Tumblr’s subscription product Post+ enters open beta after much scrutiny from users

Tumblr is entering open beta for its subscription product Post+, meaning that all U.S. users can now try out the monetization feature. The product launched in closed beta in July, allowing users hand-picked by Tumblr to place some of their content behind a monthly paywall. This marked the first time that Tumblr allowed bloggers to monetize their content directly on the platform, but the feature was met with backlash from users who worried about how the feature would change the site’s culture.

Now, Tumblr has responded to user feedback by removing the blue Post+ badge that appeared next to the names of users who enabled the feature. Tumblr differentiates itself from other sites by not revealing users’ follower and following counts, so users were concerned that this distinction, which looked like a Twitter verification badge, contradicted that key aspect of Tumblr culture. Tumblr is also adding a $1.99/month price point in open beta — before, subscriber-only content could be priced at $3.99, $5.99, and $9.99. Tumblr will only take 5% of creator profits — comparatively, Patreon takes between 5% and 12% depending on the tier. Payments will be processed through Stripe.

Still, Tumblr users were dismayed by the way Post+ was rolled out. Many bloggers were concerned that in the closed beta, Post+ users didn’t have the ability to block paying subscribers without first contacting support — this could potentially expose users to harassment without the tools to manage it. Tumblr corrected that mistake in the open beta, so now, users can block subscribers themselves. Creators can also put existing content behind the Post+ paywall.

Some users upset with the Post+ rollout staged a protest, which — with over 98,000 notes — is the first thing that shows up when you search “post plus” on Tumblr. Many people on Tumblr have amassed followings by posting iterative fan content, like fanfiction. Tumblr cited fanfiction as an example of the kind of content that creators can put behind a paywall, but users remain concerned that they will be subject to legal action if they were to do so. Archive of Our Own, a major fanfiction site, prohibits its users from linking to sites like Patreon or Ko-Fi, since some intellectual property rights holders can be litigious about the monetization of fanfiction. While it’s considered fair use to make fan content, profiting from it can be considered a violation of copyright.

When Tumblr banned pornographic content in 2018, monthly page views decreased by 29% — to date, the blogging platform hasn’t regained that traffic. After being sold to Automattic in 2019, Tumblr has committed to capturing the attention of Gen Z audiences, who the platform says make up about 48% of its users. Tumblr says it’s catering Post+ to serve Gen Z audiences, but the results of the open beta will begin to reveal whether or not this is what users on the platform want.

#apps, #automattic, #blogging, #computing, #monetization, #patreon, #paywall, #post, #social-media, #tumblr, #united-states, #website, #wordpress, #world-wide-web

Study finds half of Americans get news on social media, but percentage has dropped

A new report from Pew Research finds that around a third of U.S. adults continue to get their news regularly from Facebook, though the exact percentage has slipped from 36% in 2020 to 31% in 2021. This drop reflects an overall slight decline in the number of Americans who say they get their news from any social media platform — a percentage that also fell by 5 percentage points year-over-year, going from 53% in 2020 to a little under 48%, Pew’s study found.

By definition, “regularly” here means the survey respondents said they get their news either “often” or “sometimes,” as opposed to “rarely,” “never,” or “don’t get digital news.”

The change comes at a time when tech companies have come under heavy scrutiny for allowing misinformation to spread across their platforms, Pew notes. That criticism has ramped up over the course of the pandemic, leading to vaccine hesitancy and refusal, which in turn has led to worsened health outcomes for many Americans who consumed the misleading information.

Despite these issues, the percentage of Americans who regularly get their news from various social media sites hasn’t changed too much over the past year, demonstrating how much a part of people’s daily news habits these sites have become.

Image Credits: Pew Research

In addition to the one-third of U.S. adults who regularly get their news on Facebook, 22% say they regularly get news on YouTube. Twitter and Instagram are regular news sources for 13% and 11% of Americans, respectively.

However, many of the sites have seen small declines as a regular source of news among their own users, says Pew. This is a different measurement compared with the much smaller percentage of U.S. adults who use the sites for news, as it speaks to how the sites’ own user bases may perceive them. In a way, it’s a measurement of the shifting news consumption behaviors of the often younger social media user, more specifically.

