Social

IAC outlines its plans for a Match Group spin-off

Posted by | IAC, Match Group, Media, Mobile, Social | No Comments

Digital media holding company IAC has taken the next step toward spinning off Match Group, with a proposal outlining what that process would look like.

Match Group (which owns Tinder, PlentOfFish, OkCupid, Hinge and of course Match itself) is already a publicly traded company, but IAC remains the majority owner. With the spin-off, IAC says it should distribute its Match Group shares to IAC stockholders, “resulting in two independent public companies.”

“Today IAC proposed an important first step in the separation of Match Group from IAC,” said IAC CEO Joey Levin in a statement. “IAC is confident that the proposal communicated to the Match Group special committee provides strong footing for Match Group to begin its journey as a thriving, independent company.”

Under the proposal (which IAC says still needs to be approved by its board of directors, as well as the aforementioned special committee, as well as stockholders), Match Group’s dual-class stock structure would  be eliminated, creating a single class of stock.

The company said in August that it was exploring spin-offs of both Match Group and ANGI Homeservices.

In his statement today, Levin said, “As it relates to evaluating our ownership stake in ANGI Homeservices, we don’t currently expect to turn our attention to the question of a spin-off until a Match Group transaction has been completed.”

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Instagram launches Create mode with On This Day throwbacks

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

Instagram has finally turned Throwback Thursday into an official feature. It’s part of the new Instagram “Create” mode that launches today in Stories, bringing the app beyond the camera. Create makes Instagram a more omni-purpose social network with the flexibility to adapt to a broader range of content formats.

For now, the highlight of Create is the “On This Day” option that shows a random feed post you shared on the same calendar date in the past. Tap the dice button to view a different On This Day post, and once you find one you prefer, you can share it to Stories as an embedded post people can open.

The launch could make it easy for users to convert their old impermanent content into fresh ephemeral content. That could be especially helpful because not everyone does something Stories-worthy every day. And given how many #TBT throwbacks get shared already, there’s clearly demand for sharing nostalgia with new commentary.

Instagram Create On This Day

When asked about Create mode, an Instagram spokesperson told me, “this new mode helps you combine interactive stickers, drawings and text without needing a photo or video to share . . . On This Day suggests memories and lets you share them via Direct and Stories.” It’d sure be nice if embedded On This Day video posts played inside of Stories, but for now you have to tap to open them on their own page.

Instagram actually launched a different way to share throwbacks, called “Memories,” early this year. But most users didn’t know about it because it was tucked in the Profile -> Three-Line ‘Hamburger’ Sidebar -> Archive option used to for Highlighting or Restoring expired Stories or post you’d hidden.

Instagram Archive Memories

Now On This Day is much more accessible as part of the new Create Mode inside the Stories composer, which replaces Type mode with more options for sharing without your camera than just posting text. You can access it by swiping right at the bottom of the screen from the Stories camera, instead of left to other options like Boomerang. Create lets you use features otherwise added as Stickers atop photos and videos, but on their own with new suggestions of what to share:

-Countdown timer with suggestions for “The Weekend,” “Quittin’ Time,” and “School’s Out”

Instagram Create Countdown

-Quiz with suggestions including “What’s my biggest fear?” and “Only one of these is true” (The Quiz sticker already had suggestions)

Instagram Create Quiz

-Poll with suggestions including “Sweet or savory?” and “Better first date: dinner or movie?”

Instagram Create Poll

-Question with suggestions including “If you had 3 wishes…” and “Any hidden talents?”

Instagram Create Questions

Instagram is also offering a new version of its Giphy -powered GIFs feature inside Create. It lets you search for a GIF and see it tiled three times vertically as the background of your Create post, rather than laid on top.

Instagram Create GIFs

Through all these features, Create lets people generate new things to share even if they’re laying in bed or stuck somewhere. As Instagram grows internationally to more users with lower-quality phones, and replaces Facebook for many people, the ability to share text and other stuff without having to use their camera could increase people’s posting. Between the Camera shutter modes and room for more sharing styles in Create, Instagram can encompass most any content.

As of today, Instagram is about more than photos and videos. It’s stepping up as a multi-faceted social app just as Facebook’s battered brand becomes desperate to turn Instagram into its reputation and business lifeboat.

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Zuckerberg says Facebook will sue to stop EU’s global content takedowns

Posted by | Apps, encryption, Facebook, Facebook Policy, Government, Mark Zuckerberg, Mobile, Policy, Social, TC | No Comments

Facebook plans to challenge Europe’s top court, which today ruled that EU countries can order Facebook to globally remove content that violates local laws. Facebook currently complies with proper legal requests to remove content that breaks a nation’s laws, but can leave it up for global viewers if the post doesn’t violate its Community Standards.

But today during a livestreamed Q&A with Facebook employees, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that “This is something I expect us and other companies will be litigating.”

Live from our weekly internal Q&A

Live from our weekly internal Q&A

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday, October 3, 2019

Zuckerberg explained that Facebook had “successfully fought” overly broad takedown requests in the past. He also noted that “a lot fo the details about exactly how [the ruling gets] implemented will depend on national courts across Europe.”

