The last few months have been interesting for Twitter.
After years of no innovation at all, Twitter is making big product changes. It has acquired Breaker and Revue, and presumably has more M&A coming. It’s coming out with Spaces. The only thing it clearly isn’t working on is an edit button.
The core idea is that Twitter is doubling down on multichannel engagement for creators so that they never have to leave for anywhere else.
Strategically, though, what is a microblogging service doing buying a social podcasting company and a newsletter tool while also building a live broadcasting sub-app? Is there even a strategy at all?
I humbly propose this: There is a strategy. Twitter is trying to revitalize itself by adding more contexts for discourse to its repertoire. The result, if everything goes right, will be an influence superapp that hasn’t existed anywhere before. The alternative is nothing less than the destruction of Twitter into a link-forwarding service.
Let’s talk about how Twitter is trying to eat the public conversation.
Another way of putting it is: Twitter is not generating as much money from ads as it used to. Ad revenue has failed to grow because Twitter is generally considered to have a poorly performing product for marketers. As a result, its stock price has been flat for years.
The irony, though, is that Twitter became more socially important during this period of financial stagnation to the point that the president of the United States nearly launched several wars on the platform!
The core reason is that since becoming a public company, Twitter has been considered by most to be one of the most boring tech companies productwise. Yes, people joke about the lack of an edit button, but the platform really has been slow to innovate in any real way.
Twitter was one of the most dynamic companies around, going from the fail whale company to being the company that invented the hashtag and acquiring some of the hottest companies, from Periscope to Vine.
But it all failed. Twitter rarely used acquisitions successfully. It stopped putting out new features and barely even managed simple improvements. Despite describing itself as “what’s happening now,” it missed every boat. Until this year.
Twitter started to face its first real competition in years due to the social media renaissance. Twitter’s strength has always come from being where the news happens. Podcasts, Clubhouse, newsletters and other new channels are true competitive threats.
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 we’re reviewing Google’s I/O developer event, rounding up the latest from Snap’s partner summit and taking a look at how Parler got back on the App Store, among other things.
That’s not to downplay Google’s technical advancements, but if you’re sitting through a long live-ish (??) event, you don’t only want to hear about more conversational AI or less racist cameras (much less from the company that just fired multiple AI ethics researchers). You want to get excited about Google’s next new…thing.
When all was said and done, what stood out was Android 12.
The updated version of Google’s mobile OS with its new personalization features targets a current iPhone weakness: customization.
Android 12 addresses this demand for its own users and takes things a step further. Now, when Android 12 users set a new wallpaper the system can automatically create a custom palette of colors as the Android theme, including both the dominant and complementary colors. This is applied across the OS, including in the Quick Settings under the Notification Shade, in buttons on the lock screen, widgets and more. Google calls this “Material You,” which is a bit silly but gets the point across. The phone can really start to feel like yours.
Material You also introduces refreshed widgets with interactive controls and easier personalization options, smoother transitions, more animations and a privacy dashboard, where you can check in on which apps are accessing your location, mic and camera, for instance. But what sells it is how all those parts come together to present a new version of Android that actually feels fresh.
ICYMI: An I/O Round-up
Stats: Android now powers 3 billion devices globally, up from 2.5 billion in May 2019. The figure includes 250 million active tablets as of last year.
Foldables: Google announced a series of Android 12 updates that add support for foldable screens. (Is a foldable Pixel coming?)
Design: “Material You” is Android’s new, adaptive design language which fully embraces the home screen personalization trend, allowing users to set themes that apply across the operating system. One of its more clever tricks is that it’s able to build the color palette for the theme based on the wallpaper you choose.
Wearables: Google and Samsung team up on a unified wearable platform to take on Apple’s watchOS. The goal will be to combine the best of both worlds, Android Wear OS and Samsung’s Tizen, allowing apps to start faster and battery life to last longer, while users will gain more apps and watch faces. Meanwhile, the best of Fitbit — like tracking health progress and on-wrist goal celebrations — will come to Android Wear. Other updates include a Tiles API, watch face designer from Samsung, new consumer experience focused on speed and customization and redesigned Maps, Assistant and Pay.
Flutter: Google’s cross-platform UI toolkit for building mobile and desktop apps now powers 200K Play Store apps, including those from WeChat, ByteDance, BMW, Grab and Didi. The new version, Flutter 2.2, adds reliability, performance improvements, a payment plugin for IAPs and a more streamlined process for bringing Flutter apps to Windows, macOS and Linux.
Google Play: Google shared details on sharing details (from 30% to 15%) and is adding new resources like an SDK website to help you find the right ones for you, and a dedicated Policy and Programs section in Play Console. Apps will later this year be able to monetize in new ways, including multi-quantity purchases, multi-line subscriptions and prepaid plans (access to content for a fixed amount of time).
Ads: Google’s App campaigns on Android will expand to the desktop versions of Google.com and the Google Display Network. That means if a user clicks an ad in the desktop browser, they’ll be directed to the Play Store website to install the app to their linked device. Also, the Google Analytics for Firebase SDK now allows event creation and modification without app updates. Plus, Google introduced a deep link validator and impact calculator to make it easier to get started with deep linking.
Snap, an app with now with 500 million MAUs, this week hosted an event for its partners, where the company unleashed a host of news about what’s next for its platform, including developer tools, AR updates, shopping features and more.
Among the highlights was Snap’s computer vision-enabled Scan product, which will analyze content in the camera feed to pull up matching products, similar to efforts by Pinterest and Google. Meanwhile, AR updates and partnerships with brands like Farfetch and Prada will make possible virtual try-on of clothes using AR. (Honestly, sometimes it feels like Snap’s tech is being lost in an app that’s mainly used by teenagers and young adults for socializing. Are they really Prada shoppers?)
Image Credits: Snap
Another big news item was Snap’s plans to release a brand-new app, Story Studio, which will give creators access to more powerful editing tools, for precisely trimming shots, adding captions, stickers and other visual elements, accessing licensed music, and more. Creators can then publish to Snapchat Spotlight, which is now available on the web, as well as other platforms.
Meanwhile, Snap Map is getting an update with a product called Layers, that allows users to add data from Snap’s developer partners to their map to personalize their experience. For instance, a Ticketmaster Layer will show nearby concert venues.
Image Credits: Snap
The company also gave an update on its creator funding efforts, saying it had doled out more than $130 million to more than 5,400 creators making content for its TikTok rival, Spotlight, since November. It now says it will now longer pay out $1 million per day to encourage creator adoption.
Facebook debuted “Live Shopping Fridays” across the web and Facebook’s mobile apps to encourage consumers to make appointments to shop for beauty, skin care and fashion items from major brands like Abercrombie and Fitch, Bobbi Brown, Clinique, Sephora, Dermalogica and others.
Image Credits: Facebook
Fast fashion e-commerce app Shein took the crown from Amazon this week to become the most downloaded app on iOS and Android in the U.S. The company controls its own production chain, from prototype to manufacturing, allowing it to churn out products tailored to different regions and tastes at a daily rate, giving it the name the “TikTok for e-commerce.”
Africa’s largest carrier, Vodacom, has developed Africa’s first super-appwith help from China’s Alibaba. The app will include a range of services, including e-commerce, banking and making mobile payments.
Apple released an update, iOS 14.5.1, which fixed the ATT bug that had grayed out the App Tracking Transparency toggle for some users in the Settings.
Google Pay’s app was redesigned to make it easier for users to find businesses in the U.S., India and Singapore to start, with new discovery features, branded experiences for businesses, money organization tools and spending insights, Google Pay APIs for Web and Android, and a loyalty enrollment and sign-in API.