Today, 55% of Twitter users regularly get news from its platform, compared with 59% last year. Meanwhile, Reddit users’ use of the site for news dropped from 42% to 39% in 2021. YouTube fell from 32% to 30%, and Snapchat fell from 19% to 16%. Instagram is roughly the same, at 28% in 2020 to 27% in 2021.

Only one social media platform grew as a news source during this time: TikTok.

In 2020, 22% of the short-form video platform’s users said they regularly got their news there, compared with an increased 29% in 2021.

Overall, though, most of these sites have very little traction with the wider adult population in the U.S. Fewer than 1 in 10 Americans regularly get their news from Reddit (7%), TikTok (6%), LinkedIn (4%), Snapchat (4%), WhatsApp (3%) or Twitch (1%).

Image Credits: Pew Research

There are demographic differences between who uses which sites, as well.

White adults tend to turn to Facebook and Reddit for news (60% and 54%, respectively). Black and Hispanic adults make up significant proportions of the regular news consumers on Instagram (20% and 33%, respectively.) Younger adults tend to turn to Snapchat and TikTok, while the majority of news consumers on LinkedIn have four-year college degrees.

Of course, Pew’s latest survey, conducted from July 26 to Aug. 8, 2021, is based on self-reported data. That means people’s answers are based on how the users perceive their own usage of these various sites for newsgathering. This can produce different results compared with real-world measurements of how often users visited the sites to read news. Some users may underestimate their usage and others may overestimate it.

People may also not fully understand the ramifications of reading news on social media, where headlines and posts are often molded into inflammatory clickbait in order to entice engagement in the form of reactions and comments. This, in turn, may encourage strong reactions — but not necessarily from those worth listening to. In recent Pew studies, it found that social media news consumers tended to be less knowledgeable about the facts on key news topics, like elections or Covid-19. And social media consumers were more frequently exposed to fringe conspiracies (which is pretty apparent to anyone reading the comments!)

For the current study, the full sample size was 11,178 respondents, and the margin of sampling error was plus or minus 1.4 percentage points.

 

#americans, #computing, #facebook, #instagram, #like-button, #linkedin, #media, #news, #news-media, #pew, #pew-research, #reading, #reddit, #snapchat, #social, #social-media, #software, #tiktok, #twitch, #twitter, #united-states, #website, #world-wide-web, #youtube

Web host Epik was warned of a critical website bug weeks before it was hacked

Hackers associated with the hacktivist collective Anonymous say they have leaked gigabytes of data from Epik, a web host and domain registrar that provides services to far-right sites like Gab, Parler and 8chan, which found refuge in Epik after they were booted from mainstream platforms.

In a statement attached to a torrent file of the dumped data this week, the group said the 180 gigabytes amounts to a “decade’s worth” of company data, including “all that’s needed to trace actual ownership and management” of the company. The group claimed to have customer payment histories, domain purchases and transfers, and passwords, credentials, and employee mailboxes. The cache of stolen data also contains files from the company’s internal web servers, and databases that contain customer records for domains that are registered with Epik.

The hackers did not say how they obtained the breached data or when the hack took place, but timestamps on the most recent files suggest the hack likely happened in late February.

Epik initially told reporters it was unaware of a breach, but an email sent out by founder and chief executive Robert Monster on Wednesday alerted users to an “alleged security incident.”

TechCrunch has since learned that Epik was warned of a critical security flaw weeks before its breach.

Security researcher Corben Leo contacted Epik’s chief executive Monster over LinkedIn in January about a security vulnerability on the web host’s website. Leo asked if the company had a bug bounty or a way to report the vulnerability. LinkedIn showed Monster had read the message but did not respond.

Leo told TechCrunch that a library used on Epik’s WHOIS page for generating PDF reports of public domain records had a decade-old vulnerability that allowed anyone to remotely run code directly on the internal server without any authentication, such as a company password.

