Clubhouse is building a DM text chat feature

Some Clubhouse users were treated to a surprise feature in their favorite app, but it wasn’t long for this world. A new UI element called “backchannel” popped up briefly before disappearing late last week, pointing the Clubhouse faithful to a new area of the app and generating plenty of chatter among users ready for more ways to connect.

While the backchannel screen was totally blank without so much as a text entry box, it looks like the company is working on building out the text chat feature that Clubhouse CEO Paul Davison previously discussed in a company town hall.

“…. I think that there are so many people who do DM backchannels all the time, so many people who want to deepen friendships and relationships with people and do all sorts of other stuff — I think this is something that we should have,” Davison said.

The Clubhouse co-founder went on to say that building the feature to suit the app’s use cases won’t be trivial and wouldn’t be happening right away. He also declined to elaborate on if the app would add traditional one-on-one DMs or a more open group text chat feature.

When reached for comment, Clubhouse didn’t dissuade TechCrunch from the assumption that a messaging feature is around the corner, but issued a coy statement.

“As part of our product building process, Clubhouse regularly explores and tests potential features,” a Clubhouse spokesperson told TechCrunch. “These functions sometimes become part of the app, sometimes they don’t.”

Spotify’s new Clubhouse copycat app Greenroom offers its own live text chatroom that users can access by swiping right in the app, giving it a bit of flexibility that Clubhouse has yet to offer. From the looks of the Clubhouse backchannel feature, it also lives in a window accessed through swiping, though that’s obviously subject to change.

#clubhouse, #messages, #mobile-applications, #paul-davison, #social, #social-media, #software, #spotify, #tc

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Facebook officially launches Live Audio Rooms and podcasts in the U.S.

In April, Facebook announced a series of planned investments in new audio products, including a Clubhouse live audio competitor as well as new support for podcasts. Today, Facebook is officially rolling these products with the launch of Live Audio Rooms in the U.S. on iOS, starting with public figures and select Facebook Groups, and the debut of an initial set of U.S. podcast partners.

The company tells us Live Audio Rooms will become available to any verified public figure or creator in the U.S. who’s in good standing with Facebook and is using either a profile or the new Facebook Pages experience on iOS. For Facebook Groups, the feature is launching with “dozens of groups,” we’re told.

Both products will become more broadly available in the weeks and months ahead, as more people, podcasts, and Groups are brought on board. Meanwhile, 100% of Facebook users in the U.S. will be able to listen to Live Audio Rooms and podcasts as of this week.

Image Credits: Facebook

Much like Clubhouse or similar audio apps, Facebook’s Live Audio Rooms offer a standard set of features.

The event’s hosts appear in rounded profile icons at the top of the screen, while the listeners appear in the bottom half of the screen, as smaller icons. The active speaker is indicated with a glowing ring. If verified, a check appears next to their name, as well.

There are also options for enabling live captions, a “raise hand” tool to request to speak, and tools to share the room with others on Facebook, through things like News Feed or Group posts.

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook does things a little differently than others in some places. For instance, hosts are able to invite people to join them as a speaker in advance of the session, or they can choose listeners during the stream to join them. In each session, there can be up to 50 speakers and there’s no limit on the number of listeners, Facebook says.

During the session, users will be notified when friends or followers join the chat, too.

While listening, users can “Like” or react to the content as it streams using the “Thumbs Up” button at the bottom of the screen which connects you to Facebook’s set of emoji reactions. And with today’s official launch, listeners can also now show support to the public figure of the Live Audio Room by sending “Stars.” These Stars can be purchased during the conversation and used at any time, similar to how they work with other Facebook Live content.

By sending Stars, the listener is bumped up to the “Front Row,” a special section that highlights the people who sent the Stars. This allows the event’s hosts to easily recognize their supporters and even give them a shout out during the event, if they choose.

Image Credits: Facebook

Another new feature allows hosts to select a nonprofit or fundraiser to support during their conversation, and listeners and speakers can directly donate. A progress bar will show how much has been raised during the show.

Image Credits: Facebook

Meanwhile, for Facebook Groups, admins can control whether moderators, group members or other admins can create a Live Audio Room. Both members and visitors can listen to the rooms in public groups, but in private groups, the rooms are limited to Group members.

Facebook users are alerted to all the new Live Audio Rooms via the News Feed and Notifications, and can sign up to be reminded when a room they’re interested in goes Live. Live Audio Rooms will also be discoverable within Facebook Groups, where available.

Image Credits: Facebook

Among the initial set of early adopters for Facebook Live Audio Rooms are Grammy-nominated electronic music artist TOKiMONSTA; American football quarterback Russell Wilson; organizer, producer and independent journalist Rosa Clemente; streamer and digital entertainer Omareloff; and social entrepreneur Amanda Nguyen. Others planned for the near future include D SmokeKehlaniReggie Watts, and Lisa Morales Duke, to Dr. JessBobby BerkTina Knowles-LawsonJoe Budden (notably Spotify’s first big podcast star who it lost last year), and DeRay Mckesson.

Image Credits: Facebook

 

Facebook Groups trying the new format include Dance Accepts Everyone, Vegan Soul Food, Meditation Matters, Pow Wow Nation, OctoNation – The Largest Octopus Fan Club!, and Space Hipsters.

Image Credits: Facebook

Alongside the launch of Live Audio Rooms, Facebook is also beginning to roll out its planned podcast support with a few select creators. These include Joe Budden of The Joe Budden Podcast; “Jess Hilarious” of Carefully Reckless from The Black Effect Podcast Network and iHeartRadio; Keltie Knight, Becca Tobin, and Jac Vanek of The LadyGang; and Nicaila Matthews Okome of Side Hustle Pro. Facebook will open up to other podcasters this summer.

Image Credits: Facebook

To be clear, this new podcasts service is different from the recently launched music and podcasts player in partnership with Spotify, which lets users share content from Spotify to the social network. The new feature instead involves podcasts that are streamed via public RSS feeds directly on Facebook, not delivered by Spotify. However, the miniplayer for podcasts on Facebook will look like the miniplayer for the Spotify listening integration (also known as Project Boombox), and they will behave similarly. But they are not the same.

The new podcast listening experience lets users listen to podcasts as they browse Facebook, either in a miniplayer or fullscreen player with playback options, and even if the phone’s display is turned off. This makes Facebook, in a way, a native podcast streaming app because it allows people to listen to audio without needing another service — like Spotify or Apple Podcasts, for example.

Facebook had earlier said there are over 170 Facebook users who are connected to a Page for a podcast, demonstrating user interest in podcasts on its social network.

Image Credits: Facebook

With the launch of the Facebook Podcast service, the company is asking podcast creators to give it permission to cache their content on Facebook’s servers, which we’re told is being done to ensure the content doesn’t violate Facebook’s Community Standards. However, because the podcasts are still being streamed via RSS feeds, they will be represented in the metrics provided by a podcaster’s hosting provider.

Last week, Facebook emailed podcast page owners details on how to set up their show on Facebook, noting they can link their podcast’s RSS feed to automatically generate News Feed posts for their episodes. These are also featured on a “podcasts” tab on their Page. According to Facebook’s Podcast Terms of Service, creators are granting Facebook the right to create “derivative works,” which likely refers to an upcoming clips feature.

Facebook says later this summer, it will add the ability to create and share short clips from a podcast, along with other features, like captions. Longer-term, it will create social experiences around podcasts, as well. It’s also working with creators to develop and launch its new product, Soundbites, which are short-form, creative audio clips. This will launch later in 2021.

Image Credits: Facebook

Other audio products in the works include a central listening destination and background audio listening for videos.

Facebook says this new destination will be a place where all the different audio formats across Facebook are available, not just podcasts, and will help users find to new things and people to listen to. More details on this project will become available later this summer.

