Instagram will promote mid-term voting with stickers, registration info

Instagram will promote mid-term voting with stickers, registration info

Facebook is getting ready to purposefully influence the U.S. mid-term elections after spending two years trying to safeguard against foreign interference. Instagram plans to run ads in Stories and feed powered by TurboVote that will target all US users over 18 and point them towards information on how to get properly registered and abide by voting rules. Then when election day arrives, users will be able to add an “I Voted” sticker to their photos and videos that link to voting info like which polling place to go to.

Combined, these efforts could boost voter turnout, especially amongst Instagram’s core audience of millennials. If one political party’s base skews younger, they could receive an advantage. “Ahead of National Voter Registration Day, we are helping our community register to vote and get to the polls on November 6th” Instagram writes. “From today, Instagram will connect US voters with the information they need to get registered.”

In 2010, a non-partisan “Get out the vote” message atop the Facebook News Feed was estimated to have driven 340,000 additional votes. The study by Nature suggested that “more of the 0.6% growth in turnout between 2006 and 2010 might have been caused by a single message on Facebook”. That’s significant considering the 2000 election had a margin of just 0.1 percent of voters.

You can watch Instagram’s video ads for voting below, which feature a cartoony purple Grimace character and are clearly aimed at a younger audience. They purposefully avoid any Democratic or Republican imagery, but also stick to a polished and American style that could ensure the clips aren’t mistaken for Russian propaganda.

Earlier this year, the company admitted that 120,000 Instagram posts by the Russian military intelligence group the Internet Research Agency reached 20 million Americans in an attempt to sow discord surrounding the 2016 presidential election. They used a variety of image memes about polarizing social issues to try to divide the country. Facebook has since doubled its security staff to 20,000, required identity verification for political advertisers, and has stepped up its effort to delete scores of fake accounts associated with election interference.

The Russian disinformation attacks could still make users weary to learn about voting from social media. But more turnout means a more democratic society, so it’s easy to see the positive impact of Instagram efforts here. The question remains whether this voter drive will end up the subject of congressional scrutiny at another inevitable hearing on social media and political bias.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Instagram Shopping gets personalized Explore channel, Stories tags

Instagram Shopping gets personalized Explore channel, Stories tags

Instagram is embracing its true identity as a mail-order catalog. The question will be how much power merchants will give Instagram after seeing what its parent Facebook did to news outlets that relied on it. In a move that could pit it against Pinterest and Wish, Instagram is launching Shopping features across its app to let people discover and consider possible purchases before clicking through to check out on the merchant’s website.

Today, Instagram Explore is getting a personalized Shopping channel of items it thinks you’ll want most. And it’s expanding its Shopping tags for Instagram Stories to all viewers worldwide after a limited test in June, and it’s allowing brands in 46 countries to add the shopping bag icon to Stories that users can click through to buy what they saw.

Instagram clearly wants to graduate from where people get ideas for things to purchase to being a measurable gateway to their spending. 90 million people already tap its Shopping tags each month, it announced today. The new features could soak up more user attention and lead them to see more ads. But perhaps more importantly, demonstrating that Instagram can boost retail business’ sales for free through Stories and Explore could whet their appetite to buy Instagram ads to amplify their reach and juice the conversion channel. With 25 million businesses on Instagram but only 2 million advertisers, the app has room to massively increase its revenue.

For now Instagram is maintaining its “no comment” regarding whether it’s working on a standalone Instagram Shopping app as per a report from The Verge last month.  Instagram first launched its Shopping tags for feeds in 2016. It still points users out to merchant sites for the final payment step, though, in part because retailers want to control their relationships with customers. But long-term, allowing businesses to opt in to offering in-Instagram checkout could shorten the funnel and get more users actually buying.

Shopping joins the For You, Art, Beauty, Sports, Fashion and other topic channels that launched in Explore in June. The Explore algorithm will show you shopping-tagged posts from businesses you follow and ones you might like based on who you follow and what shopping content engages you. This marks the first time you can view a dedicated shopping space inside of Instagram, and it could become a bottomless well of browsing for those in need of some retail therapy.

With Shopping Stickers, brands can choose to add one per story and customize the color to match their photo or video. A tap opens the product details page, and another sends them to the merchant’s site. Businesses will be able to see the number of taps on their Shopping sticker, and how many people tapped through to their website. Partnerships with Shopify (500,000+ merchants) and BigCommerce (60,000+ merchants) will make it easy for retailers of all sizes to use Instagram’s Shopping Stickers. 

What about bringing Shopping to IGTV? A company spokesperson tells me, “IGTV and live video present interesting opportunities for brands to connect more closely with their customers, but we have no plans to bring shopping tools to those surfaces right now.”

For now, the new shopping features feel like a gift to merchants hoping to boost sales. But so did the surge of referral traffic Facebook sent to news publishers a few years ago. Those outlets soon grew dependent on Facebook, changed their news room staffing and content strategies to chase this traffic, and now find themselves in dire straights after Facebook cut off the traffic fire hose as it refocuses on friends and family content.

Retail merchants shouldn’t take the same bait. Instagram Shopping might be a nice bonus, but just how much it prioritizes the feature and spotlights the Explore channel are entirely under its control. Merchants should still work to develop an unmediated relationship directly with their customers, encouraging them to bookmark their sites or sign up for newsletters. Instagram’s favor could disappear with a change to its algorithm, and retailers must always be ready to stand on their own two feet.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

The Pansar Augmented watch hides it smarts behind an analog face

The Pansar Augmented watch hides it smarts behind an analog face
The Pansar Augmented is a Swedish smart watch that looks like a standard three-handed wristwatch. However, with the tap of a button, you can view multiple data points including weather, notifications, and even sales data from your CRM.
Pansar is a Swedish watch company that uses Swiss movements and hand assembled components to add a dash of luxury to your standard workhorse watch.