“You could just paste this [line of code] in there and execute any command on their servers,” Leo told TechCrunch.

Leo ran a proof-of-concept command from the public-facing WHOIS page to ask the server to display its username, which confirmed that code could run on Epik’s internal server, but he did not test to see what access the server had as doing so would be illegal.

It’s not known if the Anonymous hacktivists used the same vulnerability that Leo discovered. (Part of the stolen cache also includes folders relating to Epik’s WHOIS system, but the hacktivists left no contact information and could not be reached for comment.) But Leo contends that if a hacker exploited the same vulnerability and the server had access to other servers, databases or systems on the network, that access could have allowed access to the kind of data stolen from Epik’s internal network in February.

“I am really guessing that’s how they got owned,” Leo told TechCrunch, who confirmed that the flaw has since been fixed.

Monster confirmed he received Leo’s message on LinkedIn, but did not answer our questions about the breach or say when the vulnerability was patched. “We get bounty hunters pitching their services. I probably just thought it was one of those,” said Monster. “I am not sure if I actioned it. Do you answer all your LinkedIn spams?”

#8chan, #computer-security, #computing, #cyberspace, #cyberwarfare, #epik, #gab, #parler, #rob-monster, #security, #texas, #world-wide-web

Google’s R&D division experiments with newsletters powered by Google Drive

Following entries into the newsletter market from tech companies like Facebook and Twitter, Google is now experimenting with newsletters, too. The company’s internal R&D division, Area 120, has a new project called Museletter, which allows anyone to publish a Google Drive file as a blog or newsletter to their Museletter public profile or to an email list.

The effort would essentially repurpose Google’s existing document-creation tools as a means of competing with other newsletter platforms, like Substack, Ghost, Revue, and others, which are today attracting a growing audience.

Google’s experiment was spotted this week by sites including 9to5Google and Android Police.

Reached for comment, an Area 120 spokesperson declined to share further details about Museletter, saying only that it was “one of the many experiments” within the R&D group and that “it’s still very early.”

From the Museletter website, however, there is already much that can be learned about the project. The site explains how Google Drive could be monetized by creators in a way that would allow Google’s newsletter project to differentiate itself from the competition. Not only could newsletters be written in a Google Doc, other productivity apps could also be used to share information with readers. For example, a newsletter creator could offer a paid subscription plan that would allow readers to access their Google Slides. A creator who writes about finance could publish helpful spreadsheets to Google Sheets, which would be available to their subscribers.

Image Credits: Google

To make this possible, Museletter publishers would create a public profile on their Google Drive, then publish any Google Drive file directly to it. This provides them with a landing page where they can market their subscriptions and showcase how many different Drive files they’ve made publically available across Docs, Sheets, and Slides.

Creators can also optionally publish to an email list — including a list brought in from other platforms. The newsletter subscriptions can be free or paid, depending on the creator’s preferences, but using Museletter itself will be free. Instead, the project aims to monetize with premium features like custom domains, welcome emails, and more.

The platform also promises tools and analytics to engage audiences and track the newsletter’s performance.

While the site doesn’t mention any plans for advertising, a success in this space could provide Google with a new ad revenue stream — and one that arrives at a time when the tech giant’s multi-billion dollar advertising market has a new challenger in the form of Amazon, whose own ad business could eventually challenge the Facebook-Google duopoly.

Google didn’t say when it plans to launch Museletter, but the website is offering a link to a form where users can request early access.

#amazon, #android, #area-120, #computing, #creators, #finance, #google, #google-sheeets, #google-slides, #google-docs, #google-drive, #media, #news, #newsletter, #newsletters, #publish, #publishers, #rd, #substack, #world-wide-web

Facebook enters the fantasy gaming market

Facebook is getting into fantasy sports and other types of fantasy games. The company this morning announced the launch of Facebook Fantasy Games in the U.S. and Canada on the Facebook app for iOS and Android. Some games are described as “simpler” versions of the traditional fantasy sports games already on the market, while others allow users to make predictions associated with popular TV series, like “Survivor” or “The Bachelorette.”

