Facebook Stories reveals 150M daily viewers and here come ads

Facebook Stories reveals 150M daily viewers and here come ads

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:

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Snapchat Spectacles tests non-circular landscape exports

Snapchat Spectacles tests non-circular landscape exports
The worst thing about Spectacles is how closely tied they are to Snapchat. The proprietary circular photo and video format looks great inside Snapchat where you can tip your phone around while always staying full screen, but it gets reduced to a small circle with a big white border when you export it to your phone for sharing elsewhere.
Luckily, Snapchat has started beta testing new export formats for Spectacles through the beta version of its app. This lets you choose a black border instead of a white one, but importantly, also a horizontal 16:9 rectangular format that would fit well on YouTube and other traditional video players. The test was first spotted by Erik Johnson, and, when asked, a Snapchat spokesperson told TechCrunch “I can confirm we’re testing it, yes.”
Allowing Spectacles to be more compatible with other services could make the v2 of its $150 photo and video-recording sunglasses much more convenient and popular. I actually ran into the Snapchat Spectacles team this weekend at the FORM Arcosanti music festival in Arizona where they were testing the new Specs and looking for ideas for their next camera. I suggested open sourcing the circular format or partnering so other apps could show it natively with the swivel effect, and Snap declined to comment about that. But now it looks like they’re embracing compatibility by just letting you ditch the proprietary format.
Breaking away from purely vertical or circular formats is also a bit of a coup for Snapchat, which has touted vertical as the media orientation of the future as that’s how we hold our phones. Many other apps, including Facebook’s Snapchat clones, adopted this idea. But with Snapchat’s growth slipping to its lowest rate ever, it may need to think about new ways to gain exposure elsewhere.

Seeing Spectacles content on other apps without ugly borders could draw attention back to Snapchat, or at least help Spectacles sell better than v1, which only sold 220,000 pairs and had to write-off hundreds of thousands more that were gathering dust in warehouses. While it makes sense why Snap might have wanted to keep the best Spectacles content viewing experience on its own app, without user growth, that’s proven a software limitation for what’s supposed to be a camera company.

Snapchat launches Spectacles V2, camera glasses you’ll actually wear

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

To make Stories global, Facebook adds Archive and audio posts

To make Stories global, Facebook adds Archive and audio posts

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:

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Gfycat starts rolling out 360 degree GIF content

Gfycat starts rolling out 360 degree GIF content

GIFs offer a way to compress a ton of information into a small amount of space, and while Gfycat has positioned itself as more of a short-form video centric platform, it’s going to take a step further to see what a step beyond a standard GIF looks like.

The company today said it would be rolling out 360 degree GIF-like short form videos, which will allow users to plant themselves in the middle of what is effectively a looping video like a GIF. While that presents much more of a challenge to users for generating content, CEO Richard Rabbat said the proliferation of tools like 3D cameras and content from the actual producers like video studios would make it an increasingly popular way to interact with short-form content in a compact form factor.

“We’ve always thought that GIFs are amazing from many perspectives,” Rabbat said. “That goes beyond whether you’re looking at the content to use it in messaging, or you’re consuming it for entertainment value, or you’re using it for decoration in the case of the augmented reality effort we’re working on. We want people to really get excited about how they consume the content to the point where they can see the subjects of the content in a much more lifelike way, and really get excited about that.”

It’s not going to be all that unfamiliar from 360 degree videos you might find on Facebook or other platforms. Users on desktop can use their mouse to move a GIF around, while on mobile devices users can pan their phone around in order to see different parts of the GIF. The idea is to give users a way to have a more robust interaction with a piece of content like a GIF in a compact experience without having to strap on a VR headset or anything along those lines.

The company is starting off by rolling out some 360 degree content from Paramount, which is producing 360 degree content around its Mission Impossible films. And while a lot of content on Gfycat — or other platforms — comes from shows, movies or games along those lines, it makes more sense for those studios to use these kinds of tools to increase awareness for their shows or movies.

via Gfycat

There are a lot of companies working on figuring out the best messaging experiences around GIFs. But Google acquiring Tenor, a GIF search tool that works across multiple platforms, may have set a bare minimum bar for the value of companies that are looking to help users share GIFs with their friends. Gfycat positions itself as something that’s geared toward more creator tools, and recently said it hit 180 million monthly active users.

