Facebook was never ephemeral, and now its Stories won’t have to be

Facebook was never ephemeral, and now its Stories won’t have to be

Before Snapchat made social media about just today, Facebook made it about forever. The 2011 “Timeline” redesign of the profile and keyword search unlocked your past, encouraging you to curate colorful posts about your life’s top moments. That was actually an inspiration for Snapchat, as its CEO Evan Spiegel wrote in its IPO announcement that “We learned that creativity can be suppressed by the fear of permanence.”

Now Facebook is finding a middle ground by optionally unlocking the history of your Stories that otherwise disappear after 24 hours. Facebook will soon begin testing Stories Highlights, the company confirmed to TechCrunch. Similar to Instagram Stories Highlights, it will let you pick your favorite expired photos and videos, compile them into themed collections with titles and cover images and display them on your profile.

The change further differentiates Facebook Stories from the Snapchat Stories feature it copied. It’s smart for Facebook, because highly compelling content was disintegrating each day, dragging potential ad views to the grave with it. And for its 150 million daily users, it could make the time we spend obsessing over social media Stories a wiser investment. If you’re going to interrupt special moments to capture them with your phone, the best ones should still pay dividends of self-expression and community connection beyond a day later.

Facebook Stories Highlights was first spotted by frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong, who specializes in generating screenshots of unreleased features out of the APK files of Android apps. TechCrunch inquired about the feature, and a Facebook spokesperson provided this statement: “People have told us they want a way to highlight and save the Stories that matter most to them. We’ll soon start testing highlights on Facebook – a way to choose Stories to stay on your profile, making it easier to express who you are through memories.”

These Highlights will appear on a horizontal scroll bar on your profile, and you’ll be able to see how many people viewed them just like with your Stories. They’ll default to being viewable by all your friends, but you can also restrict Highlights to certain people or make them public. The latter could be useful for public figures trying to build an audience, or anyone who thinks their identity is better revealed through their commentary on the world that Stories’ creative tools offer, opposed to some canned selfies and profile pics.

Facebook paved the way for Highlights by launching the Stories Archive in May. This automatically backs up your Stories privately to your profile so you don’t have to keep the saved versions on your phone, wasting storage space. That Archive is the basis for being able to choose dead Stories to show off in your Highlights. Together, they’ll encourage users to shoot silly, off-the-cuff content without that “fear of permanence,” but instead with the opportunity. If you want to spend a half hour decorating a Facebook Story with stickers and drawing and captions and augmented reality, you know it won’t be in vain.

Facebook Stories constantly adds new features, like this Blur effect I spotted today

While many relentlessly criticize Facebook for stealing the Stories from Snapchat, its rapid iteration and innovation on the format means the two companies’ versions are sharply diverging. Snapchat still lacks a Highlights-esque feature despite launching its Archive-style Memories back in July 2016. Instead of enhancing the core Stories product that made the app a teen phenomenon, it’s concentrated on Maps, gaming, Search, professional Discover content, and a disastrously needless redesign.

Facebook’s family of apps seized on the stagnation of Snapchat Stories and its neglect of the international market. It copied whatever was working while developing new features like Instagram’s Superzoom and Focus portrait mode, the ability to reshare public feed posts as quote tweet-style Stories and the addition of licensed music soundtracks. While writing this article, I even discovered a new Facebook Stories option called Blur that lets you shroud a moving subject with a dream-like haze, as demonstrated with my dumb face here.

The relentless drive to add new options and smooth out performance has paid off. Now Instagram has 400 million daily Stories users, WhatsApp has 450 million and Facebook has 150 million, while Snapchat’s whole app has just 191 million. As Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom admitted about Snapchat, “They deserve all the credit.” Still, it hasn’t had a megahit since Stories and AR puppy masks. The company’s zeal for inventing new ways to socialize is admirable, though not always a sound business strategy.

At first, the Stories war was a race, to copy functionality and invade new markets. Instagram and now Facebook making ephemerality optional for their Stories signals a second phase of the war. The core idea of broadcasting content that disappears after a day has become commoditized and institutionalized. Now the winner will be declared not as who invented Stories, but who perfected them.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Instagram Stories now lets its 400M users add soundtracks

Instagram Stories now lets its 400M users add soundtracks

The right music can make a boring photo or video epic, so Instagram is equipping users with a way to add popular songs to their Stories. TechCrunch had the scoop on the music feature’s prototype in early May, and now it’s launching to iOS and Android users in 6 countries including, the U.S. Thanks to Facebook’s recent deals with record labels, users will be able to choose from thousands of songs from artists including Bruno Mars, Dua Lipa, Calvin Harris and Guns N’ Roses. The launch could make Instagram Stories more fun to post and watch in a way that copyrights won’t allow on Snapchat, while giving the app a way to compete with tween favorite Musical.ly.

