Facebook revamps its business tool lineup following threats to its ad targeting business

Facebook today is announcing the launch of new products and features for business owners, following the threat to its ad targeting business driven by Apple’s new privacy features, which now allow mobile users to opt out of being tracked across their iOS apps. The social networking giant has repeatedly argued that Apple’s changes would impact small businesses that relied on Facebook ads to reach their customers. But it was not successful in getting any of Apple’s changes halted. Instead, the market is shifting to a new era focused more on user privacy, where personalization and targeting are more of an opt-in experience. That’s required Facebook to address its business advertiser base in new ways.

As the ability to track consumers declines — very few consumers are opting into tracking, studies find — Facebook is rolling out new features that will allow businesses to better position themselves in front of relevant audiences. This includes updates that will let them reach customers, advertise to customers, chat with customers across Facebook apps, generate leads, acquire customers and more.

The company earlier this year began testing a way for customers to explore businesses from underneath News Feed posts by tapping on topics they were interested in — like beauty, fitness, and clothing, and explore content from other related businesses. The feature allows people to come across new businesses that may also like, and would allow Facebook to create its own data set of users who like certain types of content. Over time, it could possibly even turn the feature into an ad unit, where businesses could pay for higher placement.

But for the time being, Facebook will expand this feature to more users across the U.S., and launch it in Australia, Canada, Ireland, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, and the U.K.

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook is also making it easier for businesses to chat with customers. They’re already able to buy ads that encourage people to message them on Facebook’s various chat platforms — Messenger, Instagram Direct, or WhatsApp. Now, they’ll be able to choose all the messaging platforms where they’re available, and Facebook will default the chat app showcased in the ad based on where the conversation is most likely to happen.

Image Credits: Facebook

The company will tie WhatsApp to Instagram, as well, as part of this effort. Facebook explains that many businesses market themselves or run shops across Instagram, but rely on WhatsApp to communicate with customers and answer questions. So, Facebook will now allow businesses to add a WhatsApp click-to-chat button to their Instagram profiles.

This change, in particular, represents another move that ties Facebook’s separate apps more closely together, at a time when regulators are considering breaking up Facebook over antitrust concerns. Already, Facebook interconnected Facebook’s Messenger and Instagram messaging services, which would make such a disassembly more complicated. And more recently, it’s begun integrating Messenger directly into Facebook’s platform itself.

Image Credits: Facebook

In a related change, soon businesses will be able to create ads that send users directly to WhatsApp from the Instagram app. (Facebook also already offers ads like this.)

Separately from this news, Facebook announced the launch of a new business directory on WhatsApp, allowing consumers to find shops and services on the chat platform, as well.

Another set of changes being introduced involve an update to Facebook Business Suite. Businesses will be able to manage emails through Inbox and sending remarketing emails; use a new File Manager for creating, managing, and posting content; and access a feature that will allow businesses to test different versions of a post to see which one is most effective.

Image Credits: Facebook

Other new products include tests of paid and organic lead generation tools on Instagram; quote requests on Messenger, where customers answer a few questions prior to their conversations; and a way for small businesses to access a bundle of tools to get started with Facebook ads, which includes a Facebook ad coupon along with free access to QuickBooks for 3 months or free access to Canva Pro for 3 months.

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook will also begin testing something called “Work Accounts,” which will allow business owners to access their business products, like Business Manager, separately from their personal Facebook account. They’ll be able to manage these accounts on behalf of employees and use single-sign-on integrations.

Work Accounts will be tested through the remainder of the year with a small group of businesses, and Facebook says it expects to expand availability in 2022.

Other efforts it has in store include plans to incorporate more content from creators and local businesses and new features that let users control the content they see, but these changes were not detailed at this time.

Most of the products being announced are either rolling out today or will begin to show up soon.

#advertising-tech, #app-store, #australia, #canada, #canva, #computing, #facebook, #instagram, #ireland, #malaysia, #messenger, #new-zealand, #philippines, #private-message, #singapore, #social, #social-media, #software, #south-africa, #technology, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #whatsapp

Driven by live streams, consumer spending in social apps to hit $17.2B in 2025

The live streaming boom is driving a significant uptick in the creator economy, as a new forecast estimates consumers will spend $6.78 billion in social apps in 2021. That figure will grow to $17.2 billion annually by 2025, according to data from mobile data firm App Annie, which notes the upward trend represents a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 29%. By that point, the lifetime total spend in social apps will reach $78 billion, the firm reports.

Image Credits: App Annie

Initially, much of the livestream economy was based on one-off purchases like sticker packs, but today, consumers are gifting content creators directly during their live streams. Some of these donations can be incredibly high, at times. Twitch streamer ExoticChaotic was gifted $75,000 during a live session on Fortnite, which was one of the largest ever donations on the game streaming social network. Meanwhile, App Annie notes another platform, Bigo Live, is enabling broadcasters to earn up to $24,000 per month through their live streams.

Apps that offer live streaming as a prominent feature are also those that are driving the majority of today’s social app spending, the report says. In the first half of this year, $3 out every $4 spend in the top 25 social apps came from apps that offered live streams, for example.

Image Credits: App Annie

During the first half of 2021, the U.S. become the top market for consumer spending inside social apps with 1.7x the spend of the next largest market, Japan, and representing 30% of the market by spend. China, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea followed to round out the top 5.

Image Credits: App Annie

While both creators and the platforms are financially benefitting from the live streaming economy, the platforms are benefitting in other ways beyond their commissions on in-app purchases. Live streams are helping to drive demand for these social apps and they help to boost other key engagement metrics, like time spent in app.

One top app that’s significantly gaining here is TikTok.

Last year, TikTok surpassed YouTube in the U.S. and the U.K. in terms of the average monthly time spent per user. It often continues to lead in the former market, and more decisively leads in the latter.

Image Credits: App Annie

Image Credits: App Annie

In other markets, like South Korea and Japan, TikTok is making strides, but YouTube still leads by a wide margin. (In South Korea, YouTube leads by 2.5x, in fact.)

Image Credits: App Annie

Beyond just TikTok, consumers spent 740 billion hours in social apps in the first half of the year, which is equal to 44% of the time spent on mobile globally. Time spent in these apps has continued to trend upwards over the years, with growth that’s up 30% in the first half of 2021 compared to the same period in 2018.

Today, the apps that enable live streaming are outpacing those that focus on chat, photo or video. This is why companies like Instagram are now announcing dramatic shifts in focus, like how they’re “no longer a photo sharing app.” They know they need to more fully shift to video or they will be left behind.

The total time spent in the top five social apps that have an emphasis on live streaming are now set to surpass half a trillion hours on Android phones alone this year, not including China. That’s a three-year CAGR of 25% versus just 15% for apps in the Chat and Photo & Video categories, App Annie noted.

Image Credits: App Annie

Thanks to growth in India, the Asia-Pacific region now accounts for 60% of the time spent in social apps. As India’s growth in this area increased over the past 3.5 years, it shrunk the gap between itself and China from 115% in 2018 to just 7% in the first half of this year.

Social app downloads are also continuing to grow, due to the growth in live streaming.

To date, consumers have downloaded social apps 74 billion times and that demand remains strong, with 4.7 billion downloads in the first half of 2021 alone — up 50% year-over-year. In the first half of the year, Asia was the largest region region for social app downloads, accounting for 60% of the market.

This is largely due to India, the top market by a factor of 5x, which surpassed the U.S. back in 2018. India is followed by the U.S., Indonesia, Brazil and China, in terms of downloads.

Image Credits: App Annie

The shift towards live streaming and video has also impacted what sort of apps consumers are interested in downloading, not just the number of downloads.

A chart that show the top global apps from 2012 to the present highlights Facebook’s slipping grip. While its apps (Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and Facebook) have dominated the top spots over the years in various positions, TikTok popped into the number one position last year, and continues to maintain that ranking in 2021.

Further down the chart, other apps that aid in video editing have also overtaken others that had been more focused on photos or chat.

Image Credits: App Annie

Video apps like YouTube (#1), TikTok (#2) Tencent Video (#4), Bigo Live (#5), Twitch (#6), and others also now rank at the top of the global charts by consumer spending in the first half of 2021.

But YouTube (#1) still dominates in time spent compared with TikTok (#5), and others from Facebook — the company holds the next three spots for Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, respectively.

This could explain why TikTok is now exploring the idea of allowing users to upload even longer videos, by increasing the limit from 3 minutes to 5, for instance.

In addition, because of live streaming’s ability to drive growth in terms of time spent, it’s also likely the reason why TikTok has been heavily investing in new features for its TikTok LIVE platform, including things like events, support for co-hosts, Q&As and more, and why it made the “LIVE” button a more prominent feature in its app and user experience.

App Annie’s report also digs into the impact live streaming has had on specific platforms, like Twitch and Bigo Live, the former which doubled its monthly active user base from the pre-pandemic era, and the latter which saw $314.2 million in consumer spend during H1 2021.

“The ability of social media users to communicate with each other using live video – or watch others’ live broadcasts – has not only maintained the growth of a social media app market, but contributed to its exponential growth in engagement metrics like time spent, that might otherwise have saturated some time ago,” wrote App Annie’s Head of Insights, Lexi Sydow, when announcing the new report.