The watch is fully funded on Kickstarter. It costs $645 for early birds.
The watch mostly displays the time but when the data system is activated the hands move to show any data you’d like.
The world is full of interesting data: be it the quest for information on the perfect wave, keeping track on your stock value, or the number of followers you’ve acquired since yesterday. Pansar Augmented collects the data that matters to you and streams it conveniently to the hands of your watch. This is made possible because of the unique dual directional Swiss movement combined with the Pansar Augmented app.

The watch comes in three models: the Ocean Edition that shows “relevant data on weather, wind, and swell amongst others,” the Accelerator Edition that shows website visits or Instagram views, and the Quantifier Edition for the “analytical mind” that wants to track sales numbers.
It’s definitely a clever twist on the traditional smart watch vision and, thanks to some nice styling, these could be some nice pieces for folks who don’t want the distractions of a normal Apple Watch or Android Wear device.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

For IGTV, Instagram needs slow to mean steady

For IGTV, Instagram needs slow to mean steady

Instagram has never truly failed at anything, but judging by modest initial view counts, IGTV could get stuck with a reputation as an abandoned theater if the company isn’t careful. It’s no flop, but the long-form video hub certainly isn’t an instant hit like Instagram Stories. Two months after that launched in 2016, Instagram was happy to trumpet how its Snapchat clone had hit 100 million users. Yet two months after IGTV’s launch, the Facebook subsidiary has been silent on its traction.

“It’s a new format. It’s different. We have to wait for people to adopt it and that takes time,” Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom told me. “Think of it this way: we just invested in a startup called IGTV, but it’s small, and it’s like Instagram was ‘early days.’”

It’s indeed too early for a scientific analysis, and Instagram’s feed has been around since 2010, so it’s obviously not a fair comparison, but we took a look at the IGTV view counts of some of the feature’s launch partner creators. Across six of those creators, their recent feed videos are getting roughly 6.8X as many views as their IGTV posts. If IGTV’s launch partners that benefited from early access and guidance aren’t doing so hot, it means there’s likely no free view count bonanza in store from other creators or regular users.

They, and IGTV, will have to work for their audience. That’s already proving difficult for the standalone IGTV app. Though it peaked at the #25 overall US iPhone app and has seen 2.5 million downloads across iOS and Android according to Sensor Tower, it’s since dropped to #1497 and seen a 94 percent decrease in weekly installs to just 70,000 last week.

Instagram will have to be in it for the long haul if it wants to win at long-form video. Entering the market 13 years after YouTube with a vertical format no one’s quite sure what to do with, IGTV must play the tortoise. If it can avoid getting scrapped or buried, and offer the right incentives and flexibility to creators, IGTV could deliver the spontaneous video viewing experience Instagram lacks. Otherwise, IGTV risks becoming the next Google Plus — a ghost town inside an otherwise thriving product ecosystem.

A glitzy, glitchy start

Instagram gave IGTV a red carpet premiere June 20th in hopes of making it look like the new digital hotspot. The San Francisco launch event offered attendees several types of avocado toast, spa water and ‘Gram-worthy portrait backdrops reminiscent of the Color Factory or Museum of Ice Cream. Instagram hadn’t held a flashy press event since the 2013 launch of video sharing, so it pulled out all the stops. Balloon sculptures lined the entrance to a massive warehouse packed with social media stars and ad execs shouting to each other over the din of the DJ.

But things were rocky from the start. Leaks led TechCrunch to report on the IGTV name and details in the preceding weeks. Technical difficulties with Systrom’s presentation pushed back the start, but not the rollout of IGTV’s code. Tipster Jane Manchun Wong sent TechCrunch screenshots of the new app and features a half hour before it was announced, and Instagram’s own Business Blog jumped the gun by posting details of the launch. The web already knew how IGTV would let people upload vertical videos up to an hour long and browse them through categories like “Popular” and “For You” by the time Systrom took the stage.

IGTV’s launch event featured Instagram-themed donuts and elaborate portrait backdrops. Images via Vicki’s Donuts and Mai Lanpham

“What I’m most proud of is that Instagram took a stand and tried a brand new thing that is frankly hard to pull off. Full-screen vertical video that’s mobile only. That doesn’t exist anywhere else,” Systrom tells me. It was indeed ambitious. Creators were already comfortable making short-form vertical Snapchat Stories by the time Instagram launched its own version. IGTV would have to start from scratch.

Systrom sees the steep learning curve as a differentiator, though. “One of the things I like most about the new format is that it’s actually fairly difficult to just take videos that exist online and simply repost them. That’s not true in feed. That basically forces everyone to create new stuff,” Systrom tells me. “It’s not to say that there isn’t other stuff on there but in general it incentivizes people to produce new things from scratch. And that’s really what we’re looking for. Even if the volume of that stuff at the beginning is smaller than what you might see on the popular page [of Instagram Explore].”

Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom unveils IGTV at the glitzy June 20th launch event

Instagram forced creators to adopt this proprietary format. But it forget to train Stories stars how to entertain us for five or 15 minutes, not 15 seconds, or convince landscape YouTube moguls to purposefully shoot or crop their clips for the way we normally hold our phones.

IGTV’s Popular page features plenty of random viral pap, foreign language content, and poor cropping

That should have been the real purpose of the launch party — demonstrating a variety of ways to turn these format constraints or lack thereof into unique content. Vertical video frames people better than places, and the length allows sustained eye-to-lens contacts that can engender an emotional connection. But a shallow array of initial content and too much confidence that creators would figure it out on their own deprived IGTV of emergent norms that other videographers could emulate to wet their feet.

