Tinder adds a new home for interactive, social features with launch of Tinder Explore

Tinder is redesigning its app to put a larger emphasis on its social, interactive features with the launch of “Explore,” a new section that will feature events, like the return of the popular “Swipe Night” series, as well as ways to discover matches by interests and dive into quick chats before a match is made. Combined, the changes help to push Tinder further away from its roots as a quick match-based dating app into something that’s more akin to a social network aimed at helping users meet new people.

This shift could resonate better with a younger generation that may feel like traditional online dating has lost its novelty. Today, these users are turning to apps marketing themselves as places to meet new friends, while newcomers to the dating app industry are experimenting with other means of connecting users — such as with short, TikTok-like videos, as in Snack, or even audio, as in SwoonMe. For Tinder, these market shifts may have represented an existential threat to its own business. But instead, the company has doubled down on interactivity as being core to the Tinder experience, as means of maintaining its dominant position.

At launch, Tinder Explore will include a handful of existing features alongside a new way to meet people. The latter allows users to connect with others based on interests — like Foodies, Gamers, Music Lovers, Social Causes, Entrepreneurs, and more. Over time, more interests will be added which will allow Tinder members to find someone based on what they’re like, rather than just what they look like.

Image Credits: Tinder

Explore will also be home to Tinder’s “Swipe Night,” the interactive series that launched in 2019 as an in-app “choose your own adventure” story which helped to boost Tinder engagement as it gave users a reason to relaunch the app at a specific time. Tinder hailed “Swipe Night” as a success, saying the feature attracted over 20 million users during its first run and led to a 26% increase in matches. In November, the series will return — this time, with new characters and a new “whodunit”-style storyline. It will now also leverage the “Fast Chat” feature that powers Tinder’s “Hot Takes” experience, which allows unmatched users to chat.

“Hot Takes” will also appear in Tinder Explore, which the company describes as a more low-stakes way to match with other users. As a timer counts down, users who are chatting can choose if they want to match. If the timer expires, they meet someone new — similar to an online version of speed dating. Since launching this summer, millions of Tinder users have tried “Hot Takes,” which is only available from 6 pm to midnight local time.

However, the bigger story about Tinder Explore isn’t just what sort of features it will host now, but what the company has in store for the future. Earlier this year, Tinder parent Match bought the Korean social networking company Hyperconnect for $1.73 billion — its largest acquisition to date. And it’s preparing to use Hyperconnect’s IP to make the online dating experience even more interactive than it is today, having announced plans to add audio and video chat, including group live video, to several of its top dating app properties, Tinder included.

Tinder Explore provides a platform where features like this could later be added — something Tinder hints towards, noting that the section is designed to offer users access to “a growing list” of social experiences with “many more to follow.”

“A new generation of daters is asking for more from us in the post-Covid world: more ways to have fun and interact with others virtually and more control over who they meet on Tinder,” said Tinder CEO Jim Lanzone, in a company announcement. “Today’s launch of Explore is a major step in creating a deeper, multi-dimensional, interactive experience for our members that expands the possibilities of Tinder as a platform,” he added.

Tinder Explore began rolling out to major English-speaking markets on Wednesday, Sept. 8, and will be available globally by mid-October.

#apps, #bumble, #ceo, #hyperconnect, #iac, #jim-lanzone, #mobile, #mobile-applications, #sean-rad, #social, #social-network, #social-software, #software, #tc, #tinder

Twitter wants you to tweet to interest-based communities, not just followers

Twitter is a useful place for following breaking news and keeping up with what the people you’re already interested in are doing, but its relative dearth of discovery features and a lack of organized community spaces make it pretty hard to connect with anyone you aren’t actively seeking out.

The company is thinking about changing that. Twitter is on a tear with new features lately and its latest experiment, called Communities, is designed to make it easier to connect around shared interests. Users will be able to join these new social hubs and tweet directly to other people with shared interests rather than their regular group of followers. Those tweets will still be public, but replies will be limited to other community members.

Communities will be user-generated, though Twitter says that will be “limited,” for now, so most people will have to wait a few months before starting their own groups. The earliest Communities will center around popular and generally benign topics on Twitter including “dogs, weather, sneakers, skincare, and astrology.” Twitter’s example images also include cryptocurrency, plants and Black women photographers.

The test begins Wednesday and will show up in a dedicated spot at the bottom of the iOS app or in the side menu on Twitter.com. Twitter says that Android users will be able to read Community tweets too, though “more functionality” is on the way soon — presumably a dedicated app tab and the ability to join and participate in the new groups.

Communities will be created and maintained by designated moderators, who will have the ability to invite other users to the group via DM and remove content posted within the group. Initially invites will be the only way into a Community, but it sounds like Twitter has some grand plans for discovery features that make it easier for people to find places they might want to hang out.

“Some conversations aren’t for everyone, just the people who want to talk about the thing you want to talk about,” Twitter Staff Product Manager David Regan wrote in a blog post announcing the feature. “… We want to continue to support public conversation and help people find Communities that match their interests, while also creating a more intimate space for conversation.”

With any user-driven community space on social media — particularly one where algorithmic discovery factors in — moderation is the big concern. Twitter says that anyone will be able to read, report and quote content posted in a Community, so you don’t have to be a member of a community to flag harmful content like you would in a private Facebook group. Twitter says that it is working on “new reporting flows, and bespoke enforcement actions” to proactively identify problem Communities.

The introduction of Communities pairs well with Twitter’s recent efforts to court creator communities. The company rolled out Super Follows, its paid subscription tool, earlier this month and also recently invited some users to sell tickets for audio rooms with Ticketed Spaces. It’s also testing one-time payments with a feature called Tip Jar that’s currently only available for a subset of accounts.

Communities are a pretty big departure for Twitter, which is obviously in the throes of reimagining the platform as a more dynamic place for community building. By carving out substantial space for subcommunities on Twitter, the company seems to be inching in the direction of a platform like Discord or Reddit, where everything revolves around self-moderating interest-based communities. Those platforms grapple with their own moderation headaches, but specific, interest-driven communities invite users to go deep in a way that makes interactions on Twitter look shallow by comparison.

The introduction of Communities is an interesting direction for a prominent social network that’s remained largely unchanged for more than a decade at this point. If the test sticks, Communities could build connective tissue between users and make the social network generally a more dynamic place to hang out — but that’s only possible if Twitter can strike the right balance between encouraging its newly imagined subcommunities to grow and keeping them safe.

#social, #social-media, #social-network, #social-networks, #tc, #twitter

Twitter is testing big ol’ full-width photos and videos

Twitter is exploring ways to build a more visually immersive experience with its latest test, which brings edge-to-edge tweets to the app on iOS.

Full-width images and videos track for the direction the company has shown some interest in going lately. Twitter introduced bigger images with improved cropping controls for its pair of mobile apps earlier this year, making plenty of photographers and other visual artists happy that the social network was suddenly a much friendlier platform for sharing their work.

Twitter first tested the bigger photos and improved image previews in March before rolling them out broadly two months later, a short timeline we could see again if the test product sticks.

In the current test, tweets fill the full frame from left to right instead of being offset by a pretty large margin on the left. The changes result in much larger images and videos that look better in the feed and a cleaner, more modern design that doesn’t unnecessarily squish tweets to the right of users’ profile pictures.

In testing the feature, Twitter says that it wants to encourage users to have conversations across photos and videos, rather than focusing solely on text like the platform traditionally has. While the result looks like a win to us, any change to Twitter’s design is likely to inspire a vocal subset of users to hate-tweet about it for a day or so before forgetting the changes altogether.

#photography, #social, #social-network, #tc, #twitter, #visual-art

WhatsApp faces $267M fine for breaching Europe’s GDPR

It’s been a long time coming but Facebook is finally feeling some heat from Europe’s much trumpeted data protection regime: Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) has just announced a €225 million (~$267M) for WhatsApp.

The Facebook-owned messaging app has been under investigation by the Irish DPC, its lead data supervisor in the European Union, since December 2018 — several months after the first complaints were fired at WhatsApp over how it processes user data under Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), once it begun being applied in May 2018.

Despite receiving a number of specific complaints about WhatsApp, the investigation undertaken by the DPC that’s been decided today was what’s known as an “own volition” enquiry — meaning the regulator selected the parameters of the investigation itself, choosing to fix on an audit of WhatsApp’s ‘transparency’ obligations.

A key principle of the GDPR is that entities which are processing people’s data must be clear, open and honest with those people about how their information will be used.

The DPC’s decision today (which runs to a full 266 pages) concludes that WhatsApp failed to live up to the standard required by the GDPR.

Its enquiry considered whether or not WhatsApp fulfils transparency obligations to both users and non-users of its service (WhatsApp may, for example, upload the phone numbers of non-users if a user agrees to it ingesting their phone book which contains other people’s personal data); as well as looking at the transparency the platform offers over its sharing of data with its parent entity Facebook (a highly controversial issue at the time the privacy U-turn was announced back in 2016, although it predated GDPR being applied).

In sum, the DPC found a range of transparency infringements by WhatsApp — spanning articles 5(1)(a); 12, 13 and 14 of the GDPR.

In addition to issuing a sizeable financial penalty, it has ordered WhatsApp to take a number of actions to improve the level of transparency it offer users and non-users — giving the tech giant a three-month deadline for making all the ordered changes.

In a statement responding to the DPC’s decision, WhatsApp disputed the findings and dubbed the penalty “entirely disproportionate” — as well as confirming it will appeal, writing:

“WhatsApp is committed to providing a secure and private service. We have worked to ensure the information we provide is transparent and comprehensive and will continue to do so. We disagree with the decision today regarding the transparency we provided to people in 2018 and the penalties are entirely disproportionate. We will appeal this decision.” 

It’s worth emphasizing that the scope of the DPC enquiry which has finally been decided today was limited to only looking at WhatsApp’s transparency obligations.

