Inside the unusual sequence of events behind one of the most important student free speech cases for 50 years.
It can be fun to try out new products, but only if we know what we’re signing up for.
At Snap’s Partner Summit, the company announced a number of updates to the company’s developer tools and AR-focused Lens Studio including several focused on bringing shopping deeper into the Snapchat experience.
One of the cooler updates involved the company’s computer vision Scan product which analyzes content in a user’s camera feed to quickly bring up relevant information. Snap says the feature is used by around 170 million users per month. Scan which has now been given more prominent placement inside the camera section of the app has been upgraded with commerce capabilities with a feature called Screenshop.
Users can now use their Snap Camera to scan a friend’s outfit after which they’ll quickly be served up shopping recommendations from hundreds of brands. The company is using the same technology for another upcoming feature that will allow users to snap pictures of ingredients in their kitchen and get served recipes from Allrecipes that integrate them.
The features are part of a broader effort to intelligently suggest lenses to users based on what their camera is currently focused on.
Business will now be able to establish public profiles inside Snapchat where users can see all of their different offerings, including Lenses, Highlights, Stories and items for sale through Shop functionality.
On the augmented reality side, Snap is continuing to emphasize business solutions with API integrations that make lenses smarter. Retailers will be able to use the Business Manager to integrate their product catalogs so that users can only access try-on lenses for products that are currently in stock.
Partnerships with luxury fashion platform Farfetch and Prada will tap into further updates to the AR platform including technical 3D mesh advances that make trying on clothing virtually appear more realistic. Users will also be able to use voice commands and visual gestures to cycle between items they’re trying on in the new experiences.
“We’re excited about the power of our camera platform to bring Snapchatters together with the businesses they care about in meaningful ways,” said Snap’s global AR product lead Carolina Arguelles Navas. “And, now more than ever, our community is eager to experience and try on, engage with, and learn about new products, from home.”
Evan Spiegel, the C.E.O. of Snap Inc., says he knows what users want: “fame, fortune” — and wearable A.R.
Snap wants users to get a more personal view of the world around them.
While products like Google Maps and Apple Maps have long-relied on data partners to juice the quality of their contextual insights, Snap is hoping it can give users a more hands-on approach to mixing and matching third-party tie-ins to its Snap Map product, allowing users to build a view of their geographic surroundings that tailored to their interests.
The new product — announced today at the company’s Snap Partner Summit — is called Layers and it allows users to add data from some of Snap’s chosen developer partners directly to their map so they can see the world in a very particular view.
“Layers are how the Map evolves from a singular product to a platform,” Snap’s Bryant Detwiller tells TechCrunch. “Ultimately, we just want our map to be more useful.”
Snap Map has aimed to be a fundamentally social product, designed around people and friends rather than cars and directions, Layers will theoretically allow its users some customization in deciding what points-of-interest they want their map to be structured around.
The company says that Snap Map has some 250 million monthly active users.
Like Snap’s approach with its Wechat-like Minis and Games, it’s starting things off pretty slowly when it comes to partnerships. It has two out of the gate — a partnership with Ticketmaster and restaurant review site The Infatuation.
With the Ticketmaster Layer, users will be able to sort through shows at nearby concert venues and can get transferred from the Layer directly to a new Ticketmaster Mini to buy tickets inside the Snapchat app. With The Infatuation, users can scan the map for editorialized recommendations for nearby restaurants with lists and reviews from the site. More of these partnerships on the way, though it doesn’t sound like Snap is planning to open the floodgates to developers anytime soon.
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.
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 23-year-old Brainerd, Minn., man was also ordered to pay $12 million for his role in the fire in Minneapolis, U.S. prosecutors said.
The justices struggled to determine how the First Amendment applies to public schools’ power to punish students for social media posts and other off-campus speech.
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.
Top performers are raking in cash as the company seeks to compete against TikTok and similar platforms.
Quite a bit has happened since Snap announced last week that it was indefinitely locking President Trump’s Snapchat account. But after temporary bans from his Facebook, Instagram and YouTube accounts as well as a permanent ban from Twitter, Snap has decided that it will also be making its ban of the President’s Snapchat account permanent.
Though Trump’s social media preferences as a user are clear, Snapchat gave the Trump campaign a particularly effective platform to target young users who are active on the service. A permanent ban will undoubtedly complicate his future business and political ambitions as he finds himself removed from most mainstream social platforms.
Snap says it made the decision in light of repeated attempted violations of the company’s community guidelines that had been made over the past several months by the President’s account.