Prior to today, Facebook quietly tested Live Audio Rooms in Taiwan and internally with Facebook employees Those tests will continue. Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hosted the first trial of the new service in the U.S., where he was joined by other Facebook execs and a few Facebook Gaming creators.

Zuckerberg has been bullish on the potential for audio across the social networking platform. He even appeared on Clubhouse a couple of times to discuss the topic ahead of announcing what is, essentially, Facebook’s own Clubhouse competitor.

“I think the areas where I’m most excited about it on Facebook are basically in the large number of communities and groups that exist,” Zuckerberg had told Platformer, at the time of the original announcement. “I think that you already have these communities that are organized around interests, and allowing people to come together and have rooms where they can talk is — I think it’d be a very useful thing,” he added.

Facebook expects to expand its audio products globally in the months ahead.

#apps, #artist, #audio, #audio-rooms, #audio-streaming, #clubhouse, #creators, #facebook, #fundraiser, #live-audio, #mark-zuckerberg, #media, #mobile, #mobile-applications, #podcast, #podcasting, #social, #social-entrepreneur, #social-media, #social-network, #spotify, #stars, #tc, #united-states

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Following lawsuits, Snapchat pulls its controversial speed filter

Lately, Snapchat’s 3D Cartoon lens has been all the buzz, making all of our friends look like Pixar characters. But since 2013, a staple filter on the ephemeral photo sharing app has been the speed filter, which shows how fast a phone is moving when it takes a photo or video. Today, Snapchat confirmed that it will pull the filter from the app.

NPR first reported this today, calling it a “dramatic reversal” of Snap’s earlier defense of the feature. Over the years, there have been multiple car accidents, injuries, and deaths that were related to the use of the filter. In 2016, for instance, an eighteen-year-old took a Snapchat selfie while driving, then struck another driver’s car at 107 miles per hour. The other driver, Maynard Wentworth, suffered traumatic brain injuries and sued Snap. His lawyer said that the eighteen-year-old “was just trying to get the car to 100 miles per hour to post it on Snapchat.”

Snapchat’s filter-related offenses don’t begin and end here. Last year on Juneteenth, a day that commemorates the end of slavery, Snapchat released a filter that prompted users to “smile to break the chains.” On 4/20 in 2016, Snapchat partnered with Bob Marley’s estate to release a feature that gave users dreadlocks and darker skin, committing blackface. And even after Snapchat’s speed filter was linked to fatal car accidents, it remained available in the app with a simple “don’t snap and drive” warning.

“Today the sticker is barely used by Snapchatters, and in light of that, we are removing it altogether,” a spokesperson from Snap said, adding that the feature had previously been disabled at driving speeds. The company has begun removing the filter, but it might take several weeks to take full effect.

This new stance from Snap comes after the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court found in May that the company can be sued for its role in a fatal car accident.

Generally, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects websites, or “interactive computer services,” from lawsuits like this, providing immunity for these platforms from third-party content posted on them. But in 2019, the parents of two children killed in crashes – Landen Brown and Hunter Morby – filed another lawsuit. They argued that the app’s “negligent design” (including a speed filter to begin with) contributed to the crash. A California judge dismissed the case, citing Section 230, but in May of this year, three judges on the federal Ninth Circuit Appeals Court ruled that Section 230 actually doesn’t apply here. The conflict isn’t with Snapchat’s role as a social media platform, but rather, the app’s design, which includes a demonstrably dangerous speed filter.

So, the sudden removal of the speed filter isn’t as random as it may seem. Now that their Section 230 defense is no longer, it makes sense that keeping the filter isn’t worth the legal risk. You’d think that the filter-related accidents would have been enough for Snapchat to take down the filter years ago, but better late than never.

#apps, #california, #car-accidents, #computing, #driver, #filter, #instant-messaging, #lawsuit, #lawyer, #mobile-applications, #selfie, #snap-inc, #snapchat, #software, #technology, #vertical-video

0

Spotify launches its live audio app and Clubhouse rival, Spotify Greenroom

In March, Spotify announced it was acquiring the company behind the sports-focused audio app Locker Room to help speed its entry into the live audio market. Today, the company is making good on that deal with the launch of Spotify Greenroom, a new mobile app that allows Spotify users worldwide to join or host live audio rooms, and optionally turn those conversations into podcasts. It’s also announcing a Creator Fund which will help to fuel the new app with more content in the future.

The Spotify Greenroom app itself is based on Locker Room’s existing code. In fact, Spotify tells us, current Locker Room users will see their app update to become the rebranded and redesigned Greenroom experience, starting today.

Where Locker Room had used a white-and-reddish orange color scheme, the new Greenroom app looks very much like an offshoot from Spotify, having adopted the same color palette, font and iconography.

To join the new app, Spotify users will sign in with their current Spotify account information. They’ll then be walked through an onboarding experience designed to connect them with their interests.

Image Credits: Spotify

For the time being, the process of finding audio programs to listen to relies primarily on users joining groups inside the app. That’s much like how Locker Room had operated, where its users would find and follow favorite sports teams. However, Greenroom’s groups are more general interest now, as it’s no longer only tied to sports.

In time, Spotify tells us the plan is for Greenroom to leverage Spotify’s personalization technology to better connect users to content they would want to hear. For example, it could send out notifications to users if a podcaster you already followed on Spotify went live on Spotify Greenroom. Or it could leverage its understanding of what sort of podcasts and music you listen to in order to make targeted recommendations. These are longer-term plans, however.

As for Spotify Greenroom’s feature set, it’s largely on par with other live audio offerings — including those from Clubhouse, Twitter (Spaces) and Facebook (Live Audio Rooms). Speakers in the room appear at the top of the screen as rounded profile icons, while listeners appear below as smaller icons. There are mute options, moderation controls, and the ability to bring listeners on stage during the live audio session. Rooms can host up to 1,000 people, and Spotify expects to scale that number up later on.

Image Credits: Spotify

Listeners can also virtually applaud speakers by giving them “gems” in the app — a feature that came over from Locker Room, too. The number of gems a speaker earned displays next to their profile image during a session. For now, there’s no monetary value associated with the gems, but that seems an obvious next step as Greenroom today offers no form of monetization.

It’s worth noting there are a few key differentiators between Spotify Greenroom and similar live audio apps. For starters, it offers a live text chat feature that the host can turn on or off whenever they choose. Hosts can also request the audio file of their live audio session after it wraps, which they can then edit to turn into a podcast episode.

Perhaps most importantly is that the live audio sessions are being recorded by Spotify itself. The company says this is for moderation purposes. If a user reports something in a Greenroom audio room, Spotify can go back to look into the matter, to determine what sort of actions may need to be taken. This is an area Clubhouse has struggled with, as its users have sometimes encountered toxicity and abuse in the app in real-time, including in troubling areas like racism and misogyny. Recently, Clubhouse said it had to shut down a number of rooms for antisemitism and hate speech, as well.

Spotify says the moderation of Spotify Greenroom will be handled by its existing content moderation team. Of course, how quickly Spotify will be able react to boot users or shut down live audio rooms that are in violation of its Code of Conduct remains to be seen.

While the app launching today is focused on user-generated live audio content, Spotify has larger plans for Greenroom. Later this summer, the company plans to make announcements around programmed content — something it says is a huge priority — alongside the launch of other new features. This will include programming related to music, culture, and entertainment, in addition the to sports content Locker Room was known for.

Image Credits: Spotify

The company also says it will be marketing Spotify Greenroom to artists through its Spotify for Artists channels, in hopes of seeding the app with more music-focused content. And it confirmed that monetization options for creators will come further down the road, too, but isn’t talking about what those may look like in specific detail for the moment.

In addition, Spotify is today announcing the Spotify Creator Fund, which will help audio creators in the U.S. generate revenue for their work. The company, however, declined to share any details on this front, either– like the size of fund, how much creators would receive, time frame for distributions, selection criteria or other factors. Instead, it’s only offering a sign-up form for those who may be interested in hearing more about this opportunity in the future. That may make it difficult for creators to weigh their options, when there are now so many.