The regulator was explicitly not looking into wider complaints — which have also been raised against Facebook’s data-mining empire for well over three years — about the legal basis WhatsApp claims for processing people’s information in the first place.

So the DPC will continue to face criticism over both the pace and approach of its GDPR enforcement.

 

Indeed, prior to today, Ireland’s regulator had only issued one decision in a major cross-border cases addressing ‘Big Tech’ — against Twitter when, back in December, it knuckle-tapped the social network over a historical security breach with a fine of $550k.

WhatsApp’s first GDPR penalty is, by contrast, considerably larger — reflecting what EU regulators (plural) evidently consider to be a far more serious infringement of the GDPR.

Transparency is a key principle of the regulation. And while a security breach may indicate sloppy practice, systematic opacity towards people whose data your adtech empire relies upon to turn a fat profit looks rather more intentional; indeed, it’s arguably the whole business model.

And — at least in Europe — such companies are going to find themselves being forced to be up front about what they’re doing with people’s data.

Is the GDPR working?  

The WhatsApp decision will rekindle the debate about whether the GDPR is working effectively where it counts most: Against the most powerful companies in the world, which are also of course Internet companies.

Under the EU’s flagship data protection regulation, decisions on cross border cases require agreement from all affected regulators — across the 27 Member States — so while the GDPR’s “one-stop-shop” mechanism seeks to streamline the regulatory burden for cross-border businesses by funnelling complaints and investigations via a lead regulator (typically where a company has its main legal establishment in the EU), objections can be raised to that lead supervisory authority’s conclusions (and any proposed sanctions), as has happened here in this WhatsApp case.

Ireland originally proposed a far more low-ball penalty of up to €50M for WhatsApp. However other EU regulators objected to its draft decision on a number of fronts — and the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) ultimately had to step in and take a binding decision (issued this summer) to settle the various disputes.

Through that (admittedly rather painful) joint-working, the DPC was required to increase the size of the fine issued to WhatsApp. In a mirror of what happened with its draft Twitter decision — where the DPC has also suggested an even tinier penalty in the first instance.

While there is a clear time cost in settling disputes between the EU’s smorgasbord of data protection agencies — the DPC submitted its draft WhatsApp decision to the other DPAs for review back in December, so it’s taken well over half a year to hash out all the disputes about WhatsApp’s lossy hashing and so forth — the fact that ‘corrections’ are being made to its decisions and conclusions can land — if not jointly agreed but at least arriving via a consensus getting pushed through by the EDPB — is a sign that the process, while slow and creaky, is working. At least technically.

Even so, Ireland’s data watchdog will continue to face criticism for its outsized role in handling GDPR complaints and investigations — with some accusing the DPC of essentially cherry-picking which issues to examine in detail (by its choice and framing of cases) and which to elide entirely (those issues it doesn’t open an enquiry into or complaints it simply drops or ignores), with its loudest critics arguing it’s therefore still a major bottleneck on effective enforcement of data protection rights across the EU.

The associated conclusion for that critique is that tech giants like Facebook are still getting a pretty free pass to violate Europe’s privacy rules.

But while it’s true that a $267M penalty is the equivalent of a parking ticket for Facebook’s business empire, orders to change how such adtech giants are able to process people’s information at least have the potential to be a far more significant correction on problematic business models.

Again, though, time will be needed to tell whether such wider orders are having the sought for impact.

In a statement reacting to the DPC’s WhatsApp decision today, noyb — the privacy advocacy group founded by long-time European privacy campaigner Max Schrems, said: “We welcome the first decision by the Irish regulator. However, the DPC gets about ten thousand complaints per year since 2018 and this is the first major fine. The DPC also proposed an initial €50MK fine and was forced by the other European data protection authorities to move towards €225M, which is still only 0.08% of the turnover of the Facebook Group. The GDPR foresees fines of up to 4% of the turnover. This shows how the DPC is still extremely dysfunctional.”

Schrems also noted that he and noyb still have a number of pending cases before the DPC — including on WhatsApp.

In further remarks, they raised concerns about the length of the appeals process and whether the DPC would make a muscular defence of a sanction it had been forced to increase by other EU DPAs.

“WhatsApp will surely appeal the decision. In the Irish court system this means that years will pass before any fine is actually paid. In our cases we often had the feeling that the DPC is more concerned with headlines than with actually doing the hard groundwork. It will be very interesting to see if the DPC will actually defend this decision fully, as it was basically forced to make this decision by its European counterparts. I can imagine that the DPC will simply not put many resources on the case or ‘settle’ with WhatsApp in Ireland. We will monitor this case closely to ensure that the DPC is actually following through with this decision.”

#data-protection, #data-protection-commission, #europe, #european-data-protection-board, #european-union, #facebook, #gdpr, #general-data-protection-regulation, #ireland, #noyb, #privacy, #social-media, #social-network, #transparency, #whatsapp

Substack acqui-hires team behind subscription social app Cocoon

Subscription newsletter platform kingpin Substack shared today that they’ve acqui-hired the team behind Cocoon, a subscription social media app built for close friends.

We covered the Y Combinator-backed startup’s initial $3 million seed raise led by Lerer Hippeau back in November 2019, shortly before the pandemic dramatically reconfigured how people used social media to communicate with the people nearest and dearest to them. Cocoon’s initial pitch was for a social network for your closest friends, something that could level-up the text group chat you may have been stuck using before, though over time Cocoon evolved its platform’s dynamics to allow for more open social circles that users could fine tune at will. With the app, users could share text and photo updates while also using passive data from sources like mobile location data or fitness stats to deliver automatic updates to Slack channel-like feeds for specific groups of their friends.

The app was co-founded by Sachin Monga and Alex Cornell, who met in product roles at Facebook.

Unlike plenty of other networking apps, Cocoon didn’t rely on advertising or user data to monetize, instead pushing users to pay for a $4 monthly subscription. Despite the app’s slick design, it didn’t seem to make much of a lasting splash or find its market fit and Substack says they won’t be continuing support for the app, instead choosing to bring the small team aboard. Given some of Substack’s recent initiatives around community building for their network of newsletter writers, it isn’t surprising that they’re seeking out more talent in the space to help evolve the functionality of their platform.

Back in March, the startup detailed it had closed a $65 million Series B at a $650 million valuation, bolstering up on cash as they look to define a space that has gotten more eyeballs on it as of late, with both Twitter and Facebook releasing newsletter products this year.  They’ve been snapping up a few smaller startups over the past few months. Earlier this month, they disclosed that they had bought the debate platform Letter for an undisclosed sum. In Maym, they acqui-hired the team from a community-building consultancy startup called People & Company.

#cornell, #facebook, #lerer-hippeau, #likee, #operating-systems, #people-company, #social-media, #social-network, #software, #substack, #tc, #twitter, #world-wide-web, #y-combinator, #yo

Yik Yak returns from the dead

After meeting an ignominious end in 2017, the anonymous gossip app once popular with college students lives again. Yik Yak returned to the iOS App Store on Monday (sorry, Android users) under new ownership, inspiring a fresh round of interest in the long-dead social network.

With a reputation for rampant cyber-bullying and harassment, moderation woes were central to the app’s failure. Once ubiquitous on many college campuses, Yik Yak limped into 2016, laying off most employees and struggling to keep users engaged. The app tried to pivot away from campus gossip and toward location-based social networking that same year, but it wasn’t enough and the once high-flying social network was sold for scrap.

As co-founders Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington wound down the app in 2017, Square paid $1 million for several Yik Yak engineers and rights to some of the company’s intellectual property. The company had raised $73 million and was valued around $400 million in 2014, during its peak. TechCrunch contacted the company for information about its new ownership, which is apparently based in Nashville, but has yet to receive a response.

Though we’re still not sure who re-launched it, the new version of Yik Yak is well aware of the original app’s pitfalls. After providing a phone number to sign up, a short onboarding sequence warns users of a zero tolerance “one strike and you’re out” policy for bullying and threats.

“We’re committed to combating bullying and hate speech on the Yik Yak platform by any means necessary,” the new Yik Yak team, which acquired the rights to develop the app in February, wrote on a relaunched website.

Being aware of what issues will inevitably arise on a social network and being prepared to moderate those issues at scale are two very different propositions. Yik Yak is anonymous, but it’s also an app focused on what’s happening IRL nearby within a tight radius, two factors that could combine to pose even more of a moderation challenge.

Within the new app, a sidebar points users toward “stay safe” resources address an array of issues that could arise on the app, like ride-sharing, bullying, sexual consent and COVID-19, though the app doesn’t yet include explicit misinformation policies.

Another section in the sidebar offers a list of mental health resources and encourages users to downvote and report any bullying on the app so it can be reviewed by the Yik Yak team. The company says that yaks with a negative ranking from five or more downvotes will be automatically removed from the app’s feed, though we’ve asked the company for more details about its content moderation plans, including if a team at Yik Yak is dedicated to the task.

The new Yik Yak is built around location-based sharing and users can share messages, called “yaks,” to anyone within a five mile radius. If you’re in a rural area of otherwise quiet zone devoid of yaks, you can amuse yourself with the confessions that show up on a chart of popular national posts.

For now, many high-ranking posts are excited chatter about the app’s return from former Yik Yak devotees — mostly younger millennials who’ve since graduated from college. A smattering of popular posts warns that Gen Z-ers too young to have used Yik Yak during its heyday won’t know what hit them.

“Is this app now 100% 25-30 year olds?” one post reads. “The Zoomers aren’t ready for the return of the Yak,” another user wrote.

#brooks-buffington, #college, #cyberbullying, #ios-app-store, #social, #social-media, #social-network, #tc, #tyler-droll, #yik-yak

Twitter taps crypto developer to lead ‘bluesky’ decentralized social network effort

Twitter’s ambitious upstart decentralized social media working group “bluesky” took an important step Monday as the social media company appointed a formal project lead who will direct how the protocol develops moving forward.