Image Credits: TechCrunch
Parler’s back. After getting booted from the app stores and from its web host for inciting violence ahead of the January 6 Capitol riots, Parler has returned to the App Store. Now, posts that are labeled hate, (yes, “hate,” — this app doesn’t take down hate speech), won’t be visible on iPhone. The “hate” posts, which may include things like racial slurs, will be visible on other platforms and on the web version.
Apple had insisted that Parler must follow Apple’s App Store guidelines in order to return to its app marketplace, which meant Parler had to moderate its content. Parler however, would rather the option to view hate speech be a toggle, not hidden entry, saying it would prefer to put tools in the hands of it users. The company also dismissively referred to the sanitized version of Parler for iOS as “Parler PG.” The app is now No. 10 in the News category on iPhone.
Pinterest introduced Idea Pins, a video-first evolution of its Story Pins feature, aimed at creators. The Pins allow creators to publish videos of up to 60 seconds per page, with a total of 20 pages per Pin. They can also feature stickers, music and detail pages with more info, like recipe ingredients or project instructions.
TikTok rolled out new tools that allow creators to bulk delete and report comments as well as bulk block users. The feature could help someone quickly clean up their comments section when being trolled and keep their account safe from abusers. But it also could help them to create a false persona of being well-liked, as all negative feedback is removed.
Instagram will host its first Creator Week as an invitation-only series of events June 8-10. The virtual event will include 5,000 creators from the U.S. and will discuss topics like how to grow your online following and make money.
Facebook’s experimental app from its NPE team, Tuned comes to iPhone. The app is designed for users in relationships to stay in touch, messaging and sharing photos, replaying moments and sharing memories, and participating in newly expanded Q&A challenges.
Image Credits: Facebook
Reface’s buzzy face-swapping app now lets users upload their own source material for face swapping and animations, which rely on GAN algorithms. That means you can face-swap yourself into a famous piece of art, for instance. The app, launched 14 months ago, now has more than 100 million installs.
Google Photos update adds new Memories and a Locked Folder and previews Cinematic moments which animate a series of photos.
Image Credits: Google
Google Maps is adding a number of updates this year, including new routing updates designed for safety, Live View enhancements, an expansion of detailed street maps to 50 more cities, a new “area busyness” feature, which shows crowded blocks and neighborhoods, and a more personalized Maps experience, which adjusts to your location and time of day.
The Chrome app for Android is bringing back RSS. A new feature for users in the U.S. on Chrome Canary is a “follow” button that will allow you to get the latest content from websites and blogs directly in Chrome. The feature relies on the open RSS web standard, so maybe stop building “blogs” that don’t have an RSS feed, OK?
Spotify launched a virtual concert serieswith The Black Keys and other artists. The pre-recorded streams are $15 each for the 40-75 minute show. Some unknown portion of that revenue is shared with the artists.
Spotify is adding automatic transcripts to its own Original and Exclusive podcasts, with the goal of rolling out transcripts to all shows over time.
Apple announced it’s bringing lossless audio streaming to Apple Music in June, as a free upgrade. The upgrade will also include support for Dolby Atmos and lossless audio files. The Android version will support lossless but not Dolby Atmos at launch. On Apple devices, lossless does not work on AirPods, AirPods Pro or AirPods Max, even when in wired listening mode. Nor does it work on HomePod devices.
On the same day, Amazon announced its own lossless music streaming service, Amazon Music HD, would also be a free upgrade for Amazon Music Unlimited subscribers.
Deezer technically beat Spotify to offer offline listening on Apple Watch this week, but not by much.Spotify on Friday added support for downloads on the Apple Watch so you can enjoy phone-free listening. Meanwhile Spotify is adding offline listening to Android Wear, too.
Spotify expands into the audiobooks market by partnering with Storytel. The partnership is the first notable example of what’s possible with Spotify’s recently introduced Open Access Platform (OAP), which aims to give creators and publishers a way to extend their reach. With OAP, Storytel subscribers will be able to connect their account in Spotify, then stream their audiobooks through Spotify’s app.
Local crime-spotting app Citizen got into trouble for sparking a $30,000 manhunt for the wrong person. The app’s real-time feature, OnAir, broadcast to users that there was a reward for a man suspected of setting an LA area wildfire. But the person described — which was sent to the app’s 860K users — was not the person actually responsible, who was later arrested.
The Epic trial also revealed that there have been 130 types of Mac malware since last May, a level the company doesn’t find acceptable. The point was made as a defense for why the iOS App Store needs to exist — without it, the more than 1 billion iPhones in use would be an attractive target for attackers.
Funding and M&A
Indonesia’s BukuKas raised $50 million in Series B funding for its app helping to digitize small businesses. The startup began as a bookkeeping app but expanded to include online payments and an e-commerce platform that now services 6.3 million businesses.
Ethel’s Club founder Naj Austin raised $3.75 million in seed funding for Somewhere Good, a Clubhouse-ish mobile app that connects people across interests, allowing them to post content and have real-time audio conversations.
Mobile-first car ownership “super app” Jerry raised $57+ million to date, including its new $28 million Series Bled by Goodwater Capital. The Palo Alto-based startup launched its car insurance comparison service and now has nearly 1 million U.S. customers.
Egyptian digital banking app Telda raised $5 million pre-seed funding to help grow its business focused on helping Egyptians save, send and spend money.
Spot Meetings raised $5 million from Kleiner Perkins to modernize remote meetings for mobile. The app includes an assistant “Spot” that can transcribe meeting notes, and offers a scratch pad for copying / pasting snippets of important info, among other things.
PhonePe is in talks to acquire the Samsung-backed Indus OS, an Indian startup that operates an eponymous third-party Android app store.
U.K.-based Robinhood rival Stake raised $30 million from Tiger Global and London-based DST Global to expand into Europe. The app has grown 6x since its U.K. launch in early 2020 and now has over 330K customers.
Snap acquired AR startup WaveOptics for over $500 million. The company, which represents Snap’s biggest acquisition to date, provides the waveguides and projectors used in Snap’s AR glasses, Spectacles.
Jam City has filed to go public via a SPAC at $1.2 billion value. Th Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery publisher will use some of the money to acquire mobile game publisher Ludia for $175 million.
Halide for iPad
Image Credits: Lux
The popular third-party camera app Halide made its way to the iPad this week, with an interface designed from scratch for the iPad with controls placed within reach near the edge of the big screen, special features for composition and iPad shooting (yes, really), custom icons to match either your Silver or Space Gray iPad Pro and support for either right or left handed users. The app is free with in-app purchases for iPad.
Silk + Sonder (Soft Launch)
Image Credits: Silk + Sonder
AAPI, female-founded Silk + Sonder was created by Meha Agrawal, a software engineer and PM for companies including Goldman Sachs, Stitch Fix, The Muse, and others to take an analog-first approach to mental wellness. Now, the company is launching its first mobile app after growing its me business to tens of thousands of subscribers and raising $4+ million in seed funding.
The new app offers curated self-care experiences, daily affirmations, a community club, a private memories feature and others meant to complement the company’s analog journal/planners that are shipped to member’s doorstep monthly. In calming shades of pinks and whites, the app guides users through their wellness journey and helps them stay accountable to their goals.
Since the app’s soft launch this month, it’s added thousands of users, more than 50% of whom engage regularly.
The new app is initially available only to active subscribers, but other users will be able to join a waitlist.
Image Credits: Herd
Female-founded Herd has been building demand for its non-toxic Instagram alternative via TikTok. Now the app is live on iOS as a beta.
The goal of Herd is to give users a safer, social space focused on community, not influence, clout-chasing or data collection.
Users can customize their home feed by interest and use sliders to control what they want to see more of less of, while also posting their own photos, saving favorites, and staying private, if they choose. At present, Herd offers a basic photo-sharing experience. There are no Stories or photo filters or videos or much of anything that could lure users away from more advanced, feature-rich social apps. But what it does have is a mission that users feel connected with — and that pushed the app to No. 18 in the Social category on the App Store on launch day, May 18. It’s now still sitting in the top 50 a few days later.