“Last week we announced an indefinite suspension of President Trump’s Snapchat account, and have been assessing what long term action is in the best interest of our Snapchat community. In the interest of public safety, and based on his attempts to spread misinformation, hate speech, and incite violence, which are clear violations of our guidelines, we have made the decision to permanently terminate his account,” a Snap spokesperson told TechCrunch.
Snap’s decision to permanently ban the President was first reported by Axios.
Roblox announced today that it’s buying a digital avatar startup called Loom.ai. Purchasing a company that has focused singularly on creating more realistic human avatars is an interesting play for a gaming platform that has made such an impact by building experiences that tend to cast realism to the wayside.
We covered the company’s $1.35 million seed round back in 2016. The company brought in additional seed funding since then, scoring $5.9 million in total capital raised. The startup’s investors include Y Combinator, Samsung Ventures, Anorak Capital and Zach Coelius.
Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.
The startup was one in a long list of avatar companies to launch during the mid 2010’s that capitalized on computer vision advancements and aimed to build out a cross-game/cross-platform network of users that relied on their tech to create in-app avatars. This field of companies aimed to capitalize on opportunities in 3D that expanded beyond what companies like Snapchat had identified following its Bitmoji acquisition.
Over the years, Loom.ai shifted its effort from photorealism to creating more Memoji-like representations that allowed users to upload a 2D photo and automatically create a realistic 3D avatar. In recent years, Loom.ai focused heavily on enterprise opportunities. The company’s products also included a suite of integrations to build out personalized avatar stickers that could be used on messaging platforms like Slack or WhatsApp as well as live avatars that could be used during video calls.
Though Roblox has some of the more simplistic avatars on the market, this acquisition may suggest that the company is open to building out a system that places more of a premium on realism and more life-like facial animations. In a press release announcing the deal, Roblox shared that this acquisition “will accelerate the development of next-generation avatars.”
Today, Twitter announced that it is acquiring Squad and that the team from the screen-sharing social app will be joining Twitter’s ranks. Squad’s co-founders, CEO Esther Crawford and CTO Ethan Sutin, and the rest of the team will be coming aboard inside Twitter’s design, engineering, and product departments, Twitter tells us. Crawford specifically notes that she will be leading a product in the conversations space.
What isn’t coming aboard is the actual Squad app, which allowed users to share their screens on mobile or desktop and simultaneously video chat, a feature that aimed to find the friend use case in screen-sharing beyond the enterprise use case of presenting. The app will be shutting down tomorrow, Twitter confirms, an unwelcome surprise for its user base largely made up of teen girls.
Twitter declined to share further terms of the deal.
The app’s functionality seems like a natural fit for the service, thought the company did not confirm whether any tech was coming aboard as part of the deal. Twitter hasn’t been keen to keep separate apps functioning outside of the core Twitter app. Vine was infamously shut down, upsetting users who likely later rallied behind TikTok, a massive success story and perhaps one of the biggest missed opportunities for American social media companies. Meanwhile, Periscope which has largely bumbled along over the years, is in a particularly fragile place with app code emerging just today that indicates an impending shutdown for the app.
Squad was notably partnered closely with Snap and was an early adopter of many of the company’s Snap Kit developer tools. Building so much of the app using Snap’s developer tools could have made porting the tech to Twitter’s infrastructure a more complicated task, especially when considering how often Snap Kit apps are tied quite closely to the Snapchat user graph.
Squad raised $7.2 million in venture capital from First Round, Y Combinator, betaworks, Halogen Ventures, ex-TechCrunch editor Alexia Bonatsos’s Dream Machine and a host of other investors. Squad was in the right place at the right time in early 2020. When the pandemic first struck, CEO Esther Crawford told TechCrunch that usage of her app spiked 1100%.
Crawford spoke at length about the challenges of scaling a modern social app while avoiding the pitfalls of toxicity that so often seem to come with reaching new heights. In an interview with TechCrunch last year, she told us her team was “trying to learn from the best in what they did but get rid of the shit.”
In a Medium post, Crawford also took the opportunity of her startup’s exit to lobby investors to start backing more diverse founders.
“I hope that our exit will tip the scale a bit more toward convincing investors to put money into diverse teams because each success is another proof point that we, the historically under-capitalized and underestimated founders, are a good bet,” Crawford wrote in a Medium post. “Invest in women and people of color because we will make you money.”
Twitter is partnering with Snap to bring tweets into Snapchat with a native integration that both companies hope will push users away from screenshots and towards more interactive embeds.
Twitter users who are also logged into the Snapchat app on their phone will be able to access the functionality by tapping share on a particular tweet and navigating to the Snapchat icon where they’ll be able to share and react or comment on a Twitter post and send it to a friend or share on their story. The functionality will notably only work for tweets from public accounts, not protected ones.