Crypto developer Jay Graber was tapped by Twitter to helm the initiative, which the company hopes will eventually create a decentralized social media protocol that a number of social networks including Twitter will operate on. The separate bluesky organization will operate independently but to date has been funded and managed largely by employees at Twitter.

Graber had already been working in a less formal role inside the bluesky team, with Twitter paying her to create a technical review of the decentralized social ecosystem for a working group of developers in the space. Graber previously worked on the developer team behind privacy focused cryptocurrency Zcash and built out her own decentralized social network called Happening, designed to compete with Facebook Events. Graber eventually walked away from the effort after having issues bootstrapping a user base interested in the benefits of decentralization, something that has grown to be a near-insurmountable issue for most upstart networks in the space.

In an interview back in January, Graber told TechCrunch she saw a major opportunity in Twitter entering the decentralized social space due to the hefty user base on the Twitter platform, which will itself eventually migrate to the protocol, the company has said.

“The really powerful thing about Twitter doing a decentralized protocol move is that if you could design a protocol that works in an ideal way, you don’t have to go through the initial effort of finding the niche to bootstrap from because Twitter will bring so many users,” Graber told us.

In January, TechCrunch profiled the initiative as it gathered more attention following Twitter’s permanent ban of former President Donald Trump from its platform. Following Trump’s removal, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey highlighted the bluesky effort as one of the company’s ongoing initiatives to ensure that social media moderation could be less decentralized in the future. A decentralized social media protocol would allow for individual networks to govern themselves without one company or organization exercising monolithic control over the sphere of online conversations. 

“I think a huge focus for everyone involved has been thinking how do we enable better moderation, and not just coming from one source,” Graber told TechCrunch.

The bluesky organization is still in its earliest stages. Graber’s next task is bulking up the team with its first hires, which include a protocol developer and web developer.

#blockchain, #cryptocurrency, #decentralization, #donald-trump, #facebook, #forward, #jack-dorsey, #operating-systems, #president, #real-time-web, #social-media, #social-network, #social-networks, #software, #tc, #technology, #text-messaging, #twitter

Medal.tv, a video clipping service for gamers, enters the livestreaming market with Rawa.tv acquisition

Medal.tv, a short-form video clipping service and social network for gamers, is entering the live streaming market with the acquisition of Rawa.tv, a Twitch rival based in Dubai, which had raised around $1 million to date. The seven-figure, all cash deal will see two of Rawa’s founders, Raya Dadah and Phil Jammal, now joining Medal and further integrations between the two platforms going forward.

The Middle East and North African region (MENA) is one of the fastest-growing markets in gaming and still one that’s mostly un-catered to, explained Medal.tv CEO Pim de Witte, as to his company’s interest in Rawa.

“Most companies that target that market don’t really understand the nuances and try to replicate existing Western or Far-Eastern models that are doomed to fail,” he said. “Absorbing a local team will increase Medal’s chances of success here. Overall, we believe that MENA is an underserved market without a clear leader in the livestreaming space, and Rawa brings to Medal the local market expertise that we need to capitalize on this opportunity,” de Witte added.

Medal.tv’s community had been asking for the ability to do livestreaming for some time, the exec also noted, but the technology would have been too expensive for the startup to build using off-the-shelf services at its scale, de Witte said.

“People increasingly connect around live and real-time experiences, and this is something our platform has lacked to date,” he noted.

But Rawa, as the first livestreaming platform dedicated to Arab gaming, had built out its own proprietary live and network streaming technology that’s now used in all its products. That technology is now coming to Medal.tv.

Image Credits: Medal.tv

The two companies were already connected before today, as Rawa users have been able to upload their gaming clips to Medal.tv, and some Rawa partners had joined Medal’s skilled player program. Going forward, Rawa will continue to operate as a separate platform, but it will become more tightly integrated with Medal, the company says. Currently, Rawa sees around 100,000 active users on its service.

The remaining Rawa team will continue to operate the livestreaming platform under co-founder Jammal’s leadership following the deal’s close, and the Rawa HQ will remain based in Dubai. However, Rawa’s employees have been working remotely since the start of the pandemic, and it’s unclear if that will change in the future, given the uncertainty of Covid-19’s spread.

Medal.tv detailed its further plans for Rawa on its site, where the company explained it doesn’t aim to build a “general-purpose” livestreaming platform where the majority of viewers don’t pay — a call-out that clearly seems aimed at Twitch. Instead, it says it will focus on matching content with viewers who would be interested in subscribing to the creators. This addresses on of the challenges that has faced larger platforms like Twitch in the past, where it’s been difficult for smaller streamers to get off the ground.

The company also said it will remain narrowly focused on serving the gaming community as opposed to venturing into non-gaming content, as others have done. Again, this differentiates itself from Twitch which, over the years, expanded into vlogs and even streaming old TV shows. And it’s much different from YouTube or Facebook Watch, where gaming is only a subcategory of a broader video network.

The acquisition follows Medal.tv’s $9 million Series A led by Horizons Ventures in 2019, after the startup had grown to 5 million registered users and “hundreds of thousands” of daily active users. Today, the company says over 200,000 people create content every day on Medal, and 3 million users are actively viewing that content every month.

#apps, #clips, #digital-media, #dubai, #exit, #gamer, #gamers, #games, #horizons-ventures, #livestreaming, #ma, #mass-media, #media, #mena, #middle-east, #mobile, #new-media, #player, #social-network, #startups, #streaming, #streaming-media, #twitch, #video, #video-clipping, #video-games

This Week in Apps: In-app events hit the App Store, TikTok tries Stories, Apple reveals new child safety plan

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place, with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

Top Stories

Apple to scan for CSAM imagery

Apple announced a major initiative to scan devices for CSAM imagery. The company on Thursday announced a new set of features, arriving later this year, that will detect child sexual abuse material (CSAM) in its cloud and report it to law enforcement. Companies like Dropbox, Google and Microsoft already scan for CSAM in their cloud services, but Apple had allowed users to encrypt their data before it reached iCloud. Now, Apple’s new technology, NeuralHash, will run on users’ devices, tatformso detect when a users upload known CSAM imagery — without having to first decrypt the images. It even can detect the imagery if it’s been cropped or edited in an attempt to avoid detection.

Meanwhile, on iPhone and iPad, the company will roll out protections to Messages app users that will filter images and alert children and parents if sexually explicit photos are sent to or from a child’s account. Children will not be shown the images but will instead see a grayed-out image instead. If they try to view the image anyway through the link, they’ll be shown interruptive screens that explain why the material may be harmful and are warned that their parents will be notified.

Some privacy advocates pushed back at the idea of such a system, believing it could expand to end-to-end encrypted photos, lead to false positives, or set the stage for more on-device government surveillance in the future. But many cryptology experts believe the system Apple developed provides a good balance between privacy and utility, and have offered their endorsement of the technology. In addition, Apple said reports are manually reviewed before being sent to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

The changes may also benefit iOS developers who deal in user photos and uploads, as predators will no longer store CSAM imagery on iOS devices in the first place, given the new risk of detection.

In-App Events appear on the App Store

Image Credits: Apple

Though not yet publicly available to all users, those testing the new iOS 15 mobile operating system got their first glimpse of a new App Store discovery feature this week: “in-app events.” First announced at this year’s WWDC, the feature will allow developers and Apple editors alike to showcase directly on the App Store upcoming events taking place inside apps.

The events can appear on the App Store homepage, on the app’s product pages or can be discovered through personalized recommendations and search. In some cases, editors will curate events to feature on the App Store. But developers will also be provided tools to submit their own in-app events. TikTok’s “Summer Camp” for creators was one of the first in-app events to be featured, where it received a top spot on the iPadOS 15 App Store.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

Apple expands support for student IDs on iPhone and Apple Watch ahead of the fall semester. Tens of thousands more U.S. and Canadian colleges will now support mobile student IDs in the Apple Wallet app, including Auburn University, Northern Arizona University, University of Maine, New Mexico State University and others.

Apple was accused of promoting scam apps in the App Store’s featured section. The company’s failure to properly police its store is one thing, but to curate an editorial list that actually includes the scams is quite another. One of the games rounded up under “Slime Relaxations,” an already iffy category to say the least, was a subscription-based slime simulator that locked users into a $13 AUD per week subscription for its slime simulator. One of the apps on the curated list didn’t even function, implying that Apple’s editors hadn’t even tested the apps they recommend.

Tax changes hit the App Store. Apple announced tax and price changes for apps and IAPs in South Africa, the U.K. and all territories using the Euro currency, all of which will see decreases. Increases will occur in Georgia and Tajikistan, due to new tax changes. Proceeds on the App Store in Italy will be increased to reflect a change to the Digital Services Tax effective rate.

Game Center changes, too. Apple said that on August 4, a new certificate for server-based Game Center verification will be available via the publicKeyUrl.

Fintech

Robinhood stock jumped more than 24% to $46.80 on Tuesday after initially falling 8% on its first day of trading last week, after which it had continued to trade below its opening price of $38.

Square’s Cash app nearly doubled its gross profit to $546 million in Q2, but also reported a $45 million impairment loss on its bitcoin holdings.

Coinbase’s app now lets you buy your cryptocurrency using Apple Pay. The company previously made its Coinbase Card compatible with Apple Pay in June.

Social

An anonymous app called Sendit, which relies on Snap Kit to function, is climbing the charts of the U.S. App Store after Snap suspended similar apps, YOLO and LMK. Snap was sued by the parent of child who was bullied through those apps, which led to his suicide. Sendit also allows for anonymity, and reviews compare it to YOLO. But some reviews also complained about bullying. This isn’t the first time Snap has been involved in a lawsuit related to a young person’s death related to its app. The company was also sued for its irresponsible “speed filter” that critics said encouraged unsafe driving. Three young men died using the filter, which captured them doing 123 mph.