Facebook told TechCrunch in a statement today that:

“This judgement raises critical questions around freedom of expression and the role that internet companies should play in monitoring, interpreting and removing speech that might be illegal in any particular country.

At Facebook, we already have Community Standards which outline what people can and cannot share on our platform, and we have a process in place to restrict content if and when it violates local laws. This ruling goes much further.

It undermines the long-standing principle that one country does not have the right to impose its laws on speech on another country. It also opens the door to obligations being imposed on internet companies to proactively monitor content and then interpret if it is “equivalent” to content that has been found to be illegal.

 In order to get this right national courts will have to set out very clear definitions on what “identical” and “equivalent” means in practice. We hope the courts take a proportionate and measured approach, to avoid having a chilling effect on freedom of expression.”

Zuckerberg hadn’t done a livestreamed Q&A recently, but holds them weekly inside Facebook. Yet after The Verge’s Casey Newton published two-hours of leaked audio from Facebook internal all-hands meetings, Zuckerberg is trying to show he has nothing to hide.

Zuckerberg Live QA

During pre-question remarks, Zuckerberg also discussed the US Attorney General Bill Bar’s open letter from the US, UK, and Australia demanding that Facebook halt the expansion of encryption across all its messaging apps. “We get that there are real concerns with doing that ” Zuckerberg said. “There are these different equities we try to balance”, specifically safety needs like catching child abusers and terrorists versus privacy and protecting political dissidents as well as normal citizens.

The CEO argued Facebook could still police encrypted apps, noting the “There’s a lot we can do with detecting patterns” including linking accounts together so it can shut down the WhatsApp accounts of bad actors on Facebook, and that Facebook can “find it upstream” by analyzing suspicious activity outside of the messages threads themselves. He also mentioned that iMessage is the top US messaging app and it’s encrypted too, showing Facebook isn’t the only one pushing private messaging and clearly users want it.

Queried about Bernie Sanders’ statement that “billionaires shouldn’t exist”, Zuckerberg said “no one deserves to have that much money”. That’s despite having a fortune north of $60 billion, though much of it is dedicated to the Chan Zuckerberg Foundation that works on social and science causes.

Zuckerberg All Hands

Zuckerberg was asked about concerns that his comments regarding Facebook would likely sue to stop an attempt by regulators to break it up. He’d discussed how Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren had made the break-up a core piece of her policy slate, which led to questions about whether Facebook might try to minimize the reach of her statements or avoid voter registration that could aid.

Zuckerberg crystallized the question, saying “If Facebook is worried about Elizabeth Warren becoming president because of that thing, …how can we be trusted to be impartial and make sure she and other people get a voice?” He said that “Even when people disagree with what I think would be good…I still want to give them a voice . . . We need to be able to put what people want to express…above our preferences all the time.”

Today’s session certainly felt more guarded than the leaked Q&As. At one point Zuckerberg noted he wouldn’t share stats on Facebook Dating because it wasn’t a private discussion. Yet the talk still helped clarify critical Facebook policy positions are a tumultuous time for the company.

Zuckerberg joked at the beginning of the Q&A that he’s making this one publicly available because “I do such a bad job in interviews that it’s like, what do we have to lose?”

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Instagram launches Threads, a Close Friends chat app with auto-status

Posted by | Apps, Facebook, facebook privacy, instagram, Instagram Close Friends, Instagram Direct, Mobile, Social, TC | No Comments

What if Instagram could automatically tell your Close Friends you’re 🏠 (home), 🤓 (working), 🚗 (on the move) or 🛋 (chilling and might want to hang out)? That’s the idea behind Instagram’s new companion app Threads, a Close Friends-only messaging experience that opens to the camera with shortcuts for instantly sending specific people photos and videos. Threads offers two brand new features called Status and Auto Status that allow you to manually set an emoji as an away message to show Close Friends what you’re up to, or opt in to letting Instagram select one automatically based on your location, accelerometer and even your phone’s battery level.

Instagram Threads Auto StatusLaunching globally today on iOS and Android, this is Facebook and Instagram’s next big swing at Snapchat, specifically targeting its top use case: rapid-fire camera and text messaging with your best friends. Sick of randos in your inbox? Only people in your Instagram Close Friends list show up in Threads, so you can trust its notifications are important. You can still just use Instagram Direct in the main app, or the two in parallel, though.

What’s most unique is that Threads finally sees the launch of the Facebook “Your Emoji” status feature we reported it was prototyping 18 months ago. Threads Status and Auto Status offer conversation starters, contextual clues to why someone might not respond, and opportunities to meet up offline. But importantly, it leaves out a map or any exact location sharing to avoid being creepy and instead focus on what Close Friends are up to — which determines if they can chat or hang out more than where they are.

Threads offers “persistent connection,” Instagram’s director of consumer product management Robby Stein tells me. It was designed with three priorities: the ability to “fully control who can reach you,” speed, because, “if most of your messages only go to a couple of people, why isn’t the experience built around that?” and “having more of a connection through the day . . . even if you don’t have time for a conversation.”