The full report is available here.

#android, #app-annie, #apps, #asia, #asia-pacific, #bigo-live, #brazil, #china, #computing, #facebook, #head, #india, #indonesia, #instagram, #japan, #media, #messenger, #mobile, #mobile-applications, #mobile-software, #operating-systems, #saudi-arabia, #social, #social-media, #software, #south-korea, #tiktok, #twitch, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #video, #video-hosting, #youtube

Move fast and break Facebook: A bull case for antitrust enforcement

This is the second post in a series on the Facebook monopoly. The first post explored how the U.S. Federal Trade Commission should define the Facebook monopoly. I am inspired by Cloudflare’s recent post explaining the impact of Amazon’s monopoly in its industry.

Perhaps it was a competitive tactic, but I genuinely believe it more a patriotic duty: guideposts for legislators and regulators on a complex issue. My generation has watched with a combination of sadness and trepidation as legislators who barely use email question the leading technologists of our time about products that have long pervaded our lives in ways we don’t yet understand.

I, personally, and my company both stand to gain little from this — but as a participant in the latest generation of social media upstarts, and as an American concerned for the future of our democracy, I feel a duty to try.


Mark Zuckerberg has reached his Key Largo moment.

In May 1972, executives of the era’s preeminent technology company — AT&T — met at a secret retreat in Key Largo, Florida. Their company was in crisis.

At the time, Ma Bell’s breathtaking monopoly consisted of a holy trinity: Western Electric (the vast majority of phones and cables used for American telephony), the lucrative long distance service (for both personal and business use) and local telephone service, which the company subsidized in exchange for its monopoly.

Over the next decade, all three government branches — legislators, regulators and the courts — parried with AT&T’s lawyers as the press piled on, battering the company’s reputation in the process. By 1982, a consent decree forced AT&T’s dismantling. The biggest company on earth withered to 30% of its book value and seven independent “Baby Bell” regional operating companies. AT&T’s brand would live on, but the business as the world knew it was dead.

Mark Zuckerberg is, undoubtedly, the greatest technologist of our time. For over 17 years, he has outgunned, outsmarted and outperformed like no software entrepreneur before him. Earlier this month, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission refiled its sweeping antitrust case against Facebook.

Its own holy trinity of Facebook Blue, Instagram and WhatsApp is under attack. All three government branches — legislators, regulators and the courts — are gaining steam in their fight, and the press is piling on, battering the company’s reputation in the process. Facebook, the AT&T of our time, is at the brink. For so long, Zuckerberg has told us all to move fast and break things. It’s time for him to break Facebook.

If Facebook does exist to “make the world more open and connected, and not just to build a company,” as Zuckerberg wrote in the 2012 IPO prospectus, he will spin off Instagram and WhatsApp now so that they have a fighting chance. It would be the ultimate Zuckerbergian chess move. Zuckerberg would lose voting control and thus power over all three entities, but in his action he would successfully scatter the opposition. The rationale is simple:

  1. The United States government will break up Facebook. It is not a matter of if; it is a matter of when.
  2. Facebook is already losing. Facebook Blue, Instagram and WhatsApp all face existential threats. Pressure from the government will stifle Facebook’s efforts to right the ship.
  3. Facebook will generate more value for shareholders as three separate companies.

I write this as an admirer; I genuinely believe much of the criticism Zuckerberg has received is unfair. Facebook faces Sisyphean tasks. The FTC will not let Zuckerberg sneeze without an investigation, and the company has failed to innovate.

Given no chance to acquire new technology and talent, how can Facebook survive over the long term? In 2006, Terry Semel of Yahoo offered $1 billion to buy Facebook. Zuckerberg reportedly remarked, “I just don’t know if I want to work for Terry Semel.” Even if the FTC were to allow it, this generation of founders will not sell to Facebook. Unfair or not, Mark Zuckerberg has become Terry Semel.

The government will break up Facebook

It is not a matter of if; it is a matter of when.

In a speech on the floor of Congress in 1890, Senator John Sherman, the founding father of the modern American antitrust movement, famously said, “If we will not endure a king as a political power, we should not endure a king over the production, transportation and sale of any of the necessities of life. If we would not submit to an emperor, we should not submit to an autocrat of trade with power to prevent competition and to fix the price of any commodity.”

This is the sentiment driving the building resistance to Facebook’s monopoly, and it shows no sign of abating. Zuckerberg has proudly called Facebook the fifth estate. In the U.S., we only have four estates.

All three branches of the federal government are heating up their pursuit. In the Senate, an unusual bipartisan coalition is emerging, with Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mark Warner (D-VA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) each waging a war from multiple fronts.

In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has called Facebook “part of the problem.” Lina Khan’s FTC is likewise only getting started, with unequivocal support from the White House that feels burned by Facebook’s disingenuous lobbying. The Department of Justice will join, too, aided by state attorneys general. And the courts will continue to turn the wheels of justice, slowly but surely.

In the wake of Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes’ scathing 2019 New York Times op-ed, Zuckerberg said that Facebook’s immense size allows it to spend more on trust and safety than Twitter makes in revenue.

“If what you care about is democracy and elections, then you want a company like us to be able to invest billions of dollars per year like we are in building up really advanced tools to fight election interference,” Zuckerberg said.

This could be true, but it does not prove that the concentration of such power in one man’s hands is consistent with U.S. public policy. And the centralized operations could be rebuilt easily in standalone entities.

Time and time again, whether on Holocaust denial, election propaganda or vaccine misinformation, Zuckerberg has struggled to make quick judgments when presented with the information his trust and safety team uncovers. And even before a decision is made, the structure of the team disincentivizes it from even measuring anything that could harm Facebook’s brand. This is inherently inconsistent with U.S. democracy. The New York Times’ army of reporters will not stop uncovering scandal after scandal, contradicting Zuckerberg’s narrative. The writing is on the wall.

Facebook is losing

Facebook Blue, Instagram and WhatsApp all face existential threats. Pressure from the government will stifle Facebook’s efforts to right the ship.

For so long, Facebook has dominated the social media industry. But if you ask Chinese technology executives about Facebook today, they quote Tencent founder Pony Ma: “When a giant falls, his corpse will still be warm for a while.”

Facebook’s recent demise begins with its brand. The endless, cascading scandals of the last decade have irreparably harmed its image. Younger users refuse to adopt the flagship Facebook Blue. The company’s internal polling on two key metrics — good for the world (GFW) and cares about users (CAU) — shows Facebook’s reputation is in tatters. Talent is fleeing, too; Instacart alone recently poached 55 Facebook executives.

In 2012 and 2014, Instagram and WhatsApp were real dangers. Facebook extinguished both through acquisition. Yet today they represent the company’s two most promising, underutilized assets. They are the underinvested telephone networks of our time.

Weeks ago, Instagram head Adam Mosseri announced that the company no longer considers itself a photo-sharing app. Instead, its focus is entertainment. In other words, as the media widely reported, Instagram is changing to compete with TikTok.

TikTok’s strength represents an existential threat. U.S. children 4 to 15 already spend over 80 minutes a day on ByteDance’s TikTok, and it’s just getting started. The demographics are quickly expanding way beyond teenagers, as social products always have. For Instagram, it could be too little too late — as a part of Facebook, Instagram cannot acquire the technology and retain the talent it needs to compete with TikTok.

Imagine Instagram acquisitions of Squarespace to bolster its e-commerce offerings, or Etsy to create a meaningful marketplace. As a part of Facebook, Instagram is strategically adrift.

Likewise, a standalone WhatsApp could easily be a $100 billion market cap company. WhatsApp has a proud legacy of robust security offerings, but its brand has been tarnished by associations with Facebook. Discord’s rise represents a substantial threat, and WhatsApp has failed to innovate to account for this generation’s desire for community-driven messaging. Snapchat, too, is in many ways a potential WhatsApp killer; its young users use photography and video as a messaging medium. Facebook’s top augmented reality talents are leaving for Snapchat.

With 2 billion monthly active users, WhatApp could be a privacy-focused alternative to Facebook Blue, and it would logically introduce expanded profiles, photo-sharing capabilities and other features that would strengthen its offerings. Inside Facebook, WhatsApp has suffered from underinvestment as a potential threat to Facebook Blue and Messenger. Shareholders have suffered for it.

Beyond Instagram and WhatsApp, Facebook Blue itself is struggling. Q2’s earnings may have skyrocketed, but the increase in revenue hid a troubling sign: Ads increased by 47%, but inventory increased by just 6%. This means Facebook is struggling to find new places to run its ads. Why? The core social graph of Facebook is too old.

I fondly remember the day Facebook came to my high school; I have thousands of friends on the platform. I do not use Facebook anymore — not for political reasons, but because my friends have left. A decade ago, hundreds of people wished me happy birthday every year. This year it was 24, half of whom are over the age of 50. And I’m 32 years old. Teen girls run the social world, and many of them don’t even have Facebook on their phones.

