, Seedcamp


Richard Muirhead, Fabric Ventures


Sitar Teli, Connect Ventures


Nancy Fechnay, Blockchain Technologist + Angel


George McDonaugh, KR1


Candice Lo, Blossom Capital


Scott Sage, Crane Venture Partners


Andrei Brasoveanu, Accel


Tina Baker, Jag Shaw Baker

How To Get Your Ticket For FREE

We’d love for you to ask your friends to join us at The Europas – and we’ve got a special way to thank you for sharing.

Your friend will enjoy a 15% discount off the price of their ticket with your code, and you’ll get 15% off the price of YOUR ticket.

That’s right, we will refund you 15% off the cost of your ticket automatically when your friend purchases a Europas ticket.

So you can grab tickets here.

Vote for your Favourite Startups

Public Voting is still humming along. Please remember to vote for your favourite startups!

Awards by category:

Hottest Media/Entertainment Startup

Hottest E-commerce/Retail Startup

Hottest Education Startup

Hottest Startup Accelerator

Hottest Marketing/AdTech Startup

Hottest Games Startup

Hottest Mobile Startup

Hottest FinTech Startup

Hottest Enterprise, SaaS or B2B Startup

Hottest Hardware Startup

Hottest Platform Economy / Marketplace

Hottest Health Startup

Hottest Cyber Security Startup

Hottest Travel Startup

Hottest Internet of Things Startup

Hottest Technology Innovation

Hottest FashionTech Startup

Hottest Tech For Good

Hottest A.I. Startup

Fastest Rising Startup Of The Year

Hottest GreenTech Startup of The Year

Hottest Startup Founders

Hottest CEO of the Year

Best Angel/Seed Investor of the Year

Hottest VC Investor of the Year

Hottest Blockchain/Crypto Startup Founder(s)

Hottest Blockchain Protocol Project

Hottest Blockchain DApp

Hottest Corporate Blockchain Project

Hottest Blockchain Investor

Hottest Blockchain ICO (Europe)

Hottest Financial Crypto Project

Hottest Blockchain for Good Project

Hottest Blockchain Identity Project

Hall Of Fame Award – Awarded to a long-term player in Europe

The Europas Grand Prix Award (to be decided from winners)

The Awards celebrates the most forward thinking and innovative tech & blockchain startups across over some 30+ categories.

Startups can apply for an award or be nominated by anyone, including our judges. It is free to enter or be nominated.

What is The Europas?

Instead of thousands and thousands of people, think of a great summer event with 1,000 of the most interesting and useful people in the industry, including key investors and leading entrepreneurs.

• No secret VIP rooms, which means you get to interact with the Speakers

• Key Founders and investors speaking; featured attendees invited to just network

• Expert speeches, discussions, and Q&A directly from the main stage

• Intimate “breakout” sessions with key players on vertical topics

• The opportunity to meet almost everyone in those small groups, super-charging your networking

• Journalists from major tech titles, newspapers and business broadcasters

• A parallel Founders-only track geared towards fund-raising and hyper-networking

• A stunning awards dinner and party which honors both the hottest startups and the leading lights in the European startup scene

• All on one day to maximise your time in London. And it’s PROBABLY sunny!

europas8

That’s just the beginning. There’s more to come…

europas13

Interested in sponsoring the Europas or hosting a table at the awards? Or purchasing a table for 10 or 12 guest or a half table for 5 guests? Get in touch with:
Petra Johansson
Petra@theeuropas.com
Phone: +44 (0) 20 3239 9325

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Instagram says ‘you’re all caught up’ in first time-well-spent feature

Posted by | Apps, Facebook, Health, instagram, Instagram Usage Insights, Kevin Systrom, Mark Zuckerberg, Mobile, Social, Time Well Spent | No Comments

Without a chronological feed, it can be tough to tell if you’ve seen all the posts Instagram will show you. That can lead to more of the compulsive, passive, zombie browsing that research suggests is unhealthy as users endlessly scroll through stale content hoping for a hit of dopamine-inducing novelty.

