Tumblr’s subscription product Post+ enters open beta after much scrutiny from users

Tumblr is entering open beta for its subscription product Post+, meaning that all U.S. users can now try out the monetization feature. The product launched in closed beta in July, allowing users hand-picked by Tumblr to place some of their content behind a monthly paywall. This marked the first time that Tumblr allowed bloggers to monetize their content directly on the platform, but the feature was met with backlash from users who worried about how the feature would change the site’s culture.

Now, Tumblr has responded to user feedback by removing the blue Post+ badge that appeared next to the names of users who enabled the feature. Tumblr differentiates itself from other sites by not revealing users’ follower and following counts, so users were concerned that this distinction, which looked like a Twitter verification badge, contradicted that key aspect of Tumblr culture. Tumblr is also adding a $1.99/month price point in open beta — before, subscriber-only content could be priced at $3.99, $5.99, and $9.99. Tumblr will only take 5% of creator profits — comparatively, Patreon takes between 5% and 12% depending on the tier. Payments will be processed through Stripe.

Still, Tumblr users were dismayed by the way Post+ was rolled out. Many bloggers were concerned that in the closed beta, Post+ users didn’t have the ability to block paying subscribers without first contacting support — this could potentially expose users to harassment without the tools to manage it. Tumblr corrected that mistake in the open beta, so now, users can block subscribers themselves. Creators can also put existing content behind the Post+ paywall.

Some users upset with the Post+ rollout staged a protest, which — with over 98,000 notes — is the first thing that shows up when you search “post plus” on Tumblr. Many people on Tumblr have amassed followings by posting iterative fan content, like fanfiction. Tumblr cited fanfiction as an example of the kind of content that creators can put behind a paywall, but users remain concerned that they will be subject to legal action if they were to do so. Archive of Our Own, a major fanfiction site, prohibits its users from linking to sites like Patreon or Ko-Fi, since some intellectual property rights holders can be litigious about the monetization of fanfiction. While it’s considered fair use to make fan content, profiting from it can be considered a violation of copyright.

When Tumblr banned pornographic content in 2018, monthly page views decreased by 29% — to date, the blogging platform hasn’t regained that traffic. After being sold to Automattic in 2019, Tumblr has committed to capturing the attention of Gen Z audiences, who the platform says make up about 48% of its users. Tumblr says it’s catering Post+ to serve Gen Z audiences, but the results of the open beta will begin to reveal whether or not this is what users on the platform want.

#apps, #automattic, #blogging, #computing, #monetization, #patreon, #paywall, #post, #social-media, #tumblr, #united-states, #website, #wordpress, #world-wide-web

This Week in Apps: In-app events hit the App Store, TikTok tries Stories, Apple reveals new child safety plan

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place, with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

Top Stories

Apple to scan for CSAM imagery

Apple announced a major initiative to scan devices for CSAM imagery. The company on Thursday announced a new set of features, arriving later this year, that will detect child sexual abuse material (CSAM) in its cloud and report it to law enforcement. Companies like Dropbox, Google and Microsoft already scan for CSAM in their cloud services, but Apple had allowed users to encrypt their data before it reached iCloud. Now, Apple’s new technology, NeuralHash, will run on users’ devices, tatformso detect when a users upload known CSAM imagery — without having to first decrypt the images. It even can detect the imagery if it’s been cropped or edited in an attempt to avoid detection.

Meanwhile, on iPhone and iPad, the company will roll out protections to Messages app users that will filter images and alert children and parents if sexually explicit photos are sent to or from a child’s account. Children will not be shown the images but will instead see a grayed-out image instead. If they try to view the image anyway through the link, they’ll be shown interruptive screens that explain why the material may be harmful and are warned that their parents will be notified.

Some privacy advocates pushed back at the idea of such a system, believing it could expand to end-to-end encrypted photos, lead to false positives, or set the stage for more on-device government surveillance in the future. But many cryptology experts believe the system Apple developed provides a good balance between privacy and utility, and have offered their endorsement of the technology. In addition, Apple said reports are manually reviewed before being sent to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

The changes may also benefit iOS developers who deal in user photos and uploads, as predators will no longer store CSAM imagery on iOS devices in the first place, given the new risk of detection.

In-App Events appear on the App Store

Image Credits: Apple

Though not yet publicly available to all users, those testing the new iOS 15 mobile operating system got their first glimpse of a new App Store discovery feature this week: “in-app events.” First announced at this year’s WWDC, the feature will allow developers and Apple editors alike to showcase directly on the App Store upcoming events taking place inside apps.

The events can appear on the App Store homepage, on the app’s product pages or can be discovered through personalized recommendations and search. In some cases, editors will curate events to feature on the App Store. But developers will also be provided tools to submit their own in-app events. TikTok’s “Summer Camp” for creators was one of the first in-app events to be featured, where it received a top spot on the iPadOS 15 App Store.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

Apple expands support for student IDs on iPhone and Apple Watch ahead of the fall semester. Tens of thousands more U.S. and Canadian colleges will now support mobile student IDs in the Apple Wallet app, including Auburn University, Northern Arizona University, University of Maine, New Mexico State University and others.

Apple was accused of promoting scam apps in the App Store’s featured section. The company’s failure to properly police its store is one thing, but to curate an editorial list that actually includes the scams is quite another. One of the games rounded up under “Slime Relaxations,” an already iffy category to say the least, was a subscription-based slime simulator that locked users into a $13 AUD per week subscription for its slime simulator. One of the apps on the curated list didn’t even function, implying that Apple’s editors hadn’t even tested the apps they recommend.

Tax changes hit the App Store. Apple announced tax and price changes for apps and IAPs in South Africa, the U.K. and all territories using the Euro currency, all of which will see decreases. Increases will occur in Georgia and Tajikistan, due to new tax changes. Proceeds on the App Store in Italy will be increased to reflect a change to the Digital Services Tax effective rate.

Game Center changes, too. Apple said that on August 4, a new certificate for server-based Game Center verification will be available via the publicKeyUrl.

Fintech

Robinhood stock jumped more than 24% to $46.80 on Tuesday after initially falling 8% on its first day of trading last week, after which it had continued to trade below its opening price of $38.

Square’s Cash app nearly doubled its gross profit to $546 million in Q2, but also reported a $45 million impairment loss on its bitcoin holdings.

Coinbase’s app now lets you buy your cryptocurrency using Apple Pay. The company previously made its Coinbase Card compatible with Apple Pay in June.

Social

An anonymous app called Sendit, which relies on Snap Kit to function, is climbing the charts of the U.S. App Store after Snap suspended similar apps, YOLO and LMK. Snap was sued by the parent of child who was bullied through those apps, which led to his suicide. Sendit also allows for anonymity, and reviews compare it to YOLO. But some reviews also complained about bullying. This isn’t the first time Snap has been involved in a lawsuit related to a young person’s death related to its app. The company was also sued for its irresponsible “speed filter” that critics said encouraged unsafe driving. Three young men died using the filter, which captured them doing 123 mph.

TikTok is testing Stories. As Twitter’s own Stories integrations, Fleets, shuts down, TikTok confirmed it’s testing its own Stories product. The TikTok Stories appear in a left-hand sidebar and allow users to post ephemeral images or video that disappear in 24 hours. Users can also comment on Stories, which are public to their mutual friends and the creator. Stories on TikTok may make more sense than they did on Twitter, as TikTok is already known as a creative platform and it gives the app a more familiar place to integrate its effects toolset and, eventually, advertisements.

Facebook has again re-arranged its privacy settings. The company continually moves around where its privacy features are located, ostensibly to make them easier to find. But users then have to re-learn where to go to find the tools they need, after they had finally memorized the location. This time, the settings have been grouped into six top-level categories, but “privacy” settings have been unbundled from one location to be scattered among the other categories.

A VICE report details ban-as-a-service operations that allow anyone to harass or censor online creators on Instagram. Assuming you can find it, one operation charged $60 per ban, the listing says.

TikTok merged personal accounts with creator accounts. The change means now all non-business accounts on TikTok will have access to the creator tools under Settings, including Analytics, Creator Portal, Promote and Q&A. TikTok shared the news directly with subscribers of its TikTok Creators newsletter in August, and all users will get a push notification alerting them to the change, the company told us.

Discord now lets users customize their profile on its apps. The company added new features to its iOS and Android apps that let you add a description, links and emojis and select a profile color. Paid subscribers can also choose an image or GIF as their banner.

Twitter Spaces added a co-hosting option that allows up to two co-hosts to be added to the live audio chat rooms. Now Spaces can have one main host, two co-hosts and up to 10 speakers. Co-hosts have all the moderation abilities as hosts, but can’t add or remove others as co-hosts.

Messaging

Tencent reopened new user sign-ups for its WeChat messaging app, after having suspended registrations last week for unspecified “technical upgrades.” The company, like many other Chinese tech giants, had to address new regulations from Beijing impacting the tech industry. New rules address how companies handle user data collection and storage, antitrust behavior and other checks on capitalist “excess.” The gaming industry is now worried it’s next to be impacted, with regulations that would restrict gaming for minors to fight addiction.