The first game to launch is Pick & Play Sports, in partnership with Whistle Sports, where fans get points for correctly predicting the winner of a big game, the points scored by a top player, or other events that unfold during the match. Players can also earn bonus points for building a streak of correct predictions over several days. This game is arriving today.

Image Credits: Facebook

In the months ahead, it will be followed by other games in sports, TV, and pop culture, including Fantasy Survivor, where players choose a set of Castaways from the popular CBS TV show to join their fantasy team and Fantasy “The Bachelorette,” where fans will pick a group of men from the suitors vying for the Bachelorette’s heart and get points based on their actions and events that take place during the show. Other upcoming sports-focused games include MLB Home Run Picks, where players pick the team that they think will hit the most home runs, and LaLiga Winning Streak, where fans predict the team that will win that day.

In addition to top players being featured on leaderboards, games have a social component for those who want to play with friends.

Image Credits: Facebook

Players can create their own fantasy league with friends to compete with one another or against other fans, either publicly or privately. League members can compare scores with each other and will have a place where they can share picks, reactions and comments. This league area resembles a private group on Facebook, as it offers its own compose box for posting only to members and its own dedicated feed. However, the page is designed to support groups with specific buttons to “play” or view the “leaderboard,” among others.

The addition of fantasy games could help Facebook increase the time users spent on its app at a time when the company is facing significant competition in social, namely from TikTok. According to App Annie, the average monthly time spent per user in TikTok grew faster than other top social apps in 2020, including by 70% in the U.S., surpassing Facebook.

Facebook had dabbled in the idea of becoming a second screen companion for live events in the past, but in a different way than fantasy sports and games. Instead, its R&D division tested Venue, which worked as a way for fans to comment on live events which were hosted in the app by well-known personalities.

The new league games will be available from the bookmark menu on the mobile app and in News Feed through notifications.

#android, #app-annie, #apps, #canada, #computing, #facebook, #gaming, #mlb, #mobile, #player, #private, #software, #survivor, #tiktok, #united-states, #world-wide-web

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

OnlyFans’ explicit content ban should spark a conversation about a creators’ bill of rights

OnlyFans’ decision to ban sexually explicit content is reigniting an important and overlooked conversation around tech companies, content guidelines and sex work. However, the implications of this discussion go beyond just one platform and one marginalized group.

It’s indicative of a broken ecosystem for content creators where platforms have outsized control over the ways in which creators are allowed to share content and engage with their followers and fans. In response, creators are decentralizing, broadening their reach to multiple platforms and taking their audiences with them.

In doing so, creators also have the opportunity to define what rights they want to be built into these platforms.

History repeats itself

Creators being shut out of the individual platforms is nothing new. Many are comparing OnlyFans’ policy change to Tumblr’s move to ban adult content in 2018. This has been an ongoing issue for YouTube as well — several communities, including a group of LGBTQ YouTubers, have accused the platform of targeting them with their demonetization algorithm.

Many of these platforms, including OnlyFans, point to their payment partners’ policies as a barrier to allowing certain forms of content. One of the earliest major controversies we saw in this arena was when PayPal banned WikiLeaks in 2010.

While each of these events have drawn the ire of creators and their followers, it’s indicative of an ecosystemwide problem, not necessarily an indictment of the platforms themselves.

After all, these platforms have provided the opportunity for creators to build an audience and engage with their fans. But these platforms have also had to put policies in place to shield themselves from regulatory and reputational risk.

The core of the issue is that creators are beholden to individual platforms, always vulnerable to changing policies and forced to navigate the painful migration of their audiences and monetization from platform to platform.

That doesn’t mean that that all guidelines and policies are bad — they play a role to foster and govern a positive and safe community with thoughtful guidelines — but it should not come at the cost of harming and de-platforming the creators who fuel these platforms with content and engagement. The core of the issue is that creators are beholden to individual platforms, always vulnerable to changing policies and forced to navigate the painful migration of their audiences and monetization from platform to platform.

And, at the end of the day, it takes away from their ability to create meaningful content, engage with their communities and earn a reliable living.