Now IGTV feels haphazard, with trashy viral videos and miscropped ports amongst its Popular section alongside a few creators trying to produce made-for-IGTV talk shows and cooking tutorials. It’s yet to have its breakout “Chewbacca Mom” or “Rubberbanded Watermelon” blockbuster like Facebook Live. Even an interview with mega celeb Kylie Jenner only had 11,000 views.

Instagram wants to put the focus on the author, not the individual works of art. “Because we don’t have full text search and you can’t just search any random thing, it’s about the creators” Systrom explains. “I think that at its base level that it’s personality driven and creator driven means that you’re going to get really unique content that you won’t find anywhere else and that’s the goal.”

Yet being unique requires extra effort that creators might not invest if they’re unsure of the payoff in either reach or revenue. Michael Sayman, formerly Facebook’s youngest employee who was hired at age 17 to build apps for teens and who now works for Google, summed it up saying: “Many times in my own career, I’ve tried to make something with a unique spin or a special twist because I felt that’s the only way I could make my product stand out from the crowd, only to realize that it was those very twists and spins that made my products feel out of place and confusing to users. Sometimes, the best product is one that doesn’t create any new twists, but rather perfects and builds on top of what has been proven to already be extremely successful.”

A fraction of feed views

The one big surprise of the launch event was where IGTV would exist. Instagram announced it’d live in a standalone IGTV app, but also as a feature in the main app accessible from an orange button atop the home screen that would occasionally call out that new content was inside. It could have had its own carousel like Stories or been integrated into Explore until it was ready for primetime.

Instead, it was ignorable. IGTV didn’t get the benefit of the home screen spotlight like Instagram Stories. Blow past that one orange button and avoid downloading the separate app, and users could go right on tapping and scrolling through Instagram without coming across IGTV’s longer videos.

View counts of the launch partners reflect that. We looked at six launch partner creators, comparing their last six feed and IGTV videos older than a week and less than six months old, or fewer videos if that’s all they’d posted.

Only one of the six, BabyAriel, saw an obvious growth trend in her IGTV videos. Her candid IGTV monologues are performing the best of the six compared to feed. She’s earning an average of 243,000 views per IGTV video, about a third as many as she gets on her feed videos. “I’m really happy with my view counts because IGTV is just starting” BabyAriel tells me. She thinks the format will be good for behind-the-scenes clips that complement her longer YouTube videos and shorter Stories. “When I record anything, It’s vertical. When I turn my phone horizontal I think of an hour-long movie.”

Lele Pons, a Latin American comedy and music star who’s one of the most popular Instagram celebrities, gets about 5.7X more feed views than on her IGTV cooking show that averages 1.9 million hits. Instagram posted some IGTV highlights from the first month, but the most popular of now has 4.3 million views — less than half of what Pons gets on her average feed video.

Fitness guides from Katie Austin averaged just 3,600 views on IGTV while she gets 7.5X more in the feed. Lauren Godwin’s colorful comedy fared 5.2X better in the feed. Bryce Xavier saw the biggest differential, earning 15.9X more views for his dance and culture videos. And in the most direct comparison, K-Pop dancer Susie Shu sometimes posts cuts from the same performance to the two destinations, like one that got 273,000 views in feed but just 27,000 on IGTV, with similar clips fairing an average of 7.8X better.

Again, this isn’t to say IGTV is a lame horse. It just isn’t roaring out of the gates. Systrom remains optimistic about inventing a new format. “The question is can we pull that off and the early signs are really good,” he tells me. “We’ve been pretty blown away by the reception and the usage upfront,” though he declined to share any specific statistics. Instagram promised to provide more insight into traction in the future.

YouTube star Casey Neistat is less bullish. He doesn’t think IGTV is working and that engagement has been weak. If IGTV views were surpassing those of YouTube, creators would flock to it, but so far view counts are uninspiring and not worth diverting creative attention, Neistat says. “YouTube offers the best sit-back consumption, and Stories offers active consumption. Where does IGTV fit in? I’m not sure” he tells me. “Why create all of this unique content if it gets lower views, it’s not monetizable, and the viewers aren’t there?”

Susie Shu averages 7.8X more video views in the Instagram feed than on IGTV

For now, the combination of an unfamiliar format, the absence of direction for how to use it and the relatively buried placement has likely tempered IGTV’s traction. Two months in, Instagram Stories was proving itself an existential threat to Snapchat — which it’s in fact become. IGTV doesn’t pose the same danger to YouTube yet, and it will need a strategy to support a more slow-burn trajectory.

The chicken and the IG problem

The first step to becoming a real YouTube challenger is to build up some tent-pole content that gives people a reason to open IGTV. Until there’s something that captures attention, any cross-promotion traffic Instagram sends it will be like pouring water into a bucket with a giant hole in the bottom. Yet until there’s enough viewers, it’s tough to persuade creators to shoot for IGTV since it won’t do a ton to boost their fan base.

Fortnite champion Ninja shares a photo of IGTV launch partners gathered backstage at the press event

Meanwhile, Instagram hasn’t committed to a monetization or revenue-sharing strategy for IGTV. Systrom said at the launch that “There’s no ads in IGTV today,” but noted it’s “obviously a very reasonable place [for ads] to end up.” Without enough views, though, ads won’t earn enough for a revenue split to incentivize creators. Perhaps Instagram will heavily integrate its in-app shopping features and sponsored content partnerships, but even those rely on having more traffic. Vine withered at Twitter in part from creators bailing due to its omission of native monetization options.

So how does IGTV solve the chicken-and-egg problem? It may need to swallow its pride and pay early adopters directly for content until it racks up enough views to offer sustainable revenue sharing. Instagram has never publicly copped to paying for content before, unlike its parent Facebook, which offered stipends ranging into the millions of dollars for publishers to shoot Live broadcasts and long-form Watch shows. Neither have led to a booming viewership, but perhaps that’s because Facebook has lost its edge with the teens who love video.