Zuckerberg’s newfound push into the metaverse has been well covered, but the question remains: Why wouldn’t a Facebook serious about the metaverse acquire Roblox? Of course, the FTC would currently never allow it.

Facebook’s current clunky attempt at a hardware solution, with an emphasis on the workplace, shows little sign of promise. The launch was hardly propitious, as CNN reported, “While Bosworth, the Facebook executive, was in the middle of describing how he sees Workrooms as a more interactive way to gather virtually with coworkers than video chat, his avatar froze midsentence, the pixels of its digital skin turning from flesh-toned to gray. He had been disconnected.”

This is not the indomitable Facebook of yore. This is graying Facebook, freezing midsentence.

Facebook will generate more value for shareholders as three separate companies

Zuckerberg’s control of 58% of Facebook’s voting shares has forestalled a typical Wall Street reckoning: Investors are tiring of Zuckerberg’s unilateral power. Many justifiably believe the company is more valuable as the sum of its parts. The success of AT&T’s breakup is a case in point.

Five years after AT&T’s 1984 breakup, AT&T and the Baby Bells’ value had doubled compared to AT&T’s pre-breakup market capitalization. Pressure from Japanese entrants battered Western Electric’s market share, but greater competition in telephony spurred investment and innovation among the Baby Bells.

AT&T turned its focus to competing with IBM and preparing for the coming information age. A smaller AT&T became more nimble, ready to focus on the future rather than dwell on the past.

Standalone Facebook Blue, Instagram and WhatsApp could drastically change their futures by attracting talent and acquiring new technologies.

The U.K.’s recent opposition to Facebook’s $400 million GIPHY acquisition proves Facebook will struggle mightily to acquire even small bolt-ons.

Zuckerberg has always been one step ahead. And when he wasn’t, he was famously unprecious: “Copying is faster than innovating.” If he really believes in Facebook’s mission and recognizes that the situation cannot possibly get any better from here, he will copy AT&T’s solution before it is forced upon him.

Regulators are tying Zuckerberg’s hands behind his back as the company weathers body blows and uppercuts from Beijing to Silicon Valley. As Zuckerberg’s idol Augustus Caesar might have once said, carpe diem. It’s time to break Facebook.

#antitrust, #column, #congress, #facebook, #government, #instagram, #lina-khan, #mark-zuckerberg, #messenger, #opinion, #policy, #social, #social-media, #tc, #united-states, #whatsapp

LOVE unveils a modern video messaging app with a business model that puts users in control

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.

Image Credits: LOVE

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.)

#a-i, #android, #animation, #app-store, #apps, #berlin, #blockchain, #ceo, #chief-digital-officer, #co-founder, #computing, #curator, #deutsche-telekom, #encryption, #facebook-messenger, #financial-services, #google, #ideo, #instant-messaging, #london, #love, #marco-polo, #messenger, #mobile, #mobile-applications, #recent-funding, #san-francisco, #serial-entrepreneur, #singularity-university, #social, #social-media, #software, #speaker, #startups, #technology, #whatsapp

Messenger celebrates its 10th anniversary with new features and a plan to become the ‘connective tissue’ for real-time experiences

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.

Image Credits: 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.

Image Credits: Messenger

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

#apps, #computing, #facebook, #facebook-messenger, #instagram, #instant-messaging, #mark-zuckerberg, #messenger, #mobile-applications, #social, #social-media, #software, #stan-chudnovsky, #technology, #virtual-reality, #whatsapp

Today’s real story: The Facebook monopoly

Facebook is a monopoly. Right?

Mark Zuckerberg appeared on national TV today to make a “special announcement.” The timing could not be more curious: Today is the day Lina Khan’s FTC refiled its case to dismantle Facebook’s monopoly.

To the average person, Facebook’s monopoly seems obvious. “After all,” as James E. Boasberg of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia put it in his recent decision, “No one who hears the title of the 2010 film ‘The Social Network’ wonders which company it is about.” But obviousness is not an antitrust standard. Monopoly has a clear legal meaning, and thus far Lina Khan’s FTC has failed to meet it. Today’s refiling is much more substantive than the FTC’s first foray. But it’s still lacking some critical arguments. Here are some ideas from the front lines.

To the average person, Facebook’s monopoly seems obvious. But obviousness is not an antitrust standard.

First, the FTC must define the market correctly: personal social networking, which includes messaging. Second, the FTC must establish that Facebook controls over 60% of the market — the correct metric to establish this is revenue.

Though consumer harm is a well-known test of monopoly determination, our courts do not require the FTC to prove that Facebook harms consumers to win the case. As an alternative pleading, though, the government can present a compelling case that Facebook harms consumers by suppressing wages in the creator economy. If the creator economy is real, then the value of ads on Facebook’s services is generated through the fruits of creators’ labor; no one would watch the ads before videos or in between posts if the user-generated content was not there. Facebook has harmed consumers by suppressing creator wages.

A note: This is the first of a series on the Facebook monopoly. I am inspired by Cloudflare’s recent post explaining the impact of Amazon’s monopoly in their industry. Perhaps it was a competitive tactic, but I genuinely believe it more a patriotic duty: guideposts for legislators and regulators on a complex issue. My generation has watched with a combination of sadness and trepidation as legislators who barely use email question the leading technologists of our time about products that have long pervaded our lives in ways we don’t yet understand. I, personally, and my company both stand to gain little from this — but as a participant in the latest generation of social media upstarts, and as an American concerned for the future of our democracy, I feel a duty to try.

The problem

According to the court, the FTC must meet a two-part test: First, the FTC must define the market in which Facebook has monopoly power, established by the D.C. Circuit in Neumann v. Reinforced Earth Co. (1986). This is the market for personal social networking services, which includes messaging.

Second, the FTC must establish that Facebook controls a dominant share of that market, which courts have defined as 60% or above, established by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in FTC v. AbbVie (2020). The right metric for this market share analysis is unequivocally revenue — daily active users (DAU) x average revenue per user (ARPU). And Facebook controls over 90%.

The answer to the FTC’s problem is hiding in plain sight: Snapchat’s investor presentations:

Snapchat July 2021 investor presentation: Significant DAU and ARPU Opportunity

Snapchat July 2021 investor presentation: Significant DAU and ARPU Opportunity. Image CreditsSnapchat

This is a chart of Facebook’s monopoly — 91% of the personal social networking market. The gray blob looks awfully like a vast oil deposit, successfully drilled by Facebook’s Standard Oil operations. Snapchat and Twitter are the small wildcatters, nearly irrelevant compared to Facebook’s scale. It should not be lost on any market observers that Facebook once tried to acquire both companies.

The market Includes messaging

The FTC initially claimed that Facebook has a monopoly of the “personal social networking services” market. The complaint excluded “mobile messaging” from Facebook’s market “because [messaging apps] (i) lack a ‘shared social space’ for interaction and (ii) do not employ a social graph to facilitate users’ finding and ‘friending’ other users they may know.”

This is incorrect because messaging is inextricable from Facebook’s power. Facebook demonstrated this with its WhatsApp acquisition, promotion of Messenger and prior attempts to buy Snapchat and Twitter. Any personal social networking service can expand its features — and Facebook’s moat is contingent on its control of messaging.

The more time in an ecosystem the more valuable it becomes. Value in social networks is calculated, depending on whom you ask, algorithmically (Metcalfe’s law) or logarithmically (Zipf’s law). Either way, in social networks, 1+1 is much more than 2.

Social networks become valuable based on the ever-increasing number of nodes, upon which companies can build more features. Zuckerberg coined the “social graph” to describe this relationship. The monopolies of Line, Kakao and WeChat in Japan, Korea and China prove this clearly. They began with messaging and expanded outward to become dominant personal social networking behemoths.

In today’s refiling, the FTC explains that Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are all personal social networking services built on three key features:

  1. “First, personal social networking services are built on a social graph that maps the connections between users and their friends, family, and other personal connections.”
  2. “Second, personal social networking services include features that many users regularly employ to interact with personal connections and share their personal experiences in a shared social space, including in a one-to-many ‘broadcast’ format.”
  3. “Third, personal social networking services include features that allow users to find and connect with other users, to make it easier for each user to build and expand their set of personal connections.”

Unfortunately, this is only partially right. In social media’s treacherous waters, as the FTC has struggled to articulate, feature sets are routinely copied and cross-promoted. How can we forget Instagram’s copying of Snapchat’s stories? Facebook has ruthlessly copied features from the most successful apps on the market from inception. Its launch of a Clubhouse competitor called Live Audio Rooms is only the most recent example. Twitter and Snapchat are absolutely competitors to Facebook.

Messaging must be included to demonstrate Facebook’s breadth and voracious appetite to copy and destroy. WhatsApp and Messenger have over 2 billion and 1.3 billion users respectively. Given the ease of feature copying, a messaging service of WhatsApp’s scale could become a full-scale social network in a matter of months. This is precisely why Facebook acquired the company. Facebook’s breadth in social media services is remarkable. But the FTC needs to understand that messaging is a part of the market. And this acknowledgement would not hurt their case.