Spotify Greenroom is live today on both iOS and Android across 135 markets around the world. That’s not quite the global footprint of Spotify itself, though, which is available in 178 markets. It’s also only available in the English language for the time being, but plans on expanding as it grows.

#android-apps, #apps, #audio, #audio-rooms, #clubhouse, #creator-fund, #creators, #ios-apps, #live-audio, #media, #mobile, #mobile-applications, #mobile-apps, #music, #personalization-technology, #podcast, #social, #social-media, #spotify, #streaming, #streaming-service

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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

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Messaging social network IRL hits unicorn status with SoftBank-led $170M Series C

Social calendar app IRL has been busy building a messaging-based social network, or what founder and CEO Abraham Shafi calls a “WeChat of the West.” Following its pandemic-fueled growth and further push into the social networking space with group chat and other features, IRL is today announcing a sizable $170 million Series C growth round, led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2. The fundraise also mints IRL as a new unicorn with a $1.17 billion valuation.

Besides SoftBank, new investor Dragoneer also participated in the oversubscribed round, alongside returning investors Goodwater Capital, Founders Fund and Floodgate. To date, IRL has raised over $200 million.

The startup began its life as a tool for discovering real-world events — an industry that went to zero almost overnight due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That could have been the end for IRL, but the startup quickly pivoted to prioritize discovery of online events instead. Under COVID lockdowns, users could turn to the app to find things like livestreamed concerts, esports events, Zoom parties and more.

Image Credits: IRL

IRL focused on pulling in popular online events from places like Live Nation, Twitch, YouTube, TikTok and others.

As a result, IRL became more accessible because its audience was no longer limited only to those who had time and money to travel to real-world events.

That focus also helped the app to attract a crowd of younger users who are of the generation that doesn’t use Facebook.

“They essentially use Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok,” explains Shafi. “But there is no groups and events product for that generation,” he points out.

Earlier this year, the company doubled down on its social networking features with the launch of a new site that added things like user profiles, support for group chats, the ability to join group events, personalized recommendations and more. As users could now network with friends across both web and mobile, IRL began to feel more like a social network, not just an event-discovery engine.

Image Credits: IRL

Today, IRL has 20 million users and 12 million who use the app monthly, which are not startling numbers in comparison to major social networks and their billions of users. But the numbers are representative of a steady approach that helped IRL grow 400% over the past 15 months, despite COVID’s impact to real-world events.

But as of recently, things are starting to change. In-person events are starting to return. California, the home state for San Francisco-based IRL, is today re-opening, for example. That opens up IRL to once again focus on connecting people not just online, but also “in real life,” as its name implies.

That could mean helping people better connect around events with not just their own friend group, as is often the case today, but helping them discover new groups in their local area or on campus. The company is even planning to use a portion of its fundraise to help fuel the new events economy by allocating a certain amount of money per city that will go toward helping people put on real-world events. The exact details are still being worked out, Shafi says, but says the idea is that IRL wants to help “bring culture back in cities that are opening up again.”

IRL also plans to expand its international footprint by finding ways to bring in non-U.S. users to its platform — possibly beginning with the events focused on watching the Olympics. (If the Games are not again delayed or canceled due to a COVID surge.)

Shafi says IRL hadn’t been planning to fundraise, but they decided to take the meetings when they were approached.

“The philosophy is not to raise when you have to, but to raise when it makes sense. And we were scaling like crazy to the point where our servers were melting. It made sense to take those discussions very seriously when they came to us,” he says.

The addition of SoftBank and Dragoneer brings some expertise in scaling large social networks to the IRL team. SoftBank’s other notable social networking investment is with TikTok owner’s Bytedance, while Dragoneer has backed Snap. IRL has already has a close relationship with TikTok as it’s worked with the video app to pull in interesting events for discovery. It more recently integrated with TikTok’s new “Login Kit,” too, allowing TikTok users to authenticate with IRL using their TikTok credentials.

Now, IRL plans to add an even deeper TikTok integration — something that caught SoftBank’s attention.

Shafi is cagey on the details, but says more will be announced in the “coming weeks.”

“But what I can say is that we’ve seen a ton of growth of TikTok users linking to IRL group chats and IRL events through their TikTok profiles as a way to communicate and go deeper in relationships,” he says. “If you think about it, right now Instagram has really great messaging…whereas TikTok is still developing that,” he hints.

Image Credits: IRL

Beyond its value to growing social networks for the younger, Facebook-less generation, IRL is thinking about how to build a profitable business without ad revenue. On this front, it sees potential in helping people connect through paid events — although these wouldn’t have to be influencer-driven as on other platforms. In fact, when IRL recently piloted paid group chats, users were willing to pay for access to things like a calc homework help group, for example.

IRL also sees demand for tools that help groups and clubs collect membership dues and other fees, as well as for events that are too small for Ticketmaster or Eventbrite.

“Whether we succeed or fail will be based on our ability to execute on our opportunity,” says Shafi, adding that most social networks today are focused on media more so than helping users make connections. “What we’re building isn’t the media part of social, it’s the real human interaction part of social, because that hasn’t been paid attention to as much.”

“We’re building a messaging social network,” he continues, comparing it to the biggest messaging social network in the world, WeChat. “The big vision that we’re going for is building the WeChat of the West — a messaging super social network. And it starts with people organizing groups and doing things together,” he says.

With the additional funding, IRL will invest in product growth, international expansion and its Creator and Culture Fund, and will grow its now 25-person remotely distributed team to 100 by year-end.

“People are increasingly seeking more in-person social connections and are looking to share meaningful experiences together. As an innovative event-based social network, IRL sits at the intersection of group and event discovery, social calendaring, and group messaging, enabling people to do more together,” added Serena Dayal, director at SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement about its investment. “We are excited to partner with Abraham and the IRL team to support their ambition of helping everyone deepen their connections to friends and family.”

#abraham-shafi, #apps, #covid, #founders-fund, #funding, #goodwater-capital, #irl, #mobile-applications, #online-events, #recent-funding, #social, #social-calendar, #social-network, #social-networks, #softbank-group, #softbank-investment-advisers, #softbank-vision-fund-2, #startups, #tc, #tiktok, #twitch, #united-states, #wechat

0

What Are The Roadblocks to a Covid Vaccine Passport?

Creating a digital certificate of vaccination against the coronavirus is one of the hottest debates right now. What’s keeping it from happening, and why are some people opposed?

#airlines-and-airplanes, #centers-for-disease-control-and-prevention, #computers-and-the-internet, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #electronic-health-records, #european-commission, #mobile-applications, #privacy, #quarantine-life-and-culture, #states-us, #travel-and-vacations, #vaccination-and-immunization, #vaccination-proof-and-immunization-records

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Covid Vaccine Card: What You Need to Know

For now, the best way to show that you’ve been inoculated against the coronavirus is a simple white card. Here, your key questions are answered.

#airlines-and-airplanes, #centers-for-disease-control-and-prevention, #content-type-service, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #cruises, #mobile-applications, #passports, #quarantine-life-and-culture, #travel-and-vacations, #vaccination-and-immunization, #vaccination-proof-and-immunization-records

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Everyone you know is a Disney princess, which means AR is queen

This weekend, all of your friends morphed one by one into animated, Pixar-inspired characters. This isn’t a fever dream, and you’re not alone.

On Thursday, Snapchat released a Cartoon 3D Style Lens, which uses AR to make you look like a background character from “Frozen.” Naturally, even though TikTok’s own AR cartoon effects aren’t quite as convincing as Snapchat’s, people are turning to TikTok to share videos of themselves as Disney princesses, because of course they are.

