In a London court this week, coroner Andrew Walker had the difficult task of assessing a question that child safety advocates have been asking for years: How responsible is social media for the content algorithms feed to minors? The case before Walker involved a 14-year-old named Molly Russell, who took her life in 2017 after she viewed thousands of posts on platforms like Instagram and Pinterest promoting self-harm. At one point during the inquest, Walker described the content that Russell liked or saved in the days ahead of her death as so disturbing, the coroner said in court, that he found it “almost impossible to watch.”
Today, Walker concluded that Russell’s death couldn’t be ruled a suicide, Bloomberg reports. Instead, he described her cause of death as “an act of self-harm whilst suffering from depression and the negative effects of online content.”
Bloomberg reported that Walker came to this decision based on Russell’s “prolific” use of Instagram—liking, sharing, or saving 16,300 posts in six months before her death—and Pinterest—5,793 pins over the same amount of time—combined with how the platforms catered content to contribute to Russell’s depressive state.
Michael Gorman is SVP of Product, Business Development and Marketing at ShareThis, a data company focused on mapping comprehensive global consumer interest insights.
Marketing automation has usually focused on driving sales, mainly using past purchase or late funnel behavior (e.g., paid search) as a predictor of an imminent purchase. While effective at boosting sales numbers, this widely implemented strategy can result in a disservice to brands and industries that adopt it, as it promotes the perpetual devaluation of goods or services. Narrowing a brand’s focus only to aspects linked to conversions risks stripping the customer experience of key components that lay the groundwork for long-term success.
We live in a world rich with data, and insights are growing more vibrant every day. With this in mind, companies and advertisers can strategically weave together all the data they collect during the customer experience. This enables them to understand every inference available during customer interactions and learn what benefits the customer most at a given time.
But focusing exclusively on data collected from customers, brands risk falling subject to the law of diminishing returns. Even companies with meaningful consumer interactions or rich service offerings struggle to gain impactful contextual insights. Only by harnessing a broader dataset can we understand how people become customers in the first place, what makes them more or less likely to purchase again and how developments in society impact the growth or struggle a brand will experience.
Here’s a look at how we can achieve a more complete picture of current and future customers.
A critical component in re-imagining customer experience as a relationship is recognizing that brands often don’t focus enough on consumers’ wider needs and concerns.
Leverage AI to unlock new perspectives
Over the past several years, almost every industry has capitalized on the opportunity data-driven marketing presents, inching closer to the “holy grail” of real-time, direct and personalized engagements. Yet, the evolving toolset encouraged brands to focus on end-of-the-funnel initiatives, jeopardizing what really impacts a business’ longevity: relationships.
While past purchase or late-funnel behavior data does provide value and is useful in identifying habit changes or actual needs, it is relatively surface level and doesn’t offer insight into consumers’ future behavior or what led them to a specific purchase in the first place.
By incorporating AI, brands can successfully engage with their audiences in a more holistic, helpful and genuine way. Technologies to discern not just the content of language (e.g., the keywords) but its meaning as well, open up possibilities to better infer consumer interest and intentions. In turn, brands can tune consumer interactions to generate satisfaction and delight, and ultimately accrue stronger insights for future use.
Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.
The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.
Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.
This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.
(Photo Illustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Creator platform OnlyFans is getting out of the porn business. The company announced this week it will begin to prohibit any “sexually explicit” content starting on October 1, 2021 — a decision it claimed would ensure the long-term sustainability of the platform. The news angered a number of impacted creators who weren’t notified ahead of time and who’ve come to rely on OnlyFans as their main source of income.
However, word is that OnlyFans was struggling to find outside investors, despite its sizable user base, due to the adult content it hosts. Some VC firms are prohibited from investing in adult content businesses, while others may be concerned over other matters — like how NSFW content could have limited interest from advertisers and brand partners. They may have also worried about OnlyFans’ ability to successfully restrict minors from using the app, in light of what appears to be soon-to-comeincreasedregulations for online businesses. Plus, porn companies face a number of other issues, too. They have to continually ensure they’re not hosting illegal content like child sex abuse material, revenge porn or content from sex trafficking victims — the latter which has led to lawsuits at other large porn companies.
The news followed a big marketing push for OnlyFans’ porn-free (SFW) app, OFTV, which circulated alongside reports that the company was looking to raise funds at a $1 billion+ valuation. OnlyFans may not have technically needed the funding to operate its current business — it handled more than $2 billion in sales in 2020 and keeps 20%. Rather, the company may have seen there’s more opportunity to cater to the “SFW” creator community, now that it has big names like Bella Thorne, Cardi B, Tyga, Tyler Posey, Blac Chyna, Bhad Bhabie and others on board.
U.S. lawmakers demand info on TikTok’s plans for biometric data collection
The TikTok logo is seen on an iPhone 11 Pro max. Image Credits: Nur Photo/Getty Images
Earlier this month, Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Thune (R-SD) sent a letter to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, which said they were “alarmed” by the change, and demanded to know what information TikTok will be collecting and what it plans to do with the data. This wouldn’t be the first time TikTok got in trouble for excessive data collection. Earlier this year, the company paid out $92 million to settle a class-action lawsuit that claimed TikTok had unlawfully collected users’ biometric data and shared it with third parties.
Image Credits: Apple
Apple told developers that some of the features it announced as coming in iOS 15 won’t be available at launch. This includes one of the highlights of the new OS, SharePlay, a feature that lets people share music, videos and their screen over FaceTime calls. Other features that will come in later releases include Wallet’s support for ID cards, the App Privacy report and others that have yet to make it to beta releases.
Apple walked back its controversial Safari changes with the iOS 15 beta 6 update. Apple’s original redesign had shown the address bar at the bottom of the screen, floating atop the page’s content. Now the tab bar will appear below the page’s content, offering access to its usual set of buttons as when it was at the top. Users can also turn off the bottom tab bar now and revert to the old, Single Tab option that puts the address bar back at the top as before.
In response to criticism over its new CSAM detection technology, Apple said the version of NeuralHash that was reverse-engineered by a developer, Asuhariet Ygvar, was a generic version, and not the complete version that will roll out later this year.