By building Threads as a separate app, Instagram has little to lose if it flops and could learn about which features to pull back into its main app. But if it succeeds, Threads cements itself as where you stay in touch with your favorite people, while pigeonholing other messaging options like SMS, WeChat and Snapchat as noisy channels full of unwanted alerts.

Close Friends only

Social networks have an inevitable problem. Eventually out of coincidence and courtesy, you add too many people as friends, filling the apps with people whose content you don’t care about and whose messages you don’t always want. Facebook is the catch-all network for everything from family to bosses to acquaintances. That leads people to feel uncomfortable sharing too much, and to distrust that the notifications they get are important.

Instagram Close Friends ThreadsNow Instagram is doubling-down on Close Friends, which launched last November at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin to let you secretly set a special group of best pals who get to see special Stories you set as visible to only them. Facebook had tried complicated Lists products in the past and never saw them gain significant traction because it’s too tough to keep track of who is in each. Instagram nailed the concept with a single list you edit as needed, though people don’t know if they’re added or removed. I’m surprised Facebook doesn’t already have its own Close Friends feature, and it’d be smart to build one.

Instagram already tried building its own standalone Direct messaging app, but shut it down after low usage since it didn’t offer anything beyond what you already got in the main app. Casey Newton of The Verge reported Instagram was building an app with automatic activity sharing in August.

Now with Threads, Close Friends creates the foundation for something different. The only entries in your inbox are Close Friends, which you can edit in the app with the list syncing with your list on Instagram. You can hide any of those chats or group chats with exclusively close friends if you don’t want to see them. You only need an Instagram account, not Facebook, to sign up. For some extra flavor, you can activate one of several dark mode-style themes for the app in color schemes like a yellower Sunrise or greener Aurora.

When you open Threads, you’ll open immediately to the camera like Snapchat. At the bottom are “Camera Shortcuts” that show friends’ faces you can tap on to send a photo or tap and hold for a video. You also can tap the “default camera” shutter and select everyone you want to message, or rearrange the order of the shortcuts. Because it’s focused on speed, there are no filters or augmented reality masks, just drawing and text overlays for off-the-cuff commentary on what’s going on around you.

Swiping up from the camera reveals the Threads inbox, where you can tap into a conversation for a full-featured messaging experience just like in Instagram Direct. There you can send GIFs, camera roll content and more. Without unsolicited messages in your inbox, your most important people stay closer to the top. “I see more of my wife’s life now that we’re in this product,” Stein tells me.

Passive sharing with Auto Status

Three years ago I wrote about “the quest to cure loneliness” through apps that help us meet up in the real world by breaking down the ambiguity of what friends are up to without requiring you to desperately ping them and feel embarrassed if ignored. Many products have tried and failed to make us less isolated through location broadcasting, passive sharing and offline intent.

Foursquare let you say exactly where you were while its second app Swarm auto-shared it, but if you’re busy, it doesn’t matter to me where you are and you probably don’t want me dropping in. Snap Map and Facebook Nearby Friends similarly focused too much on the where instead of the what. Down To Lunch let you post an emoji of what you’re doing but it lacked the necessary traction and built-in messaging to convert “hey, we’re both available” to actually meeting up. The app Free was too complex.

To succeed, an app needed ubiquity, the privacy of only sharing this sensitive info with the right people, a focus on intention instead of location and built-in chat for getting together. Instagram has the last three, so it’s a matter of either making Threads popular or rolling this feature into the main app.

Instagram threads Status

With Status, you can set an emoji as your away message for one to four hours. You can select from pre-made ones with their own text tag lines, or define a new one from the full range of emoji. You can say you’re 👍 (free), 🚫 (busy), 📚 (studying) or make something personal like 😈 (getting into trouble).

Meanwhile, Auto Status defaults to off, but can be turned on to give Instagram the ability to use data signals to choose an emoji for you. It will match your exact location to specific places like home, work, cafes, bars, traveling out of town and more. Your accelerometer lets it show if you’re biking or driving. And your phone battery can let it display that you’re low on juice or currently charging.

Why share my battery status? Stein tells me that if you’re charging your phone, you might not be next to it and could be slow to respond. Or if you’re low on battery, you might suddenly stop replying all together. That’s helpful knowledge to share with Close Friends, even if it’d be weird to post it more widely.

One problem is that who you want to message with often might include family or co-workers that you don’t want to have see your Close Friends Stories, but the list is used for both. At the same time, Threads could boost Close Friends usage, leading people to share more intimate and silly stuff on Stories, which do help Instagram earn money thanks to the ads in between.

Instagram threads logo

For now, though, Instagram tells me there’s no plan to monetize Threads directly or show any ads in it. In fact, Facebook won’t even use the exact locations pulled from the app to power ad targeting. Coordinates are only sent so it can match them to locations like a movie theater to show you’re at the movies. Facebook won’t store the locations and they only stay on your device for a short period before they’re deleted.