TikTok is testing Stories. As Twitter’s own Stories integrations, Fleets, shuts down, TikTok confirmed it’s testing its own Stories product. The TikTok Stories appear in a left-hand sidebar and allow users to post ephemeral images or video that disappear in 24 hours. Users can also comment on Stories, which are public to their mutual friends and the creator. Stories on TikTok may make more sense than they did on Twitter, as TikTok is already known as a creative platform and it gives the app a more familiar place to integrate its effects toolset and, eventually, advertisements.

Facebook has again re-arranged its privacy settings. The company continually moves around where its privacy features are located, ostensibly to make them easier to find. But users then have to re-learn where to go to find the tools they need, after they had finally memorized the location. This time, the settings have been grouped into six top-level categories, but “privacy” settings have been unbundled from one location to be scattered among the other categories.

A VICE report details ban-as-a-service operations that allow anyone to harass or censor online creators on Instagram. Assuming you can find it, one operation charged $60 per ban, the listing says.

TikTok merged personal accounts with creator accounts. The change means now all non-business accounts on TikTok will have access to the creator tools under Settings, including Analytics, Creator Portal, Promote and Q&A. TikTok shared the news directly with subscribers of its TikTok Creators newsletter in August, and all users will get a push notification alerting them to the change, the company told us.

Discord now lets users customize their profile on its apps. The company added new features to its iOS and Android apps that let you add a description, links and emojis and select a profile color. Paid subscribers can also choose an image or GIF as their banner.

Twitter Spaces added a co-hosting option that allows up to two co-hosts to be added to the live audio chat rooms. Now Spaces can have one main host, two co-hosts and up to 10 speakers. Co-hosts have all the moderation abilities as hosts, but can’t add or remove others as co-hosts.

Messaging

Tencent reopened new user sign-ups for its WeChat messaging app, after having suspended registrations last week for unspecified “technical upgrades.” The company, like many other Chinese tech giants, had to address new regulations from Beijing impacting the tech industry. New rules address how companies handle user data collection and storage, antitrust behavior and other checks on capitalist “excess.” The gaming industry is now worried it’s next to be impacted, with regulations that would restrict gaming for minors to fight addiction.

WhatsApp is adding a new feature that will allow users to send photos and videos that disappear after a single viewing. The Snapchat-inspired feature, however, doesn’t alert you if the other person takes a screenshot — as Snap’s app does. So it may not be ideal for sharing your most sensitive content.

Telegram’s update expands group video calls to support up to 1,000 viewers. It also announced video messages can be recorded in higher quality and can be expanded, regular videos can be watched at 0.5 or 2x speed, screen sharing with sound is available for all video calls, including 1-on-1 calls, and more.

Streaming & Entertainment

American Airlines added free access to TikTok aboard its Viasat-equipped aircraft. Passengers will be able to watch the app’s videos for up to 30 minutes for free and can even download the app if it’s not already installed. After the free time, they can opt to pay for Wi-Fi to keep watching. Considering how easy it is to fall into multi-hour TikTok viewing sessions without knowing it, the addition of the addictive app could make long plane rides feel shorter. Or at least less painful.

Chinese TikTok rival Kuaishou saw stocks fall by more than 15% in Hong Kong, the most since its February IPO. The company is another victim of an ongoing market selloff triggered by increasing investor uncertainty related to China’s recent crackdown on tech companies. Beijing’s campaign to rein in tech has also impacted Tencent, Alibaba, Jack Ma’s Ant Group, food delivery company Meituan and ride-hailing company Didi. Also related, Kuaishou shut down its controversial app Zynn, which had been paying users to watch its short-form videos, including those stolen from other apps.

Twitch overtook YouTube in consumer spending per user in April 2021, and now sees $6.20 per download as of June compared with YouTube’s $5.60, Sensor Tower found.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Spotify confirmed tests of a new ad-supported tier called Spotify Plus, which is only $0.99 per month and offers unlimited skips (like free users get on the desktop) and the ability to play the songs you want, instead of only being forced to use shuffle mode.

The company also noted in a forum posting that it’s no longer working on AirPlay2 support, due to “audio driver compatibility” issues.

Mark Cuban-backed audio app Fireside asked its users to invest in the company via an email sent to creators which didn’t share deal terms. The app has yet to launch.

YouTube kicks off its $100 million Shorts Fund aimed at taking on TikTok by providing creators with cash incentives for top videos. Creators will get bonuses of $100 to $10,000 based on their videos’ performance.

Dating

Match Group announced during its Q2 earnings it plans to add to several of the company’s brands over the next 12 to 24 months audio and video chat, including group live video, and other livestreaming technologies. The developments will be powered by innovations from Hyperconnect, the social networking company that this year became Match’s biggest acquisition to date when it bought the Korean app maker for a sizable $1.73 billion. Since then, Match was spotted testing group live video on Tinder, but says that particular product is not launching in the near-term. At least two brands will see Hyperconnect-powered integrations in 2021.

Photos

The Photo & Video category on U.S. app stores saw strong growth in the first half of the year, a Sensor Tower report found. Consumer spend among the top 100 apps grew 34% YoY to $457 million in Q2 2021, with the majority of the revenue (83%) taking place on iOS.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Gaming

Epic Games revealed the host of its in-app Rift Tour event is Ariana Grande, in the event that runs August 6-8.

Pokémon GO influencers threatened to boycott the game after Niantic removed the COVID safety measures that had allowed people to more easily play while social distancing. Niantic’s move seemed ill-timed, given the Delta variant is causing a new wave of COVID cases globally.

Health & Fitness

Apple kicked out an app called Unjected from the App Store. The new social app billed itself as a community for the unvaccinated, allowing like-minded users to connect for dating and friendships. Apple said the app violated its policies for COVID-19 content.

Google Pay expanded support for vaccine cards. In Australia, Google’s payments app now allows users to add their COVID-19 digital certification to their device for easy access. The option is available through Google’s newly updated Passes API which lets government agencies distribute digital versions of vaccine cards.

COVID Tech Connect, a U.S. nonprofit initially dedicated to collecting devices like phones and tablets for COVID ICU patients, has now launched its own app. The app, TeleHome, is a device-agnostic, HIPAA-compliant way for patients to place a video call for free at a time when the Delta variant is again filling ICU wards, this time with the unvaccinated — a condition that sometimes overlaps with being low-income. Some among the working poor have been hesitant to get the shot because they can’t miss a day of work, and are worried about side effects. Which is why the Biden administration offered a tax credit to SMBs who offered paid time off to staff to get vaccinated and recover.

Popular journaling app Day One, which was recently acquired by WordPress.com owner Automattic, rolled out a new “Concealed Journals” feature that lets users hide content from others’ viewing. By tapping the eye icon, the content can be easily concealed on a journal by journal basis, which can be useful for those who write to their journal in public, like coffee shops or public transportation.

Edtech

Recently IPO’d language learning app Duolingo is developing a math app for kids. The company says it’s still “very early” in the development process, but will announce more details at its annual conference, Duocon, later this month.

Educational publisher Pearson launched an app that offers U.S. students access to its 1,500 titles for a monthly subscription of $14.99. the Pearson+ mobile app (ack, another +), also offers the option of paying $9.99 per month for access to a single textbook for a minimum of four months.

News & Reading

Quora jumps into the subscription economy. Still not profitable from ads alone, Quora announced two new products that allow its expert creators to monetize their content on its service. With Quora+ ($5/mo or $50/yr), subscribers can pay for any content that a creator paywalls. Creators can choose to enable a adaptive paywall that will use an algorithm to determine when to show the paywall. Another product, Spaces, lets creators write paywalled publications on Quora, similar to Substack. But only a 5% cut goes to Quora, instead of 10% on Substack.

Utilities

Google Maps on iOS added a new live location-sharing feature for iMessage users, allowing them to more easily show your ETA with friends and even how much battery life you have left. The feature competes with iMessage’s built-in location-sharing feature, and offers location sharing of 1 hour up to 3 days. The app also gained a dark mode.

Security & Privacy

Controversial crime app Citizen launched a $20 per month “Protect” service that includes live agent support (who can refer calls to 911 if need be). The agents can gather your precise location, alert your designated emergency contacts, help you navigate to a safe location and monitor the situation until you feel safe. The system of live agent support is similar to in-car or in-home security and safety systems, like those from ADT or OnStar, but works with users out in the real world. The controversial part, however, is the company behind the product: Citizen has been making headlines for launching private security fleets outside law enforcement, and recently offered a reward in a manhunt for an innocent person based on unsubstantiated tips.

Funding and M&A

🤝 Square announced its acquisition of the “buy now, pay later” giant AfterPay in a $29 billion deal that values the Australian firm at more than 30% higher than the stock’s last closing price of AUS$96.66. AfterPay has served over 16 million customers and nearly 100,000 merchants globally, to date, and comes at a time when the BNPL space is heating up. Apple has also gotten into the market recently with an Affirm partnership in Canada.

🤝 Gaming giant Zynga acquired Chinese game developer StarLark, the team behind the mobile golf game Golf Rival, from Betta Games for $525 million in both cash and stock. Golf Rival is the second-largest mobile golf game behind Playdemic’s Golf Clash, and EA is in the process of buying that studio for $1.4 billion.

💰  U.K.-based Humanity raised an additional $2.5 million for its app that claims to help slow down aging, bringing the total raise to date to $5 million. Backers include Calm’s co-founders, MyFitness Pal’s co-founder and others in the health space. The app works by benchmarking health advice against real-world data, to help users put better health practices into action.

💰 YELA, a Cameo-like app for the Middle East and South Asia, raised $2 million led by U.S. investors that include Tinder co-founder Justin Mateen and Sean Rad, general partner of RAD Fund. The app is focusing on signing celebrities in the regions it serves, where smartphone penetration is high and over 6% of the population is under 35.