The Verge dug through over 800 documents from the Apple-Epic trial to find the best emails,which included dirt on a number of other companies like Netflix, Hulu, Sony, Google, Nintendo, Valve, Microsoft, Amazon and more. These offered details on things like Netflix’s secret arrangement to pay only 15% of revenue, how Microsoft also quietly offers a way for some companies to bypass its full cut, how Apple initially saw the Amazon Appstore as a threat and more.
A beta version of the Android Accessibility Suite app (12.0.0) which rolled out with the fourth Android beta release added something called “Camera Switches” to Switch Access, a toolset that lets you interact with your device without using the touchscreen. Camera Switches allows users to navigate their phone and use its features by making face gestures, like a smile, open mouth, raised eyebrows and more.
Google announced its Pixel 5a with 5G, the latest A-series Pixel phone, will arrive on August 27, offering IP67 water resistance, long-lasting Adaptive Battery, Pixel’s dual-camera system and more, for $449. The phone makes Google’s default Android experience available at a lower price point than the soon to arrive Pixel 6.
An unredacted complaint from the Apple-Epic trial revealed that Google had quietly paid developers hundreds of millions of dollars via a program known as “Project Hug,” (later “Apps and Games Velocity Program”) to keep their games on the Play Store. Epic alleges Google launched the program to keep developers from following its lead by moving their games outside the store.
Snap on Thursday announced it hired its first VP of Platform Partnerships to lead AR, Konstantinos Papamiltiadis (“KP”). The new exec will lead Snap’s efforts to onboard partners, including individual AR creators building via Lens Studio as well as large companies that incorporate Snapchat’s camera and AR technology (Camera Kit) into their apps. KP will join in September, and report to Ben Schwerin, SVP of Content and Partnerships.
Crypto exchange Coinbase will enter the Japanese market through a new partnership with Japanese financial giant Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG). The company said it plans to launch other localized versions of its existing global services in the future.
Image Credits: Facebook
Facebook launched a “test” of Facebook Reels in the U.S. on iOS and Android. The new feature brings the Reels experience to Facebook, allowing users to create and share short-form video content directly within the News Feed or within Facebook Groups. Instagram Reels creators can also now opt in to have their Reels featured on users’ News Feed. The company is heavily investing its its battle with TikTok, even pledging that some portion of its $1 billion creator fund will go toward Facebook Reels.
Twitter’s redesign of its website and app was met with a lot of backlash from users and accessibility experts alike. The company choices add more visual contrast between various elements and may have helped those with low vision. But for others, the contrast is causing strain and headaches. Experts believe accessibility isn’t a one-size fits all situation, and Twitter should have introduced tools that allowed people to adjust their settings to their own needs.
Twitter also tapped crypto developer Jay Graber to head the company’s “bluesky” project, which aims to create a decentralized social media protocol on which a number of networks, including Twitter, will eventually operate. The project will operate independently from Twitter, but is funded by Twitter and run by Twitter employees. Elsewhere, Twitter rolled out a new option that would allow users to report misinformation.
The pro-Trump Twitter alternative Gettr’s lack of moderation has allowed users to share child exploitation images, according to research from the Stanford Internet Observatory’s Cyber Policy Center.
Pinterest rolled out a new set of more inclusive search filters that allow people to find styles for different types of hair textures — like coily, curly, wavy, straight, as well as shaved or bald and protective styles.
Photoshop for iPad gained new image correction tools, including the Healing Brush and Magic Wand, and added support for connecting an iPad to external monitors via HDMI or USB-C. The company also launched a Photoshop Beta program on the desktop.
WhatsApp is being adopted by the Taliban to spread its message across Afghanistan, despite being on Facebook’s list of banned organizations. The company says it’s proactively removing Taliban content — but that may be difficult to do since WhatsApp’s E2E encryption means it can’t read people’s texts. This week, Facebook shut down a Taliban helpline in Kabul, which allowed civilians to report violence and looting, but some critics said this wasn’t actually helping local Afghans, as the group was now in effect governing the region.
WhatsApp is also testing a new feature that will show a large preview when sharing links, which some suspect may launch around the time when the app adds the ability to have the same account running on multiple devices.
Streaming & Entertainment
Netflix announced it’s adding spatial audio support on iPhone and iPad on iOS 14, joining other streamers like HBO Max, Disney+ and Peacock that have already pledged to support the new technology. The feature will be available to toggle on and off in the Control Center, when it arrives.
Blockchain-powered streaming music service Audius partnered with TikTok to allow artists to upload their songs using TikTok’s new SoundKit in just one click.
YouTube’s mobile app added new functionality that allows users to browse a video’s chapters, and jump into the chapter they want directly from the search page.
Spotify’s Anchor app now allows users in global markets to record “Music + Talk” podcasts, where users can combine spoken word recordings with any track from Spotify’s library of 70 million songs for a radio DJ-like experience.
Podcasters are complaining that Apple’s revamped Podcasts platform is not working well,reports The Verge. Podcasts Connect has been buggy, and sports a confusing interface that has led to serious user errors (like entire shows being archived). And listeners have complained about syncing problems and podcasts they already heard flooding their libraries.
Tinder announced a new feature that will allow users to voluntarily verify their identity on the platform, which will allow the company to cross-reference sex offender registry data. Previously, Tinder would only check this database when a user signed up for a paid subscription with a credit card.
Pokémon Unite will come to iOS and Android on September 22, The Pokémon Company announced during a livestream this week. The strategic battle game first launched on Nintendo Switch in late July.
Developer Konami announced a new game, Castlevania: Grimoire of Souls, which will come exclusively to Apple Arcade. The game is described as a “full-fledged side-scrolling action game,” featuring a roster of iconic characters from the classic game series. The company last year released another version of Castelvania on the App Store and Google Play.
Dragon Ball Z: Dokkan Battle has now surpassed $3 billion in player spending since its 2015 debut,reported Sensor Tower. The game from Bandai Namco took 20 months to reach the figure after hitting the $2 billion milestone in 2019. The new landmark sees the game joining other top-grossers, including Clash Royale, Lineage M and others.
Sensor Tower’s mobile gaming advertising report revealed data on top ad networks in the mobile gaming market, and their market share. It also found puzzle games were among the top advertisers on gaming-focused networks like Chartboost, Unity, IronSource and Vungle. On less game-focused networks, mid-core games were top titles, like Call of Duty: Mobile and Top War.