Still, Auto Status is sure to rile some who think Facebook and Instagram are too creepy to give any more data. But if the convenience of knowing your friend is available to hang out or is probably too stressed for a chat outweighs the company’s toxic brand, Instagram could develop an important new social behavior. Even if it doesn’t monetize it directly, Threads could keep users locked into the Insta ecosystem where they’ll see plenty of feed and Story ads between message bouts.

Social graph bloat causes a chilling effect on sharing. It’s what Snapchat, Path and other apps have tried to solve but ended up succumbing to. Instagram accepts that you’ll inevitably connect with people you don’t care much about out of social obligation, pity or apathy. But by building whole products around just sharing with your favorite subset of people, it could unlock what we self-center — the real us.

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Rune raises $2M to help you find new friends in mobile games, starting with Brawl Stars

Posted by | Gaming, makers fund, Mobile, Recent Funding, Rune, Social, Startups, TC, Y Combinator | No Comments

Multiplayer games are more fun when you get to play with the same crew regularly. Playing with the same people means better cooperation, deeper strategies and, if all goes well, more wins.

But what if none of your friends play the game you want to play?

Rune, a company out of Y Combinator’s Winter 2019 class, wants to use AI to help you find the right people to play with, connecting you via voice chat. And they’ve just closed a $2 million seed round to get it done.

The round was led by the gaming-focused firm Makers Fund, and backed by byFounders, E14 Fund, VentureSouq and Gmail creator Paul Buchheit.

The first game they’re supporting is Brawl Stars, the popular free-to-play mobile game built by Clash of Clans creator Supercell. It’s a pretty perfect game for something like this — it’s a game where strategic teams have a solid advantage, but where building such a team from scratch can be tough. Brawl Stars will automatically match you with teammates if you’re playing alone, but in-game communication is limited and random players tend to only hang around for a game or two.

brawl stars

Supercell’s Brawl Stars

When you first sign up, Rune asks you a handful of questions to start tuning their matchmaking algorithm. Which language(s) do you speak? How much Brawl Stars have you played (how many “trophies” have you earned)? What sort of gameplay are you looking for right now — are you just messing around, or are you looking for nothing but wins? Push a button, and the matchmaking system starts its search.

The more you play, the better the algorithm is tuned. If you seem to have longer play sessions with certain players, for example, it can prioritize matchmaking you with players their algorithms see as similar. (For the curious: While they will tune the matchmaking algorithms based on metadata, like who you’re chatting with and for how long, Rune co-founder Sanjay Guruprasad tells me that they don’t store or analyze the actual voice communication in any way.)

The company says that players have collectively spent around 50,000 hours chatting through the app since launching in March of 2019.

Rune’s matchmaking and voice chat systems are currently limited to two players. Since Brawl Stars (and plenty of other Battle Royale/arena style games) have game modes that support up to three players per team, Sanjay tells me that three-player matchmaking and voice chat are “both in the pipeline and will come out soon.”

Rune plans to support other games beyond Brawl Stars in the future — in fact, driving traffic to other games is part of their plan to monetize the free app. Once you’ve befriended someone, you’re free to use Rune for voice chat with whatever game you want; it just runs in the background, so what you’re playing doesn’t matter too much.

Rune is available for free on iOS here, and on Android here.

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Zuckerberg misunderstands the huge threat of TikTok

Posted by | Apps, bytedance, Entertainment, Facebook, instagram, Mobile, Opinion, Snapchat, Social, Startups, TC, tiktok, Video | No Comments

“It’s almost like the Explore Tab that we have on Instagram” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in leaked audio of him describing TikTok during an all-hands meeting. But it’s not. TikTok represents a new form of social entertainment that’s vastly different from the lifelogging of Instagram where you can just take a selfie, show something pretty, or pan around what you’re up to. TikToks are premeditated, storyboarded, and vastly different than the haphazard Stories on Insta.

That’s why Zuckerberg’s comments cast a dark shadow over the future of the Facebook family of apps. How can it beat what it doesn’t understand? He certainly can’t ignore it. Facebook’s copycat Lasso has been installed just 425,000 times since it launched in November, while TikTok has 640 million installs in the same period outside of China. Oh, and TikTok has 1.4 billion total installs beyond China to date.

TikTok Screenshots

TikTok

Casey Newton of The Verge today published two hours of audio and transcripts from two internal-only all-hands Q&As held by Zuckerberg at Facebook in July. His comments touch on the company’s plan to fight being broken up by regulators, especially if Elizabeth Warren becomes President. He thinks Facebook would win, but on resorting to suing the government, he says “does that still suck for us? Yeah.” Zuckerberg also describes how Facebook is working to launch a payments product in Mexico and elsewhere by year’s end as Libra deals with regulatory scrutiny.

But beyond his comments on regulation, it’s his pigeonholing of TikTok that’s most alarming. It foreshadows Facebook failing to win one of the core social feeds that its business depends on. Perhaps his perspective on the competitor is evolving, but the leak portrays him as thinking TikTok is just the next Snapchat Stories to destroy.