As creators have lost more and more control to platforms over time, some have begun exploring alternative options that allow independent and direct monetization from their audience in a distributed way.

Decentralizing, monetizing

The direct-to-fan monetization model is already displacing the traditional ad-based, platform-dictated model that creators relied on for years. During my time at Patreon, I saw how putting control and ownership in the hands of creators builds a more sustainable, fair and vibrant creator economy. Substack has given writers a similarly powerful financial tool, and over the past few years, there has been an ever-growing number of companies that serve creators.

The challenge is that many of these companies rely on the existing systems that hamstrung the platforms of the past, and have business models that require take rates and revenue shares. In many ways, the creator economy needs new infrastructure and business models to build the next phase of creator and fan interaction.

With the right application, crypto can help rewrite the playbook of how creators monetize, engage with their fans and partner with platforms. Its peer-to-peer structure reflects the direct-to-fan relationship and allows creators to own the financial relationship with their audience instead of relying on tech giants or payment partners as middlemen. Beyond that, crypto allows creators to maintain ownership and control over their brands and intellectual property.

Additionally, many crypto projects allow participants to have a voice in the value proposition, strategic direction, operational functions and economic structures of the project via DAOs or governance tokens. In this way, creators can join projects and set the direction in a way that aligns with how they want to engage with their communities.

Creators are especially positioned to benefit from community-governed projects given their ability to motivate and engage their own communities. We are in the early phases of crypto adoption, and creators have a huge opportunity to shape the future of this paradigm shift. With social tokens, creators can mint their own cryptocurrencies that allow for a shared economy that creators and fans can grow together and use to transact directly across different platforms.

NFTs are another category that have exploded in popularity this year, but the industry is just scratching the surface of the utility that they will have. Creators and crypto projects are figuring out ways to make NFTs go beyond collectibles; NFTs provide an engaging and functional digital tool for creators to give their fans their time (through video calls or AMAs) or access to other exclusive benefits.

Creators are just beginning to discover the power that crypto provides. As the user experience of crypto-based platforms continues to become more intuitive, crypto will become ubiquitous. Before that point, creators should think about what rights they need (and can demand) from the decentralized services they use.

A creators’ bill of rights

Be it within crypto or not, creators finally have the leverage to determine their rights. While I believe that creators should be the ones leading this conversation, here are a few jumping off points:

  • Ability to move freely across platforms: Reliance on individual platforms is at the heart of many of the issues that creators face. By allowing creators to take their fans with them wherever they go, many of the problems we’ve seen even with direct-to-fan monetization can be solved.
  • Direct financial relationships between creators and fans: At the heart of the OnlyFans matter is creators’ inability to own their financial relationships with fans. Even if direct financial relationships aren’t feasible on every platform, creators should have options to own those relationships and dictate their own terms.
  • Creator-led decision-making: Historically, platforms have given creators minimal control over platformwide decisions and policies. Creators should have direct input and even be able to vote on various platformwide measures.
  • Quality over quantity: Platforms and their algorithms are structured to reward quantity and force creators down a path of burnout and hyperspeed content creation. Both creators and fans are looking for a more deep and engaging interaction and incentivizing this behavior will ensure a more vibrant and sustainable creator ecosystem.
  • Low (or zero) take rates: Big tech platforms take nearly 100% of revenue from creators. Creators (and their fans) should be earning the majority of platform revenue.
  • Equity access or revenue sharing: Big tech platforms have built empires on the labor of creators. Instead of dictating ad revenue payout to creators, decentralized platforms should allow creators to have true “skin in the game” by being able to own a piece of the pie outright or benefit from the overall growth of the ecosystem. This alignment of interests will be a major shift from the capital-labor split we see today.
  • Transparency and consultation: Creators should have full view into what they can or can’t do and a seat at the table as policies are being created and adapted. Platforms’ content moderation decisions and the algorithms behind demonetization are often opaque, broadly applied and decided without consulting the creators they will impact. They should also have visibility into the size of the overall revenue pie and their share.
  • Ability for reform and rehabilitation: We are all human, and there might be moments that a creator knowingly or unknowingly goes outside of the guidelines set by a platform. Creating a space for creators to rehabilitate their content will create a more trusting and collaborative relationship between creators and platforms.