But ultimately, all the marketing and social buzz can’t prop up an app forever. Herd needs to capitalize on the goodwill it’s built by leaning into quickly upgrading the UI/UX so the app itself feels as fresh as the ideas it espouses.
Apple and Epic Games can agree on one thing: The app economy is worth fighting over. Here’s a look at the explosive growth that turned app marketplaces into multibillion-dollar businesses. https://t.co/0279yhUS0I
Snap yesterday announced the latest iteration of its Spectacles augmented reality glasses, and today the company revealed a bit more news: it is also acquiring the startup that supplied the technology that helps power them. The Snapchat parent is snapping up WaveOptics, an AR startup that makes the waveguides and projectors used in AR glasses. These overlay virtual images on top of the views of the real world someone wearing the glasses can see, and Snap worked with WaveOptics to build its latest version of Spectacles.
The deal was first reported by The Verge, and a spokesperson for Snap directly confirmed the details to TechCrunch. Snap is paying over $500 million for the startup, in a cash-and-stock deal. The first half of that will be coming in the form of stock when the deal officially closes, and the remainder will be payable in cash or stock in two years.
This is a big leap for WaveOptics, which had raised around $65 million in funding from investors that included Bosch, Octopus Ventures and a host of individuals, from Stan Boland (veteran entrepreneur in the UK, most recently at FiveAI) and Ambarish Mitra (the co-founder of early AR startup Blippar). PitchBook estimates that its most recent valuation was only around $105 million.
WaveOptics was founded in Oxford, and it’s not clear where the team will be based after the deal is closed — we have asked.
We have been covering the company since its earliest days, when it displayed some very interesting, early, and ahead-of-its-time technology: waveguides based on hologram physics and photonic crystals. The important and key thing is that its tech drastically compresses size and load of the hardware needed to process and display images, meaning a much wider and more flexible range of form factors for AR hardware based on WaveOptics tech.
It’s not clear whether WaveOptics will continue to work with other parties post-deal, but it seems that one obvious advantage for Snap would be making the startup’s technology exclusive to itself.
Snap has been on something of an acquisition march in recent times — it’s made at least three other purchases of startups since January, including Fit Analytics for an AR-fuelled move into e-commerce, as well as Pixel8Earth and StreetCred for its mapping tools.
This deal, however, marks Snap’s biggest acquisition to date in terms of valuation. That is not only a mark of the premium price that foundational artificial intelligence tech continues to command — in addition to the team of scientists that built WaveOptics, it also has 12 filed and in-progress patents — but also Snap’s financial and, frankly, existential commitment to having a seat at the table when it comes not just to social apps that use AR, but hardware, and being at the centre of not just using the tech, but setting the pace and agenda for how and where that will play out.
That’s been a tenacious and not always rewarding place for it to be, but the company — which has long described itself as a “camera company” — has kept hardware in the mix as an essential component for its future strategy.
Snap Inc., the company best known for the popular Snapchat social camera app, has announced its first pair of augmented reality glasses that most people would agree actually qualify as real AR glasses. Like previous glasses the company has produced, they are called Spectacles.
Spectacles will not be available to buy as a mass-market consumer product—at least not in the immediately foreseeable future. Instead, Snap is seeding units to developers and content creators so the glasses can be used to create new experiences and filters. These creators will build these with Lens Studio, a Snapchat-specific tool that is already widely in use.
Spectacles enable new ways to view and create Snapchat Lenses, which are generally simple augmented reality filters that Snapchat users apply to the videos they send each other.
Amid a pre-recorded Partner Summit where Snap took users through a whole set of new tools for Snapchat users, creators and companies, Snap also threw in a “one more thing” at the end that shows the company, after a rocky start several years ago, is definitely not giving up on hardware soon.
Today the company announced the latest generation of its Spectacles, a streamlined 60s-style design in black that is the company’s biggest play yet in merging some of the work its been building in augmented reality technology to a specific device tailored to work with it. You can pre-order the new glasses on Spectacles.com.
Evan Spiegel, Snap’s co-founder and CEO, described the Spectacles as the company’s “first pair of glasses that bring augmented reality to life,” and if you ever owned or tried out earlier versions of the glasses, it sounds like these are just more intuitive and seamless.
The fourth generation of these glasses will operate at 30 minutes at a time, he said, and will feature dual 3D waveguide displays, and a 26.3-degree diagonal field of view for an immersive lens experiences that “feel like they’re naturally overlaid on the world in front of you.” The glasses come with a lot of brightness built in to make them as usable inside as outside, and the glasses come with built in microphones, stereo speakers and touchpad controls. They are also relatively light at 134 grams.
Spiegel said that the glasses will feature the company’s new spatial engine, “which leverages six degrees of freedom, hand and surface tracking realistic ground digital objects in the physical world,” with 15 millisecond motion to photon latency for more responsiveness. The glasses are also integrated with Snap’s Lens Studio so that creators can build custom lenses for the devices. It’s rolled out the glasses already to a small group of early users, so expect to see these ship pre-populated with a range of lenses and other customizations.
During Snap Partner Summit, Snap announced a brand new app focused on creators. Named Story Studio, this standalone iOS app gives you several editing tools so that you can make your content look as professional as possible.
Story editing tools are still in Snapchat — nothing is changing on this front. But if you’ve been creating content for Spotlight, a TikTok-like feed, or if you’re a Snap star, you may need more powerful editing tools. Many creators choose to edit their stories on a computer.
But many creators also want to do everything on their phones. That’s why there are already a few powerful video editing tools out there. But Snap is making its own app so that it works better with Snapchat.
With Story Studio, you can see what’s trending on Snapchat already. It includes sounds, topics and lenses. This way, you can remix popular content and create your own take on the current meme.
Snap says that Story Studio lets you trim your shots with frame-precise editing. You can add captions, stickers and other visual elements. You can also take advantage of the company’s licensed music catalog.
And because it’s supposed to be a serious app for serious stories, you can save a project and edit it later.
When you’re done, you can share your video with Snapchat — you can use it to post a story or a Spotlight video. But Story Studio is also going to work with other platforms. You can save it to your camera roll or export your video to other apps on your phone.
Story Studio is launching later this year. It’s going to be available on iOS exclusively for now.
Image Credits: Snap
Send a gift to your favorite creator
While Snapchat started as an app to chat with your friends, it’s clear that the company now wants to attract a generation of creators with the right tools and monetization options. Creators have become a competitive space for social apps, such as TikTok, Instagram, YouTube with YouTube Shorts and Snapchat.
Snap’s own take on short viral videos have been working relatively well so far. Spotlight reaches 125 million monthly active users on Snapchat. The number of users watching at least 10 minutes of Spotlight per day has grown by 70% between January and March.
In addition to Story Studio, Snap is launching a web platform for Spotlight. This way, people can watch Spotlight content without launching Snapchat even when they’re browsing the web on their desktop computer. It could be a way to attract new Snapchat users as well.
But creators in particular are going to like this website as you can upload videos to Spotlight from Chrome or Safari.
When it comes to monetization, Snap is distributing $1 million every day to Snapchat users who create the top Snaps for Spotlight — 5,400 creators have earned $130 million since November 2020. The company will stop giving away $1 million per day on June 1st. Snap only says it plans to give millions every month.
But creators will be able to start accepting gifts directly on Snapchat. When Snapchat users reply to a story, they can buy Snap Tokens and send them as a gift — a virtual item with real-life value. The company hasn’t detailed how it plans to split revenue between Snap and creators. Gifting will roll out on Android and iOS later this year.
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.