But with Instagram’s newest feature, at least users know when they’ve seen everything and can stop scrolling without FOMO. Instagram is showing some users a mid-feed alert after a bunch of browsing that says “You’re All Caught Up – You’ve seen all new post from the past 48 hours.” When asked about it, Instagram confirmed to TechCrunch that it’s testing this feature. It declined to give details about how it works, including whether the announcement means you’ve seen literally every post from people you follow from the last two days, or just the best ones that the algorithm has decided are worth showing you.

The feature could help out Instagram completists who want to be sure they never miss a selfie, sunset or supper pic. Before Instagram rolled out its algorithm in the summer of 2016, they could just scroll to the last post they’d seen or when they knew they’d last visited. Warning them they’ve seen everything could quiet some of the backlash to the algorithm, which has centered around people missing content they wanted to see because the algorithm mixed up the chronology.

But perhaps more importantly, it’s one of the app’s first publicly tested features that’s clearly designed with the “time well spent” movement in mind. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been vocal about prioritizing well-being over profits, to the point that the network reduced the prevalence of viral videos in the feed so much that that app lost 1 million users in the U.S. and Canada in Q4 2017. “I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down . . . If we do the right thing, I believe that will be good for our community and our business over the long term too,” he wrote.

But Instagram’s leadership had been quiet on the issue until last week, when TechCrunch broke news that buried inside Instagram was an unlaunched “Usage Insights” feature that would show users their “time spent.” That prompted Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom to tweet our article, noting “It’s true . . . We’re building tools that will help the IG community know more about the time they spend on Instagram – any time should be positive and intentional . . . Understanding how time online impacts people is important, and it’s the responsibility of all companies to be honest about this. We want to be part of the solution. I take that responsibility seriously.”

Instagram is preparing a “Usage Insights” feature that will show how long you spend in the app. Image via Jane Manchun Wong

It’s reassuring to hear that one of the world’s most popular, but also overused, social media apps is going to put user health over engagement and revenue. Usage Insights has yet to launch. But the “You’re All Caught Up” alerts show Instagram is being earnest about its commitment. Those warnings almost surely prompt people to close the app and therefore see fewer ads, hurting Instagram’s bottom line.

Perhaps it’s a product of Facebook and Instagram’s dominance that they can afford to trade short-term engagement for long-term sustainability of the product. Some companies like Twitter have been criticized for not doing more to kick abusers off their platforms because it could hurt their user count.

But with Android now offering time management tools and many urging Apple to do the same, the time-well-spent reckoning may be dawning upon the mobile app ecosystem. Apps that continue to exploit users by doing whatever it takes to maximize total time spent may find themselves labeled the enemy, plus may actually be burning out their most loyal users. Urging them to scroll responsibly could not only win their favor, but keep them browsing in shorter, healthier sessions for years to come.

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Facebook Stories reveals 150M daily viewers and here come ads

Posted by | Advertising Tech, Apps, Facebook, Facebook ads, Facebook Stories, Mobile, Snapchat Clone, Social | No Comments

After 14 months of silence since launching, Facebook Stories has finally announced a 150 million daily active user count for its Snapchat Stories clone. And now it’s time to earn some money off it. Facebook Stories will start testing its first ads today in the U.S., Mexico and Brazil.

They’re 5- to 15-second video ads users can skip, and while there’s no click-through or call to action now, Facebook plans to add that in the coming months. Advertisers can easily extend their Instagram Stories ads to this new surface, or have Facebook automatically reformat their News Feed ads with color-matched borders and text at the bottom. Facebook also plans to give businesses more metrics on their Stories performance to convince them the feature is worth their ad dollars.