Instagram could do better if it paid the right creators to weather IGTV’s initial slim pickings. Settling on ad strategy creators can count on earning money from in the future might also get them to hang tight. Those deals could mimic the 55 percent split of mid-roll ad breaks Facebook gives creators on some videos. But again, the views must come first.

Alternatively, or additionally, it could double down on the launch strategy of luring creators with the potential to become the big fish in IGTV’s small-for-now pond. Backroom deals to trade being highlighted in its IGTV algorithm in exchange for high-quality content could win the hearts of these stars and their managers. Instagram would be wise to pair these incentives with vertical long-form video content creation workshops. It could bring its community, product and analytics leaders together with partnered stars to suss out what works best in the format and help them shoot it.

The cross-promo spigot

Once there’s something worth watching on IGTV, the company could open the cross-promo traffic spigot. At first, Instagram would send notifications about top content or IGTV posts from people you follow, and call them out with a little orange text banner atop its main app. Now it seems to understand it will need to be more coercive.

Last month, TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong spotted Instagram showing promos for individual IGTV shows in the middle of the feed, hoping to redirect eyeballs there. And today, TechCrunch researcher Matt Navarra found Instagram getting more aggressive by putting a bigger call out featuring a relevant IGTV clip with preview image above your Stories tray on the home screen. It may need to boost the frequency of these cross-promotions and stick them in-between Stories and Explore sections as well to give IGTV the limelight. These could expose users to creators they don’t follow already but might enjoy.

It’s still early but I do think there’s a lot of potential when they figure out two things since the feature is so new,” says John Shahidi, who runs the Justin Bieber-backed Shots Studios, which produces and distributes content for Lele Pons, Rudy Mancuso and other Insta celebs. “1. Product. IGTV is not in your face so Instagram users aren’t changing behavior to consume. Timeline and Instagram Stories are in your face so those two are the most used features. 2. Discoverability. I want to see videos from people I don’t follow. Interesting stuff like cooking, product review, interesting content from brands but without following the accounts.” In the meantime, Shots Studios is launching a vertical-only channel on YouTube that Shahidi believes is the first of its kind.

Instagram will have to balance its strategic imperative to grow the long-form video hub and avoid spamming users until they hate the brand as a whole. Some think it’s already gone too far. “I think it’s super intrusive right now,” says Tiffany Zhong, once known as the world’s youngest venture capitalist who now runs Generation Z consulting firm Zebra Intelligence. “I personally find all the IGTV videos super boring and click out within seconds (and the only time I watch them are if I accidentally tapped on the icon when I tried to go to my DMs instead).” Desperately funneling traffic to the feature before there’s enough great content to power relevant recommendations for everyone could prematurely sour users on IGTV. 

Systrom remains optimistic he can iterate his way to success. “What I want to see over the next six to 12 months is a consistent drumbeat of new features that both consumers and creators are asking for, and to look at the retention curve and say ‘are people continuing to watch? Are people continuing to upload?,’” says Systrom. “So far we are seeing that all of those are healthy. But again trying to judge a very new kind of audacious format that’s never really been done before in the first months is going to be really hard.”

Differentiator or deterrent?

The biggest question remains whether IGTV will remain devout to the orthodoxy of vertical-only. Loosening up to accept landscape videos too might nullify a differentiator, but also pipe in a flood of content it could then algorithmically curate to bootstrap IGTV’s library. Reducing the friction by allowing people to easily port content to or from elsewhere might make it feel like less of a gamble for creators deciding where to put their production resources. Instagram itself expanded from square-only to portrait and landscape photos in the feed in 2015.

My advice would be to make the videos horizontal. We’ve all come to understand vertical as ‘short form’ and horizontal as ‘long form,’” says Sayman. “It’s in the act of rotating your phone to landscape that you indicate to yourself and to your mobile device that you will not be context switching for the next few minutes, but rather intend to focus on one piece of content for an extended period of time.” This would at least give users more to watch, even if they ended up viewing landscape videos with their phones in portrait orientation.

This might be best as a last-ditch effort if it can’t get enough content flowing in through other means. But at least Instagram should offer a cropping tool that lets users manually select what vertical slice of a landscape video they want to show as they watch, rather than just grabbing the center or picking one area on the side for the whole clip. This could let creators repurpose landscape videos without things getting awkwardly half cut out of frame.

Former Facebook employee and social investor Josh Elman, who now works at Robinhood, told me he’s confident the company will experiment as much as necessary. “I think Facebook is relentless. They know that a ton of consumers watch video online. And most discover videos through influencers or their friends. (Or Netflix). Even though Watch and IGTV haven’t taken the world by storm yet, I bet Facebook won’t stop until they find the right mix.”

There’s a goldmine waiting if it does. Unlike on Facebook, there’s no Regram feature, you can’t post links, and outside of Explore you just see who you already follow on Instagram. That’s made it great at delivering friendly video and clips from your favorite stars, but leaves a gaping hole where serendipitous viewing could be. IGTV fills that gap. The hours people spend on Facebook watching random videos and their accompanying commercials have lifted the company to over $13 billion in revenue per quarter. Giving a younger audience a bottomless pit of full-screen video could produce the same behavior and profits on Instagram without polluting the feed, which can remain the purest manifestation of visual feed culture. But that’s only if IGTV can get enough content uploaded.

Puffed up by the success of besting its foe Snapchat, Instagram assumed it could take the long-form video world by storm. But the grand entrance at its debutante ball didn’t draw enough attention. Now it needs to take a different tack. Tone down the cross-promo for the moment. Concentrate on teaching creators how to find what works on the format and incentivizing them with cash and traffic. Develop some must-see IGTV and stoke a viral blockbuster. Prove the gravity of extended, personality-driven vertical video. Only then should it redirect traffic there from the feed, Stories, and Explore.

