Mr. Zuckerberg, Meta’s chief executive, has restructured his company so that he no longer has a top deputy.
In defense of a dinosaur.
A report on direct messages sent to five women found that “abuse and harmful content is allowed to thrive” on Instagram. The platform’s parent company, Meta, said it disagreed with the report’s conclusions.
The company reports millions of photos and videos of suspected child sexual abuse each year. But when ages are unclear, young people are treated as adults and the images are not reported to the authorities.
The European Union is expected to finalize the Digital Markets Act, the most sweeping legislation to regulate tech since a European privacy law was passed in 2018.
The Brazilian Supreme Court has vowed to fight disinformation ahead of this year’s presidential elections. Banning the popular messaging app is its most drastic step yet.
Google, Meta, Twitter, Telegram and others are levers in the conflict, caught between demands from Ukraine, Russia, the European Union and the U.S.
Google, Apple and others were warned that they must comply with a new law, which would make them more vulnerable to the Kremlin’s censorship demands.
Ignoring a Slack, email or text message feels rude, but should it?
The company formerly known as Facebook has hit major turbulence as it suffered its biggest one-day wipeout ever.
Discord users from 12 to 23 years old describe how they use the messaging site, which has boomed during the pandemic.
Tears of joy prevailed as the most-used emoji in 2021, despite Gen Z’s stated contempt for it.
This will be the first time Adam Mosseri, a trusted lieutenant to Mark Zuckerberg, will appear before lawmakers under oath.
One of the web’s oldest functions remains one of its most powerful and promising.
The results in the latest quarter are a sign of the company’s financial strength as it faces a public relations crisis.
The outage disrupted the digital lives of small-business owners, politicians, aid workers and others. But for some, it was a welcome reprieve.
When apps used by billions of people worldwide blinked out, lives were disrupted, businesses were cut off from customers — and some Facebook employees were locked out of their offices.
“Conversational AI” startup PolyAI, based out of London, has raised $14 million in a funding round led by Silicon Valley’s Khosla Ventures, with participation from existing investors (Point72 Ventures, Amadeus Capital, Sands Capital Ventures, Passion Capital and Entrepreneur First). This follows their $12m Series A, and will provide resources for further US expansion beyond its existing US team. The startup has now raised $28m to date.
PolyAI builds and deploys voice assistants for automating customer services, which, claims the startup, sound like real humans. This helps companies get an infinite and cheaper supply of their best human voice operators, which reduces customer waiting times, and increases customer satisfaction and retention, says the company.
Co-founder Dr Nikola Mrkšić said: “The technical term for our technology is ‘multi-turn conversational AI’, but all the caller has to do is talk to it, like they would to a human. Compared to existing call centers, our assistants can boost customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores by up to 40% and reduce handling times by up to five minutes.”
“We build these systems very quickly (relative to the competition) — we get experiences like these up and running in 2-4 weeks thanks to our transformer-based language understanding models and the underlying dialog management platform,” he added.
In a statement, Vinod Khosla said: “PolyAI is one of the first AI companies using the newest generation of large pre-trained deep learning models (akin to BERT and GPT-3) in a real-world enterprise product. This means they can deploy automated AI agents in as little as two weeks, where incumbent providers of voice assistants would take up to six months to deploy an older version of this technology.”
A spinout from the University of Cambridge, PolyAI says it is is effectively ’pushing at an open door’ as the pandemic has led to staffing shortages in call centers, driving more companies to deploy smart voice assistants, which appear not to have been replaced chatbots at all, as consumer generally prefer to speak than type.
“We were expecting the system to handle 40% of calls, but at launch it handled 80%, and within two weeks it was up to 87%,” said Brian Jeppesen of Landry’s Golden Nugget Hotels & Casinos. “Callers think the AI agent is human”, Jeppesen continued, “which is great because the voice assistant never has a bad day, and is on 24/7. I wish I could hire more agents like that!”
Competitors include Nuance (recently acquired by Microsoft), IPSoft, Interactions, SmartAction, and Replicant. But PolyAI says its voice assistant can be turned live more quickly, in more languages, and charges on a per-minute basis.
Founded by Nikola Mrkšić (CEO), Tsung-Hsien Wen (CTO), Pei-Hao Su (Engineering Director), the three met while doing PhDs with Professor Steve Young, a leader in spoken dialog systems who pioneered many technologies that underpin voice assistants like Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa.
Recent PolyAI clients include Landry’s Entertainment, Greene King, Starling Bank, and Viasat.
With more than 270,000 stickers, Stipop’s library of colorful, character-driven expressions has a little something for everyone.
The company offers keyboard and social app stickers through ad-supported mobile apps on iOS and Android, but it’s recently focused more on providing stickers to developers, creators and other online businesses.
“We were able to gather so many artists because we actually began as our own app that provided stickers,” Stipop co-founder Tony Park told TechCrunch. The team took what they learned from running their own consumer-facing app — namely that collecting and licensing hundreds of thousands of stickers from artists around the world is hard work — and adapted their business to help solve that problem for others.
Stipop was the first Korean company to go through Yellow, Snapchat’s exclusive accelerator. The company is also part of Y Combinator’s Summer 2021 cohort.
Stipop’s sticker library is accessible through an SDK and an API, letting developers slot the searchable sticker library into their existing software. The company already has more than 200 companies that tap into its huge sticker trove, which offers a “single-day solution” for a process that would otherwise necessitate a lot more legwork. Stipop launched a website recently that helps developers integrate its SDK and API through quick installs.
“They can just add a single line of code inside their product and will have a fully customized sticker feature [so] users will be able to spice up their chats,” Park said.
Park points out that stickers encourage engagement — and for social software, engagement means growth. Stickers are a playful way to send characters back and forth in chat, but they also pop up in a number of other less obvious spots, from dating apps to ecommerce and ridesharing apps. Stipop even drives the sticker search in work collaboration software Microsoft Teams.