Image Credits: Sensor Tower
Health & Fitness
Apple is reportedly scaling back HealthHabit, an internal app for Apple employees that allowed them to track fitness goals, talk to clinicians and coaches at AC Wellness (a doctors’ group Apple works with) and manage hypertension. According to Insider, 50 employees had been tasked to work on the project.
Samsung launched a new product for Galaxy smartphones in partnership with healthcare nonprofit The Commons Project, that allows U.S. users to save a verifiable copy of their vaccination card in the Samsung Pay digital wallet.
China cited 43 apps, including Tencent’s WeChat and an e-reader from Alibaba, for illegally transferring user data. The regulator said the apps had transferred users location data and contact list and harassed them with pop-up windows. The apps have until August 25 to make changes before being punished.
Security & Privacy
A VICE report reveals a fascinating story about a jailbreaking community member who had served as a double agent by spying for Apple’s security team. Andrey Shumeyko, whose online handles included JVHResearch and YRH04E, would advertise leaked apps, manuals and stolen devices on Twitter and Discord. He would then tell Apple things like which Apple employees were leaking confidential info, which reporters would talk to leakers, who sold stolen iPhone prototypes and more. Shumeyko decided to share his story because he felt Apple took advantage of him and didn’t compensate him for the work.
Gaming platform Roblox acquired a Discord rival, Guilded, which allows users to have text and voice conversations, organize communities around events and calendars and more. Deal terms were not disclosed. Guilded raised $10.2 million in venture funding. Roblox’s stock fell by 7% after the company reported earnings this week, after failing to meet Wall Street expectations.
Travel app Hopper raised $175 million in a Series G round of funding led by GPI Capital, valuing the business at over $3.5 billion. The company raised a similar amount just last year, but is now benefiting from renewed growth in travel following COVID-19 vaccinations and lifting restrictions.
Indian quiz app maker Zupee raised $30 million in a Series B round of funding led by Silicon Valley-based WestCap Group and Tomales Bay Capital. The round values the company at $500 million, up 5x from last year.
Danggeun Market, the publisher of South Korea’s hyperlocal community app Karrot, raised $162 million in a Series D round of funding led by DST Global. The round values the business at $2.7 billion and will be used to help the company launch its own payments platform, Karrot Pay.
Bangalore-based fintech app Smallcase raised $40 million in Series C funding round led by Faering Capital and Premji Invest, with participation from existing investors, as well as Amazon. The Robinhood-like app has over 3 million users who are transacting about $2.5 billion per year.
Social listening app Earbuds raised $3 million in Series A funding led by Ecliptic Capital. Founded by NFL star Jason Fox, the app lets anyone share their favorite playlists, livestream music like a DJ or comment on others’ music picks.
U.S. neobank app One raised $40 million in Series B funding led by Progressive Investment Company (the insurance giant’s investment arm), bringing its total raise to date to $66 million. The app offers all-in-one banking services and budgeting tools aimed at middle-income households who manage their finances on a weekly basis.
Indian travel booking app ixigo is looking to raise Rs 1,600 crore in its initial public offering, The Economic Times reported this week.
Trading app Robinhood disappointed in its first quarterly earnings as a publicly traded company, when it posted a net loss of $502 million, or $2.16 per share, larger than Wall Street forecasts. This overshadowed its beat on revenue ($565 million versus $521.8 million expected) and its more than doubling of MAUs to 21.3 million in Q2. Also of note, the company said dogecoin made up 62% of its crypto revenue in Q2.
Image Credits: Polycam
3D scanning software maker Polycam launched a new 3D capture tool, Photo Mode, that allows iPhone and iPad users to capture professional-quality 3D models with just an iPhone. While the app’s scanner before had required the use of the lidar sensor built into newer devices like the iPhone 12 Pro and iPad Pro models, the new Photo Mode feature uses just an iPhone’s camera. The resulting 3D assets are ready to use in a variety of applications, including 3D art, gaming, AR/VR and e-commerce. Data export is available in over a dozen file formats, including .obj, .gtlf, .usdz and others. The app is a free download on the App Store, with in-app purchases available.
Jiobit, the tracking dongle acquired by family safety and communication app Life360, this week partnered with emergency response service Noonlight to offer Jiobit Protect, a premium add-on that offers Jiobit users access to an SOS Mode and Alert Button that work with the Jiobit mobile app. SOS Mode can be triggered by a child’s caregiver when they detect — through notifications from the Jiobit app — that a loved one may be in danger. They can then reach Noonlight’s dispatcher who can facilitate a call to 911 and provide the exact location of the person wearing the Jiobit device, as well as share other details, like allergies or special needs, for example.
When your app redesign goes wrong…
Image Credits: Twitter.com
Prominent App Store critic Kosta Eleftheriou shut down his FlickType iOS app this week after too many frustrations with App Review. He cited rejections that incorrectly argued that his app required more access than it did — something he had successfully appealed and overturned years ago. Attempted follow-ups with Apple were ignored, he said.
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.
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. Image Credits: Snapchat
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:
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
Pinterest’s shares had popped last week when Snap posted its best quarter in four years, as investors were betting Pinterest’s image-based social app would also see a return in advertiser spending. Those expectations now appear to be correct, as Pinterest beat on earnings with second-quarter revenue of $613.2 million and earnings per share of 25 cents, above analysts’ estimates. However, Pinterest’s stock still tanked as the company reported monthly active user growth of just 9% to reach 454 million, when analysts were expecting 482 million.
Ahead of Pinterest’s announcement, Wall St. had forecast revenue of $562.3 million and earnings of $0.133 per share, up from a loss of $0.70 per share from the same quarter last year.
But while Pinterest delivered on financials, the company’s struggles with user growth sent the stock tumbling.
The image pinboard and shopping inspiration site had initially benefitted from increased engagement and user growth during the early days of the pandemic, but both slowed in the first quarter of 2021 due the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, which had then sent the stock down by more than 10% after its first quarter earnings were posted.
Today, the stock was down more than 12% in after-hours trading, shortly after earnings were announced.