Zuckeberg’s Thoughts On TikTok

Here’s what Zuckerberg said about TikTok during the internal Q&A sessions, (emphasis mine):

So yeah. I mean, TikTok is doing well. One of the things that’s especially notable about TikTok is, for a while, the internet landscape was kind of a bunch of internet companies that were primarily American companies. And then there was this parallel universe of Chinese companies that pretty much only were offering their services in China. And we had Tencent who was trying to spread some of their services into Southeast Asia. Alibaba has spread a bunch of their payment services to Southeast Asia. Broadly, in terms of global expansion, that had been pretty limited, and TikTok, which is built by this company Beijing ByteDance, is really the first consumer internet product built by one of the Chinese tech giants that is doing quite well around the world. It’s starting to do well in the US, especially with young folks. It’s growing really quickly in India. I think it’s past Instagram now in India in terms of scale. So yeah, it’s a very interesting phenomenon.

And the way that we kind of think about it is: it’s married short-form, immersive video with browse. So it’s almost like the Explore Tab that we have on Instagram, which is today primarily about feed posts and highlighting different feed posts. I kind of think about TikTok as if it were Explore for stories, and that were the whole app. And then you had creators who were specifically working on making that stuff. So we have a number of approaches that we’re going to take towards this, and we have a product called Lasso that’s a standalone app that we’re working on, trying to get product-market fit in countries like Mexico, is I think one of the first initial ones. We’re trying to first see if we can get it to work in countries where TikTok is not already big before we go and compete with TikTok in countries where they are big.

We’re taking a number of approaches with Instagram, including making it so that Explore is more focused on stories, which is increasingly becoming the primary way that people consume content on Instagram, as well as a couple of other things there. But yeah, I think that it’s not only one of the more interesting new phenomena and products that are growing. But in terms of the geopolitical implications of what they’re doing, I think it is quite interesting. I think we have time to learn and understand and get ahead of the trend. It is growing, but they’re spending a huge amount of money promoting it. What we’ve found is that their retention is actually not that strong after they stop advertising. So the space is still fairly nascent, and there’s time for us to kind of figure out what we want to do here. But I think this is a real thing. It’s good.

To Zuckerberg’s credit, he’s not dismissing the threat. He knows TikTok is popular. He knows it’s growing in key international markets Facebook and Instagram depend on to keep user counts rising. And he knows his company needs to respond via its standalone clone Lasso and more.

Facebook Lasso Screenshots

Lasso

But while TikToks might look like Stories because they’re vertical videos, and TikTok might algorithmically recommend them to people like Instagram Explore, it’s a whole ‘nother beast of a product and one that may be harder than it seems to copy.

To crystallize why, let’s rewind to Snapchat. With the launch of Stories, it started to blow up with US teens. Facebook’s attempts to clone it in standalone apps like Poke and Slingshot never gained traction. In fact, none of Facebook’s standalone apps have succeeded unless they splintered off an already-popular piece of Facebook like chat and users were forced to download them like Messenger. It wasn’t until Zuckerberg stuck his clone of Stories front-and-center atop Instagram and Facebook that Snapchat’s user count went from growing 18% per quarter to shrinking. There, Facebook used the same strategy laid out in Zuckerberg’s comments — push its good-enough clone in countries where the original isn’t popular yet.

But Facebook was fortunate because Stories really wasn’t that dissimilar to the content users were already sharing on Instagram — tiny biographical snippets of their lives. Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel had originally invented Stories as a vision of Facebook’s News Feed through the lens of an ephemeral camera. All users had to know was “I take the same videos, but shorter and sillier, posted more often, and then they disappear”. The concept of Instagram and Facebook didn’t have to change. They were still about telling friends what you were up to. Choking off TikTok’s growth will be much more complicated.

Why TikTok Is Tough To Clone

TikTok isn’t about you or what you’re doing. It’s about entertaining your audience. It’s not spontaneous chronicling of your real life. It’s about inventing characters, dressing up as someone else, and acting out jokes. It’s not about privacy and friends, but strutting on the world stage. And it’s not about originality — the heart of Instagram. TikTok is about remixing culture — taking the audio from someone else’s clip and reimagining the gag in a new context by layering it atop a video you record.

TikTok Remixes

That makes TikTok distinct enough that it will be very difficult to shoehorn into Instagram or Facebook, even if they add the remixing functionality. Most videos on those apps aren’t designed to be templates for memes like TikToks are. Insta and Facebook’s social graphs are rooted in friendship and augmented by the beautiful and famous, but don’t encompass the new wave of amateur performers TikTok elevates. And since each post to the app becomes fodder for someone else’s creativity, a competitor starting from scratch doesn’t offer much to remix.

That means a TikTok clone would have to be somewhat buried in Instagram or Facebook, rebuild a new social graph, and retrain users’ understanding of these apps’ purpose…at the risk of distracting from their core use cases. This leaves Facebook hoping to grow its standalone TikTok clone Lasso which TechCrunch scooped a year ago before it launched last November. But as we’ve seen, Facebook struggles growing brand new apps, and that effort is further hindered by its increasingly toxic brand and sheen of uncoolness. Nor does it help that Facebook must divert development resources to comply with all the new privacy and transparency obligations as part of its $5 billion FTC fine and settlement.