WhatsApp is adding a new feature that will allow users to send photos and videos that disappear after a single viewing. The Snapchat-inspired feature, however, doesn’t alert you if the other person takes a screenshot — as Snap’s app does. So it may not be ideal for sharing your most sensitive content.

Telegram’s update expands group video calls to support up to 1,000 viewers. It also announced video messages can be recorded in higher quality and can be expanded, regular videos can be watched at 0.5 or 2x speed, screen sharing with sound is available for all video calls, including 1-on-1 calls, and more.

Streaming & Entertainment

American Airlines added free access to TikTok aboard its Viasat-equipped aircraft. Passengers will be able to watch the app’s videos for up to 30 minutes for free and can even download the app if it’s not already installed. After the free time, they can opt to pay for Wi-Fi to keep watching. Considering how easy it is to fall into multi-hour TikTok viewing sessions without knowing it, the addition of the addictive app could make long plane rides feel shorter. Or at least less painful.

Chinese TikTok rival Kuaishou saw stocks fall by more than 15% in Hong Kong, the most since its February IPO. The company is another victim of an ongoing market selloff triggered by increasing investor uncertainty related to China’s recent crackdown on tech companies. Beijing’s campaign to rein in tech has also impacted Tencent, Alibaba, Jack Ma’s Ant Group, food delivery company Meituan and ride-hailing company Didi. Also related, Kuaishou shut down its controversial app Zynn, which had been paying users to watch its short-form videos, including those stolen from other apps.

Twitch overtook YouTube in consumer spending per user in April 2021, and now sees $6.20 per download as of June compared with YouTube’s $5.60, Sensor Tower found.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Spotify confirmed tests of a new ad-supported tier called Spotify Plus, which is only $0.99 per month and offers unlimited skips (like free users get on the desktop) and the ability to play the songs you want, instead of only being forced to use shuffle mode.

The company also noted in a forum posting that it’s no longer working on AirPlay2 support, due to “audio driver compatibility” issues.

Mark Cuban-backed audio app Fireside asked its users to invest in the company via an email sent to creators which didn’t share deal terms. The app has yet to launch.

YouTube kicks off its $100 million Shorts Fund aimed at taking on TikTok by providing creators with cash incentives for top videos. Creators will get bonuses of $100 to $10,000 based on their videos’ performance.

Dating

Match Group announced during its Q2 earnings it plans to add to several of the company’s brands over the next 12 to 24 months audio and video chat, including group live video, and other livestreaming technologies. The developments will be powered by innovations from Hyperconnect, the social networking company that this year became Match’s biggest acquisition to date when it bought the Korean app maker for a sizable $1.73 billion. Since then, Match was spotted testing group live video on Tinder, but says that particular product is not launching in the near-term. At least two brands will see Hyperconnect-powered integrations in 2021.

Photos

The Photo & Video category on U.S. app stores saw strong growth in the first half of the year, a Sensor Tower report found. Consumer spend among the top 100 apps grew 34% YoY to $457 million in Q2 2021, with the majority of the revenue (83%) taking place on iOS.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Gaming

Epic Games revealed the host of its in-app Rift Tour event is Ariana Grande, in the event that runs August 6-8.

Pokémon GO influencers threatened to boycott the game after Niantic removed the COVID safety measures that had allowed people to more easily play while social distancing. Niantic’s move seemed ill-timed, given the Delta variant is causing a new wave of COVID cases globally.

Health & Fitness

Apple kicked out an app called Unjected from the App Store. The new social app billed itself as a community for the unvaccinated, allowing like-minded users to connect for dating and friendships. Apple said the app violated its policies for COVID-19 content.

Google Pay expanded support for vaccine cards. In Australia, Google’s payments app now allows users to add their COVID-19 digital certification to their device for easy access. The option is available through Google’s newly updated Passes API which lets government agencies distribute digital versions of vaccine cards.

COVID Tech Connect, a U.S. nonprofit initially dedicated to collecting devices like phones and tablets for COVID ICU patients, has now launched its own app. The app, TeleHome, is a device-agnostic, HIPAA-compliant way for patients to place a video call for free at a time when the Delta variant is again filling ICU wards, this time with the unvaccinated — a condition that sometimes overlaps with being low-income. Some among the working poor have been hesitant to get the shot because they can’t miss a day of work, and are worried about side effects. Which is why the Biden administration offered a tax credit to SMBs who offered paid time off to staff to get vaccinated and recover.

Popular journaling app Day One, which was recently acquired by WordPress.com owner Automattic, rolled out a new “Concealed Journals” feature that lets users hide content from others’ viewing. By tapping the eye icon, the content can be easily concealed on a journal by journal basis, which can be useful for those who write to their journal in public, like coffee shops or public transportation.

Edtech

Recently IPO’d language learning app Duolingo is developing a math app for kids. The company says it’s still “very early” in the development process, but will announce more details at its annual conference, Duocon, later this month.

Educational publisher Pearson launched an app that offers U.S. students access to its 1,500 titles for a monthly subscription of $14.99. the Pearson+ mobile app (ack, another +), also offers the option of paying $9.99 per month for access to a single textbook for a minimum of four months.

News & Reading

Quora jumps into the subscription economy. Still not profitable from ads alone, Quora announced two new products that allow its expert creators to monetize their content on its service. With Quora+ ($5/mo or $50/yr), subscribers can pay for any content that a creator paywalls. Creators can choose to enable a adaptive paywall that will use an algorithm to determine when to show the paywall. Another product, Spaces, lets creators write paywalled publications on Quora, similar to Substack. But only a 5% cut goes to Quora, instead of 10% on Substack.

Utilities

Google Maps on iOS added a new live location-sharing feature for iMessage users, allowing them to more easily show your ETA with friends and even how much battery life you have left. The feature competes with iMessage’s built-in location-sharing feature, and offers location sharing of 1 hour up to 3 days. The app also gained a dark mode.

Security & Privacy

Controversial crime app Citizen launched a $20 per month “Protect” service that includes live agent support (who can refer calls to 911 if need be). The agents can gather your precise location, alert your designated emergency contacts, help you navigate to a safe location and monitor the situation until you feel safe. The system of live agent support is similar to in-car or in-home security and safety systems, like those from ADT or OnStar, but works with users out in the real world. The controversial part, however, is the company behind the product: Citizen has been making headlines for launching private security fleets outside law enforcement, and recently offered a reward in a manhunt for an innocent person based on unsubstantiated tips.

Funding and M&A

? Square announced its acquisition of the “buy now, pay later” giant AfterPay in a $29 billion deal that values the Australian firm at more than 30% higher than the stock’s last closing price of AUS$96.66. AfterPay has served over 16 million customers and nearly 100,000 merchants globally, to date, and comes at a time when the BNPL space is heating up. Apple has also gotten into the market recently with an Affirm partnership in Canada.

? Gaming giant Zynga acquired Chinese game developer StarLark, the team behind the mobile golf game Golf Rival, from Betta Games for $525 million in both cash and stock. Golf Rival is the second-largest mobile golf game behind Playdemic’s Golf Clash, and EA is in the process of buying that studio for $1.4 billion.

?  U.K.-based Humanity raised an additional $2.5 million for its app that claims to help slow down aging, bringing the total raise to date to $5 million. Backers include Calm’s co-founders, MyFitness Pal’s co-founder and others in the health space. The app works by benchmarking health advice against real-world data, to help users put better health practices into action.

? YELA, a Cameo-like app for the Middle East and South Asia, raised $2 million led by U.S. investors that include Tinder co-founder Justin Mateen and Sean Rad, general partner of RAD Fund. The app is focusing on signing celebrities in the regions it serves, where smartphone penetration is high and over 6% of the population is under 35.

? London-based health and wellness app maker Palta raised a $100 million Series B led by VNV Global. The company’s products include Flo.Health, Simple Fasting, Zing Fitness Coach and others, which reach a combined 2.4 million active, paid subscribers. The funds will be used to create more mobile subscription products.

? Emoji database and Wikipedia-like site Emojipedia was acquired by Zedge, the makers of a phone personalization app offering wallpapers, ringtones and more to 35 million MAUs. Deal terms weren’t disclosed. Emojipedia says the deal provides it with more stability and the opportunity for future growth. For Zedge, the deal provides?….um, a popular web resource it thinks it can better monetize, we suspect.

? Mental health app Revery raised $2 million led by Sequoia Capital India’s Surge program for its app that combines cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia with mobile gaming concepts. The company will focus on other mental health issues in the future.

? London-based Nigerian-operating fintech startup Kuda raised a $55 million Series B, valuing its mobile-first challenger bank at $500 million. The inside round was co-led by Valar Ventures and Target Global.

? Vietnamese payments provider VNLife raised $250 million in a round led by U.S.-based General Atlantic and Dragoneer Investment Group. PayPal Ventures and others also participated. The round values the business at over $1 billion.

Downloads

Mastodon for iPhone

Fans of decentralized social media efforts now have a new app. The nonprofit behind the open source decentralized social network Mastodon released an official iPhone app, aimed at making the network more accessible to newcomers. The app allows you to find and follow people and topics; post text, images, GIFs, polls, and videos; and get notified of new replies and reblogs, much like Twitter.

