Following entries into the newsletter market from tech companies like Facebook and Twitter, Google is now experimenting with newsletters, too. The company’s internal R&D division, Area 120, has a new project called Museletter, which allows anyone to publish a Google Drive file as a blog or newsletter to their Museletter public profile or to an email list.
The effort would essentially repurpose Google’s existing document-creation tools as a means of competing with other newsletter platforms, like Substack, Ghost, Revue, and others, which are today attracting a growing audience.
Reached for comment, an Area 120 spokesperson declined to share further details about Museletter, saying only that it was “one of the many experiments” within the R&D group and that “it’s still very early.”
From the Museletter website, however, there is already much that can be learned about the project. The site explains how Google Drive could be monetized by creators in a way that would allow Google’s newsletter project to differentiate itself from the competition. Not only could newsletters be written in a Google Doc, other productivity apps could also be used to share information with readers. For example, a newsletter creator could offer a paid subscription plan that would allow readers to access their Google Slides. A creator who writes about finance could publish helpful spreadsheets to Google Sheets, which would be available to their subscribers.
Image Credits: Google
To make this possible, Museletter publishers would create a public profile on their Google Drive, then publish any Google Drive file directly to it. This provides them with a landing page where they can market their subscriptions and showcase how many different Drive files they’ve made publically available across Docs, Sheets, and Slides.
Creators can also optionally publish to an email list — including a list brought in from other platforms. The newsletter subscriptions can be free or paid, depending on the creator’s preferences, but using Museletter itself will be free. Instead, the project aims to monetize with premium features like custom domains, welcome emails, and more.
The platform also promises tools and analytics to engage audiences and track the newsletter’s performance.
While the site doesn’t mention any plans for advertising, a success in this space could provide Google with a new ad revenue stream — and one that arrives at a time when the tech giant’s multi-billion dollar advertising market has a new challenger in the form of Amazon, whose own ad business could eventually challenge the Facebook-Google duopoly.
Google didn’t say when it plans to launch Museletter, but the website is offering a link to a form where users can request early access.
The feature, first revealed in February, will allow users to subscribe to accounts they like for a monthly subscription fee in exchange for exclusive content. For creators, Super Follows are another useful tool in the emerging patchwork of monetization options across social platforms.
Eligible accounts can set the price for Super Follow subscriptions, with the option of charging $2.99, $4.99 or $9.99 per month, prices fairly comparable to a paid newsletter. They can then choose to mark some tweets for subscribers only, while continuing to reach their unpaid follower base in regular tweets.
Paid subscribers will be marked with a special Super Follower badge, differentiating them from unpaid followers in the sea of tweets. The badge shows up in replies, elevating a follower’s ability to interact directly with accounts they opt to support. For accounts that have Super Follows turned on, the option will show up with a distinct button on the profile page.
Super Follows aren’t turned on for everyone. For now, the process remains application only, with a waitlist. The option lives in the Monetization options in the app’s sidebar, though users will need to be U.S.-based with 10K followers and at least 25 tweets within the last month to be eligible.
U.S. and Canada-based iOS Twitter users will be able to Super Follow some accounts starting today, with more users globally seeing the rollout in the coming weeks. On the creator side, Super Follows are only enabled in iOS for now, though support for Android and desktop are “coming soon.”
Twitter says that Super Follow income will be subject to the standard, though controversial, 30 percent in-app purchase fees collected by Apple or Google. Twitter will only take a 3 percent cut of earnings for up to the first $50,000 generated through Super Follows — a boon for smaller accounts getting off the ground or anyone who uses the paid Twitter feature as a way to supplement other creator income elsewhere. After an account hits the $50,000 earnings mark, Twitter will begin taking a 20 percent cut.
Super Follows aren’t Twitter’s first monetization experiment to make it out in the wild. In May, Twitter introduced Tip Jar, a way for accounts to receive one-time payments through integration with the Cash App and other payment platforms. The test is limited to a subset of eligible accounts including “creators, journalists, experts, and nonprofits” for the time being.
Last week Twitter rolled out Ticketed Spaces for users who applied for the paid audio room feature back in June. Twitter’s cut from Ticketed Spaces mirrors the same fee structure it uses for Super Follows and users will be able to charge anywhere from one dollar to $999 for advanced ticketing.
The product is the latest in a flurry of activity from the social platform after a lengthy period of product stagnation. But Twitter has been busy in the last twelve months, from releasing and killing its ill-fated Fleets to finally showing signs of life on the kind of anti-abuse features many people have been calling for for years.
Giving users the ability to charge for premium content is a pretty major departure for Twitter, which mostly stayed the course until activist shareholders threatened to oust CEO Jack Dorsey. It’s also a major move for the company into the white-hot creator space, as more platforms add tools to empower their users to make a living through content creation — ideally keeping them loyal and generating revenue in the process.
Instagram is ditching the “swipe-up” link in Instagram Stories starting on August 30. The popular feature has historically allowed businesses and high-profile creators a way to direct their Story’s viewers to a website where they could learn more about a product, read an article, sign-up for a service, or do anything else the creator wanted to promote. In place of the “swipe up” call-to-action, Instagram users who previously had access to the feature will instead be able to use the new Link Sticker, the company says.
Instagram says it will begin to convert those who currently have access to the swipe-up link to the Link Sticker starting on August 30, 2021. This will include businesses and creators who are either verified or who have met the threshold for follower count. (While Instagram doesn’t publicly comment on this count, it’s widelyreported to be at least 10,000 followers.)
The new Link Sticker has a couple of key advantages over the older “swipe-up” link.
For starters, it offers greater creator control over their Stories.
Like polls, questions and location stickers, the Link Sticker lets creators toggle between different styles, resize the sticker, and then place it anywhere on the Story for maximum engagement. In addition, viewers will now be able to react and reply to posts that have the Link Sticker attached, just like any other Story. Before, that sort of feedback wasn’t possible on posts with the swipe-up link, Instagram noted.
While there isn’t a change to who will gain access to the Link Sticker for now, Instagram says it’s evaluating whether or not to expand link access to more accounts in the future. The decision to expand access is one that has to be made carefully, however, as it could impact the app’s integrity and safety. For instance, if Link Sticker were to be adopted by bad actors, it could be used to spread misinformation or post spam. The shift to the Link Sticker is the first step in making it possible to broaden access to link sharing in Stories, if Instagram chooses to go that route.
Overall, the move away from a gesture to sticker is more in line with Instagram’s current creative direction, where interactive features are added to posts in the form of stickers. The new Link Sticker will join others already available in the app, including stickers for donations, music, and polls.
Both Facebook and Snap offer tools that allow developers to build out augmented reality (AR) experiences and features for their own respective family of apps. Now, TikTok is looking to do the same. The company recently launched a new creative toolset called TikTok Effect Studio, currently in private beta testing, which will allow its own developer community to build AR effects for TikTok’s short-form video app.
On the form provided, developers fill out their name, email, TikTok account info, company, and level of experience with building for AR, as well as examples of their work. The website also asks if they’re using a Mac or PC (presumably to gauge which desktop platform to prioritize), and whether they would test Effect House for work or for personal use.
TikTok confirmed to TechCrunch the website launched earlier in August, but the project itself is still in the early stages of testing in only a few select markets, one of which is the U.S.
The company couldn’t offer a timeframe as to when these tools would become more broadly available. Instead, TikTok characterized Effect Studio as an early “experiment,” adding that some of its experiments don’t always make it to launch. Plus, other experiments may undergo significant changes between their early beta phases and what later becomes a public product.
That said, the launch of an AR toolset would make TikTok more competitive with industry rivals, who today rely on creative communities to expand their apps’ features sets with new features and experiences. Snap, for example, launched a $3.5 million fund last year directed toward Snapchat AR Lens creation. Meanwhile, at Facebook’s F8 developer conference in June, the company announced it had grown its Spark AR platform to over 600,000 creators across 190 countries, making it the largest mobile AR platform worldwide.
Image Credits: screenshot of TikTok website
TikTok, too, has been increasing its investment in developer tools over the past couple of years. However, its focus as of late has been on toolkits aimed at third-party developers who want to integrate more closely with TikTok in their own apps. Today, TikTok’s developer website provides access to tools that allow app makers to add TikTok features to their apps like user authentication flows, sound sharing, and others that allow users to publish videos from a third-party editing app out to TikTok.
The new TikTok Effect Studio isn’t meant to be used with third-party apps, however.
Instead, it’s about building AR experiences (and possibly, other creative effects), that would be provided to TikTok users directly in the consumer-facing video app.
Though willing to confirm its broader goals for TikTok Effect Studio, the company declined to share specific details about the exact tools may be included, citing the project’s early days.
“We’re always thinking about new ways to bring value to our community and enrich the TikTok experience,” a TikTok spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Currently, we’re experimenting with ways to give creators additional tools to bring their creative ideas to life for the TikTok community,” they added.