The Next Feed

Facebook’s best bet is to assess the future value of the ads it could run on a successful TikTok clone and apply some greater fraction of that grand sum to competing directly. It’s already made some smart additions to Lasso like tutorials for how to remix and the option to add GIFs as sections of your video. But it’s still failing to gain serious traction in the US. While typical videos on the TikTok homepage where I’m spending a few hours a week have hundreds of thousands of Likes, the top ones I saw in my Lasso feed today received 70 or fewer.

D246B3C4 0690 451E BD59 D66932C8FF7B

TikTok trounces Facebook’s Lasso in the US iOS App Store charts

I had Sensor Tower run some analysis comparing TikTok with Lasso since its launch last November, and found that Lasso gets 6 downloads for every 1000 for TikTok in the US. Some more stats:

  • US Total Downloads Since November: Lasso – 250,000 // TikTok – 41.3 million
  • US Downloads Per Day Since November: Lasso – 760 // TikTok – 126,000
  • Average US Google Play Social App Chart Ranking: Lasso – #155 // TikTok – #2

Beyond the US, Lasso has only launched in one other market, Mexico in April, where it’s been faring better but could hardly even be considered a competitor to TikTok. Facebook needs to lean harder into Lasso:

  • Mexico Total Downloads Since April: Lasso – 175,000 // TikTok – 3.3 million
  • Mexico Downloads Per Day Since November: Lasso – 1,000 // TikTok – 19,000

Facebook Lasso Logo

Zuckerberg may need to find a coherent place for TikTok style features inside Instagram and potentially Facebook. That could be another horizontal row of previews like with Stories and/or a header on the Explore page dedicated to premeditated content. Certainly something more prominent than a single button like IGTV that still no one is asking for. One opportunity to best TikTok would be building a dedicated remix source browser into the Stories camera to help users find content to put their own spin on.

Facebook will also need to buy out top TikTok creators to make videos for it instead, and even quasi-hire some of the most prolific video meme or challenge inventors to give users trends to jump on rather than just one-off clips to watch. Its failure to offer IGTV stars monetization has led many to ignore that platform, and it can’t afford that again.

If Zuckerberg approaches TikTok as merely an algorithmic video recommender like Explore, Facebook will miss out on owning the social entertainment feed. If he doesn’t decisively move to challenge TikTok soon, its catalog of content to remix will grow insurmountable and it will own the whole concept of short form performative video. Snapchat’s insistence on ephemerality makes it incompatible with remixing, and YouTube isn’t nimble enough to reinvent itself.

If no American company can step up, we could see our interest data, faces, and attention forfeited to an app that while delightful to use, heralds Chinese political values at odds with our own. If only Twitter hadn’t killed Vine.

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This Week in Apps: AltStore, acquisitions and Google Play Pass

Posted by | Android, android apps, app-store, Apps, Extra Crunch, games, Gaming, iOS, iOS apps, Media, Mobile, Social, Startups, TC | No Comments

The app industry shows no signs of slowing down, with 194 billion downloads in 2018 and over $100 billion in consumer spending. People spend 90% of their mobile time in apps and more time using their mobile devices than watching TV. In other words, apps aren’t just a way to spend idle hours — they’re a big business. And one that often seems to change overnight. In this new Extra Crunch series, we’ll help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps — including everything from the OS’s to the apps that run upon them, as well as the money that flows through it all.

This week, alternatives to the traditional app store is a big theme. Not only has a new, jailbreak-free iOS marketplace called AltStore just popped up, we’ve also got both Apple and Google ramping up their own subscription-based collections of premium apps and games.

Meanwhile, the way brands and publishers want to track their apps’ success is changing, too. And App Annie — the company that was the first to start selling pickaxes for the App Store gold rush — is responding with an acquisition that will help app publishers better understand the return on investment for their app businesses.

Headlines

AltStore is an alternative App Store that doesn’t need a jailbreak

An interesting alternative app marketplace has appeared on the scene, allowing a way for developers to distribute iOS apps outside the official App Store, reports Engadget — without jailbreaking, which can be difficult and has various security implications. Instead, the new store works by tricking your device into thinking you’re a developer sideloading apps. And it uses a companion app on your Mac or PC to re-sign the apps every 7 days via iTunes WiFi syncing protocol. Already, it’s offering a Nintendo emulator and other games, says The Verge. And Apple is probably already working on a way to shut this down. For now, it’s live at Altstore.io.

Very excited to officially announce AltStore: an alternative app store for iOS — no jailbreak required. Launching this Saturday, September 28, but you can download the preview TODAY https://t.co/M7nULBV28p

— Riles 🤷‍♂️ (@rileytestut) September 25, 2019

For the third time in a month, Google mass-deleted Android apps from a big Chinese developer.