Pinterest addressed the issues around user growth upfront on the earnings call, again blaming the COVID pandemic for declines in usage.
“The pandemic was an unprecedented and unique global event,” explained Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann. “In past earnings calls, we talked about how stay-at-home orders significantly increased usage of Pinterest. And for the past year, we’ve highlighted how people came to Pinterest for inspiration to reinvent their lives during such a difficult time,” he continued. “Now, as the world opens up, we’re seeing the similar effect in the opposite direction that impacted our growth — particularly because some of the core use cases we see on our platform are less common in 2021 than they were a year ago. That shifting behavior in Q2 impacts engagement,” Silbermann said.
The company also noted that, as of July 27, 2021, its monthly active users in the U.S. had declined by approximately 7%, while global monthly active users gained approximately 5% year-over-year.
Pinterest said its web users tend to be less engaged and generate less revenue than those who come from mobile apps. In the second quarter, its monthly active users on mobile apps grew in U.S. and internationally, year-over-year, by more than 20%.
The company’s issues with user growth and engagement indicate just how critical Pinterest’s plan to cater to the creator industry is the company’s future. Recently, the company launched video-first Idea Pins that allow creators to showcase their crafts, recipes, fashion, beauty tutorials, projects or anything else. This week, Pinterest introduced new features that will now allow creators to make money from those pins.
Despite user growth issues, the return of ad spending led to year-over-year revenue growth of 78% in the first quarter, and the company predicted it would see even higher 105% year-over-year revenue growth in Q2. Today, it reported 125% revenue growth — above with the 116% Snap reported in its record second quarter — a figure Pinterest attributed to advertisers’ return.
This update also adds functionality for a captions sticker on Reels, which transcribes audio to text. Instagram previously teased this sticker for Reels when they added it to Stories, making the platform more accessible for Deaf or hard of hearing users, as well as people who want to use the app without sound. Right now, the caption sticker is only available in a handful of English-speaking countries, but Instagram says they plan to expand to additional countries and languages soon. TikTok already has a similar feature.
Previously, Instagram only supported Reels of up to 30 seconds, while TikTok recently made it possible for users to create videos up to three minutes long. Still, the ability to post 60-second reels is especially useful for creators who want to re-post their existing content from TikTok or other competitor apps to grow their following across multiple platforms. More creators are making a living on social media than ever, but with so many platforms available to them (even Pinterest is investing in short-form video), it’s smart to cross-post content. So, this feature benefits Instagram creators who also have a following on TikTok, but it makes sense for the platform itself as well — the more eyes on Reels, the better. Instagram’s algorithm doesn’t promote content with a TikTok watermark, but savvy users have figured out how to recycle their videos without it.
To access this feature, navigate to create a new Reel, then press the down button on the left side of the screen to reveal the menu. Tap “length” to toggle among options to create a 15-second, 30-second, or 60-second Reel. Not all creators have access to 60-second Reels just yet, but it should roll out to all users soon.
Pinterest today is increasing its investment in the creator community by introducing new tools that will allow creators to make money from their content. Now, creators will be able to tag products in their Idea Pins — a video-first feature the company first launched this spring — to make their content “shoppable.” They’ll also now be able to earn commissions through affiliate links and partner with brands on sponsored content, much like on other social platforms like Instagram, YouTube and TikTok.
Despite its general focus on turning product inspiration into clicks and purchases, Pinterest has been slower to embrace the creator community which today is responsible for driving a significant amount of interest in new products among online shoppers. Over the past several years, brands have increased their influencer marketing budgets from $1.7 billion in 2016 to now $13.8 billion in 2021. However, Pinterest offered few tools for creators to tap into that market on its own site, until its more recent debut of Idea Pins in May.
These Pins are somewhat like Pinterest’s take on TikTok, mixed with Stories, as they offer a way for creators to produce content that combines music, video, and other interactive elements. The videos in Idea Pins can be up to 60 seconds per page, with up to 20 total pages per Pin. Creators can also add other features to their Pins, like stickers or music, and tag other creators with their @username.
Image Credits: Pinterest
While similar in some ways to TikTok, the videos can include “detail pages” where viewers can find associated content, like the ingredient list and instructions for a recipe, or a list of how-to instructions for a craft project.
Now, explains Pinterest, creators will be able to tag products in their Pins, as well. That means fans viewing the Pin content can now go from inspiration to purchase from the Pinterest app. However, the path isn’t as straightforward as it is on Instagram, where a tap on a tag leads you to a page where you can then add an item to a shopping cart. Instead, Pinterest’s product tags tend to take you to another Pinterest page for the product in question, and from there you have to click again to visit the retailer’s website to complete your order.
The new Idea Pins product tagging tool will roll out to all business accounts in the U.S. and U.K. and will then continue to roll out access over the coming months to international creators.
Image Credits: Pinterest
Other new monetization features rolling out now include support for affiliate programs and brand sponsorships.
Creators will now be able to integrate their affiliate programs for Rakuten and ShopStyle to generate additional revenue from their recommendations. Meanwhile, creators who come to the platform with brand partnerships will be able to use a new tool, still in beta, that will let them disclose those partnerships to their followers.
When they then produce branded content on Pinterest and add the brands to their Idea Pins, the brand will then be able to approve the tag, and the Idea Pin will feature a label that reads “Paid Partnership.”
This paid partnerships tool is now live for select Creators in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, France, Spain, Italy Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Peru.
Image Credits: Pinterest
Most of Pinterest’s new monetization tools are not necessarily all that innovative or unique.
Instead, they represent a company that’s playing catch up to larger social platforms — like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, an d YouTube — which have been better catering to creators in recent years by allowing them to build their own businesses on their respective platforms and expand their reach. Instagram, in particular, has moved in on Pinterest’s territory to such an extent that many users today start their shopping inspiration searches on its app first.
And Instagram has catered to this growing group of online shoppers by turning its platform into an online shop of sorts, compete with a dedicated Shop button, built-in checkout features, alerts about product drops, and numerous ways for creators to generate profits from their work.
Now that influencer shopping is the norm, the race is on among large platforms and startups alike to bring a similar set of shopping tools to live streamed video.
Given the significant competition, Pinterest’s pitch to the creator community is that its user base is already primed to shop.