The feature is rolling out on iOS for now, with Android integration “coming soon.”
Given how much content across Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Reddit originates from Twitter, it’s surprising that this functionality is arriving so deep into Twitter’s life as a company. They’ve long had a web embed integration which has allowed reporters to embed tweets into stories, but when it came to sharing on social media, Twitter’s strategy has deferred to the un-trackable and un-monetizable screenshot.
This has been low-hanging product rollout for Twitter which will likely be able to coax some non-Twitter users to enjoy content straight from the source, something the company has been vaguely alluding to in marketing campaigns over the years but is just now approaching with a direct integration into another company’s platform.
With Twitter now starting to roll out its Stories product Fleets to users, the company likely feels as though they have more feature familiarity to bring new users onboard from Snap who might not have experimented with the platform previously.
The truth is there aren’t a ton of integrations across social media channels, screen recordings and screen shots tell one platform’s story in an imperfect way on another’s. This integration comes as a result of updates made to Snap’s Snap Kit API and a particular feature called Creative Kit. Snap says that Spotify, Reddit, SoundCloud, Sendit, YOLO and GOAT have also created integrations that allow content from those apps to be shared across Snapchat.
Twitter didn’t rule out the expansion of this feature to other platforms in the future.
“This agreement with Snap was focused on this feature,” a Twitter spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We would love to partner with other platforms to enable people to share Tweets more widely. We hope this will be the first of many integrations of its kind.”
Snap today announced a new 2021 fund of $3.5 million that will be directed toward supporting Snapchat Lens creators and developers who are using the company’s Lens Studio tool to explore the use of AR technologies. The news kicked off Snap’s multi-day virtual event, Lens Fest, where it also announced an upgraded version of its Lens Studio software and revealed that Lenses made by the Snapchat community have now been viewed over 1 trillion times.
Snapchat’s Lenses have become a huge part of the app’s overall experience, especially now that development has been opened up to the wider Snapchat community. Today, Snap says there are tens of thousands of Lens Creators worldwide who have now made over 1.5 million Lenses to date.
Meanwhile, over 180 million people now interact with a Snapchat Lens every day — that’s up from just 70 million daily active users of Lenses when the Lens Explorer section first launched in the app.
The company wants to further invest in these community-made Lenses because they’re now driving the majority of the growth in Lens views among Snapchat users, where the top Lenses can climb to billions of views.
The new fund will build from Snapchat’s existing Creator Residency Program, announced at the Snap Partner Summit, which had allowed developers, creators and artists to apply for funding to make their Lenses. That program was focused on using technologies like SnapML, while two additional residency programs invested in areas like games, education and storytelling.
Snap says it will offer more details about how creators can tap into the new AR-focused $3.5 million fund sometime early next year.
In addition to the fund news, Snap revealed the update to Lens Studio (ver. 3.3), which adds new creator tools and workflows.
This includes a feature called My Lenses 2.0 for helping creators search and manage their own Lenses with a new tool. This lets them manage their Lenses in web browsers outside of the Lens Studio app, toggle between personal and sponsored Lens accounts, view their Lens status, set Lens visibility, as well as add tags, Scan Triggers, and Preview Videos.
The tool also introduces visual scripting which lets creators build complex logic for custom interactivity in their Lenses without coding. Other changes include improvements to compressing textures inside Lens Studio to help Lenses load faster and use less RAM; an updated Logger that will now group, filter and search messages; and a new Building Blocks feature that offers downloadable assets and helper scripts that help creators prototype, refine and add features to their Lens experiences.
Plus, the new Lens Studio adds several new templates, including a face morph templates that turn faces into 3D characters; a configuration template that uses UI widgets to create adjustable Lenses for shopping and try-on experiences; and a Tween template for building games and interactive experiences.
The Lens Fest virtual event will continue over the next three days, with sessions that focus on various technologies, like AR, Machine Learning, and LiDAR, as well as those about making Lenses successful, and other tips and tricks.
After taking on TikTok with music-powered features last month, Snapchat this morning is officially launching a dedicated place within its app where users can watch short, entertaining videos in a vertically scrollable, TikTok-like feed. This new feature, called Spotlight, will showcase the community’s creative efforts, including the videos now backed by music, as well as other Snaps users may find interesting.
Snapchat says its algorithms will work to surface the most engaging Snaps to display to each user on a personalized basis.