Advertisers can extend their Instagram Stories ads to Facebook Stories (left), or have Facebook reformat their News Feed ads with color-matched image borders and ad copy text shown at the bottom

Facebook has to nail Stories ads to preserve its business, as CPO Chris Cox said this month that Stories sometime next year will surpass feed posts as the top way to share. CEO Mark Zuckerberg warned that Facebook must ensure “that ads are as good in Stories as they are in feeds. If we don’t do this well, then as more sharing shifts to Stories, that could hurt our business.” Despite criticism that the feature is obtrusive and redundant with Instagram Stories, Facebook is proving there’s no retreating from the ephemeral slideshow format. And Snapchat could see ad spend slip over to Facebook, especially since the big blue social network has so much targeting data on us.

The race for storytellers

My first question was how Facebook is defining a daily user for Stories. It’s anyone who watches a Story on Facebook’s app or site. That’s useful, because it means it’s not counting users who simply cross-post their Stories from Instagram or Messenger to Facebook, which would inflate the number. It’s a testament to the coercive power of the top-of-feed Stories design that Instagram pioneered and Facebook brought over, and it’s already testing bigger Stories preview tiles.

For context, here’s a breakdown of Stories daily user counts and total monthly user counts across the top players, ranked by size:

  1. WhatsApp Status: 450 million daily out of 1.5 billion monthly as of May 2018
  2. Instagram Stories: 300 million daily out of 800 million monthly as of November 2017
  3. Snapchat (whole app): 191 million daily as of May 2018, launched
  4. Facebook Stories: 150 million daily out of 2.2 billion monthly as of May 2018
  5. Messenger Day/Stories: 70 million daily out of 1.3 billion monthly as of September 2017

Instagram Stories also started showing ads when it hit 150 million users, though that was just five months after launch, while it’s taken Facebook Stories 14 months to get there.

The real opportunity for Facebook’s future engagement growth is bringing the Stories format to the international market that Snapchat has largely neglected for four years and only recently got serious about by re-engineering its Android app. WhatsApp capitalized on Snap’s focus on U.S. teens by surging to become the top Stories product thanks to youth across the globe. And now Facebook is specifically building Stories features for countries like India, such as the new audio posts to help users with non-native language keyboards, and cloud storage so you can privately save photos and videos to Facebook for those without room on their phones.

Facebook Stories lets you shoot 360 photos without a 360 camera with this cool “paint with the lens” interface

Since testing in January 2017 and then launching in March 2017, Facebook has been rapidly iterating on its version of Stories in hopes of making it more unique and apt to its audience. That includes adding cross-posting from its other apps and a desktop interface, advanced shutter formats like Boomerang and new augmented reality features like 3D doodling and real-world QR and image triggers that anchor AR to a location.

Oh, and there’s one bonus unannounced feature we’ve spotted. Facebook Stories can now shoot 360 photos without a 360 camera. It uses a cool interface that shows you where to “paint” your camera over your surroundings, so unlike a panorama where you only get one shot, you can go back and fill in missed spots.

Snap’s beaten; time to monetize

All of Facebook’s efforts seem to be paying off. Snapchat sunk to its slowest daily user growth rate ever, a paltry 2.13 percent last quarter, while the much more saturated Facebook grew a strong 3.42 percent. Snapchat actually shrank in user count during March.

That might have been the signal Facebook needed to start putting ads in its Stories. It’s effectively beaten Snapchat into submission. Without as strong of a competitor, Facebook has more leeway to pollute the Stories user experience with ads. And that comes just as Snapchat is desperate to ramp up ad sales after missing revenue estimates in Q1 and mounting losses of $385 million.

Ads in stories have added a lot of value for businesses on Instagram, and we believe we can do the same on Facebook,” Facebook product manager Zoheb Hajiyani tells me. “Ensuring that this is a good experience for people using the product will be our top priority.” Facebook has lined up a number of ad test partners it’s not disclosing, but also will be running its own ads for Oculus inside Stories.

With existing Facebook and Instagram advertisers able to easily port their ads over to Facebook Stories, and much greater total reach, they might not go to the trouble of advertising on Snap unless they seek young teens. Stories could in fact be the answer to Facebook’s issue with running out of ad space in the News Feed while it shuts down its sidebar units. Stories could generate the ad inventory needed to keep pushing more marketing into the social network.