The metric: Revenue shows Facebook’s monopoly

Boasberg believes revenue is not an apt metric to calculate personal networking: “The overall revenues earned by PSN services cannot be the right metric for measuring market share here, as those revenues are all earned in a separate market — viz., the market for advertising.” He is confusing business model with market. Not all advertising is cut from the same cloth. In today’s refiling, the FTC correctly identifies “social advertising” as distinct from the “display advertising.”

But it goes off the deep end trying to avoid naming revenue as the distinguishing market share metric. Instead the FTC cites “time spent, daily active users (DAU), and monthly active users (MAU).” In a world where Facebook Blue and Instagram compete only with Snapchat, these metrics might bring Facebook Blue and Instagram combined over the 60% monopoly hurdle. But the FTC does not make a sufficiently convincing market definition argument to justify the choice of these metrics. Facebook should be compared to other personal social networking services such as Discord and Twitter — and their correct inclusion in the market would undermine the FTC’s choice of time spent or DAU/MAU.

Ultimately, cash is king. Revenue is what counts and what the FTC should emphasize. As Snapchat shows above, revenue in the personal social media industry is calculated by ARPU x DAU. The personal social media market is a different market from the entertainment social media market (where Facebook competes with YouTube, TikTok and Pinterest, among others). And this too is a separate market from the display search advertising market (Google). Not all advertising-based consumer technology is built the same. Again, advertising is a business model, not a market.

In the media world, for example, Netflix’s subscription revenue clearly competes in the same market as CBS’ advertising model. News Corp.’s acquisition of Facebook’s early competitor MySpace spoke volumes on the internet’s potential to disrupt and destroy traditional media advertising markets. Snapchat has chosen to pursue advertising, but incipient competitors like Discord are successfully growing using subscriptions. But their market share remains a pittance compared to Facebook.

An alternative pleading: Facebook’s market power suppresses wages in the creator economy

The FTC has correctly argued for the smallest possible market for their monopoly definition. Personal social networking, of which Facebook controls at least 80%, should not (in their strongest argument) include entertainment. This is the narrowest argument to make with the highest chance of success.

But they could choose to make a broader argument in the alternative, one that takes a bigger swing. As Lina Khan famously noted about Amazon in her 2017 note that began the New Brandeis movement, the traditional economic consumer harm test does not adequately address the harms posed by Big Tech. The harms are too abstract. As White House advisor Tim Wu argues in “The Curse of Bigness,” and Judge Boasberg acknowledges in his opinion, antitrust law does not hinge solely upon price effects. Facebook can be broken up without proving the negative impact of price effects.

However, Facebook has hurt consumers. Consumers are the workers whose labor constitutes Facebook’s value, and they’ve been underpaid. If you define personal networking to include entertainment, then YouTube is an instructive example. On both YouTube and Facebook properties, influencers can capture value by charging brands directly. That’s not what we’re talking about here; what matters is the percent of advertising revenue that is paid out to creators.

YouTube’s traditional percentage is 55%. YouTube announced it has paid $30 billion to creators and rights holders over the last three years. Let’s conservatively say that half of the money goes to rights holders; that means creators on average have earned $15 billion, which would mean $5 billion annually, a meaningful slice of YouTube’s $46 billion in revenue over that time. So in other words, YouTube paid creators a third of its revenue (this admittedly ignores YouTube’s non-advertising revenue).

Facebook, by comparison, announced just weeks ago a paltry $1 billion program over a year and change. Sure, creators may make some money from interstitial ads, but Facebook does not announce the percentage of revenue they hand to creators because it would be insulting. Over the equivalent three-year period of YouTube’s declaration, Facebook has generated $210 billion in revenue. one-third of this revenue paid to creators would represent $70 billion, or $23 billion a year.

Why hasn’t Facebook paid creators before? Because it hasn’t needed to do so. Facebook’s social graph is so large that creators must post there anyway — the scale afforded by success on Facebook Blue and Instagram allows creators to monetize through directly selling to brands. Facebooks ads have value because of creators’ labor; if the users did not generate content, the social graph would not exist. Creators deserve more than the scraps they generate on their own. Facebook suppresses creators’ wages because it can. This is what monopolies do.

Facebook’s Standard Oil ethos

Facebook has long been the Standard Oil of social media, using its core monopoly to begin its march upstream and down. Zuckerberg announced in July and renewed his focus today on the metaverse, a market Roblox has pioneered. After achieving a monopoly in personal social media and competing ably in entertainment social media and virtual reality, Facebook’s drilling continues. Yes, Facebook may be free, but its monopoly harms Americans by stifling creator wages. The antitrust laws dictate that consumer harm is not a necessary condition for proving a monopoly under the Sherman Act; monopolies in and of themselves are illegal. By refiling the correct market definition and marketshare, the FTC stands more than a chance. It should win.

A prior version of this article originally appeared on Substack.

#amazon, #apps, #cloudflare, #column, #facebook, #federal-trade-commission, #google, #lina-khan, #mark-zuckerberg, #messenger, #monopoly, #opinion, #pinterest, #policy, #snapchat, #social, #social-media, #social-networks, #startups, #tc, #twitter, #whatsapp

Facebook brings end-to-end encryption to Messenger calls and Instagram DMs

Facebook has extended the option of using end-to-end encryption for Messenger voice calls and video calls.

End-to-end encryption (E2EE) — a security feature that prevents third-parties from eavesdropping on calls and chats — has been available for text conversations on Facebook’s flagship messaging service since 2016. Although the company has faced pressure to roll back its end-to-end encryption plans, Facebook is now extending this protection to both voice and video calls on Messenger, which means that “nobody else, including Facebook, can see or listen to what’s sent or said.”

“End-to-end encryption is already widely used by apps like WhatsApp to keep personal conversations safe from hackers and criminals,” Ruth Kricheli, director of product management for Messenger, said in a blog post on Friday. “It’s becoming the industry standard and works like a lock and key, where just you and the people in the chat or call have access to the conversation.”

Facebook has some other E2EE features in the works, too. It’s planning to start public tests of end-to-end encryption for group chats and calls in Messenger in the coming weeks and is also planning a limited test of E2EE for Instagram direct messages. Those involved in the trial will be able to opt-in to end-to-end encrypted messages and calls for one-on-one conversations carried out on the photo-sharing platform.

Beyond encryption, the social networking giant is also updating its expiring messages feature, which is similar to the ephemeral messages feature available on Facebook-owned WhatsApp. It’s now offering more options for people in the chat to choose the amount of time before all new messages disappear, from as few as 5 seconds to as long as 24 hours.

“People expect their messaging apps to be secure and private, and with these new features, we’re giving them more control over how private they want their calls and chats to be,” Kricheli added.

News of Facebook ramping up its E2EE rollout plans comes just days after the company changed its privacy settings — again.

#apps, #computing, #e2ee, #encryption, #end-to-end-encryption, #facebook, #facebook-messenger, #instagram, #messenger, #mobile-applications, #operating-systems, #product-management, #security, #social-media, #software, #whatsapp

WhatsApp and other social media platforms restricted in Zambia amidst ongoing elections

Several users from Zambia have taken to Twitter informing the general public that WhatsApp has been restricted in the country amidst ongoing general elections holding today.

The president and parliamentary elections culminate in a face-off between current President Edgar Lungu and opposition Hakainde Hichilema.

Internet monitoring organization Netblocks further corroborated these reports adding that multiple internet providers in Zambia had restricted access to the American social messaging platform. Some of these networks include Zambian government-owned Zamtel, Airtel Zambia, Liquid Telecom, and MTN.

Just this week, reports circulated that the Zambian government had threatened to shut down the internet if Zambians “failed to use the cyberspace during this year’s election correctly.” The reports say the government intended to go through with its plans from Thursday, the polling day, till Sunday, when vote counts are expected to have ended.

However, the Zambian government, via its Information and Broadcasting Services Permanent Secretary, Amos Malupenga, came out to deny the reports, calling them ‘malicious.’ Nevertheless, he mentioned that the government would not tolerate abuse of the internet and if any mischief occurred, there would be no hesitation to take appropriate measures.

“The government, therefore, expects citizens to use the internet responsibly. But if some people choose to abuse the internet to mislead and misinform, the government will not hesitate to invoke relevant legal provisions to forestall any breakdown of law and order as the country passes through the election period,” Malupenga said.

Zambia isn’t the first African country to witness this during an election as social media restrictions and internet shutdowns are now a recurring theme for most African states.

Countries like Cameroon, Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, Guinea, Togo, Benin, Mali, Mauritania have faced social media restrictions and internet shutdowns during elections. A handful of others like Chad, Nigeria, and Ethiopia, on the other hand, have experienced similar restrictions for unrelating events.

Most governments argue that they carry out social media restrictions and internet shutdowns to maintain security during elections; however, it’s glaring to see the process as a means to curb the spread of vital information among voters and the media within and outside the country.

Today’s event shows that despite denying reports about an imminent internet shutdown, the Zambian government is heading in that direction by first cutting off WhatsApp. While writing on the WhatsApp restriction, Netblocks also reported that the Zambian government has proceeded to restrict other social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and Twitter.

Still, internet users in Zambia are now using VPN services to bypass the restrictions on WhatsApp and these other social media platforms. Yet, it remains to be seen if the government will enforce a full internet shutdown.