And just a week after revealing its app has 1 billion monthly users, the company also announced today that Instagram Stories has 400 million daily users, up from 300 million in November and 250 million a year ago. That means Instagram Stories is growing about six times faster than Snapchat’s whole app, which only added 13 million daily users over the six months of Q4 2017 and Q1 2018 to reach 191 million.

Snapchat’s growth rate fell to its slowest pace ever last quarter amidst a despised redesign, while Instagram Stories has steadily added unique and popular features like Highlights, Superzoom and resharing of public feed posts. Instagram said last September that it had 500 million total daily users, so it’s likely that a majority of community is now hooked on the Stories format Snapchat invented.

Instagram Stories music

“Now you can add a soundtrack to your story that fits any moment and helps you express how you’re feeling,” Instagram writes. To access the new music feature, users will be able to choose a special song sticker after they shoot a photo or video. They can search for a specific song or artist, or browse by mood, genre or what’s popular. Once they select a song, they can pick the specific snippet they want to have accompany their content. Alternatively, iOS users can switch to the Music shutter mode in the Stories camera to pick a song before they capture a photo or video so they can sync up their actions to the music. That will come to Android eventually, and the whole feature will roll out to more countries soon following today’s launch in Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Sweden, the UK and the U.S. [Correction: The feature is launch in version 51 of Instagram, not in 51 countries.]

When friends watch a music-equipped Story, the song will post automatically. They’ll also be able to tap on the sticker to see artist and song title info, but for now these stickers won’t link out to a musician’s Instagram page or their presence on streaming services — though that would certainly be helpful. I also suggest that Instagram should create deeplinks that artists can share with their fans that automatically opens the Stories camera with that song’s sticker added.

It’s easy to imagine users lip syncing to their favorite jams, adding clashing background music for comedic effect or earnestly trying to compose something emotionally powerful. Suddenly people ‘Gramming from home will be a new way to entertain themselves and their pals.

Instagram tells me that musicians and rights holders will be compensated for the use of their songs, but wouldn’t specify how those payments would work. Facebook secured deals with all the major record labels and many independents to pave the way for this feature. Facebook has since announced that users can also add copyrighted music soundtracks to videos on their own before uploading and they wouldn’t be taken down like before. It’s also started testing a Lip Sync Live feature with a collection of chart-topping hits.

The big question will be whether the “thousands” of songs available through today’s launch will cover what most users want to hear, otherwise they might just be disappointed. With a few enhancements and a widened catalog, Instagram Music could become a powerful way for artists to go viral. All those shaky phone camera clips are going to start looking more like indie music videos you’ll watch til the end.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Instagram code reveals upcoming music feature

Instagram code reveals upcoming music feature

Instagram is preparing to let you add music to your Stories, judging by code found inside its Android app. “music stickers” could let you search for and add a song to your posts, thanks to licensing deals with the major record labels recently struck by Facebook. Instagram is also testing a way to automatically detect a song you’re listening to and display the artist and song title as just a visual label.

Listenable music stickers would make Instagram Stories much more interesting to watch. Amateur video footage suddenly looks like DIY MTV when you add the right score. The feature could also steal thunder from teen lip syncing app sensation Musically, and stumbling rival Snapchat that planned but scrapped a big foray into music. And alongside Instagram Stories’ new platform for sharing posts directly from third-party apps, including Spotify and SoundCloud, these stickers could make Instagram a powerful driver of music discovery.

TechCrunch was first tipped off to the hidden music icons and code from reader Ishan Agarwal. Instagram declined to comment. But Instagram later confirmed three other big features first reported by TechCrunch and spotted by Agarwal that it initially refused to discuss: Focus mode for shooting portraits, QR-scannable Nametags for following people and video calling, which got an official debut at F8.

[Update: Jane Manchun Wong tells TechCrunch she was briefly able to test the feature, as seen in the screenshot above. The prototype design looks a bit janky, and Instagram crashed when she tried to post anything using the music stickers. Beyond the music sticker search interface seen on the right, Wong tells us Instagram automatically detected a song she was currently playing on her phone and created a sticker for it (not using audio recognition like Shazam).]

Facebook and Instagram’s video editing features have been in a sad state for a long time. I wrote about the big opportunity back in 2013, and in 2016 called on both Facebook and Instagram to add more editing features, including soundtracks. Finally in late 2017, Facebook started testing Sound Collection, which lets you add to your videos sound effects and a very limited range of not-popular artists’ songs. But since then, Facebook has secured licensing deals with Sony, Warner, Universal and European labels.