Xingtu

@_666eveITS SO COOL FRFR do u guys want a tutorial? #fypシ #醒图 #醒图app♬ original sound – Ian Asher

TikTok users are teaching each other how to switch over to the Chinese App Store in order to get ahold of the Xingtu app for iOS. (An Android version is also available.) The app offers advanced editing tools that let users edit their face and body, like FaceTune, apply makeup, add filters and more. While image-editing apps can be controversial for how they can impact body acceptance, Xingtu offers a variety of artistic filters which is what’s primarily driving the demand. It’s interesting to see the lengths people will go to just to get a few new filters for their photos — perhaps making a case for Instagram to finally update its Post filters instead of pretending no one cares about their static photos anymore.

Tweets

Facebook still dominating top charts, but not the No. 1 spot:  

Not cool, Apple: 

This user acquisition strategy: 

Maybe Stories don’t work everywhere: 

#adt, #afterpay, #alibaba, #android, #ant-group, #api, #app-maker, #app-store, #apple, #apps, #australia, #automattic, #beijing, #biden-administration, #canada, #china, #cloud-services, #coinbase, #coinbase-card, #computing, #day-one, #dragoneer-investment-group, #driver, #dropbox, #duolingo, #emojipedia, #eta, #facebook, #fintech-startup, #food-delivery, #game-center, #game-developer, #general-atlantic, #general-partner, #georgia, #gif, #google, #hyperconnect, #instagram, #ios, #ios-devices, #ipad, #iphone, #italy, #itunes, #jam-fund, #justin-mateen, #kuaishou, #kuda, #law-enforcement, #london, #ma, #maine, #meituan, #microsoft, #middle-east, #mobile, #mobile-app, #mobile-applications, #mobile-devices, #online-creators, #onstar, #operating-system, #palta, #playdemic, #quora, #sean-rad, #sensor-tower, #sequoia-capital, #smartphone, #snap, #snapchat, #social-network, #social-networking, #software, #south-africa, #south-asia, #spotify, #stories, #target-global, #tc, #this-week-in-apps, #tiktok, #twitch, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #valar-ventures, #viasat, #vnv-global, #wi-fi, #wordpress-com, #zedge, #zynga

Trouble in fandom paradise: Tumblr users lash out against its beta subscription feature

The Tumblr community often refers to itself as the Wild West of the internet, and they’re not wrong. A text post with over 70,000 notes puts it best: “Tumblr is my favorite social media site because this place is literally uninhabitable for celebrities. No verification system, no algorithm that boosts their posts, it’s a completely lawless wasteland for them.”

But like any social media company, Tumblr needs to keep itself afloat in order for its users to continue sharing esoteric fan art, incomprehensible shitposts, and overly personal diary entries hidden beneath a “Read More” button. Yesterday, Tumblr announced the limited beta test of its Post+ subscription feature, which — if all goes as planned — will eventually let Tumblr users post paywalled content to subscribers that pay them $3.99, $5.99 or $9.99 per month.

Image Credits: Tumblr

Tumblr is far from the first social media platform to seek revenue this way — Twitter is rolling out Super Follows and a Tip Jar feature, and this week, YouTube announced a tipping feature too. Even Instagram is working on its own version of Twitter’s Super Follows that would let users create “exclusive stories.” But on a website with a community that prides itself as being a “completely lawless wasteland” for anyone with a platform (save for Wil Wheaton and Neil Gaiman, who are simply just vibing), the move toward paywalled content was not welcomed with open arms.

Monetization is a double-edged sword. It’s not considered uncool for a Tumblr artist to link to a third-party Patreon or Ko-fi site on their blog, where their most enthusiastic followers can access paywalled content or send them tips. So Post+ seems like an obvious way for Tumblr to generate revenue — instead of directing followers to other websites, they could build a way for fans to support creators on their own platform while taking a 5% cut. This isn’t unreasonable, considering that Twitter will take 3% revenue from its new monetization tools, while video-centric platforms like YouTube and Twitch take 30% and 50%, respectively. But Tumblr isn’t Twitter, or YouTube, or Twitch. Unlike other platforms, Tumblr doesn’t allow you to see other people’s follower counts, and no accounts are verified. It’s not as easy to tell whether the person behind a popular post has 100 followers or 100,000 followers, and the users prefer it that way. But Post+ changes that, giving bloggers an icon next to their username that resembles a Twitter blue check.

A Tumblr Post+ creator profile

Tumblr rolled out Post+ this week to a select group of hand-picked creators, including Kaijuno, a writer and astrophysicist. The platform announced Post+ on a new blog specific to this product, rather than its established staff blog, which users know to check for big announcements. So, as the most public user who was granted access, the 24-year-old blogger was the target of violent backlash from angry Tumblrites who didn’t want to see their favorite social media site turn into a hypercapitalist hellscape. When Kaijuno received death threats for beta testing Post+, Tumblr’s staff intervened and condemned harassment against Post+ users.

“We want to hear about what you like, what you love, and what concerns you. Even if it’s not very nice. Tell us. We can take it,” Tumblr wrote on its staff blog. “What we won’t ever accept is the targeted harassment and threats these creators have endured since this afternoon. […] all they’re doing is testing out a feature.”

Before making their post, a representative from Tumblr’s staff reached out to Kaijuno directly to check in on them regarding the backlash, but there’s only so much that Tumblr can do after a user has already been threatened for using their product.

“I felt like the sacrificial lamb, because they didn’t announce Post+ beforehand and only gave it to a few people, which landed me in the crosshairs of a very pissed off user base when I’m just trying to pay off medical bills by giving people the option to pay for content,” Kaijuno told TechCrunch. “I knew there’d be some backlash because users hate any sort of change to Tumblr, but I thought that the brunt of the backlash would be at the staff, and that the beta testers would be spared from most of it.”

Why do Tumblr users perceive monetization as such a threat? It’s not a question of whether or not it’s valuable to support creators, but rather, whether Tumblr is capable of hosting such a service. Multiple long-time, avid Tumblr users that spoke to TechCrunch referenced an incident in late 2020 when people’s blogs were being hacked by spam bots that posted incessant advertisements for a Ray-Ban Summer Sale.

“Tumblr is not the most well-coded website. It’s easy to break features,” Kaijuno added. “I think anything involving trusting Tumblr with your financial information would have gotten backlash.”

Tumblr users also worried about the implications Post+ could have on privacy — in the limited beta, Post+ users only have the ability to block people who are subscribed to their blog if they contact Tumblr support. In cases of harassment by a subscriber, this could leave a blogger vulnerable in a potentially dangerous situation.

“Ahead of our launch to all U.S.-based creators this fall, Post+ will allow creators to block subscribers directly,” a Tumblr spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Still, the Extremely Online Gen Z-ers who now make up 48% of Tumblr know that they can’t expect the platform to continue existing if it doesn’t pull in enough money to pay for its staff and server fees. In 2018, Tumblr lost almost one-third of its monthly page views after all NSFW content was banned — since then, the platform’s monthly traffic has remained relatively stagnant.

Image Credits: SimilarWeb

A former Tumblr employee told TechCrunch that the feature that became Post+ started out as a Tip Jar. But higher-ups at Tumblr — who do not work directly with the community — redirected the project to create a paywalled subscription product.

“I think a Tip Jar would be a massive improvement,” said the creator behind the Tumblr blog normal-horoscopes. Through the core audience they developed on Tumblr, they make a living via Patreon, but they don’t find Post+ compelling for their business. “External services [like Patreon] have more options, more benefits, better price points, and as a creator I get to choose how I present them to my audience.”

But a paywalled subscription service is different in the collective eyes of Tumblr. For a site that thrives on fandom, creators that make fan art and fanfiction worry that placing this derivative work behind a paywall — which Post+ encourages them to do — will land them in legal trouble. Even Archive of Our Own, a major fanfiction site, prohibits its users from linking to sites like Patreon or Ko-Fi.

“Built-in monetization attracts businesses, corporate accounts, people who are generally there to make money first and provide content second,” said normal-horoscopes. “It changes the culture of a platform.”

Across Tumblr, upset users are rallying for their followers to take Post+’s feedback survey to express their frustrations. The staff welcomes this.

“As with any new product launch, we expect our users to have a healthy discussion about how the feature will change the dynamics of how people use Tumblr,” a Tumblr spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Not all of this feedback will be positive, and that’s ok. Constructive criticism fuels how we create products and ultimately makes Tumblr a better place.”

Tumblr’s vocal community has been empowered over the years to question whether it’s possible for a platform to establish new revenue streams in a way that feels organic. The protectiveness that Tumblr’s user base feels for the site — despite their lack of faith in staff — sets it apart from social media juggernauts like Facebook, which can put ecommerce front and center without much scrutiny. But even three years after the catastrophic porn ban, it seems hard for Tumblr to grow without alienating the people that make the social network unique.