If viral TikTok songs like Dr. Dog’s “Where’d All the Time Go?” or Bo Burnham’s “Bezos I” weren’t already stuck in your head on loop, now they could be. Today SiriusXM launched a TikTok Radio channel, which features TikTok creators as channel hosts. The station is designed to sound like a “radio version of the platform’s ‘For You’ feed,” Sirius XM said.
With its TikTok partnership, SiriusXM is looking to capture a younger audience — on the TikTok app itself, DJ Habibeats (@djhabibeats) and DJ CONST (@erinconstantineofficial) will each go live on TikTok each week while DJing on TikTok Radio. Other creator hosts on TikTok Radio — like Billy (@8illy), Cat Haley (@itscathaley), HINDZ (@hindzsight), Lamar Dawson (@dirrtykingofpop), and Taylor Cassidy (@taylorcassidyj) — will deliver “The TikTok Radio Trending Ten,” a weekly countdown of songs trending on TikTok. To promote the station during its first week, artists like Ed Sheeran, Lil Nas X, and Normani will appear on air.
Music has such a strong footing in TikTok culture that it regularly influences the Billboard charts — Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours,” originally released in 1978,” appeared in the top 10 Billboard albums again in 2020 after it was featured in a viral TikTok. Even a Fortnite-themed parody of Estelle’s “American Boy” — originally uploaded in 2018 to YouTube — had a beautiful moment on TikTok.
“We’re so excited to launch TikTok Radio on SiriusXM, which opens up artists and creators like this amazing group of hosts to new audiences,” said Ole Obermann, TikTok’s Global Head of Music, in a statement. “Now SiriusXM subscribers will have a new road to discover the latest trends in music and get a first listen to tomorrow’s musical superstars. The channel captures song-breaking music culture that creates so much joy and entertainment on TikTok through video in an all-audio format.”
Though SiriusXM’s subscriber base continues to expand — it saw a 34% year-over-year growth from last year to now — it still dwarfs in comparison to streaming giants like Spotify, which has 165 million paid users. SiriusXM reported a total of 34.5 million subscribers as of Q2 this year, the most it’s ever had, but even Apple Music and Amazon Music have reported nearly double the subscribers. Pandora has 6.5 million paid subscribers. Over the last few years, SiriusXM and Pandora have struck deals with companies like SoundCloud, Simplecast and Stitcher to become more competitive in both music and podcast streaming.
Still, other streaming companies have also shown interest in the market of Gen Z-ers on TikTok who want to listen to full versions of the catchy songs they hear in short videos. Apple Music and Spotify both host curated “viral hits” playlists. But a full-time satellite music channel is taking the trend a step further.
Pinterest today is increasing its investment in the creator community by introducing new tools that will allow creators to make money from their content. Now, creators will be able to tag products in their Idea Pins — a video-first feature the company first launched this spring — to make their content “shoppable.” They’ll also now be able to earn commissions through affiliate links and partner with brands on sponsored content, much like on other social platforms like Instagram, YouTube and TikTok.
Despite its general focus on turning product inspiration into clicks and purchases, Pinterest has been slower to embrace the creator community which today is responsible for driving a significant amount of interest in new products among online shoppers. Over the past several years, brands have increased their influencer marketing budgets from $1.7 billion in 2016 to now $13.8 billion in 2021. However, Pinterest offered few tools for creators to tap into that market on its own site, until its more recent debut of Idea Pins in May.
These Pins are somewhat like Pinterest’s take on TikTok, mixed with Stories, as they offer a way for creators to produce content that combines music, video, and other interactive elements. The videos in Idea Pins can be up to 60 seconds per page, with up to 20 total pages per Pin. Creators can also add other features to their Pins, like stickers or music, and tag other creators with their @username.
Image Credits: Pinterest
While similar in some ways to TikTok, the videos can include “detail pages” where viewers can find associated content, like the ingredient list and instructions for a recipe, or a list of how-to instructions for a craft project.
Now, explains Pinterest, creators will be able to tag products in their Pins, as well. That means fans viewing the Pin content can now go from inspiration to purchase from the Pinterest app. However, the path isn’t as straightforward as it is on Instagram, where a tap on a tag leads you to a page where you can then add an item to a shopping cart. Instead, Pinterest’s product tags tend to take you to another Pinterest page for the product in question, and from there you have to click again to visit the retailer’s website to complete your order.
The new Idea Pins product tagging tool will roll out to all business accounts in the U.S. and U.K. and will then continue to roll out access over the coming months to international creators.
Image Credits: Pinterest
Other new monetization features rolling out now include support for affiliate programs and brand sponsorships.
Creators will now be able to integrate their affiliate programs for Rakuten and ShopStyle to generate additional revenue from their recommendations. Meanwhile, creators who come to the platform with brand partnerships will be able to use a new tool, still in beta, that will let them disclose those partnerships to their followers.
When they then produce branded content on Pinterest and add the brands to their Idea Pins, the brand will then be able to approve the tag, and the Idea Pin will feature a label that reads “Paid Partnership.”
This paid partnerships tool is now live for select Creators in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, France, Spain, Italy Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Peru.
Image Credits: Pinterest
Most of Pinterest’s new monetization tools are not necessarily all that innovative or unique.
Instead, they represent a company that’s playing catch up to larger social platforms — like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, an d YouTube — which have been better catering to creators in recent years by allowing them to build their own businesses on their respective platforms and expand their reach. Instagram, in particular, has moved in on Pinterest’s territory to such an extent that many users today start their shopping inspiration searches on its app first.
And Instagram has catered to this growing group of online shoppers by turning its platform into an online shop of sorts, compete with a dedicated Shop button, built-in checkout features, alerts about product drops, and numerous ways for creators to generate profits from their work.
Now that influencer shopping is the norm, the race is on among large platforms and startups alike to bring a similar set of shopping tools to live streamed video.
Given the significant competition, Pinterest’s pitch to the creator community is that its user base is already primed to shop.
By the end of 2020, the company says it saw a 20x increase in product searches on its platform. It also notes that Pinterest users are 89% more likely to exhibit shopping intent on products tagged in creators’ Idea Pins than on its standalone Pins. Plus, the company says that its focus will be more on inspirational content, rather than “influence and entertainment” — a seeming knock at social media and its influencer stars.
“Pinterest is the place where creators with inspiring and actionable ideas get discovered. With this latest update, we’re empowering Creators to reach millions of shoppers on the platform and monetize their work,” said Pinterest Head of Content and Creator Partnerships, Aya Kanai. “Creators deserve to be rewarded for the inspiration they deliver to their followers, and the sales they drive for brands. Creators are central to our mission to bring everyone the inspiration to create a life they love, and we’ll continue working with them to build their businesses and find success on Pinterest,” she added.
VOCHI, a Belarus-based startup behind a clever computer vision-based video editing app used by online creators, has raised an additional $2.4 million in a “late-seed” round that follows the company’s initial $1.5 million round led by Ukraine-based Genesis Investments last year. The new funds follow a period of significant growth for the mobile tool, which is now used by over 500,000 people per month and has achieved a $4 million-plus annual run rate in a year’s time.
Investors in the most recent round include TA Ventures, Angelsdeck, A.Partners, Startup Wise Guys, Kolos VC, and angels from other Belarus-based companies like Verv and Bolt. Along with the fundraise, VOCHI is elevating the company’s first employee, Anna Bulgakova, who began as head of marketing, to the position of co-founder and Chief Product Officer.
According to VOCHI co-founder and CEO lya Lesun, the company’s idea was to provide an easy way for people to create professional edits that could help them produce unique and trendy content for social media that could help them stand out and become more popular. To do so, VOCHI leverages a proprietary computer-vision-based video segmentation algorithm that applies various effects to specific moving objects in a video or to images in static photos.
“To get this result, there are two trained [convolutional neural networks] to perform semi-supervised Video Object Segmentation and Instance Segmentation,” explains Lesun, of VOCHI’s technology. “Our team also developed a custom rendering engine for video effects that enables instant application in 4K on mobile devices. And it works perfectly without quality loss,” he adds. It works pretty fast, too — effects are applied in just seconds.
The company used the initial seed funding to invest in marketing and product development, growing its catalog to over 80 unique effects and more than 30 filters.
Image Credits: VOCHI
Today, the app offers a number of tools that let you give a video a particular aesthetic (like a dreamy vibe, artistic feel, or 8-bit look, for example). It can also highlight the moving content with glowing lines, add blurs or motion, apply different filters, insert 3D objects into the video, add glitter or sparkles, and much more.
In addition to editing their content directly, users can swipe through a vertical home feed in the app where they can view the video edits others have applied to their own content for inspiration. When they see something they like, they can then tap a button to use the same effect on their own video. The finished results can then be shared out to other platforms, like Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok.
Though based in Belarus, most of VOCHI’s users are young adults from the U.S. Others hail from Russia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and parts of Europe, Lesun says.