For years, people thought Facebook’s ongoing negotiations with record labels would power some Spotify competitor. But streaming is a crowded market with strong solutions already. The bigger problem for Facebook was that if users added soundtracks themselves using editing software, or a song playing in the background got caught in the recording, those videos could be removed due to copyright complaints from the labels. Facebook’s intention was the opposite — to make it easier to add popular music to your posts so they’d be more fun to consume.

Instagram’s music stickers could be the culmination of all those deals.

How Instagram music stickers work

The code shows that Instagram’s app has an unreleased “Search Music” feature built-in beside its location and friend-mention sticker search options inside Instagram Stories. These “music overlay stickers” can be searched using tabs for “Genres,” “Moods,” and “Trending.” Instagram could certainly change the feature before it’s launched, or scrap it all together. But the clear value of music stickers and the fact that Instagram owned up to the Focus, Nametags and Video Calling features all within three months of us reporting their appearance in the code lends weight to an upcoming launch.

It’s not entirely clear, but it seems that once you’ve picked a song and added it as a music sticker to your Story, a clip of that song will play while people watch. It’s possible that the initial version of the stickers will only display the artist and title of the song similar to Facebook’s activity status updates, rather than actually adding it as a listenable soundtrack.

These stickers will almost surely be addable to videos, but maybe Instagram will let you include them on photos too. It would be great if viewers could tap through the sticker to hear the song or check it out on their preferred streaming service. That could make Instagram the new Myspace, where you fall in love with new music through you friends; there are no indicators in the code about that.

Perhaps Instagram will be working with a particular partner on the feature, like it did with Giphy for its GIF stickers. Spotify, with its free tier and long-running integrations with Facebook dating back to the 2011 Open Graph ticker, would make an obvious choice. But Facebook might play it more neutral, powering the feature another way, or working with a range of providers, potentially including Apple, YouTube, SoundCloud and Amazon.

Several apps like Sounds and Soundtracking have tried to be the “Instagram for music.” But none have gained mass traction because it’s hard to tell if you like a song quickly enough to pause your scrolling, staring at album art isn’t fun, users don’t want a whole separate app for this and Facebook and Instagram’s algorithms can bury cross-posts of this content. But Stories — with original visuals that are easily skippable, natively created and consumed in your default social app — could succeed.

Getting more users wearing headphones or turning the sound on while using Instagram could be a boon to the app’s business, as advertisers all want to be heard, as well as seen. The stickers could also get young Instagrammers singing along to their favorite songs the way 60 million Musically users do. In that sense, music could spice up the lives of people who otherwise might not appear glamorous through Stories.

Music stickers could let Instagram beat Snapchat to the punch. Leaked emails from the 2014 Sony hack showed Snap CEO Evan Spiegel was intent on launching a music video streaming feature or even creating Snapchat’s own record label. But complications around revenue-sharing negotiations and the potential to distract the team and product from Snapchat’s core use case derailed the project. Instead, Snap has worked with record labels on Discover channels and augmented reality lenses to promote new songs. But Snapchat still has no sound board or soundtrack features, leaving some content silent or drowned in random noise.

With the right soaring strings, the everyday becomes epic. With the perfect hip-hop beat, a standard scene gains swagger. And with the hottest new dance hook, anywhere can be a party. Instagram has spent the past few years building all conceivable forms of visual flair to embellish your photos and videos. But it’s audio that could be the next dimension of Stories.

For more on the future of Stories, read our feature pieces:

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Stories are about to surpass feed sharing. Now what?

Stories are about to surpass feed sharing. Now what?

We’re at the cusp of the visual communication era. Stories creation and consumption is up 842 percent since early 2016, according to consulting firm Block Party. Nearly a billion accounts across Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Messenger now create and watch these vertical, ephemeral slideshows. And yesterday, Facebook chief product officer Chris Cox showed a chart detailing how “the Stories format is on a path to surpass feeds as the primary way people share things with their friends sometime next year.”

The repercussions of this medium shift are vast. Users now consider how every moment could be glorified and added to the narrative of their day. Social media platforms are steamrolling their old designs to highlight the camera and people’s Stories. And advertisers must rethink their message not as a headline, body text, and link, but as a background, overlays, and a feeling that lingers even if viewers don’t click through.