To do so, it will rank the Snaps in the new feed using a combination of factors, like how many other people found a particular Snap interesting, how long people spent watching it, if it was favorited or shared with friends, and more. The algorithms will also consider negative factors, like if a viewer skipped watching the Snap quickly, for example. Over time, the feed will become tailored to the individual user based on their own interactions, preferences, and favorites. This is a similar system to what TikTok uses for its “For You” feed.
However, on TikTok, only users with public profiles can have their videos hit the “For You” feed. Spotlight, meanwhile, can feature Snaps from users with both private or public accounts. These Snaps can be sent to Spotlight directly or posted to Our Story. The company says the Snaps from the private accounts will be featured in an unattributed fashion — that is, no name will be attached to the content. There will also be no way to comment on these Snaps or message the creator, Snapchat explains.
Users who are over 18 can opt in to public profiles in order to have their names displayed, which allows them to build a following. But while this allows users to private and directly reply to the creators, there are no public comment mechanisms on Spotlight.
That’s a different setup than on TikTok and gives Snapchat a way to avoid the much larger hassle of handling comment moderation.
The Spotlight feed itself, though, is moderated. The company says all Snaps that appear on the new feed will have to adhere to Snapchat’s Community Guidelines, which prohibit the spread of false information (including conspiracy theories), misleading content, hate speech, explicit or profane content, bullying, harassment, violence, and other toxic content. The Snaps must also adhere to Snapchat’s new Spotlight Guidelines, Terms of Service, and Spotlight Terms.
The Spotlight Guidelines specify what sort of content Snapchat wants, the format for the Snaps, and other rules. For example, they state the Snaps should be vertical videos with sound up to 60 seconds in length. They should also include a #topic hashtag and should make use of Snapchat’s Creative Tools like Captions, Sounds, Lenses or GIFs, if possible, The Snaps have to be appropriate for a 13+ audience, as well.
Captions are a new feature, designed for use in Spotlight. Also new is a continuous shooting mode for longer Snaps and the ability to trim singular Snaps.
The Snaps can also only use the licensed music from Snapchat’s own Sounds library and must feature original content, not content repurposed from somewhere else on the internet . That could limit accounts that repost internet memes, which tend draw large subscriber bases on rival platforms, like Instagram and TikTok.
In addition, Snaps in Spotlight won’t disappear from being surfaced in the feed unless the creator chooses to delete them.
Users will be alerted to the new Spotlight feature when they return to Snapchat following Monday’s launch. Afterward, they’ll be able to take Snaps as usual then choose whether they want to send them to their friends, to their Story, to Snap Map, or now to Spotlight.
The feed itself will be accessible through a prominent new fifth tab on the Snapchat home screen’s main navigation, and is designated with a Play icon.
To encourage users to publish to Spotlight, the company will distribute over $1 million USD every day to Snapchat users (16 and up) who create the top Snaps on Spotlight. This will continue through the end of 2020. The earnings will be determined by Snapchat’s proprietary algorithm that rewards users based on the total number of unique views a Snap gets per day (calculated using Pacific Time), as compared with others on the platform.
The company says it expects many users to earn money from this fund each day, but those with the most views will earn more than others. It will also monitor this feed for fraud, it warns.
With the music licensing aspects already ironed out, Snapchat is now looking to leverage the over 4 billion Snaps created by its users every day to power the new Spotlight feed. This move represents Snapchat’s biggest attempt at taking on TikTok to date — and one that it’s willing to kickstart with direct payments, too. That will likely encourage plenty of participation among Snapchat’s young user base, given they’re already using the app on a regular basis. And once posting to Spotlight becomes a habit, Snapchat could have a viable competitor on its hands, at least among the younger demographic that favors its app.
Its biggest disadvantage, of course, is that it has struggled to reach beyond its young user base. That’s something TikTok has done better with, by comparison. The Wall St. Journal last week noted that TikTok teens were often following accounts from senior citizens, for instance, and the AARP had earlier reported TikTok had attracted a middle-aged crowd, as well.
Snapchat says Spotlight is live today on both iOS and Android in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the U.K., Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and France, with more countries to come soon.
It’s called Fleets, and will allow users to post messages that vanish after 24 hours.
Selfie filters have improved immensely over the past several years, but companies on the forefront of the tech see plenty of room to grow.
The cosmetics world has also seen some rapid change in the past several years as makeup has proven particularly ripe for up-and-coming direct-to-consumer and influencer-endorsed brands to take hold. Plenty of legacy brands have seen their revenues decimated, while others have proven resilient by leaning into new tech and sales channel trends.