This isn’t the first time that a Disney-esque AR trend has gone viral. In August 2020, Snapchat had 28.5 million new installs, which was its biggest month since May 2019, when it got 41.2 million new installs. It might not be a coincidence that in early August 2020, Snapchat released the Cartoon Face lens, which users realized could be used to “Disneyfy” their pets – the tag #disneydog got 40.9 million views across platforms on TikTok. Then, Snapchat struck viral gold again in December, when they released the Cartoon lens, which rendered more realistic results for human faces than the previous iteration.

According to Sensor Tower, Snapchat’s global installs continued to climb month-over-month throughout the rest of 2020, though installs slightly declined in December. Still, Snapchat got 36 million downloads that month. Now, after the newest Cartoon Style 3D lens went viral again, Snapchat hit number 6 on the App Store’s free apps charts, compared to TikTok’s number 2 slot. Still, Snapchat downloads in May were 32 million, down from 34 million in April, while TikTok saw 80.3 million installs in May, up from 59.3 million in April.

Image Credits: Snapchat, screenshots by TechCrunch

But there’s a new app in the number 1 slot that also made an impact on this weekend’s cartoon explosion. Released in March, Voilà AI Artist is yet another platform that turns us into cartoon versions of ourselves. Unlike the AR-powered effects on Snapchat or TikTok, Voilà is a photo editor. Users upload a selfie, and after watching an ad (the ad-free version costs $3 per week), it reveals what you would look like as a cartoon.

Voilà AI Artist was only downloaded 400 times globally in March 2021. By May, the app surpassed 1 million downloads, and during the first two weeks of this month alone, the app has been downloaded over 10.5 million times.

Again, like the repetitive iterations on the “Disneyfy” trend, apps like Voilà aren’t new. FaceApp went viral in 2019, showing people what they’ll look like when they’re old, graying, and wrinkled. The app became the center of a privacy controversy, since it uploaded users’ photos to the cloud to edit their selfies with AI. FaceApp made a statement that it “might store updated photos in the cloud” for “performance and traffic reasons,” but that “most images” are deleted “within 48 hours.” Still, this ambiguous language set off the warning bells, urging us to think about the potentially nefarious implications of seeing what we’ll look like in sixty years. Two years earlier, FaceApp put out a “hotness” filter, which made users’ skin lighter – FaceApp apologized for its racist AI. Voilà, which is owned by Wemagine.AI LLP in Canada, has also been criticized for its AI’s eurocentrism. As these apps grow in popularity, they can also uphold some of our culture’s most harmful biases.

Image Credits: Voilà

Like FaceApp, Voilà requires an internet connection to use the app. Additionally, its terms outline that users grant the company “a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, sublicensable, and transferable license to host, store, use in any way, display, reproduce, modify, adapt, edit, publish, and distribute Uploaded and Generated content.” Basically, that means that if you upload an image to the platform, Voilà has the right to use it, but they don’t own it. This isn’t abnormal for these apps – when we upload photos to Instagram, for example, we also grant the platform the right to use our images.

Still, it’s a good thing that apps like Voilà force us to consider what we give up in exchange for the knowledge that we’d make a good Disney princess. Earlier this month, TikTok updated its U.S. privacy policy to dictate that the app “may collect biometric identifiers and biometric information” from users’ content. This includes “faceprints and voiceprints,” terms that TikTok left undefined. When TechCrunch reached Tiktok for comment, they couldn’t confirm why the terms now changed to allow for the automatic collection of biometric data, which refers to any features, measurements, or characteristics of our body that distinguish us, even fingerprints.

It’s no wonder that as Voilà climbed to the number one slot on the App Store, Snapchat re-upped their Pixar-inspired AR lens. Facebook’s own Spark AR platform is rolling out new features, and last week at WWDC, Apple announced a major update to RealityKit, its AR software. But these trends reveal more about our growing comfort with face-altering AR than they do about our nostalgia for Disney.

#app-store, #apple, #apps, #ar, #augmented-reality, #canada, #computing, #disney, #instagram, #internet-culture, #mobile-applications, #photo-editor, #realitykit, #snapchat, #software, #technology, #tiktok, #united-states

0

Biden Revokes and Replaces Trump Order That Banned TikTok

The new order calls for a broader review of a number of foreign-controlled applications that could pose a security risk to Americans and their data.

#biden-joseph-r-jr, #executive-orders-and-memorandums, #mobile-applications, #social-media, #tiktok-bytedance, #united-states-politics-and-government, #wechat-mobile-app

0

Why NY’s Excelsior Pass Vaccine Passport Could Cost Taxpayers $17 Million

The state’s contract with I.B.M. details a Phase 2 of the Excelsior Pass, which could include uses that some advocates say raise privacy concerns.

#civil-rights-and-liberties, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #cuomo-andrew-m, #mobile-applications, #new-york-state, #state-legislatures, #vaccination-proof-and-immunization-records

0

New York’s Vaccine Passport Could Cost Taxpayers $17 Million

The state’s contract with I.B.M. details a Phase 2 of the Excelsior Pass, which could include uses that some advocates say raise privacy concerns.

#civil-rights-and-liberties, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #cuomo-andrew-m, #mobile-applications, #new-york-state, #state-legislatures, #vaccination-proof-and-immunization-records

0

Meditation Apps Want Us to Chill Out. Musicians Are Happy to Help.

Music and mindfulness have become increasingly linked during the pandemic, and artists like Erykah Badu, Grimes and Arcade Fire are teaming with tech companies to make it happen.

#anxiety-and-stress, #badu-erykah, #calm-com-inc, #computers-and-the-internet, #endel-sound-gmbh, #headspace-inc, #legend-john, #meditation, #mobile-applications, #music, #quarantine-life-and-culture

0

Amid controversy, Dispo confirms Series A funding, high-profile advisors, and investors

It’s only been nine months since Dispo rebranded from David’s Disposables. But the vintage-inspired photo sharing app has experienced a whiplash of ups and downs, mostly due to the brand’s original namesake, YouTuber David Dobrik.

Like Clubhouse, Dispo was one of this year’s most hyped up new social apps, requiring an invite from an existing member to join. On March 9, when the company said “goodbye waitlist” and opened the app up to any iOS user, Dispo looked poised to be a worthy competitor to photo-sharing behemoths like Instagram. But, just one week later, Business Insider reported on sexual assault allegations regarding a member of Vlog Squad, a YouTube prank ensemble headed by Dispo co-founder David Dobrik. Dobrik had posted a now-deleted vlog about the night of the alleged assault, joking, “we’re all going to jail” at the end of the video.

It was only after venture capital firm Spark Capital decided to “sever all ties” with Dispo that Dobrik stepped down from the company board. In a statement made to TechCrunch at the time, Dispo said, “Dispo’s team, product, and most importantly — our community — stand for building a diverse, inclusive and empowering world.”

Dispo capitalizes on Gen Z and young millennial nostalgia for a time before digital photography, when we couldn’t take thirty selfies before choosing which one to post. On Dispo, when you take a photo, you have to wait until 9 AM the following day for the image to “develop,” and only then can you view and share it.

In both February and March of this year, the app hit the top ten of the Photo & Video category in the U.S. App Store. Despite the backlash against Dobrik, which resulted in the app’s product page being bombarded with negative comments, the app still hit the top ten in Germany, Japan, and Brazil, according to their press release. Dispo reportedly has not yet expended any international marketing resources.

Now, early investors in Dispo like Spark Capital, Seven Seven Six, and Unshackled have committed to donate any potential profits from their investment in the app to organizations working with survivors of sexual assault. Though Axios reported the app’s $20M Series A funding news in February, Dispo put out a press release this morning confirming the financing event. Though Seven Seven Six and Unshackled Ventures intend to donate profits from the app, they remain listed as investors, while Spark Capital is not. Other notable names involved in the project include high-profile photographers like Annie Leibovitz and Raven B. Varona, who has worked with artists like Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Actresses Cara Delevingne and Sofía Vergara, as well as NBA superstars Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala, are also involved with the app as investors or advisors.