The company has already partnered with Google, which uses Stipop’s sticker library in Gboard, Android Messages and Tenor, a GIF keyboard platform that Google bought in 2018. That partnership drove 600 million sticker views within the first month. A new partnership between Stipop and Coca-Cola on the near horizon will add Coke-branded stickers to its sticker library and the company is opening its doors to more brands that understand the unique appeal of stickers in messaging apps.
Park says that people tend to compare stickers and gifs, two ways of wordlessly expressing emotion and social nuance, but stickers are a world unto themselves. Stickers exist in their own creative universe, with star artists, regional themes and original casts of characters that take on a life of their own among fans. “Sticker creators have their own profession,” Park said.
Visual artists can also find a lot of traction releasing stickers, even without sophisticated illustrations. And since they’re all about meaning rather than refinement, non-designers and less skilled artists can craft hit stickers too.
“Stickers are great for them because it [is] so easy to go viral,” Park said. The company has partnered with 8,000 sticker creators across 25 languages, helping those artists monetize their creations and generate income based on how many times a sticker is shared.
Stickers command their own visual language around the world, and Park has observed interesting cultural differences in how people use them to communicate. In the West, stickers are often used in place of text, but in Asia, where they’re used much more frequently, people usually send stickers to enhance rather than replace the meaning of text.
In East Asia, users tend to prefer simple black and white stickers, but in India and Saudi Arabia, bright, golden stickers top the trends. In South America, popular stickers take on a more pixelated, unique quality that resonates culturally there.
“With stickers, you fall in love with [the] characters you send… that becomes you,” Park said.
A London-headquartered startup called LOVE, valued at $17 million following its pre-seed funding, aims to redefine how people stay in touch with close family and friends. The company is launching a messaging app that offers a combination of video calling as well as asynchronous video and audio messaging, in an ad-free, privacy-focused experience with a number of bells and whistles, including artistic filters and real-time transcription and translation features.
But LOVE’s bigger differentiator may not be its product alone, but rather the company’s mission.
LOVE aims for its product direction to be guided by its user base in a democratic fashion as opposed to having the decisions made about its future determined by an elite few at the top of some corporate hierarchy. In addition, the company’s longer-term goal is ultimately to hand over ownership of the app and its governance to its users, the company says.
These concepts have emerged as part of bigger trends towards a sort of “web 3.0,” or next phase of internet development, where services are decentralized, user privacy is elevated, data is protected, and transactions take place on digital ledgers, like a blockchain, in a more distributed fashion.
LOVE’s founders are proponents of this new model, including serial entrepreneur Samantha Radocchia, who previously founded three companies and was an early advocate for the blockchain as the co-founder of Chronicled, an enterprise blockchain company focused on the pharmaceutical supply chain.
As someone who’s been interested in emerging technology since her days of writing her anthropology thesis on currency exchanges in “Second Life’s” virtual world, she’s now faculty at Singularity University, where she’s given talks about blockchain, A.I., Internet of Things, Future of Work, and other topics. She’s also authored an introductory guide to the blockchain with her book “Bitcoin Pizza.”
Co-founder Christopher Schlaeffer, meanwhile, held a number of roles at Deutsche Telekom, including Chief Product & Innovation Officer, Corporate Development Officer, and Chief Strategy Officer, where he along with Google execs introduced the first mobile phone to run Android. He was also Chief Digital Officer at the telecommunication services company VEON.
The two crossed paths after Schlaeffer had already begun the work of organizing a team to bring LOVE to the public, which includes co-founders Chief Technologist, Jim Reeves, also previously of VEON, and Chief Designer, Timm Kekeritz, previously an interaction designer at international design firm IDEO in San Francisco, design director at IXDS, and founder of design consultancy Raureif in Berlin, among other roles.
Explained Radocchia, what attracted her to join as CEO was the potential to create a new company that upholds more positive values than what’s often seen today — in fact, the brand name “LOVE” is a reference to this aim. She was also interested in the potential to think through what she describes as “new business models that are not reliant on advertising or harvesting the data of our users,” she says.
To that end, LOVE plans to monetize without any advertising. While the company isn’t ready to explain its business model in full, it would involve users opting in to services through granular permissions and membership, we’re told.
“We believe our users will much rather be willing to pay for services they consciously use and grant permissions to in a given context than have their data used for an advertising model which is simply not transparent,” says Radocchia.
LOVE expects to share more about the model next year.
As for the LOVE app itself, it’s a fairly polished mobile messenger offering an interesting combination of features. Like any other video chat app, you can you video call with friends and family, either in one-on-one calls or in groups. Currently, LOVE supports up to 5 call participants, but expects to expand that as it scales. The app also supports video and audio messaging for asynchronous conversations. There are already tools that offer this sort of functionality on the market, of course — like WhatsApp, with its support for audio messages, or video messenger Marco Polo. But they don’t offer quite the same expanded feature set.
For starters, LOVE limits its video messages to 60 seconds for brevity’s sake. (As anyone who’s used Marco Polo knows, videos can become a bit rambling, which makes it harder to catch up when you’re behind on group chats.) In addition, LOVE allows you to both watch the video content as well as read the real-time transcription of what’s being said — the latter which comes in handy not only for accessibility’s sake, but also for those times you want to hear someone’s messages but aren’t in a private place to listen or don’t have headphones. Conversations can also be translated into 50 different languages.
“A lot of the traditional communication or messenger products are coming from a paradigm that has always been text-based,” explains Radocchia. “We’re approaching it completely differently. So while other platforms have a lot of the features that we do, I think that…the perspective that we’ve approached it has completely flipped it on its head,” she continues. “As opposed to bolting video messages on to a primarily text-based interface, [LOVE is] actually doing it in the opposite way and adding text as a sort of a magically transcribed add-on — and something that you never, hopefully, need to be typing out on your keyboard again,” she adds.