Back in 2018, L’Oréal made the interesting decision to buy an augmented reality filter company called Modiface. Fast forward to 2020 and they’ve opted to roll out a line of “virtual makeup” selfie filters. The “Signature Face” filters show off eye makeup, lipsticks, and hair products from the company.
They’ve gone fairly wide with the rollout supporting Instagram, Snapchat, Snap Camera and Google Duo. Snap Camera support in particular enables the selfies to be used across plenty of video chat services like Houseparty and Zoom, L’Oréal is marketing these selfies as a way to spice up your look on video calls specifically. You can check our more details on where you can use the filters on their site.
In terms of the filters themselves, there’s nothing terribly more advanced about them than the makeup-centric selfie filters that have been floating around Snapchat for years, but it is interesting to see such a substantial brand leaning in so heavily and pitching this idea where people use selfie filters during video calls in a non-gimmicky way. It’s not clear whether the technology or consumer habits are there yet but it’s certainly plausible that things could move in that direction, especially as social media apps begin a more-focused drive towards becoming commerce platforms.
Peter Hamby hosts “Good Luck America” on Snapchat. “My North Star is really the low-information news consumer,” he says. “That’s not an insult.”
Hello hello, and welcome back to Week in Review. Last week, I wrote about the possibility of a pending social media detente, this week I’m talking about a rising threat to Facebook’s biz.
If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox here, and follow my tweets here. And while I have you, my colleague Megan Rose Dickey officially launched her new TechCrunch newsletter, Human Capital! It covers labor and diversity and inclusion in tech, go subscribe!
The Big Story
First off, let me tell you how hard it was to resist writing about Quibi this week, but those takes came in very hot the second that news dropped, and I wrote a little bit about it here already. All I will say, is that while Quibi had its own unique mobile problems, unless Apple changes course or dumps a ton of money buying up content to fill its back library, I think TV+ is next on the chopping block.
This week, I’m digging into another once-maligned startup, though this one has activated quite the turnaround in the last two years. Snap, maker of Snapchat, delivered a killer earnings report this week and as a result, investors deemed to send the stock price soaring. Its market cap has nearly doubled since the start of September and it’s clear that Wall Street actually believes that Snap could meaningfully increase its footprint and challenge Facebook.
The company ended the week with a market cap just short of $65 billion, still a far cry from Facebook $811 billion, but looking quite a bit better than it was in early 2019 when it was worth about one-tenth of what it is today. All of a sudden, Snap has a new challenge, living up to high expectations.
The company shared that in Q3, it delivered $679 million in reported revenue, representing 52% year-over-year growth. The company currently has 249 million daily active users, up 4% over last quarter.
Facebook will report its Q3 earnings next week, but they’re still in a different ballpark for the time being, even if their market cap is just around 12 times Snap’s, their quarterly revenue from Q2 was about 28 times higher than what Snap just reported. Meanwhile, Facebook has 1.79 billion daily actives, just about 7 times Snapchat’s numbers.
Snap has spent an awful lot of time proving the worth of features they’ve been pushing for years, but the company’s next challenge might be diversifying their future. The company has been flirting with augmented reality for years, waiting patiently for the right moment to expand its scope, but Snap hasn’t had the luxury of diverting resources away from efforts that don’t send users back to its core product. Some of its biggest launches of 2020 have been embeddable mini apps for things like ordering movie tickets or bite-sized social games that bring even more social opportunities into chat.
Snap’s laser focus here has obviously been a big part of its recovery, but as expectations grow, so will demands that the company moves more boldly into extending its empire. I don’t think Snapchat needs to buy Trader Joe’s or its own ISP quite yet, but working towards finding its next platform will prevent the service from settling for Twitter-sized ambitions and give them a chance at finding a more expansive future.
Trends of the Week
These next few weeks are guaranteed to be dominated by U.S. election news, so enjoy the diversity of news happenings out there while it lasts…
Quibi is dead
Few companies that have raised so much money have appeared quite dead-on-arrival as Jeffrey Katzenberg’s mobile video startup Quibi. This week, the company made the decision to shut down operations and call it quits. More here.
Pakistan unbans TikTok
It appears that the cascading threat of country-by-country TikTok bans has stopped for now. This week, TikTok was unblocked in Pakistan with the government warning the company that it needed to actively monitor content or it would face a permanent ban. Read more here.
Facebook Dating arrives in Europe
Facebook Dating hasn’t done much to unseat Tinder stateside, but the service didn’t even get the chance to test its luck in Europe due to some regulatory issues relating to its privacy practices. Now, it seems Facebook has landed in the tentative good graces of regulatory bodies and has gotten the go ahead to launch the service in a number of European countries. Read more here.