By the end of 2020, the company says it saw a 20x increase in product searches on its platform. It also notes that Pinterest users are 89% more likely to exhibit shopping intent on products tagged in creators’ Idea Pins than on its standalone Pins. Plus, the company says that its focus will be more on inspirational content, rather than “influence and entertainment” — a seeming knock at social media and its influencer stars.
“Pinterest is the place where creators with inspiring and actionable ideas get discovered. With this latest update, we’re empowering Creators to reach millions of shoppers on the platform and monetize their work,” said Pinterest Head of Content and Creator Partnerships, Aya Kanai. “Creators deserve to be rewarded for the inspiration they deliver to their followers, and the sales they drive for brands. Creators are central to our mission to bring everyone the inspiration to create a life they love, and we’ll continue working with them to build their businesses and find success on Pinterest,” she added.
Starting today, Pinterest will prohibit all advertisers from sharing ads that promote weight loss. This includes any language and imagery that encourages weight loss, promotes weight loss products, idealizes certain body types, or references the BMI (which is often a poor indicator of overall health). This makes Pinterest the first major social media platform to take this stance.
Social media has played a role in promoting harmful beauty standards for as long as it’s existed. But even as “body positivity” has eclipsed the “thinspo” that proliferated on Tumblr a decade ago, sometimes, the trend can be a thin veil for weight stigma. Take a company like Weight Watchers, for example, which re-branded to WW (“Wellness That Works”) in 2018, yet continues to boast its members’ weight loss stories on its website. Even when online content about weight loss is well-meaning, it often contributes to a rise in disordered eating behavior rather than healthy habits, which is why the wellness industry can be so harmful.
Pinterest developed its updated ad policy with guidance from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), which has also worked with platforms like Tumblr and Facebook in the past. Since March 2020, the onset of the pandemic in the US, NEDA has experienced an increase in activity on its helplines for people struggling with eating disorders. As Vox’s Rebecca Jennings pointed out, people started spending even more time online during lockdown, which means more exposure to content that makes us feel bad about ourselves. Even the TikTok-famous sixteen-year-old actress Sissy Sheridan tweeted, “i liked my body before i downloaded tik tok.”
Image Credits: Pinterest
Pinterest’s new policy can make a tangible difference, especially if it sets a precedent for other major platforms to follow suit. Social media platforms have a responsibility to minimize the harmful activity that happens on their apps, but how far can the impact of these new policies extend? Pinterest reported that searches for “body neutrality” are up 5x since last year, offering an alternative to the “body positivity” movement, which is often just diet culture in a trench coat. But especially on algorithm-driven apps like TikTok, we can’t always control the content that comes up on your For You page. If you like to cook, TikTok will show you cooking videos, but the AI isn’t smart enough to filter out cooking accounts with “weight loss” in their bios if you don’t engage with that content. Pinterest recently launched its own TikTok competitor, and of course, Instagram is trying to capture the success of TikTok through its Reels.
Pinterest’s ad policy update is a good start, and one that can only have a positive impact if other platforms follow its lead. But social media reflects our culture back to us, and until there’s a broader cultural shift to understand that “weight loss” and “wellness” aren’t synonymous, an ad policy can only go so far.
How psyched are you about our TC Early Stage: Marketing & Fundraising event? Still need some convincing? Here’s another great session we’ve got planned for the show, which will span July 8 and 9.
Emerge Capital Growth Partner Doug Landis will be joining us to discuss how early stage companies can build out the proper story for pitching VCs. It’s an important, but underdiscussed aspect of helping set your company apart from countless other startups vying for the same venture funding.
Landis knows a thing or two about storytelling. Before joining Emergence as a growth partner, it was actually part of his job title, serving as the chief storyteller and VP of sales productivity and enablement at Box. Before that, he served as a skills training manager at Google and senior director of corporate sales productivity at Salesforce.
These days, Landis drives sales and go-to-market strategies for Emergence Capital’s portfolio companies, working to help develop the next major player in the SaaS world.
Landis is joining a stacked lineup for our TC Early Stage: Marketing & Fundraising event. The list includes Sequoia’s Mike Vernal (Product Market Fit Is All About Tempo), Coatue’s Caryn Marooney (formerly Facebook’s head of comms) and Superhuman’s Rahul Vohra (Growth Hacking) and Designer Fund’s Scott Tong (IFTTT co-founder and former head of product design at Pinterest). Grab your ticket now to attend Landis’s session plus 20 others (including a pitch off)!
Facebook is making it even easier to buy stuff while you scroll past photos of your high school lab partner’s dog. Yes, Instagram Shops and Facebook Marketplace are already displayed prominently on the apps’ bottom navigation tabs. But now, you can shop on WhatsApp too, along with other updates.
Today on a Live Audio Room, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced three e-commerce updates that are coming to Facebook products: Shops on WhatsApp and Marketplace, Shops Ads, and Instagram Visual Search.
“More than 1 billion people use Marketplace each month, so we’re making it easy for businesses to bring their Shops into Marketplace to reach even more people,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post. When customers view a shop on WhatsApp, they’ll have the option of chatting with a business before buying something.
At its F8 conference earlier this month, Facebook revealed updates to WhatsApp for Business — previously, it could take weeks to set up a business account, but now, businesses can sign up in just a few minutes. Though WhatsApp has more than 2 billion global users, only about 175 million people message with WhatsApp Business accounts daily for things like customer support. Since Facebook has been pushing e-commerce on platforms like Instagram, it makes sense that this initiative will expand to WhatsApp too.
The rollout for Shops in WhatsApp will start soon, and Shops inventory in Marketplace is available now for Shops in the US with on-site checkout.
The next feature, Shops Ads, aims to provide a more individualized shopping experience based on people’s individual shopping habits. Zuckerberg said, “We’re launching the ability for a business to send shoppers to where you’re going to be most likely to make a purchase based on your shopping behavior.” Starting now, AR Dynamic Ads are available in the United States – companies like Huda Beauty and Laura Mercier are using these ads to let customers test lipstick shades with AR before making a purchase. These AR try-on experiences are made available through API integrations with Modiface and Perfect Corp. Early this year, Pinterest collaborated with ModiFace to launch an AR eyeshadow try-on.