YouTube’s library wasn’t built overnight, and neither will IGTV’s. Facebook’s deep pockets and the success of Instagram’s other features give it the runway necessary to let IGTV take off. With 1 billion monthly users, and 400 million daily Stories users gathered in just two years, there are plenty of eyeballs waiting to be seduced. Systrom concludes, “Everything that is great starts small.” IGTV’s destiny will depend on Instagram’s patience.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Musical.ly investor bets on internet radio with $17M deal for Korea’s Spoon Radio

Musical.ly investor bets on internet radio with M deal for Korea’s Spoon Radio

One of the early backers of Musical.ly, the short video app that was acquired for $1 billion, is making a major bet that internet radio is one of the next big trends in media.

Goodwater Capital, one of a number of backers that won big when ByteDance acquired Musical.ly last year, has joined forces with Korean duo Softbank Ventures and KB Investment to invest $17 million into Korea’s Spoon Radio. The deal is a Series B for parent company Mykoon, which operates Spoon Radio and previously developed an unsuccessful smartphone battery sharing service.

That’s much like Musical.ly, which famously pivoted to a karaoke app after failing to build an education service.

“We decided to create a service, now known as Spoon Radio, that was inspired by what gave us hope when [previous venture] ‘Plugger’ failed to take off. We wanted to create a service that allowed people to truly connect and share their thoughts with others on everyday, real-life issues like the ups and downs of personal relationships, money, and work.

“Unlike Facebook and Instagram where people pretend to have perfect lives, we wanted to create an accessible space for people to find and interact with influencers that they could relate with on a real and personal level through an audio and pseudo-anonymous format,” Mykoon CEO Neil Choi told TechCrunch via email.

Choi started the company in 2013 with fellow co-founders Choi Hyuk jun and Hee-jae Lee, and today Spoon Radio operates much like an internet radio station.

Users can tune in to talk show or music DJs, and leave comments and make requests in real-time. The service also allows users to broadcast themselves and, like live-streaming, broadcasters — or DJs, as they are called — can monetize by receiving stickers and other virtual gifts from their audience.

Spoon Radio claims 2.5 million downloads and “tens of millions” of audio broadcasts uploaded each day. Most of that userbase is in Korea, but the company said it is seeing growth in markets like Japan, Indonesia and Vietnam. In response to that growth — which Choi said is over 1,000 percent year-on-year — this funding will be used to invest in expanding the service in Southeast Asia, the rest of Asia and beyond.

Audio social media isn’t a new concept.

Singapore’s Bubble Motion raised close to $40 million from investors but it was sold in an underwhelming and undisclosed deal in 2014. Reportedly that was after the firm had failed to find a buyer and been ready to liquidate its assets. Altruist, the India-based mobile services company that bought Bubble Motion has done little to the service. Most changes have been bug fixes and the iOS app, for example, has not been updated for nearly a year.

Things have changed in the last four years, with smartphone growth surging across Asia and worldwide. That could mean different fortunes but there are also differences between the two in terms of strategy.

Bubbly was run like a social network — a ‘Twitter for voice’ — whereas Spoon Radio is focused on a consumption-based model that, as the name suggests, mirrors traditional radio.

“This is mobile consumer internet at its best,” Eric Kim, one of Goodwater Capital’s two founding partners, told TechCrunch in an interview. “Spoon Radio is taking an offline experience that exists in classic radio and making it even better.”

Kim admitted that when he first used the service he didn’t see the appeal — he claimed the same was true for Musical.ly — but he said he changed his tune after talking to listeners and using Spoon Radio. He said it reminded him of being a kid growing up in the U.S. and listening to radio shows avidly.

“It’s a really interesting phenomenon taking off in Asia because of smartphone growth and people being keen for content, but not always able to get video content. It was a net new behavior that we’d never seen before… Musical.ly was in the same bracket as net new content for the new generation, we’ve been paying attention to this category broadly,” Kim — whose firm’s other Korean investments include chat app giant Kakao and fintech startup Toss — explained.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Instagram’s CEO on vindication after 2 years of reinventing Stories

Instagram’s CEO on vindication after 2 years of reinventing Stories

“I think the mistake everyone made was to think that Stories was a photography product,” says Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom. “If you look at all these interactivity features we’ve added, we’ve really made Stories something else. We’ve really innovated and made it our own.”

His version of the ephemeral slideshow format turns two years old today. By all accounts, it’s a wild success. Instagram Stories has 400 million daily users, compared to 191 million on Snapchat, which pioneered Stories. While the first year was about getting to parity with augmented reality filters and stickers, the two have since diverged. Instagram chose the viral path.

Interactivity > Photoshop

Snapchat has become more and more like Photoshop, with its magic eraser for removing objects, its green screen-style background changer, scissors for cut-and-pasting things and its fill-in paint bucket. These tools are remarkably powerful for living in a teen-centric consumer app. But many of these artistic concepts are too complicated for day-to-day Snapping. People don’t even think of using them when they could. And while what they produce is beautiful, the slides get tapped past and disappear just like any other photo or video.

Instagram could have become Photoshop. Its early photo-only feed’s editing filters and brightness sliders pointed in that direction. Instead, it chose to focus not on the “visual” but the “communication.” Instagram increasingly treats Stories as a two-way connection between creators and fans, or between friends. It’s not just one-to-many. It’s many-to-one, as well.

Instagram Stories arrived three years after Snapchat Stories, yet it was the first to let you tag friends so they’d get a notification. Now those friends can repost Stories you tag them in, or public posts on which they want to comment. You could finally dunk on other Instagrammers like you do with quote-tweets. It built polls with sliders friends can move to give you feedback about “how ridiculous is my outfit today?” Music stickers let you give a corny joke a corny soundtrack or share the epic song you heard in your head while looking out upon a beautiful landscape. And most recently, it launched the Question sticker so you can query friends through your Story and then share their answers there too. Suddenly, anyone could star in their own “Ask Me Anything.”