Snapchat’s parent company, Snap, yesterday suspended two apps that allowed users to send anonymous messages to other users on the platform. The move came in response to a lawsuit filed Monday against Snap and the two messaging apps.
The lawsuit seeks class-action status to represent all 92 million Snapchat users, and it demands that Snap ban both Yolo and LMK from its app store. The developers of both apps, the suit alleges, did not implement adequate safeguards against harassing and bullying behavior.
The suit was brought by Kristin Bride, the mother of Carson Bride, a 16-year-old who suffered from cyberbullying on the Yolo and LMK apps. Over half the messages he received on Yolo were “meant to humiliate him, often involving sexually explicit and disturbing content,” according to the lawsuit. After a particularly personal string of insults, 16-year-old Carson searched in vain for how to reveal the identity of his bullies. Just over two weeks later, he took his own life. His last search was “reveal Yolo username online.”
Snap on Wednesday announced its plan to soon launch a Creator Marketplace, which will make it easier for businesses to find and partner with Snapchat creators, including lens creators, AR creators and later, prominent Snapchat creators known as Snap Stars. At launch, the marketplace will focus on connecting brands and AR creators for AR ads. It will then expand to support all Snap Creators by 2022.
The company had previously helped connect its creator community with advertisers through its Snapchat Storytellers program, which first launched into pilot testing in 2018 — already a late arrival to the space. However, that program’s focus was similar to Facebook’s Brand Collabs Manager, as it focused on helping businesses find Snap creators who could produce video content.
Snap’s new marketplace, meanwhile, has a broader focus in terms of connecting all sorts of creators with the Snap advertising ecosystem. This includes Lens Creators, Developers and Partners, and then later, Snap’s popular creators with public profiles.
Snap says the Creator Marketplace will open to businesses later this month to help them partner with a select group of AR Creators in Snap’s Lens Network. These creators can help businesses build AR experiences without the need for extensive creative resources, which makes access to Snap’s AR ads more accessible to businesses, including smaller businesses without in-house developer talent.
Lens creators have already found opportunity working for businesses that want to grow their Snapchat presence — even allowing some creators to quit their day jobs and just build lens for a living. Snap has been further investing in this area of its business, having announced in December a $3.5 million fund directed towards AR Lens creation. The company said at the time there were tens of thousands of Lens creators who had collectively made over 1.5 million Lenses to date.
Using Lenses has grown more popular, too, the company had noted, saying that over 180 million people interact with a Snapchat Lens every day — up from 70 million daily active users of Lenses when the Lens Explorer section first launched in the app in 2018.
Now, Snap says that over 200 million Snapchat users interact with augmented reality on a daily basis, on average, out of its 280 million daily users. The majority (over 90%) of these users are 13-25 year olds. In total, users are posting over 5 billion Snaps per day.
Snap says the Creator Marketplace will remain focused on connecting businesses with AR Lens Creators throughout 2021.
The following year, it will expand to include the community of professional creators and storytellers who understand the current trends and interests of the Snap user base and can help businesses with their ad campaigns. The company will not take a cut of the deals facilitated through the Marketplace, it says.
This would include the creators making content for Snap’s new TikTok rival, Spotlight, which launched in November 2020. Snap encouraged adoption of the feature by shelling out $1 million per day to creators of top videos. In March 2021, over 125 million Snapchat users watched Spotlight, it says.
Image Credits: Snapchat
Spotlight isn’t the only way Snap is challenging TikTok.
The company also on Wednesday announced it’s snagging two of TikTok’s biggest stars for its upcoming Snap Originals lineup: Charli and Dixie D’Amelio. The siblings, who have gained over 20 million follows on Snapchat this past year, will star in the series “Charli vs. Dixie.” Other new Originals will feature names like artist Megan Thee Stallion, actor Ryan Reynolds, twins and influencers Niki and Gabi DeMartino, and YouTube beauty vlogger Manny Mua, among others.
Snap’s shows were watched by over 400 million people in 2020, including 93% of the Gen Z population in the U.S., it noted.
A California federal appeals court has denied legal immunity to Snap for the 2017 death of two teens and a 20-year-old when their car crashed into a tree at 113 miles per hour (180 km/h). Parents of two of the boys sued Snap, arguing that Snapchat’s “Speed Filter” encouraged the boys to accelerate their car to more than 100 miles per hour.
Last year, Snap convinced a federal trial judge that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act shielded Snap from liability in the case. The once-obscure 1996 law has become a frequent source of controversy as technology giants have used it to disclaim responsibility for harmful content on their platforms.
Snap, maker of the popular Snapchat messaging app, argued that the law gave it immunity in the boys’ death. Snapchat pioneered the concept of image filters that has been widely copied by other apps. In 2017, Snapchat’s offerings included a Speed Filter that displayed a user’s current speed—either on its own or superimposed on the user’s photo. Users could use this filter to show their friends how fast they were moving.
I have no gun, but I must shoot. [credit: Nintendo ]
When you get down to it, “shooting” in a video game is really just a way of projecting a directed line of intent from your character to another visible point on the map. This basic fact is a large part of why shooting a gun has become such a natural means of interacting with games from a first-person perspective. If your character is looking at something, shooting a gun lets you instantly and easily engage with whatever you’re looking at.
There’s one other major real-life action where this simple point-and-shoot mechanic applies: photography. Nintendo was among the first game-makers to realize this over 20 years ago, creating Pokémon Snap for the Nintendo 64 as a new type of first-person “shooter” (it doesn’t hurt that cameras fit much better than guns with Pokémon’s family-friendly branding). In the years since, though, only a handful of games have taken Nintendo’s lead and replaced “shoot a gun” with “shoot a photo” as the main verb.
So it’s down to Nintendo to revive and expand its own good idea with the awkwardly titled New Pokémon Snap for the Switch. Though the update can get a bit repetitive and tedious at times, this secret-packed photo safari is a great mix of chill moments and competitive personal striving for the best shots.
Earlier this year we reported on how Snap had acquired Berlin-based Fit Analytics, an AI-based fitting technology startup, as part of a wider push into e-commerce services, specifically to gain technology that can help prospective online shoppers get a better sense of how a particular item or size would fit them. A 10-Q filing from Snap today has now put a price tag on that deal.
Snap paid a total of $124.4 million, covering technology, IP, customer relationships and payouts to the team. The filing also noted that Snap spent a total of $204.5 million on acquisitions in 2020, but did not break them out.
The news comes ahead of Snap — whose flagship app Snapchat now has 280 million daily active users — preparing for its Snap Partner Conference in May. Sources say the company plans to announce, among other news, deeper commerce features for Snapchat — specifically tools to make it easier for Snapchat users to interact with and buy items that appear in the app, either in ads or more organically in content shared by other users.
While the exact details of those commerce tools, and the timing of when they might come online, are not yet known, Snap has hardly kept its interest in commerce a secret.
Snap has been hiring for roles to support its commerce efforts. Currently it’s advertising for a variety of engineering, marketing and product roles in commerce, to, in the words of one of the listings, for a Product Manager, “develop and launch shopping experiences and services that make shopping fun for Snapchatters and drive results for brands.” The listings also include a role specifically to work on Snapchat-based e-commerce efforts for direct-to-consumer (D2C) businesses.
And it has been making other recent acquisitions in addition to Fit Analytics that also line up with that.
They have included Screenshop, an app that describes itself as “the first AI-back style lens,” which can identify shoppable items in photos and then build a custom catalog of similar products that you can buy (akin to “shop the look” features that you will have come across in fashion media). And it’s also acquired Ariel AI, which has built technology to quickly render people in 3D, technology that can be used in a diverse set of applications, from games to virtual try-ons of clothing, makeup or accessories.
Snap confirmed the Ariel acquisition to CNBC in January. And while Screenshop deal was first reported earlier this month by The Information, Snap has declined to comment on it, although we have found people who worked at the startup now working at Snap.