Dobrik’s role in the company was largely as a marketer – CEO Daniel Liss co-founded the app with Dobrik and has been leading the team since the beginning. After Dobrik’s departure, the Dispo team – which remains under twenty members strong – took a break from communications and product updates on the app. It’s expected that after today’s funding confirmation, the app will continue to roll out updates.

Dispo is quick to shift focus to the work of their team, which they call “some of the most talented, diverse leaders in consumer tech.” With the capital from this funding round, they hope to hire more staff to become more competitive with major social media apps with expansive teams, like Instagram and TikTok, and to experiment with machine learning. They will also likely have some serious marketing to do, now that their attempt at influencer marketing has failed massively.

Now more than ever, Dispo is promoting the app as a mental health benefit, hoping to shift the tide away from manufactured perfectionism toward more authentic social media experiences.

“A new era of start ups must emerge to end the scourge of big tech’s destruction of our political fabric and willful ignorance of its impact on body dysmorphia and mental health,” CEO Daniel Liss writes in a Substack post titled Dispo 2.0. “Imagine a world where Dispo is the social network of choice for every teen and college student in the world. How different a world would that be?”

But, for an app that propelled to success off the fame of a YouTuber with a history of less than savory behavior, that messaging might fall flat.

According to Sensor Tower, the highest Dispo has ever ranked in the Photo & Video category on the U.S. App Store was in January 2020, when it was still called David’s Disposables. The app ranked No. 1 in that category from January 7 to January 9, and on January 8, it reached No. 1 among all free iPhone apps.

#advisors, #andre-iguodala, #annie-leibovitz, #app-store, #apps, #brazil, #ceo, #co-founder, #computing, #david-dobrik, #digital-photography, #dispo, #freeware, #germany, #instagram, #internet-culture, #japan, #kevin-durant, #mobile-applications, #national-basketball-association, #nba, #social-media, #software, #spark-capital, #techcrunch, #united-states, #unshackled-ventures, #venture-capital, #world-wide-web

0

MoviePass Deceived Users So They’d Use It Less, F.T.C. Says

Federal regulators detailed tactics the company, which settled accusations against it, used to try to make its most active users go to the movies less.

#advertising-and-marketing, #computer-security, #consumer-protection, #federal-trade-commission, #frauds-and-swindling, #helios-and-matheson-analytics-inc, #mobile-applications, #moviepass-inc, #movies, #prices-fares-fees-and-rates

0

Farewell, Millennial Lifestyle Subsidy

The price for Ubers, scooters and Airbnb rentals is going up as tech companies aim for profitability.

#airbnb, #car-services-and-livery-cabs, #delivery-services, #luxury-goods-and-services, #mobile-applications, #motorcycles-motor-bikes-and-motorscooters, #prices-fares-fees-and-rates, #venture-capital

0

Apple unveils new privacy features, digital IDs and changes to FaceTime.

Apple’s privacy push has put the company at odds with rivals. Despite protests from some corners of Silicon Valley, Monday’s announcements show that Apple has doubled down on privacy features.

#apple-inc, #censorship, #computers-and-the-internet, #identification-devices, #iphone, #mobile-applications, #software, #text-messaging

0

Apple introduces SharePlay for co-watching, streaming, and screen sharing over FaceTime

As part of its FaceTime update in iOS 15, Apple introduced a new set of features designed for shared experiences — like co-watching TV shows or TikTok videos, listening to music together, screen sharing and more — while on a FaceTime call. The feature, called SharePlay, enables real-time connections with family and friends while you’re hanging out on FaceTime, Apple explained, by integrating access to apps from within the call itself.

Image Credits: Apple

Apple demonstrated the new feature during its Worldwide Developer Conference keynote this afternoon, showing how friends could press play in Apple Music to listen together, as the music streams to everyone on the call. Shared playback controls also let anyone on the call play, pause or jump to the next track.

The company also showed off watching video from its Apple TV+ streaming service, where the video was synced in real-time between call participants. This was a popular trend during the pandemic, as people looked to virtually watch movies and TV with family and friends, prompting services like Hulu and Amazon Prime Video to add native co-watching features.

But Apple’s SharePlay goes much further than streaming music and video from just Apple’s own services.

The company announced a set of launch partners for SharePlay including Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max, NBA, Twitch, TikTok, MasterClass, ESPN+, Paramount+, and Pluto TV. It’s also making an API available to developers so they can integrate their own apps with SharePlay.

Image Credits: Apple

Users can screen share via SharePlay, too, so you can do things like browse Zillow listings together or show off a mobile gameplay, Apple suggested.

“Screen sharing is also a simple and super effective way to help someone out and answer questions right in the moment, and it works across Apple devices,” noted Apple SVP of Software Engineering, Craig Federighi.

The feature will roll out with iOS 15.

read more about Apple's WWDC 2021 on TechCrunch

#amazon-prime-video, #api, #apple-inc, #apple-music, #apple-tv, #apps, #computing, #craig-federighi, #disney, #espn, #facetime, #hbo, #hulu, #ios, #itunes, #mobile-applications, #national-basketball-association, #nba, #software, #technology, #tiktok, #twitch, #wwdc-2021, #zillow

0

Twitter redesigns its mobile app to make Spaces the center tab

Twitter is updating its app to make its audio chat room feature, Twitter Spaces, a central part of the user experience. Today, the company will begin to roll out a dedicated tab for Twitter Spaces in the main navigation bar of its mobile app, initially on iOS to select users. The feature will see Twitter Spaces gain the middle spot in this bar, in between the Search magnifying glass icon and the bell icon for Notifications. As Spaces is not replacing any other tab, that means the navigation bar will now have to accommodate five icons instead of only four.

Not everyone will see the update immediately. Instead, only around 500 people from the original Spaces beta test will first see the new Spaces discovery tab, as it’s called, when it rolls out today.

Twitter says the tab will showcase the Spaces being hosted by people you follow, but these won’t appear like they do on the Fleet line today at the top of the Timeline. Instead, the discovery tab will present Spaces in a more visual format, similar to the promotion cards that appear when you tweet about upcoming Spaces.

Image Credits: Twitter

 

The company told TechCrunch that, even though Spaces can be fun, it understands the live events have been hard to find and keep track of, given there’s been no dedicated place where Spaces can be discovered. The new tab aims to change that.

Within the tab, users will be able to see active Spaces with more details, including Space names, hosts, and people you know who are participating. The tab will also allow users to manage reminders for scheduled Spaces so you’re be notified when they’re about to begin, and give Twitter feedback about which Spaces you’d like to see more of.

App researcher Jane Manchun Wong had uncovered Twitter’s plans to revamp its app to include Spaces on the nav bar last month.

Currently, only Twitter users with at least 600 followers have been granted the ability to host Spaces, and Twitter told us that figure has not changed with the launch of the tab. However, the company still has grand plans for the Spaces product, including not only scheduled Spaces which are now becoming easier to find with this discovery feature, but also things like ticketed events, co-hosted events, accessibility improvements and more.

Putting Spaces directly in navigation bar represents a big push for Twitter’s audio chat rooms, which have otherwise been fairly easy to ignore by those who aren’t that interested in Twitter’s Clubhouse competitor. It also arrives at a time when Clubhouse is expanding access to its own social audio app. Following its debut on Android, Clubhouse said 2 million Android users have already joined its platform.

Twitter, meanwhile, hasn’t yet publicized how many users have tested out Spaces at this point, either as a host or an end user.

Alongside today’s launch, Twitter will also begin to roll out another Spaces feature that was previously being tested: displaying the purple ring around someone’s profile pictures from the Home Timeline.

Currently, profile pics can be highlighted with a blue ring that takes you to the user’s Fleets when tapped, but the new purple ring will indicate they’re actively using Spaces at that time. You can then tap their profile pic to join them. The feature makes it easier to find Spaces while you’re just scrolling your Twitter Timeline as usual.