Stories were inevitable. First launched by Snapchat in October 2013, it took almost three years for Facebook to wake up to the format as an existential threat to the company. But with the quick success of Instagram’s clone, Facebook has wisely swallowed its pride and pivoted its apps toward this style of visual communication. It was another moment, like the shift to mobile, where Facebook could have faltered. But willingness to admit its mistakes and ruthlessly compete may have won another epoch of social dominance.

For more on Stories, check out our feature piece:

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To make Stories global, Facebook adds Archive and audio posts

Posted by | Apps, Facebook, Facebook Stories, Mobile, Social, TC | No Comments

Facebook’s future rests on convincing the developing world to adopt Stories. But just because the slideshow format will soon surpass feed sharing doesn’t mean people use them the same way everywhere. So late last year, Facebook sent a team to India to learn what features they’d need to embrace Stories across a variety of local languages on phones without much storage.

Today, Facebook will start rolling out three big Stories features in India, which will come to the rest of the world shortly after. First, to lure posts from users who don’t want to type or have a non-native language keyboard, as well as micropodcasters, Facebook Stories will allow audio posts combining a voice message with a colored background or photo.

Facebook Stories will get an Archive similar to Instagram Stories that automatically saves your clips privately after they expire so you can go back to check them out or re-share the content to the News Feed. And finally, Facebook will let Stories users privately Save their clips from the Facebook Camera directly to the social network instead of their phone in case they don’t have enough space.

Facebook Stories Archive

“We know that the performance and reliability of viewing and posting Stories is extremely important to people around the world, especially those with slower connections” Facebook’s director of Stories Connor Hayes tells me. “We are always working on ways to improve the experience of viewing Stories on all types of connections, and have been investing here — especially on our FB Lite app.”

Facebook has a big opportunity to capitalize on Snapchat’s failure to focus on the international market. Plagued by Android engineering problems and initial reluctance to court users beyond U.S. teens, Snapchat left the door open for Facebook’s Stories products to win the globe. Now Snapchat has sunk to its slowest growth rate ever, hitting 191 million daily users despite shrinking in March. Meanwhile, WhatsApp Status, its clone of Snapchat Stories has 450 million daily users, while Instagram Stories has over 300 million.

As for Facebook Stories, it was initially seen as a bit of a ghost town but more and more of my friends are posting there, in part thanks to the ability to syndicate you Instagram Stories there. Facebook Stories has never announced a user count, and Hayes says “We don’t have anything to share yet, but performance of Facebook Stories is encouraging, and we’ve learned a lot about how we can make the experience even better.” Facebook is hell-bent on making Stories work on its own app after launching the in mid-2017, and seems to believe users who find them needless or redundant will come around eventually.

My concern about the global rise of Stories is that instead of only recording the biggest highlights of our lives to capture with our phones, we’re increasingly interrupting all our activities and exiting the present to thrust our phone in the air.

That’s one thing Facebook hopes to fix here, Facebook’s director of Stories Connor Hayes tells me. “Saving photos and videos can be used to save what you might want to post later – So you don’t have to edit or post them while you’re out with your friends, and instead enjoy the moment at the concert and share them later.” You’re still injecting technology into your experience, though, so I hope we can all learn to record as subtly as possible without disturbing the memory for those around us.

Facebook Camera’s Save feature

The new Save to Facebook Camera feature creates a private tab in the Stories creation interface where you can access and post the imagery you’ve stored, and you’ll also find a Saved tab in your profile’s Photos section. Unlike Facebook’s discontinued Photo Sync feature, here you’ll choose to save imagery one at a time. It will be a big help to users lacking free space on their phone, as Facebook says many people around the world have to delete a photo just to save a new one.

Facebook wants to encourage people to invest more time decorating Stories, and learned that some people want to re-live or re-share their clips that expire after 24 hours. That’s why its built the Archive, a hedge against the potentially short-sighted trend of ephemerality.