Both acquisitions closed in 2020, according to reports, meaning that they came out of that year’s $204.5 million acquisition run. (Snap also noted a smaller acquisition, for $7.6 million, in the most recent quarter, but it did not disclose any further details.)
Even before all this, Snap had been making smaller efforts and tests in commerce going back years, although none of them have tipped into mainstream efforts.
Among them, in 2018 it launched a Snap Store — but that so far has not progressed beyond selling merchandise based on Bitmoji characters. And work on a Gucci shoe campaign last year, where Snapchat users could try shoes on in AR and then buy them, was seen by some as its big step into commerce — “we’ve moved from pure entertainment and expanded the use-case. And so with brands, it’s a really exciting time, especially in fashion and beauty. The Snapchat camera is connecting brands to their audiences in new ways,” a Snapchat AR executive said at the time — but that also didn’t develop into much beyond a one-off effort.
But with the pandemic leading to a surge of shopping online, and technology continuing to improve, the iron may finally be hot here.
As we said around the Fit Analytics acquisition, the idea of diversifying Snapchat’s revenue streams by building in more commerce experiences makes a lot of sense.
It gives the company another revenue stream at a time when Apple is introducing changes that might well affect how advertising can run and be monetized in the future. (The company most recently posted average revenues per user of $2.74, a figure Wall Street will be hoping will grow, not shrink.) It also plays into the demographics that Snapchat targets, where younger consumers are using social media apps to discover, share and shop for goods.
And specifically in the case of fashion, building experiences to shop for items on Snapchat leans into the augmented reality, image-altering, hyper-visual technology that has become a well-known and much-used hallmark of Snapchat and its owner, self-titled “camera company” Snap.
One of the challenges that some would-be TikTok rivals have faced is that they often lack the same robust set of content creation tools, like filters, effects, and tools for repurposing others’ content — like TikTok’s Stitch and Duet, for example. It now appears that Snapchat is working to correct that latter problem, however, as it’s been spotted working on a TikTok Duets-like feature called “Remix,” designed for replying to Snaps. This feature will allow users to create new content using their friends’ Snaps — a “remix,” that is.
Initially, the feature will allow users to reply a friend’s story with a remixed Snap. To do so, you can record your own Snap alongside the original as it plays — much like a TikTok Duet.
The feature, which Snap confirms has launched into external testing, follows Instagram’s public test of a similarly named “Remix” feature focused on Reels content. (It had also tested a version for Stories as a first step.)
In Instagram’s case, the company explains that Remix lets anyone create an Instagram Reel where your video and theirs play side-by-side. This is, essentially, Instagram’s own version of TikTok Duets, a tool that’s often used to interact with other TikTok users’ content. In Duets, TikTok users can sing, dance, joke or act alongside another user’s video; cook someone else’s recipe; record reaction videos; boost videos from lesser-known creators; and more. It’s a core part of what makes TikTok feel like a social network, rather than just a platform for more passive video viewing.
Last fall, TikTok announced it was introducing several new layout options for Duets in addition to the left-right layout, including a new top-bottom layout, a special “react” layout, and a three-screen layout.
Some of those same Duet formats and others now appear to be under consideration by Snap, as well.
In its Remix feature, Snapchat users are presented with a screen where they can choose from a variety of options for combining Snaps — including the side-by-side and top-and-bottom formats, as well as others like where content is overlaid or where you could react to a Snap.
According to reverse engineer Alessandro Paluzzi, who first spotted the addition, Remix also offers a way for users to tag friends or other people they want to have permission to either remix or share their Snap via a new toggle switch.
It appears that users will be able to access the “Remix” feature from the same menu where you can today either report” a Snap or send it to others.
This menu, of course, is also available from within Snapchat’s new TikTok competitor, known as Spotlight, launched last year.
Though initially, Remix is being tested among friends, we understand that it’s expected to make its way to other parts of the Snapchat app in time. And likely, this would include Spotlight. Much like TikTok, Spotlight offers a video feed filled with short-form, entertaining videos that you can scroll through with up and down swipes, often set to popular music — thanks to Snap’s music industry deals. This would be a natural fit for Remixes, as it’s a common way for users to interact with each others’ content to create a dialog.
Snap confirmed with TechCrunch it’s beginning to test Remix on its app.
“I can confirm that externally we are testing the ability to reply to a friend’s story with a remixed Snap,” a spokesperson said. “It lets you build on your friend’s Snap while recording your own alongside the original as it plays for contextual conversations on Snapchat,” they noted.
The company didn’t offer an ETA for a broader rollout at this time.
Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.
Natasha and Danny and Alex and Grace were all here to chat through the week’s biggest tech happenings. This time around we had whatever passes for a quiet week as far as news volume. But that still meant we had to cut stuff and move the rest around. But, once we got done editing the notes doc down, here’s what was leftover:
Snap acquires Fit Analytics, a fitting technology startup: A far-past TechCrunch Disrupt alone has found a new home inside of the LA’s social leader. No price on this one, but a fun thing to talk about all the same.
What if we no longer needed cameras to make videos and can instead generate them through a few lines of coding?
Advances in machine learning are turning the idea into a reality. We’ve seen how deepfakes swap faces in family photos and turn one’s selfies into famous video clips. Now entrepreneurs with AI research background are devising tools to let people generate highly realistic photos, voices, and videos using algorithms.
One of the startups building this technology is China-based Surreal. The company is merely three months old but has already secured a seed round of $2-3 million from two prominent investors, Sequoia China and ZhenFund. Surreal received nearly ten investment offers in this round, founder and CEO Xu Zhuo told TechCrunch, as investors jostled to bet on a future shaped by AI-generated content.
Prior to founding Surreal, Xu spent six years at Snap, building its ad recommendation system, machine learning platform, and AI camera technology. The experience convinced Xu that synthetic media would become mainstream because the tool could significantly “lower the cost of content production,” Xu said in an interview from Surreal’s a-dozen-person office in Shenzhen.
Surreal has no intention, however, to replace human creators or artists. In fact, Xu doesn’t think machines can surpass human creativity in the next few decades. This belief is embodied in the company’s Chinese name, Shi Yun, or The Poetry Cloud. It is taken from the title of a novel by science fiction writer Liu Cixin, who tells the story of how technology fails to outdo the ancient Chinese poet Li Bai.
“We have an internal formula: visual storytelling equals creativity plus making,” Xu said, his eyes lit up. “We focus on the making part.”
In a way, machine video generation is like a souped-up video tool, a step up from the video filters we see today and make Douyin (TikTok’s Chinese version) and Kuaishou popular. Short video apps significantly lower the barrier to making a professional-looking video, but they still require a camera.
“The heart of short videos is definitely not the short video form itself. It lies in having better camera technology, which lowers the cost of video creation,” said Xu, who founded Surreal with Wang Liang, a veteran of TikTok parent ByteDance.
Some of the world’s biggest tech firms, such as Google, Facebook, Tencent and ByteDance, also have research teams working on GAN. Xu’s strategy is not to directly confront the heavyweights, which are drawn to big-sized contracts. Rather, Surreal is going after small and medium-sized customers.
Surreal’s face swapping software for e-commerce sellers
Surreal’s software is currently only for enterprise customers, who can use it to either change faces in uploaded content or generate an entirely new image or video. Xu calls Surreal a “Google Translate for videos,” for the software can not only swap people’s faces but also translate the languages they speak accordingly and match their lips with voices.
Users are charged per video or picture. In the future, Surreal aims to not just animate faces but also people’s clothes and motions. While Surreal declined to disclose its financial performance, Xu said the company has accumulated around 10 million photo and video orders.