Unlike some of its video editor rivals, VOCHI offers a robust free experience where around 60% of the effects and filters are available without having to pay, along with other basic editing tools and content. More advanced features, like effect settings, unique presents and various special effects require a subscription. This subscription, however, isn’t cheap — it’s either $7.99 per week or $39.99 for 12 weeks. This seemingly aims the subscription more at professional content creators rather than a casual user just looking to have fun with their videos from time to time. (A one-time purchase of $150 is also available, if you prefer.)
To date, around 20,000 of VOCHI’s 500,000 monthly active users have committed to a paid subscription, and that number is growing at a rate of 20% month-over-month, the company says.
Image Credits: VOCHI
The numbers VOCHI has delivered, however, aren’t as important as what the startup has been through to get there.
The company has been growing its business at a time when a dictatorial regime has been cracking down on opposition, leading to arrests and violence in the country. Last year, employees from U.S.-headquartered enterprise startup PandaDoc were arrested in Minsk by the Belarus police, in an act of state-led retaliation for their protests against President Alexander Lukashenko. In April, Imaguru, the country’s main startup hub, event and co-working space in Minsk — and birthplace of a number of startups, including MSQRD, which was acquired by Facebook — was also shut down by the Lukashenko regime.
Meanwhile, VOCHI was being featured as App of the Day in the App Store across 126 countries worldwide, and growing revenues to around $300,000 per month.
“Personal videos take an increasingly important place in our lives and for many has become a method of self-expression. VOCHI helps to follow the path of inspiration, education and provides tools for creativity through video,” said Andrei Avsievich, General Partner at Bulba Ventures, where VOCHI was incubated. “I am happy that users and investors love VOCHI, which is reflected both in the revenue and the oversubscribed round.”
The additional funds will put VOCHI on the path to a Series A as it continues to work to attract more creators, improve user engagement, and add more tools to the app, says Lesun.
YouTube will begin pilot testing a new feature that will allow viewers to shop for products directly from livestream videos. The feature will initially launch with just a handful of creators and brands, the company says, and is an expansion of the integrated shopping experience YouTube began beta testing earlier this year.
That feature was designed only for on-demand videos, and allowed viewers to tap into the “credibility and knowledge” of trusted creators in order to make informed purchases, the company explained at the time. It said it would roll out to more creators over the course of 2021.
YouTube’s video platform, for years, has been a powerful tool for product discovery, as its over 2 billion logged-in users per month turn to the service to watch product reviews, demos, unboxings, shopping hauls, and other content that could inspire future purchases. But creators who wanted to sell from their YouTube videos would often have to promote affiliate links to online stores through the video’s description or in-video elements, like cards or end screens.
In more recent years, YouTube also introduceda merch shelf that would allow viewers to shop a set of specific products the creator selected.
The integrated shopping experience, meanwhile, allows viewers to shop the products shown in the video itself by tapping on a “view products” button, which brings up a list of the items being featured.
Image Credits: YouTube
This feature allows YouTube to better compete with the growing number of video shopping experiences becoming available from both startups and competitors, including Facebook, Instagram, TikTokPinterest, Amazon, and Snapchat. Many of those include support for livestream videos, too.
YouTube’s own interest in this space has been heating up, as well, as just this week the company announced it was acquiring Indian video shopping app Simsim — an indication of Google’s interest in further integrating video shopping experiences into its own platform. Google also integrated video shopping into its Shopping search business, which included one effort from Shoploop, a video shopping product that graduated from Google’s in-house incubator, Area 120.
The expansion of YouTube’s integrated video shopping experience was announced today alongside other new Google Shopping features, including the addition of new section that organizes deals and sales on Google’s Shopping tab, which will be free for merchants who want to list.
Facebook just announced plans to pay content creators more than $1 billion by the end of next year through new bonus programs designed to keep creatives plugged into its app ecosystem. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg first announced the new funding to “reward creators for great content” on his Facebook page.
The company will pay creators through a series of new bonus initiatives across Facebook and Instagram which are “seasonal, evolving and expanding over time.” The bonus programs will have a dedicated hub within the Instagram app later this summer and in the Facebook app later this year.
The company will offer the first new bonuses to creators making videos on Facebook with in-stream ads enabled. Facebook is also expanding bonuses through its Stars system, which invites viewers to send streamers tips in exchange for fan perks. Creators making videos or livestreaming games will be eligible for monthly bonuses based on how many viewers send them payments via Stars through October.
Instagram will introduce its own bonuses, which will be invite-only to begin with. Within the next few weeks, U.S. creators can collect a one-time bonus for enabling IGTV ads. Other bonuses will reward creators for making Reels, Instagram’s answer to TikTok’s short-form video success, and for hitting certain milestones in Instagram Live.
Facebook’s foray into creator payments is just the latest effort to jump-start TikTok competitor products with cold hard cash. Snapchat hands out $1 million each day to the most popular videos in its short-form video product Spotlight. YouTube has its own $100 million fund for YouTube Shorts, the company’s own TikTok clone.
TikTok itself launched a $200 million creator fund last year, though the app doesn’t seem to have much to worry about (yet, anyway). According to data from SensorTower, TikTok just surpassed 3 billion global downloads. The only other apps to have crossed that milestone are WhatsApp, Messenger, Facebook and Instagram — all owned by Facebook.
Instagram is building its own version of Twitter’s Super Follow with a feature that would allow online creators to publish “exclusive” content to their Instagram Stories that’s only available to their fans — access that would likely come with a subscription payment of some kind. Instagram confirmed the screenshots of the feature recently circulated across social media are from an internal prototype that’s now in development, but not yet being publicly tested. The company declined to share any specific details about its plans, saying the company is not at a place to talk about this project just yet.
The screenshots, however, convey a lot of about Instagram’s thinking as they show a way that creators could publish what are being called “Exclusive Stories” to their account, which are designated with a different color (currently purple). When other Instagram users come across the Exclusive Stories, they’ll be shown a message that says that “only members” can view this content. The Stories cannot be screenshot either, it appears, and they can be shared as Highlights. A new prompt encourages creators to “save this to a Highlight for your Fans,” explaining that, by doing so, “fans always have something to see when they join.”
The Exclusive Stories feature was uncovered by reverse engineer Alessandro Paluzzi, who often finds unreleased features in the code of mobile apps. Over the past week, he’s published a series screenshots to an ongoing Twitter thread about his findings.
Exclusive Stories are only one part of Instagram’s broader plans for expanded creator monetization tools.
The company has been slowly revealing more details about its efforts in this space, with Instagram Head Adam Mosseri first telling The Information in May that the company was “exploring” subscriptions along with other new features, like NFTs.
Paluzzi also recently found references to the NFT feature, Collectibles, which shows how digital collectibles could appear on a creator’s Instagram profile in a new tab.
Instagram, so far, hasn’t made a public announcement about these specific product developments, instead choosing to speak at a high-level about its plans around things like subscriptions and tips.
For example, during Instagram’s Creator Week in early June — an event that could have served as an ideal place to offer a first glimpse at some of these ideas — Mosseri talked more generally about the sort of creator tools Instagram was interested in building, without saying which were actually in active development.
“We need to create, if we want to be the best platform for creators long term, a whole suite of things, or tools, that creators can use to help do what they do,” he said, explaining that Instagram was also working on more creative tools and safety features for creators, as well as tools that could help creators make a living.
“I think it’s super important that we create a whole suite of different tools, because what you might use and what would be relevant for you as a creator might be very different than an athlete or a writer,” he said.
“And so, largely, [the creator monetization tools] fall into three categories. One is commerce — so either we can do more to help with branded content; we can do more with affiliate marketing…we can do more with merch,” he explained. “The second is ways for users to actually pay creators directly — so whether it is gated content or subscriptions or tips, like badges, or other user payment-type products. I think there’s a lot to do there. I love those because those give creators a direct relationship with their fans — which I think is probably more sustainable and more predictable over the long run,” Mosseri said.
The third area is focused on revenue share, as with IGTV long-form video and short-form video, like Reels, he added.
Instagram isn’t the only large social platform moving forward with creator monetization efforts.
The membership model, popularized by platforms like OnlyFans and Patreon, has been more recently making its way to a number of mainstream social networks as the creator economy has become better established.
Meanwhile, Facebook just yesterday launched its Substack newsletter competitor, Bulletin, which offers a way for creators to sell premium subscriptions and access member-only groups and live audio rooms. Even Spotify has launched an audio chat room and Clubhouse rival, Greenroom, which it also plans to eventually monetize.
Though the new screenshots offer a deeper look into Instagram’s product plans on this front, we should caution that an in-development feature is not necessarily representative of what a feature will look like at launch or how it will ultimately behave. It’s also not a definitive promise of a public launch — though, in this case, it would be hard to see Instagram scrapping its plans for exclusive, member-only content given its broader interest in serving creators, where such a feature is essentially part of a baseline offering.
On the heels of Etsy’s huge deal to acquire Depop to open the door to more social selling, targeting younger users, and deeply expand in Europe, the crafty marketplace has announced another significant deal to build out its reach, this time in Latin America. Etsy has announced that it will acquire Elo7 — commonly referred to as the “Etsy of Brazil” for its popular marketplace for crafty creators — for $217 million.