The app’s user interface, meanwhile, has been designed to encourage eye-to-eye contact with the speaker to make conversations feel more natural. It does this by way of design elements where bubbles float around as you’re speaking and the bubble with the current speaker grows to pull your focus away from looking at yourself. The company is also working with the curator of Serpentine Gallery in London, Hans Ulrich-Obrist, to create new filters that aren’t about beautification or gimmicks, but are instead focused on introducing a new form of visual expression that makes people feel more comfortable on camera.
For the time being, this has resulted in a filter that slightly abstracts your appearance, almost in the style of animation or some other form of visual arts.
The app claims to use end-to-end encryption and the automatic deletion of its content after seven days — except for messages you yourself recorded, if you’ve chosen to save them as “memorable moments.”
“One of our commitments is to privacy and the right-to-forget,” says Radocchia. “We don’t want to be or need to be storing any of this information.”
LOVE has been soft-launched on the App Store where it’s been used with a number of testers and is working to organically grow its user base through an onboarding invite mechanism that asks users to invite at least three people to join you. This same onboarding process also carefully explains why LOVE asks for permissions — like using speech recognition to create subtitles, or
LOVE says its at valuation is around $17 million USD following pre-seed investments from a combination of traditional startup investors and strategic angel investors across a variety of industries, including tech, film, media, TV, and financial services. The company will raise a seed round this fall.
The app is currently available on iOS, but an Android version will arrive later in the year. (Note that LOVE does not currently support the iOS 15 beta software, where it has issues with speech transcription and in other areas. That should be resolved next week, following an app update now in the works.)
To celebrate its ten year anniversary, Messenger today announced a handful of new features: poll games, word effects, contact sharing, and birthday gifting via Facebook Pay. But beyond the fun features, Facebook has been testing a way to add voice and video calls back into the Facebook app, rather than on Messenger.
“We are testing audio and video calls within the Facebook app messaging experience so people can make and receive calls regardless of which app they’re using,” a representative from Facebook told TechCrunch. “This will give people on Facebook easy ways to connect with their communities where they already are.”
Although earlier in Facebook history, the Messenger app had operated as a standalone experience, Facebook tells us that it’s now starting to see Messenger less as a separate entity — more of an underlying technology that can help to power many of the new experiences Facebook is now developing.
“We’ve been focused more on real-time experiences — Watch Together, Rooms, Live Audio Rooms — and we’ve started to think of Messenger as a connective tissue regardless of the surface,” a Facebook spokesperson told us. “This is a test, but the bigger vision is for us to unlock content and communities that may not be accessible in Messenger, and that the Facebook app is going to become more about shared real-time experiences,” they added.
Given the company’s move in recent months to integrate its underlying communication infrastructure, it should come to reason that Facebook would ultimately add more touchpoints for accessing its new Messenger-powered features inside the desktop app, as well. When asked for comment on this point, the spokesperson said the company didn’t have any details to share at this time. However, they noted that the test is a part of Facebook’s broader vision to enable more real-time experiences across Facebook’s services.
Despite the new integrations, the standalone version of Messenger isn’t going away.
Facebook says that people who want a more “full-featured” messaging, audio and video calling experience” should continue to use Messenger.
As for today’s crop of new features — including polls, word effects, contact sharing, and others — the goal is to celebrate Messenger’s ability to keep people in touch with their family a friends.
To play the new poll games, users can tap “Polls” in their group chat and select the “Most Likely To” tab — then, they can choose from questions like “most likely to miss their flight?” or “most likely to give gifts on their own birthday?”, select names of chat participants to be included as potential answers, and send the poll.
Contact sharing will make it easier to share others’ Facebook contacts through Messenger, while birthday gifting lets users send birthday-themed payments on Messenger via Facebook Pay. There will also be other “birthday expression tools,” including a birthday song soundmoji, “Messenger is 10!” sticker pack, a new balloon background, a message effect, and AR effect to celebrate Messenger’s double-digit milestone.
Meanwhile, word effects lets users manually input a phrase, and any time they send a message with that phrase, an accompanying emoji will float across the screen. In an example, Messenger showed the phrase “happy birthday” accompanied with a word effect of confetti emojis flooding the screen. (That one’s pretty tame, but this could be a remarkable application of the poop emoji.) The company only shared a “sneak peak” of this feature, as it’s not rolling out immediately.
In total, Facebook is announcing a total of ten features, most of which will begin rolling out today.
Messenger has come a long way over the past decade.
Ten years ago, Facebook acqui-hired a small group messaging start-up called Beluga, started by three former Google employees (apparently, a functional group thread was a white whale back then — simpler times). Several months later, the company unveiled Messenger, a standalone messaging app.
But three years into Messenger’s existence, it was no longer an optional add-on to the Facebook experience, but a mandatory download for anyone who wanted to keep up with their friends on the go. Facebook removed the option to send messages within its flagship app, directing users to use Messenger instead. Facebook’s reasoning behind this, the company told TechCrunch at the time, was that they wanted to eliminate the confusion of having two different mobile messaging systems. Just months earlier, Facebook had spent $19 billion to acquire WhatsApp and woo international users. Though removing Messenger from the Facebook app was controversial, the app reached 1.2 billion users three years later in 2017.
Today, Facebook has declared that it wants to evolve into a “metaverse” company, and on the same day as the anti-trust filing last week, Mark Zuckerberg unveiled a product that applies virtual reality in an impressively boring way: helping people attend work meetings. This metaverse would be enabled by technologies built by Facebook’s platform team, noted Vice President of Messenger Stan Chudnovsky. However, he added that people in the metaverse will still need platforms like Messenger.
“I don’t think messaging is going anywhere, even in the metaverse, because a asynchronous communication is going to continue to exist,” Chudnovsky said. People will still need to send messages to those who aren’t currently available to chat, he explained. Plus, Chudnovsky believes this sort of communication will become even more popular with the launch of the metaverse, as the technology will help to serve as a bridge between your phone, real life, and the metaverse.
“if anything is gonna happen more, not less. Because messaging is that things that just continues to grow with every new platform leap,” he said.