After the new Spaces tab is tried out with the original beta test group, it will begin rolling out more people, Twitter says.

#android, #apps, #audio, #chat-rooms, #clubhouse, #mobile-applications, #social, #social-audio, #social-media, #social-networking, #twitter, #twitter-spaces, #voice-chat

0

India and Israel Inflame Facebook’s Fights With Its Own Employees

The social network wrongly bowed to government demands to take down content in the countries, employees said, in more signs of internal dissent.

#censorship, #computers-and-the-internet, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #facebook-inc, #human-rights-and-human-rights-violations, #india, #instagram-inc, #israel, #mobile-applications, #modi-narendra, #netanyahu-benjamin, #palestinians, #politics-and-government, #social-media, #zuckerberg-mark-e

0

Using Apps to Find Friends After Quarantine

Lonely after emerging from quarantine or in a new city? Apps, private clubs and social networks are ready to fix you up with a new bestie.

#friendship, #mobile-applications, #quarantine-life-and-culture

0

How China’s Tencent Avoided an Antitrust Push, For Now.

Tencent’s popularity may help it avoid trouble with Beijing. But its vast power could still squelch innovation in the world’s largest online market.

#antitrust-laws-and-competition-issues, #beijing-bytedance-technology-co-ltd, #china, #computers-and-the-internet, #e-commerce, #entrepreneurship, #fines-penalties, #instant-messaging, #meituan, #mobile-applications, #politics-and-government, #regulation-and-deregulation-of-industry, #social-media, #tencent-holdings-ltd, #venture-capital

0

Will the Excelsior Pass, New York’s Vaccine Passport, Catch On?

More than 1 million Excelsior passes have been downloaded since they were introduced, but officials are hoping they will be adopted more widely.

#bars-and-nightclubs, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #identification-devices, #international-business-machines-corporation, #mobile-applications, #new-york-state, #privacy, #vaccination-and-immunization, #vaccination-proof-and-immunization-records

0

Something Bothering You? Tell It to Woebot.

When your therapist is a bot, you can reach it at 2 a.m. But will it really understand your problems?

#anxiety-and-stress, #artificial-intelligence, #darcy-alison-psychologist, #depression-mental, #mental-health-and-disorders, #mobile-applications, #psychiatry-and-psychiatrists, #psychology-and-psychologists, #therapy-and-rehabilitation, #woebot-labs

0

Uber and Lyft Surges: What to Know

The companies say they are charging extra because they don’t have enough drivers to match rebounding customer demand.

#car-services-and-livery-cabs, #computers-and-the-internet, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #labor-and-jobs, #lyft-inc, #mobile-applications, #motivation-and-incentive-programs, #prices-fares-fees-and-rates, #uber-technologies-inc, #unemployment-insurance, #wages-and-salaries

0

Greg, an app for plant-lovers, grows $5.4 million in seed funding

Before the pandemic rendered us homebound, the houseplant industry was already in bloom. One year sequestered in our homes later, and our living spaces have flourished into our personal indoor gardens. 

An app that uses machine learning to help people care for their plants, Greg announced today that it has received $5.4 million in seed funding. This round is led by Index with participation from First Round Capital. Greg is also backed by a team of expert angels and advisors, including Elie Seidman (previous CEO of Tinder), Eliza Blank (founder of The Sill, a plant delivery service), and Darryl Cheng (a “plant-stagrammer” with 600k followers). Currently, Greg’s remote team has 11 members and plans to hire a Head of Brand and at least five more engineers, including a Senior Android Engineer (so far, the app is only available on iOS). 

Primarily, Greg works by telling people when to water their plants – that’s not something you can just set a weekly reminder for, since every plant is a bit different. Greg’s recommendations are tailored to each plant’s species, geographic location, sun exposure, and proximity to a window. This makes it easy for anyone to keep their greenery thriving in any circumstance. There’s also a discover feed built into the app, where users can share photos of their plants, which have names like “Keanu Leaves” and “Michelle Branch.”

For CEO, co-founder, and engineer Alex Ross, plant care is more than just a pandemic hobby. Gregarious, Inc. – the company behind Greg – was founded as a public benefit corporation. In a legally-binding public statement, the team promises to produce a positive effect (“or a reduction of negative effects” – that’s where we’re at with climate change) within Earth’s ecosystems. The company’s charter outlines three goals: developing original technology and research to deepen our understanding of plant life; acting as stewards of the planet’s health; and creating opportunities for all forms of life to thrive. 

“Plants are a really great vehicle for understanding how the planet works,” said Ross. “That’s one of our core reasons for starting Greg. We believe that more people need to understand how ecosystems work, how plants work, and how our food system works in order for us to make better decisions as a society in the next 10 or 20 years.”

This isn’t Ross’s first experience with mission-driven entrepreneurship. As a Director of Engineering at Tinder, he created the Trust & Safety team, which is responsible for keeping the dating app’s users safe from abuse. There, he saw the potential for consumer mobile apps to build an audience. 

“Tinder was actually on the leading edge of trust and safety products,” said Ross. “I wanted to work on the part of Tinder that had a clear public benefit. Now [with Greg], the public benefit is the point.”

Since its public launch on the app store in October 2020, Greg has sprouted 50,000 monthly active users. These green thumbs have added 350,000 plants across 4,000 different species, which they’ve interacted with over 2 million times. The app’s methodology is based on the UN Food & Agriculture Organization’s algorithm for estimating crop water use. Every interaction helps Greg’s AI get smarter – whether that’s taking photos, watering a plant, or even snoozing watering recommendations. The more data that Greg’s AI interprets, the more it learns about the most effective and efficient ways to grow plants.

“We hope within a number of years to be contributing back to that UN Food & Agriculture Organization algorithm to make it easier for farmers in developing countries to be able to take that algorithm and grow higher yield produce for their food systems,” said Ross. “That’s why we started as a public benefit corporation.”

Ross says that the biggest challenge facing Greg is that people don’t know about it yet. So, the app partnered with plant retailers like House Plant Shop and American Plant Exchange to share promotion codes for its subscription tier, Super Greg. Subscribers pay $6.50 per month, $2.50 per month annually, or $49.99 for lifetime access, which allows them to add unlimited plants to Greg – the free version only lets you add five plants, which may not be sufficient for the budding botanists among us. 

“That’s been a great source of user acquisition,” Ross says. Once on the app, they can better understand the fickle ecosystems of their plants. “We think Greg can play a role in onboarding people. Coinbase onboards people into crypto, Greg onboards people into plants.”

Ross also compared Greg’s model to an app like Waze – as more users report traffic patterns, the app can increasingly benefit other drivers in their area. In the same vein, as Greg learns more about plant maintenance, the company can use that data to fulfill its eco-friendly mission. The company hopes to eventually build an “extremely scaled out platform” that understands more about how plants work than any existing technology.

In the meantime, Greg is benefitting its users on a smaller scale, especially as many parts of the world remain in lockdown. 

“I do believe plants are almost objectively good for mental wellness,” Ross said. “I’ve never seen somebody go from having plants to not having plants.” 

#apps, #elie-seidman, #first-round-capital, #greg, #machine-learning, #mobile, #mobile-applications, #mobile-apps, #plants, #recent-funding, #startups

0

Why Apple and Google’s Virus Alert Apps Had Limited Success

The virus-tracing effort raises questions about the power of Big Tech to set global standards for public health tools.

#apple-inc, #bluetooth-wireless-technology, #contact-tracing-public-health, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #google-inc, #mobile-applications, #smartphones, #viruses

0

Poparazzi hypes itself to the top of the App Store

If Instagram’s photo tagging feature was spun out into its own app, you’d have the viral sensation Poparazzi, now the No. 1 app on the App Store. The new social networking app, from the same folks behind TTYL and others, lets you create a social profile that only your friends can post photos to — in other words, making your friends your own ‘paparazzi.’ To its credit, the new app has perfectly executed on a series of choices designed to fuel day one growth — from its pre-launch TikTok hype cycle to drive App Store pre-orders to its post-launch social buzz, including favorable tweets by its backers. But the app has also traded user privacy in some cases to amplify network effects in its bid for the Top Charts, which is a risky move in terms of its long-term staying power.