Etsy was already active in Brazil, but Elo7, one of the 10 biggest e-commerce sites in the region with 1.9 million active buyers, 56,000 active sellers and some 8 million items for sale, will give Etsy a significantly bigger presence in the market.
As with Depop (which was a $1.6 billion acquisition for Etsy) and Reverb (a musical instruments market Etsy acquired in 2019), Elo7 will remain a standalone brand and continue to be operated by its current management team out of its HQ in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The deal underscores an interesting playbook under Etsy CEO Josh Silverman, who has a long history in the world of e-commerce, including years with eBay during that company’s more acquisitive heydays.
“Elo7 is the ‘Etsy of Brazil,’ with a purpose and business model similar to our own,” Silverman said in a statement. “Following our recent agreement to purchase Depop, we’re excited to bring another unique marketplace into the Etsy family. This transaction will establish a foothold for us in Latin America, an underpenetrated ecommerce region where Etsy currently does not have a meaningful customer base. We look forward to welcoming Elo7’s talented leadership team and employees to the Etsy family.”
It’s an interesting turn also for Etsy as it goes into a more aggressive growth mode. A lot of the earlier days in the world of e-commerce were marked by companies expanding inorganically — specifically, by picking up market share through acquisitions of similar players in their own or new geographies the acquirer wants to enter. This was the playbook followed at times by eBay, Amazon, Groupon and more.
These days, maybe because e-commerce has matured and, well, Amazon is such a behemoth that the barrier to entry becomes harder, you see a lot less of that, and there has even been something of a stigma attached to companies that you could call “clones” of models already started and scaled elsewhere, just not in your patch of the world.
So it’s interesting to see Etsy buying into that quite specifically in this case, with its announcement pointing out all the synergies of the two companies’ business models making it an easy one to bring into the fold. It’s something also highlighted by Elo7 — which in its time had raised about $18 million in funding from investors that included Accel, Monashes, and Insight Partners.
“Etsy has always been an inspiration and a reference for us, and we’re excited to continue our growth journey as part of Etsy – a company whose mission and culture so closely match our own,” said Carlos Curioni, Elo7’s longtime CEO. “We’re looking forward to leveraging Etsy’s product and marketing expertise to help the Elo7 marketplace, community and team achieve our full potential in Brazil.”
Brazil is really a prime market to follow the inorganic acquisition strategy. The country is one of the biggest e-commerce markets in the world in terms of both population, buying power and digital device penetration (particularly smartphones). At a time when many mature markets are seeing e-commerce growth slow — excepting the 44% bump in Covid-19 spending in 2020, typically US consumers were seeing e-commerce growth of around 15% and slowing year-on-year pre-pandemic — Brazil has been booming, since penetration is still pretty low but all the right factors for growth are there. Etsy cites figures that project it will grow 26% by 2024.
“We’re excited to announce this purchase of Elo7 following our recent announcement of the Depop transaction – two exciting businesses that meet Etsy’s very high bar for use of capital,” said Rachel Glaser, Etsy, Inc. CFO, in. statement. “In addition to job one, which is continuing to drive growth in our core Etsy.com marketplace, we will now focus on integrating Depop and Elo7 into the Etsy family. Reverb, Depop and Elo7 will each continue to be run by their talented and empowered management teams, and we’ll connect key functions across the brands in a way designed to accelerate value creation and make the whole worth more than the sum of its parts.”
In April, Facebook announced a series of planned investments in new audio products, including a Clubhouse live audio competitor as well as new support for podcasts. Today, Facebook is officially rolling these products with the launch of Live Audio Rooms in the U.S. on iOS, starting with public figures and select Facebook Groups, and the debut of an initial set of U.S. podcast partners.
The company tells us Live Audio Rooms will become available to any verified public figure or creator in the U.S. who’s in good standing with Facebook and is using either a profile or the new Facebook Pages experience on iOS. For Facebook Groups, the feature is launching with “dozens of groups,” we’re told.
Both products will become more broadly available in the weeks and months ahead, as more people, podcasts, and Groups are brought on board. Meanwhile, 100% of Facebook users in the U.S. will be able to listen to Live Audio Rooms and podcasts as of this week.
Image Credits: Facebook
Much like Clubhouse or similar audio apps, Facebook’s Live Audio Rooms offer a standard set of features.
The event’s hosts appear in rounded profile icons at the top of the screen, while the listeners appear in the bottom half of the screen, as smaller icons. The active speaker is indicated with a glowing ring. If verified, a check appears next to their name, as well.
There are also options for enabling live captions, a “raise hand” tool to request to speak, and tools to share the room with others on Facebook, through things like News Feed or Group posts.
Image Credits: Facebook
Facebook does things a little differently than others in some places. For instance, hosts are able to invite people to join them as a speaker in advance of the session, or they can choose listeners during the stream to join them. In each session, there can be up to 50 speakers and there’s no limit on the number of listeners, Facebook says.
During the session, users will be notified when friends or followers join the chat, too.
While listening, users can “Like” or react to the content as it streams using the “Thumbs Up” button at the bottom of the screen which connects you to Facebook’s set of emoji reactions. And with today’s official launch, listeners can also now show support to the public figure of the Live Audio Room by sending “Stars.” These Stars can be purchased during the conversation and used at any time, similar to how they work with other Facebook Live content.
By sending Stars, the listener is bumped up to the “Front Row,” a special section that highlights the people who sent the Stars. This allows the event’s hosts to easily recognize their supporters and even give them a shout out during the event, if they choose.
Image Credits: Facebook
Another new feature allows hosts to select a nonprofit or fundraiser to support during their conversation, and listeners and speakers can directly donate. A progress bar will show how much has been raised during the show.
Image Credits: Facebook
Meanwhile, for Facebook Groups, admins can control whether moderators, group members or other admins can create a Live Audio Room. Both members and visitors can listen to the rooms in public groups, but in private groups, the rooms are limited to Group members.
Facebook users are alerted to all the new Live Audio Rooms via the News Feed and Notifications, and can sign up to be reminded when a room they’re interested in goes Live. Live Audio Rooms will also be discoverable within Facebook Groups, where available.
Facebook Groups trying the new format include Dance Accepts Everyone, Vegan Soul Food, Meditation Matters, Pow Wow Nation, OctoNation – The Largest Octopus Fan Club!, and Space Hipsters.
Image Credits: Facebook
Alongside the launch of Live Audio Rooms, Facebook is also beginning to roll out its planned podcast support with a few select creators. These include Joe Budden of The Joe Budden Podcast; “Jess Hilarious” of Carefully Reckless from The Black Effect Podcast Network and iHeartRadio; Keltie Knight, Becca Tobin, and Jac Vanek of The LadyGang; and Nicaila Matthews Okome of Side Hustle Pro. Facebook will open up to other podcasters this summer.
Image Credits: Facebook
To be clear, this new podcasts service is different from the recently launched music and podcasts player in partnership with Spotify, which lets users share content from Spotify to the social network. The new feature instead involves podcasts that are streamed via public RSS feeds directly on Facebook, not delivered by Spotify. However, the miniplayer for podcasts on Facebook will look like the miniplayer for the Spotify listening integration (also known as Project Boombox), and they will behave similarly. But they are not the same.
The new podcast listening experience lets users listen to podcasts as they browse Facebook, either in a miniplayer or fullscreen player with playback options, and even if the phone’s display is turned off. This makes Facebook, in a way, a native podcast streaming app because it allows people to listen to audio without needing another service — like Spotify or Apple Podcasts, for example.
Facebook had earlier said there are over 170 Facebook users who are connected to a Page for a podcast, demonstrating user interest in podcasts on its social network.
Image Credits: Facebook
With the launch of the Facebook Podcast service, the company is asking podcast creators to give it permission to cache their content on Facebook’s servers, which we’re told is being done to ensure the content doesn’t violate Facebook’s Community Standards. However, because the podcasts are still being streamed via RSS feeds, they will be represented in the metrics provided by a podcaster’s hosting provider.
Last week, Facebook emailed podcast page owners details on how to set up their show on Facebook, noting they can link their podcast’s RSS feed to automatically generate News Feed posts for their episodes. These are also featured on a “podcasts” tab on their Page. According to Facebook’s Podcast Terms of Service, creators are granting Facebook the right to create “derivative works,” which likely refers to an upcoming clips feature.
Facebook says later this summer, it will add the ability to create and share short clips from a podcast, along with other features, like captions. Longer-term, it will create social experiences around podcasts, as well. It’s also working with creators to develop and launch its new product, Soundbites, which are short-form, creative audio clips. This will launch later in 2021.
Image Credits: Facebook
Other audio products in the works include a central listening destination and background audio listening for videos.
Facebook says this new destination will be a place where all the different audio formats across Facebook are available, not just podcasts, and will help users find to new things and people to listen to. More details on this project will become available later this summer.
Prior to today, Facebook quietly tested Live Audio Rooms in Taiwan and internally with Facebook employees Those tests will continue. Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hosted the first trial of the new service in the U.S., where he was joined by other Facebook execs and a few Facebook Gaming creators.