Additional reporting: Sarah Perez
In May of this year, Snap banned two Snapchat platform apps that allowed users to send anonymous messages, Yolo and LMK, following a lawsuit filed on behalf of a mother whose son died by suicide after being bullied through messages on the apps for many months. In the wake of Snap’s ban, another anonymous messaging app called Sendit has been rising in the app stores’ charts, as Snapchat’s younger users sought a replacement for the apps the company blocked.
Since the news of the ban was first reported over 80 days ago, Sendit’s app has seen more than 3.5 million installs across iOS and Android, according to app intelligence firm Apptopia.
This is a rapid pace of installs compared with how quickly it grew while Yolo and LMK were active on the market. In the same period before the news was announced, Sendit had only seen seen 180,000 installs across iOS and Android, Apptopia says.
Sendit also received few user reviews before May 11, 2021. But in the days that followed the ban, “yolo” has become the second-most-used keyword in Sendit’s user reviews, Apptopia told TechCrunch. Most of these reviews are positive, saying the app is like “Yolo but better,” for instance. In other words, Snap’s ban hasn’t stamped out demand for anonymous Snapchat Q&A apps, it only crowned a new app as the market leader.
Sendit today is currently ranking No. 3 among Lifestyle apps on Apple’s U.S. App Store and has climbed to No. 57 on the App Store’s list of top free apps. It jumped three ranks overnight from Monday to Tuesday, in fact.
Like Yolo and LMK, Sendit also features a popular teen activity on Snapchat, anonymous Q&As. The app also includes other Lens games, like “Never Have I Ever,” “This or That,” “Kiss, Marry, Block” and others.
To be clear, none of these are official Snapchat applications. Instead, they integrate with a toolkit for third-party developers called Snap Kit, which allows them to create new product experiences that work with Snapchat’s best features, like Stories, Bitmoji, the Snapchat Camera and more.
Snap says its Snap Kit developers have to agree to its Terms of Service, which requires apps to prioritize user safety and take action on any reports of abuse. Those guidelines are meant to encompass any reports of bullying, harassment, hate speech or threats taking place on the third-party services. In addition, apps that offer friend finding, user-generated content and anonymous features are supposed to inform Snap of their moderation practices and customer support response times.
In practice, however — as the lawsuit highlighted — there appears to be an issue with how well those terms are enforced on Snap’s end. The company tells us that it’s continuing to review developers to ensure their compliance. It has yet to announce any policy changes as result of that investigation, but some child advocates would argue that anonymous apps should have no place in a teenager’s life at all.
Even before the Snap lawsuit, apps like Yolo and LMK had raised concerns among child advocates and parents alike. For example, nonprofit Common Sense Media, an independent source for media recommendations and advice for families, pointed out that “anonymity on social media can easily lead teens down a slippery slope of poor choices.” The organization said that while teens will be drawn to the excitement of responding anonymously — perhaps learning that someone might have a crush on them — “hiding behind anonymity can also bring out hatefulness and sexually explicit risk taking.”
Sendit’s App Store reviews (see photos) indicate that is, indeed, taking place. (Sendit didn’t respond to a request for more information about its app’s operations.)
The tech industry is littered with anonymous social apps that failed due to issues with cyberbullying. After numerous teen suicides related to Ask.fm’s anonymous platform, its owner IAC sold off the toxic property to an asset management firm. Other high-profile anonymous app failures include Secret, which became a home to cyberbullying; Sarahah, which was banned by the app stores and later pivoted; Yik Yak, whose founders left for Square after the app became plagued by cyberbullying; and After School, which also got kicked out of the App Store. To date, only anonymous platforms like Glassdoor and Blind, which focus on workplace chatter and career advice, have seemed to thrive.
The question for Snap to decide now is not just how it will enforce its terms on anonymous apps, but whether it’s worth allowing anonymous apps to operate given their documented dangers — and their potential tragic, as well as legal, consequences.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or has had thoughts of harming themselves or taking their own life, The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress, as well as best practices for professionals and resources to aid in prevention and crisis situations.
As more people are venturing out into the world this summer (safely, we hope!), Snapchat wants to make it easier for people to find restaurants, stores, parks, and other interesting spots in their neighborhood. Today, Snapchat is starting to roll out the My Places feature on its Snap Map, which connects users with over 30 million businesses. Users can log their favorite spots, send them to friends, and find recommendations.
My Places has three main tabs: Visited, Favorites, and Popular. Visited lists places you’ve checked into on Snapchat, and Favorites saves, well, your favorites. But the Popular tab is particularly interesting, since it marks the first time that Snapchat is using an algorithm to provide personalized recommendations to help people engage with the world around them. The algorithm considers where you are, what you’ve tagged or favorited already, and where your friends and other Snapchatters have visited.
This further differentiates the social-forward Snap Map from more established resources like Google Maps and Apple Maps, which you can’t really use to find out what restaurants your friends like. Sure, Snapchat can’t give you directions to that trendy sushi bar, but it’s not meant to, just like how Google Maps isn’t meant to show you what bar all your friends went to without you last night.
Snapchat shared survey results indicating that its users are more likely on average to engage in “post-pandemic” activities (is that a good thing?), and added that 44% of Snapchatters turn to the Snap Map to find places around them that they’re interested in.
With over 250 million monthly active users on Snap Map, the company announced an update in May called Layers, which lets partner companies add data directly to their own map. So far, Snapchat has collaborated with Ticketmaster and The Infatuation, a restaurant recommendation website — these partnerships help users see where they can find live entertainment, or what great restaurants are hidden in plain sight. Snapchat plans to further integrate Layers into Snap Map and My Places later this year.
Last week, Snap announced that during Q2 this year, it grew both revenue and daily active users at the highest rates it has achieved in the last four years. Year over year, the app grew 23%.
If you’ve started using Snapchat more regularly this year, you’re not alone. At yesterday’s Q2 earnings call, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel announced that the platform grew both revenue and daily active users at the highest rates it has achieved in the last four years. Snapchat now has 293 million daily active users, growing 23% since last year.
Snap went public in 2017 with a $24 billion valuation, but not long before then, the ephemeral photo sharing app experienced a massive hiccup: Instagram cloned their then-unique Stories feature. After Instagram Stories launched, Snapchat’s growth slowed by 82%. Then, when Snapchat redesigned its app’s interface, Kylie Jenner tweeted that she didn’t use the app anymore, causing the company’s valuation to drop by $1.2 billion.
But Snapchat held on and made a comeback. Its revenue reached an all-time high of $911 million in Q4 of 2020, then went down to $770 million the following quarter. Now, Snapchat’s revenue in Q2 of 2021 surpasses its previous high to reach $982 million.
The app’s Q2 growth could be attributed to the return of advertisers who scaled back their spending during the height of the pandemic, as well as the retention of users that flocked to the app while in lockdown. Like many social media platforms, Snapchat grew its revenue and user base during the pandemic, but this isn’t just a matter of re-engaging users with an app that they grew out of. As TikTok exploded on the scene and the creator economy boomed, Snapchat kept up by creating Spotlight, a TikTok clone, and investing in the applications of augmented reality.
“We made significant progress with our augmented reality platform this quarter,” Spiegel said. “More than 200 million Snapchatters engage with AR every day on average, and over 200,000 creators use Lens Studio to build AR Lenses for our community.”
Last month, Snapchat went viral for its Cartoon 3D Style Lens, which makes you look like a character in a Pixar movie. Spiegel specifically mentioned this lens as a feature that “highlighted the power of Lenses to go viral both inside and outside of Snapchat.” But beyond fun face filters, Snapchat has been using AR to woo ecommerce partners. The app has developed AR experiences for Walt Disney World, Smile Direct Club, Zenni Optical, e.l.f. Cosmetics, Ralph Lauren, and more. This includes try-on capabilities for watches, jewelry, eyewear, handbags, makeup, and even clothing. At its Partner Summit in May, Snapchat revealed an update that lets users scan friends’ outfits to find shopping recommendations for similar styles.
“We have a lot more work ahead to build out our technology and increase AR adoption, but we are thrilled with the results that our partners are seeing as we invest in our long-term camera opportunity,” said Jeremi Gorman, Snap’s Chief Business Officer. “We are confident in our long-term opportunity, and are excited to double down on shopping and commerce via augmented reality.”
In March, Snap acquired Fit Analytics, a Berlin-based startup that helps shoppers find the right-sized apparel and footwear when shopping online. Combined with Snap’s investment in AR, could we eventually use AR to see which size of clothing to order? The application of that sort of technology would need to be handled sensitively, especially as the rates of eating disorders in teens are on the rise.
Beyond ecommerce, Snapchat has sought out strategic partnerships with entertainment companies like HBO Max and Universal Music Group and doubled down on its Spectacles, glasses that create AR experiences. Of course, Facebook is working on AR glasses too. But for both companies, Snap’s recent successes show the rising adoption and value of AR experiences.
A new voice-based social app that cites Clubhouse as its biggest inspiration offers a playful new way to stay in touch with close friends and family. Zebra leaves video out of the equation altogether, inviting users to snap on-the-fly photos and send them off paired with casual voice updates.
Zebra focuses on asynchronous sharing, but it also lets users call one another if they’re both already hanging out on the app. The result is a fun and casual way to stay in touch for anyone who doesn’t feel like accidentally getting sucked into Instagram’s endless, ad-strewn feed every time they want to give a friend a quick update.
For now Zebra is a two-person team consisting of CEO Dennis Gecaj, a product designer based in Berlin and Amer Shahnawaz, Zebra’s Head of Engineering, who previously worked on Snap Maps at Snapchat. With the pre-seed funding, led by Alexis Ohanian’s fresh early stage venture firm Seven Seven Six, which the Reddit co-founder announced in June. The app will launch formally in August but is now open for pre-orders through the App Store and as a beta in TestFlight.
“It’s no secret that we are in the midst of an audio revolution, one that has ushered in a series of new audio-first social platforms and content vehicles,” Ohanian said, noting that Zebra’s unique blend of photos and voice is what caught his eye.
Gecaj sees voice-based social networking as a much richer alternative to text-dominant platforms. While products like Instagram allow voice messages and technically let users make voice calls by disabling the camera, voice usually plays second fiddle to video. But video calls are more taxing and require more commitment — it’s no coincidence more and more Zoom cameras blinked offline as the pandemic dragged on.
Unlike Clubhouse, which Gecaj calls a “huge inspiration, Zebra is social audio designed for your inner circle. “With everything opening back up we saw an incredible opportunity for an asynchronous format for that,” he told TechCrunch.
Gecaj hopes that Zebra’s “talking photos” can capture the collective imagination in a way that makes early growth natural. Anyone who downloads Zebra can invite friends individually without needing to share their full contact list (and they’ll need to since you can’t do anything on the app without friends). Because Zebra’s interface is so clean and streamlined, this process is painless and doesn’t necessitate any extra digging through menus.
The idea of a “zebra” — naturally, Zebra is trying to make “zebra” happen — is that people like to see what they are talking about. On a different messaging app, this would require sending a photo and then sending a voice message in quick succession. But on Zebra, sending a photo is the main thing you can do. The app opens right to the camera where you snap a picture. You then hold the photo to record a snippet of voice to go along with it and send it off to friends and family, who appear in a row beneath the camera.
Zebra isn’t worried about the prospect of talking people into downloading another app. Gecaj sees a natural split emerging as creators and audiences increasingly become the focus of social platforms that were initially designed to help friends stay in touch.
“I think the trend is a division between creator platforms where you go to be entertained and platforms you go to hang out with your friends,” Gecaj told TechCrunch.
On top of that, he hopes that Zebra’s dual focus on voice and photos, two aspects of social networking that platforms either don’t prioritize or are actively abandoning, can make it appealing for people who aren’t as interested in video.
“We really also think that text messaging doesn’t have the same emotion as voice… and voice has been really neglected,” Gecaj said. “There’s really a richness to voice, a power to voice that nothing else has.”
Lately, Snapchat’s 3D Cartoon lens has been all the buzz, making all of our friends look like Pixar characters. But since 2013, a staple filter on the ephemeral photo sharing app has been the speed filter, which shows how fast a phone is moving when it takes a photo or video. Today, Snapchat confirmed that it will pull the filter from the app.
NPR first reported this today, calling it a “dramatic reversal” of Snap’s earlier defense of the feature. Over the years, there have been multiple car accidents, injuries, and deaths that were related to the use of the filter. In 2016, for instance, an eighteen-year-old took a Snapchat selfie while driving, then struck another driver’s car at 107 miles per hour. The other driver, Maynard Wentworth, suffered traumatic brain injuries and sued Snap. His lawyer said that the eighteen-year-old “was just trying to get the car to 100 miles per hour to post it on Snapchat.”
Snapchat’s filter-related offenses don’t begin and end here. Last year on Juneteenth, a day that commemorates the end of slavery, Snapchat released a filter that prompted users to “smile to break the chains.” On 4/20 in 2016, Snapchat partnered with Bob Marley’s estate to release a feature that gave users dreadlocks and darker skin, committing blackface. And even after Snapchat’s speed filter was linked to fatal car accidents, it remained available in the app with a simple “don’t snap and drive” warning.
“Today the sticker is barely used by Snapchatters, and in light of that, we are removing it altogether,” a spokesperson from Snap said, adding that the feature had previously been disabled at driving speeds. The company has begun removing the filter, but it might take several weeks to take full effect.
This new stance from Snap comes after the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court found in May that the company can be sued for its role in a fatal car accident.
Generally, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects websites, or “interactive computer services,” from lawsuits like this, providing immunity for these platforms from third-party content posted on them. But in 2019, the parents of two children killed in crashes – Landen Brown and Hunter Morby – filed another lawsuit. They argued that the app’s “negligent design” (including a speed filter to begin with) contributed to the crash. A California judge dismissed the case, citing Section 230, but in May of this year, three judges on the federal Ninth Circuit Appeals Court ruled that Section 230 actually doesn’t apply here. The conflict isn’t with Snapchat’s role as a social media platform, but rather, the app’s design, which includes a demonstrably dangerous speed filter.
So, the sudden removal of the speed filter isn’t as random as it may seem. Now that their Section 230 defense is no longer, it makes sense that keeping the filter isn’t worth the legal risk. You’d think that the filter-related accidents would have been enough for Snapchat to take down the filter years ago, but better late than never.
Tencent’s popularity may help it avoid trouble with Beijing. But its vast power could still squelch innovation in the world’s largest online market.
The rules, which would require WhatsApp to make people’s messages traceable, would violate people’s privacy, the messaging service said.
At Snap’s Partner Summit, the company announced a number of updates to the company’s developer tools and AR-focused Lens Studio including several focused on bringing shopping deeper into the Snapchat experience.
One of the cooler updates involved the company’s computer vision Scan product which analyzes content in a user’s camera feed to quickly bring up relevant information. Snap says the feature is used by around 170 million users per month. Scan which has now been given more prominent placement inside the camera section of the app has been upgraded with commerce capabilities with a feature called Screenshop.
Users can now use their Snap Camera to scan a friend’s outfit after which they’ll quickly be served up shopping recommendations from hundreds of brands. The company is using the same technology for another upcoming feature that will allow users to snap pictures of ingredients in their kitchen and get served recipes from Allrecipes that integrate them.
The features are part of a broader effort to intelligently suggest lenses to users based on what their camera is currently focused on.
Business will now be able to establish public profiles inside Snapchat where users can see all of their different offerings, including Lenses, Highlights, Stories and items for sale through Shop functionality.
On the augmented reality side, Snap is continuing to emphasize business solutions with API integrations that make lenses smarter. Retailers will be able to use the Business Manager to integrate their product catalogs so that users can only access try-on lenses for products that are currently in stock.
Partnerships with luxury fashion platform Farfetch and Prada will tap into further updates to the AR platform including technical 3D mesh advances that make trying on clothing virtually appear more realistic. Users will also be able to use voice commands and visual gestures to cycle between items they’re trying on in the new experiences.
“We’re excited about the power of our camera platform to bring Snapchatters together with the businesses they care about in meaningful ways,” said Snap’s global AR product lead Carolina Arguelles Navas. “And, now more than ever, our community is eager to experience and try on, engage with, and learn about new products, from home.”
Snap wants users to get a more personal view of the world around them.
While products like Google Maps and Apple Maps have long-relied on data partners to juice the quality of their contextual insights, Snap is hoping it can give users a more hands-on approach to mixing and matching third-party tie-ins to its Snap Map product, allowing users to build a view of their geographic surroundings that tailored to their interests.
The new product — announced today at the company’s Snap Partner Summit — is called Layers and it allows users to add data from some of Snap’s chosen developer partners directly to their map so they can see the world in a very particular view.
“Layers are how the Map evolves from a singular product to a platform,” Snap’s Bryant Detwiller tells TechCrunch. “Ultimately, we just want our map to be more useful.”
Snap Map has aimed to be a fundamentally social product, designed around people and friends rather than cars and directions, Layers will theoretically allow its users some customization in deciding what points-of-interest they want their map to be structured around.
The company says that Snap Map has some 250 million monthly active users.
Like Snap’s approach with its Wechat-like Minis and Games, it’s starting things off pretty slowly when it comes to partnerships. It has two out of the gate — a partnership with Ticketmaster and restaurant review site The Infatuation.
With the Ticketmaster Layer, users will be able to sort through shows at nearby concert venues and can get transferred from the Layer directly to a new Ticketmaster Mini to buy tickets inside the Snapchat app. With The Infatuation, users can scan the map for editorialized recommendations for nearby restaurants with lists and reviews from the site. More of these partnerships on the way, though it doesn’t sound like Snap is planning to open the floodgates to developers anytime soon.