Platforms like Reddit and Discord have remained afloat by selling digital goods, like coins to reward top posters, or special emojis. Each company’s financial needs are different, but Tumblr’s choice to monetize with Post+ highlights the company’s lack of insight into its own community’s wishes.

#apps, #artist, #automattic, #facebook, #instagram, #neil-gaiman, #operating-systems, #post, #select, #social, #social-media, #social-network, #software, #spokesperson, #tumblr, #twitch, #twitter, #video-hosting, #wordpress, #world-wide-web, #writer, #youtube

Tumblr debuts Post+, a subscription service for Gen Z creators

As Twitter launches Super Follows, YouTube adds new monetization tools and Instagram embraces e-commerce, the social media sphere is heating up with new ways for creators to make a living. Now, Tumblr is joining the fray with Post+, the platform’s first attempt at allowing users to monetize their content. Post+ is debuting today in limited beta for an exclusive selection of creators in the U.S., who were hand-picked by Tumblr.

Like Twitter’s Super Follows, Tumblr’s Post+ lets creators choose which content they want to put behind a paywall, whether that’s original artwork, personal blog posts or Destiel fanfic. Creators can set the price for their subscriber-only content starting at $3.99 per month, with additional tiers at $5.99 and $9.99. The process of making content under Post+ is the same as any other Tumblr post — all creators will have to do is check a box to indicate that the post is for paying subscribers only, whether that’s a video, audio clip, text post, image, etc.

Image Credits: Tumblr

“Not reserved only for professionals, or those with 10K followers or higher, Tumblr’s Post+ will push the boundaries of what’s considered money-making content on the internet: Shitposters, memelords, artists, fan fiction writers, all of the above and everyone in between will be able to create content while building their community of supporters, and getting paid with Post+,” a Tumblr spokesperson told TechCrunch.

For millennials who live-blogged their reading of the last Hunger Games” book on its release day in 2010, Tumblr might seem like a relic of the past. Founded in 2007, the platform has gone through plenty of change over the years. In 2013, Tumblr was acquired by Yahoo for $1.1 billion, and then Yahoo was later acquired by Verizon.

Image Credits: SimilarWeb

But a massive shift came for Tumblr in December 2018, when the platform banned all sexually explicit content and pornography. A month prior, the Tumblr app had been removed from the iOS App Store after child pornography passed through the app’s filtering technology, which led the platform to ban pornography entirely. Four months after the ban, Tumblr’s monthly page views had declined by 151 million, or 29%. Since then, the platform has retained a core userbase, hovering between about 310 million and 377 million page views per month, according to SimilarWeb, though the analytics still indicate a slight downward trend. Tumblr declined to provide its monthly active user numbers, but shared that the platform has more than 11 million posts per day and 500 million blogs.

In 2019, the platform was sold to Automattic, the company that owns WordPress. Though Tumblr hasn’t exhibited significant growth since the fateful porn ban, under its new ownership, it’s exploring new ways to generate profit by creating features that appeal to its now younger demographic. According to Tumblr, over 48% of users are Gen Z. These Gen Z users spend 26% more time on the platform than older bloggers, and their average daily usage time is increasing over 100% from year to year.

#apps, #automattic, #creator-economy, #monetization, #tumblr, #verizon, #yahoo

Reform your startup’s meeting culture

Bad meetings are the fast food of the knowledge worker; it’s so deliciously quick and easy to throw a 60-minute default meeting on everyone’s schedule, but the long-term costs are extremely unhealthy.

Busy meeting organizers drive-thru schedule meetings because they think they don’t have time to plan. They expect good outcomes to come from little preparation, which doesn’t happen. The meetings are being held and progress is stilted.

One way to save everyone significant time (and win lots of friends) would be to just get rid of all meetings, but a well-prepared and well-run session can expedite communication and get a team closer to its goals. Unfortunately, most meetings are lazily planned and poorly run, imprisoning attendees and halting productivity.

So how can you separate the good meetings from the bad?

Measure your meeting waistline

No one measures the impact of their meetings. So the first step is to start keeping meeting metrics so that you can identify the bad meetings on your teams’ calendars.

Every time a recurring meeting is added to a calendar, a kitten dies.

My company has created a calendar assistant that automatically measures and stops bad meetings before they occur, but if you can’t automate the prevention of bad meetings, survey and learn from attendees after the meeting to record and measure them.

Create taxonomies and quantify the types of meetings that are being held — for example: “information sharing,” “brainstorming,” “1:1,” “decision-making,” etc.

After several months (ideally a year) of collecting metrics, you can grade the quality and look for patterns. You will probably find something along these lines:

WordPress.com owner Automattic acquires journaling app Day One

Automattic is expanding its lineup of online writing platforms with its acquisition of Day One, a popular journaling app for Mac and Apple mobile devices. The app has been downloaded more than 15 million times since its March 2011 launch on the Mac and iTunes App Store, offering users a private place to share their thoughts. Since then, it’s been awarded the App Store Editor’s Choice, App of the Year, and the Apple Design Award, along with praise from various reviewers.

Deal terms were not immediately available. The companies were asked for comment.

The addition makes for an interesting expansion of Automattic’s now growing collection of online writing tools, which today include blogging platforms WordPress.com and Tumblr — the latter as of 2019, when Automattic took the aging social blogging network off parent company Verizon’s hands for a fraction of its earlier $1 billion acquisition price. (Verizon still owns TechCrunch, too…for now.)

Unlike WordPress and Tumblr, which tend to focus on publishing to a public audience, Day One’s focus has been on privacy. The app offers end-to-end encryption for all your journal entries, which can include text, media and even audio recordings. It has also offered advanced features like automatic backups, auto-import of Instagram posts, voice transcriptions, templates, rich text formatting, location history, optional printed books, as well as integrations with other platforms like Spotify, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and more.

With its addition to Automattic, Day One will allow users to choose to publish select journal entries to WordPress.com and Tumblr, and soon, import content from either platform back into Day One, too. The app may also make sense as a way for existing Tumblr users to sync their private entries over to a more protected and backed up writing tool — instead of accidentally publishing them to their main blog.

Automattic, in an announcement, notes Day One CEO Paul Mayne will continue to lead the development of Day One following the acquisition. The team will also remain intact.

Meanwhile, in a blog post, Mayne hints at why he sold the app, noting the deal will allow Day One access to same technological, financial, and security benefits that help power WordPress.com and Tumblr.

“This is incredibly exciting news. For the past 10 years since I started Day One, I’ve worked to not only create the best digital journaling experience in the world, but one that will last,” shares Mayne. “By joining Automattic, I’m now more confident than ever that the preservation and longevity of Day One is sure,” he adds.

Mayne also noted there were no current plans to change the private nature of Day One, but the app would integrate with other Automattic products going forward, while continuing to sustain itself via a subscription model.

#apple, #apps, #automattic, #day-one, #fundings-exits, #journal, #microblogging, #tumblr, #wordpress

Could Claap, an asynchronous video meetings platform, end the tyranny of Zoom calls?

Because of the pandemic, we’re all a lot more familiar with remote working than we used to be, whether we like it or not. But the remote tools of the pre-pandemic era – Slack, Trello, Zoom, Asana, etc, etc, etc – are, if we admit it to ourselves, barely scratching the surface of what we really need to be productive. Luckily a new era of remote-working tools is fast emerging. As I recently tweeted, we need to think far more in asynchronous terms if remote working is to be productive (and healthy!), long term.

Older tools can offer asynchronous collaboration, but a new wave of tools is coming. Loom, for instance, is one-way video for ’show and tell’. It’s raised $203.6M – however, it has a drawback: it doesn’t have many collaboration features.

Now a new European startup hopes to address this.

Claap, an asynchronous meeting platform with video and collaboration, thinks it might have part of the solution and a private beta launch is planned for this month.

It’s now raised $3 million in pre-seed funding from LocalGlobe, Headline, E.Ventures, Kima Ventures and angels including Front co-founder Mathilde Collin, Oyster co-founder Tony Jamous, Nest and GoCardless founder Matt Robinson and Automattic’s head of product Aadil Mamujee. It also includes a group of 30 angels such as Ian Hogarth (Songkick), Olivier Godement (Stripe), Roxanne Varza (Station F), Chris Herd (FirstBase), and Xavier Niel (Kima), Shane Mac (investor in Remote).

We all now know that what were previously small catch-ups are now 30-minute Zoom calls, which are pointless. ‘Asynchronous meetings’ could be the way forward.

Claap says its product allows employees to record a short video update on a topic, allow others to comment on the relevant part, and set a due date for team members to respond. Colleagues then view the video and respond in their own time. Claap bulls itself as the remote working equivalent of the ‘quick hallway catch-up’. It integrates with other workplace tools such as Trello or Jira so that when a decision is made on a project, it’s recorded for everyone on the team to see and refer back to. A subscription model is planned which will have a sliding scale depending on team size.

Because it doesn’t require real-time interaction, you don’t need t find a time that suits everyone for a meeting, so in fact the ‘meeting’ sort of disappears. . Instead, the platform creates a space for feedback and iterations.