Zuckerberg has been bullish on the potential for audio across the social networking platform. He even appeared on Clubhouse a couple of times to discuss the topic ahead of announcing what is, essentially, Facebook’s own Clubhouse competitor.
“I think the areas where I’m most excited about it on Facebook are basically in the large number of communities and groups that exist,” Zuckerberg had told Platformer, at the time of the original announcement. “I think that you already have these communities that are organized around interests, and allowing people to come together and have rooms where they can talk is — I think it’d be a very useful thing,” he added.
Facebook expects to expand its audio products globally in the months ahead.
In March, Spotify announced it was acquiring the company behind the sports-focused audio app Locker Room to help speed its entry into the live audio market. Today, the company is making good on that deal with the launch of Spotify Greenroom, a new mobile app that allows Spotify users worldwide to join or host live audio rooms, and optionally turn those conversations into podcasts. It’s also announcing a Creator Fund which will help to fuel the new app with more content in the future.
The Spotify Greenroom app itself is based on Locker Room’s existing code. In fact, Spotify tells us, current Locker Room users will see their app update to become the rebranded and redesigned Greenroom experience, starting today.
Where Locker Room had used a white-and-reddish orange color scheme, the new Greenroom app looks very much like an offshoot from Spotify, having adopted the same color palette, font and iconography.
To join the new app, Spotify users will sign in with their current Spotify account information. They’ll then be walked through an onboarding experience designed to connect them with their interests.
Image Credits: Spotify
For the time being, the process of finding audio programs to listen to relies primarily on users joining groups inside the app. That’s much like how Locker Room had operated, where its users would find and follow favorite sports teams. However, Greenroom’s groups are more general interest now, as it’s no longer only tied to sports.
In time, Spotify tells us the plan is for Greenroom to leverage Spotify’s personalization technology to better connect users to content they would want to hear. For example, it could send out notifications to users if a podcaster you already followed on Spotify went live on Spotify Greenroom. Or it could leverage its understanding of what sort of podcasts and music you listen to in order to make targeted recommendations. These are longer-term plans, however.
As for Spotify Greenroom’s feature set, it’s largely on par with other live audio offerings — including those from Clubhouse, Twitter (Spaces) and Facebook (Live Audio Rooms). Speakers in the room appear at the top of the screen as rounded profile icons, while listeners appear below as smaller icons. There are mute options, moderation controls, and the ability to bring listeners on stage during the live audio session. Rooms can host up to 1,000 people, and Spotify expects to scale that number up later on.
Image Credits: Spotify
Listeners can also virtually applaud speakers by giving them “gems” in the app — a feature that came over from Locker Room, too. The number of gems a speaker earned displays next to their profile image during a session. For now, there’s no monetary value associated with the gems, but that seems an obvious next step as Greenroom today offers no form of monetization.
It’s worth noting there are a few key differentiators between Spotify Greenroom and similar live audio apps. For starters, it offers a live text chat feature that the host can turn on or off whenever they choose. Hosts can also request the audio file of their live audio session after it wraps, which they can then edit to turn into a podcast episode.
Perhaps most importantly is that the live audio sessions are being recorded by Spotify itself. The company says this is for moderation purposes. If a user reports something in a Greenroom audio room, Spotify can go back to look into the matter, to determine what sort of actions may need to be taken. This is an area Clubhouse has struggled with, as its users have sometimes encountered toxicity and abuse in the app in real-time, including in troubling areas like racism and misogyny. Recently, Clubhouse said it had to shut down a number of rooms for antisemitism and hate speech, as well.
Spotify says the moderation of Spotify Greenroom will be handled by its existing content moderation team. Of course, how quickly Spotify will be able react to boot users or shut down live audio rooms that are in violation of its Code of Conduct remains to be seen.
While the app launching today is focused on user-generated live audio content, Spotify has larger plans for Greenroom. Later this summer, the company plans to make announcements around programmed content — something it says is a huge priority — alongside the launch of other new features. This will include programming related to music, culture, and entertainment, in addition the to sports content Locker Room was known for.
Image Credits: Spotify
The company also says it will be marketing Spotify Greenroom to artists through its Spotify for Artists channels, in hopes of seeding the app with more music-focused content. And it confirmed that monetization options for creators will come further down the road, too, but isn’t talking about what those may look like in specific detail for the moment.
In addition, Spotify is today announcing the Spotify Creator Fund, which will help audio creators in the U.S. generate revenue for their work. The company, however, declined to share any details on this front, either– like the size of fund, how much creators would receive, time frame for distributions, selection criteria or other factors. Instead, it’s only offering a sign-up form for those who may be interested in hearing more about this opportunity in the future. That may make it difficult for creators to weigh their options, when there are now so many.
Spotify Greenroom is live today on both iOS and Android across 135 markets around the world. That’s not quite the global footprint of Spotify itself, though, which is available in 178 markets. It’s also only available in the English language for the time being, but plans on expanding as it grows.
In April, Facebook announced a slew of new audio products, including its Clubhouse clone, called Live Audio Rooms, which will be available across both Facebook and Messenger. Since May, Facebook has been publicly testing the audio rooms feature in Taiwan with public figures, but today the company hosted its first public test of Live Audio Rooms in the U.S. The event itself was hosted by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who chatted with fellow execs and creators.
The creators used their time in the Audio Room to talk more about their gaming journeys on Facebook, what kind of games they were streaming and other gaming-related matters. Zuckerberg also briefly teased new gaming features including a new type of post, coming soon, called “Looking for Players.” This post type will help creators find others in the community to play games with while they’re streaming.
In addition, badges that are earned from live streams will now carry over to fan groups, Zuckerberg said, adding that it was a highly requested feature by creators and fans alike.
Fan groups will also now become available to all partnered creators on Facebook Gaming, starting today, and will roll out to others in the coming weeks.
Image Credits: Facebook screenshot
The experience of using the Live Audio Room is very much like what you’d expect on another platform, like Clubhouse or Twitter Spaces. The event’s hosts appear in rounded profile icons at the top of the screen, while the listeners appear in the bottom half of the screen, as smaller icons. In between is a section that includes people followed by the speakers.
The active speaker is indicated with a glowing ring in shades of Facebook blue, purple and pink. If verified, a blue check appears next to their name.
Listeners can “Like” or otherwise react to the content as it streams live using the “Thumbs Up” button at the bottom of the screen. And they can choose to share the Audio Room either in a Facebook post, in a Group, with a friend directly, or through other apps.
A toggle switch under the room’s three-dot “more” menu lets you turn on or off auto-generated captions, for accessibility. From here, you can also report users or any issues or bugs you encountered.
The Live Audio Room today did not offer any option for raising your hand or joining the speakers on stage — it was more of a “few-to-many” broadcast experience.
Before today, TechCrunch received a couple of tips from users who reported seeing the Audio Rooms option appear for them in the Facebook app. However, the company told us it had only tested Live Audio Rooms in the U.S. with employees.
During the test period, Live Audio Rooms are only available on iOS and Android, we’re told.
Zuckerberg also used today’s event to talk more broadly about Facebook’s plans for the creator economy going forward.
“I think a good vision for the future is one where a lot more people get to do creative work and work that they enjoy, and fewer people have to do work that they just find a chore. And, in order to do that, a lot of what we need to do is basically build out a bunch of these different monetization tools,” explained Zuckerberg. “Not all creators are going to have the same business model. So having the ability to basically use a lot of different tools like Fiji [Simo] was talking about — for some people it might be, Stars or ad revenue share or subscriptions or selling things or different kinds of things like that — that will be important and part of making this all add up.”
He noted also that the tools Facebook is building go beyond gaming, saying that Facebook intends to support journalists, writers, and others — likely a reference to the company’s upcoming Substack clone, Bulletin, expected to launch later this month.
Zuckerberg additionally spoke about how the company won’t immediately take a cut of the revenue generated from creators’ content.
“Having this period where we’re not taking a cut and more people can get into these kinds of roles, I think is going to be a good thing to do — especially given how hard hit a lot of parts of the economy have been with COVID and the pandemic,” he said.
More realistically, of course, Facebook’s decision to not take an immediate cut of some creator revenue is a decision it’s making in order to help attract more creators to its service, in the face of so much competition across the industry.
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, our series will take a dive into the key announcements impacting app developers from WWDC 21.
Apple’s WWDC went virtual again this year, but it didn’t slow down the pace of announcements. This week, Apple introduced a slate of new developer tools and frameworks, changes to iOS that will impact how consumers use their devices and new rules for publishing on its App Store, among other things. We don’t have the bandwidth to dig into every dev update — and truly, there are better places to learn about, say, the new concurrency capabilities of Swift 5.5 or what’s new with SwiftUI.
But after a few days of processing everything new, here’s what’s jumping out as the bigger takeaways and updates.