Much of the demand now is from Chinese e-commerce exporters who use Surreal to create Western models for their marketing material. Hiring real foreign models can be costly, and employing Asian models doesn’t prove as effective. By using Surreal “models”, some customers have been able to achieve 100% return on investment (ROI), Xu said. With the multi-million seed financing in its pocket, Surreal plans to find more use cases like online education so it can collect large volumes of data to improve its algorithm.
The technology powering Surreal, called generative adversarial networks, is relatively new. Introduced by machine learning researcher Ian Goodfellow in 2014, GANs consist of a “generator” that produces images and a “discriminator” that detects whether the image is fake or real. The pair enters a period of training with adversarial roles, hence the nomenclature, until the generator delivers a satisfactory result.
In the wrong hands, GANs can be exploited for fraud, pornography and other illegal purposes. That’s in part why Surreal starts with enterprise use rather than making it available to individual users.
Companies like Surreal are also posing new legal challenges. Who owns the machine-generated images and videos? To avoid violating copyright, Surreal requires that the client has the right to the content they upload for moderation. To track and prevent misuse, Surreal adds an encrypted and invisible watermark to each piece of the content it generates, to which it claims ownership. There’s an odd chance that the “person” Surreal produces would match someone in real life, so the company runs an algorithm that crosschecks all the faces it creates with photos it finds online.
“I don’t think ethics is something that Surreal itself can address, but we are willing to explore the issue,” said Xu. “Fundamentally, I think [synthetic media] provides a disruptive infrastructure. It increases productivity, and on a macro level, it’s inexorable, because productivity is the key determinant of issues like this.”
Twitter recently held talks to acquire Indian social media startup ShareChat as the company explored ways to expand its presence in the world’s second largest internet market and build a global rival to TikTok, three sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.
The American firm, which is already an investor in Bangalore-based ShareChat, offered to buy the Indian startup for $1.1 billion and had committed an additional investment of $900 million, two of the sources said.
The talks are no longer ongoing, two sources said, requesting anonymity as the matter is private. TechCrunch could not determine why the talks did not materialize into a deal.
Two sources said Twitter had expressed intention to take Moj, a short-form video app that ShareChat owns, to international markets and position it as a rival to Chinese app TikTok.
Twitter declined to comment and ShareChat did not respond to a request for comment.
Moj, with over 80 million users already, has emerged as one of the largest players in the category. Earlier this month, Snap inked a deal with ShareChat to integrate its Camera Kit into the Indian short video app. This is the first time Snap had formed a partnership of this kind with a firm in India.
With the buyout offer no longer being entertained, ShareChat has resumed talks with other investors for its new financing round. These investors include Google, Snap, as well as Tinder-parent firm Match Group, the sources said. TechCrunch reported in January that the Indian startup was talking to Google and Snap as well as some existing investors including Twitter to raise over $200 million. A potential acquisition by Twitter prolonged the investment talks.
ShareChat, which claims to have over 160 million users, offers its social network app in 15 Indian languages and has a large following in small Indian cities and towns, or what venture capitalist Sajith Pai of Blume Ventures refer as “India 2.” Very few players in the Indian startup ecosystem have a reach to this segment of this population, which thanks to users from even smaller towns and villages — called “India 3” — getting online has expanded in recent years.
In an interview with TechCrunch last year, Ankush Sachdeva, co-founder and chief executive of ShareChat, said the startup’s marquee app was growing “exponentially” and that users were spending, on an average, more than 30 minutes a day on the service.
Twitter, itself, has struggled to make inroads outside of bigger cities and towns in India. Its app reached about 75 million users in the country in the month of January, according to mobile insight firm AppAnnie, data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch. It inked a deal with news and social app Dailyhunt to bring Moments — curated tweets pertaining to news and other local events — to the Google-backed Indian app.
The American social network has broadened its product offering in the past year amid pressure from activist investors to accelerate growth.
Snap has partnered with ShareChat’s Moj app to integrate its Camera Kit into the Indian app as the American social giant looks to accelerate its growth in the world’s second largest internet market.
This is the first time Snap has partnered with an Indian firm for its Camera Kit technology, which unlocks a range of augmented reality features, the two companies said. (Snap has partnered with a handful of firms including Triller for Camera Kit globally.)
Eight-month-old Moj creators will be able to use Snap’s AR technology from within the app, while some of the lenses their creators produce will be made available to Snap users, executives with the firms told TechCrunch in an interview.
Wednesday’s move comes amid an ongoing fundraise effort by ShareChat, which operates Moj and is a popular social network in India that caters to users in over a dozen local languages, which is in talks with Google, Snap, Twitter and other investors, TechCrunch reported last month.
Ben Schwerin, SVP of Content and Partnerships at Snap, said in an interview that today’s collaboration is the beginning of a relationship between the two firms, but declined to comment on any investment talks.
Schwerin said the collaboration with Moj will enable Snap to expand the reach of its AR technology to more users in India. Snap, which for years struggled to make inroads in India, has seen an impressive growth in the country in recent quarters. Snap had about 80 million monthly active users in India in the month of December (according to mobile insight firm App Annie, data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch), up from about 25 million a year ago.
Scores of startups in India are attempting to cash in on TikTok’s ban in the country. Indian conglomerate Times Internet’s MX Player has launched MX TakaTak, and news aggregator DailyHunt has expanded to short-form video with Josh. Their parent firm last week announced a fundraise of over $100 million, two months after Google participated in another over $100 million round into the startup.
Moj, which has released 30 Snap-powered lenses for its community at the launch, will develop over 400 lenses in the coming years, some in collaboration with Snapchat Official Lens Creators in India, it said.
“There’s going to be an incredible selection of AR lenses that are customized and localized for Moj’s audience, and we think there’s going to be lots of innovation and usecases that we couldn’t have seen on Snap alone,” said Schwerin, adding that creators have developed over 1.5 million lenses for Snap.
Gaurav Mishra, SVP of Product at ShareChat, said in an interview the partnership will enable Moj users to engage much more deeply with the community and stand above the crowd. He declined to share the level of resources ShareChat was planning to deploy for the creation of lenses. Both the firms declined to disclose financial terms of the deal.
Hardik Shah, who works at SuperFan Studio, one of the largest AR creative firms in India, told TechCrunch the proliferation of Snap’s AR tech will improve the quality of lenses and filters most people in India have access to.
“Brands need to realise that ‘What Disney characters are you’ is very 2019 and should be discarded as an idea in 2021. It’s OK not to do an AR Experience than going ahead with outdated and stale production,” he said.
Social media company Snap (which runs Snapchat) and game development software company Unity have joined Facebook in warning their investors that Apple’s imminent ad-tracking change will negatively impact their businesses.
As previously reported, Apple plans to use the next iOS update (iOS 14.5, due out in early spring) to implement a requirement that all apps on the platform gain user opt in to track users with IDFA (ID for Advertisers) tags. IDFA tags are used to track what users do across multiple apps in order to target advertising more effectively.
Social media giant Facebook has told its own investors that the coming change to Apple’s operating system could very negatively impact its advertising revenue, because this kind of tracking-based ad targeting is one of Facebook’s main ingredients for success.
Today, Andreessen Horowitz founder Marc Andreessen announced that social media product veteran Sriram Krishnan will be joining the firm as their latest general partner.
Krishnan, whose previous roles include stints at Snap, Facebook and Twitter, has gained a higher profile in recent weeks from his recurring audio show “The Good Time Show” on Clubhouse. His recent talk with Tesla CEO Elon Musk was something of a watershed moment for the audio chat platform driving plenty of new attention to the budding app.
This announcement follows a report in The Information regarding the hire earlier this week.