💰 London-based health and wellness app maker Palta raised a $100 million Series B led by VNV Global. The company’s products include Flo.Health, Simple Fasting, Zing Fitness Coach and others, which reach a combined 2.4 million active, paid subscribers. The funds will be used to create more mobile subscription products.

🤝 Emoji database and Wikipedia-like site Emojipedia was acquired by Zedge, the makers of a phone personalization app offering wallpapers, ringtones and more to 35 million MAUs. Deal terms weren’t disclosed. Emojipedia says the deal provides it with more stability and the opportunity for future growth. For Zedge, the deal provides🤨….um, a popular web resource it thinks it can better monetize, we suspect.

💰 Mental health app Revery raised $2 million led by Sequoia Capital India’s Surge program for its app that combines cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia with mobile gaming concepts. The company will focus on other mental health issues in the future.

💰 London-based Nigerian-operating fintech startup Kuda raised a $55 million Series B, valuing its mobile-first challenger bank at $500 million. The inside round was co-led by Valar Ventures and Target Global.

💰 Vietnamese payments provider VNLife raised $250 million in a round led by U.S.-based General Atlantic and Dragoneer Investment Group. PayPal Ventures and others also participated. The round values the business at over $1 billion.

Downloads

Mastodon for iPhone

Fans of decentralized social media efforts now have a new app. The nonprofit behind the open source decentralized social network Mastodon released an official iPhone app, aimed at making the network more accessible to newcomers. The app allows you to find and follow people and topics; post text, images, GIFs, polls, and videos; and get notified of new replies and reblogs, much like Twitter.

Xingtu

@_666eveITS SO COOL FRFR do u guys want a tutorial? #fypシ #醒图 #醒图app♬ original sound – Ian Asher

TikTok users are teaching each other how to switch over to the Chinese App Store in order to get ahold of the Xingtu app for iOS. (An Android version is also available.) The app offers advanced editing tools that let users edit their face and body, like FaceTune, apply makeup, add filters and more. While image-editing apps can be controversial for how they can impact body acceptance, Xingtu offers a variety of artistic filters which is what’s primarily driving the demand. It’s interesting to see the lengths people will go to just to get a few new filters for their photos — perhaps making a case for Instagram to finally update its Post filters instead of pretending no one cares about their static photos anymore.

Tweets

Facebook still dominating top charts, but not the No. 1 spot:  

Not cool, Apple: 

This user acquisition strategy: 

Maybe Stories don’t work everywhere: 

#adt, #afterpay, #alibaba, #android, #ant-group, #api, #app-maker, #app-store, #apple, #apps, #australia, #automattic, #beijing, #biden-administration, #canada, #china, #cloud-services, #coinbase, #coinbase-card, #computing, #day-one, #dragoneer-investment-group, #driver, #dropbox, #duolingo, #emojipedia, #eta, #facebook, #fintech-startup, #food-delivery, #game-center, #game-developer, #general-atlantic, #general-partner, #georgia, #gif, #google, #hyperconnect, #instagram, #ios, #ios-devices, #ipad, #iphone, #italy, #itunes, #jam-fund, #justin-mateen, #kuaishou, #kuda, #law-enforcement, #london, #ma, #maine, #meituan, #microsoft, #middle-east, #mobile, #mobile-app, #mobile-applications, #mobile-devices, #online-creators, #onstar, #operating-system, #palta, #playdemic, #quora, #sean-rad, #sensor-tower, #sequoia-capital, #smartphone, #snap, #snapchat, #social-network, #social-networking, #software, #south-africa, #south-asia, #spotify, #stories, #target-global, #tc, #this-week-in-apps, #tiktok, #twitch, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #valar-ventures, #viasat, #vnv-global, #wi-fi, #wordpress-com, #zedge, #zynga

Twitter Spaces now let you invite co-hosts

Fleets weren’t long for this world, but Twitter’s product teams aren’t slowing down on bringing new stuff to Spaces, the company’s own take on audio rooms. Twitter introduced Spaces in a limited test last year, expanding the Clubhouse copycat feature more broadly to anyone with at least 600 followers in May.

Now, Twitter is giving Space hosts the ability to add two co-hosts, who they can rope in through an invite system. Spaces will allow one main host, two additional co-hosts and up to 10 speakers. Additional co-hosts will make the task of moderation much more manageable, as they’ll be able to vet speaker requests, tap speakers and give anyone in the Space the boot.

With Fleets out of the picture, Twitter’s Spaces are the only feature for now that lives above the main feed in the Twitter app. That virtual real estate, which has echoes of Instagram’s Stories, draws the eye to anything that a social network wants its users to check out first. Twitter also began rolling out a dedicated tab to make it easier to discover Spaces, surfacing live audio rooms in real time in a central location.

A number of major apps spliced live audio chat rooms into their platforms in light of Clubhouse’s breakout run. In June, Spotify launched Greenroom, a standalone app that allows people to create 1,000-person voice events. Naturally, Facebook also launched its own spin on live audio rooms (called Live Audio Rooms) in June. Discord, already a leader in voice-based chat, added its own Clubhouse-like event channels in March. Twitter followed the same trend with Spaces, but unlike with Fleets, it looks like the company plans to continue supporting the relatively new feature.

#chat-room, #clubhouse, #computing, #facebook, #google-allo, #internet-culture, #leader, #mobile-applications, #operating-systems, #social, #social-audio, #social-network, #software, #speaker, #spotify, #tc, #twitter

Facebook cuts off NYU researcher access, prompting rebuke from lawmakers

Facebook shut down accounts belonging to two academic researchers late Tuesday, cutting off their ability to study political ads and misinformation on the world’s biggest social network.

The company accused the academics of engaging in “unauthorized scraping” and compromising user privacy on the platform, claims that Facebook’s many critics are slamming as a thin pretense for killing the transparency work.

The company took action against Laura Edelson and Damon McCoy, two well-known researchers affiliated with NYU’s Cybersecurity for Democracy project who have long sparred with the company. The move cuts off their access to Facebook’s Ad Library — one of the company’s only meaningful transparency efforts to date — and data on popular posts from the social media monitoring service CrowdTangle.

Facebook has a history with Edelson and McCoy. The company served the pair cease and desist letters just weeks before the 2020 election, calling on the team to disable an opt-in browser tool called Ad Observer and unpublish their findings. Ad Observer is a browser tool anyone can install that’s designed to give researchers a rare glimpse into how Facebook targets the ads that have transformed it into a trillion-dollar company.

“Over the last several years, we’ve used this access to uncover systemic flaws in the Facebook Ad Library, identify misinformation in political ads including many sowing distrust in our election system, and to study Facebook’s apparent amplification of partisan misinformation,” Edelson said on Twitter.

“By suspending our accounts, Facebook has effectively ended all this work. Facebook has also effectively cut off access to more than two dozen other researchers and journalists who get access to Facebook data through our project, including our work measuring vaccine misinformation with the Virality Project and many other partners who rely on our data.”

The incident set off a fresh round of criticism about the company’s preference for opacity over transparency when it comes to some of the more dangerous behavior that the platform incubates.

By Wednesday, Facebook’s actions had attracted the attention of some members of Congress. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) criticized Facebook’s decision to punish the researchers under the pretense of protecting users in light of the company’s long history of invasive privacy practices. Wyden also called Facebook’s bluff over its claim that revoking researcher access is an effort to comply with a privacy order from the FTC that the company was issued for its previous user privacy violations.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) also weighed in on Facebook’s latest controversy, calling the decision “deeply concerning.” Warner praised independent researchers for “consistently [improving] the integrity and safety of social media platforms by exposing harmful and exploitative activity.”

“It’s past time for Congress to act to bring greater transparency to the shadowy world of online advertising, which continues to be a major vector for fraud and misconduct,” Warner said.

A number of free press organizations, researchers and misinformation experts also condemned Facebook’s decision Wednesday. “Facebook’s cavalier approach to privacy enabled it to become so dominant,” The Markup’s Julia Angwin and Nabiha Syed wrote in a joint statement.

“But now, when independent researchers want to interrogate that platform and the influence it commands, Facebook is propping up user privacy as a shield to hide behind.”

#congress, #facebook, #facebook-ad-library, #federal-trade-commission, #instagram, #julia-angwin, #mark-warner, #nyu, #online-advertising, #operating-systems, #privacy, #ron-wyden, #social, #social-media, #social-media-platforms, #social-network, #tc, #world-wide-web

Yat thinks emoji ‘identities’ can be a thing, and it has $20M in sales to back it up

I learned about Yat in April, when a friend sent our group chat a link to a story about how the key emoji sold as an “internet identity” for $425,000. “I hate the universe,” she texted.

Sure, the universe would be better if people with a spare $425,000 spent it on mutual aid or something, but minutes later, we were trying to figure out what this whole Yat thing was all about. And few more minutes later, I spent $5 (in USD, not crypto) to buy ☕👉💩❗, an emoji string that I think tells a moving story about my caffeine dependency and sensitive stomach. I didn’t think I would be writing about this when I made that choice.

Kesha’s Yat URL on Twitter

On the surface, Yat is a platform that lets you buy a URL with emojis in it — even Kesha (y.at/🌈🚀👽), Lil Wayne (y.at/👽🎵), and Disclosure (y.at/😎🎵😎) are using them in their Twitter bios. Like any URL on the internet, Yats can redirect to another website, or they can function like a more eye-catching Linktree. While users could purchase their own domain name that supports emojis and use it instead of a Yat, many people don’t have the technical expertise or time to do so. Instead, they can make one-time purchase from Yat, which owns the Y.at domain, and the company will provide your with your own y.at link for you.

This convenience, however, comes at a premium. Yat uses an algorithm to determine your Yat’s “rhythm score,” its metric for determining how to price your emoji combo based on its rarity. Yats with one or two emojis are so expensive that you have to contact the company directly to buy them, but you can easily find a four- or five-emoji identity that’ll only put you out $4.