The company positions Poparazzi as a sort of anti-Instagram, rebelling against today’s social feeds filled with edited photos, too many selfies, and “seemingly effortless perfection.” People’s real lives are made up of many unperfect moments that are worthy of being captured and shared, too, a company blog post explains.

This manifesto hits the right notes at the right time. User demand for less performative social media has been steadily growing for years — particularly as younger, Gen Z users wake up to the manipulations by tech giants. We’ve already seen a number of startups try to siphon users away from Instagram using similar rallying cries, including MinutiaeVeroDayflashOggl, and more recently, the once-buzzy Dispo and the under-the-radar Herd.

Even Facebook has woken up to consumer demand on this front, with its plan to roll out new features that allow Facebook and Instagram users to remove the Like counts from their posts and their feeds.

Poparazzi hasn’t necessarily innovated in terms of its core idea — after all, tagging users in photos has existed for years. In fact, it was one of the first viral effects introduced by Facebook in its earlier days.

Instead, Poparazzi hit the top of the charts by carefully executing on growth strategies that ensured a rocket ship-style launch.

@poparazziappcomment it! ##greenscreen ##poparazziapp ##positivity ##foryoupage♬ Milkshake – BBY Kodie

The company began gathering pre-launch buzz by driving demand via TikTok — a platform that’s already helped mint App Store hits like the mobile game High Heels. TikTok’s powers are still often underestimated, even though its potential for to send apps up the Top Charts have successfully boosted downloads for a number of mobile businesses, including TikTok sister app CapCut and e-commerce app Shein, for example.

And Poparazzi didn’t just build demand on TikTok — it actually captured it by pointing users to its App Store pre-orders page via the link in its bio. By the time launch day rolled around, it had a gaggle of Gen Z users ready and willing to give Poparazzi a try.

The app launches with a clever onboarding screen that uses haptics to buzz and vibrate your phone while the intro video plays. This is unusual enough that users will talk and post about how cool it was — another potential means of generating organic growth through word-of-mouth.

After getting you riled up with excitement, Poparazzi eases you into its bigger data grab.

First, it signs up and authenticates users through a phone number. Despite Apple’s App Store policy, which requires it, there is no privacy-focused option to use “Sign In with Apple,” which allows users to protect their identity. That would have limited Poparazzi’s growth potential versus its phone number and address book access approach.

It then presents you with a screen where it asks for permission to access to your Camera (an obvious necessity), Contacts (wait, all of them?), and permission to send you Notifications. This is where things start to get more dicey. The app, like Clubhouse once did, demands a full address book upload. This is unnecessary in terms of an app’s usability, as there are plenty of other ways to add friends on social media — like by scanning each other’s QR code, typing in a username directly, or performing a search.

But gaining access someone’s full Contacts database lets Poparazzi skip having to build out features for the privacy-minded. It can simply match your stored phone numbers with those it has on file from user signups and create an instant friend graph.

As you complete each permission, Poparazzi rewards you with green checkmarks. In fact, even if you deny the permission being asked, the green check appears. This may confuse users as to whether whether they’ve accidently given the app access.

While you can “deny” the Address Book upload — a request met with a tsk tsk of a pop-up message — Poparazzi literally only works with friends, it warns you — you can’t avoid being found by other Poparazzi users who have your phone number stored in their phone.

When users sign up, the app matches their address book to the phone number it has on file and then — boom! — new users are instantly following the existing users. And if any other friends have signed up before you, they’ll be following you as soon as you log in the first time.

In other words, there’s no manual curation of a “friend graph” here. The expectation is that your address book is your friend graph, and Poparazzi is just duplicating it.

Of course, this isn’t always an accurate presentation of reality.

Many younger people, and particularly women, have the phone numbers of abusers, stalkers and exes stored in their phone’s Contacts. By doing so, they can leverage the phone’s built-in tools to block the unwanted calls and texts from that person. But because Poparazzi automatically matches people by phone number, abusers could gain immediate access to the user profiles of the people they’re trying to harass or hurt.

Sure, this is an edge case. But it’s a non-trivial one.

It’s a well-documented problem, too — and one that had plagued Clubhouse, which similarly required full address book uploads during its early growth phase. It’s a terrible strategy to become the norm, and one that does not appear to have created a lasting near-term lock-in for Clubhouse. It’s also not a new tactic. Mobile social network Path tried address book uploads nearly a decade ago and almost everyone at the time agreed this was not a good idea.

As carefully designed as Poparazzi is — (it’s even a blue icon — a color that denotes trustworthiness!) — it’s likely the company intentionally chose the trade off. It’s forgoing some aspects of user privacy and safety in favor of the network effects that come from having an instant friend graph.

The rest of the app then pushes you to grow that friend graph further and engage with other users. Your profile will remain bare unless you can convince someone to upload photos of you. A SnapKit integration lets you beg for photo tags over on Snapchat. And if you can’t get enough of your friends to tag you in photos, then you may find yourself drawn to the setting “Allow Pops from Everyone,” instead of just “People You Approve.”

There’s no world in which letting “everyone” upload photos to a social media profile doesn’t invite abuse at some point, but Poparazzi is clearly hedging its bets here. It likely knows it won’t have to deal with the fallout of these choices until further down the road — after it’s filled out its network with millions of disgruntled Instagram users, that is.

Dozens of other growth hacks are spread throughout the app, too, from multiple pushes to invite friends scattered throughout the app to a very Snapchatt-y “Top Poparazzi” section that will incentivize best friends to keep up their posting streaks.

It’s a clever bag of tricks. And though the app does not offer comments or followers counts, it isn’t being much of an “anti-Instagram” when it comes to chasing clout. The posts — which can turn into looping GIFs if you snap a few in a row — may be more “authentic” and unedited than those on Instagram; but Poparazzi uses react to posts with a range of emojis and how many reactions a post receives is shown publicly.

For beta testers featured on the explore page, reactions can be in the hundreds or thousands — effectively establishing a bar for Pop influence.

Finally, users you follow have permission to post photos, but if you unfollow them — a sure sign that you no longer want them to be in your poparazzi squad — they can still post to your profile. As it turns out, your squad is managed under a separate setting under “Allow Pops From.” That could lead to trouble. At the very least, it would be nice to see the app asking users if they also want to remove the unfollowed account’s permission to post to your profile at the time of the unfollow.

Overall, the app can be fun — especially if you’re in the young, carefree demographic it caters to. Its friend-centric and ironically anti-glam stance is promising as well. But additional privacy controls and the ability to join the service in a way that offers far more granular control of your friend graph in order to boost anti-abuse protections would be welcome additions. 

TechCrunch tried to reach Poparazzi’s team to gain their perspective on the app’s design and growth strategy, but did not hear back. (We understand they’re heads down for the time being.) We understand, per SignalFire’s Josh Constine and our own confirmation, that Floodgate has invested in the startup, as has former TechCrunch co-editor Alexia Bonatsos’ Dream Machine and Weekend Fund.

#alexia-bonatsos, #app-store, #apple, #apps, #clubhouse, #computing, #e-commerce, #facebook, #freeware, #instagram, #internet-culture, #josh-constine, #mobile, #mobile-applications, #snapchat, #social-media, #software, #startups, #tc, #tiktok

0

5 Tips to Take Command of Your iPhone

Recent updates to Apple’s mobile operating system offer new ways to open apps, chat with friends and interact with your device.

#artificial-intelligence, #content-type-service, #iphone, #mobile-applications, #smartphones

0

Apple’s App Store Fees Are Too High

Apple doesn’t deserve 30 percent of all the money people spend in the App Store.