“We’re creating experiences that we think are going to enable others and inspire others to create that same kind of content,” Rabbat said.” We expect it’s going to be a subset of what people do with 2D, but a much more immersive experience where people will spend more time looking at the content. From a consumption perspective, by not requiring people to put on VR headsets, we’re making it much more consumer friendly.”

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Canal+ gives up on its cable box, switches to Apple TV

Canal+ gives up on its cable box, switches to Apple TV
French premium cable television company Canal+ is slowly moving away from building its own set top boxes. As Next INpact spotted, you can now subscribe to Canal+ and get an Apple TV 4K with Canal+’s myCanal app already preloaded.
Canal+ has been around for decades and was the first premium TV channel in France. Over the years, the company started distributing all sorts of premium channels through satellite, cable and partnerships with internet service providers.
While you had to get your own Canal+ set top box to receive Canal+ 15 years ago, the company’s own box has slowly become irrelevant. As all the main French internet service providers give you a set top box, Canal+ has partnered with them to offer multiple add-ons to receive Canal+’s content.
When Canal+ announced its most recent device, Canal+ already said that you’d get a better experience with the myCanal app on the Apple TV.
That’s why Canal+ is betting everything on over-the-top distribution. If you don’t subscribe to Canal+ through your ISP, you can get an Apple TV 4K for €6 per month in addition to your TV package. If your internet connection isn’t fast enough or you’d rather use satellite TV, you can still get a Canal+ set top box.
But the writing is on the wall. Most people will soon watch Canal+ through myCanal on Android TV, tvOS, iOS, Android, a Samsung TV and desktop computers.
In France, Molotov and myCanal have been some of the top performing apps for tvOS and Android TV. This partnership could boost the Apple TV in France.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

WhatsApp revamps Groups to fight Telegram

WhatsApp revamps Groups to fight Telegram

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.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

YouTube rolls out new tools to help you stop watching

YouTube rolls out new tools to help you stop watching

Google’s YouTube is the first streaming app that will actually tell users to stop watching. At its Google I/O conference this week, the company introduced a series of new controls for YouTube that will allow users to set limits on their viewing, and then receive reminders telling them to “take a break.” The feature is rolling out now in the latest version of YouTube’s app, along with others that limit YouTube’s ability to send notifications, and soon, one that gives users an overview of their binge behavior so they can make better-informed decisions about their viewing habits.

With “Take a Break,” available from YouTube’s mobile app Settings screen, users can set a reminder to appear every 15, 30, 60, 90 or 180 minutes, at which point the video will pause. You can then choose to dismiss the reminder and keep watching, or close the app.

The setting is optional, and is turned off by default, so it’s not likely to have a large impact on YouTube viewing time at this point.

Also new is a feature that lets you disable notification sounds during a specified time period each day — say, for example, from bedtime until the next morning. When users turn on the setting to disable notifications, it will, by default, disable them from 10 PM to 8 AM local time, but this can be changed.

Combined with this is an option to get a scheduled digest of notifications as an alternative. This setting combines all the daily push notifications into a single combined notification that is sent out only once per day. This is also off by default, but can be turned on in the app’s settings.

And YouTube is preparing to roll out a “time watched profile” that will appear in the Account menu and display your daily average watch time, and how long you’ve watched YouTube videos today, yesterday and over the past week, along with a set of tools to help you manage your viewing habits.

While these changes to YouTube are opt-in, it’s an interesting — and arguably responsible — position to take in terms of helping people manage their sometimes addictive behaviors around technology.

And it’s not the only major change Google is rolling out on the digital well-being front — the company also announced a series of Android features that will help you get a better handle on how often you’re using your phone and apps, and give you tools to limit distractions — like a Do Not Disturb setting, alerts that are silenced when the phone is flipped over and a “Wind Down” mode for nighttime usage that switches on the Do Not Disturb mode and turns the screen to gray-scale.

The digital well-being movement at Google got its start with a 144-page Google Slides presentation from product manager Tristan Harris, who was working on Google’s Inbox app at the time. After a trip to Burning Man, he came back convinced that technology products weren’t always designed with users’ best interests in mind. The memo went viral and found its way to then-CEO Larry Page, who promoted Harris to “design ethicist” and made digital well-being a company focus.