None of these Instagram tools require much “skill.” They’re designed not for designers, but for normal people trying to convey how they feel about the world around them. Since we’re social creatures, that perception is largely colored by someone’s friends or audience. Instagram lets you make them part of the Story. And the result is a product that grabs non-users or casual users and pulls them deeper into the Instagram universe, exposing people to the joy of creating something that lasts until tomorrow, not always forever.

Snap has been trying to get more interactive too, adding tagging for instance. It’s also got new multiplayer filter games called Snappables where you play with your face and can then post the footage to your Story. But again, they feel overly involved and therefore less accessible than where Instagram is going.

Stories express Instagram’s wild side

Mimicking Photoshop reinforces the idea that everything has to look polished. That’s the opposite of what Systrom was going for with the launch of Instagram Stories. “There will always be an element in any public broadcast system of trying to show off,” Systrom explains. “But what I see is it moving in the other direction. GIF stickers allow you to be way more informal than you used to be. Type mode means now people are just typing in thoughts rather than actually taking photos. Things like Superzoom with the TV effect or the beats — it’s anything but polished. If anything it’s a joke. Quantitatively people feel comfortable to post way more to Stories than to feed.”

Systrom is about to go on paternity leave, and has been using Stories from friends with kids to collect ideas about what to do with his own. When asked if he thinks Stories produces less of the dangerous envy inherent in the feeds of social media success theater we passively consume, Systrom tells me, “Just personally, it’s inspired me rather than it’s created any sense that I’m missing out.” Of course, that might be related to the fact that his life of attending the Met Gala and bicycling through Europe doesn’t leave much to envy.

AR filters have become table stakes for Stories. On the left, Instagram. On the right, Snapchat.

The sense of comfort powered by Instagram purposefully pushing Stories to diverge from its classy feed has contributed to its explosion in popularity — not just for Stories but Instagram as a whole. It now has more than 1 billion users, in part driven by it introducing Stories to developing countries Snapchat never penetrated.

“Remember how at the launch of Stories, I said it was a format and we want to make it original? And there was a bunch of criticism around us adopting this format?” Systrom chides, knowing a fair amount of that criticism came from me. “My response was this is a format and we’re going to innovate and make it our own. The whole idea there is to make it not just about photography but about expression. It’s a canvas for you to express yourself.”

At the time, Systrom also told me, regarding copying Snapchat, “They deserve all the credit.” But Stories has since emerged as how Instagram expressed itself too, allowing it to break away from the staid perfection of the feed, becoming something much more goofy.

That success has emboldened it to try something truly new. IGTV lets people share longer-form vertical videos up to an hour in length in an age when vertical is for 15-second Stories and lengthy clips only exist in landscape mode.

“What I’m most proud of is that Instagram took a stand and tried a brand new thing that is frankly hard to pull off. Full-screen vertical video that’s mobile only. That doesn’t exist anywhere else,” Systrom beams. “So the question is can we pull that off, and the early signs are really good.” We’ll see if that’s born out in the numbers. Stories benefited from early adopters immediately knowing what to post thanks to Snapchat. The price IGTV pays for originality is a steep learning curve.

Swallowing his pride saved Facebook

Last week when Facebook announced its revenue was decelerating as users shifted attention from its lucrative News Feed to Stories where it’s still educating advertisers, its share price tanked, deleting $120 billion in market cap. Yet imagine how much further it would have dropped if Systrom hadn’t been willing to put his pride aside, take Snapchat Stories, and give it the Insta spin? Instead, it led the way to Facebook now having more than 1.1 billion (duplicated) daily Stories users across its apps. That poises Facebook and Instagram to earn a ton off of Stories.

“There was a long time that desktop advertising worked really, really well, but we knew the future was mobile and we’d have to go there. There was some short-term pain. Everyone was worried that we wouldn’t monetize as well,” Systrom remembers. “We believe the future is the combination of feed and Stories, and it just takes time for Stories to get to the same level or even exceed feed.”

So does he feel vindicated in that once-derided decision to think of Stories not as Evan Spiegel’s property but a medium meant for everyone? “I don’t wake up everyday trying to feel vindicated. I wake up everyday trying to make sure our billion users have amazing stuff to use. I just feel lucky that they love what we produce,” Systrom says with a laugh. “I don’t know if that fits your definition of vindicated.”

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Facebook and Instagram now show how many minutes you use them

Facebook and Instagram now show how many minutes you use them

It’s passive zombie feed scrolling, not active communication with friends that hurts our health, according to studies Facebook has been pointing to for the last seven months. Yet it’s treating all our social networking the same with today’s launch of its digital wellbeing screentime management dashboards for Facebook and Instagram in the US before rolling them out to everyone in the coming weeks.

Giving users a raw count of the minutes you’ve spent in their apps each day in the last week plus your average across the week is a good start to making users more mindful. But by burying them largely out of sight, giving them no real way to compel less usage, and not distinguishing between passive and active behavior, they seem destined to be ignored while missing the point the company itself stresses.

TechCrunch scooped the designs of the two separate but identical Instagram and Facebook tools over the past few months thanks to screenshots generated from the apps’ code by Jane Manchun Wong. What’s launching today is what we saw, with the dashboards located in Facebook’s “Settings” -> “Your Time On Facebook” and Instagram’s “Settings” -> “Your Activity”.

Unfortunately you’ll only see info about your usage on the mobile app on that device. It won’t include your minutes spent on desktop, where these features don’t appear, what you do on your tablet, or info about your usage across the Facebook family of apps. There’s no benchmarks about how long other people your age or in your country spend in the apps. All of these would make nice improvements to the dashboards.