#apple-inc, #computer-and-video-games, #computers-and-the-internet, #cook-timothy-d, #e-commerce, #fortnite-video-game, #gonzalez-rogers-yvonne-1965, #mobile-applications, #smartphones, #software

0

How Food Trucks Endured and Succeeded During the Pandemic

Embracing technology, scaling down costs and general flexibility have helped them through a difficult time.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #entrepreneurship, #food-trucks-and-vendors, #mobile-applications, #small-business, #social-media

0

Shoshana Zuboff Explains Why You Should Care About Privacy

In a wide-ranging interview, the author of “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” talks about why people should pay attention to how big tech companies are using their information.

#apple-inc, #computers-and-the-internet, #data-mining-and-database-marketing, #iphone, #mobile-applications, #online-advertising, #privacy, #rumors-and-misinformation, #the-age-of-surveillance-capitalism-the-fight-for-the-future-at-the-new-frontier-of-power-book, #zuboff-shoshana

0

Apple’s Fortnite Trial Ends With Pointed Questions and a Toast to Popeyes

A decision over the antitrust suit filed by Epic Games, and the future of the $100 billion market for iPhone apps, is now in the hands of a federal judge.

#antitrust-laws-and-competition-issues, #apple-inc, #computer-and-video-games, #cook-timothy-d, #decisions-and-verdicts, #epic-games, #games, #gonzalez-rogers-yvonne-1965, #iphone, #mobile-applications, #prices-fares-fees-and-rates, #regulation-and-deregulation-of-industry, #sweeney-tim-1970

0

White House Says Dating Apps Can Help Vaccinated (and Frisky) Find Love

With new “I’m Vaccinated” badges, dating apps are plugging into a cultural conversation over how Americans can approach postpandemic dating.

#biden-joseph-r-jr, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #fauci-anthony-s, #mobile-applications, #online-dating, #single-persons, #tinder-mobile-app, #united-states-politics-and-government, #vaccination-and-immunization

0

In Antitrust Trial, Tim Cook Argues Apple Doesn’t Hurt App Makers

The chief executive of Apple, which was sued by the gaming company Epic, said his company had invested heavily on security and had lowered some fees in its App Store.

#apple-inc, #computer-and-video-games, #computers-and-the-internet, #cook-timothy-d, #fortnite-video-game, #mobile-applications, #suits-and-litigation-civil, #sweeney-tim-1970

0

Snap emphasizes commerce in updates to its camera and AR platforms

At Snap’s Partner Summit, the company announced a number of updates to the company’s developer tools and AR-focused Lens Studio including several focused on bringing shopping deeper into the Snapchat experience.

One of the cooler updates involved the company’s computer vision Scan product which analyzes content in a user’s camera feed to quickly bring up relevant information. Snap says the feature is used by around 170 million users per month. Scan which has now been given more prominent placement inside the camera section of the app has been upgraded with commerce capabilities with a feature called Screenshop.

Users can now use their Snap Camera to scan a friend’s outfit after which they’ll quickly be served up shopping recommendations from hundreds of brands. The company is using the same technology for another upcoming feature that will allow users to snap pictures of ingredients in their kitchen and get served recipes from Allrecipes that integrate them.

The features are part of a broader effort to intelligently suggest lenses to users based on what their camera is currently focused on.

Business will now be able to establish public profiles inside Snapchat where users can see all of their different offerings, including Lenses, Highlights, Stories and items for sale through Shop functionality.

On the augmented reality side, Snap is continuing to emphasize business solutions with API integrations that make lenses smarter. Retailers will be able to use the Business Manager to integrate their product catalogs so that users can only access try-on lenses for products that are currently in stock.

Partnerships with luxury fashion platform Farfetch and Prada will tap into further updates to the AR platform including technical 3D mesh advances that make trying on clothing virtually appear more realistic. Users will also be able to use voice commands and visual gestures to cycle between items they’re trying on in the new experiences.

“We’re excited about the power of our camera platform to bring Snapchatters together with the businesses they care about in meaningful ways,” said Snap’s global AR product lead Carolina Arguelles Navas. “And, now more than ever, our community is eager to experience and try on, engage with, and learn about new products, from home.”

#allrecipes, #api, #augmented-reality, #farfetch, #instant-messaging, #lens-studio, #marketing, #mobile-applications, #playstation-home, #prada, #snap-inc, #snapchat, #software, #technology, #vertical-video

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Snap brings partner-centric Layers to its social map used by 250 million people

Snap wants users to get a more personal view of the world around them.

While products like Google Maps and Apple Maps have long-relied on data partners to juice the quality of their contextual insights, Snap is hoping it can give users a more hands-on approach to mixing and matching third-party tie-ins to its Snap Map product, allowing users to build a view of their geographic surroundings that tailored to their interests.

The new product — announced today at the company’s Snap Partner Summit — is called Layers and it allows users to add data from some of Snap’s chosen developer partners directly to their map so they can see the world in a very particular view.

“Layers are how the Map evolves from a singular product to a platform,” Snap’s Bryant Detwiller tells TechCrunch. “Ultimately, we just want our map to be more useful.”

Snap Map has aimed to be a fundamentally social product, designed around people and friends rather than cars and directions, Layers will theoretically allow its users some customization in deciding what points-of-interest they want their map to be structured around.

The company says that Snap Map has some 250 million monthly active users.

Ticketmaster integration via Snap

Like Snap’s approach with its Wechat-like Minis and Games, it’s starting things off pretty slowly when it comes to partnerships. It has two out of the gate — a partnership with Ticketmaster and restaurant review site The Infatuation.

With the Ticketmaster Layer, users will be able to sort through shows at nearby concert venues and can get transferred from the Layer directly to a new Ticketmaster Mini to buy tickets inside the Snapchat app. With The Infatuation, users can scan the map for editorialized recommendations for nearby restaurants with lists and reviews from the site. More of these partnerships on the way, though it doesn’t sound like Snap is planning to open the floodgates to developers anytime soon.

#google-maps, #instant-messaging, #mobile-applications, #operating-systems, #snap-inc, #snapchat, #software, #tc, #ticketmaster, #vertical-video, #wechat

0

Can a Smartwatch Save Your Life?

The advent of wearable devices that monitor our heart rhythms both excites and worries doctors.

#american-heart-assn, #apple-inc, #content-type-service, #elderly, #fitbit, #heart, #mobile-applications, #pacemakers, #stroke, #tests-medical, #watches-and-clocks, #wearable-computing

0

Mob Violence Against Palestinians in Israel Is Fueled by Groups on WhatsApp

Jewish extremists have formed more than 100 new groups on the Facebook-owned encrypted messaging app in recent days to target attacks.

#demonstrations-protests-and-riots, #facebook-inc, #fringe-groups-and-movements, #hamas, #instant-messaging, #israel, #jews-and-judaism, #mobile-applications, #palestinians, #rumors-and-misinformation, #social-media, #telegram-llc, #war-and-armed-conflicts, #whatsapp-inc

0

Devin Hilton Falsely Accused by Citizen App of Starting Wildfire

Citizen, a neighborhood crime and safety app, posted a photo of a man and offered a $30,000 reward for tips leading to his arrest. It set off a hunt for the wrong man.

#citizen-app-mobile-app, #homeless-persons, #los-angeles-calif, #mobile-applications, #pacific-palisades-calif, #privacy, #social-media, #wildfires

0

When It Comes to Her Relationship History, Nancy Jo Sales Is an Open Book

In her new memoir, “Nothing Personal,” the veteran journalist reports on her own search for connection.

#books-and-literature, #dating-and-relationships, #mobile-applications, #nothing-personal-book, #online-dating, #sales-nancy-jo, #single-persons

0

Censorship, Surveillance and Profits: A Hard Bargain for Apple in China