Apple’s development IDE, Xcode 13, now includes Xcode Cloud, a built-in continuous integration and delivery service hosted on Apple’s cloud infrastructure. Apple says the service, birthed out of its 2018 Buddybuild acquisition, will help to speed up the pace of development by combining cloud-based tools for building apps along with tools to run automated tests in parallel, deliver apps to testers via TestFlight and view tester feedback through the web-based App Store Connect dashboard. Beyond the immediate improvements to the development process (which developers are incredibly excited about based on #WWDC21tweets) Xcode Cloud represents a big step by Apple further into the cloud services space, where Amazon (AWS), Google and Microsoft have dominated. While Xcode Cloud may not replace solutions designed for larger teams with more diverse needs, it’s poised to make app development easier — and deliver a new revenue stream to Apple. If only Apple had announced the pricing!
Swift Playgrounds got a notable update in iPadOS 15, as it will now allow developers to build iPhone and iPad apps right on their iPad and submit them to the App Store. In Swift Playgrounds 4, coming later this year, Apple says developers will be able to create the visual design of an app using SwiftUI, see the live preview of their app’s code while building and can run their apps full-screen to test them out. App projects can also be opened and edited with either Swift Playgrounds or Xcode.
While it’s not the Xcode on iPad system some developers have been requesting, it will make app building more accessible because of iPad’s lower price point compared with Mac. It could also encourage more people to try app development, as Swift Playgrounds helps student coders learn the basics then move up to more challenging lessons over time. Now, they can actually build real apps and hit the publish button, too.
I had to save for a couple of months – 8-10 months before buying my first Mac. Swift playgrounds on iPad is a very welcome move!
Antitrust pressure swirling around Apple has contributed to a growing sentiment among some developers that Apple doesn’t do enough to help them grow their businesses — and therefore, is undeserving of a 15%-30% cut of the revenues the developers themselves worked to gain. The new App Store updates may start to chip away at that perception.
Soon, developers will be able to create up to 35 custom product pages targeted toward different users, each with their unique URL for sharing and analytics for measuring performance. The pages can include different preview videos, screenshots and text.
Image Credits: Apple
Apple will also allow developers to split traffic between three treatments of the app’s default page to measure which ones convert best, then choose the percentage of the App Store audience that will see one of the three treatments.
Meanwhile, the App Store will begin to show to customers in-app events taking place inside developers’ apps — like game competitions, fitness challenges, film premieres and more — effectively driving traffic to apps and re-engaging users. Combined, Apple is making the case that its App Store can drive discovery beyond just offering an app listing page.
Beyond the App Store product itself, Apple overhauled its App Store policies to address the growing problem of scam apps. The changes give Apple permission to crack down on scammers by removing offenders from its Developer Program. The new guidelines also allow developers to report spam directly to Apple, instead of, you know, relying on tweets and press.
Apple has historically downplayed the scam problem. It noted how the App Store stopped over $1.5 billion in fraudulent transactions in 2020, for example. Even if it’s a small percentage of the App Store, scam apps with fake ratings not only can cheat users out of millions of dollars, they reduce consumer trust in the App Store and Apple itself, which has longer-term consequences for the ecosystem health. What’s unclear, however, is why Apple is seemingly trying to solve the App Review issues using forms — to report fraud (and now, to appeal rulings, too) when it’s becoming apparent that Apple needs a more systematic way of keeping tabs on the app ecosystem beyond the initial review process.
The App Store discovery updates mentioned above also matter more because developers may need to reduce their reliance on notifications to send users back into their apps. Indeed, iOS 15 users will be able to choose which apps they don’t need to hear from right away — these will be rounded up into a new Notification Summary that arrives on a schedule they configure, where Siri intelligence helps determine which apps get a top spot. If an app was already struggling to re-engage users through push notifications, getting relegated to the end of a summary is not going to help matters.
And users can “Send to Summary” right from the Lock Screen notification itself in addition to the existing options to “Deliver Quietly” or be turned off. That means any ill-timed push could be an app developer’s last.
Image Credits: Apple
Meanwhile, the clever new “Focus” modes let iOS users configure different quiet modes for work, play, sleeping and more, each with their own set of rules and even their own home screens. But making this work across the app ecosystem will require developer adoption of four “interruption levels,” ranging from passive to critical. A new episode of a fav show should be a “passive” notification, for example. “Active” is the default setting — which doesn’t get to break into Focus. “Time sensitive” notifications should be reserved for alerting to more urgent matters, like a delivery that’s arrived on your doorstep or an account security update. These may be able to break through Focus, if allowed.
Image Credits: Apple
“Critical” notifications would be reserved for emergencies, like severe weather alerts or local safety updates. While there is a chance developers may abuse the new system to get their alert through, they risk users silencing their notifications entirely or deleting the app. Focus mode users will be power users and more technically savvy, so they’ll understand that an errant notification here was a choice and not a mistake on the developer’s part.
Image Credits: Apple
Apple has been steadily pushing out more tools for building augmented reality apps, but this WWDC it just introduced a huge update that will make it easier for developers getting started with AR. With the launch of RealityKit 2, Apple’s new Object Capture API will allow developers to create 3D models in minutes using only an iPhone or iPad (or a DSLR or drone if they choose).
Explains Apple this will address one of the most difficult parts of making great AR apps, which was the process of creating 3D models. Before, this could take hours and cost thousands of dollars — now, developers with just an iPhone and Mac can participate. The impacts of this update will be seen in the months and years ahead, as developers adopt the new tools for things like AR shopping, games and other AR experiences — including ones we may not have seen yet, but are enabled by more accessible AR technology tools and frameworks.
This update is unexpected and interesting, despite missing what would have been an ideal launch window: mid-pandemic back in 2020. With SharePlay, developers can bring their apps into what Apple is calling “Group Activities” — or shared experiences that take place right inside FaceTime.
If you were co-watching Hulu with friends during the pandemic, you get the idea. But Apple isn’t tacking on some co-viewing system here. Instead, it’s introducing new APIs that let users listen to music, stream video or screen share with friends, in a way that feels organic to FaceTime. There was a hint of serving the locked-down COVID-19 pandemic crowd with this update, as Apple talks about making people feel as if they’re “in the same room” — a nod to those many months where that was not possible. And that may have inspired the changes, to be sure. Similarly, FaceTime’s support for Android and scheduled calls — a clear case of Zoom envy — feels like a case of playing catch-up on Apple’s part.
Image Credits: Apple
The immediate demand for these sorts of experiences may be dulled by a population that’s starting to recover from the pandemic — people are now going out and seeing others in person again thanks to vaccines. But the ability to use apps while FaceTime’ing has a lifespan that extends beyond the COVID era, particularly among iPhone’s youngest users. The demographic growing up with smartphones at ever-younger ages don’t place phone calls — they text and FaceTime. Some argue Gen Z even prefers the latter.
Image Credits: Apple
With its immediate support for Apple services like Apple Music and Apple TV+, SharePlay will hit the ground running — but it will only fully realize its vision with developer adoption. But such a system seems possibly only because of Apple’s tight control over its platform. It also gives a default iOS app a big advantage over third-parties.
Not to be outdone by WWDC (ha), Google this week launched Android 12, beta 2. This release brings more of the new features and design changes to users that weren’t yet available in the first beta which debuted at Google I/O. This includes the new privacy dashboard; the addition of the mic and camera indicators that show when an app is using those features; an indication when an app is reading from the clipboard; and a new panel that makes it easier to switch between internet providers or Wi-Fi networks.
Google also this week released its next Pixel feature drop which brought new camera and photo features, privacy features, Google Assistant improvements and more. Highlights included a way to create stargazing videos, a car crash detection feature and a way to answer or reject calls hands-free.
Pinterest wants to get more users clicking “buy.” The company this week added a new Shopping List feature which automatically organizes your saved Product Pins for easier access.
Google discontinued its AR-based app Measure, which had allowed users to measure things in the real world using the phone’s camera. The app had seen some stability and accuracy issues in the past.
Facebook’s Messenger app added Venmo-like QR codes for person-to-person payments inside its app in the U.S. Users can scan the codes to send or request a payment, even if they’re not Facebook friends with the other party. Payments are sent over Facebook Pay, which is backed by a users’ credit card, debit card or a PayPal account.
Downloads of fintech apps are up 132%globally YoY according to an AppsFlyer marketing report.
Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey said Square is thinking about adding a bitcoin hardware wallet to its product lineup. The exec detailed some of the thinking behind the plan in a Twitter thread.
Square is considering making a hardware wallet for #bitcoin. If we do it, we would build it entirely in the open, from software to hardware design, and in collaboration with the community. We want to kick off this thinking the right way: by sharing some of our guiding principles.
Instagram head Adam Mosseri said Facebook will help creators get around Apple’s 30% cut. While any transactions that take place in iOS will follow Apple’s rules, Mosseri said Facebook will look for other ways to help creators make a living where they don’t have to give up a portion of their revenue — like by connecting brands and creators offline or affiliate deals.