Beyond the daily and average minute counts, you can set a daily “limit” in minutes after which either app will send you a reminder that you’ve crossed your self-imposed threshold. But they won’t stop you from browsing and liking, or force you to dig into the settings menu to extend your limit. You’ll need the willpower to cut yourself off. The tools also let you mute push notifications (you’ll still see in-app alerts), but only for as much as 8 hours. If you want anything more permanent, you’ll have to dig into their separate push notification options menu or your phone’s settings.

The announcement follows Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom’s comments about our original scoop, where he tweeted “It’s true . . . We’re building tools that will help the IG community know more about the time they spend on Instagram – any time should be positive and intentional . . . Understanding how time online impacts people is important, and it’s the responsibility of all companies to be honest about this. We want to be part of the solution. I take that responsibility seriously.”

Users got their first taste of Instagram trying to curtail overuse with its “You’re All Caught Up” notices that show when you’ve seen all your feed posts from the past two days. Both apps will now provide callouts to users teaching them about the new activity monitoring tools. Facebook says it has no plans to use whether you open the tools or set daily limits to target ads. It will track how people use the tools to tweak the designs, but it sounds like that’s more about what time increments to show in the Daily Reminder and Mute Notifications options than drastic strengthenings of their muscle. Facebook will quietly keep a tiny fraction of users from getting the features to measure if the launch impacts behavior.

“It’s really important for people who use Instagram and Facebook that the time they spend with us is time well spent” Ameet Ranadive, Instagram’s Product Director of Well-Being, told reporters on a conference call. “There may be some tradeoff with other metrics for the company and that’s a tradeoff we’re willing to live with, because in the longer term we think this is important to the community and we’re willing to invest in it.”

Facebook Needs Stronger Screen Time Tools That Deter Passive Browsing

Facebook has already felt some of the brunt of that tradeoff. It’s been trying to improve digital wellbeing by showing fewer low quality viral videos and clickbait news stories, and more from your friends since a big algorithm change in January. That’s contributed to a flatlining of its growth in North America, and even a temporary drop of 700,000 users early this year while it also lost 1 million users in Europe this past quarter. That led to Facebook’s slowest user growth rates in history, triggering a 20 percent, $120 billion market cap drop in its share price. “The changes to the News Feed back in January were one step . . . giving people a sense of their time so they’re more mindful of it is the second step” says Ranadive.

The fact that Facebook is willing to put its finances on the line for digital wellbeing is a great step. It’s a smart long-term business decision too. If we feel good about our overall usage, we won’t ditch the apps entirely and could keep seeing their ads for another decade. But it’s likely to be changes to the Facebook and Instagram feeds that prioritize content you’ll comment on rather than look at and silently scroll past that will contribute more to healthy social networking than today’s toothless tools.

While iOS 12’s Screen Time and Android’s new Digital Wellbeing features both count your minutes on different apps too, they offer more drastic ways to enforce your own good intentions. iOS will deliver a weekly usage report to remind you the features exist. Android’s is best-in-class because it grays out an app’s icon and requires you to open your settings to unlock an app after you exceed your daily limit.

iOS Screen Time (left) and Android Digital Wellbeing (right)

To live up to the responsibility Systrom promised, Facebook and Instagram will have to do more to actually keep us mindful of the time we spend in their apps and help us help ourselves. Let us actually lock ourselves out of the apps, turn them grayscale, fade their app icons, or persistently show our minute count onscreen once we pass our limit. Anything to make being healthy on their apps something you can’t just ignore like any other push notification.

Or follow the research and have the dashboards actually divide our sharing, commenting, and messaging time from our feed scrolling, Stories tapping, video watching, and photo stalking. The whole point is that social networking isn’t all bad, but there are behaviors that hurt. Most of us aren’t going to give up Facebook and Instagram. Even just trying to spend less time on them is difficult. But by guiding us towards the activities that interconnect us rather than isolate us, Facebook could get us to shift our time in the right direction.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

IGTV carousel funnels Instagram feed traffic to buried videos

IGTV carousel funnels Instagram feed traffic to buried videos

IGTV didn’t get the benefit of being splayed out atop Instagram like Stories did. Instead, the long-form video hub is a bit more distant, located in a standalone app as well as behind a static orange button on the main app’s homescreen. That means users can go right on tapping and scrolling through Instagram without coming across IGTV’s longer videos, which range up to an hour.

IGTV has only been out a month and Instagram’s feed has been around for eight years, so it makes sense to try to push views from the app’s core feature to this new one. That’s why Instagram is experimenting with a way to show off a carousel of IGTV videos in its main app’s feed. Spotted by app researcher Jane Manchun Wong, we asked Instagram about it. A spokesperson confirmed it was testing the carousel, and provided this statement: “We’re always testing new and different ways to surface interesting content for people on Instagram.”

The IGTV carousel appears below the Stories tray, pushing down the traditional feed so less of the first photo or video immediately appears on the screen. It shows a preview tile of the IGTV videos with overlaid titles and lengths, plus the creator’s name and profile pic. They look similar to Snapchat’s Discover page and the carousels of “Recent Stories” Instagram began running mid-feed last year.

By teasing IGTV’s actual content rather than just slapping a logo button atop the screen, Instagram might get more users to check out the feature and standalone app. More views could in turn lure more content from creators. If they don’t see IGTV’s audience as significant, they won’t go to the trouble of shooting long-form vertical video for the platform or editing their landscape Instagram feed and YouTube videos for the format.

Given yesterday’s bloodbath of a Facebook earnings report, there’s more pressure than ever on Instagram to pull its weight. Facebook sunk to its slowest growth rate in history, losing users in Europe and going flat in North America. In fact, it revealed a new “family of apps audience” metric of 2.5 billion people using at least one of Facebook’s apps (Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp or Messenger) to distract from the bad news. That stat will let Facebook hide how younger users are abandoning it in favor of Instagram.