Founders Robin Bonduelle and Pierre Touzeau looked at solutions already adopted by companies such as Automattic, and GitLab. Touzeau was previously at 360Learning which employed a strict limiting policy for meetings. Bonduelle has 10 years of product management experience, working at various startups and scaleups including Ogury where he was VP of Product, and Rocket Internet. He developed asynchronous communication habits while managing 50 people across 4 different countries and time zones. Touzeau has worked for businesses including L’Oreal and 360Learning, where he was most recently VP of Marketing.

However, asynchronous communication is not always perfect. As we know, Emails and Slack messages can go unread. Video MIGHT be the solution.

Robin Bonduelle, co-founder and CEO at Claap, said: “After a year of working remotely, people are realizing the benefits of not working in an office but at the same time grappling with one of its worst consequences: back-to-back video meetings. A query that in the office would take five minutes to solve now takes at least 30, leaving everyone more exhausted in the process. Claap is designed to solve this issue, allowing colleagues the tools to keep them engaged and connected but without taking up all their time. It’s a new meeting format that allows people to make quick decisions.”

Touzeau said: “Meetings are a necessary part of working, but it doesn’t need to be your entire day. Asynchronous meetings are the key to freeing up our calendars but making sure work still gets done and deadlines are met. We’re excited by the potential Claap has to empower people to work from anywhere.”

George Henry, General Partner at LocalGlobe, said: “We were impressed with Robin and Pierre’s vision and the potential for Claap to allow employees to connect on a project when they need to and facilitate the ability to work from anywhere.”

Jonathan Userovici, Partner at Headline, said: “Zoom may have been the go-to enterprise app over the past 12 months but for the thousands of businesses that are now going to be remote-first, video conferencing alone won’t be enough to keep teams connected and get work done. Claap is the challenger tool to end video-calling fatigue.”

#articles, #asana, #automattic, #chris-herd, #e-ventures, #europe, #general-partner, #gitlab, #gocardless, #groupware, #ian-hogarth, #jonathan-userovici, #kima-ventures, #localglobe, #matt-robinson, #rocket-internet, #songkick, #station-f, #tc, #technology, #telecommunications, #telecommuting, #trello, #video-conferencing, #web-conferencing, #zoom

Automattic acquires analytics company Parse.ly

Automattic, the for-profit company tied to open source web publishing platform WordPress, is announcing that it has acquired analytics provider Parse.ly.

Specifically, Parse.ly is now part of WPVIP, the organization within Automattic that offers enterprise hosting and support to publishers including TechCrunch. (We use Parse.ly, too.)

WPVIP CEO Nick Gernert described this as the organization’s first large enterprise software acquisition, reflecting a strategy that has expanded beyond news and media organizations — businesses like Salesforce (whose venture arm invested $300 million in Automattic back in 2019), the NBA, Condé Nast, Facebook and Microsoft now use WPVIP for their content and marketing needs.

Both companies, Gernert said, come from similar backgrounds, with “roots” in digital publishing and a “heavy focus on understanding the impact of content.”

“We’ve really to shift more towards content marketing and starting to think more deeply beyond just what traditional page analytics provide,” he continued. That means doing more than measuring pageviews and time on site and “really starting to look more deeply at things like conversation, attribution, areas … that from a marketer’s perspective are impactful.”

WordPress and Parse.ly already work well together, but the plan is to make WPVIP features available to Parse.ly customers while also making more Parse.ly data available to WPVIP publishers. And Gernert said there also opportunities to add more commerce-related data to Parse.ly, since Automattic also owns WooCommerce.

The goal, he said, is to “make Parse.ly better for WordPress and best for WPVIP.”

At the same time, he added, “There’s no plans here to make Parse.ly the only analytics solution that runs on our platform. We want to preserve the flexibility and interoperability [of WordPress], and we want to make sure from a Parse.ly perspective that it still exists as a standalone product. That’s key to its future and we will continue to invest in it.”

Parse.ly was founded in 2009 and has raised $12.9 million in funding from investors including Grotech Ventures and Blumberg Capital, according to Crunchbase. Parse.ly founders Sachin Kamdar and Andrew Montalenti are joining WPVIP, with Kamdar leading go-to-market strategy for Parse.ly and Montalenti leading product.

“We’ve always had deep admiration for WPVIP’s market position as the gold standard for enterprise content teams, and we’re thrilled to be able to join together,” Kamdar said in a statement. “From the culture and people, to the product, market and vision, we’re in lockstep to create more value for our customers. This powerful combination of content and intelligence will push the industry forward at an accelerated pace.”

The financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

#automattic, #blumberg-capital, #content-management-systems, #enterprise, #facebook, #media, #parse-ly, #salesforce, #startups, #woocommerce, #wordpress

Automattic, Mozilla, Twitter and Vimeo urge EU to beef up user controls to help tackle ‘legal-but-harmful’ content

Automattic, Mozilla, Twitter and Vimeo have penned an open letter to EU lawmakers urging them to ensure that a major reboot of the bloc’s digital regulations doesn’t end up bludgeoning freedom of expression online.

The draft Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act are due to be unveiled by the Commission next week, though the EU lawmaking process means it’ll likely be years before either becomes law.

The Commission has said the legislative proposals will set clear responsibilities for how platforms must handle illegal and harmful content, as well as applying a set of additional responsibilities on the most powerful players which are intended to foster competition in digital markets.

In their joint letter, entitled ‘Crossroads for the open Internet’, the four tech firms argue that: “The Digital Services Act and the Democracy Action Plan will either renew the promise of the Open Internet or compound a problematic status quo – by limiting our online environment to a few dominant gatekeepers, while failing to meaningfully address the challenges preventing the Internet from realising its potential.”

On the challenge of regulating digital content without damaging vibrant online expression they advocate for a more nuanced approach to “legal-but-harmful” content — pressing a ‘freedom of speech is not freedom of reach’ position by urging EU lawmakers not to limit their policy options to binary takedowns (which they suggest would benefit the most powerful platforms).

Instead they suggest tackling problem (but legal) speech by focusing on content visibility as key and ensuring consumers have genuine choice in what they see — implying support for regulation to require that users have meaningful controls over algorithmic feeds (such as the ability to switch off AI curation entirely).

“Unfortunately, the present conversation is too often framed through the prism of content removal alone, where success is judged solely in terms of ever-more content removal in ever-shorter periods of time. Without question, illegal content — including terrorist content and child sexual abuse material — must be removed expeditiously. Indeed, many creative self-regulatory initiatives proposed by the European Commission have demonstrated the effectiveness of an EU-wide approach,” they write.

“Yet by limiting policy options to a solely stay up-come down binary, we forgo promising alternatives that could better address the spread and impact of problematic content while safeguarding rights and the potential for smaller companies to compete. Indeed, removing content cannot be the sole paradigm of Internet policy, particularly when concerned with the phenomenon of ‘legal-but-harmful’ content. Such an approach would benefit only the very largest companies in our industry.

“We therefore encourage a content moderation discussion that emphasises the difference between illegal and harmful content and highlights the potential of interventions that address how content is surfaced and discovered. Included in this is how consumers are offered real choice in the curation of their online environment.”

Twitter does already let users switch between a chronological content view or ‘top tweets’ (aka, its algorithmically curated feed) — so arguably it already offers users “real choice” on that front. That said, its platform can also inject some (non-advertising) content into a user’s feed regardless of whether a person has elected to see it — if its algorithms believe it’ll be of interest. So not quite 100% real choice then.

Another example is Facebook — which does offer a switch to turn off algorithmic curation of its News Feed. But it’s so buried in settings most normal users are unlikely to discover it. (Underlying the importance of default settings in this context; algorithmic defaults with buried user choice do already exist on mainstream platforms — and don’t sum to meaningful user control over what they’re exposed to.)

In the letter, the companies go on to write that they support “measures towards algorithmic transparency and control, setting limits to the discoverability of harmful content, further exploring community moderation, and providing meaningful user choice”.

“We believe that it’s both more sustainable and more holistically effective to focus on limiting the number of people who encounter harmful content. This can be achieved by placing a technological emphasis on visibility over prevalence,” they suggest, adding: “The tactics will vary from service to service but the underlying approach will be familiar.”

The Commission has signalled that algorithmic transparency will be a key plank of the policy package — saying in October that the proposals will include requirements for the biggest platforms to provide information on the way their algorithms work when regulators ask for it.

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said then that the aim is to “give more power to users — so algorithms don’t have the last word about what we get to see, and what we don’t get to see” — suggesting requirements to offer a certain level of user control could be coming down the pipe for the tech industry’s dark patterns.

In their letter, the four companies also express support for harmonizing notice-and-action rules for responding to illegal content, to clarify obligations and provide legal certainty, as well as calling for such mechanisms to “include measures proportionate to the nature and impact of the illegal content in question”.

The four are also keen for EU lawmakers to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach for regulating digital players and markets. Although given the DSA/DMA split that looks unlikely; there will at least be two sizes involved in Europe’s rebooted rules, and most likely a lot more nuance.

“We recommend a tech-neutral and human rights-based approach to ensure legislation transcends individual companies and technological cycles,” they go on, adding a little dig over the controversial EU Copyright directive — which they describe as a reminder there are “major drawbacks in prescribing generalised compliance solutions”.