Related to this, Instagram announced during its Creator Week event it will start testing a native affiliate tool that will allow creators to recommend products and then earn commissions on those sales. Creators can also now link their merch shops to personal profiles instead of just business profiles, and by year-end, will be able to partner on merch and drops with companies like Bravado/UMG, Fanjoy, Represent and Spring.
Image Credits: Instagram
Instagram also rolled out a new “badge” for live videos which lets viewers tip creators, similar to Facebook’s Stars. Facebook also said paid online events, fan subscriptions, badges and its upcoming news products will remain free through 2023. And it rolled out new features and challenges to help creators earn additional payouts for hitting certain milestones.
Finally, Instagram in a blog post explained how its algorithm works. The post details how the app decides what to show users first, why some posts get more views than others, how Explore works and other topics.
Giphy’s Clips (GIFs with sound) are now available in the Giphy iMessage app, instead of only on the web and in its iOS app. That means you can send the…uh, videos (??)…right from your keyboard.
Image Credits: Tinder
Match-owned dating app Tinder added a way for users to block contacts. The feature requires users grant the app permission to access the phone’s contacts database, which is a bit privacy-invasive. But then users can go through their contacts and check those they want to block on Tinder. The benefit is this would allow people to block exes and abusers. But on the downside, it permits cheating as users can block partners and those who might see them and report back.
Streaming & Entertainment
YouTube will allow creators to repurpose audio from existing YouTube videos as its “Shorts” product — basically, its TikTok competitor — rolls out to more global markets.
Roblox is generating estimated revenue of $3.01 million daily on iPhone, according to data from Finbold. Clash of Clans, Candy Crush Saga, Pokémon GO and others follow. Good thing if they have to pay up over that music usage lawsuit.
Image Credits: Finbold
Apple-owned weather app Dark Sky, whose technology just powered a big iOS 15 revamp of Apple’s stock weather app, is not shutting down just yet. The company announced its iOS app, web app and API will remain online through the end of 2022, instead of 2021 as planned.
Microsoft’s Outlook email app for iOS now lets you use your voice to write emails and schedule meetings. The feature leverages Cortana, and follows the launch of a Play My Emails feature inside Outlook Mobile.
Government & Policy
President Biden revoked and replaced Trump’s actions which had targeted Chinese apps, like TikTok and WeChat. The president signed a new executive order that requires the Commerce Dept. to review apps with ties to “foreign adversaries” that may pose national security risks. Trump had previously tried to ban the apps outright, but his order was blocked by federal courts.
Google has agreed to show more mobile search apps for users to choose from on new Android phones following feedback from the European Commission. The company had been showing a choice screen where app providers bid against each other for the slot, and pay only if users download apps. DuckDuckGo and others complained the solution has not been working.
Security & Privacy
Security flaws were found in Samsung’s stock mobile apps impacting some Galaxy devices. One could have allowed for data theft through the Secure Folder app. Samsung Knox security software could have been used to install malicious apps. And a bug in Samsung Dex could have scraped data from notifications. There are no indications users were impacted and the flaws were fixed.
An App Store analysis published by The Washington Post claims nearly 2% of the top grossing apps on one day were scam apps, which cost people $48 million. They included several VPN apps that told users their iPhones were infected with viruses, a QR code reader that tricked customers into a subscription for functionality that comes with an iPhone, and apps that pretend to be from big-name brands, like Amazon and Samsung.
Multiple apps were removed from the Chinese app store for violating data collection rules, Reuters reported. The apps hailed from Sogou, iFlytek and others, and included virtual keyboards.
Funding and M&A
Mexican payments app Clip raised $250 million from SoftBank’s Latin American Fund and Viking Global Investors, valuing the business at $2 billion. The app offers a Square-like credit card reader device and others, and has begun to offer cash advances to clients.
Shopify acqui-hires the team from the augmented reality home design app Primer. The app, which will be shut down, had allowed users to visualize what tile, wallpaper or paint will look like on surfaces inside their home.
Singapore-based corporate services “super app” Osome raised $16 million in Series A funding. The app offers online accounting and other business services for SMBs. Investors include Target Global, AltaIR Capital, Phystech Ventures, S16VC and VC Peng T. Ong.
Chinese grocery delivery app Dingdong Maicai, backed by Sequoia and Tiger Global, has filed for a U.S. IPO. To date, the company has raised $1 billion.
San Francisco-based MaintainX raised $39 millionin Series B funding led by Bessemer Venture Partners for its mobile-first platform for industrial and frontline workers to help track maintenance, safety and operations.
Berlin’s Ada Health raised $90 millionin Series B funding in a round led by Leaps by Bayer, the impact investment arm of Bayer AG. The app lets users monitor their symptoms and track their health and clinical data.
Photo app Dispo confirmed its previously leaked Series A funding, which earlier reports had pegged as being around $20 million. The app had been rebranded from David’s Disposable and dropped its association with YouTuber David Dobrik, following sexual assault allegations regarding a member of the Vlog Squad. Spark Capital severed ties with Dispo as a result. Seven Seven Six and Unshackled Ventures remained listed as investors, per Dispo’s press release, but the company didn’t confirm the size of the round.
Brazilian fintech Nubank raised a $750 million extension to its Series G (which was $400 million last year) led by Berkshire Hathaway. The company offers a digital bank account accessible from an app, debit card, payments, loans, insurance and more. The funding brings the company to a $1.15 billion valuation.
Seattle-based tutoring app Kadama raised $1.7 million in seed funding led by Grishin Robotics. The app, which offering an online tutoring marketplace aimed at Gen Z, rode the remote learning wave to No. 2 in the Education category on the App Store.
Mark Cuban-based banking app Dave, which helps Americans build financial stability, is planning to go public via a SPAC launched by Chicago-based Victory Park Capital called VPC Impact Acquisition Holdings III. It also includes a $210 million private investment from Tiger Global Management.
Mobile game publisher Voodoo acquired Tel Aviv-based marketing automation platform Bidshake for an undisclosed sum. Launched in January 2020, Bidshake combines data aggregation and analytics with campaign and creative management. It will continue to operate independently.
Turntable — tt.fm
Image Credits: tt.fm on iPhone/Brian Heater
Newly launched music social network tt.fm is a Turntable.fm rival that lets you virtually hang out with friends while listening to music. To be clear, the app is not the same as Turntable.fm, which shut down in 2013 but then returned during the pandemic as people looked to connect online. While that Turntable was rebirthed by its founder Billy Chasen, Turntable – tt.fm hails from early Turntable.fm employee, now tt.fm CEO Joseph Perla. But as live events are coming back, the question now may be not which Turntable app to choose, but whether the Turnable.fm experience has missed the correct launch window…again.
The art app SketchAR previously offered artists tools to draw with AR, turn photos into AR, create AR masks for Snapchat, play games and more. With its latest update, artists can now turn their work into NFTs directly inside the app and sell it. The app, now used by nearly 500,000 users, will select a “Creator of the Week” to NFT on OpenSea. Others can create and auction their art as NFTs on-demand.
Today is Launch Day
Introducing OldOS — iOS 4 beautifully rebuilt in SwiftUI.
* Designed to be as close to pixel-perfect as possible. * Fully functional, perhaps even usable as a second OS. * Fully open source for all to learn, modify, and build on. pic.twitter.com/K0JOE2fEKM
Over the last year, Instagram has added a slew of features to help independent creators make a living, like Instagram Shop and Shopping in Reels. Today, Instagram launched new Insights for Reels and Live on its Professional Dashboard, giving businesses and creators essential data about the reach of their content. These tools will help Reels catch up with its competitor TikTok, which already offers users detailed analytics. As Instagram and TikTok continue trying to keep up with one another, it can only be a good thing for influencers and small businesses that use these platforms to bolster their income.
Previously, Instagram creators could only view publicly available metrics, like the views, likes, or comments on a Reel. Now, they will be able to access data like Accounts Reached, Saves, and Shares for their Reels. Instagram will also share the number of Peak Concurrent Viewers that tune in to watch their Live videos. Plus, in the Account Insights section of the app, Instagram will add breakdowns that show users what kinds of accounts they are reaching, and which content formats are generating their strongest engagement.
For entrepreneurs and content creators whose businesses run on social commerce, these analytics might not change the game, but they certainly make it easier to play. Shopping in Reels makes in-app sales more convenient, but until now, scant data was available to help businesses tailor their Reels to reach potential customers. On the other hand, TikTok’s analytics have long provided creators with data on their videos’ average watch time, types of traffic sources, and performance by geographic location. The viral video app announced earlier this month that it would work with specific brands, like the streetwear label Hype, to test in-app sales. This would deepen its competition with Instagram, but it’s still unclear when the feature will be widely available. So, Instagram’s Insights, combined with established in-app shopping, can create a perfect storm for content creators to better reach and monetize their target audiences.
“I always thought it was weird that there were no Insights for Reels. Sometimes it feels like shooting in the dark,” Quinn Jones told TechCrunch. Jones is one of the owners of KIKAY, a handmade jewelry business based in Los Angeles. With over 90,000 followers across Instagram and TikTok, the Gen-Z creators rely on social media to expand their audience and increase their sales. Though KIKAY has gone viral on TikTok, Jones said that Instagram has been the best way for the small business to gain followers.