Krishnan’s hire comes at an interesting point for Andreessen Horowitz, the firm is at the center of plenty of chatter among media circles regarding their “go direct” content strategy. At the same time, a16z and its leadership have played an increasingly hard-nosed role in driving a broader backlash against tech media in recent years among founders and tech enthusiasts in their orbit. Krishnan has spent much of the past couple years building out his flirtations with “tech optimism” content with his interview newsletter “The Observer Effect,” his Clubhouse show and his prolific Twitter usage.
Broader “tech pessimism” among media outlets has, I think, partially been owed to a swift and outspoken shift in thinking regarding the societal responsibilities of social media platforms to more aggressively moderate the content they are surfacing on a global scale. Some of the partners at a16z, a Facebook backer, have been among the more vocal in pushing back on these critiques even as the executives at their portfolio companies have seemed more amenable to shift their thinking.
In his blog post, Andreessen notes that Krishnan will be joining the firm’s consumer team to invest in areas that include social.
Krishnan, well-regarded in tech circles, may play an important role at the firm as they approach more social investments in a world where the effects of rapidly scaled consumer platforms have become more understood. The firm and its partners have been throwing their full support behind Clubhouse in an aggressive push to promote the platform, flexing the firm’s celebrity connections and influence along the way as the platform quickly picks up millions of new users. Krishnan’s direct operator roles engaging with the product struggles of building platforms that responsibly scale will likely be an asset as the firm faces increased competition across an increasingly frothy venture market.
I believe I'm now supposed to say the words long expected of me.
Canonical released Ubuntu Core 20 today, and it is now available for download. If you’re already familiar with Ubuntu Core 20, the standout new feature is added device security with secure boot, full-disk encryption, and secure device recovery baked in. If you’re not familiar with Ubuntu Core yet… read on!
The key difference between regular Ubuntu and Ubuntu Core is the underlying architecture of the system. Traditional Linux distributions rely mostly on traditional package systems—deb, in Ubuntu’s case—while Ubuntu Core relies almost entirely on Canonical’s relatively new snap package format.
Ubuntu Core also gets a full 10 years of support from Canonical, rather than the five years traditional Ubuntu LTS releases get. But it’s a bit more difficult to get started with, since you need an Ubuntu SSO account to even log into a new Ubuntu Core installation in the first place.
An early Snapchat employee who once architected the “Our Stories” product, Chloë Drimal, has now launched her own social app, Yoni Circle. Described as a membership-based community, the app aims to connect womxn using storytelling — including through both live video chat sessions as well as with pre-recorded stories that are available at any time.
The company has been quietly operating in beta since April 2020, but is now making its public launch.
Drimal came up with the idea for a social storytelling app, in part, because she saw the potential when working on the Snapchat “Our Stories” product.
Image Credits: Yoni Circle; founder Chloë Drimal
“I got to see that storytelling connects us,” she explains. “I got to peer into global experiences like New Year’s Eve or witnessing the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, and I just saw firsthand how connected we are as people,” Drimal continues. “I got to see how that was affecting our Snapchat users and making them feel more connected to the world because of this art of storytelling,” she adds.
But another inspiration came from Drimal’s personal experience in being taken off the “Our Stories” product to work on other projects at Snap — a difficult time in her career that started to make her feel very alone. She later ended up having conversations with other women — often older women who shared their own experiences — who helped her realized that she wasn’t as alone as she first thought.
“Their stories empowered me to write my next chapter, and know that this wasn’t the end of my career as I dramatically thought as a twenty-five or twenty-four year-old. It really was just the beginning and it helped me see the healing of storytelling — but also the importance of what strangers being vulnerable can do,” she says.
After leaving Snap, where she had later run women’s initiatives, Drimal began hosting an in-person community focused around more structured storytelling circles. The community evolved to become what’s now the Yoni Circle app, whose beta version was built with help from former Snap engineer Akiva Bamberger, now a Yoni Circle advisor.
Image Credits: Yoni Circle
Today, the app has two main features: the interactive Storytelling Circles component and the more passive Yoni Radio.
The former allows members to join 60-minute moderated live video chat sessions with up to six womxn who connect with one another by listening to each others’ stories. During the Circle, a trained “Salonniere” guide will first lead the group through introductions, a breathing exercise, and will then introduce a storytelling prompt based on a specific theme, like “Stories on Gratitude,” or “Stories on Surprise,” for example.
The Salonnieres are not volunteers, but rather paid contractors who have undergone specific training to lead these sorts of sessions. Over time, they’ll also be able to gather members to paid web-based events, which could be things like yoga classes, book clubs, cooking classes and more.
Image Credits: Yoni Circle
The Circle sessions have a basic rule: take the stories with you, and leave the names behind. In other words, what’s shared in circles is meant to remain confidential, unless the member chooses to share it publicly. Anyone violating that rule will be banned.
Members are also advised to speak simply, leave their egos at the door, and respect differences. No one receives the topic beforehand, either, so members can’t rehearse their speeches and put on a “performance.” The act of participating is meant to be about authenticity and vulnerability.
During the session, each participant takes their turn to share their own story and will listen to the others’ in return. Users only speak when they have the “talking piece,” and they can react to another story with snaps, or by clicking a snap icon.
While the sessions may uplift members the way that group therapy does, they’re not really focused on addressing psychological issues. Instead, Drimal says members compare them to “a slumber party combined with a mindfulness class.”
Still, she says, members feel like participating is an act of self-care.
“You just feel lighter,” Drimal explains. “It’s hard not to listen to other stories, to see yourself and just be reminded that you aren’t alone in the highs and lows of life.”
Image Credits: Yoni Circle
Members can also opt to record their own stories and then set them as either public or private on their Yoni Circle profile. The team then curates the public stories to share as highlights on the app’s homepage, allowing users to listen at any time. This also powers the Yoni Radio feature.
Recently, the company had been testing a weekly broadcast of these recorded stories, but will soon trial a new “story of the day” feature instead.
The Yoni Circle app first launched into beta last April, just as the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. had begun. That led to people isolating themselves at home away from friends, extended family, and other social interactions — driving demand for new social experiences.
But Yoni Circle doesn’t quite fit into the new live, interactive mobile market that’s developed as of late, led by apps like Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces.
“I like to think we’ve carved out something different,” says Drimal. “It is intimate because we’re creating a safe space to be vulnerable…the things that I share in any circle I would never share on Clubhouse,” she says. “I think that’s also why we’ve been so focused on the way we grow our community. Yes, we’re looking to have millions of members, but we need to get there carefully.”
Currently, Yoni Circle is open to people who identify as womxn, and it involves an application process where you have to share who you are and what you’re looking to gain from the experience. Longer-term, the goal is to evolve the platform into a safe space that’s open to all.
Though the pandemic helped generate initial interest in the app — it now has members from 1,000 cities across 80 countries — the startup sees a future in the post-pandemic market with in-person events that further connect its members.
Yoni Circle today is available on iOS for free. It will later monetize through an Audible-like credits model which provides access to the Circle sessions.
WeChat continues to advance its shopping ambitions as the social networking app turns 10 years old. The Chinese messenger facilitated 1.6 trillion yuan (close to $250 billion) in annual transactions through its “mini programs,” third-party services that run on the super app that allow users to buy clothes, order food, hail taxis and more.
That is double the value of transactions on WeChat’s mini programs in 2019, the networking giant announced at its annual conference for business partners and ecosystem developers, which normally takes place in its home city of Guangzhou in southern China but was moved online this year due to the pandemic.
To compare, e-commerce upstart Pinduoduo, Alibaba’s archrival, saw total transactions of $214.7 billion in the third quarter.
WeChat introduced mini programs in early 2017 in a move some saw as a challenge to Apple’s App Store and has over time shaped the messenger into an online infrastructure that keeps people’s life running. It hasn’t recently disclosed how many third-party lite apps it houses, but by 2018 the number reached one million, half the size of the App Store at the time.