#africa, #airtel, #cameroon, #elections, #ethiopia, #instagram, #liquid-telecom, #messenger, #netblocks, #nigeria, #social-media-platforms, #tanzania, #tc, #uganda, #vpn, #whatsapp, #zambia

WhatsApp photos and videos can now disappear after a single viewing

WhatsApp said that it would soon let users send disappearing photos and videos and this week the feature will be rolling out to everybody. Anyone using the Facebook-owned messaging app can share a photo or video in “view once” mode, allowing a single viewing before the media in question goes poof. Media shared with “view once” selected will show up as opened after the intended audience takes a peek.

The company notes that the new feature could be helpful for an array of needs that definitely aren’t sending nudes, like sharing a photo of some clothes you tried on or giving someone your wifi password. In the fine print, the company would like to remind you that just because the photos or video will vanish, that doesn’t prevent someone from taking a screenshot (and you won’t know if they do).

Facebook says the new feature is a step to give users “even more control over their privacy,” a song it’s been singing since Mark Zuckerberg first declared a new “privacy-focused vision” for the company back in 2019. Facebook has made a few gestures toward letting people wrest control of their online privacy since then, streamlining audience controls on its core app and enabling disappearing messages in WhatsApp.

The company has also been talking a big game about bringing end-to-end encryption to its full stable of messaging services, which it plans to make interoperable in the future. WhatsApp enabled end-to-end encryption by default back in 2016, but for Messenger and Instagram, the hallmark privacy measure could still be years out.

#encryption, #facebook, #mark-zuckerberg, #messenger, #mobile-applications, #online-privacy, #private-message, #social, #social-media, #tc, #whatsapp

Facebook warns of ‘headwinds’ to its ad business from regulators and Apple

Facebook posted its second quarter earnings Wednesday, beating expectations with $29 billion in revenue.

The world’s biggest social media company was expected to report $27.8 billion in revenue for the quarter, a 50 percent increase from the same period in 2020. Facebook reported earnings per share of $3.61, which also bested expectations.

In the first financial period to really reflect a return to quasi-economic normalcy after a very online pandemic year, Facebook met user growth expectations. At the end of March, Facebook boasted 2.85 billion monthly active users across its network of apps. At the end of its second quarter, Facebook reported 2.9 billion monthly active users, roughly what was expected.

The company’s shares opened at $375 on Wednesday morning and were down to $360 in a dip following the earnings report.

In spite of a strong quarter, Facebook is warning of change ahead — namely impacts to its massive ad business, which generated $28.5 billion out of the company’s $29 billion this quarter. The company specifically named privacy-focused updates to Apple’s mobile operating system as a threat to its business.

“We continue to expect increased ad targeting headwinds in 2021 from regulatory and platform changes, notably the recent iOS updates, which we expect to have a greater impact in the third quarter compared to the second quarter,” the company stated its investor report outlook.

 

No matter what Facebook planned to report Wednesday, the company is a financial beast. Bad press and user mistrust in the West haven’t done much to hurt its bottom line and the company’s ad business is looking as dominant as ever. Short of meaningful antitrust reform in the U.S. or a surging competitor, there’s little to stand in Facebook’s way. The former might still be a long shot given partisan gridlock in Congress, even with the White House involved, but Facebook is finally facing a threat from the latter.

For years, it’s been difficult to imagine a social media platform emerging as a proper rival to the company, given Facebook’s market dominance and nasty habit of acquiring competitors or brazenly copying their innovations, but it’s clear that TikTok is turning into just that. YouTube is huge, but the platforms matured in parallel and co-exist, offering complementary experiences.

TikTok hit 700 million monthly active users in July 2020 and surpassed three billions global downloads earlier this month, becoming the only non-Facebook owned app to do so, according to data from Sensor Tower. If the famously addictive short form video app can successfully siphon off some of the long hours that young users spend on Instagram and Facebook’s other platforms and make itself a cozy home for brands in the process, the big blue giant out of Menlo Park might finally have something to lose sleep over.

#computing, #congress, #earnings, #facebook, #facebook-stories, #instagram, #messenger, #mobile-applications, #operating-systems, #sensor-tower, #social, #social-media, #software, #tc, #united-states, #whatsapp, #white-house

Facebook Messenger is stepping up its emoji game

If you can’t say it with words, say it with an emoji. Facebook is announcing a few minor updates today to its Messenger platform, which make it easier than ever to find the exact emoji you’re looking for when reacting to a friend’s message (let’s be real, there’s a big difference between the “crying laughing” and “crying” emoji). This includes a search bar for emoji reactions, and a recently used emojis section. And, if you weren’t let down by the long-awaited “Space Jam” sequel, you can sport your love for hoopster Bugs Bunny with a “Space Jam 2” chat theme, available both on Messenger and in Instagram DMs. Don’t get too excited though — even though this theme sets a basketball as the chat’s emoji, the long lost, beloved basketball mini game has not yet made its triumphant return to the Messenger app.

Image Credits: Facebook Messenger

It may not feel like there’s room for innovation in, um, the emoji space, but even Twitter has explored the option of allowing people to emoji-react to tweets. And as live audio has become ever present — from Clubhouse, to Twitter Spaces, to Spotify’s Greenroom — why not add audio to emojis?

Last week, Messenger debuted Soundmojis, which are what they sound like — emojis with sounds. On the Messenger app, you can use Soundmojis by clicking the smiley face icon in the chat box, which opens up the expressions menu. When you select the loudspeaker icon, you can select from just under 30 standard emojis, but when you click on them, they play sounds including “Brooklyn 99” quotes, Olivia Rodrigo clips, and lines from “Bridgerton.” The “X” emoji plays “Oh No” by Capone, a song that went viral on TikTok.

According to Facebook Messenger, people send more than 2.4 billion messages with emojis on the platform each day. That’s great and all, but if we can tap the car emoji to hear sounds from “Fast & Furious,” when will we be able to tap the soccer emoji to play “keepie uppie” again?

#apps, #clubhouse, #computing, #emoji, #facebook-messenger, #fast-furious, #internet-culture, #line, #messenger, #mobile-applications, #operating-systems, #smiley, #social-media, #software, #space-jam, #spotify

Facebook will lure creators with $1 billion in payments

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.

 

 

#creator-economy, #creators, #facebook, #instagram, #mark-zuckerberg, #messenger, #mobile-applications, #snapchat, #social, #social-media, #stars, #tc, #tiktok, #united-states, #youtube

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hosts first test of Live Audio Rooms in U.S.

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.

Joining Zuckerberg were Facebook VP and Head of Facebook Reality Labs Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, Head of Facebook App Fidji Simo, and three Facebook Gaming creators, including StoneMountain64, QueenEliminator, and TheFierceDivaQueen.

Image Credits: Facebook screenshot

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.

Clubhouse, for example, is currently wooing creators with a payments feature, where creators keep 100% of their revenue. And it’s funding some creators’ shows. Twitter, meanwhile, is tying its audio product Spaces to its broader set of creator tools, which now include newsletters, tips, and soon, a subscription platform dubbed Super Follow.

Zuckerberg didn’t say during today’s event when Live Audio Rooms would be available to the public, but said the experience would roll out to “a lot more people soon.”

#audio, #audio-rooms, #broadcasting, #clubhouse, #creator-economy, #creators, #facebook, #facebook-gaming, #fidji-simo, #gaming, #live-audio, #mark-zuckerberg, #messenger, #mobile-applications, #social, #social-media, #social-software, #tc

Yana’s mental health tool for Spanish speakers nears 5 million users

Andrea Campos has struggled with depression since she was 8 years old. Over the years, she’s tried all sorts of therapies — from behavioral to pharmacotherapy.

In 2017, when Campos was in her early 20s, she learned to program and created a system to help manage her mental health. It started as a personal project but as she talked to more people, Campos realized that many others might benefit from the system as well.

So, she then built an application to provide access to mental health tools to Spanish-speaking people and began testing it with a small group of people. At first, Campos herself was her own chatbot, texting with users who were tired of dealing with depression.

“During the month, I was pretending I was an app, and would send these people a list of activities they had to complete during the day, such as writing in a gratitude journal, and then asking them how those activities made them feel,” Campos recalls.

Her thinking was that sometimes with depression and anxiety comes “a lot of avoidance,” where people resist potential treatment out of fear.

The results from her small experiment were encouraging. So, Campos set out to conduct a bigger sample of experiments, and raised about $10,000 via crowdfunding campaign. With that money, she hired a developer to build a chatbot for her app, which was mostly being used via Facebook Messenger.

Then an earthquake hit Mexico City and that developer lost everything — including his home and computer — and had to relocate.

“I was left with nothing,” Campos says. But that developer introduced her to another, who disappeared with his payment, and again, left Campos, “with nothing.”

“I realized at the beginning of 2019, I was going to have to do this by myself,” Campos said. So she used a site that she described as a “Wix for chatbots,” and created one herself.

After experimenting with the app with a sample of 700 people, Campos was even more encouraged and raised an angel round of funding for Yana, the startup behind her app. (Yana is an acronym for “You Are Not Alone.”) By early 2020, with just three months of runway left, she pivoted to create an app with chatbot integration that wasn’t just limited to use via Facebook Messenger.

Campos ended up launching the app more broadly during the same week that her city in Mexico went into quarantine.

Image Credits: Yana

At first, she said, she saw “normal, steady growth.” But then on Oct. 10, 2020, Apple’s App Store highlighted Yana for International Mental Health Day, and the response was overwhelming.

“It was also my birthday so I was at a spa in a nearby town, relaxing, when I started hearing my cell phone go crazy,” Campos recalls. “Everything went nuts. I had to go back to Mexico City because our servers were exploding since they were not used to having that kind of volume.”

As a result of that exposure, Yana went from having around 80,000 users to reaching 1 million users two weeks later. Soon after that, Google highlighted the app as one of best for personal growth in 2020, and that too led to another spike in users. Today, Yana is about to hit the 5 million-user mark and is also announcing it has raised $1.5 million in funding led by Mexico’s ALLVP, which has also invested in the likes of Cornershop, Flink and Nuvocargo.

When the pandemic hit last year, six of Yana’s 9-person team decided to quarantine together in a “startup house” in Cancun to focus on building the company. Earlier this year, the company had raised $315,000 from investors such as 500 Startups, Magma and Hustle Fund. The company had pitched ALLVP, who was intrigued but wanted to wait until it could write a bigger check. 

That time is now, and Yana is now among the top three downloaded apps in Mexico and 12 countries including Spain, Chile, Ecuador and Venezuela.

With its new capital, Yana is planning to “move away from the depression/anxiety narrative,” according to Campos.

“We want to compete in the wellness space,” she told TechCrunch. “A lot of people were looking for us to deal with crises such as a breakup or a loss but then they didn’t always see a necessity to keep using Yana for longer than the crisis lasted.”

Some of those people would download the app again months later when hit with another crisis.

“We don’t want to be that app anymore,” Campos said. “We want to focus on whole wellness and mental health and transmit something that needs to be built every single day, just like we do with exercise.”

Moving forward, Yana aims to help people with their mental health not just during a crisis but with activities they can do on a daily basis, including a gratitude journal, a mood tracker and meditation — “things that prevent depression and anxiety,” Campos said.

“We want to be a vitamin for our soul, and keeping people mentally healthy on an ongoing basis,” she said. “We also want to include a community inside our application.”

ALLVP’s Federico Antoni is enthusiastic about the startup’s potential. He first met Campos when she was participating in an accelerator program in 2017 and then again recently.

The firm led Yana’s latest round because it “wanted to be on her team.”

“She [Campos] has turned into an amazing leader, and we realized her potential and strength,” he said. “Plus, Yana is an amazing product. When you download it, it’s almost like you can see a soul in there.”

#allvp, #app-store, #apps, #chatbot, #chile, #computing, #ecuador, #facebook, #funding, #fundings-exits, #google, #health, #itunes, #mental-health, #messenger, #mexico, #mexico-city, #operating-systems, #recent-funding, #social-media, #software, #spain, #startup, #startups, #tc, #venezuela, #venture-capital

Messenger adds Venmo-like QR codes for person-to-person payments in the U.S.

This spring, Facebook confirmed it was testing Venmo-like QR codes for person-to-person payments inside its app in the U.S. Today, the company announced those codes are now launching publicly to all U.S. users, allowing anyone to send or request money through Facebook Pay — even if they’re not Facebook friends.

The QR codes work similarly to those found in other payment apps, like Venmo.

The feature can be found under the “Facebook Pay” section in Messenger’s settings, accessed by tapping on your profile icon at the top left of the screen. Here, you’ll be presented with your personalized QR code which looks much like a regular QR code except that it features your profile icon in the middle.

Underneath, you’ll be shown your personal Facebook Pay UR which is in the format of “https://m.me/pay/UserName.” This can also be copied and sent to other users when you’re requesting a payment.

Facebook notes that the codes will work between any U.S. Messenger users, and won’t require a separate payment app or any sort of contact entry or upload process to get started.

Users who want to be able to send and receive money in Messenger have to be at least 18 years old, and will have to have a Visa or Mastercard debit card, a PayPal account or one of the supported prepaid cards or government-issued cards, in order to use the payments feature. They’ll also need to set their preferred currency to U.S. dollars in the app.

After setup is complete, you can choose which payment method you want as your default and optionally protect payments behind a PIN code of your choosing.

The QR code is also available from the Facebook Pay section of the main Facebook app, in a carousel at the top of the screen.

Facebook Pay first launched in November 2019, as a way to establish a payment system that extends across the company’s apps for not just person-to-person payments, but also other features, like donations, Stars, and e-commerce, among other things. Though the QR codes take cues from Venmo and others, the service as it stands today is not necessarily a rival to payment apps because Facebook partners with PayPal as one of the supported payment methods.

However, although the payments experience is separate from Facebook’s cryptocurrency walletNovi, that’s something that could perhaps change in the future.

Image Credits: Facebook

The feature was introduced alongside a few other Messenger updates, including a new Quick Reply bar that makes it easier to respond to a photo or video without having to return to the main chat thread. Facebook also added new chat themes including one for Olivia Rodrigo fans, another for World Oceans Day, and one that promotes the new F9 movie.

 

#apps, #cryptocurrencies, #e-commerce, #facebook, #facebook-messenger, #finance, #messenger, #mobile, #mobile-payments, #online-payments, #paypal, #qr-code, #social-media, #software, #technology, #united-states, #venmo

Facebook’s Spark AR platform expands to video calling with Multipeer API

At today’s F8 developer conference, Facebook announced new capabilities for Spark AR, its flagship AR creation software. Since Spark AR was announced at F8 2017, more than 600,000 creators from 190 countries have published over 2 million AR effects on Facebook and Instagram, making it the largest mobile AR platform, according to Facebook. If you’ve ever posted a selfie on your Instagram story with an effect that gave you green hair, or let you control a dog’s facial expression by moving your own face, then you’ve used Spark AR

Soon, these AR effects will be available for video calling on Messenger, Instagram, and Portal with the introduction of a Multipeer API. Creators can develop effects that bring call participants together by using a shared AR effect. As an example, Spark AR shared a promo video of a birthday party held over a video call, in which an AR party hat appears on each of the participants’ heads. 

Creators can also develop games for users to play during their video calls. This already exists on Facebook video calls – think of the game where you compete to see who can catch the most flying AR hamburgers in their mouth in a minute. But when the ability to make new, lightweight games opens to developers, we’ll see some new games to challenge our friends with on video calls. 

These video call effects and multipeer AR games will be bolstered by Spark’s platform exclusive multi-class segmentation capability. This lets developers augment multiple segments of a user’s body (like hair or skin) at once within a single effect. 

Facebook also discussed its ongoing ambition to build AR glasses. Chris Barber, Director of Partnerships for Spark AR, said that this goal is still “years away” – but, Barber did tease some potential features for the innovative, wearable tech. 

“Imagine being able to teleport to a friend’s sofa to watch a show together, or being able to share a photo of something awesome you see on a hike,” Barber said. Maybe this won’t sound so dystopian by the time the product launches, years down the road. 

Last October, Spark AR launched the AR Partner Network, a program for the platform’s most advanced creators, and this year, Spark launched an AR curriculum through Facebook’s BluePrint Platform to help creators learn how to improve their AR effects. Applications for the Spark Partner Network will open again this summer. For now, creators and developers can apply to start building effects for video calling through the Spark AR Video Calling Beta

#api, #apps, #ar, #augmented-reality, #facebook, #instagram, #messenger, #mobile-software, #operating-systems, #social, #social-media, #software, #spark, #spark-ar

Facebook doubles down on business tools with WhatsApp API updates, Login Connect for Messenger and more

WhatsApp now has more than 2 billion users globally, and by comparison its efforts to cultivate more business usage have been quite modest: just over 175 million people message with WhatsApp Business accounts daily for things like customer support or to discuss products. Today, as part of its F8 event, Facebook is unveiling some updates to the WhatsApp API to expand that experience.

The news comes on the heels of Facebook unveiling the general availability of Messenger API for Instagram earlier today, and forms part of a bigger series of announcements aimed at doing business more easily on the platform.

More generally, Facebook and its many apps are at their heart very consumer services — they are used by billions of people to keep in touch with each other, for diversion, and to stay informed about whatever matters to them.

But Facebook the business has been gradually building out a very extensive and lucrative commercial infrastructure around that engaged audience, one that started with advertising but has extended deeper into marketing, customer service, workplace productivity, and shopping.

The F8 conference, hatched originally as a hackathon, had grown into a very big event. This year’s installment is a significantly more toned down affair than in recent years — no big crowds (it’s all virtual), no big product and hardware announcements (it doesn’t appear that there are any… so far), and it feels more like a Zoom conference — and today’s news about business-oriented developer tools not only resets the event back around its original developer focus, but it also bolsters that commercial strategy.

With WhatsApp for Business it appears that one of the sticking points has been time — from setting up WhatsApp for Business in the first place to responding to different kinds of messages. This is what Facebook is now addressing.

First, it’s speeding up the time it takes to set up a WhatsApp business account to five minutes (versus what it described as weeks in the past).

Then, Facebook is making it easier to use the Business account once it is set up. For starters, businesses will be able to respond faster to inbound messages (which previously were “difficult to follow up with customers outside of a 24-hour window”), and they can now send out messages to those who have opted in, for example around stock availability.

Businesses using the tool for customer care, meanwhile, will be given the option to create up to 10 pre-written messages to speed up their responses, and they can also set up reply buttons to provide pre-populated, popular replies from customers.

In addition to the WhatsApp news, Facebook is also adding another tool to Messenger to expand its: Facebook Login Connect.

Essentially, if a business has integrated Facebook Login, it will allow users to log into their app or website using their Facebook credentials, and then carry on a conversation with the company over Messenger.

This is useful not just because it also means that a user can keep track of any conversations from one place, but it gives the company access to the tools that it has built to carry out conversations in Messenger already, whether those are chatbots or links through to other CRM databases. Facebook said that tests of the service indicate that 70% of users opt in to use the Login Connect tool, indicating that they’re willing to use their Facebook credentials in this way.

This is a closed beta now but will be more widely available in coming months, Facebook said.

Finally, Facebook is launching a new feature in its Business Suite — a platform that can be used by businesses to manage activity across Facebook, Instagram and Messenger — that will let developers build “Business Apps.”

These are not apps in the app store sense, but tools made by third parties (developers) to work alongside the Facebook-built Business Suite, further integrating Facebook tools into businesses’ sites and apps, and also bringing more of a businesses’ content — for example items from a catalog — into their Facebook Page, or Instagram account, and so on. The platform already has some 90 developers working on it and it integrates with e-commerce platforms like Bigcommerce, Facebook said.

#f8, #facebook, #messenger, #tc, #whatsapp, #whatsapp-business

Instagram Live takes on Clubhouse with options to mute and turn off the video

In addition to Facebook’s Clubhouse competitor built within Messenger Rooms and its experiments with a Clubhouse-like Q&A platform on the web, the company is now leveraging yet another of its largest products to take on the Clubhouse threat: Instagram Live. Today, Instagram announced it’s adding new features that will allow users to mute their microphones and even turn their video off while using Instagram Live.

Instagram explains these new features will give hosts more flexibility during their livestream experiences, as they can decrease the pressure to look or sound a certain way while broadcasting live. While that may be true, the reality is that Facebook is simply taking another page from Clubhouse’s playbook by enabling a “video off” experience that encourages more serendipitous conversations.

When people don’t have to worry about how they look, they’ll often be more amenable to jumping into a voice chat. In addition, being audio-only allows creators to engage with their community while multitasking — perhaps they’re doing chores or moving around, and can’t sit and stare right at the camera. To date, this has been one of the advantages about using Clubhouse versus live video chat. You could participate in Clubhouse’s voice chat rooms without always having to give the conversation your full attention or worrying about background noise.

For the time being, hosts will not be able to turn on or off the video or mute others in the livestream, but Instagram tells us it’s working on offering more of these types of capabilities to the broadcaster, and expects to roll them out soon.

Instagram notes it tested the new features publicly earlier this week during an Instagram Live between Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri.

This isn’t the first feature Instagram has added in recent weeks to lure the creator community to its platform instead of Clubhouse or other competitors. In March, Instagram rolled out the option for creators to host Live Rooms that allow up to four people to broadcast at the same time. The Rooms were meant to appeal to creators who wanted to host live talk shows, expanded Q&As, and more — all experiences that are often found on Clubhouse. It also added the ability for fans to buy badges to support the hosts, to cater to the needs of professional creators looking to monetize their reach.

Although Instagram parent company Facebook already has a more direct Clubhouse clone in development with Live Audio Rooms on Facebook and Messenger, the company said it doesn’t expect it to launch into testing until this summer. And it will first be available to Groups and public figures, not the broader public.

Instagram Live’s new features, meanwhile, are rolling out to Instagram’s global audience on both iOS and Android starting today.

#adam-mosseri, #apps, #clubhouse, #facebook, #facebook-messenger, #instagram, #messenger, #mobile-applications, #social, #social-media

Kenya’s Ajua acquires WayaWaya to consolidate consumer experience play in African SMEs

Kenyan consumer experience platform for businesses in Africa, Ajua today announced that it has acquired WayaWaya, a Kenya-based AI and ML messaging and payments company.

WayaWaya’s customers and partners include the likes of I&M Bank, Interswitch and MTN. The company offers a range of services, from digital banking and payment services to financial services APIs and payment bots.

According to Ajua, the acquisition is primarily focused on WayaWaya’s payments bots system known as Janja. The platform, which has customers like Airtel, Ezee Money, Housing Finance Company of Kenya (HF Group), enables borderless banking and payments across apps and social media platforms. Teddy Ogallo, the entrepreneur who founded WayaWaya, joins Ajua as VP of Product APIs and Integrations.

Per Crunchbase, WayaWaya has just raised $75,000. Although the two companies did not disclose the financial details of the acquisition, Ajua is expected to have paid 10 times more than WayaWaya’s total raise.

Ajua, formerly mSurvey, was founded in 2012 by Kenfield Griffith. The company is solving a consumer data problem for African businesses to understand their business better and drive growth.

“There’s a lot of commerce happening on the continent and Ajua wants companies to move from transaction numbers to the customers behind such transaction,” Griffith told TechCrunch. “Imagine if we knew what drove consumer habits for businesses. I mean, that’s a huge exponential curve for African businesses.”

Teddy Ogallo (Founder, WayaWaya) & Kenfield Griffith (CEO, Ajua)

Teddy Ogallo (Founder, WayaWaya) & Kenfield Griffith (CEO, Ajua)

Nigeria’s SME market alone is valued at $220 billion annually. And while businesses, mostly big enterprises, can afford customer communication tools, a large segment of small businesses are being left out. Ajua’s play is to use data and analytics to connect companies with their customers in real time. “We’ve taken what makes enterprise customers successful, and we’re capturing it in a simple format so SMEs can have the same tools,” Griffith added

Since most consumer behavior for these SMEs happens offline, Ajua gives businesses unique USSD codes to receive payments, get feedback and offer discounts to their customers. It is one of the products Ajua has launched over the years for customer feedback at the point of service to businesses that cumulatively have over 45 million customers.

The company’s partners and clients also include Coca-Cola, FBNQuest, GoodLife Pharmacy, Java House, Safaricom, Standard Chartered and Total.

As an intelligent messaging bot, Janja is used by individuals and businesses across WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Telegram to automate customer support and make cross-border payments. So, Janja’s integration into Ajua’s product stack will close much of the acquirer’s customer experience loop by automating responses and giving customers what they want, when they want it.

This acquisition comes a month after Ajua announced that it partnered with telecom operator MTN Nigeria to launch a customer management product for Nigerian businesses. The product called MTN EnGauge carries the same features present in Ajua but, in this case, is tailored solely for businesses using the MTN network. The roll-out is expected to generate more data for Ajua’s thousands of users. It will also be upgraded to incorporate Janja and other services.

In hindsight, it appears Ajua could have created a product like Janja in-house due to its vast experience in the consumer experience space. However, the company chose an acquisition and Griffith gave two reasons why — building a similar product would have taken a long time and Ogallo seemed to know Janja’s business and operations so well, it just made sense to get him on board. 

“Teddy was going the same direction we’re going. We just thought to acquire WayaWaya instead and make a really good company out of both products attempting to solve the same problem. To me, it’s all about solving the problem together rather than going alone,” said the CEO. 

On why he accepted the acquisition, Ogallo, who now has a new role, noted that Ajua’s ability to scale customer service and experience and also help businesses was one reason and earned admiration from him. “Seeing how WayaWaya’s technology can complement Ajua’s innovative products and services, and help scale and monetize businesses, is an exciting opportunity for us, and we are happy that our teams will be collaborating to build something unique for the continent,” he added

This is a solid infrastructure play from Ajua coming from a founder who is a massive advocate of acquisition and consolidation. Griffith believes that the two are strategies for a speedier route to new markets and channels in Africa

I think there are lots of ways we can build the ecosystem. There are lots of young talent building stuff, and they don’t have access to capital to get to the next stage. The question is if they want to race to the finish line or take off time and get acquired. I think there’s a huge opportunity in Africa if you want to solve complex problems by acquisition.”

There has been an uptick in local acquisitions in Africa from startups within a single country and between two countries in the past three years. For the former, Nigerian recruitment platform Jobberman’s acquisition of NGCareers last year comes to mind. And there are pan-African instances like Lagos-based hub CcHub’s acquisition of iHub, its Nairobi counterpart; Ethiopian software provider Apposit sell-off to Nigerian fintech Paga; and Johannesburg-based fintech MFS Africa acquiring Uganda’s Beyonic.

The common theme among the acquisitions (and most African acquisitions) is their undisclosed sums. For Ajua, Griffith cited regulatory issues as one reason why the company is keeping the figure under wraps.

Since launching nine years ago, Ajua has raised a total of $3.5 million, according to Crunchbase. Given the nature of this acquisition and partnership with MTN, the company might set sights on another fundraise to scale aggressively into Nigeria (a market it entered in 2019) and other African countries.

#africa, #airtel, #artificial-intelligence, #cchub, #ceo, #customer-experience, #customer-relationship-management, #enterprise, #exit, #interswitch, #kenya, #lagos, #ma, #messenger, #nairobi, #nigeria, #tc, #uganda

Consumers spent $32B on apps in Q1 2021, the biggest quarter on record

The pandemic’s remarkable impact on the app industry has not slowed down in 2021. In fact, consumer spending in apps has hit a new record in the first quarter of this year, a new report from App Annie indicates. The firm says consumers in Q1 2021 spent $32 billion on apps across both iOS and Google Play, up 40% year-over-year from Q1 2020. It’s the largest-ever quarter on record, App Annie also notes.

Last year saw both app downloads and consumer spend increase, as people rapidly adopted apps under coronavirus lockdowns — including apps for work, school, shopping, fitness, entertainment, gaming and more. App Annie previously reported a record 218 billion in global downloads and record consumer spend of $143 billion for the year.

Image Credits: App Annie

These trends have continued into 2021, it seems, with mobile consumers spending roughly $9 billion more in Q1 2021 compared with Q1 2020. Although iOS saw larger consumer spend than Android in the quarter — $21 billion vs. $11 billion, respectively — both stores grew by the same percentage, 40%.

But the types of apps driving spending were slightly different from store to store.

On Google Play, Games, Social and Entertainment apps saw the strongest quarter-over-quarter growth in terms of consumer spending, while Games, Photo & Video, and Entertainment apps accounted for the strongest growth on iOS.

By downloads, the categories were different between the stores, as well.

On Google Play, Social, Tools, and Fiance saw the biggest download growth in Q1, while Games, Finance and Social Networking drove download growth for iOS. Also on Google Play, other top categories included Weather (40%) and Dating (35%), while iOS saw Health and Fitness app downloads grow by a notable 25% — likely a perfect storm as New Year’s Resolutions combined with continued stay-at-measures that encouraged users to find new ways to stay fit without going to a gym.

Image Credits: App Annie

The top apps in the quarter remained fairly consistent, however. TikTok beat Facebook, in terms of downloads, and was followed by Instagram, Telegram, WhatsApp and Zoom. But the short-form video app only made it to No. 2 in terms of consumer spend, with YouTube snagging the top spot. Tinder, Disney+, Tencent Video, and others followed. (Netflix has dropped off this chart as it now directs new users to sign up directly, rather than through in-app purchases).

Image Credits: App Annie

Though Facebook’s apps have fallen behind TikTok by downloads, its apps — including Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram — still led the market in terms monthly active users (MAUs) in the quarter. TikTok, meanwhile, ranked No. 8 by this metric.

Up-and-comers in the quarter included privacy-focused messaging app Signal, which saw the strongest growth in the quarter by both downloads and MAUs — a calculation that App Annie calls “breakout apps.”  Telegram closely followed, as users bailed from mainstream social after the Capitol riot. Another “breakout” app was MX TakaTak, which is filling the hole in the market for short-form video that resulted from India’s ban  of TikTok.

Image Credits: App Annie

Gaming, meanwhile, drove a majority of the quarter’s spending, as usual, accounting for $22 billion of the spend — $13 billion on iOS (up 30% year-over-year) and $9 billion on Android (up 35%). Gamers downloaded about a billion titles per week, up 15% year-over-year from 2020.

Among Us! dropped to No. 2 in the quarter by downloads, replaced by Join Clash 3D, while DOP 2: Delete One Part jumped 308 places to reach No. 3.

Image Credits: App Annie

Roblox led by consumer spend, followed by Genshin Impact, Coin Master, Pokemon Go and others. And although Among Us! dropped on the charts by downloads, it remained No. 1 by monthly active users in the quarter, followed by PUBG Mobile, Candy Crush Saga, Roblox and others.

App Annie notes that the pandemic also accelerated the mobile gaming market, with game downloads outpacing overall downloads by 2.5x in 2020. It predicts that mobile gaming will reach  $120 billion in consumer spending this year, or 1.5x all other gaming formats combined.

#android, #app-annie, #apps, #computing, #disney, #facebook, #google-play, #india, #messenger, #mobile-applications, #netflix, #roblox, #tiktok, #whatsapp

Facebook’s Clubhouse rival looks a lot like Clubhouse right now

Facebook is building a Clubhouse rival, The New York Times reported in February. But what that product will look like or how it will work have been questions that have remained unanswered. However, new screenshots of a Facebook audio product, still under development, show what appears to be a live audio broadcast experience that’s more of an extension of Facebook’s existing Messenger Rooms, rather than a standalone app experience. Facebook confirmed with TechCrunch the images are indeed examples of the company’s “exploratory audio efforts,” but cautioned that they don’t represent a live product at this time.

The company said also that detailing what a product may look like based on these images would be inaccurate. We’ve decided to publish them anyway with the caveat that, of course, in-development features are very different from live products. Anything and everything could still change between now and a public launch.

But the images at least help demonstrate how Facebook is thinking about live audio and where such a social experience could fit within Facebook’s existing app. And that’s worth considering.

The photos themselves have been shared by mobile developer and reverse engineer Alessandro Paluzzi, who came across Facebook’s live audio developments and user interface experiments within the Facebook Android app’s code. Like other reverse engineers, Paluzzi digs around in the code to uncover unreleased products in various stages of development. Some of the products he finds are tested and scrapped, while others eventually make it to market.

In Facebook’s case, the images he shared show a “Live Audio” option for Rooms — Facebook’s social Zoom competitor which first launched last May. At the time, people were hungry for video chat options before our collective Zoom fatigue set in as the pandemic wore on. Now we all want to turn our screens off, and hang out in Clubhouse instead.

Currently, when a Facebook user creates a Messenger Room — which you can do from either Messenger or the Status box on Facebook — it’s a group video chat. Here, friends and family can virtually hang out or even co-watch Facebook videos together. But while Rooms support up to 50 people, they’re not meant to offer a large, public broadcast experience.

The new images show an expansion of Rooms, where you’ll be able to pick from one of three different “types” of Rooms — either a private video room (much like you what’s available today), or either a public or private audio room. The private audio room would be just a place to voice chat with a group of friends, while the “Live Audio” room would instead be an audio-only room where you could broadcast to wider group of listeners.

The latter would be given its own Room Link, which speakers could then promote across Facebook — either in Messenger, through a Facebook post, or within a Facebook Group — or anywhere else on social media and the web.

Meanwhile, the Live Audio Room experience — which Paluzzi mocked up with images of Mark Zuckerberg’s face to represent the users profiles — looks a lot like Clubhouse. The speakers are shown at the top of the room where they’re represented with larger, circular profile pics, while the room listeners appear below. There’s also a “followed by speakers” section that leads the audience section — again, much like Clubhouse.

Paluzzi says the way the live audio rooms product is being developed, it would allow for rooms that anyone on Facebook could join, and those rooms could be accessible from Facebook itself — meaning you would not have to switch to Messenger to join a room. When not expanded to full-screen, the room would display its title, the number of speakers, and total listeners so you could get an idea of the room’s popularity.

Of course, what Paluzzi has come across is not a final product — it’s just a user interface, buried in the code, and none of the backend works. Facebook also stressed that the images were just audio experiments, as noted above.

But the images themselves are real and represent something Facebook has built. They’re worth examining, despite any attempts to downplay their importance.

“We’ve been connecting people through audio and video technologies for many years and are always exploring new ways to improve that experience for people,” a spokesperson said, commenting on the images Paluzzi had published.

It’s no secret that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is bullish on audio, of course. In fact, he’s already appeared on Clubhouse a couple of times, and recently spoke about the potential for social audio in a Clubhouse Room hosted last week by former TechCrunch editor Josh Constine, now an investor at SignalFire. During the chat, Zuckerberg said he believes audio has a number of advantages over other formats.

“You don’t have to prepare. You don’t have to look good before you get on to go to a podcast or Clubhouse or whatever you’re doing,” he noted, of the hosting experience. Plus, he added, “you can walk around a lot more easily. You can consume it without having to look at the screen and kind of do that in the background while doing something else.”

Zuckerberg also praised Clubhouse for what it had pioneered, saying it would end up “being one of the modalities around live audio broadcast.”

Image Credits: Alessandro Paluzzi

In other words, it appears Facebook sees Clubhouse as a feature it can reproduce — similar to how it borrowed the concept of Stories from Snapchat for Instagram, and the way it’s more recently copied the TikTok experience for Instagram Reels. It doesn’t have to launch a new app to counteract the Clubhouse threat, it just has to launch a place for people to use audio on Facebook. (And of course, there’s something to be said about praising Clubhouse on Clubhouse while simultaneously building a copy.)

“Overall, I think that this is going to be a pretty big space,” Zuckerberg said of social audio. “The work that we’re doing in this is trying to basically build out a bunch of the tools across the spectrum of how people would want to use audio. I’m really excited about this,” he added.

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