Beyond that, CEO Naveen Jain — a Y Combinator alumnus, founder of digital marketing company Sparkart, and angel investor — thinks that Yat is ultimately an internet privacy product. Jain wants people to be able to use their Yats in any way they’re able to use an online identity now, whether that’s to make payments, send messages, host a website, or login to a platform.

“Objectively, it’s a strange norm. You go on the internet, you register accounts with ad-supported platforms, and your username isn’t universal. You have many accounts, many usernames,” Jain said. “And you don’t control them. If an account wants to shut you down, they shut you down. How many stories are there of people trying to email some social network, and they don’t respond because they don’t have to?”

Yat doesn’t plan to fuel itself with ad money, since users pay for the product when they purchase their Yat, whether they get it for $4 or $400,000.

In the long run, Yat’s CEO says the company plans to use blockchain technology as a way to become self-sovereign. Yats would become assets issued on decentralized, distributed databases. Today, there are several projects working to create a decentralized alternative to the current domain name system (DNS), which is managed by internet regulatory authority ICANN.  DNS is how you find things on the internet, but uses a centralized, hierarchical system. A blockchain domain name system would have no central authority, and some believe this could be the foundation of a next-gen web, or “Web 3.0.”

Today, words like “blockchain” and “cryptocurrency” don’t appear on the Yat website. Jain doesn’t think that’s compelling to average consumers — he believes in progressive decentralization, which explains why Yats are currently purchased with dollars, not ethereum.

“Something we think is really funny about the cryptocurrency world is that anyone who’s a part of it spends a lot of time talking about databases,” Jain said. “People don’t care about databases. When’s the last time you went to a website and it said ‘powered by MySQL’?”

Y.at, however, was registered at a traditional internet registrar, not on the blockchain.

“This is laying the foundation — there are certain elements of the vision that are certainly more of a social contract than actual implementation at this point in time,” says Jain. “But this is the vision that we’ve set forth, and we’re working continuously towards that goal.”

Still, until Yat becomes more decentralized, it can’t yet give users the complete control it aspires to. At present, the Terms & Conditions give Yat the authority to terminate or suspend users at its discretion, but the company claims it hasn’t yet booted anyone from the system.

As Yat becomes more decentralized, our terms and conditions won’t be important,” Jain said. “This is the nature of pursuing a progressive decentralization strategy.”

In its “generation zero” phase (an open beta), Yat claims to have sold almost $20 million worth of emoji identities. Now, as the waitlist to get a Yat ends, Yat is posting some rare emoji identities on OpenSea, the NFT marketplace that recently reached a valuation of $1.5 billion.

A still image of a Yat visualizer creation

“For the first time ever, we’re going to be auctioning some Yats on OpenSea, and we’re going to be launching minting of Yats on Ethereum,” Jain said. Before minting Yats as NFTs, users can create a digital art landscape for their Yats through a Visualizer. These features, as well as new emojis in the Yat emoji set, will launch this evening at a virtual event called Yat Horizon.

Yat Creators will now have more rights,” Jain said about the new ability to mint Yats as NFTs. “We are going to continue to pursue progressive decentralization until we achieve our ultimate goal: making Yat the best self-directed, self-sovereign identity system for all.”

Consumers have a demonstrated interest in retaining greater privacy on the internet — data shows that in iOS 14.5, 96% of users opted out of ad tracking. But the decentralization movement hasn’t yet been able to market its privacy advantages to the mainstream. Yat helps solve this problem because even if you don’t understand what blockchain means, you understand that having a personal string of emojis is pretty fun. But, before you spend $425,000 on a single-emoji username, keep in mind that Yat’s vision will only completely materialize with the advent of Web 3.0, and we don’t yet know when or if that will happen.

#apps, #articles, #blockchain, #blockchains, #ceo, #computing, #cryptocurrencies, #decentralization, #emoji, #ethereum, #facebook, #ion, #mysql, #naveen-jain, #online-identity, #opensea, #social-network, #startups, #technology, #twitter

Trouble in fandom paradise: Tumblr users lash out against its beta subscription feature

The Tumblr community often refers to itself as the Wild West of the internet, and they’re not wrong. A text post with over 70,000 notes puts it best: “Tumblr is my favorite social media site because this place is literally uninhabitable for celebrities. No verification system, no algorithm that boosts their posts, it’s a completely lawless wasteland for them.”

But like any social media company, Tumblr needs to keep itself afloat in order for its users to continue sharing esoteric fan art, incomprehensible shitposts, and overly personal diary entries hidden beneath a “Read More” button. Yesterday, Tumblr announced the limited beta test of its Post+ subscription feature, which — if all goes as planned — will eventually let Tumblr users post paywalled content to subscribers that pay them $3.99, $5.99 or $9.99 per month.

Image Credits: Tumblr

Tumblr is far from the first social media platform to seek revenue this way — Twitter is rolling out Super Follows and a Tip Jar feature, and this week, YouTube announced a tipping feature too. Even Instagram is working on its own version of Twitter’s Super Follows that would let users create “exclusive stories.” But on a website with a community that prides itself as being a “completely lawless wasteland” for anyone with a platform (save for Wil Wheaton and Neil Gaiman, who are simply just vibing), the move toward paywalled content was not welcomed with open arms.

Monetization is a double-edged sword. It’s not considered uncool for a Tumblr artist to link to a third-party Patreon or Ko-fi site on their blog, where their most enthusiastic followers can access paywalled content or send them tips. So Post+ seems like an obvious way for Tumblr to generate revenue — instead of directing followers to other websites, they could build a way for fans to support creators on their own platform while taking a 5% cut. This isn’t unreasonable, considering that Twitter will take 3% revenue from its new monetization tools, while video-centric platforms like YouTube and Twitch take 30% and 50%, respectively. But Tumblr isn’t Twitter, or YouTube, or Twitch. Unlike other platforms, Tumblr doesn’t allow you to see other people’s follower counts, and no accounts are verified. It’s not as easy to tell whether the person behind a popular post has 100 followers or 100,000 followers, and the users prefer it that way. But Post+ changes that, giving bloggers an icon next to their username that resembles a Twitter blue check.

A Tumblr Post+ creator profile

Tumblr rolled out Post+ this week to a select group of hand-picked creators, including Kaijuno, a writer and astrophysicist. The platform announced Post+ on a new blog specific to this product, rather than its established staff blog, which users know to check for big announcements. So, as the most public user who was granted access, the 24-year-old blogger was the target of violent backlash from angry Tumblrites who didn’t want to see their favorite social media site turn into a hypercapitalist hellscape. When Kaijuno received death threats for beta testing Post+, Tumblr’s staff intervened and condemned harassment against Post+ users.

“We want to hear about what you like, what you love, and what concerns you. Even if it’s not very nice. Tell us. We can take it,” Tumblr wrote on its staff blog. “What we won’t ever accept is the targeted harassment and threats these creators have endured since this afternoon. […] all they’re doing is testing out a feature.”

Before making their post, a representative from Tumblr’s staff reached out to Kaijuno directly to check in on them regarding the backlash, but there’s only so much that Tumblr can do after a user has already been threatened for using their product.

“I felt like the sacrificial lamb, because they didn’t announce Post+ beforehand and only gave it to a few people, which landed me in the crosshairs of a very pissed off user base when I’m just trying to pay off medical bills by giving people the option to pay for content,” Kaijuno told TechCrunch. “I knew there’d be some backlash because users hate any sort of change to Tumblr, but I thought that the brunt of the backlash would be at the staff, and that the beta testers would be spared from most of it.”

Why do Tumblr users perceive monetization as such a threat? It’s not a question of whether or not it’s valuable to support creators, but rather, whether Tumblr is capable of hosting such a service. Multiple long-time, avid Tumblr users that spoke to TechCrunch referenced an incident in late 2020 when people’s blogs were being hacked by spam bots that posted incessant advertisements for a Ray-Ban Summer Sale.

“Tumblr is not the most well-coded website. It’s easy to break features,” Kaijuno added. “I think anything involving trusting Tumblr with your financial information would have gotten backlash.”

Tumblr users also worried about the implications Post+ could have on privacy — in the limited beta, Post+ users only have the ability to block people who are subscribed to their blog if they contact Tumblr support. In cases of harassment by a subscriber, this could leave a blogger vulnerable in a potentially dangerous situation.

“Ahead of our launch to all U.S.-based creators this fall, Post+ will allow creators to block subscribers directly,” a Tumblr spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Still, the Extremely Online Gen Z-ers who now make up 48% of Tumblr know that they can’t expect the platform to continue existing if it doesn’t pull in enough money to pay for its staff and server fees. In 2018, Tumblr lost almost one-third of its monthly page views after all NSFW content was banned — since then, the platform’s monthly traffic has remained relatively stagnant.

Image Credits: SimilarWeb

A former Tumblr employee told TechCrunch that the feature that became Post+ started out as a Tip Jar. But higher-ups at Tumblr — who do not work directly with the community — redirected the project to create a paywalled subscription product.

“I think a Tip Jar would be a massive improvement,” said the creator behind the Tumblr blog normal-horoscopes. Through the core audience they developed on Tumblr, they make a living via Patreon, but they don’t find Post+ compelling for their business. “External services [like Patreon] have more options, more benefits, better price points, and as a creator I get to choose how I present them to my audience.”

But a paywalled subscription service is different in the collective eyes of Tumblr. For a site that thrives on fandom, creators that make fan art and fanfiction worry that placing this derivative work behind a paywall — which Post+ encourages them to do — will land them in legal trouble. Even Archive of Our Own, a major fanfiction site, prohibits its users from linking to sites like Patreon or Ko-Fi.

“Built-in monetization attracts businesses, corporate accounts, people who are generally there to make money first and provide content second,” said normal-horoscopes. “It changes the culture of a platform.”