Until next week,
Snap shares were up nearly 20% in after-hours trading after the company showcased a massive earnings beat, besting analyst expectations on both revenue and earnings per share for Q3. The company was already hovering above an all-time-high, with Tuesday’s beat poised to send the share price from just above $28 to just short of $34 per share.
The company posted a $0.01 revenue bet, best expectations of a $0.04 loss, but the real headline was that they delivered $679 million in reported revenue, smashing past Wall Street expectations that pinned their performance for the quarter around $555 million. The revenue numbers represented 52% year-over-year growth, showcasing a huge comeback for the company which has faced some difficult quarters as a public company since making their debut.
User growth was up 4% to 249 million daily active users from the 238 million they reported at the end of last quarter, an 18% year-over-year increase. The company still posted a net loss of $200 million, but that’s a 12% improvement from last years numbers.
Temporal, a Seattle-based startup that is building an open-source, stateful microservices orchestration platform, today announced that it has raised an $18.75 million Series A round led by Sequoia Ventures. Existing investors Addition Ventures and Amplify Partners also joined, together with new investor Madrona Venture Group. With this, the company has now raised a total of $25.5 million.
Founded by Maxim Fateev (CEO) and Samar Abbas (CTO), who created the open-source Cadence orchestration engine during their time at Uber, Temporal aims to make it easier for developers and operators to run microservices in production. Current users include the likes of Box and Snap.
“Before microservices, coding applications was much simpler,” Temporal’s Fateev told me. “Resources were always located in the same place — the monolith server with a single DB — which meant developers didn’t have to codify a bunch of guessing about where things were. Microservices, on the other hand, are highly distributed, which means developers need to coordinate changes across a number of servers in different physical locations.”
Those servers could go down at any time, so engineers often spend a lot of time building custom reliability code to make calls to these services. As Fateev argues, that’s table stakes and doesn’t help these developers create something that builds real business value. Temporal gives these developers access to a set of what the team calls ‘reliability primitives’ that handle these use cases. “This means developers spend far more time writing differentiated code for their business and end up with a more reliable application than they could have built themselves,” said Fateev.
Temporal’s target use is virtually any developer who works with microservices — and wants them to be reliable. Because of this, the company’s tool — despite offering a read-only web-based user interface for administering and monitoring the system — isn’t the main focus here. The company also doesn’t have any plans to create a no-code/low-code workflow builder, Fateev tells me. However, since it is open-source, quite a few Temporal users build their own solutions on top of it.
The company itself plans to offer a cloud-based Temporal-as-a-Service offering soon. Interestingly, Fateev tells me that the team isn’t looking at offering enterprise support or licensing in the near future, though. “After spending a lot of time thinking it over, we decided a hosted offering was best for the open-source community and long term growth of the business,” he said.
Unsurprisingly, the company plans to use the new funding to improve its existing tool and build out this cloud service, with plans to launch it into general availability next year. At the same time, the team plans to say true to its open-source roots and host events and provide more resources to its community.
“Temporal enables Snapchat to focus on building the business logic of a robust asynchronous API system without requiring a complex state management infrastructure,” said Steven Sun, Snap Tech Lead, Staff Software Engineer. “This has improved the efficiency of launching our services for the Snapchat community.”
Snapchat this summer announced it would soon release a new music-powered feature that would allow users to set their Snaps to music. Today, the company made good on that promise with the launch of “Sounds on Snapchat” on iOS, a feature that lets users enhance their Snaps with music from curated catalog of both emerging and established artists.
The music can be added to Snaps either pre or post capture, then shared without any limitations. You can post it to your Story or share directly with friends, as you choose.
At launch, the Snapchat music catalog offers “millions” of licensed songs from Snap’s music industry partners, the company says.
When users receive a Snap with Sounds, they can then swipe up to view the album art, the song title, and the name of the artist. There’s also a “Play This Song” link that lets you listen to the full song on your preferred streaming platform, including Spotify, Apple Music and SoundCloud.
This differentiates Snapchat’s music feature from rival TikTok, where a tap on the “sound” takes users to a page in the app that shows other videos using the same music clip. Only some of these pages also offer a link to play the full song, however.
To kick off the launch of the new Snapchat music feature, Justin Bieber and benny blanco’s new song “Lonely” will be offered as an exclusive in Snapchat’s Featured Sounds list today.
“Music makes video creations and communication more expressive, and offers a personal way to recommend music to your closest friends,” notes the company, in announcement about the feature’s launch.
Snap had said in August it would begin testing the new music feature and detailed the deals that made the addition possible.