On the team’s journey to India, they heard that photos and videos aren’t always the easiest way to share. If you’re camera-shy, have a low-quality camera, or don’t have cool scenes to capture, audio posts could get you sharing more. In fact, Facebook started testing voice clips as feed status updates in March. “With this week’s update, you will have options to add a voice message to a colorful background or a photo from your camera gallery or saved gallery. You can also add stickers, text, or doodles” says Hayes. With 22 official languages in India and over 100 spoken, recording voice can often be easier than typing.

Facebook Audio Stories

Some users will still hate Stories, which are getting more and more prominence atop Facebook’s feed. But Facebook can’t afford to retreat here. Stories are social media bedrock — the most full-screen and immersive content medium we can record and consume with just our phones. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself said that Facebook must make sure that “ads are as good in Stories as they are in feeds. If we don’t do this well, then as more sharing shifts to Stories, that could hurt our business.” That means Facebook Stories needs India’s hundreds of millions of users.

There will always be room for text, yet if people want to achieve an emotional impact, they’ll eventually wade into Storytelling. But social networks must remember low-bandwidth users, or we’ll only get windows into the developed world.

For more on Facebook Stories, check out our recent coverage:

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Index and Atomico back Teatime Games, a stealthy new startup from QuizUp founders

Posted by | Europe, Fundings & Exits, Mobile, Social, Startups, TC, Teatime Games | No Comments

Teatime Games, a new Icelandic “social games” startup from the same team behind the hugely popular QuizUp (acquired in by Glu Mobile), is disclosing $9 million in funding, made up of seed and Series A rounds.

Index Ventures led both, but have been joined by Atomico, the European VC fund founded by Skype’s Niklas Zennström, for the $7.5 million Series A round. I understand this is the first time the two VC firms have done a Series A deal together in over a decade.

Both VCs have a decent track record in gaming. Index counts King, Roblox and Supercell as previous gaming investments, whilst Atomico also backed Supercell, along with Rovio, and most recently Bossa Studios.

As part of the round, Guzman Diaz of Index Ventures, Mattias Ljungman of Atomico, and David Helgason, founder of Unity, have joined the Teatime Games board of directors.

Meanwhile, Teatime Games is keeping shtum publicly on exactly what the stealthy startup is working on, except that it plays broadly in the social and mobile gaming space. In a call with co-founder and CEO Thor Fridriksson yesterday, he said a little more off the record and on condition that I don’t write about it yet.

What he was willing to describe publicly, however, is the general problem the company has set out to solve, which is how to make mobile games more social and personalised. Specifically, in a way that any social features — including communicating with friends and other players in real-time — enhances the gameplay rather than gets in its way or is simply bolted on as an adjunct to the game itself.

The company’s macro thesis is that games have always been inherently social throughout different eras (e.g. card games, board games, arcades, and consoles), and that most games truly come to life “through the interaction between people, opponents, and the audience”. However, in many respects this has been lost in the age of mobile gaming, which can feel like quite a solitary experience. That’s either because they are single player games or turn-based and played against invisible opponents.

Teatime plans to use the newly disclosed investment to double the size of its team in Iceland, with a particular focus on software engineers, and to further develop its social gaming offering for third party developers. Yes, that’s right, this is clearly a developer platform play, as much as anything else.

On that note, Atomico Partner Mattias Ljungman says the next “breakout opportunity” in games will see a move beyond individual studios and titles to what he describes as fundamental enabling technologies. Linked to this he argues that the next generation of games companies being developed will “become ever more mass market and socially connected”. You can read much more on Ljungman and Atomico’s gaming thesis in a blog post recently published by the VC firm.

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WhatsApp revamps Groups to fight Telegram

Posted by | Apps, Facebook, Mobile, Social, TC, Telegram, WhatsApp | No Comments

Facebook just installed its VP of Internet.org as the new head of WhatsApp after its CEO Jan Koum left the company. And now Facebook is expanding its mission to get people into “meaningful” groups to WhatsApp. Today, WhatsApp launched a slew of new features for Groups on iOS and Android that let admins set a description for their community and decide who can change the Groups settings. Meanwhile, users will be able to get a Group catch up that shows messages they were mentioned in, and search for people in the group.