We’ll leave it to creators to dictate their terms — they’ve been cut out of this conversation for far too long. That said, I’m confident that Rally and many other key participants in the Web 3.0 ecosystem would be open to supporting this effort to create an environment that works for creators and their fans.

#column, #cryptocurrency, #e-commerce, #media, #online-advertising, #onlyfans, #opinion, #patreon, #payments, #paypal, #peer-to-peer, #substack, #tumblr, #video-hosting, #websites, #world-wide-web, #youtube

Medium revamps its Partner Program, launching new eligibility requirements and referral bonuses

Amid a year of editorial pivots and employee exits, Medium announced today that it will make significant changes to its Medium Partner Program, which allows writers on the platform to monetize their content.

Founded in 2011, Medium launched its Partner Program in 2017. Since then, the platform has paid out $28 million to over 200,000 contributors. Initially, it offered payouts based on how much time Medium members spent reading a writer’s content. For $5 per month or $50 per year, Medium members could read all posts on the platform without hitting a paywall. Plus, part of each member’s subscription was split among the writers they read; so, if a Medium member spent 10% of their time reading one writer’s work, for example, that writer would get 10% of the subscriber’s revenue share.

Medium said that earnings based on read time will remain the same. But now, Medium will offer a new way to make money with the launch of a referral program.

Previously, if a reader converted to a paying member within 30 days of reading a writer’s story, that writer would get credit for the amount of time the reader spent reading their work. Under the new model, Partner Program writers will now have a personalized referral landing page — for any reader who purchases a Medium subscription via their page, the writer will get half of that member’s subscription fee for as long as they remain a paying member, minus the standard 2.9% + $0.30 in payment processing fees. So, if a writer got 100 readers to sign up for a monthly Medium membership through their referral, that would net the writer $227 per month.

However, now it’s more difficult for a writer to join the Partner Program — writers must have 100 subscribers, at least one published Medium story, and they must live within specific geographic regions. Even if a Partner meets the new eligibility requirements, they might lose their status if they don’t publish anything new in a six month period. Still, under the previous structure, just becoming a Partner didn’t guarantee financial rewards — some Partners with smaller followings would make pennies each month. Existing Partners will retain their status through the end of 2021, and if they haven’t reached 100 subscribers by then, they will be removed.

Also, Medium will soon institute a minimum payout threshold of $10, meaning that if a writer makes less than $10 in a month, that pay will roll over to the next month until they amass at least $10.

Medium has been reticent about its subscriber numbers in the past, but CEO Ev Williams told TechCrunch in November that its subscriber numbers were in the “high hundreds of thousands.” In March 2021, Medium had 725,000 subscribers per Axios, but Digiday previously reported that Medium had hoped to reach 1 million subscribers by 2020. As of September, its competitor Substack, founded in 2017, had 250,000 paid subscribers and raised a $65 million series B round two months later. Medium last raised venture funding in 2016 with a $50M series C round.

Platforms like Substack and the newer Ghost pay writers based on how many paying subscribers they have. Medium’s new revenue sharing model similarly incentivizes writers to corral readers to the platform, but Medium takes about 50%. For direct subscriptions to a writer’s individual newsletter, Substack takes 10%, and Ghost takes $9 per month. While Substack or Ghost readers might subscribe to multiple individual newsletters, Medium subscribers pay just one $5 monthly or $50 yearly fee to access all of the website’s content.

The newsletter business is competitive — in June, Facebook launched a newsletter platform called Bulletin with hand-picked contributors, and Twitter acquired Revue earlier this year. Then, last week, Quora unveiled a monetization platform called Quora+, which costs the same as a Medium membership. Similar to Medium, Quora+ subscribers get access to all content any writer chooses to put behind a paywall, and writers are paid based on engagement with their content. But writers can also write paywalled posts on Spaces, which are like user-created publications on Quora — Quora takes a 5% cut of those payments.