To power Sounds on Snapchat, the company forged multi-year agreements with major and independent publishers and labels, including Warner Music Group, Merlin (including their independent label members), NMPA, Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner Chappell Music, Kobalt, and BMG Music Publishing.
The move to introduce a music feature is meant to counter the growing threat of the ByteDance-owned TikTok app, which has popularized short-form video sharing with posts set to music from a large catalog.
Though TikTok’s future in the U.S. remains uncertain due to the ever-changing nature of the Trump administration’s TikTok ban (and an election that could upset those plans), it still remains one of the top U.S. apps, with around 100 million monthly active U.S. users as of August. (TikTok is currently engaged in a lawsuit to challenge its ban, so the app remains live today.)
Social media companies have capitalized on the chaos surrounding a possible TikTok U.S. exit to promote their alternatives, like Triller, Dubsmash, Byte, and others, including, of course Instagram Reels.
Snapchat, meanwhile, touts its traction with a younger user base as its new music feature goes to launch.
In the U.S., Snapchat now reaches 90% of all 13-24 year-olds, which the company notes is more than Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger combined. It also reaches 75% of all 13-34 year-olds and, o average, more than 4 billion Snaps are created every day.
The feature is live now on iOS to start.
In other Snapchat music news, the company has partnered with Spotify to launch Spotify’s first Augmented Reality Portal Lens on Snapchat. The Lens allows users to experience a Latinx art gallery, in celebration of Latinx Heritage Month. Snapchat users open the Lens in World view to view art from include Orly Anan, Cristina Martinez, Luisa Salas, Pedro Nekoi, and D’Ana Nunez. The Lens will also raise awareness for Spotify’s Latin Hub in its own app.
After Wisam Dakka and André Madeira left Snap in 2018 the two longtime product developers and coders cast about for a new app to build.
Looking around they realized there was no financial product that spoke to the generation of consumers they’d spent the last bit of their professional lives working to build for, so they decided it would be their next project.
“Our insight is that an individual’s relationship with money is a delicate and an emotional one. Most financial apps are not adopted by the masses because they are strict, lack empathy, and are unconsciously perceived as judgmental, which is why they are often downloaded and then ignored,” said Madeira, in a statement.
Their solution, launching today, is Meemo .
It’s a combination of a personal financial monitoring, rewards and gifting, and social shopping app all rolled into one.
“One of the things we learned at snap if you want to reach the masses you need to change how you create an app. It has to be effortlessly,” said Madeira. “It has to be automatic and social as well so we want to build an app that is all of that combined.”
Once a user downloads Meemo and connects their main bank account or credit card to the app, Meemo will give that person insights into their spending history and potential rewards.
For most users, the initial experience will be through a gift card. Gifting, it turns out is what Dakka and Madeira think will be the secret sauce for the company’s growth (although getting people to use something if they’re being given money or free stuff is hardly rocket science).
There’s also the social element which the two men think will be a draw as well. Meemo provides recommendations and social validation from friends by harvesting their buying history and sharing it with you.
Once a user downloads Meemo and has the history of their transactions, the app will surface the places where user’s spend the most money. They can then send gift cards to their friends for their favorite restaurants. The goal, eventually, is to get restaurants to subsidize the gifting portion and have their shoppers act as a direct marketing channel.
Shops won’t be able to see who’s getting the gifts until they come into the store. What Meemo hopes to do is gather a profile of a user’s shopping behavior based on their purchases and offer them discounts to places that they may not frequent as often, but match their consumer profile.
Backing the company are investors including Saama Capital, Greycroft, monashees, and Sierra Ventures along with individual investors Amit Singhal, Hans Tung, and serial entrepreneurs and the co-founders’ colleagues from Google and Snap.
Madeira and Dakka first met working on Google Search and went on to found Snap’s San Francisco office. And the team is rounded out by long-time friends like Robson Araújo and Ranveer Kunal.
“We are very excited to back Dakka and Madeira in their creation of a new age finance app at Meemo that will combine improved financial management with deeper social engagement for today’s generation”, said Ash Lilani, Managing Partner at Saama Capital, in a statement. “With Dakka and Madeira’s past experience of assembling talented teams and building viral products, we believe Meemo has an opportunity to become a leader in this space”.
Gen Z and millennial users have found community on the app, particularly during the last few isolating months. And for some of them, it’s their livelihood.
Companies like YouTube, Condé Nast and Vice addressed systemic inequality and economic uncertainty while showcasing their new offerings to advertisers.
It’s time for companies to move beyond mere tweets and hire more black employees at every level.
The multiyear pacts, which also included the N.B.A., NBCUniversal and ViacomCBS, will supply the platform with more short-form original and unscripted shows.