Does Google Play have a malicious app problem? That appears to be the case as Google has booted some 46 apps from major Chinese mobile developer iHandy out of its app store, BuzzFeed reported. And it isn’t saying why. The move follows Google’s ban of two other major Chinese app developers, DO Global and CooTek, who had 1 billion total downloads.

Google Firebase gets new tools

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Not all is predictable on Facebook’s social Horizon

Posted by | Against Gravity, Andreessen Horowitz, augmented reality, bigscreen, Facebook, Facebook Horizon, facebook spaces, Gaming, Google, HTC, Index Ventures, Media, Oculus, Oculus Connect, Oculus Rooms, Oculus Venues, Rec Room, sequoia capital, Social, Startups, TC, True Ventures, Venture Capital, Video, Virtual reality | No Comments

Most of the people I spoke with at Facebook’s Oculus Connect see the proliferation of virtual reality as a foregone conclusion, one that’s just a matter of timing at this point. For Facebook, the conference’s “The Time is Now” catchphrase showcased that they feel their hardware is ready for everyone.

But despite the success they feel like they’ve tapped into when it comes to hardware iterations, the company’s bread and butter social networking prowess feels like it’s barely improved in-headset in the past several years of VR experimentations.

“On the social side, looking back, it’s kind of embarrassing all of the stages we’ve gone through at Oculus,” Oculus CTO and veteran programmer John Carmack conceded onstage during his signature rambling annual keynote, noting that his own social APK was followed by Oculus Rooms, Oculus Venues, Facebook Spaces and now the company’s latest shiny pearl Facebook Horizon.

Horizon’s debut this year included a flashy trailer for what quickly seemed to be the company’s biggest gamble and first potential social hit, a massive multi-player online world. In introducing the software, Zuckerberg talked about people-centric software as Facebook’s “bread-and-butter,” noting, “We build a lot of the best social experiences for phones and computers, and we want to do this for virtual reality as well.”

But Facebook does not actually appear to hold that much of an advantage over much smaller game studios in terms of understanding how to make social virtual reality experience take off.

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Facebook tries hiding Like counts to fight envy

Posted by | Apps, Facebook, Facebook Like Button, Facebook Likes, Facebook time well spent, Health, Mobile, Social, TC, Time Well Spent | No Comments

If their post has lots of Likes, you feel jealous. If your post doesn’t get enough Likes, you feel embarrassed. And when you just chase Likes, you distort your life seeking moments that score them, or censor it fearing you won’t look popular without them.

That’s why Facebook is officially starting to hide Like counts on posts, first in Australia starting tomorrow, September 27th. A post’s author can still see the count, but it’s hidden from everyone else who will only be able to see who but now how many people gave a thumbs-up or other reaction.

Facebook Hides Likes

The launch of the hidden Like counts test makes available what we reported Facebook was privately prototyping earlier this month, as spotted in its Android code by reverse engineering master Jane Manchun Wong. The test will run in parallel to Instagram’s own hidden Like count test we also scooped that first tested in Canada in April before expanding to six more countries in July.

“We are running a limited test where like, reaction, and video view counts are made private across Facebook” a Facebook spokesperson tells me. “We will gather feedback to understand whether this change will improve people’s experiences.” If the test improves people’s sense of well-being without tanking user engagement, it could expand to more countries or even roll out to everyone, but no further tests are currently scheduled.

Facebook’s goal here is to make people comfortable expressing themselves. It wants users to focus on the quality of what they share and how it connects them with people they care about, not just the number of people who hit the thumbs-up. The tests are being conducted by the News Feed team that falls under VP Fidji Simo’s jurisdiction over the main Facebook app. While the Instagram tests are starting to get data back, Facebook tells me it’s own tests are necessary since the apps are so different.

Facebook Like Counts

As you can see, the Like button itself remains visible to everyone. Comment counts will still be displayed, as will the most common types of reactions left on a post plus the faces and names of some people who Liked it. Technically viewers could go into the list of people who Liked a post and try to count, but the test stops Facebook from slapping people up front with insecurity.

Without a big number on friends’ posts that could make users feel insignificant, or a low number on their own posts announcing their poor reception, users might feel more carefree on Facebook. The removal could also reduce herd mentality, encouraging users to decide for themselves if they enjoyed a post rather than just blindly clicking to concur with everyone else.

As I wrote about 2 years ago, a collection of studies identify the harm Facebook can do. They found that while chatting with friends and comment threads on Facebook made people feel better, passively scrolling and Liking could lead to envy spiraling and declines in perception of well-being. Users would compare their seemingly boring life to the well-Liked glamorous moments shared by friends or celebrities and conclude they were lesser.

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For example, Krasanova et al discovered that 20% of the envy-inducing moments users experienced in life were on Facebook, and that “intensity of passive following is likely to reduce users’ life satisfaction in the long-run, as it triggers upward social comparison and invidious emotions.”