WhatsApp’s new Group descriptions

WhatsApp Group participant search

Group improvements will help WhatsApp better compete with Telegram, which has recently emerged as an insanely popular platform for chat groups, especially around cryptocurrency. Telegram has plenty of admin controls of its own, but the two apps will be competing over who can make it easiest to digest these fast-moving chat forums.

“These are features are based on user requests. We develop the product based on what our users want and need” a WhatsApp spokesperson told me when asked why it’s making this update. “There are also people coming together in groups on WhatsApp like new parents looking for support, students organizing study sessions, and even city leaders coordinating relief efforts after natural disasters.”

Facebook is on a quest to get 1 billion users into “meaningful” Groups and recently said it now has hit the 200 million user milestone. Groups could help people strengthen their ties with their city or niche interests, which can make them feel less alone.

With Group descriptions, admins can explain the purpose and rules of a group. They show up when people check out the group and appear atop the chat window when they join. New admin controls let them restrict who is allowed to alter a group’s subject, icon, and description. WhatsApp is also making it tougher to re-add someone to a group they left so you can’t “Group-add-spam people”. Together, these could make sure people find relevant groups, naturally acclimate to their culture, and don’t troll everyone.

As for users, the new Group catch up feature offers a new @ button in the bottom right of the chat window that when tapped, surfaces all your replies and mentions since you last checked. And if you want to find someone specific in the Group, the new participant search on the Info page could let you turn a group chat into a private convo with someone you meet.

WhatsApp Group catch up

Now that WhatsApp has a stunning 1.5 billion users compared to 200 million on Telegram, its next phase of growth may come from deepening engagement instead of just adding more accounts. Many people already do most of their one-on-one chatting with friends on WhatsApp, but Groups could invite tons of time spent as users participate in communities of strangers around their interests.

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Why Snapchat’s re-redesign will fail and how to fix it

Posted by | Apps, Evan Spiegel, Mobile, Opinion, snap inc, Snapchat, Snapchat Redesign, Social, TC | No Comments

Snap screwed it all up jumbling messages and Stories, banishing creators to Discover and wrecking auto-advance. Prideful of his gut instincts, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel refused to listen to the awful user reviews and declining usage. Now a YouGov study shows a 73 percent drop in user sentiment toward Snapchat, the app’s user count shrank in March and its share price is way down.

Yet the re-redesign Snapchat is finally rolling out today in response won’t fix the problems. The company still fails to understand that people want a predictable app that’s convenient to lay back and watch, and social media stars are more similar to you and me than they are to news outlets producing mobile magazine-style Discover content.

There’s a much better path for Snapchat, but it will require an ego adjustment and a bigger reversal of the changes — philosophy be damned.

Snapchat’s impression amongst US users fell off a cliff when the redesign was rolled out early this year

Here’s what Snapchat was, is becoming and should be.

The old Snapchat

Snapchat’s best design was in September 2016. It lacked sensible Stories sorting, and got some questionable changes before the big January 2018 redesign, but the fundamentals were there:

  • Left: Messages in reverse chronological order
  • Right: Stories from everyone in reverse chronological order with a carousel of ranked preview tiles in a carousel above or below Stories
  • Auto-Advance: Automatic and instant

 

The broken Snapchat

Snapchat’s big January 2018 redesign did two smart things. It added more obvious navigation buttons to ease in new and adult users. And it made the Stories list algorithmically sorted so you’d see your best friends first rather than just who posts most often, as TechCrunch recommended last April.

But it introduced a bunch of other problems, like pulling creators out of the Stories list, turning the inbox into chaos with ad-laden Stories and breaking auto-advance so you have to watch an annoying interstitial between each friend. Spiegel stubbornly refused to listen to the poor feedback, saying in February, “Even the complaints we’re seeing reinforce the philosophy. Even the frustrations we’re seeing really validate those changes. It’ll take time for people to adjust.” That quickly proved short-sighted.