“Insights are definitely going to be useful going forward,” said Jones. “It’s currently hard to tell the actual effective reach your videos have, and seeing Insights means more feedback to help improve content.”
For influencers, these analytics are also helpful for collaborating with brands on sponsored content.
“I’ve been wanting Insights for Reels for the longest time. All we know now is views, likes, and comments,” said Cara Cochran, an LGBTQ+ content creator and microinfluencer. She notes that brands have already been pushing creators to make videos on Reels ever since Instagram redesigned its interface to place the short videos front-and-center.
“Now that they are rolling out analytics, I think we will see a lot of brands push for more and more Reels instead of just static posts,” she says. “I think it brings their products to life in a whole new way, and it almost works like a commercial for them instead of just a static ad.”
Instagram will begin rolling out Insights today. The company also says that over the coming months, it will add tools to help creators measure engagement over a preset time frame and begin to support Insights on desktop.
Apple last month unveiled its plans for paid podcast subscriptions in a newly redesigned Apple Podcasts app. Now, it’s introducing a new program that will help podcast creators grow their subscriber base: affiliate marketing. The company’s “Apple Services Performance Partner Program,” which already exists to help market other Apple services like Apple TV, Apple News, and Apple Books, is today expanding to include paid podcasts.
The new program — “Apple Services Performance Partner Program for Apple Podcasts” (whew!) — will be open to anyone, though the company believes it will make the most sense for publishers and creators who already have an audience and a number of marketing channels where they can share these new affiliate links. When users convert by clicking through one of the links and subscribe to a premium podcast, the partner will receive a one-time commission at 50% of the podcast subscription price, after the subscriber accumulates their first month of paid service.
So, for example, if a paid podcast was charging subscribers $5 per month, the commission would be $2.50. This commission would apply for every new subscriber that signed up through the affiliate channel, and there’s no cap.
Podcast creators can also use the affiliate links to promote their own paid programs, which would allow them to generate incremental revenue.
While anyone can apply to join the affiliate program, there is an approval process involved. This is mainly about keeping spammers out of the program, and ensuring that those signing up do have at least some marketing channels where they can distribute the links. The sign-up form asks for specific criteria — like how many channels are available and how the partner intends to use them to promote the affiliate links, among other things.
The program will be made available to anyone in the 170 countries and regions where paid podcasts subscriptions are being made available.
Once approved and signed in, affiliate partners will gain access to an online dashboard where they can create links (i.e. shortened URLs) much like any other affiliate program. They can also create multiple URLs for an individual podcast to make it easier to track how well different channels are performing. The URLs can be posted on their own, tied to a “Listen on Apple Podcasts” badge, or can be made available as a QR code. The latter may make more sense when live events return, as it could be printed on signage or in flyers that were distributed during a live taping, for example. It could also be used in other sorts of advertising, including both print and digital.
Though premium podcasts already existed, until more recently that often involved paying a podcaster directly to access a private RSS feed. Smaller services like Stitcher also used subscriptions to provide paying customers with a series of perks, like ad-free listening and exclusive content. The new efforts by both Apple and Spotify are focused on wooing creators to their platforms, where they’ll take a cut of the subscription revenues. Spotify is waiving its 5% fee for the first two years, while Apple is employing its usual model of 30% in year 1 that drops to 15% in year two.
While people can begin to enroll in the new affiliate program starting today, paid podcasts aren’t actually launching until later this month, per Apple. When they do, those enrolled in the affilate program will be able to create links and begin earning commissions on subscriptions.
Spotify is further expanding into audiobooks — but not in the way you may think. The company today announced a new partnership with audiobooks platform, Storytel, which will allow existing Storytel subscribers to connect their account through Spotify to access their audiobooks within Spotify’s app. The partnership is the first example of what’s possible with Spotify’s recently introduced Open Access Platform, which aims to give creators and publishers a way to extend their reach.
The company briefly spoke about its plans for Open Access Platform during its press event, Stream On, earlier this year where it also detailed plans for paid podcast subscriptions, Spotify HiFi, and other new features. The Open Access Platform gives a publisher or creator a new way to deliver their content to their existing subscriber base, by allowing their customers to stream the content through Spotify.
The technology supports using the creator or publisher’s existing login system and allows them to maintain direct control over their relationship with listeners. For example, a paid podcast could use the system to stream to existing subscribers. In Storytel’s case, however, the company offers audiobook content, not podcasts.
“We want everyone to have access to great stories, and today Storytel offers more than 500,000 audiobooks on a global basis across 25 markets,” said Jonas Tellander, Storytel founder and CEO, in the company’s announcement. “Partnering with Spotify make amazing audiobook experiences and exciting authorships easier than ever to access for our customers, while we will also be tapping into the opportunity of reaching new audiences who are on Spotify today, but have not yet experienced the magic of audiobooks,” he added.
A competitor to Audible, Storytel offers audiobooks in a variety of languages, including some in English, for a fixed monthly price. Its unlimited library access may make it a better deal for people who listen to more than one than one audiobook per month. Typically, Storytel customers would stream via the mobile app for iOS or Android.
The company has 1.6 million subscribers, per a Reuters report. Spotify, meanwhile, has 356 million users, including 158 million subscribers across 178 markets.
The integration itself will go live later in 2021, allowing Storytel customers to sign into their accounts then stream through Spotify by linking their accounts.
Spotify had dabbled in audiobooks before Storytel. In January this year, for example, it began testing the format with a handful of classics, like “Frankenstein,” “Jane Eyre,” “Persuasion,” and others, narrated by celebs. It had also previously offered the first “Harry Potter” book with chapters narrated by stars like Daniel Radcliffe, David Beckham, and Dakota Fanning.
More partners for the Open Access Platform will be introduced this summer, Spotify says.
Pinterest is expanding into live events. The company is planning to host a three-day virtual event that will feature live-streamed sessions from top creators, including big names like Jonathan Van Ness and Rebecca Minkoff, among others. The virtual event will run inside the Pinterest app from May 24th through May 25th, and will serve as the company’s first public test of directly streaming creator content to its over 475 million global users.
The rise of the creator economy and a pandemic-fueled demand for virtual events led Pinterest to explore the idea of live streaming. Last fall, it began testing a “class communities” feature that allowed users to sign up for Zoom classes through Pinterest, while creators used Pinterest’s boards to organize materials, notes, and other resources. These communities also included a group chat option and shopping features.
The new live-streamed sessions will operate a bit differently.
For starters, they’re not directing users off-site to Zoom for the sessions. Instead, users will launch the live-streaming experience directly inside Pinterest mobile app and remain there during the sessions. Pinterest users can also comment to interact with the creator during their stream, but there is no longer any shopping functionality, Pinterest tells TechCrunch.
Image Credits: Pinterest
The live streams allow up to five “guests” and an unlimited number of viewers. Meanwhile, moderators — which may include Pinterest employees, during this test — will help to control the experience. They will also have the ability to remove people from the chat if they do not uphold Pinterest’s Community Standards.
The forthcoming event’s lineup will focus a variety of topics, including food, design, cooking, style, and more.
Jonathan Van Ness‘ session will discuss morning rituals and self-care routines. Fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff will teach Pinterest users how to style their summer wardrobe. Others featured during the event include food creators GrossyPelosi and Peter Som, who will showcase favorite recipes; Women’s Health magazine will talk about using vision boards to achieve your goals; Jennifer Alba will show how to communicate the Zodiac through sign language; and Hannah Bronfman will offer ideas for creating an at-home spa night.
In total, Pinterest will feature around 21 creators throughout the three-day event, with around 7 different session per day. Users will be directed to the live event via a new “Live” tab inside the Pinterest app for iOS and Android, where they can view the schedule and join sessions.
Image Credits: Pinterest
x”As a visual platform, people discover billions of ideas on Pinterest every day, and we’re always looking for new ways to help them bring those ideas to life,” says David Temple, Pinterest’s Head of Creators.
Temple notes Pinterest has integrated with third-party live-streaming technologies and built its own in-house messaging systems to power live interactions.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to respond to Pinner feedback for more dynamic and timely events as new interests like cooking have emerged for many in quarantine, and trends like beauty, fashion, and home renovation are on all-time highs as we move into a post-pandemic world,” Temple adds.
However, Pinterest isn’t discussing how it views the potential for live events longer-term. For the time being, it’s not offering tools that could woo creators away from other platforms where they can monetize their fans through features like donations, tips, virtual gifts, paid ticketing, subscriptions, or brand partnerships via a creator marketplace. Without such options, Pinterest could have a hard time competing for creators’ attention.
Image Credits: Pinterest
Nearly every big tech platform today is making a play for creators, and some are evenwilling to throw cash at them to win them over. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and Twitter are all building out features that let creators do more than build an audience to monetize through ads or brand deals. Now, fans can send creators money during or after streams, subscribe for exclusive content, pay for access and more, depending on the platform.