WhatsApp’s Stories now have over 450 million daily users. Instagram’s have over 300 million. Facebook Messenger’s had 70 million in September. And Snapchat as a whole just reached 191 million, about 150 million of which use Stories according to Block Party. With 970 million accounts, it’s the format of the future. Block Party calculates that Stories grew 15X faster than feeds from Q2 2016 to Q3 2017. And that doesn’t even count Google’s new AMP Stories for news, Netflix’s Stories for mobile movie previews, and YouTube’s new Stories feature.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg even admitted on last week’s earnings call that the company is focused on “making 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.” When asked, Facebook confirmed that it’s now working on monetization for Facebook Stories.

From Invention To Standard

“They deserve all the credit”, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom told me about Snapchat when his own app launched its clone of Stories. They sprouted as Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel and his team reimagining the Facebook News Feed through the lens of its 10-second disappearing messages. But they’ve blossomed into the dominant way to see life from someone else’s perspective. Just as Facebook and Twitter took FriendFeed and refined it with relevancy sorting, character constraints, and all manners of embedded media, the Stories format is still being perfected. “This is about a format, and how you take it to a network and put your own spin on it” Systrom followed up.

Snapchat is trying to figure out if Stories from friends and professional creators should be separate, and if they should be sorted by relevancy or reverse chronologically. Instagram and Facebook are opening Stories up to posts from third-party apps like Spotify that makes them a great way to discover music. WhatsApp is pushing the engineering limits of Stories, figuring out ways to make the high-bandwidth videos play on slow networks in the developing world.

Messenger is moving its camera from the navigation menu to the top corner, and settling in as a place to watch Stories shared from Facebook and Instagram (though you can still post there too). Meanwhile, Messenger is merging augmented reality, commerce, and Stories so users can preview products in AR and then either share or buy them. Instagram created a Stories carousel ad that lets businesses share a slideshow of three photos or videos together to string together a narrative. And perhaps most tellingly, Facebook is testing a new post composer for its News Feed that actually shows an active camera and camera roll preview to coerce you into sharing Stories instead of a text status. Companies who refuse the trend may be left behind.

Social Media Bedrock

As I wrote two years ago when Snapchat was the only app with Stories:

“Social media creates a window through which your friends can watch your life. Yet most social networks weren’t designed that way, because phones, screen sizes, cameras, and mobile network connections weren’t good enough to build a crystal-clear portal.

With all its text, Twitter is like peering through a crack in a fence. There are lots of cracks next to each other, but none let you see the full story. Facebook is mostly blank space. It’s like a tiny jail-cell window surrounded by concrete. Instagram was the closest thing we had. Like a quaint living room window, you can only see in to the clean and pretty part they want you to see.

Snapchat is the floor-to-ceiling window observation deck into someone’s life. It sees every type of communication humans have invented: video, audio, text, symbols, and drawings. Beyond virtual reality and 360 video — both tough to capture or watch on the go — it’s difficult to imagine where social media evolves from here.” It turns out that over the next two years, social media would not evolve, but instead converge on Stories. 

What comes next is a race for more decorations, more augmented reality, more developers, and more extendability beyond native apps and into the rest of the web. Until we stop using cell phones all together, we’ll likely see most of sharing divided between private messaging and broadcasted Stories.

The medium is a double-edged sword for culture, though. While a much more vivid way to share and engender empathy, they also threaten to commodify life. When Instagram launched Stories, Systrom said it was because otherwise you “only get to see the highlights”.

But he downplayed how a medium for capturing more than the highlights would pressure people around the world to interrupt any beautiful scene or fit of laughter or quiet pause with their camera phone. We went from people shooting and sharing once or a few times a day to constantly. In fact, people plan their activities not just around a picture-perfect destination, but turning their whole journey into success theater.

If Stories are our new favorite tool, we must learn to wield them judiciously. Sometimes a memory is worth more than an audience. When it’s right to record, don’t get in the way of someone else’s experience. And after the Story is shot, return to the moment and save captioning and decoration for down time. Stories are social media bedrock. There’s no richer way to share, so they’re going to be around for a while. We better learn to gracefully coexist.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Facebook and Instagram Stories open to sharing from other apps

Facebook and Instagram Stories open to sharing from other apps

Facebook is recruiting help to make its Stories more interesting than Snapchat’s. Starting with Spotify, SoundCloud and GoPro, third-party apps can now let their users share to Facebook Stories and Instagram Stories. Rather than screenshotting, users will be able to hit a button to share a photo or video of a playlist, song or mini-movie from another app into Facebook or Instagram’s Stories camera, where they can embellish it with effects and post it to their friends. GoPro’s integration actually lets you edit your movies inside Facebook’s apps, while you can immediately start listening to songs shared from Spotify and SoundCloud.