Jewish extremists have formed more than 100 new groups on the Facebook-owned encrypted messaging app in recent days to target attacks.
Telegram and Signal, the encrypted services that keep conversations confidential, are increasingly popular. Our tech columnists discuss whether this could get ugly.
Requiring that app makers list the data they collect reveals a lot about what some apps do with our information (ahem, WhatsApp) but creates confusion about others.
The app has helped fuel democracy movements in Iran and Belarus but now faces scrutiny as extremists and conspiracy theorists flock to it amid crackdowns by Facebook and Twitter on disinformation.
WeChat continues to advance its shopping ambitions as the social networking app turns 10 years old. The Chinese messenger facilitated 1.6 trillion yuan (close to $250 billion) in annual transactions through its “mini programs,” third-party services that run on the super app that allow users to buy clothes, order food, hail taxis and more.
That is double the value of transactions on WeChat’s mini programs in 2019, the networking giant announced at its annual conference for business partners and ecosystem developers, which normally takes place in its home city of Guangzhou in southern China but was moved online this year due to the pandemic.
To compare, e-commerce upstart Pinduoduo, Alibaba’s archrival, saw total transactions of $214.7 billion in the third quarter.
WeChat introduced mini programs in early 2017 in a move some saw as a challenge to Apple’s App Store and has over time shaped the messenger into an online infrastructure that keeps people’s life running. It hasn’t recently disclosed how many third-party lite apps it houses, but by 2018 the number reached one million, half the size of the App Store at the time.
From Tencent’s strategic perspective, the growth in mini program-based transactions helps further the company’s goal to strengthen its fintech business, which counts digital payments as a major revenue driver.
A big proportion of WeChat’s mini programs are games, which the app said exceeded 500 million monthly users thanks to a boost in female and middle-aged users, as well as players residing in China’s Tier 3 cities, WeChat said.
The virtual conference also unveiled a set of other milestones from China’s biggest messaging app, which surpassed 1.2 billion monthly active users last year.
Among its monthly users, 500 million have tried the WeChat Search function. The Chinese internet is carved into several walled gardens controlled by titans like Tencent, Alibaba and ByteDance, which often block competitors from their services. When users search on WeChat, they are in effect retrieving information published on the messenger as well as Tencent’s allies like Sogou, Pinduoduo and Zhihu, rather than the open web.
WeChat said 240 million people have used its “payments score.” When the feature debuted back in 2019, there was speculation that it signaled WeChat’s entry into consumer credit finance and participation in the government’s social credit system. WeChat reiterated at this year’s event that the WeChat score does neither of that.
Like Ant’s Sesame Score, the rating system works more like a royalty program, “designed to build trust between merchants and users.” For instance, people who reach a certain score can waive deposits or delay payments when using merchant services on WeChat. The score, WeChat said, helped users save more than $30 billion in deposits a year.
WeChat’s enterprise version has surpassed 130 million active users. Its biggest rival, Dingtalk, operated by Alibaba, reached 155 million daily active users last March.
The one-day event concluded with the much-anticipated appearance of Allen Zhang, WeChat’s creator. Zhang went to great lengths to talk about WeChat’s nascent short-video feature, which is somewhat similar to Snap’s Stories. He didn’t disclose the performance of short videos because “the PR team doesn’t allow” him to, but said that “if we set a goal for ourselves, we will have to achieve it.”
Zhang also announced the WeChat team is weighing up an input tool for users. It’d be a tiny project given Tencent’s colossal size, but the project reflects Zhang’s belief in “privacy protection,” despite public skepticism about how WeChat handles user data.
“If we analyze [users’ chat history], we can bring great advertising revenue to the company. But we don’t do that, so WeChat cares a lot about user privacy,” asserted Zhang.
“But why do you still get ads [related to] what you have just said on WeChat? There are many other channels that process your information, not just WeChat. From there, our technical team said, ‘Why don’t we create an input tool ourselves?’”
The company faced a backlash from users who worried the changes made the messaging service less secure.
Quite a bit has happened since Snap announced last week that it was indefinitely locking President Trump’s Snapchat account. But after temporary bans from his Facebook, Instagram and YouTube accounts as well as a permanent ban from Twitter, Snap has decided that it will also be making its ban of the President’s Snapchat account permanent.
Though Trump’s social media preferences as a user are clear, Snapchat gave the Trump campaign a particularly effective platform to target young users who are active on the service. A permanent ban will undoubtedly complicate his future business and political ambitions as he finds himself removed from most mainstream social platforms.
Snap says it made the decision in light of repeated attempted violations of the company’s community guidelines that had been made over the past several months by the President’s account.
“Last week we announced an indefinite suspension of President Trump’s Snapchat account, and have been assessing what long term action is in the best interest of our Snapchat community. In the interest of public safety, and based on his attempts to spread misinformation, hate speech, and incite violence, which are clear violations of our guidelines, we have made the decision to permanently terminate his account,” a Snap spokesperson told TechCrunch.
Snap’s decision to permanently ban the President was first reported by Axios.
The encrypted messaging services have become the world’s hottest apps over the last week, driven by growing anxiety over the power of the biggest tech companies and privacy concerns.
Tracking what may be planned in the coming days could become even more difficult as the groups take to lesser-known networks and apps that can’t be easily monitored.
The White House took a surprise parting shot at China on Tuesday by banning the popular Chinese payment service and other applications.
Twitter is partnering with Snap to bring tweets into Snapchat with a native integration that both companies hope will push users away from screenshots and towards more interactive embeds.
Twitter users who are also logged into the Snapchat app on their phone will be able to access the functionality by tapping share on a particular tweet and navigating to the Snapchat icon where they’ll be able to share and react or comment on a Twitter post and send it to a friend or share on their story. The functionality will notably only work for tweets from public accounts, not protected ones.
The feature is rolling out on iOS for now, with Android integration “coming soon.”