Image Credits: Facebook
Over on Instagram, an AI-based Visual Search feature will roll out for testing in the coming months.
“A lot of shopping discovery begins with visual discovery, right, so you see something that you think is awesome. And then, you know, maybe you want to see other products that are like that, or you want to figure out how to get that product,” Zuckerberg explained. “And this is the type of problem that AI can really help out with.”
Using this AI, people will be able to upload their own photos — even ones they haven’t posted on Instagram — to find similar items. Facebook isn’t the first company to use this technology — see Cadeera, Donde Search, or Stye.ai, for instance. But bringing this technology to major platforms might change the way we shop, which seems to be Facebook’s current goal.
Pinterest has long positioned itself a source for inspiration that could ultimately lead to online purchases. And over the years, it has worked on features to better connect consumers with the products and services they want to buy, like shoppable pins, visual search, AR try-on, product recommendations, and more. Today, the company is rolling out another feature aimed at turning users’ saved Pins into purchases: a shopping list.
The new Pinterest Shopping list feature saves all your Product Pins in one place, so when you’re ready to purchase you won’t have to hunt around through your saved Pins and Boards to find the products you had been considering. Here, you’ll find the information you need, including an item’s price, reviews, and shipping info in an even grid so you can compare products and make decisions.
The feature, however, isn’t just an organizational tool — Pinterest says it will also send out notifications if the items you’ve saved have dropped in price — which could encourage users to make the purchase.
The Shopping List is available on your Profile page above your other boards, and will include the shoppable items you’ve saved as well as items you’ve recently viewed. When you’re ready to buy, you can click on the pin to visit the retailer’s website to complete the transaction — giving Pinterest the credit for the referral, of course.
The feature will launch first in the U.S. and U.K., and will later roll out to Australia, Canada, France and Germany later in the year, Pinterest says.
Alongside the Shopping List, Pinterest today is also expanding merchant tools with the debut of its Verified Merchant Program in the U.K., Australia, Canada, France and Germany, plus a merchant storefront on profile feature, and new product tagging in Australia, Canada, France and Germany. Launched last year, the Verified Merchant Program offers retailers a way to sign up for a manual review to determine if they meet Pinterest’s qualifications for high-quality customer service experiences. If so, they receive a blue checkmark on their profile as a signal to consumers that they’re a trustworthy retailer.
Image Credits: Pinterest
In addition, the company is today launching a special two-week long Shopping Spotlight called “The Goods by Pinterest,” which offers users access to limited edition items sold by DTC brands including Brooklinen, Outdoor Voices, Clare Paint, Olive & June, and Maude. And it’s running a “Shop the mood” campaign offering curated trends from its annual report, “Pinterest Predicts.”
Though Pinterest notes its users, on average, outspend non-users by 2x every month and have a 85% larger basket size, the way people want to shop online is rapidly changing.
Historically an image-centric idea board of sorts, Pinterest may be left behind as more consumers — and particularly younger shoppers — begin to more heavily rely on shopping via video (both recorded and live), including through influencer-driven content across platforms like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. Pinterest has only more recently expanded into this area, with the launch of video-first “Idea Pins” last month aimed at creators, and a test of livestreamed creator events around the same time.
The new launches follow a Pinterest earnings beat in April on both EPS and revenue (11 cents vs 7 cents expected, and $485M vs $474M expected), but slowing user growth. The company reported 478 million monthly active users versus the 480.5 million expected, causing the stock to drop 10% after the report came out. The company blamed the decline in user growth and user engagement on the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, as consumers began to spend less time online.
With the new additions, Pinterest wants to better ensure those users who are on its site are not just idly browsing, but actually checking out.
Our relationship with fashion has changed, not just because of the pandemic. Months in lockdown means people are probably more aware of their fashion purchases and how they consume, given its been such a long time without socialising. But the oft-talked about ‘Clueless wardrobe’ which would allow women to both see into their collections, as well as share and potentially borrow from friends, has yet to go mainstream. Now a UK startup aims to change this.
The app allows women to share the content of their wardrobes, in an Instagram-like manner by creating collections (“Lookbooks”), as well as curating their private wardrobe for their own use, with a focus on premium and luxury fashion. Women, says LBD, can “see, style and share”, as well as borrow clothes offline, and resell them.
The Lookbook feature allows women to share wardrobes collections with friends or followers in a controlled way, a feature that lets users borrow from each other.
Co-founder Lexi Willetts tells me: “We’d simply gotten to a point where we didn’t know what fashion we owned, given that almost every other area of life allows this. Most fashion can be easily dash-boarded on our phones – we couldn’t understand why our wardrobe wasn’t! Equally the effort required to list an item on resale was also super hard.”
Willetts and co-founder Marina Pengilly came up with the app when they realized they could make as much as £30,000 a year reselling their luxury clothes and accessories online. LBD is going after four key trends: the rise of resale (Depop etc); rentals like Rent the Runway; AI in e-commerce; and re-receipts.
Users upload their wardrobe by taking a photo of an item. The app will then recognize the item using computer vision. Lookbooks showcasing fashion collections, new and old also have an “I have this” button, allowing users to add items to their own wardrobes, or add as they buy automatically via links to retailers.
Another key feature allows users to see into their own wardrobes to see what they have, and, crucially, see how much they’ve spent, and own, in value.
Users can also create a Lookbook, not unlike on Pinterest, which can be shared with friends or a wider fashion community in a public or private group-controlled way. Lookbooks can be shared with a user’s network to allow them to see your style, or borrow the outfit in real life. As well as this, LBD itself also curates a feed of fashion/lifestyle news and surveys.
Willetts says partnerships with retailers and supplier deals for sales and fashion repairs are also in the offing.
But is pushing the fact that it places a greater emphasis on sharing the wardrobe as well also allowing people to borrow items, with this focus on premium and luxury fashion – ADD …this is a truly social wardrobe.
The business model is likely to be a Premium version that unlocks extra features, affiliate revenues, advertising, and resale commissions.
Disclosure: Mike Butcher was an early, informal, adviser.
Ben Herman and Adam Gefkovicz launched Jumpstart in 2017 with a clear mission: to make the world more equitable via a more fair and balanced hiring process.