Across Tumblr, upset users are rallying for their followers to take Post+’s feedback survey to express their frustrations. The staff welcomes this.

“As with any new product launch, we expect our users to have a healthy discussion about how the feature will change the dynamics of how people use Tumblr,” a Tumblr spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Not all of this feedback will be positive, and that’s ok. Constructive criticism fuels how we create products and ultimately makes Tumblr a better place.”

Tumblr’s vocal community has been empowered over the years to question whether it’s possible for a platform to establish new revenue streams in a way that feels organic. The protectiveness that Tumblr’s user base feels for the site — despite their lack of faith in staff — sets it apart from social media juggernauts like Facebook, which can put ecommerce front and center without much scrutiny. But even three years after the catastrophic porn ban, it seems hard for Tumblr to grow without alienating the people that make the social network unique.

Platforms like Reddit and Discord have remained afloat by selling digital goods, like coins to reward top posters, or special emojis. Each company’s financial needs are different, but Tumblr’s choice to monetize with Post+ highlights the company’s lack of insight into its own community’s wishes.

#apps, #artist, #automattic, #facebook, #instagram, #neil-gaiman, #operating-systems, #post, #select, #social, #social-media, #social-network, #software, #spokesperson, #tumblr, #twitch, #twitter, #video-hosting, #wordpress, #world-wide-web, #writer, #youtube

TikTok wants you to send video resumes directly to brands to land your next gig

A new pilot program from TikTok would inject a little LinkedIn into the youthful video-based social network.

TikTok announced that, starting today, it will invite users to submit video resumes to participating companies, including Target, Chipotle, Shopify, Meredith, NASCAR and the WWE. The company encourages applicants to show off their skills in a creative way while tagging the content with the hashtag #TikTokResumes.

The pilot program is TikTok’s latest effort to streamline the relationship between brands and creators, giving both even more reason to invest time and cash into the platform.

“#CareerTok is already a thriving subculture on the platform and we can’t wait to see how the community embraces TikTok Resumes and helps to reimagine recruiting and job discovery,” TikTok Global Head of Marketing Nick Tran said of the pilot.

TikTok resumes sample page

The new pilot program will be discoverable through the dedicated hashtag and on standalone site tiktokresumes.com, which also has some tips for applying and sample videos. On that site, anyone can browse job listings by employer and fill out a short questionnaire, attaching their video link. And yes, for better or worse, pointing potential employers to your LinkedIn profile is still encouraged.

TikTok views the new pilot as a “natural extension” of its college ambassador program, which recruits students to serve as on-campus representatives promoting the social network’s brand. The pilot program will accept TikTok resumes through July 31.

Of the participating brands listed on the new site, many openings are just for regular ol’ jobs, like NASCAR seeking a sales rep and Target hunting for hourly warehouse workers to cover the night shift. (Should we really be encouraging unemployed people to jump through more hoops to land gigs like this?)

Some listings are more tailored to the TikTok skill set, like an opening at All Recipes for on-camera talent to teach viewers how to make fluffy biscuits or a supervising social producer role at Popsugar.

The traditional resume hasn’t changed much over the years — list the stuff you did, keep it on one page — but any brand hiring a social media manager or any other kind of content creator could be well served by TikTok’s latest creator economy experiment.

#ambassador, #bytedance, #computing, #linkedin, #nascar, #pilot, #shopify, #social, #social-media, #social-network, #software, #target, #tc, #tiktok, #wwe

Gettr, the latest pro-Trump social network, is already a mess

Well, that was fast. Just days after a Twitter clone from former Trump spokesperson Jason Miller launched, the new social network is already beset by problems.

For one, hackers quickly leveraged Gettr’s API to scrape the email addresses of more than 85,000 of its users. User names, names and birthdays were also part of the scraped data set, which was surfaced by Alon Gal, co-founder of cybersecurity firm Hudson Rock.

“When threat actors are able to extract sensitive information due to neglectful API implementations, the consequence is equivalent to a data breach and should be handled accordingly by the firm [and] examined by regulators,” Gal told TechCrunch.

Last week, TechCrunch’s own Zack Whittaker predicted that Gettr would soon see its data scraped through its API.

The scraped data is just one of Gettr’s headaches. The app actually went live in the App Store and Google Play last month but left beta on July 4 following a launch post in Politico. While the app is meant to appeal to the famously anti-China Trump sphere, Gettr apparently received early funding from Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui, an ally of former Trump advisor Steve Bannon. Earlier this year, The Washington Post reported that Guo is at the center of a massive online disinformation network that spreads anti-vaccine claims and QAnon conspiracies.

On July 2, the app’s team apologized for signup delays citing a spike in downloads, but a bit of launch downtime is probably the least of its problems. Over the weekend, a number of official Gettr accounts including Marjorie Taylor-Greene, Steve Bannon, and Miller’s own were compromised, raising more questions about the app’s shoddy security practices.

That incident aside, fake accounts overwhelm any attempt to find verified users on Gettr. That goes for the app’s own recommendations too: a fake brand account for Steam was among the app’s own recommendations during TechCrunch’s testing.

Another red flag: The app’s design is conspicuously identical to Twitter and appears to have used the company’s API to copy some users’ follower counts and profiles. Gettr encourages new users to use their Twitter handle in the sign up process, saying that it will allow tweets to be copied over in some cases (we signed up, but this didn’t work for us). TechCrunch reached out to Twitter about Gettr’s striking similarities and the use of its API but the company declined to comment.

On mobile, Gettr is basically an exact clone of Twitter — albeit one that’s very rough around the edges. Some of Gettr’s copy is stilted and strange, including the boast that it’s a “non-bias” social network that “tried the best to provide best software quality to the users, allow anyone to express their opinion freely.”

The company is positioning itself as an alternative for anyone who believes that mainstream social networks are hostile to far right ideas. Gettr’s website beckons new users with familiar Trumpian messaging: “Don’t be Cancelled. Flex Your 1st Amendment. Celebrate Freedom.”

“Hydroxycholoroquine works!” Miller shared (Gettr’d?) over the weekend, quoting the former president. “And nobody is going to take down this post or suspend this account! #GETTR.” So far on Gettr, content moderation is either lax or nonexistent. But as we’ve seen with Parler and other havens for sometimes violent conspiracies, that approach can only last so long.

In spite of being widely associated with Trump through Miller and former Trump campaign staffer Tim Murtaugh, the former president doesn’t yet have a presence on the app. Some figures from Trump’s orbit have established profiles on Gettr, including Steve Bannon (84.7K followers) and Mike Pompeo (1.3M followers), but a search for Trump only brings up unofficial accounts. Bloomberg reported that Trump has no plans to join the app. (Given Gettr’s preponderance of Sonic the Hedgehog porn, we can’t exactly blame him.)

The online pro-Trump ecosystem remains scattered in mid-2021. With Trump banned and the roiling conspiracy network around QAnon no longer welcome on Facebook and Twitter, Gettr positioned itself as a refuge for mainstream social media’s many outcasts. But given Gettr’s mounting early woes, the sketchy Twitter clone’s moment in the sun might already be coming to an end.

#api, #app-store, #computer-security, #data-security, #donald-trump, #google, #mike-pompeo, #security, #social, #social-network, #tc

Nextdoor’s SPAC investor deck paints a picture of sizable scale and sticky users

The SPAC parade continues in this shortened week with news that community social network Nextdoor will go public via a blank-check company. The unicorn will merge with Khosla Ventures Acquisition Co. II, taking itself public and raising capital at the same time.

Per the former startup, the transaction with the Khosla-affiliated SPAC will generate gross proceeds of around $686 million, inclusive of a $270 million private investment in public equity, or PIPE, which is being funded by a collection of capital pools, some prior Nextdoor investors (including Tiger), Nextdoor CEO Sarah Friar and Khosla Ventures itself.

Notably, Khosla is not a listed investor in the company per Crunchbase or PitchBook, indicating that even SPACs formed by venture capital firms can hunt for deals outside their parent’s portfolio.

Per a Nextdoor release, the transaction will value the company at a “pro forma equity [valuation] of approximately $4.3 billion.” That’s a great price for the firm that was most recently valued at $2.17 billion in a late 2019-era Series H worth $170 million, per PitchBook data. Those funds were invested at a flat $2.0 billion pre-money valuation.

So, what will public investors get the chance to buy into at the new, higher price? To answer that we’ll have to turn to the company’s SPAC investor deck.

Our general observations are that while Nextdoor’s SPAC deck does have some regular annoyances, it offers are clear-eyed look at the company’s financial performance both in historical terms and in terms of what it might accomplish in the future. Our usual mockery of SPAC charts mostly doesn’t apply. Let’s begin.

Nextdoor’s SPAC pitch

We’ll proceed through the deck in its original slide order to better understand the company’s argument for its value today, as well as its future worth.

The company kicks off with a note that it has 27 million weekly active users (neighbors, in its own parlance), and claims users in around one in three U.S. households. The argument, then, is that Nextdoor has scale.

A few slides later, Nextdoor details its mission: “To cultivate a kinder world where everyone has a neighborhood they can rely on.” While accounts like @BestOfNextdoor might make this mission statement as coherent as ExxonMobil saying that its core purpose was, say, atmospheric carbon reduction, we have to take it seriously. The company wants to bring people together. It can’t control what they do from there, as we’ve all seen. But the fact that rude people on Nextdoor is a meme stems from the same scale that the company was just crowing about.

Underscoring its active user counts are Nextdoor’s retention figures. Here’s how it describes that metric:

Image Credits: Nextdoor SPAC investor deck

These are monthly active users, mind, not weekly active, the figure that the company cited up top. So, the metrics are looser here. And the company is counting users as active if they have “started a session or opened a content email over the trailing 30 days.” How conservative is that metric? We’ll leave that for you to decide.