Given how much content across Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Reddit originates from Twitter, it’s surprising that this functionality is arriving so deep into Twitter’s life as a company. They’ve long had a web embed integration which has allowed reporters to embed tweets into stories, but when it came to sharing on social media, Twitter’s strategy has deferred to the un-trackable and un-monetizable screenshot.
This has been low-hanging product rollout for Twitter which will likely be able to coax some non-Twitter users to enjoy content straight from the source, something the company has been vaguely alluding to in marketing campaigns over the years but is just now approaching with a direct integration into another company’s platform.
With Twitter now starting to roll out its Stories product Fleets to users, the company likely feels as though they have more feature familiarity to bring new users onboard from Snap who might not have experimented with the platform previously.
The truth is there aren’t a ton of integrations across social media channels, screen recordings and screen shots tell one platform’s story in an imperfect way on another’s. This integration comes as a result of updates made to Snap’s Snap Kit API and a particular feature called Creative Kit. Snap says that Spotify, Reddit, SoundCloud, Sendit, YOLO and GOAT have also created integrations that allow content from those apps to be shared across Snapchat.
Twitter didn’t rule out the expansion of this feature to other platforms in the future.
“This agreement with Snap was focused on this feature,” a Twitter spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We would love to partner with other platforms to enable people to share Tweets more widely. We hope this will be the first of many integrations of its kind.”
The U.S. and states cases against the social network are far from a slam dunk because the standards of proof are formidable.
Regulators are accusing the company of buying up rising rivals to cement its dominance over social media.
After taking on TikTok with music-powered features last month, Snapchat this morning is officially launching a dedicated place within its app where users can watch short, entertaining videos in a vertically scrollable, TikTok-like feed. This new feature, called Spotlight, will showcase the community’s creative efforts, including the videos now backed by music, as well as other Snaps users may find interesting.
Snapchat says its algorithms will work to surface the most engaging Snaps to display to each user on a personalized basis.
To do so, it will rank the Snaps in the new feed using a combination of factors, like how many other people found a particular Snap interesting, how long people spent watching it, if it was favorited or shared with friends, and more. The algorithms will also consider negative factors, like if a viewer skipped watching the Snap quickly, for example. Over time, the feed will become tailored to the individual user based on their own interactions, preferences, and favorites. This is a similar system to what TikTok uses for its “For You” feed.
However, on TikTok, only users with public profiles can have their videos hit the “For You” feed. Spotlight, meanwhile, can feature Snaps from users with both private or public accounts. These Snaps can be sent to Spotlight directly or posted to Our Story. The company says the Snaps from the private accounts will be featured in an unattributed fashion — that is, no name will be attached to the content. There will also be no way to comment on these Snaps or message the creator, Snapchat explains.
Users who are over 18 can opt in to public profiles in order to have their names displayed, which allows them to build a following. But while this allows users to private and directly reply to the creators, there are no public comment mechanisms on Spotlight.
That’s a different setup than on TikTok and gives Snapchat a way to avoid the much larger hassle of handling comment moderation.
The Spotlight feed itself, though, is moderated. The company says all Snaps that appear on the new feed will have to adhere to Snapchat’s Community Guidelines, which prohibit the spread of false information (including conspiracy theories), misleading content, hate speech, explicit or profane content, bullying, harassment, violence, and other toxic content. The Snaps must also adhere to Snapchat’s new Spotlight Guidelines, Terms of Service, and Spotlight Terms.
The Spotlight Guidelines specify what sort of content Snapchat wants, the format for the Snaps, and other rules. For example, they state the Snaps should be vertical videos with sound up to 60 seconds in length. They should also include a #topic hashtag and should make use of Snapchat’s Creative Tools like Captions, Sounds, Lenses or GIFs, if possible, The Snaps have to be appropriate for a 13+ audience, as well.
Captions are a new feature, designed for use in Spotlight. Also new is a continuous shooting mode for longer Snaps and the ability to trim singular Snaps.
The Snaps can also only use the licensed music from Snapchat’s own Sounds library and must feature original content, not content repurposed from somewhere else on the internet . That could limit accounts that repost internet memes, which tend draw large subscriber bases on rival platforms, like Instagram and TikTok.
In addition, Snaps in Spotlight won’t disappear from being surfaced in the feed unless the creator chooses to delete them.
Users will be alerted to the new Spotlight feature when they return to Snapchat following Monday’s launch. Afterward, they’ll be able to take Snaps as usual then choose whether they want to send them to their friends, to their Story, to Snap Map, or now to Spotlight.
The feed itself will be accessible through a prominent new fifth tab on the Snapchat home screen’s main navigation, and is designated with a Play icon.
To encourage users to publish to Spotlight, the company will distribute over $1 million USD every day to Snapchat users (16 and up) who create the top Snaps on Spotlight. This will continue through the end of 2020. The earnings will be determined by Snapchat’s proprietary algorithm that rewards users based on the total number of unique views a Snap gets per day (calculated using Pacific Time), as compared with others on the platform.
The company says it expects many users to earn money from this fund each day, but those with the most views will earn more than others. It will also monitor this feed for fraud, it warns.
With the music licensing aspects already ironed out, Snapchat is now looking to leverage the over 4 billion Snaps created by its users every day to power the new Spotlight feed. This move represents Snapchat’s biggest attempt at taking on TikTok to date — and one that it’s willing to kickstart with direct payments, too. That will likely encourage plenty of participation among Snapchat’s young user base, given they’re already using the app on a regular basis. And once posting to Spotlight becomes a habit, Snapchat could have a viable competitor on its hands, at least among the younger demographic that favors its app.
Its biggest disadvantage, of course, is that it has struggled to reach beyond its young user base. That’s something TikTok has done better with, by comparison. The Wall St. Journal last week noted that TikTok teens were often following accounts from senior citizens, for instance, and the AARP had earlier reported TikTok had attracted a middle-aged crowd, as well.
Snapchat says Spotlight is live today on both iOS and Android in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the U.K., Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and France, with more countries to come soon.