  • Left: Messages and Stories from friends mixed together, sorted algorithmically
  • Right: Discover, sorted algorithmically, with influencers and people who don’t follow you back mixed in
  • Auto-Advance: Interstitial preview screens

The re-redesigned Snapchat

Users hated the redesign, initial reviews were mostly negative and Snapchat’s growth fell to its lowest rate ever. After some tests, today Snapchat tells us it’s rolling out the re-redesign to the majority of iOS users that’s a little less confusing. Yet it doesn’t address the core problems, plus makes the Discover screen more overwhelming:

  • Left: Messages sorted reverse chronologically
  • Right: Friends’ Stories at the top sorted algorithmically [Correction: Not chronologically], then subscriptions to creators sorted algorithmically, then Discover channels sorted algorithmically
  • Auto-Advance: Interstitial preview screens in Stories but not Subscriptions or For You

The right Snapchat

While the re-redesign makes Snapchat’s messaging inbox work like it used to, it overloads the Discover screen and leaves auto-advance broken out of a misguided hope of ensuring you never watch a frenemy or ex’s Story by accident and show up in their view counts. But that’s not worth ruining the laid-back viewing experience we’ve grown to love on Instagram Stories, and could be better solved with a mute button or just getting people to unfriend those they can’t be seen watching.

That’s why I recommend Snapchat move to a hybrid of all its designs:

  • Left: Messages sorted reverse chronologically
  • Right: Stories from all friends and creators, displayed as preview tiles, sorted algorithmically to preference close friends
  • Further Right: Discover, with preview tile sections for subscriptions, publishers and Our Stories/Maps/Events [This whole screen could be crammed into the Stories page if Snap insisted on just one screen on the right]
  • Auto-Advance: Traditional instant auto-advance without interstitials, plus a mute button to hide people

This design would make the inbox natural and uncluttered, ensure you see all your closest friends’ Stories, keep influencers from being buried in Discover, give publishers and Snapchat’s own content recommendations, including new creators, room to breathe and let you easily relax and watch a ton of Stories in a row.

Snapchat could have slowly iterated its way to this conclusion. It could have done extensive beta testing of each change to ensure it didn’t misstep. And perhaps facing an existential crisis from the exceedingly viable alternatives Instagram and WhatsApp, it should never have attempted a sweeping overhaul of its app’s identity. Twitter’s conservative approach to product updates looks wiser in retrospect. Instead, Snap is in decline.

Facebook’s family of apps have survived over the years by changing so gradually that they never shocked users into rebellion, or executing major redesigns when users had no comparable app to switch to. Snapchat calls itself a camera company, but it’s really a “cool” company — powered by the perception of its trendiness with American kids. But as ephemeral content proliferates and Stories become a ubiquitous standard soon to surpass feeds as the preferred way to share, they’ve gone from hip to utility. So if its features aren’t cool any more and are offered in a slicker way to a larger audience elsewhere, what is Snapchat anymore?

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Snapchat hosts first Creators Summit after years of neglect

Posted by | Apps, Entertainment, Evan Spiegel, Mobile, snap inc, Snapchat, Social | No Comments

Social media stars have always been treated like nobodies instead of VIPs on Snapchat. Despite pioneering the Stories and creative tools they love, the lack of support saw many drift to YouTube’s ad dollars and Instagram’s bigger audience. Now Snap CEO Evan Spiegel is finally stepping up to win back their favor and their content.

Last night, Spiegel joined 13 top Snapchat stars, ranging from the U.S. to as far as Lebanon, for dinner at the company’s first Creators Summit in LA. Flanked by a dozen Snap execs and product managers, Spiegel tried to impress upon the assembled artists, comedians and storytellers that the company is turning over a new leaf in how it will treat them. Today the creators sat with Snap VP of Content Nick Bell to give the company an unfiltered understanding of the tools they need and give input on Snapchat’s product roadmap.