The company released its “Diversity Recruitment Platform” in July of 2018 with the aim of helping people earlier in their careers get a “jumpstart” via technology.
Over the years, the startup’s mission has evolved beyond helping college grads to helping all employees — regardless of career stage — get a fair shot at jobs. And it’s doing that by teaming up with hundreds of companies — such as Airbnb, Bloomberg, Coinbase, Samsung, Lyft, Pinterest, Plaid, Roblox, Audible, Headspace and Stripe — to help them hire a more diverse pool of candidates.
Demand has accelerated exponentially, and the San Francisco-based startup saw its revenue grow “3x” in 2020 compared to 2019, although execs declined to provide hard figures. Considering its broadened focus, Jumpstart has rebranded to Canvas and announced today that it has closed on $20 million in funding. Early Stripe employee and angel investor Lachy Groom andSequoia Capital co-led the round, which included participation from Four Rivers Capital. The raise brings Canvas’ total raised to $32.5 million.
“We knew we were only scratching the surface of our vision, and knew we had a solution that could reimagine diversity hiring for everyone,” said co-founder and CEO Ben Herman. “You know how everyone has a CRM? We believe every company should have a DRP, which is a diversity recruitment platform. That’s the category we want to create and we want to be the largest in that space.”
No doubt that the Black Lives Matter movement in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder helped, well jumpstart, the company’s efforts. Canvas is able to sell its offering as more companies “are being held accountable for their promises of equity and hiring diverse talent,” Herman said.
“Hiring diverse teams is not only a matter of corporate social responsibility,” he added. “Diversity and inclusion are a competitive advantage and strategic priority for every company in today’s landscape. We believe representation is a huge part of what we stand for. So we want everyone to be able to create their own canvas, and to be able to paint their own picture.”
Canvas describes its SaaS offering as a “fully virtual” recruiting platform that is based on self-reported data. About 87% of candidates on its platform disclose their demographic information (which it says is 7x the industry standard), according to the startup. Canvas also says it gives companies the ability to narrow down the priority groups and talent it wants to focus on by filtering over 75+ self-reported candidate data points.
The startup claims that it’s different from others in the space for that reason, among other features.
“Unlike other solutions that might utilize inferred data that could be inaccurate or illegal, Canvas helps create a more accurate data set to identify diverse candidates, helping to solve the core problem of talent discovery,” Herman said.
It also — unlike some diversity hiring platforms — does not rely on artificial intelligence, a fact that Herman is actually proud of.
“We don’t believe that AI is the future. It’s not about getting someone’s gender or ethnicity based off of their name, or to inform the hiring decision without candidates knowing,” Herman told TechCrunch. “It’s all about how to empower talent to self-identify…We want to enable the talent to own their data, and truly be able to represent themselves in unique ways. That’s not leveraging AI.”
Canvas also gives companies a way to design, promote and run events, such as webinars, aimed at hiring diverse talent.
The startup also wants to get to a place where companies are working together “to complete the diversity data gap.”
“The problem is about accessibility, and so we want to give equal access to anyone and everyone — from all companies to all candidates,” Herman said. “And so that is really the most important part of what we are creating — the ability for companies to share data.”
So, how does it measure its own success? Canvas claims that 56% of all hires on the Canvas platform are made from underrepresented groups (URGs), and that it helps employers achieve a 30% reduction in time to hire.
Herman is not your typical startup founder, having dropped out of high school and starting his own recruitment agency at the age of 21. His tenacity is one of the things that attracted Sequoia partner and Canvas board member Mike Vernal to back the company.
“When we first met Ben, it was clear that he was…a natural-born talent scout,” Vernal told TechCrunch. “He thought there was a better way for the industry to work — one where companies and recruiters were more collaborative and used technology to build stronger, more diverse teams.”
Since its initial investment in the company, Vernal believes building diverse teams has never been more important.
“Those teams create better products, make stronger business decisions, and it’s just the right thing to do,” he said. “We believe companies can do a better job sourcing underrepresented talent using Canvas than on their own.”
Canvas plans to use its new capital to expand the product into other industries and verticals beyond technology and continue to address the recruiting process for later stages of people’s careers. The company currently has 70 employees and expects to have 100 by the end of 2021.
As mentioned above, hiring diverse talent is becoming a bigger priority for big tech companies (such as HP) and startups alike. Earlier this year, diverse hiring startup SeekOut raised $65 million. The company has built out a database with hundreds of millions of profiles using its AI-powered talent search engine and “deep interactive analytics.”
Pinterest is expanding further into the creator community with today’s launch of a video-first feature called “Idea Pins,” aimed at creators who want to tell their stories using video, music, creative editing tools and more. The feature feels a lot like Pinterest’s own take on TikTok, mixed with Stories, as the new Pins allow creators to record and edit creative videos with up to 20 pages of content, using tools like voiceover recording, background music, transitions and other interactive elements.
The company says Idea Pins evolved out of its tests with Story Pins, launched into beta in September 2020, after various stages of development beginning the year prior. At the time, Pinterest explained that Story Pins were different from the Stories you’d find on other social networks, like Snapchat or Instagram, because they focused on what people were doing — like trying new ideas or new products, not giving you snapshots of a creator’s personal life.
Another notable differentiator was that Story Pins weren’t ephemeral. That is, they didn’t disappear after a certain amount of time, but rather could be surfaced through search and other discovery mechanisms.
Over the past eight months since their debut, Pinterest has worked with Story Pin creators on the experience. That’s led to the new concept of the Idea Pin — essentially a rebranded Story Pin, which now offers a broader suite of editing tools than what was previously available.
Video is a key element in Idea Pins, as the Pins target the increased consumer demand for short-form video content of a creative nature — like what’s being delivered through TikTok, Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts and elsewhere. The videos in the Pins can be up to 60 seconds on iOS, Android and web for each page, with up to 20 total pages per Pin.
Image Credits: Pinterest
Creators can edit their videos by adding their own voiceover or using a “ghost mode” transition tool to better showcase their before-and-afters by overlaying one part of a video on another. And they can save drafts of their work in progress.
But Idea Pins still include a number of features common to Stories, like adding stickers or tagging other creators with an @username, for instance. Pinterest says it will start with over 100 stickers featuring hand-drawn illustrations focused on top categories and behaviors it expects to see, like food-themed illustrations, stickers for before-and-afters, seasonal moments, and more.