There’s now a Digital Wellbeing website, too, that talks about Google’s broader efforts on this front. On the site, the company touts features in other products that save people time, like Gmail’s high-priority notifications that only alert you to important emails; Google Photos’ automated editing tools; Android Auto’s distracted driving reduction tools; Google Assistant’s ability to turn on your phone’s DND mode or start a “bedtime routine” to dim your lights and quiet your music; Family Link’s tools for reducing kids’ screen time; Google WiFi’s support for “internet breaks;” and more.

Google is not the only company rethinking its role with regard to how much its technology should infiltrate our lives. Facebook, too, recently re-prioritized well-being over time spent on the site reading news, and saw its daily active users decline as a result.

But in Google’s case, some are cynical about the impact of the new tools — unlike Facebook’s changes, which the social network implemented itself, Google’s tools are opt-in. That means it’s up to users to take control over their own technology addictions, whether that’s their phone in general, or YouTube specifically. Google knows that the large majority won’t take the time to configure these settings, so it can pat itself on the back for its prioritization of digital well-being without taking a real hit to its bottom line.

Still, it’s notable that any major tech platform is doing this at all — and it’s at least a step in the right direction in terms of allowing people to reset their relationship with technology.

And in YouTube’s case, the option to “Take a Break” is at the very top of its Settings screen. If anyone ever heads into their settings for any reason, they’ll be sure to see it.

The new features are available in version 13.17 and higher of the YouTube mobile app on both iOS and Android, which is live now.

The changes were announced on May 8 during the I/O keynote, and will take a few days to roll out to all YouTube users. The “time watched profile,” however, will ship in the “coming months,” Google says.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

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

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

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?

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Google Pay’s app adds boarding passes, tickets, p2p payments and more

Google Pay’s app adds boarding passes, tickets, p2p payments and more

Google Pay got a big upgrade at Google I/O this week. At a breakout session, Google announced a series of changes to its payments platform, recently rebranded from Android Pay, including support for peer-to-peer payments in the main Google Pay app; online payments support in all browsers; the ability to see all payments in a single place, instead of just those in-store; and support for tickets and boarding passes in Google Pay’s APIs, among several other things.

Some of Google Pay’s expansions were previously announced, like its planned support for more browsers and devices, for example.

However, the company detailed a host of other features at I/O that are now rolling out across the Google Pay platform.

One notable addition is support for peer-to-peer payments which is being added to the Google Pay app in the U.S. and the U.K.

And that transaction history, along with users’ other payments, will all be consolidated into one place.

“In an upcoming update of the Google Pay app, we’re going to allow you to manage all the payment methods in your Google account – not just the payment methods that you used to pay in-store,” said Gerardo Capiel, Product Management lead at Google Pay, during the session at I/O. “And even better, we’re going to provide you with a holistic view of all your transactions – whether they be on Google apps and services, such as Play and YouTube, whether they be with third-party merchants, such as Walgreens and Uber, or whether they’re transactions you’ve made to friends and families via our peer-to-peer service,” he said.

The company also said it would allow users to send and request money, manage payment info linked to their Google accounts, and see their transaction history on the web with the Google Pay iOS app, too.

And because I/O is a developer conference, many of the new additions were in the form new and updated APIs.

For starters, Google launched a new API for incorporating Google Pay into other third-party apps.

“Via our APIs, we’re going to enable these ready-to-pay users [who already have payment information stored with Google Pay] to also checkout quickly and easily in your own apps and websites,” Capiel said.

The benefit to those developers who add Google Pay support is an increase in conversion rates and faster monetization, he noted.

Plus, Google added support for tickets and boarding passes to the Google Pay APIs, where they joined the existing support for offers and loyalty cards.

This allows companies such as Urban Airship or DotDashPay to help business clients distribute and update their passes and tickets to Google Pay users.

“It shows an even stronger commitment on Google Pay’s part to make the digital wallet a priority,” Sean Arietta, founder and CEO of DotDashPay, told TechCrunch, following the presentation. “It also reinforces their focus on partners like DotDashPay to help build connections between consumers and brands. The fact that they are specifically highlighting a complete experience that starts with payments and ends with an NFC tap-to-identify, is really powerful. It makes the Google Pay story now complete,” he added.

Urban Airship was also touting the changes earlier this week, via a press release.

“We help businesses reinvent the customer experience by delivering the right information at the right time on any digital channel, and mobile wallets fill an increasingly critical role in that vision,” Brett Caine, CEO and president of Urban Airship, said in a statement. “Google Pay’s new support for tickets and boarding passes means customers will always have up-to-date information when they need it most – on the go.”