“Our rules must be sufficiently flexible to accommodate and allow for the harnessing of sectoral shifts, such as the rise of decentralised hosting of content and data,” they go on, arguing a “far-sighted approach” can be ensured by developing regulatory proposals that “optimise for effective collaboration and meaningful transparency between three core groups: companies, regulators and civil society”.

Here the call is for “co-regulatory oversight grounded in regional and global norms”, as they put it, to ensure Europe’s rebooted digital rules are “effective, durable, and protective of individuals’ rights”.  

The joint push for collaboration that includes civic society contrasts with Google’s public response to the Commission’s DSA/DMA consultation — which mostly focused on trying to lobby against ex ante rules for gatekeepers (like Google will surely be designated).

Though on liability for illegal content front the tech giant also lobbied for clear delineating lines between how illegal material must be handled and what’s “lawful-but-harmful.”

The full official detail of the DSA and DMA proposals are expected next week.

A Commission spokesperson declined to comment on the specific positions set out by Twitter et al today, adding that the regulatory proposals will be unveiled “soon”. (December 15 is the slated date.)

Last week — setting out the bloc’s strategy towards handling politically charged information and disinformation online — values and transparency commissioner, Vera Jourova, confirmed the forthcoming DSA will not set specific rules for the removal of “disputed content”.

Instead, she said there will be a beefed up code of practice for tackling disinformation — extending the current voluntary arrangement with additional requirements. She said these will include algorithmic accountability and better standards for platforms to cooperate with third-party fact-checkers. Tackling bots and fake accounts and clear rules for researchers to access data are also on the (non-legally-binding) cards.

“We do not want to create a ministry of truth. Freedom of speech is essential and I will not support any solution that undermines it,” said Jourova. “But we also cannot have our societies manipulated if there are organized structures aimed at sewing mistrust, undermining democratic stability and so we would be naive to let this happen. And we need to respond with resolve.”

#automattic, #digital-markets-act, #digital-regulation, #digital-services-act, #eu, #europe, #mozilla, #policy, #social, #twitter, #vimeo

WordPress can now turn blog posts into tweetstorms automatically

Earlier this year, WordPress .com introduced an easier way to post your Twitter threads, also known as tweetstorms, to your blog with the introduction of “unroll” option for Twitter embeds. Today, the company is addressing the flip side of tweetstorm publication — it’s making it possible to turn your existing WordPress blog post into a tweetstorm with just a couple of clicks.

The new feature will allow you to tweet out every word of your post, as well as the accompanying images and videos, the company says. These will be automatically inserted into the thread where they belong alongside your text.

To use the tweetstorm feature, a WordPress user will first click on the Jetpack icon on the top right of the page, then connect their Twitter account to their WordPress site, if that hadn’t been done already.

Image Credits: WordPress.com

 

The option also supports multiple Twitter accounts, if you want to post your tweetstorms in several places.

Once Twitter is connected, you’ll select the account or accounts where you want to tweet, then choose the newly added option to share the post as a Twitter thread instead of a single post with a link.

Image Credits: WordPress.com

In the box provided, you’ll write an introductory message for your tweetstorm, so Twitter users will know what your Twitter thread will be discussing.

When you then click on the “publish” button, the blog post will be shared as a tweetstorm automatically.

Image Credits: WordPress.com

The feature was also designed with a few thoughtful touches to make the tweetstorm feel more natural, as if it had been written directly on Twitter.

For starters, WordPress says it will pay attention to the blog post’s formatting in order to determine where to separate the tweets. Instead of packing the first tweet with as many words as possible, it places the break at the end of the first sentence, for example. And when a paragraph is too long for a single tweet, it’s automatically split out into as many tweets as needed, instead of being cut off. A list block, meanwhile, will be formatted as a list on Twitter.

To help writers craft a blog post that will work as a tweetstorm, you can choose to view where the tweets will be split in the social preview feature. This allows WordPress users to better shape the post to fit Twitter’s character limit as they write.

Image Credits: WordPress.com

At the end of the published tweetstorm, Twitter followers will be able to click a link to read the post on the WordPress site.

This addresses a common complaint with Twitter threads. While it’s useful to have longer thoughts posted to social media for attention, reading through paragraphs of content directly on Twitter can be difficult. But as tweetstroms grew in popularity, tools to solve this problem emerged. The most popular is a Twitter bot called @ThreadReaderApp, which lets users read a thread in a long-form format by mentioning the account by name within the thread along with the keyword “unroll.”

With the launch of the new WordPress feature, however, Twitter users won’t have to turn to third-party utilities — they can just click through on the link provided to read the content as a blog post. This, in turn, could help turn Twitter followers into blog subscribers, allowing the WordPress writer to increase their overall reach.

WordPress’ plans to introduce the tweetstorm feature had been announced last month as coming in the Jetpack 9.0 release, arriving in early October.

The feature is now publicly available, the company says.

#automattic, #blog, #social, #social-media, #tweetstorm, #twitter, #wordpress

WordPress.com launches new P2 to take on internal communication tools

WordPress.com, a division of Automattic, is launching a new product called P2. And this time, it’s all about improving internal communications for private groups. As a remote company, Automattic has been using P2 internally for years to communicate asynchronously. It’s a place to share long-form posts, a repository to keep onboarding documents and other important ever-green documents.

P2 is built on top of WordPress . You can view it as a sort of WordPress for teams that is heavily customized around the concept of sharing ideas with other team members. Companies now rely on multiple internal communication tools. P2 can replace some of them but doesn’t want to reinvent the wheel altogether.

For instance, P2 isn’t a Slack competitor. You can’t use it for real-time chat. But P2 can be used to share important announcements — the kind of announcements that you can find on an intranet portal.

Image Credits: WordPress.com

You can also use it for long-term projects and create your own P2 for your team in particular. In that case, P2 competes more directly with Workplace by Facebook or Yammer. In order to make it more useful for asynchronous communications, P2 has some features that make it more useful than a simple WordPress blog.

For instance, you can @-mention your coworkers to send them a notification and follow posts to receive updates. You can also create checklists, embed PDF documents, stick important posts at the top of the homepage and stay on top of what happened while you were gone. There are dedicated menus to view new posts, new comments and mentions you’ve received.

While you can theoretically access the classic WordPress back-end, you can write new posts, edit existing posts and write comments without ever leaving P2. The company uses the new block editor that lets you add headings, lists, video embeds and media in a visual way. It works a bit like Squarespace’s editor or Notion, and it makes a ton of sense to leverage the new editor right next to content you’re viewing, commenting on, etc.

For content that always remains relevant, you can create documents, which are pages without a specific publishing date and without comments. These documents are sorted in their own category and can be easily shared across a company. You can use documents for internal policies, guides or important contact information. Many companies rely on Google Docs and shared folders in Google Drive for this kind of documents. P2 could potentially replace those shared folders and become the main information repository.

By default, P2 sites are private but you can make them public in case you want to share updates on your product with clients or use P2 for public events.

If you’re familiar with the WordPress ecosystem, you might already know a WordPress theme called P2. The new P2 announced today is a new product that takes that idea to the next level. Automattic has been iterating on the concept and using it widely with its 1,300 employees across 912 internal P2 sites.

WordPress.com is going to offer hosted P2 instances. Anybody can create a P2 for free and invite other people. Eventually, WordPress.com plans to offer paid subscriptions for advanced features. In other words, P2 is going to be a software-as-a-service product. But there will be a self-hostable, open source version in the future as well.

I played around with a few P2 instances, and the overall impression is that the complexity of WordPress remains hidden by default, which is a good thing. It’s a clean and focused product that would work particularly well in that spot between company-wide emails and announcements getting lost in Slack.

Image Credits: WordPress.com

#automattic, #enterprise, #p2, #wordpress, #wordpress-com

Upsides for Some Remote Workers; Lost Pay and Security for Others

Working from home creates economic winners and losers. It can benefit highly skilled employees but depress others’ wages and make it hard to organize.

#automattic, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #duckduckgo, #freelancing-self-employment-and-independent-contracting, #labor-and-jobs, #outsourcing, #telecommuting, #united-states, #wages-and-salaries, #workplace-environment

An Evangelist for Remote Work Sees the Rest of the World Catch On

Matt Mullenweg, the founder of Automattic, which runs the publishing platform WordPress, says working remotely is “good for the environment” and “good for the economy.”

#automattic, #careers-and-professions, #computers-and-the-internet, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #labor-and-jobs, #mullenweg-matt, #telecommuting, #tumblr

How Automattic pays its remote employees across different geographies

A growing number of tech companies is telling their employees they can work from anywhere, even after this pandemic has passed. A looming question, however, is how.

Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told employees that Facebook will adjust the pay of those who choose to move out of the Bay Area and work in different, presumably less expensive, geographies. But others figuring out their own remote-work strategies might also look to Automattic, the now 15-year-old, heavily venture-backed company that is parent to the publishing platform WordPress; the platform for discovering long-form writing content, Longreads; the comment-filtering service Akismet; and, as of last year, the former social media giant Tumblr; among other businesses.