The company’s argument for its value continues in the following slide, with Nextdoor noting that users become more active as more people use the service in a neighborhood. This feels obvious, though it is nice, we suppose, to see the company codify our expectations in data.

Nextdoor then argues that its user base is distinct from that of other social networks and that its users are about as active as those on Twitter, albeit less active than on the major U.S. social networks (Facebook, Snap, Instagram).

Why go through the exercise of sorting Nextdoor into a cabal of social networks? Well, here’s why:

#ec-media, #fundings-exits, #khosla-ventures, #nextdoor, #sarah-friar, #social, #social-network, #spac, #special-purpose-acquisition-company, #startups, #tc, #united-states

LinkedIn formally joins EU Code on hate speech takedowns

Microsoft-owned LinkedIn has committed to doing more to quickly purge illegal hate speech from its platform in the European Union by formally signing up to a self-regulatory initiative that seeks to tackle the issue through a voluntary Code of Conduct.

In statement today, the European Commission announced that the professional social network has joined the EU’s Code of Conduct on Countering Illegal Hate Speech Online, with justice commissioner, Didier Reynders, welcoming LinkedIn’s (albeit tardy) participation, and adding in a statement that the code “is and will remain an important tool in the fight against hate speech, including within the framework established by digital services legislation”.

“I invite more businesses to join, so that the online world is free from hate,” Reynders added.

While LinkedIn’s name wasn’t formally associated with the voluntary Code before now it said it has “supported” the effort via parent company Microsoft, which was already signed up.

In a statement on its decision to formally join now, it also said:

“LinkedIn is a place for professional conversations where people come to connect, learn and find new opportunities. Given the current economic climate and the increased reliance jobseekers and professionals everywhere are placing on LinkedIn, our responsibility is to help create safe experiences for our members. We couldn’t be clearer that hate speech is not tolerated on our platform. LinkedIn is a strong part of our members’ professional identities for the entirety of their career — it can be seen by their employer, colleagues and potential business partners.”

In the EU ‘illegal hate speech’ can mean content that espouses racist or xenophobic views, or which seeks to incite violence or hatred against groups of people because of their race, skin color, religion or ethnic origin etc.

A number of Member States have national laws on the issue — and some have passed their own legislation specifically targeted at the digital sphere. So the EU Code is supplementary to any actual hate speech legislation. It is also non-legally binding.

The initiative kicked off back in 2016 — when a handful of tech giants (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft) agreed to accelerate takedowns of illegal speech (or well, attach their brand names to the PR opportunity associated with saying they would).

Since the Code became operational, a handful of other tech platforms have joined — with video sharing platform TikTok signing up last October, for example.

But plenty of digital services (notably messaging platforms) still aren’t participating. Hence the Commission’s call for more digital services companies to get on board.

At the same time, the EU is in the process of firming up hard rules in the area of illegal content.

Last year the Commission proposed broad updates (aka the Digital Services Act) to existing ecommerce rules to set operational ground rules that they said are intended to bring online laws in line with offline legal requirements — in areas such as illegal content, and indeed illegal goods. So, in the coming years, the bloc will get a legal framework that tackles — at least at a high level — the hate speech issue, not merely a voluntary Code. 

The EU also recently adopted legislation on terrorist content takedowns (this April) — which is set to start applying to online platforms from next year.

But it’s interesting to note that, on the perhaps more controversial issue of hate speech (which can deeply intersect with freedom of expression), the Commission wants to maintain a self-regulatory channel alongside incoming legislation — as Reynders’ remarks underline.

Brussels evidently sees value in having a mixture of ‘carrots and sticks’ where hot button digital regulation issues are concerned. Especially in the controversial ‘danger zone’ of speech regulation.

So, while the DSA is set to bake in standardized ‘notice and response’ procedures to help digital players swiftly respond to illegal content, by keeping the hate speech Code around it means there’s a parallel conduit where key platforms could be encouraged by the Commission to commit to going further than the letter of the law (and thereby enable lawmakers to sidestep any controversy if they were to try to push more expansive speech moderation measures into legislation).

The EU has — for several years — had a voluntary a Code of Practice on Online Disinformation too. (And a spokeswoman for LinkedIn confirmed it has been signed up to that since its inception, also through its parent company Microsoft.)

And while lawmakers recently announced a plan to beef that Code up — to make it “more binding”, as they oxymoronically put it — it certainly isn’t planning to legislate on that (even fuzzier) speech issue.

In further public remarks today on the hate speech Code, the Commission said that a fifth monitoring exercise in June 2020 showed that on average companies reviewed 90% of reported content within 24 hours and removed 71% of content that was considered to be illegal hate speech.

It added that it welcomed the results — but also called for signatories to redouble their efforts, especially around providing feedback to users and in how they approach transparency around reporting and removals.

The Commission has also repeatedly calls for platforms signed up to the disinformation Code to do more to tackle the tsunami of ‘fake news’ being fenced on their platforms, including — on the public health front — what they last year dubbed a coronavirus infodemic.

The COVID-19 crisis has undoubtedly contributed to concentrating lawmakers’ minds on the complex issue of how to effectively regulate the digital sphere and likely accelerated a number of EU efforts.

 

#brussels, #code-of-conduct-on-countering-illegal-hate-speech, #covid-19, #digital-services-act, #europe, #european-commission, #european-union, #facebook, #freedom-of-speech, #hate-speech, #homophobia, #linkedin, #microsoft, #online-disinformation, #online-platforms, #policy, #racism, #social, #social-network

Happs raises $4.7 million for a multicast livestream platform creator community

Happs, an app that lets creators stream live video simultaneously across social platforms, has raised $4.7 million in a post-seed round. The product originally began as a platform for independent journalists, but expanded its mission last year to offer tools to all online creators while connecting them through a new social network.

The funding was led by Bullpen Capital and Crosslink, Goodwater, Corazon, Rob Hayes of First Round Capital and Bangaly Kaba, previously at Instagram and Sequoia, also participated.

What sets Happs apart from some established competitors in the space is the team’s desire to not only build tools that help video creators produce professional-looking online streams, but to cultivate a kind of meta-community that brings people together from across other social media sites.

“We kind of view this as the essence of what the creator economy is all about,” Happs CEO Mark Goldman told TechCrunch. “The idea of locking creators into an individual platform is a very traditional way of thinking about content creation.”

Happs app multistreaming

Like Goldman, the other co-founders, David Neuman and Drew Shepard, come from the media world. Goldman was the founding COO of Current TV, an experimental TV channel that dabbled in user-generated content and eventually sold to Al Jazeera in 2013.

“The whole idea was to democratize media and open it up,” Goldman said of his time working on Current TV, which he connects directly to his interest in building Happs. “[We] loved the creativity unleashed by that.”

Online creators tend to be siloed within the app where they’ve built the biggest community, but Happs wants to empower them to reach as many followers as possible in a platform-agnostic way. For creators, the appeal with multistreaming is maximizing reach while making content efficiently. There’s a risk of alienating YouTube followers at the expense of your Twitch community if you don’t play your cards right, but some savvy content creators have turned toward the model to grow their audiences.

Happs connects people across platforms in a few ways. For one, Happs users can broadcast live to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Twitch simultaneously. The app also collects live comments from all supported social media sites and beams them into its own interface where they appear in a continuous cross-platform stream.

The integrated comment feature is nice built-in option for anyone who’s straddled comments across multiple devices simultaneously while livestreaming, which is no easy feat. When you’re streaming live you can feature a comment so that followers can see it on the screen no matter what platform they’re watching on.

Other companies in the space like OBS, Streamlabs and Restream are focused on the tools part of the equation, offering power users a useful backend for pushing out multi-streamed live video. Streamyard also offers multistreaming to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other platforms through a simple browser interface.

Unlike those services, Happs feels more like a social network, with familiar features like user profile photos, follower counts and a feed next to a “go live” button. Anyone can use the multi-streaming platform through its iOS or Android apps or a web interface, whether they’re a creator signing up for the tools or a fan looking to support the content they love.

Happs lacks some of its competitors’ bells and whistles, stuff like fancy customized graphics and lower-thirds, but has a few interesting tricks of its own. While streaming live on Happs, you can invite someone else on the app to join your feed for a real-time collaboration. The social networking elements are meant to encourage cross-platform creativity, so a YouTuber and a Twitch personality could hang out together and boost both of their reaches, all while streaming to a bunch of other apps.

Happs also offers users monetization tools from the get-go, with no requirements before they can start making money. That speaks to the app’s appeal for creators who might be less established or just starting out. Happs could be a much harder sell for a popular creator deeply invested in a platform like Twitch, which has rules against multi-streaming for most accounts that are allowed to monetize.

There are a few different ways to monetize. One lets anyone on Happs sponsor a broadcaster through regular monthly payments. The other is a one-off option that lets you chip in an award for any livestream, or to the VOD (video on demand) after the fact. The in-app currency is a virtual coin that users can buy or earn through doing stuff on the app. There are no plans for ads (yet, anyway).

The company will take 30% cut of subscription earnings, though according to Goldman they’ll be waiving those fees for an unspecified period of time to attract people to the platform.

“We raised this round to really build up product and tech team [and] to make the platform much more stable and reliable,” Goldman said. The company is looking forward to leveraging the new resources to “really go out now and get in front of creators so they know Happs exists.”

#bullpen-capital, #current-tv, #first-round-capital, #mobile, #online-creators, #social, #social-network, #streaming, #tc, #twitch, #video-on-demand

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

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

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

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

Image Credits: Facebook

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

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

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

Image Credits: Facebook

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

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

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

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

Image Credits: Facebook

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

Image Credits: Facebook

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

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

Image Credits: Facebook

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

Image Credits: Facebook

 

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

Image Credits: Facebook

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

Image Credits: Facebook

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

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

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

Image Credits: Facebook

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

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

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

Image Credits: Facebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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