Some of Google’s early access partners on ticketing include Singapore Airlines, Eventbrite, Southwest, and FortressGB, which handles major soccer league tickets in the U.K. and elsewhere.

In terms of transit-related announcements, Google added a few more partners who will soon adopt Google Pay integration, including Vancouver, Canada and the U.K. bus system, following recent launches in Las Vegas and Portland.

The company also offered an update on Google Pay’s traction, noting the Google Pay app just passed 100 million downloads in the Google Play store, where it’s available to users in 18 markets worldwide.

Soon, Google said it will launch many of the core features and the Google Pay app globally to billions of Google users worldwide.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Free stock trading app Robinhood rockets to a $5.6B valuation with new funding round

Free stock trading app Robinhood rockets to a .6B valuation with new funding round

Robinhood started off as a dead-simple stock trading application that had no transaction fees — but since it’s continued to grow, and especially as it starts to dive into cryptocurrency, investors are getting pretty excited about its prospects and are pouring a ton of new funding into it.

And it’s that tantalizing prospect of creating a next generation way of trading assets and cryptocurrency that is now sending Robinhood to a $5.6 billion valuation in a new financing round that the company is announcing today. Robinhood says it’s closed a $363 million Series D financing round; DST Global led this new round and Iconiq, Kleiner Perkins, Sequoia and Capital G participated. Robinhood had a $1.3 billion valuation last year when it had around 2 million users, and the company says it now has 4 million users and has passed $150 billion in transaction volume.

“It’s the only place right now where you can trade crypto, stocks, and options all in one place,” CEO Vlad Tenev said. “For us to construct an experience that feels seamless and natural for customers, that for example want to sell an equity and use the proceeds to buy crypto, seamlessly, that’s been challenging not just from a product and design standpoint, but also infrastructure standpoint. There’s complexity under the hood, and our goal is to make it as seamless as possible in the process and make that complexity go away.”

Those 4 million users — and that valuation — indicates that Robinhood has clearly exposed a lot of demand for an easier way for users to dip their toes into financial services without having to work with firms that have trading fees like Scottrade or E*Trade. And while there are a lot of services that offer robo-advisory services like Betterment and Wealthront, which make it easier to start investing small amounts of money, Robinhood offers users the opportunity to do these things at a more granular level.

And, of course, there’s the cryptocurrency aspect that is clearly spurring a lot of interest in the company. At the time, 1 million users waitlisted for access in just the five days after Robinhood Crypto was announced. Robinhood has premium services like Robinhood Gold, where the company can find additional ways to generate revenue that offset the requirements of running a system that allows users to trade stocks for free. Robinhood has raised $539 million to date, as diving into financial services can be an expensive prospect, as well as getting enough users on board to the point that it can scale to a level that the business starts to increasingly make sense.

Robinhood’s crypto trading service came out in February and by today, the company says it’s available in 10 states. The company also rolled out a web version and stock option trading, trying to become a more robust financial services company that’s still tuned to a younger generation that wants an easier way to get into investing without needing a big balance to invest. Most of Robinhood’s users, too, aren’t so-called “day traders” and are instead holding stocks for a while after they buy them.

“If you look at the data and the statistics, people that are active day traders are actually a very small percentage of our space,” Tenev said. “People that are actually transacting on that cadence are the minority of our customers. Most of our customers engage in more of these buy and hold accumulation strategies. We really see a lot of unique things because we don’t charge trading commissions. There are customers that deposit money regularly twice or once a month and then buy stocks as soon as those deposits come in. We don’t see a lot of customers that are doing rapid buying and selling.”

Still, as it tries to further expand — especially into products like crypto and new regions — it’s going to increasingly find itself trying to jump hurdles that financial services companies find when going abroad. And there’s always a chance that the trading platforms will try to become a little more competitive (and companies like Square are even getting into Bitcoin trading). That’s going to require a robust amount of funding to try to outmaneuver well-capitalized companies that might already have those relationships in place to more easily expand.

“The political climate is uncertain, it sort of affects everyone, it doesn’t affect us uniquely,” Tenev said. “We’re a crypto business now. Not a lot of people have a ton of clarity on what that’s gonna look like in the future, it’s a new space that’s evolving really rapidly. I think that we’re confident we can adapt and evolve, and we’re operating the business in a responsible way. There’s only so much you can do, but I feel like we’ve done a lot to address any concerns.”

Source: Mobile – Techcruch