Automattic, which now employs more than 1,000 employees, has been nearly fully distributed from its founding days, and became entirely so in 2017, when the company shut its San Francisco office and told employees they could work from wherever they choose. At the time, founder and CEO Matt Mullenweg told Quartz that most employees were already opting not to come into the co-working space it was providing, so it reasoned its money could be better spent elsewhere.

Because Automattic has always proudly shared its remote-work playbook — including giving employees a stipend to set up their home offices and paying for travel — we couldn’t help but wonder how it pays those employees and whether there might be lessons for companies now moving toward a more dispersed future, too. Here’s what we learned from Mullenweg, who answered our related questions via email over the weekend.

The biggest question, of course, is whether Automattic pays employees based on their geography and its related cost of living. In answering, Mullenweg didn’t give a blanket “yes” or “no,” explaining that at Automattic, “[W]e aim to pay the same rates for the same roles, regardless of geography. Automattic currently has folks in over 75 countries. Sometimes this puts us above or below what may be the market rate for a role in a given area.”

He said it’s not so easy in practice. Among the biggest obstacles to keeping pay in sync is paying employees’ compensation in their local currency, which “can have wide swings, which creates imbalances,” said Mullenweg. Automattic also “generally only adjusts salaries up, so a positive currency swing may bring someone above a global norm for a year or two.”

He thinks that as more companies move in the direction of encouraging — or, at least, allowing — employees to work from anywhere, it may be difficult for them to “immediately switch to normalize salaries.” He says when Automattic started down its path, it “took several years to narrow the ranges people were in,” and that, even today, it’s never “perfectly even — more a direction you’re always heading in.”

We were also interested in Mullenweg’s thoughts about those companies that do adopt localized compensation. Specifically — based on what he has learned over time about employment regulations around the world — we wondered if tech companies that pay people different amounts for the same work might face consequences, legal or otherwise.

“Long term,” said Mullenweg, “I think market forces and the mobility of talent will force employers to stop discriminating on the basis of geography for geographically agnostic roles.” He also said that while he isn’t aware of location or geography currently being a protected class for pay discrimination suits — at least in the U.S. — he thinks that for “moral and competitive reasons, companies will move toward globally fair compensation over time with roles that can be done from anywhere.”

Indeed, Mullenweg suggested that companies that have been paying based on local market norms in the past probably can’t get away with that much longer, even while it’s “difficult to fix that immediately,” and may be something that needs to be adjusted “over several years, using more frequent or higher raises for the employees that are below your global market norm.” (Conversely, he added, “If you have people significantly above what the norm is across your company, I don’t think it’s fair to ask them to take a salary reduction because it’s a mistake the company made, but it may be unsustainable to bring everyone to that higher level.”)

In fact, the broader takeaway for companies that are moving toward this new future is largely to recognize that it takes time, along with an understanding of a whole lot of factors that don’t come into play with geographically homogeneous groups of employees. Think “currency controls, geo-political instability, protectionism, security concerns, and even the impact of someone making 5 to 10 times what their friends and family may make in salary,” said Mullenweg.

It’s all worth it, suggested Mullenweg. Like Zuckerberg — who last week emphasized to employees that a dispersed workforce could “potentially spread more economic opportunity around the country more and potentially around the world more,” and, in turn, “hopefully a more sustainable social and political climate if opportunity can be shared more broadly” — Mullenweg seems to view more remote work as a kind of equalizing force.

As he told us over the weekend, “You get a lot of richness, access to a global talent pool, and I think a positive impact on the world by spreading economic opportunity more widely than it has been in the past.”

#automattic, #compensation, #distributed-workforce, #facebook, #github, #matt-mullenweg, #personnel, #remote-work, #tc

Automattic pumps $4.6M into New Vector to help grow Matrix, an open, decentralized comms ecosystem

Automattic, the open source force behind WordPress .com, WooCommerce, Longreads, Simplenote and Tumblr, has made a $4.6M strategic investment into New Vector — the creators of an open, decentralized communications standard called Matrix. They also develop a Slack rival (Riot) which runs on Matrix.

The investment by Automattic, which is at a higher valuation than the last tranche New Vector took in, extends an $8.5M Series A last year, from enterprise tech specialists Notion Capital and Dawn Capital plus European seed fund Firstminute Capital — and brings the total raised to date to $18.1M. (Which includes an earlier $5M in strategic investment from an Ethereum-based secure chat and crypto wallet app, Status).

New Vector’s decentralized tech powers instant messaging for a number of government users, including France — which forked Riot to launch a messaging app last year (Tchap) — and Germany, which just announced its armed forces will be adopting Matrix as the backbone for all internal comms; as well as for the likes of KDR, Mozilla, RedHat and Wikimedia, to name a few.

Getting Automattic on board is clearly a major strategic boost for Matrix — one that’s allowing New Vector to dream big.

“It’s very much a step forwards,” New Vector CEO and CTO and Matrix co-founder, Matthew Hodgson, tells TechCrunch. “We’re hopefully going to get the support from Automattic for really expanding the ecosystem, bringing Matrix functionality into WordPress — and all the various WordPress plugins that Automattic does. And likewise open up Matrix to all of those users too.”

A blog post announcing the strategic investment dangles the intriguing possibility of a decentralized Tumblr — or all WordPress sites automatically getting their own Matrix chatroom.

“This is huge news, not least because WordPress literally runs over 36% of the websites on today’s web – and the potential of bringing Matrix to all those users is incredible,” New Vector writes in the blog post. “Imagine if every WP site automatically came with its own Matrix room or community?  Imagine if all content in WP automatically was published into Matrix as well as the Web?… Imagine there was an excellent Matrix client available as a WordPress plugin for embedding realtime chat into your site?”

Those possibilities remain intriguing ideas for now. But as well as ploughing funding into New vector Automattic is opening up a job for a Matrix.org/WordPress integrations engineer — so the Matrix team has another tangible reason to be excited about future integrations.

“One of the best and the biggest open source guys really believes in what we’re doing and is interested in trying to open up the worlds of WordPress into the decentralized world of Matrix,” adds Hodgson. “In some ways it’s reassuring that a relatively established company like Automattic is keeping its eye on the horizon and putting their chips on the decentralized future. Whereas they could be ‘doing a Facebook’ and just sitting around and keeping everything centralized and as locked down as possible.”

“It’s a bit of a validation,” says Matrix co-founder and New Vector head of ops and products, Amandine le Pape. “The same way getting funding from VCs was validation of the fact it’s a viable business. Here it’s a validation it’s actually a mainstream open source project which can really grow.”

New Vector co-founders, Matthew Hodgson and Amandine le Pape

While the strategic investment offer from Automattic was obviously just a great opportunity to be seized by New vector, given ideological alignment and integration potential, it also comes at helpful time, per le Pape, given they’ve been growing their SaaS business.

“The business model that we’re looking at with New Vector to go and drive — both to fund Matrix and also to keep the lights on and grow the projects and the company — is very, very similar to what Automattic have successfully done with WordPress.com,” adds Hodgson. “So being able to compare notes directly with their board and our board to go and say to them how do you make this work between the WordPress.org and the WordPress.com split should be a really useful tool for us.”

While Matrix users can choose to host their own servers there’s obviously a high degree of complexity (and potential expense) involved in doing so. Hence New Vector’s business model is to offer a paid Matrix hosting service, called Modular, where it takes care of the complexity of hosting for a fee. (Marketing copy on the Modular website urges potential customers to: “Sign up and deploy your own secure chat service in seconds!”)

“Some of our highest profile customers like Mozilla could go and run it themselves, obviously. Mozilla know tech. But in practice it’s a lot easier and a lot cheaper overall for them to just go and get us to run it,” adds Hodgson. “The nice thing is that they have complete self sovereignty over their data. It’s their DNS. We give them access to the database. They could move off at any time… switch hosting provider or run it themselves. [Users] typically start off with us as a way to get up and running.”

Talking of moving, Hodgson says he expects Automattic to move over from Slack to Riot following this investment.

“I am very excited about what New Vector is doing with Matrix — creating a robust, secure, open protocol that can bring all flavors of instant messaging and collaboration together, in the way that the web or email has its foundation layer,” added Automattic founder, Matt Mullenweg, in a supporting statement. “I share New Vector’s passion for open source and the power of open standards. I’m excited to see how Automattic and New Vector can collaborate on our shared vision in the future.” 

Mullenweg was already a supporter of Matrix, chipping into its seed via Patreon back in 2017. At the time the team was transitioning from being incubated and wholly financed by Amdocs, a telco supplier where New Vectors’ co-founders used to work (running its unified comms division), to spinning out and casting around for new sources of funding to continue development of their decentralized standard.

Some three years on — now with another multi-million dollar tranche of funding in the bank — Hodgson says New Vector is able to contemplate the prospect of profitability ahead, with ~16.8 million users and 45,000 deployments at this point (up from 11M and 40k back in October).