The big concern is that vertical videos and Stories are the future of content creation and consumption, but Facebook hasn’t figured out how to monetize these formats as well as its tried-and-true News Feed ads. Concerns about eyeballs shifting away from feeds faster than ad dollars contributed to Facebook’s 20 percent share price drop erasing $120 billion in market cap.

But Facebook’s saving grace, and the reason the stock might bounce back, is that it ruthlessly cloned Snapchat Stories for two years before it was obvious that it had to and now has 1.1 billion daily Stories users across its apps. If Facebook said Stories were the future but it was way behind, it could have been beaten down even worse by Wall Street.

Still, short-form Stories are best paired with short-form Stories ads. If it can make IGTV a hit, it could run longer or unskippable ads that earn it more. So you can expect to see more and more of IGTV in the Instagram feed.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Instagram is building non-SMS 2-factor auth to thwart SIM hackers

Instagram is building non-SMS 2-factor auth to thwart SIM hackers

Hackers can steal your phone number by reassigning it to a different SIM card, use it to reset your passwords, steal your Instagram and other accounts and sell them for bitcoin. As detailed in a harrowing Motherboard article today, Instagram accounts are especially vulnerable because the app only offers two-factor authentication through SMS that delivers a password reset or login code via text message.

But now Instagram has confirmed to TechCrunch that it’s building a non-SMS two-factor authentication system that works with security apps like Google Authenticator or Duo. They generate a special code that you need to log in that can’t be generated on a different phone in case your number is ported to a hacker’s SIM card.

Buried in the Instagram Android app’s APK code is a prototype of the upgraded 2FA feature, discovered by frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong. Her work has led to confirmed TechCrunch scoops on Instagram Video Calling, Usage Insights, soundtracks for Stories and more.

When presented with the screenshots, an Instagram spokesperson told TechCrunch that yes, it is working on the non-SMS 2FA feature, saying, “We’re continuing to improve the security of Instagram accounts, including strengthening 2-factor authentication.”

Instagram actually lacked any two-factor protection until 2016 when it already had 400 million users. In November 2015, I wrote a story titled “Seriously. Instagram Needs Two-Factor Authentication.” A friend and star Instagram stop-motion animation creator Rachel Ryle had been hacked, costing a lucrative sponsorship deal. The company listened. Three months later, the app began rolling out basic SMS-based 2FA.

But since then, SIM porting has become a much more common problem. Hackers typically call a mobile carrier and use social engineering tactics to convince them they’re you, or bribe an employee to help, and then change your number to a SIM card they control. Whether they’re hoping to steal intimate photos, empty cryptocurrency wallets or sell desirable social media handles like @t or @Rainbow as Motherboard reported, there are plenty of incentives to try a SIM porting attack. This article outlines how you can take steps to protect your phone number.

Hopefully as knowledge of this hacking technique becomes more well-known, more apps will introduce non-SMS 2FA, mobile providers will make it tougher to port numbers and users will take more steps to safeguard their accounts. As our identities and assets increasingly go digital, it’s pin codes and authenticator apps, not just deadbolts and home security systems, that must become a part of our everyday lives.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Instagram’s Do Not Disturb and ‘Caught Up’ deter overgramming

Instagram’s Do Not Disturb and ‘Caught Up’ deter overgramming

Instagram is turning the Time Well Spent philosophy into features to help users avoid endless scrolling and distraction by notifications. Today, Instagram is rolling out its “You’re All Caught Up – You’ve seen all new posts from the past 2 days” warning in the feed, which TechCrunch broke the news about in May. Past that notice will only be posts that iOS and Android users have already seen or that were posted more than 48 hours ago. This will help Instagram’s 1 billion monthly users stop fiendishly scrolling in search of new posts scattered by the algorithm. While sorting the feed has made it much better at displaying the most interesting posts, it also can make people worry they’ve missed something. This warning should give them peace of mind.

Meanwhile, TechCrunch has learned that both Facebook and Instagram are prototyping Do Not Disturb features that let users shut off notifications from the apps for 30 minutes, one hour, two hours, eight hours, one day or until they’re turned back on manually. WhatsApp Beta and Matt Navarra spotted the Instagram and Facebook Do Not Disturb features. Facebook is also considering allowing users to turn off sound or vibration on its notifications. Both apps have these Do Not Disturb features buried in their code and may have begun testing them.

Both Facebook and Instagram declined to comment on building new Do Not Disturb features. “You’re All Caught Up” could prevent extra scrolling that doesn’t provide much value that could make Instagram show up atop your list of biggest time sinks. And an in-app Do Not Disturb mode with multiple temporary options could keep you from permanently disabling Instagram or Facebook.

 

We referenced Instagram Do Not Disturb in our scoop about Instagram building a Usage Insights dashboard detailing how much time you spent on the app. Both Facebook and Instagram are preparing these screens that show you how much time you’ve spent on their apps per day, in average over the past week and that let you set a daily limit after which you’ll get a notification reminding you to look up from your screen.

When we first reported on Usage Insights, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom tweeted a link to the article, confirming that Instagram was getting behind the Time Well Spent movement. “It’s true . . . We’re building tools that will help the IG community know more about the time they spend on Instagram – any time should be positive and intentional . . . Understanding how time online impacts people is important, and it’s the responsibility of all companies to be honest about this. We want to be part of the solution. I take that responsibility seriously.”

Now we’re seeing this perspective manifest itself in Instagram’s product. Instagram’s interest conveniently comes just as Apple and Google are releasing screen time and digital well-being tools as part of the next versions of their mobile operating systems. These will show you which apps you’re spending the most time in, and set limits on their use. By self-policing now, Instagram and Facebook could avoid being outed by iOS and Android as the enemies of your attention.

In other recent Instagram news:

Source: Mobile – Techcruch