Facebook’s CPO Chris Cox announced the feature at Facebook’s F8 conference, saying that he’s excited to see what developers build. Other launch partners include selfie editor Meitu, lipsyncing app Musically, Indian streaming music service Saavn and more.

While this new wing of the Facebook platform is opening to all developers, only approved partners that go through a review process like the three mentioned will have attribution watermarks added to the shares.

This platform move mirrors what Facebook did with its Open Graph launch 7 years ago at F8 2011. That let developers push stories about in-app activity to Facebook’s Ticker and News Feed. Eventually Facebook dropped the Ticker and phased out these Open Graph auto-shares in favor of explicit sharing, where the user is in full control. Facebook is taking this more cautious approach with Stories too, rather than make users worry their guilty pleasure listening or private imagery could be unknowingly shared to their Story.

The plan deviates significantly from Snapchat’s strategy, which has shunned third-party developers like music video-maker Mindie in the past. Now Snapchat lets developers create augmented reality lenses and geofilters that users can unlock, but the content creation happens in Snapchat’s app. Facebook hopes that by recruiting developers and getting them to build special content users can share to their Stories, it will avoid the feature growing stale from the same old selfies and sunsets.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Instagram rolls out Focus portrait mode for videos and photos

Instagram rolls out Focus portrait mode for videos and photos

Instagram is one-upping Apple with a portrait mode feature that runs on a wider variety of phones and works with video, not just photos. Last month, TechCrunch reported about a Focus feature buried in Instagram’s code, which began publicly testing a week later. Now Instagram is rolling out Focus, which blurs the background while keeping someone’s face sharp for a stylized, professional photography look. “Focus mode leverages background segmentation and face detection technology,” an Instagram spokesperson told me when asked how it works without the need for dual cameras.

Focus can be found in the Instagram Stories format options alongside Boomerang and Superzoom in both the selfie and rear-facing cameras, and it rolls out globally today on iPhone 6s, 6s+, 7, 7+, 8, 8+ and X, as well as select Android devices. That’s compared to Apple’s portrait mode that only works on the iPhone 7+, 8+, and X, and Android portrait mode that exists on the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. Instagram’s launch could also suck attention away from “fake portrait mode” apps like Magic Portrait Mode, FabFocus, LightX and Point Blur that can also add blurry background “bokeh effects” to images.

This comparison provided to TechCrunch by reader Genady Okrain shows how Instagram Focus blurs the background, but can make the edges of the face look a bit hazy too. The iPhone portrait mode that takes advantage of newer models’ dual cameras does a little better job of keeping the whole face in focus, but it’s not available on older iPhones and can’t do video.

Focus gives people another reason to choose Instagram over Snapchat, and could make shooting inside the Instagram app more appealing. After eight years of sunsets and latte art, it’s the selfies and portraits that still feel fresh on Instagram. Making them look as good as possible could keep Instagram from growing stale as it rockets toward 1 billion users.

Focus appears as an Instagram Stories format alongside Boomerang and Superzoom. Screenshots via Social Pip 

Meanwhile, Instagram is starting to roll out Mentions stickers that make it easy to tag friends in a Story with a stylized graphic instead of just text. Instagram tested these last month, but now they’re becoming available to all iOS users. Just like adding emoji to photos and videos, you can select the Mention sticker, use the typeahead to find a friend’s username and tag them in a resizable sticker. That lets people tap through to view their profile, and generates a notification to the tagged user.

Instagram has had text mentions since November 2016, soon after it launched Stories, but Snapchat just added them last month. Mentions could make it easier for creators on both the apps to collaborate and cross-promote each other, or encourage fans to spread their name to friends.

 As Facebook endures unending scandals, Instagram has remained relatively unscathed by the backlash. Without links and resharing, it’s immune to a lot of the fake news and politics that have made Facebook exhausting. Instagram seems to see rapid feature development as the best distraction. Beyond Focus mode, TechCrunch recently reported that Instagram voice and video calling features are hidden inside the app’s code. And it’s just begun testing a Snapchat QR code-style feature called Instagram Nametags that makes it easy to follow someone.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Instagram has an unlaunched ‘Portrait’ feature hidden inside

Instagram has an unlaunched ‘Portrait’ feature hidden inside
 Eager to one-up Snapchat, Instagram appears to be preparing to expand its collection of shutter modes beyond options like Boomerang and Superzoom. Buried within Instagram’s Android Application Package (APK) is an icon for a Portrait shutter for the Stories camera. This could potentially let people shoot stylized portraits with bokeh effect-blurred backgrounds or other lighting effects. Read More

Source: Mobile – Techcruch