“I think there’s also a high chance — touch wood — that this injection gives us a path straight through to profitability if needed,” he tells us. “Given the macroeconomic uncertainty thanks to the [COVID-19] pandemic, the opportunity to say we have this amount of cash in the bank, assuming our customers follow roughly the trajectory that we’d seen so far… this would be a way to get out the other side without having to depend on any further funding.

“If things are on track we probably would do additional funding next year in order to double down on the success. But right now this at least gives us a pretty chunky safety net.”

The coronavirus crisis has been accelerating interest in Matrix “significantly”, per Hodgson, as entities that might have been contemplating a switch to decentralized comms down the line feel far greater imperative to take control of their data — now that so many users are logging on from home.

“As lockdowns began we saw sign ups increase by a factor of about 10,” he says. “It’s tapered off a little bit but it was a real scaling drama overnight. We had to launch an entirely new set of videoconferencing deployments on Jitsi’s offering, as well as scaling up the hardware for the service which we run by several times over.

“We’re also seeing retention go up, which was nice. We assumed there would be a huge spike of users desperately trying to find a home and then they wouldn’t necessarily stick around. In practice they’ve stuck around more than the existing user base which is reassuring.”

In some cases, New Vector has seen customers radically shrink planned deployment timescales — from months to a matter of days.

“We literally had one [educational] outfit in German reach out and say that tender in September — we want you to go live on Monday,” says Hodgson, noting that in this instance the customer skipped the entire tendering process because of they felt they needed a secure system school kids could use. (And privacy concerns ruling out use of centralized options such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams.)

“The biggest impact from a New Vector perspective at least has been that a lot of our slower moving, bigger opportunities — particularly in the public sector with governments — have suddenly sped up massively,” he adds. “Because it was previously a nice to have premium thing — ‘wouldn’t it be good if we had our own encrypted messenger and if everybody wasn’t using Telegram or WhatsApp to run our country’ — and then suddenly, with the entire population of whichever country it might be suddenly having to work remotely it’s become an existential requirement to have high quality communication, and having that encrypted and self sovereign is a massive deal.”

In terms of competing with Slack (et al), the biggest consideration is usability and UX, according to Hodgson.

So, over the last year, New Vector has hired a dedicated in-house design team to focus on smoothing any overly geeky edges — though most of this work is yet to be pushed out to users.

“We’ve actually pivoted the entire development of Riot to be design led,” he says. “It’s no longer a whole bunch of developers, like myself, going and hacking away on it — instead the product owner and the product direction’s being laid by the design team. And it is an unrecognizable difference — in terms of focus and usability.

“Over the coming year we are expecting Riot to basically be rebuilt at least cosmetically to get rid of the complexity and the geekiness and the IRC hangovers which we have today in favor of something that can genuinely punch its weight against Slack and Discord.”

In another major recent development New Vector switched on end-to-end encryption across the piece in Riot, making it the default for all new non-public conversations (DMs and private chats).

“It’s the equivalent of email suddenly mandating PGP and managing not to break everything,” says Hodgson of that feat.

A key challenge was to “get parity” with users of the non-encrypted version of Matrix before it could be enabled everywhere — with associated problems to tackle, such as search.

“Typically we were doing search on the server and if the messages are encrypted the server obviously can’t index them — so we had to shift all of our search capabilities to run client side. We went and wrote a whole bunch of REST that allows you to basically embed a search engine into Riot on the client, including on the desktop version, so that people can actually reach their encrypted message history there and share it between devices,” he explains.

Another focus for the e2e was the verification process — which is also now built in by default.

“When you now log into Riot it forces you to scan a QR code on an existing login if you’ve already logged in somewhere. A bit like you do on WhatsApp web but rather than just using it to authenticate you it also goes and proves that you are a legitimate person on that account,” he says. “So everyone else then knows to trust that login completely — so that if there is an attack of some kind, if you admin tries to add a malicious device into your account to spy on you or if there’s a man-in-the-middle attack, or something like that, everybody can see that the untrusted device hasn’t been verified by you.

“It’s basically building out a simple web of trust of your devices and immediate contacts so that you have complete protection against ghost devices or other nastier attempts to go and compromise the account. The combination of using QR codes and also using emoji comparison rather than having to read out numbers to one another is I think almost unique now, in terms of creating really, really super robust end-to-end encryption.”

The e2e encryption Matrix uses is based on algorithms popularized by the Signal protocol. It was audited by NCC Group in 2016 but plans for the new funding include a full stack audit — once they’ve ironed out any teething issues with the new default e2e.

“[We want to] at least pick a path, a particular set of clients and servers — because we can’t do the whole thing, obviously, because Matrix has got 60-70 different apps on it now, or different clients. And there are at least four viable server implementations but we will pick the long term supported official path and at least find a set which we can then audit and recommend to governments,” says Hodgson of the audit plans.

They’re also working with Jitsi on a project to make the latter’s WebRTC-compatible videoconferencing platform e2e encrypted too — another key piece as Jitsi’s tech is what New Vector offers for video calling via Matrix.

“We partner with Jitsi for the videoconferencing side of things and we’re working with them on their e2e encrypted videoconferencing… They [recently] got the world’s first WebRTC -based e2e encrypted conferencing going. And they plan to use Matrix as the way to exchange the keys for that — using also all of the verification process [New Vector has developed for Riot]. Because end-to-end encryption’s great, obviously in terms of securing the data — but if you don’t know who you’re talking to, in terms of verifying their identity, it’s a complete waste of time,” adds Hodgson.

So when Jitsi’s e2e encryption launches New Vector will be able to include e2e encrypted videoconferencing as part of its decentralized bundle too.

How much growth is New Vector expecting for Matrix over the next 12 months? “We’ve tripled almost all of the sizing metrics for the network in the last year, and I think we tripled the year before that so I’m hoping that we can continue on that trajectory,” he says on that.

Another “fun thing” New Vector has been working on, since the end of last year, is a peer-to-peer version of Matrix — having developed a “sufficiently lightweight server implementation” that allows Matrix users to run ‘riot’ in a decentralized p2p space via a web browser (or via the app on a mobile device).

“We turned on the peer-to-peer network about a month ago now and they’re at the point right now of making it persistent — previously if all of the clients on the network went away then the entire network disappeared, whereas now it has the ability to persist even if people start restarting their browsers and apps. And it’s very much a mad science project but as far as I know nobody else is remotely in that ballpark,” he says.

“The nice thing is it looks and feels identical to Matrix today. You can use all of the clients, all of the bridges that people have already written… It just happens to be that the Riot is connecting to a server wedged into itself rather than talking to one sitting on the server… So it’s a total paradigm shift.”

“We weren’t sure it was going to work at all but in practice it’s working better than we could have hoped,” he adds. “Over the next year or so we’re going to expect to see more and more emphasis on peer-to-peer — possibly even by default. So that if you install Riot you don’t have to pick a server and go through this fairly clunky thing of figuring out what service provider to trust and do you want to buy one from us as New Vector or do you want to a Swiss ISP. Instead you can start off bobbing around the ocean in a pure peer-to-peer land, and then if you want to persist your data somewhere then you go and find a server to pin yourself to a home on the Internet. But it would be a completely different way of thinking about things.”

Those interested in dipping a toe in p2p decentralized IM can check out this flavor of Riot in a web browser via p2p.riot.im

#automattic, #decentralized, #e2e-encryption, #europe, #funding, #jitsi, #matrix, #new-vector, #open, #p2p, #privacy, #riot, #security, #signal-protocol, #tc, #webrtc, #wordpress

WooCommerce launches native WooCommerce Payments feature

WooCommerce, the e-commerce platform developed by Automattic, is improving the payment feature with a native solution called WooCommerce Payments. The payment feature is powered by Stripe. Compared to previous payment solutions on WooCommerce websites, it is fully integrated with the rest of the platform.

In case you’re not familiar with Automattic, it is also the company behind WordPress.com, Longreads, Simplenote and Tumblr. WooCommerce is built on WordPress, which means that you can create a website using WordPress and start accepting orders thanks to WooCommerce.

Previously, WooCommerce users could enable extensions to embed payment widgets on their websites. You could use Stripe, Amazon Pay, Square or PayPal for instance.

WooCommerce Payments takes this feature one step further by making it as easy as possible to get started and accept orders. Following a successful beta test, it is available to customers in the U.S. starting today.

The best part about WooCommerce Payments is that you can control payments directly in the WooCommerce back end. There’s a new payment tab that lets you view charges, issue refunds and deal with disputes. You don’t have to connect to your Stripe account or any third-party site.

When it comes to pricing, transactions on WooCommerce Payments cost 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction. There’s no set up fees or monthly fees. In other words, you’ll end up paying the same fees when you use WooCommerce Payments or a custom Stripe integration.

In the future, WooCommerce plans to add the ability to save cards as well as support for subscriptions and in-person payments. The company also plans to roll out WooCommerce Payments to more countries.

Many merchants have started using WooCommerce over the past couple of months, probably due to the coronavirus outbreak. The number of active WooCommerce sites grew by 34% in two months while the number of shoppers grew by 70%.

#automattic, #developer, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #payment, #tc, #woocommerce, #woocommerce-payments