Pinterest is also working with the royalty-free music database Epidemic Sound to offer a catalog of free tracks for use in Idea Pins.
And because many creators will use Idea Pins to inspire people to try a recipe or project of some sort, they can include “detail pages” where viewers can find the ingredient list or instructions, which is handy.
Image Credits: Pinterest
Pins are shared to Pinterest, where the company says they help the creator build an audience by being distributed in several places across its platform, including in some markets, by locating Pins for creators you follow right at the top of the home page.
Creators can also apply topic tags when publishing to ensure they’re surfaced when people are seeking that sort of content. Each Idea Pin can have up to 10 topic tags, which help to distribute the content in a targeted way to users via the home feed and search, the company says.
While Pins can help creators build an audience on Pinterest, they can use Idea Pins to grow their audience on other platforms, too. The company says it will offer export options that let people share their Pins across the web and social media. To do so, they download their Pin as a video which includes a Pinterest watermark and profile name — a trick learned from TikTok. This can then be reshared elsewhere.
Image Credits: Pinterest
Pinterest users, meanwhile, can save Idea Pins like any other Pin on the platform.
“We believe the best inspiration comes from people who are fueled by their passions and want to bring positivity and creativity into the world,” said Pinterest co-founder and Chief Design and Creative Officer Evan Sharp, in a statement about the launch. “On Pinterest, anyone can inspire. From creators to hobbyists to publishers, Pinterest is a place where anyone can publish great ideas and discover inspiring content. We have creators with extraordinary ideas on Pinterest, and with Idea Pins, creators are empowered to share their passions and inspire their audiences,” he added.
The new Idea Pin format is rolling out today to all creators (users with a business account) in the U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Image Credits: Pinterest
Pinterest says, during tests, it found that Idea Pins were more engaging than standard Pins, with 9x the average comment rate. The number of Idea Pins (previously known as Story Pins) has also grown by 4x since January, as more creators adopted the format.
To help creators track how well Pins are performing, Pinterest is expanding its Analytics feature to include a new Followers and Profile Visits-driven metric to show creators how their Idea Pins have driven deeper engagement with their account.
The company says the next step is to make Idea Pins more shoppable, which it’s doing now with tests of product tagging underway.
While Idea Pins seem like a natural pivot from Pinterest’s founding as an inspiration and idea board, it will face serious competition when it comes to wooing the professional creator community to its platform. Other big tech companies are outspending Pinterest, whose new Creator Fund of $500K falls short of the $1 million per day Snap paid creators or the $100 million fund for YouTube Shorts creators, TikTok’s $200 million fund or the deals Instagram has been making to lure Reels creators. These platforms, as well as a host of startups, are also giving creators a way to directly monetize their efforts through features like tips, donations, subscriptions and more.
What Pinterest may have in its favor, though, is its reach. The company claims 475 million users, which makes it a destination some creators may not want to overlook in their bid for growth, and later, e-commerce.
Pinterest is expanding into live events. The company is planning to host a three-day virtual event that will feature live-streamed sessions from top creators, including big names like Jonathan Van Ness and Rebecca Minkoff, among others. The virtual event will run inside the Pinterest app from May 24th through May 25th, and will serve as the company’s first public test of directly streaming creator content to its over 475 million global users.
The rise of the creator economy and a pandemic-fueled demand for virtual events led Pinterest to explore the idea of live streaming. Last fall, it began testing a “class communities” feature that allowed users to sign up for Zoom classes through Pinterest, while creators used Pinterest’s boards to organize materials, notes, and other resources. These communities also included a group chat option and shopping features.
The new live-streamed sessions will operate a bit differently.
For starters, they’re not directing users off-site to Zoom for the sessions. Instead, users will launch the live-streaming experience directly inside Pinterest mobile app and remain there during the sessions. Pinterest users can also comment to interact with the creator during their stream, but there is no longer any shopping functionality, Pinterest tells TechCrunch.
Image Credits: Pinterest
The live streams allow up to five “guests” and an unlimited number of viewers. Meanwhile, moderators — which may include Pinterest employees, during this test — will help to control the experience. They will also have the ability to remove people from the chat if they do not uphold Pinterest’s Community Standards.
The forthcoming event’s lineup will focus a variety of topics, including food, design, cooking, style, and more.
Jonathan Van Ness‘ session will discuss morning rituals and self-care routines. Fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff will teach Pinterest users how to style their summer wardrobe. Others featured during the event include food creators GrossyPelosi and Peter Som, who will showcase favorite recipes; Women’s Health magazine will talk about using vision boards to achieve your goals; Jennifer Alba will show how to communicate the Zodiac through sign language; and Hannah Bronfman will offer ideas for creating an at-home spa night.
In total, Pinterest will feature around 21 creators throughout the three-day event, with around 7 different session per day. Users will be directed to the live event via a new “Live” tab inside the Pinterest app for iOS and Android, where they can view the schedule and join sessions.
Image Credits: Pinterest
x”As a visual platform, people discover billions of ideas on Pinterest every day, and we’re always looking for new ways to help them bring those ideas to life,” says David Temple, Pinterest’s Head of Creators.
Temple notes Pinterest has integrated with third-party live-streaming technologies and built its own in-house messaging systems to power live interactions.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to respond to Pinner feedback for more dynamic and timely events as new interests like cooking have emerged for many in quarantine, and trends like beauty, fashion, and home renovation are on all-time highs as we move into a post-pandemic world,” Temple adds.
However, Pinterest isn’t discussing how it views the potential for live events longer-term. For the time being, it’s not offering tools that could woo creators away from other platforms where they can monetize their fans through features like donations, tips, virtual gifts, paid ticketing, subscriptions, or brand partnerships via a creator marketplace. Without such options, Pinterest could have a hard time competing for creators’ attention.
Image Credits: Pinterest
Nearly every big tech platform today is making a play for creators, and some are evenwilling to throw cash at them to win them over. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and Twitter are all building out features that let creators do more than build an audience to monetize through ads or brand deals. Now, fans can send creators money during or after streams, subscribe for exclusive content, pay for access and more, depending on the platform.