From Tencent’s strategic perspective, the growth in mini program-based transactions helps further the company’s goal to strengthen its fintech business, which counts digital payments as a major revenue driver.
A big proportion of WeChat’s mini programs are games, which the app said exceeded 500 million monthly users thanks to a boost in female and middle-aged users, as well as players residing in China’s Tier 3 cities, WeChat said.
The virtual conference also unveiled a set of other milestones from China’s biggest messaging app, which surpassed 1.2 billion monthly active users last year.
Among its monthly users, 500 million have tried the WeChat Search function. The Chinese internet is carved into several walled gardens controlled by titans like Tencent, Alibaba and ByteDance, which often block competitors from their services. When users search on WeChat, they are in effect retrieving information published on the messenger as well as Tencent’s allies like Sogou, Pinduoduo and Zhihu, rather than the open web.
WeChat said 240 million people have used its “payments score.” When the feature debuted back in 2019, there was speculation that it signaled WeChat’s entry into consumer credit finance and participation in the government’s social credit system. WeChat reiterated at this year’s event that the WeChat score does neither of that.
Like Ant’s Sesame Score, the rating system works more like a royalty program, “designed to build trust between merchants and users.” For instance, people who reach a certain score can waive deposits or delay payments when using merchant services on WeChat. The score, WeChat said, helped users save more than $30 billion in deposits a year.
WeChat’s enterprise version has surpassed 130 million active users. Its biggest rival, Dingtalk, operated by Alibaba, reached 155 million daily active users last March.
The one-day event concluded with the much-anticipated appearance of Allen Zhang, WeChat’s creator. Zhang went to great lengths to talk about WeChat’s nascent short-video feature, which is somewhat similar to Snap’s Stories. He didn’t disclose the performance of short videos because “the PR team doesn’t allow” him to, but said that “if we set a goal for ourselves, we will have to achieve it.”
Zhang also announced the WeChat team is weighing up an input tool for users. It’d be a tiny project given Tencent’s colossal size, but the project reflects Zhang’s belief in “privacy protection,” despite public skepticism about how WeChat handles user data.
“If we analyze [users’ chat history], we can bring great advertising revenue to the company. But we don’t do that, so WeChat cares a lot about user privacy,” asserted Zhang.
“But why do you still get ads [related to] what you have just said on WeChat? There are many other channels that process your information, not just WeChat. From there, our technical team said, ‘Why don’t we create an input tool ourselves?’”
Snapchat’s parent company Snap has acquired StreetCred, a New York City startup building a platform for location data.
Snap confirmed the news to TechCrunch and said the acquisition will result in four StreetCred team members — including co-founders Randy Meech and Diana Shkolnikov — joining the company, where they’ll be working on map- and location-related products.
A big component of that strategy is the Snap Map, which allows users to view public snaps from a given area and to share their location with friends. Last summer, the Snap Map was added to Snapchat’s main navigation bar, and the company announced that the product was reaching 200 million users every month.
At the same time, Snapchat has been adding other products that tie into a user’s locations, such as Local Lenses, which allow developers to create geography-specific augmented reality lenses that interact with physical locations.
Meech and Shkolnikov should be bringing plenty of mapping experience to Snap — Meech was formerly CEO at Samsung’s open mapping subsidiary Mapzen, and before that the senior vice president of local and mapping products at TechCrunch’s parent company AOL (subsequently rebranded as Verizon Media). Shkolnikov, meanwhile, is the former engineering director at Mapzen.
StreetCred had raised $1 million in seed funding from Bowery Capital and Notation Capital. When I spoke to Meech in 2018, he said his goal was to “open up and decentralize” location data by building a blockchain-based marketplace where users are rewarded for helping to collect that data.
While the financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed, the existing StreetCred platform will be shut down as part of the deal.
Snapchat locked President Donald Trump’s account after pro-Trump rioters stormed the United States Capitol. A Snap spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch that the action was taken on Wednesday and added that the company will monitor the situation closely before re-evaluating its decision.
This is not the first time Snap has taken action against Trump’s account over concerns about dangerous rhetoric from the president. In June, it announced content from Trump’s Snapchat would no longer be promoted in its Discover tab, and would only be visible to users if they subscribe to or search for it.
In a blog post published shortly before Snap announced its decision, co-founder and chief executive officer Evan Spiegel said that Snapchat “simply cannot promote accounts in America that are linked to people who incite racial violence, whether they do so on or off our platform.”
Unlike many other social media platforms, Snapchat was created for users to communicate with friends instead of a wider audience, the Snap spokesperson said. It has focused on making it harder to spread misinformation by relying on moderated and vetted content. For example, the Discover tab only features content from editorial partners like Reuters and other news organizations.
Many activists are calling for Twitter and Facebook to make their bans permanent, with ethics organization Accountable Tech tweeting that “the violent assault on the Capitol today has been heartbreaking, but not entirely unexpected. Sadly, Twitter and Facebook’s preparedness and response has been wildly inadequate. Simply labeling incitements of violence is not enough.”
The Indian social network is in advanced stages of talks to raise money from Google and Snap, three sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.
The new financing round — a Series E — is slated to be larger than $200 million with Google alone financing more than $100 million in it, the sources said, requesting anonymity as the talks are private. The round values ShareChat at more than $1 billion, two of the sources said.
Twitter as well as a couple of other existing investors are also engaging to participate in the round. ShareChat, Google, and Snap did not immediately respond to a request for comment. ShareChat has raised about $264 million to date and was valued at nearly $700 million last year.
The terms of the deal could change and the talks may not materialize into an investment, the sources cautioned. Local TV channel ET Now reported last year that Google was in talks to acquire ShareChat.
ShareChat’s marquee and eponymous app caters to users in 15 Indian languages. In an interview with TechCrunch last year, Ankush Sachdeva, co-founder and chief executive of ShareChat, said the app was growing “exponentially” and that users were spending, on an average, more than 30 minutes on the app each day.
If the deal goes through, it would be the first investment from Snapchat’s parent company into an Indian startup. Google, on the other hand, has been on a spree of late. The Android-maker last month invested in DailyHunt and InMobi’s Glance, both of which operate short-video apps.
Like the two, ShareChat also operates a short-video app. Its app, called Moj, had amassed more than 80 million monthly active users as of September last year, the startup said at the time.
The FTC is ordering the companies behind many of the largest social and video platforms to explain how they use the treasure troves of data they harvest from users. Amazon, TikTok owner ByteDance, Facebook, WhatsApp, Discord, Reddit, Snap, Twitter and YouTube were all sent the order, with a deadline set 45 days from now.
The FTC’s focus is on how these companies “collect, use, and present personal information, their advertising and user engagement practices, and how their practices affect children and teens.” Four of the FTC’s commissioners voted in favor of the order, with Commissioner Noah Joshua Phillips dissenting.
“Despite their central role in our daily lives, the decisions that prominent online platforms make regarding consumers and consumer data remain shrouded in secrecy,” Commissioners Rohit Chopra, Rebecca Kelly Slaughter and Christine S. Wilson said in a joint statement.
“… Policymakers and the public are in the dark about what social media and video streaming services do to capture and sell users’ data and attention. It is alarming that we still know so little about companies that know so much about us.”
The FTC’s new fact-finding mission is the latest federal action to put tech in its crosshairs, following last week’s news that the agency would sue Facebook over antitrust violations. The new order was issued under Section 6(b) of the FTC Act as a study of tech industry practices. It isn’t coupled with any law enforcement action, but that doesn’t preclude the agency from pursuing enforcement options with what it finds.
Last year the FTC signaled a deeper interest in tech, particularly on antitrust issues. The agency launched a purpose-built tech task force to monitor acquisitions and other potential competition-crushing behavior that raises red flags. In early 2020, the FTC launched an extensive separate study examining nearly a decade’s worth of acquisitions made by Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft.