Deep fake video app Avatarify, which process on-phone, plans digital watermark for videos

Making deep fake videos used to be hard. Now all you need is a smartphone. Avatarify, a startup that allows people to make deep-fake videos directly on their phone rather than in the Cloud, is soaring up the app charts after being used by celebrities such as Victoria Beckham.

However, the problem with many deep fake videos is that there is no digital watermark to determine that the video has been tampered with. So Avatarify says it will soon launch a digital watermark to prevent this from happening.

Run out of Moscow but with a US HQ, Avatarify launched in July 2020 and since then has been downloaded millions of times. The founders say that 140 million deepfake videos were created with Avatarify this year alone. There are now 125 million views of videos with the hashtag #avatarify on TikTok. While its competitors include the well-funded Reface, Snapchat, Wombo.ai, Mug Life, Xpression, Avatarify has yet to raise any money beyond an Angel round.

Despite taking only $120,000 in angel funding, the company has yet to accept any venture capital and says it has bootstrapped its way from zero to almost 10 million downloads and claims to have a $10 million annual run-rate with a team of less than 10 people.

It’s not hard to see why. Avatarify has a freemium subscription model. They offer a 7-day free trial and a 12-month subscription for $34.99 or a weekly plan for $2.49. Without a subscription, they offer the core features of the App for free, but videos then carry a visible watermark.

The founders also say the app protects privacy, because the videos are processed directly on the phone, rather than in the cloud where they could be hacked.

Avatarify processes user’s photos and turns them into short videos by animating faces, using machine learning algorithms, and adding sounds. The user chooses a picture she wants to animate, chooses the effects and music, and then taps to animate the picture. This short video can then be posted on Instagram or TikTok.

The Avatarify videos are taking off on TikTok because teens no longer need to learn a dance or be much more creative than finding a photo of a celebrity to animate to.

Avartify says you can’t use their app to impersonate someone, but there is of course no way to police this.

Founders Ali Aliev and Karim Iskakov wrote the app during the COVID-19 lockdown in April 2020. Ali spent 2 hours writing a program in Python to transfer his facial expressions to the other person’s face and use a filter in Zoom. The result was a real-time video, which could be streamed to Zoom. He joined a call with Elon Mask’s face and everyone on the call was shocked. The team posted the video, which then went viral.

The code on Github and immediately saw the number of downloads grow. The repository was published on 6 April 2020, and as of 19 March 2021 had been downloaded 50,000 times.

Ali left his job at Samsung AI Centre and devoted himself to the app. After Avatarify’s iOS app was released on 28 June 2020, viral videos on TikTok, created with the app, led it to App Store’s top charts without paid acquisition. In February 2021, Avatarify was ranked first among Top Free Apps worldwide. Between February and March, the app 2021 generated more than $1M in revenue (Source: AppMagic).

However, despite Avartify’s success, the ongoing problems with deep-fake videos remain, such as using these apps to make non-consensual porn, using the faces of innocent people.

#apps, #artificial-intelligence, #europe, #github, #instagram, #mobile-applications, #mobile-software, #moscow, #python, #reface, #samsung, #smartphone, #snapchat, #software, #tc, #tiktok, #united-states, #venture-capital, #video-hosting

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Snapchat is developing its own take on TikTok Duets with a new ‘Remix’ feature

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.

Image Credits: Photo of Snapchat’s Remix feature via @alex193a on Twitter

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.

Image Credits: Photo of Snapchat’s Remix feature via @alex193a on Twitter (opens in a new window)

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.

#apps, #creators, #remix, #snap, #snap-inc, #snapchat, #social, #social-media, #social-network, #spotlight, #tiktok, #video

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Snap partners with ShareChat’s Moj to roll out Camera Kit

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.

ShareChat has amassed over 160 million monthly active users in India, while its Moj app, which was launched after New Delhi banned TikTok in June last year, had about 80 million users in September last year, according to the startup.

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.

Global giants are also not shying away from the opportunity. Facebook launched Instagram Reels in India last year, and YouTube launched Shorts, which is already garnering over 3.5 billion daily views in India, it said last month.

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.

#apps, #asia, #augmented-reality, #sharechat, #snap, #snapchat, #social

0

Early Snapchat employee debuts Yoni Circle, a social storytelling app for womxn

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.

The L.A. and New York-based team of seven is backed by $1.3 million in pre-seed funding, led by BoxGroup. Investors include Cassius Family, Advancit, and angels including Rent the Runway co-founder Jenny Fleiss, Mirror founder and CEO Brynn Putnam, Beme CTO Matt Hackett, early Snap engineer Daniel Smith.

Yoni Circle plans to raise a seed round in a few weeks.

#apps, #ios-apps, #mindfulness, #networking, #self-care, #snap, #snapchat, #social, #social-media, #social-networking, #startups, #tc, #video-chat, #women

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Snapchat permanently bans President Trump’s account

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.

#computing, #donald-trump, #facebook, #instagram, #instant-messaging, #operating-systems, #president, #snap-inc, #snapchat, #spokesperson, #tc, #trump, #twitter, #vertical-video

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App stores saw record 218 billion downloads in 2020, consumer spend of $143 billion

Mobile adoption continued to grow in 2020, in part due to the market forces of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to App Annie’s annual “State of Mobile” industry report, mobile app downloads grew by 7% year-over-year to a record 218 billion in 2020. Meanwhile, consumer spending grew by 20% to also hit a new milestone of $143 billion, led by markets that included China, the United States, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom.

Consumers also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone, the report found.

In another shift, app usage in the U.S. 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 on their mobile device.

The increase in time spent is a trend that’s not unique to the U.S., but can be seen across several other countries, including both developing mobile markets like Indonesia, Brazil and India, as well as places like China, Japan, South Korea, the U.K., Germany, France and others.

The trend isn’t isolated to any one demographic, either, but is seen across age groups. In the U.S., for example, Gen Z, millennials and Gen X/Baby Boomers spent 16%, 18% and 30% more time in their most-used apps year-over-year, respectively. However, what those favorite apps looked like was very different.

For Gen Z in the U.S., top apps on Android phones included Snapchat, Twitch, TikTok, Roblox and Spotify.

Millennials favored Discord, LinkedIn, PayPal, Pandora and Amazon Music.

And Gen X/Baby Boomers used Ring, Nextdoor, The Weather Channel, Kindle and ColorNote Notepad Notes.

The pandemic didn’t necessarily change how consumers were using apps in 2020, but rather accelerated mobile adoption by two to three years’ time, the report found.

Investors were also eager to fuel mobile businesses as a result, pouring $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year. According to Crunchbase data, 26% of total global funding dollars in 2020 went to businesses that included a mobile solution.

From 2016 to 2020, global funding to mobile technology companies more than doubled compared with the previous five years, and was led by financial services, transportation, commerce and shopping.

Mobile gaming adoption also continued to grow in 2020. Casual games dominated the market in terms of downloads (78%), but Core games accounted for 66% of games’ consumer spend and 55% of the time spent.

With many stuck inside due to COVID-19 lockdowns and quarantines, mobile games that offered social interaction boomed. Among Us, for example, became a breakout game in several markets in 2020, including the U.S.

Other app categories saw sizable increases over the past year, as well.

Time spent in Finance apps in 2020 was up 45% worldwide, outside of China, and participation in the stock market grew 55% on mobile, thanks to apps like Robinhood in the U.S. and others worldwide, that democratized investing and trading.

TikTok had a big year, too.

The app saw incredible 325% year-over-year growth, despite a ban in India, and ranked in the top five apps by time spent. The average monthly time spent per user also grew faster than nearly every other app analyzed, including 65% in the U.S. and 80% in the U.K., surpassing Facebook. TikTok is now on track to hit 1.2 billion active users in 2021, App Annie forecasts.

Other video services boomed in 2020, thanks to a combination of new market entrants and a lot of time spent at home. Consumers spent 40% more hours streaming on mobile devices, with time spent in streaming apps peaking in the second quarter in the west as the pandemic forced people inside.

YouTube benefitted from this trend, as it became the No. 1 streaming app by time spent among all markets analyzed except China. The time spent in YouTube is up to 6x that of the next closet app at 38 hours per month.

Of course, another big story for 2020 was the rise of e-commerce amid the pandemic. This made the past year the biggest ever for mobile shopping, with an over 30% increase in time spent in Shopping apps, as measured on Android phones outside of China.

Mobile commerce, however, looked less traditional in 2020.

Social shopping was a big trend, with global downloads of Pinterest and Instagram growing 50% and 20% year-over-year, respectively.

Livestreaming shopping grew, too, led by China. Downloads of live shopping TaoBao Live in China, Grip in South Korea and NTWRK in the U.S. grew 100%, 245% and 85%, respectively. NTWRK doubled in size last year, and now others are entering the space as well — including TikTok, to some extent.

The pandemic also prompted increased usage of mobile ordering apps. In the U.S., Argentina, the U.K., Indonesia and Russia, the app grew by 60%, 65%, 70%, 80% and 105%, respectively, in Q4.

Business apps, like Zoom and Google Meet among others, grew 275% in Q4, for example, as remote work and sometimes school, continued.

The analysis additionally included lists of the top apps by downloads, spending and monthly active users (MAUs).

Although TikTok had been topping year-end charts, Facebook continued to beat it in terms of MAUs. Facebook-owned apps controlled the top charts by MAUs, with Facebook at No. 1 followed by WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram.

TikTok, however, had more downloads than Facebook and ranked No. 2 by consumer spending, behind Tinder.

The full report is available only as an online interactive experience this year, not a download. The report largely uses data from both the iOS App Store and Google Play, except where otherwise noted.

#amazon, #android, #app-annie, #apps, #argentina, #brazil, #china, #computing, #e-commerce, #facebook, #financial-services, #france, #freeware, #germany, #google, #india, #indonesia, #instagram, #japan, #kindle, #linkedin, #messenger, #mobile-app, #mobile-applications, #mobile-commerce, #mobile-device, #mobile-devices, #mobile-technology, #operating-systems, #pandora, #paypal, #pinterest, #roblox, #russia, #snapchat, #social-media, #software, #south-korea, #spotify, #the-weather-channel, #tiktok, #twitch, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #video-services

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Snap acquires location data startup StreetCred

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.

#bowery-capital, #fundings-exits, #mobile, #notation-capital, #snap, #snapchat, #social, #startups, #streetcred, #tc

0

Snapchat locks President Donald Trump’s account

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.

Twitter also locked Trump out of his account after forcing the removal of three tweets, but that action may last for only twelve hours. Facebook and Instagram locked Trump out of posting for 24 hours and blocked the #StormTheCapitol hashtag.

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.”

#apps, #president-donald-trump, #snap, #snapchat, #social-media, #tc, #u-s-capitol

0

Google and Snap in talks to invest in India’s ShareChat

ShareChat, which added Twitter as an investor in 2019, is in talks to add two more American giants to its captable.

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.

Last year, Google said it would invest $10 billion in India over the course of five to seven years. Days later, the company invested $4.5 billion in Indian telecom giant Jio Platforms.

More to follow…

#apps, #asia, #funding, #google, #india, #sharechat, #snap, #snapchat, #twitter

0

FTC kicks off sweeping privacy probe of nine major social media firms

A scalpel labeled FTC is surrounded by the logos of social media giants.

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Ars Technica)

The Federal Trade Commission is stepping up its digital privacy work and has asked just about every major social media platform you can think of to explain what personal data it collects from users and why.

The requests for information went out today to nine platforms (or their parent companies, where applicable), including Discord, Facebook, Reddit, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitch, Twitter, WhatsApp, and YouTube, according to the press release. The companies that receive the orders have 45 days to explain to the FTC:

  • How social media and video streaming services collect, use, track, estimate, or derive personal and demographic information
  • How they determine which ads and other content are shown to consumers
  • Whether they apply algorithms or data analytics to personal information
  • How they measure, promote, and research user engagement
  • How their practices affect children and teens

A sample order (PDF) shows the depth and specificity of the information the FTC is requesting from each firm, including extremely granular data about monthly and daily active users, business and advertising strategies, and potential plans for acquisitions or divestments. Interestingly, each firm is also required to say how many users it has inaccurate demographic information for and how it accounts for targeted advertising, including inaccurately targeted advertising. In other words, among other things the FTC wants to know: do you give advertisers their money back if you don’t actually target the groups they’re trying to reach?

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#alphabet, #amazon, #consumer-privacy, #data-privacy, #discord, #facebook, #federal-trade-commission, #ftc, #policy, #privacy, #reddit, #snapchat, #tiktok, #twitch, #twitter, #whatsapp, #youtube

0

Roblox buys digital avatar startup Loom.ai

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.

Image via Loom.ai

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.”

#avatar, #bitmoji, #bitstrips, #computing, #films, #mobile-applications, #online-games, #roblox, #samsung-ventures, #snap-inc, #snapchat, #tc, #virtual-reality, #y-combinator, #zach-coelius

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Twitter acquires screen-sharing social app Squad

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.

Image via Twitter

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.”

#alexia-bonatsos, #ceo, #computing, #cto, #editor, #esther-crawford, #microblogging, #operating-systems, #real-time-web, #snap, #snap-inc, #snapchat, #social-media, #software, #tc, #text-messaging, #twitter, #venture-capital, #vine, #y-combinator

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Snap launches a native Twitter integration

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.”

#android, #api, #computing, #facebook, #instagram, #instant-messaging, #operating-systems, #snap-inc, #snapchat, #social-media, #software, #soundcloud, #spokesperson, #spotify, #tc, #twitter, #vertical-video

0

Snap announces $3.5M fund directed toward AR Lens creation

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.

Image Credits: Snap

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.

Image Credits: Snap

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.

#apps, #ar, #augmented-reality, #lens-studio, #lidar, #machine-learning, #snap, #snap-inc, #snapchat, #social

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Daily Crunch: Snapchat adds Spotlight

Snapchat introduces a TikTok-style feed, Amazon Echo Buds add fitness tracking and Vettery acquires Hired. This is your Daily Crunch for November 23, 2020.

The big story: Snapchat adds Spotlight

Snapchat has introduced a dedicated feed where users can watch short, entertaining videos — pretty similar to TikTok. This comes after the app also added TikTok-like music features last month.

Starting today, users will be able to send their Snaps to the new Spotlight feed. Viewers will be able to send direct messages to creators with public profiles (Spotlight will also include anonymous content from private accounts), but there will be no public commentary on these videos.

To encourage creators to post to Spotlight, Snapchat says it will be distributing more than $1 million every day who create the top videos on Spotlight.

The tech giants

Amazon’s Echo Buds get new fitness tracking features — Say “Alexa, start my workout” with the buds in, and they’ll begin logging steps, calories, distance, pace and duration of runs.

Uber refused permission to dismiss 11 staff at its EMEA HQ —The Dutch Employee Insurance Agency has refused to give Uber permission to dismiss 11 people at the company’s EMEA headquarters.

Facebook launches ‘Drives,’ a US-only feature for collecting food, clothing and other necessities for people in need — The feature is being made available through Facebook’s existing Community Help hub.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Relativity Space raises $500M as it sets sights on the industrialization of Mars — LA-based rocket startup Relativity had a big 2020, completing work on a new 120,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Long Beach.

Resilience raises over $800M to transform pharmaceutical manufacturing in response to COVID-19 — The company will invest heavily in developing new manufacturing technologies across cell and gene therapies, viral vectors, vaccines and proteins.

Video mentoring platform Superpeer raises $8M and launches paid channels — The Superpeer platform allows experts to promote, schedule and charge for one-on-one video calls with anyone who might want to ask for their advice.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Seven things we just learned about Sequoia’s European expansion plans — Steve O’Hear interviews Luciana Lixandru and Matt Miller about the firm’s plans.

Founders seeking their first check need a fundraising sales funnel — Start digging the well before you’re thirsty.

Will Brazil’s Roaring 20s see the rise of early-stage startups? — In September, homegrown startups raised a record $843 million.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. And until November 30, you can get 25% off an annual membership.)

Everything else

Vettery acquires Hired to create a ‘unified’ job search platform — Vettery CEO Josh Brenner said the two platforms are largely complementary.

Gift Guide: Which next-gen console is the one your kid wants? — This holiday season, the next generation of gamers will be hoping to receive the next generation of gaming consoles.

Original Content podcast: ‘The Crown’ introduces its Princess Diana — The new season focuses on Queen Elizabeth’s relationship with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and on Prince Charles’ troubled marriage to Diana, Princess of Wales.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

#apps, #daily-crunch, #mobile, #snap, #snapchat, #social

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Snapchat launches a TikTok-like feed called Spotlight, kick-started by paying creators

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.

Image Credits: Snap

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.

Image Credits: Snap

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.

Image Credits: Snap

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.

#apps, #instant-messaging, #mobile, #mobile-applications, #snap, #snap-inc, #snapchat, #social, #social-media, #spotlight, #tc, #tiktok, #vertical-video, #video

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L’Oréal rolls out a line of ‘virtual makeup’

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.

#computing, #google, #instagram, #internet-culture, #loreal, #mobile-applications, #mobile-software, #operating-systems, #selfie, #snap, #snap-inc, #snapchat, #software, #tc

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Facebook’s Snapchat-like ‘Vanish Mode’ feature arrives on Messenger and Instagram

Facebook today announced its new Snapchat-like feature for disappearing messaging, Vanish Mode, is arriving on Messenger and Instagram. The feature, meant for more casual conversations, allows users to set chats to automatically delete after the message is seen and the chat is closed.

In Vanish Mode, Messenger and Instagram users can send text chats, emoji, pictures, GIFs, voice messages, and stickers, which will disappear after they’ve been seen and users leave the chat, Facebook explains.

Image Credits: Facebook

However, unlike on Snapchat, Vanish Mode is not a default setting. Instead, users are meant to enable it from within an existing chat by swiping up on their mobile device’s screen while in the chat.

Upon first launch, a screen will appear explaining how Vanish Mode works. It also notes that users will be alerted if someone takes a screenshot of the conversation — as Snapchat does.

For safety purposes, Facebook supports blocking and reporting in Vanish Mode. If a user in the conversation reports a chat, the disappearing messages will be included for up to 1 hour after they disappear, the company explains. This allows Facebook to review the reported conversation and take action, if need be.

Image Credits: Facebook

Vanish Mode is also an opt in experience — meaning you can can choose whether to enter a Vanish Mode chat. And it only works with people you’re connected to, Facebook says.

Once in Vanish Mode, the screen goes dark to signal the change. To exit Vanish Mode, you tap on the “Turn Off Vanish Mode” button at the top of the screen.

Facebook’s plans for Vanish mode were announced earlier as part of its overhaul of the Instagram messaging experience in September. This update had included the ability for Instagram and Messenger users to communicate across apps, along with other “fun” features.

As a part of that update, Instagram received many Messenger-inspired additions — like the ability to change the chat color or react with any emoji, for example. But though announced, the Vanish Mode feature was then said to be coming “soon.”

Image Credits: Facebook

To be clear, Vanish Mode is not designed to cater to those looking to secure an entire conversation. Though the feature is end-to-end encrypted, Facebook already offers a fully end-to-end encrypted conversations feature, Secret Conversations. Instead, Vanish Mode’s main focus is to chip away at yet another advantage held by rival Snapchat.

That’s part for the course for Facebook these days. The company already copied the Stories format popularlized Snapchat, and now that product alone on each of its platforms is used by more people (500M+) than all of Snapchat. (249M).

To get Vanish Mode, and other recent updates to the Instagram messaging experience, users have to opt-in to the upgrade. Essentially, these new features are being used as lures to get Instagram users to agree to the upgrade.

The upgrade then locks them further inside the Facebook universe as they then also receive the ability to communicate cross-platform with users on Facebook. Eventually, WhatsApp may become a part of this cross-platform communication strategy, as well.

Once upgraded, people can use just one messaging apps to reach friends and family on two of the largest social networks in the world. And with additions like Vanish Mode, they won’t miss out on things found on competitors’ apps. Meanwhile, with Reels on Instagram, Facebook aims to retain TikTok users, too.

Facebook says Vanish Mode is launching starting today on Messenger in the U.S. Canada, Mexico, Peru and Bangladesh, and on Instagram (soon) in Canada, Argentina, Chile, Peru and a few other countries. It will soon roll out to other countries across both platforms, the company says.

 

#apps, #facebook, #facebook-messenger, #instagram, #messaging-apps, #messenger, #snapchat, #social, #social-media, #social-networks

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Week in Review: Snapchat strikes back

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!


Image: TechCrunch

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.


Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

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,

Lucas M.

#apple, #computing, #europe, #facebook, #instant-messaging, #isp, #jeffrey-katzenberg, #megan-rose-dickey, #mobile-applications, #mobile-software, #pakistan, #quibi, #snap, #snap-inc, #snapchat, #software, #tc, #tiktok, #trader, #united-states, #vertical-video, #week-in-review

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Quibi’s shortform life

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast (now on Twitter!), where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

Myself, along with Danny and Natasha had a lot to get through, and more to say than expected. A big thanks to Chris for cutting the show down to size.

Now, what did we get to? Aside from a little of everything, we ran through:

Whew! It was a lot, but also very good fun. Look for clips on YouTube if you’d like, and we’ll chat you all next Monday.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

#equity-podcast, #fundings-exits, #netflix, #quibi, #snapchat, #startups, #tc

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Watch the trailer for ‘First Person,’ a climate-focused series shot on Snapchat Spectacles

Snapchat is about to launch “First Person,” the first of its original series to be shot on Snapchat Spectacles.

The idea of filming a documentary using AR-centric eyewear might sound gimmicky, but “First Person” is tackling a weighty topic: climate change.

The series is produced by journalist Yusuf Omar (who said he’s been wearing Spectacles “every day of my life since 2016”) and his Hashtag Our Stories program, which has trained more than 10,000 people in 140 countries to create journalism with their mobile phones.

“First Person” sounds like an extension of that work — the team sent Spectacles to subjects in six countries so that they could document the work that they’re doing to fight climate change.

“When Covid-19 hit, a lot of global media productions stopped shooting,” Omar told me via email. “But our innovators didn’t stop working. Shipping Spectacles to them allowed us to reach stories, otherwise impossible to tell during the coronavirus crisis.”

He added that filming with Spectacles isn’t just a production method — it also allows viewers to literally see things from a climate activist’s perspective.

“The beauty of capturing POV Specs footage for a series like this is that we get to witness change makers actually getting their hands dirty and creating, upcycling, recycling and making the change they want to see,” he said. “Their physical actions, seeing both hands at work, through their vantage point make their actions relatable, interesting and immersive. When young audiences watch it, they think ‘I can probably do that too.’”

In fact, the series also includes AR lenses for each episode — one lens, for example, will add cracks to your floor to indicate water shortage, while another will add carbon dioxide clouds in the sky to illustrate carbon emissions.

“First Person” premieres this Saturday, October 24. You can watch the trailer below.

 

#media, #mobile, #snap, #snapchat

0

We need universal digital ad transparency now

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg, Mr. Dorsey, Mr. Pichai and Mr. Spiegel: We need universal digital ad transparency now!

The negative social impacts of discriminatory ad targeting and delivery are well-known, as are the social costs of disinformation and exploitative ad content. The prevalence of these harms has been demonstrated repeatedly by our research. At the same time, the vast majority of digital advertisers are responsible actors who are only seeking to connect with their customers and grow their businesses.

Many advertising platforms acknowledge the seriousness of the problems with digital ads, but they have taken different approaches to confronting those problems. While we believe that platforms need to continue to strengthen their vetting procedures for advertisers and ads, it is clear that this is not a problem advertising platforms can solve by themselves, as they themselves acknowledge. The vetting being done by the platforms alone is not working; public transparency of all ads, including ad spend and targeting information, is needed so that advertisers can be held accountable when they mislead or manipulate users.

Our research has shown:

  • Advertising platform system design allows advertisers to discriminate against users based on their gender, race and other sensitive attributes.
  • Platform ad delivery optimization can be discriminatory, regardless of whether advertisers attempt to set inclusive ad audience preferences.
  • Ad delivery algorithms may be causing polarization and make it difficult for political campaigns to reach voters with diverse political views.
  • Sponsors spent more than $1.3 billion dollars on digital political ads, yet disclosure is vastly inadequate. Current voluntary archives do not prevent intentional or accidental deception of users.

While it doesn’t take the place of strong policies and rigorous enforcement, we believe transparency of ad content, targeting and delivery can effectively mitigate many of the potential harms of digital ads. Many of the largest advertising platforms agree; Facebook, Google, Twitter and Snapchat all have some form of an ad archive. The problem is that many of these archives are incomplete, poorly implemented, hard to access by researchers and have very different formats and modes of access. We propose a new standard for universal ad disclosure that should be met by every platform that publishes digital ads. If all platforms commit to the universal ad transparency standard we propose, it will mean a level playing field for platforms and advertisers, data for researchers and a safer internet for everyone.

The public deserves full transparency of all digital advertising. We want to acknowledge that what we propose will be a major undertaking for platforms and advertisers. However, we believe that the social harms currently being borne by users everywhere vastly outweigh the burden universal ad transparency would place on ad platforms and advertisers. Users deserve real transparency about all ads they are bombarded with every day. We have created a detailed description of what data should be made transparent that you can find here.

We researchers stand ready to do our part. The time for universal ad transparency is now.

Signed by:

Jason Chuang, Mozilla
Kate Dommett, University of Sheffield
Laura Edelson, New York University
Erika Franklin Fowler, Wesleyan University
Michael Franz, Bowdoin College
Archon Fung, Harvard University
Sheila Krumholz, Center for Responsive Politics
Ben Lyons, University of Utah
Gregory Martin, Stanford University
Brendan Nyhan, Dartmouth College
Nate Persily, Stanford University
Travis Ridout, Washington State University
Kathleen Searles, Louisiana State University
Rebekah Tromble, George Washington University
Abby Wood, University of Southern California

#advertising-tech, #column, #digital-advertising, #digital-marketing, #facebook, #google, #media, #online-advertising, #opinion, #snapchat, #social, #targeted-advertising, #tc, #twitter

0

Crypto-driven marketplace Zora raises $2M to build a sustainable creator economy

Dee Goens and Jacob Horne have both the exact and precisely opposite background that you’d expect to see from two people building a way for creators to build a sustainable economy for their followers to participate in. Coinbase, crypto hack projects at university, KPMG, Merill Lynch. But where’s the art?

“Believe it or not, I used to have dreams of being a rapper,” laughs Goens. “There’s a Soundcloud out there somewhere. With that passion you explore the inner workings of the music industry. I would excitedly ask industry friends about the advance and 360 deal models only to realize they were completely broken.”

And, while many may be well intentioned, these deal structures of exploit artistry. In many cases taking the majority of an artist’s ownership. I grew curious why artists were unable to resource themselves from their community in an impactful way — but instead, were forced to seek out potentially predatory relationships. To me, this was bullshit.”

Horne says that he’d always wanted to create a fashion brand. 

“I always thought a fashion brand would be something I’d do after crypto,” he tells me. “I love crypto but it felt overly focused on just finance and felt like it was missing something. When I started to play with the idea of combining these two passions and starting Saint Fame.”

While at Coinbase, Horne hacked on Saint Fame, a side project that leveraged some of the ideas on display in Zora. It was a marketplace that allowed people to sell and trade items with cryptocurrency, buying intermediate variable-value tokens redeemable for future goods. 

“I realized that culture itself was shaped and built upon an old financial system that is systemically skewed against artists and communities,” says Horne. “The operating system of ownership was built in the 1600s with the Dutch East India Trading Company and early Nation States. Like what the fuck is up with that?” 

We have the internet now, we can literally create and share information to billions of people all at once, and the ownership system is the same as when people had to get on a boat for 6 months to send a letter. It’s time for an upgrade. Any community on the internet should be able to come together, with capital, and work towards any shared vision. That starts with empowering creators and artists to create and own the culture they’re creating. In the long term this moves to internet communities taking on societal endeavours.”

The answer that they’re working on is called Zora. It’s a marketplace with two main components but one philosophy: sustainable economics for creators. 

All too often creators are involved in reaping the rewards for their work only once, but the secondary economy continues to generate value out of their reach. Think of an artist, as an example, that creates a piece and sells it for market value. That’s great, but thereafter, every ounce of work that the artist puts into future work, into building a name and a brand and a community for themselves puts additional value into that piece. The artist never sees a dime from that, relying instead on the value of future releases to pay dividends on the work. 

That’s basically the way it has always worked. I have a little background in this as I used to exhibit and was involved in running a gallery and my father is a fine artist. If he sells a painting today for $300, gets a lot better, more popular and more valued over time, the owner of that painting may re-sell it for hundreds or thousands more. He will never see a dime of that. And god forbid that an artist like him gets too locked into the gallery system which slices off enormous chunks of the value of a piece for a square of wall space and the marketing cachet of a curator or storefront. 

The same story can be told across the recording industry, fashion, sports and even social media. Lots of middle-people and lots of vigs to pay. And, unsurprisingly, the same creators of color that drive so much of The Culture are the biggest losers hands down. 

The primary Zora product is a market that allows creators or artists to launch products and then continue to participate in their second market value. 

Here’s how the Zora team explains it:

On Zora, creators have the ability to set two prices: start price and max price. As community members buy and sell a token, it moves the price up or down. This makes the price dynamic as it opens price discovery on the items by the market. When people buy the token it moves the price closer to its maximum. When they sell, it moves closer to its minimum. 

For an excited community like Jeff [Staple’s], this new dynamic price can cause a quick increase in the value of his sneakers. As a creator, they capture the value from selling on a price curve as well as getting a take on trading fees from the market which they now own. What used to trade on StockX is now about to trade on a creator owned market.

There have been some early successes. Designer and marketer Jeff Staple launched a run of 30 Coca-Cola x Staple SB Dunk customs by Reverseland and their value is trending up around 234% since release. A Benji Taylor x Kevin Doan vinyl figure is up 210%

I have seen some other stabs at this. When he was still at StockX, founder Josh Luber launched their Intial Product Offerings, a Blind Dutch Auction system that allowed the market to set a price for an item, with some of the cut of pricing above market going back to the manufacturer or brand making the offering. The focus there was brands vs. individual creators (though they did launch with a Ben Baller slide). Allowing brands to tap into second market value for limited goods is a lot less of a revolution play, but the thesis is similar. I thought that was a good idea then, and I like it even better when it’s being used to democratize rather than maximize returns. 

Side note: I love that this team is messing around with interesting ideas like dogfooding their own marketplace with the value of being in their own TestFlight group. I’m sort of like, is that allowed, but at the same time it’s dope and I’ve never seen anything like it. 

Zora was founded in May of 2020 (right in the middle of this current panny-palooza). The team is Goens (Creators and Community), Horne (Product), Slava Kim (Design), Dai Hovey (Engineering), Ethan Daya (Engineering) and Tyson Batistella (Engineering). 

Zora has raised a $2M seed round led by Kindred Ventures with participation from Trevor McFedries of Brud, Alice Lloyd George, Jeff Staple, Coinbase Ventures and others.

Tokenized community

But this idea that physical goods or even digitally packaged works have to exist as finite containers of value is not a given either. Goens and Horne are pushing to challenge that too with the first big new product for Zora: community tokens. Built on Ethereum, the $RAC token is the first of its kind from Zora. André Allen Anjos, stage name RAC, is a Portuguese- American musician and producer who makes remixes that stream on the web, original music and has had commercial work featured in major brand ads. 

Though he is popular and has a following in the tens of thousands, RAC is not a social media superpower. The token distribution and subsequent activity in trades and sales is purely driven by the buy-in that his fans feel. This is a key learning for a lot of players in this new economy: raw numbers are the social media equivalent of a billboard that people drive by. It may get you eyeballs, but it doesn’t guarantee action. The modern creator is living in a house with their fans, offering them access and interacting via Discord and Snap and comments. 

But those houses are all other people’s houses, which leads into the reason that Zora is launching a token.

The token drop serves multiple purposes. 

  • It unites fans across multiple silos. Whether they’re on Intsa, Tiktok, Spotify or Snapchat, they can all earn tokens. That token serves as a unifying community unit of value that they all understand and pivot around. It’s a way to own a finite binary “atom” of an artist’s digital being.
  • It creates a pool of value that an artist can own and distribute themselves. Currently you cannot buy $RAC directly. You can only earn it. Some of that is retroactive for loyal supporters. If, for instance, you followed RAC on Bandcamp dating back to 2009, you’ll get some of a pool of 25,000 RAC. Bought a bit of RAC merch? You get some credit in tokens too. Future RAC distributions will be given to Patron supporters, merch purchasers etc.
  • The value stays in the artists universe, rather than being spun out into currency. It serves as a way for the artist to incentivize, reward and energize their followers. RAC fans who buy his mixtape get tokens, and they can redeem them for purchases of further merch. 
  • It allows more flexibility for creators whose work doesn’t fall so neatly into package-able categories. Performance art, activism, bite-sized entertainment. These are not easy to ‘drop’ for money. But if you have a circulating token that grows in value as you grow your audience, there is definitely something there. 

The future of Zora most immediately involves spinning up a self-service version of the marketplace, allowing creators and entrepreneurs to launch their products without a direct partnership and onboarding. There are many, many uncertainties here and the team has a lot of challenges ahead on the traction and messaging front. But as mentioned, some early releases have shown promise, and the philosophy is sound and much needed. As the creator universe/passion economy/what you call it depends on how old you are/fandom merchant wave rises there is definitely an opportunity to rethink how the value of their contributions are assigned and whether there is a way to turn the long-term labor of building a community into long-term value. 

The last traded price of RAC’s tape, BOY, by the way? $3,713, up 18,465%. 

#articles, #artist, #brand, #coca-cola, #coinbase, #coinbase-ventures, #cryptocurrency, #cryptography, #curator, #designer, #economy, #finance, #financial-technology, #kindred-ventures, #kpmg, #operating-system, #snapchat, #social-media, #spotify, #tc

0

Temporal raises $18.75M for its microservices orchestration platform

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.”

#amplify-partners, #ceo, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #cto, #developer, #enterprise, #madrona-venture-group, #microservices, #seattle, #snap, #snap-inc, #snapchat, #uber

0

Snapchat launches its TikTok rival, Sounds on Snapchat

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.

#apps, #music, #snap, #snap-inc, #snapchat, #snaps, #social, #social-media, #sounds, #tc, #tiktok

0

Snapchat among first to leverage iPhone 12 Pro’s LiDAR Scanner for AR

Apple introduced its latest flagship iPhone models, the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max, at its iPhone event on Tuesday. Among other things, the devices sport a new LiDAR Scanner designed to allow for more immersive augmented reality (AR) experiences. Snapchat today confirms it will be among the first to put the new technology to use in its iOS app for a LiDAR-powered Lens.

As Apple explained during the event, the LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) Scanner measures how long it takes for light to reach an object and reflect back.

Along with iPhone’s machine learning capabilities and dev frameworks, LiDAR helps the iPhone understand the world around you.

Apple adapted this technology for its iPhone 12 Pro models, where it’s helping to improve low-light photography, thanks to its ability to “see in the dark.”

Image Credits: Apple presentation, screenshot via TechCrunch

The technology can also be used by app developers to build a precise depth map of the scene, and help speed up AR so it feels more instantaneous, while enabling new app experiences that use AR.

 

In practice, what this means for app developers is the ability to use LiDAR to enable things like object and room scanning — think, better AR shopping apps, home design tools, or AR games, for example.

It can also enable photo and video effects and a more exact placement of AR objects, as the iPhone is actually able to “see” a depth map of the room.

Image Credits: Apple presentation, screenshot via TechCrunch

That can lead to new AR experiences like what Snapchat is prepared to introduce. Already known for some best-in-class AR photo filters, the company says it will soon launch a LiDAR-powered Lens specifically for the iPhone 12 Pro models.

Apple gave a brief peek at Snapchat’s LiDAR-powered feature during the LiDAR portion of the iPhone event today.

Here, you can see an AR Lens in the Snapchat app where flowers and grasses cover the table and floor, and birds fly towards the user’s face. The grasses towards the back of the room looked as if they were further away than those closer to the user, and vegetation was even climbing up and around the kitchen cabinets — an indication that it saw where those objects were in the physical space.

The birds in the Snapchat Lens disappear as they move behind the person, out of view, and even land precisely in the person’s hand.

It’s not clear if this is the exact Lens Snapchat has in the works, as the company is holding details for the time being. But it shows what an LiDAR-enabled Snapchat experience would feel like.

You can see the Snapchat filter in action at 59:41 in the Apple iPhone Event video.

 

 

#apple, #apple-iphone-event-2020, #ar, #augmented-reality, #iphone, #iphone-12-pro, #lidar, #snap, #snapchat

0

GV bets on young team behind high school social app HAGS

As high schools pivot to hybrid models and students see less in-person face time with friends, the current social app sphere seems to be missing a way to build deeper bonds with classmates. HAGS is building a social network designed around high school networks and they’ve picked up some fresh funding led by Google’s venture arm GV.

The team is building an old school social play focused on Gen Z high school socialization. The first iteration of their vision was a digital yearbook they rolled out earlier this year that allowed high schoolers torn from the last weeks of their school year by the COVID-19 pandemic to leave messages for friends in a virtual yearbook, replicating the act of passing around the memento over Snapchat. The team’s acronymic name “HAGS” refers to the “have a great summer” message often speedily scrawled in a classmate’s yearbook.

The young founding team at HAGS is fully remote with CEO Suraya Shivji, 23, her younger brother Jameel, 18, and co-founder James Dale, 19, building out the product. The company says that “tens of thousands of high school students” used the app after its initial launch. In the course of building out their app, the team caught the eye of investors over Twitter and began to roll together some early investments.

“Especially when you’re investing so early, you lean on the team so much when it comes to an investment decision,” GV’s Terri Burns told TechCrunch in an interview. “HAGS is really early and very much in the spirit of experimentation.”

HAGS team. Image Credits: HAGS

The HAGS team ended up pulling together a $1 million investment led by GV with participation from BoxGroup and a handful of angel investors. It’s a smaller deal for some of the names involved, but the team’s product represents a familiarly ripe opportunity, shipping social products to teens. The HAGS app leverages high school networks, prompting users to log into their specific school. The team has already begun building out a network of “ambassadors” at several high schools to bring people into the app.

The app comes during an unprecedented period of upended socializing for high schoolers amid a pandemic, one that could offer more opportunities for a social app that aims to keep students in touch with a broader swath of their classmates that goes beyond their core friend group.

The team kicked things off with the yearbook built onto Snapchat’s Snap Kit SDK, but they’re staying open-minded about what comes next as they plan for the next feature launches inside their app in the coming months. The team is aiming to expand their utility while also staying dialed in to the core of their feature set.

“We ended up with this idea that the foundation of everything we do is creating things that are fun, and seeing that as a need and a first principle of what we do.” CEO Suraya Shivji tells TechCrunch. “Now, we’re basically exploring how to take this socially intimate space for a high school student and build on that.”