One concern is that Facebook Pages that have large followings and often get more Likes than individual users’ posts could miss out on extra engagement and reach without that herd mentality. Some Canadian influencers have complained about reduced reach since the hidden Likes test launched their on Instagram, but there’s been no conclusive data to prove that and Facebook will still use the number of Likes as part of its ranking algorithm.

If Facebook wants to build a social network people continue using for another 15 years, it has to put their well-being first — above brands, above engagement, and above ad dollars. It also needs better controls for notifications and warnings when you’ve been passively scrolling for too long. But if the Like hiding works and eventually becomes standard, it could help Facebook get back to the off-the-cuff sharing that made it a hit at colleges so long ago. No one wants to be in a life-long popularity contest.

Snapchat never had Likes. Come see my interview with Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel at TechCrunch Disrupt SF (Oct 2nd-4th — tickets here) to learn more about how social networks are adapting to growing mental health concerns.

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Facebook announces Horizon, a VR massive-multiplayer world

Posted by | Apps, Developer, Entertainment, Facebook, Facebook Horizon, facebook spaces, Gaming, hardware, Mark Zuckerberg, Media, Oculus, Oculus Rooms, Second-Life, Social, TC, Virtual reality | No Comments

Facebook today announced it’s building its own Ready Player One Oasis. Facebook Horizon is a virtual reality sandbox universe where you can build your own environments and games, play and socialize with friends or just explore the user-generated landscapes. This is Facebook’s take on Second Life.

Launching in early 2020 in closed beta, Facebook Horizon will allow users to design their own diverse avatars and hop between virtual locales through portals called Telepods, watch movies and consume other media with friends and play multiplayer games together, like Wing Strikers. It also will include human guides, known as Horizon Locals, who can give users assistance and protect their safety in the VR world so trolls can’t run rampant.

Users interested in early access can apply for the beta here.

Facebook Wing Strikers

As part of the launch, Facebook will on October 25 shut down its existing social VR experiences Facebook Spaces and Oculus Rooms, leaving a bit of a gap until Horizon launches. Oculus Rooms debuted in 2016 as your decoratable private VR apartment, while Spaces first launched in 2017 to let users chat, watch movies and take VR selfies with friends. But both felt more like lobby waiting rooms with a few social features that were merely meant as a preamble to full-fledged VR games. In contrast, Horizon is designed to be a destination, not a novelty, where users could spend tons of time.

How Facebook Horizon works

At first glance, Horizon seems like a modernized Second Life, a first-person Sims, a fulfillment of the intentions of AltspaceVR and a competitor to PlayStation’s PSVR Dreams and cross-platfrom kids’ favorite Roblox. Back in 2016, Facebook was giving every new Oculus employee a copy of the Ready Player One novel. It seems they’ve been busy building that world since then.

Facebook Horizon will start centralized around a town square. Before people step in, they can choose how they look and what they wear from an expansive and inclusive set of avatar tools. From inside VR, users will be able to use the Horizon World Builder to create gaming arenas, vacation chillspots and activities to fill them without the need to know how to code.

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Facebook Horizon lets you build objects from scratch

You could design a tropical island, then invite friends to hang out with you on your virtual private beach. An object creator akin to the Oculus Medium sculpting feature lets you make anything, even a custom t-shirt your avatar could wear. Visual scripting tools let more serious developers create interactive and reactive experiences.

Facebook details its Horizon safety features on its “Citizenship” page that explains that “As citizens of Facebook Horizon, it is all of our responsibility to create a culture that’s respectful and comfortable . . . A Horizon citizen is friendly, inclusive, and curious.” Horizon Locals will wander the VR landscapes to answer questions or aid users if they’re having technical or safety issues. They seem poised to be part customer support, part in-world police.

Facebook Horizon Locals

Facebook Horizon will include human Locals who provide safety and technical support

If things get overwhelming, you can tap a shield button to pause and dip into a private space parallel to Horizon. Users can define their personal space boundaries so no one can get in their face or appear to touch them. And traditional tools like muting, blocking and reporting will all be available. It’s smart that Facebook outlined the community tone and defined these protections.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Horizon today at the Oculus Connect 6 conference in San Jose. He discussed how “Horizon is going to have this property where it just expands and gets better” as Facebook and the community build more experiences for the VR sandbox.

Facebook Horizon World Builder

Facebook lets you build your own islands and other locales in Horizon

Horizon makes perfect sense for a business obsessed with facilitating social interaction while monetized through ad views based on time-spent. It’s easy to imagine Horizon including virtual billboards for brands, Facebook-run shops for buying toys or home furnishings, third-party malls full of branded Nikes or Supreme shirts that score Zuckerberg a revenue cut or subscriptions to access certain gaming worlds or premium planets to explore.

As Facebook starts to grow stale after 15 years on the market, users are looking for new ways to socialize. Many have already ditched the status updates and smarmy Life Events of Facebook for the pretty pictures of Instagram and silliness of Snapchat. Facebook risked being cast aside if it didn’t build its own VR successor. And by offering a world where users can escape their real lives instead of having to enviously compare them to their friends, Horizon could appeal to those bored or claustrophobic on Facebook.

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