The social media company’s decision follows Twitter’s moves to label Mr. Trump’s posts inaccurate or as inciting violence.
The move is a stark change from an office-centric culture. But there’s a catch: Salaries are likely to change to match local costs of living.
If you can’t stop them, power them. That’s the strategy behind Snapchat App Stories, which launches today to let users show off their ephemeral content in other apps too. The first partners will let you post Stories to your dating profile in Hily, share them alongside [music] videos in Triller, watch them while screensharing in Squad, or give people a peek at your life in augmented reality network Octi. Developers can now sign up to add Stories to their apps.
Snapchat’s Stories format has been widely cloned, most famously by Instagram and Facebook, but with versions in various states of development for YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, SoundCloud, and more. Snapchat hopes to retain some grip on Stories and dissuade more copycats by letting developers bake the original version into their apps rather than building a bootleg attempt from scratch.
If you need Snapchat to share Stories to popular apps, that could boost content production plus subsequent viewership and ad impressions inside of Snapchat, remind people to shoot Stories, and make sure having a Snapchat account stays relevant. “We definitely think there’s a potential for monetization in App Stories but not yet” Snap’s VP of partnerships Ben Schwerin tells me. For now, Snapchat isn’t injecting ads into alongside Stories into other apps, though that’s clearly the plan.
“There are certain platforms out there that have decided they want to invest in building their own Stories product and their own camera, but it’s not a trivial thing to do. It takes resources and time. We think we can help developers do that” Schwerin explains. “Getting more people out there, regardless of age or where they live, comfortable using Stories probably makes them more likely to be able to pick up and enjoy Snapchat.”
Snapchat initially announced the plan for App Stories at its Partner Summit exactly a year ago. Unfortunately, its second annual developer conference that was set for this week was cancelled due to coronavirus.
Though advertising spend may be reduced, at least the app has experienced an increase in usage while everyone shelters in place. That includes third-party apps built on its Snap Kit platform that lets developers piggyback on Snapchat’s login, Bitmoji, and camera effects.
“We continue to see incredible growth from established apps like Reddit and Spotify and TikTok, and from startups that are really building from the ground up on Snap Kit like Yolo” Schwerin reveals. “People are spending more time at home and less time with friends. We’re seeing increased usage of Snapchat.”
Snap Kit has allowed Snapchat to rally would-be copycats into a legion of allies as it fights to stave off the Facebook empire. That strategy combined with a high-performance rebuild of its Android app for the developing world led Snapchat’s share price to grow from $11.36 a year ago to a recent high of $18.98 before coronavirus dragged it almost all the way back down.
Now, when people shoot a photo or video in the Snapchat camera, they’ll get options to share it not just to their Story or Snap Map and the crowdsourced community Stories, but also to their Story within other apps integrated with Snap Kit. Users will see options to syndicate their Story to products equipped with App Stories where they’re already logged in.
Unlike on Snapchat where Stories disappear after 24 hours, they default to a 7-day expiration in other App Stories. That relieves users of having to constantly post ephemeral Snaps to keep their dating or social app profiles stocked with biographical content.
In Hily, Snapchat Stories partially replaces the homegrown version it’d spun up in the meantime to show potential dates off-the-cuff looks at people’s lives. In Triller, users can tap on a content creator’s profile pic to see biographical Stories instead of just their polished music videos. In Squad, users can co-watch Stories along with other things to screenshare. And in Octi, users can see someone’s Snapchat Story amongst other hidden content revealed by its augmented reality camera.
One app missing is Tinder, which Snapchat originally previewed as its launch partner at the App Stories reveal last year. Tinder is using Snapchat’s Bitmoji stickers, but may have gotten cold feet about Stories. The fact that Snap is only now launching App Stories, and still hasn’t officially launched Ad Kit that lets it inject its ads into other apps and split revenue with developers, shows it’s taking time to adjust to its platform strategy after years of shunning outside integrations. It still won’t reveal the revenue percentage split it’s applying to Ad Kit.
For Snapchat to gain momentum it needs two things: a constant influx of new users, eager to use its augmented reality camera and Bitmoji wherever they’re available, and more impressions to monetize with ads after Instagram stole the Stories use case for untold millions of older users. App Stories could help with both.
“The proliferation of stories as the primary way to share video content on mobile we think is a good thing” Schwerin concludes. But Snap has sat by idly as it’s served as the R&D lab for Facebook’s product. Now Snapchat needs to own the viewership and the ad dollars that Stories generate everywhere other than Facebook. Just coining the concept doesn’t bring in cash.