“The goal of our first creator summit was to listen and learn from them about how we can continue to strengthen opportunities for them on Snapchat — and continue to empower our community to express themselves and have fun together,” Bell told TechCrunch. “We are grateful to each of them for coming to the table with candid feedback and are excited about the possibilities ahead.” Snapchat confirms to TechCrunch it plans to hold more of these Creator Summits.

Mike Metzler, one of the popular Snappers in attendance, told us, “It’s been refreshing. Snap seems very genuinely interested in listening to what we have to say, and committed to making this an important initiative.” But another questioned whether Snapchat was actually going to make changes or was just playing nice.

Creators cast aside

A week after Snapchat launched Stories in 2013, I asked “Who will be the first Snapchat Stories celebrity?” Apparently the young company hadn’t thought that through. It had concentrated entirely on the average American teen, to the detriment of power users and the international market.

Snapchat’s jankily engineered app crashed constantly for stars with too many followers. There were no advanced analytics about who was watching them or easy ways to prove their audience to brand sponsors. There was no support from Snapchat if they got hacked or locked out of their account. There was no ad revenue share. There was no promotion to help people discover their accounts.

Without a direct alternative, creators gritted their teeth and dealt with it. But when Instagram Stories came along, with its massive audience, Explore page and experienced outreach team for dealing with high-profile accounts, some jumped ship. Others focused their attention on Instagram, or YouTube, where they could at least get a cut of the ad money they generated. Users drifted too, leading many stars to see their view counts drop.

The situation came to a head on Snap’s November 2017 Q3 earnings call. With user growth slumping to a new low, Spiegel announced a change of course. “We have historically neglected the creator community on Snapchat that creates and distributes public Stories for the broader Snapchat audience. In 2018, we are going to build more distribution and monetization opportunities for these creators,” Spiegel admitted.

Snap began rolling out its verification badge, an emoji next to the user name, to social media stars instead of just traditional celebrities. With its recent redesign, it began promoting creators for the first time if they made something engaging enough to become a”Popular Story.” And in February it finally launched analytics for creators, which would help them secure sponsorship deals.

Still, Snap hadn’t done much soft diplomacy. While top creators frequent the offices of YouTube and Instagram, few had been to Snapchat HQ. They needed a face to connect the efforts to.

Spiegel and the stars

“[Spiegel] stopped by last night and was so happy to meet us, get to know us, take a selfie,” says CyreneQ, a prolific Snapper and master of its illustration tools. While he didn’t make any grand remarks, apologies, or proclamations, his presence signaled that the push to help creators was more than just talk. When asked how the Summit went, musician/comedian Shonduras told me, “we collaborated on a lot of ideas and it feels solid.”

Snapchat’s redesign moved creators into the Discover section

The biggest concern amongst the creators was growing their view counts. The recent redesign moved stars, brands and other popular people who don’t follow you back out of the friends Stories list and into the Discover section alongside professionally produced editorial content. One creator said that helped them find more fans, but another who asked not to be named said “It hasn’t been kind to my views.”

Bell and Snapchat listened, and informed the group that it’s going to develop a range of “tools and programs to help the creator community,” CyreneQ told me. Pressed for more details, she demurred, “I wish I could tell you but they’ll send ninjas after me.”

Monetization options should be high on Snapchat’s list. As long as creators are essentially producing content for free, they’ll be susceptible to the pull of other products. And if Snap can’t speed up its total user growth, it must find ways to get teens addicted to stars that boost the time they spend in its app.

Snap can’t afford to screw this up. With its user count actually shrinking in March, it needs their dynamic, personal, niche content to keep teens loyal to Snapchat. The whole point of Snapchat was to create a more personal form of social media. It’s tough for movie actors and rock stars to come off feeling vulnerable and approachable. But creators, who were just normal people a few years ago, could help Snapchat bridge the divide between raw intimacy and polished entertainment.

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