#apps, #ceo, #e-commerce, #ev-williams, #medium, #newsletters, #paywall, #quora, #social-software, #substack, #world-wide-web, #writer

Link-in-bio monetization platform Snipfeed raises a $5.5M seed round

The link-in-bio business is heating up as more mobile website builders compete for a coveted slice of real estate on a creator’s TikTok, Instagram, or Twitter. Linktree leads the space, securing a recent $45 million Series B raise to build out e-commerce features, but Beacons boasts competitive creator monetization tools with just a $6 million seed round in May. Now, Snipfeed enters the ring with its own $5.5 million seed round, including investments from CRV, Abstract Ventures, Crossbeam (Ali Hamed), id8, Michael Ovitz (founder of CAA), Michael Bosstick, Diaspora Ventures, and others.

Linktree has been around since 2016 and has more funding than its up-and-coming competitors. But for creators seeking to monetize their following, these newer platforms may be more attractive to some creators, since they already have built-in tools to help them monetize their followings. Linktree currently supports tipping on the platform for users subscribed to its $6 Linktree Pro platform, but Snipfeed offers a wider range of monetization options; some creators are making over $20,000 per month on the platform, according to CEO and co-founder Rédouane Ramdani.

Snipfeed started as a content discovery platform with 44,000 weekly active users — but when Snipfeed added a creator monetization tool to its platform, it became its most popular feature. So, in February 2020, with little to no funding left, the company completely pivoted to its current link-in-bio business. Since then, Snipfeed has amassed 50,000 registered users, with the user base growing 500% in the last six months (Linktree, for comparison, has over 12 million users).

Based in Paris and Los Angeles, Snipfeed’s 15-person staff is particularly interested in the “long tail” of creators, which it says encompasses over 46 million people.

“Content creator doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be the next Addison Rae or a TikTok star,” explained Ramdani. “It means that you might be a doctor or lawyer, and on top of that, you’re going to have a TikTok where you explain how to file your taxes and that kind of stuff. They have this expertise, and they’re wondering, ‘How can I turn that into a side-hustle?’”

Image Credits: Snipfeed

In addition to a standard tipping tool, Snipfeed allows users to sell digital goods, like on-demand video, ebooks, access to livestreams, and one-on-one consultations. But Snipfeed’s biggest differentiator is its Cameo-like system for selling personalized content. For example, TikToker maylikethemonthh uses Snipfeed to sell asynchronous, video-recorded tarot readings. While asking a single, personalized astrology question costs $5, a more in-depth reading can cost up to $20 or $40.

Snipfeed is free to set up, but if you make sales, the company takes 15% — this percentage is inclusive of any transaction fees. Through Snipfeed’s referral program, creators can make 5% of sales from anyone they onboard to the platform (this comes out of Snipfeed’s commission).

“We decided to go with this model because we really want to have a relationship where we help the creators really make money. We only make money if they make money,” Ramdani said.

If a creator or celebrity were to sell personalized videos on Cameo, they’d lose 25% to the platform. Meanwhile, Beacons takes 9% of sales from its free version, and 5% from its $10 per month version, which offers more customization, integrations, analytics.

Image Credits: Snipfeed

Still, depending on the type of creator, the features that each link-in-bio startup offers might matter more than the cost. Beacons allows users to share a shopping-enabled TikTok feed, which could be huge a money-maker for creators that often share product recommendations with affiliate links, which give them a commission from sales. Ramdani said that astrologers have been particularly successful on Snipfeed, since fans can book a variety of asynchronous services at a wide range of prices. But these features could benefit any creator who can profit from answering followers’ specific questions — a chef could offer recipe ideas based on what’s in a fan’s fridge, or a life coach could make a personalized video if a follower requests advice.

With its $5.5 million in seed funding, Snipfeed plans to build out its e-commerce tools so that creators can sell physical products on their link-in-bio (Beacons and Linktree are also working on this with their recent funding rounds — but Beacons’ and Snipfeed’s seed rounds are small compared to Linktree’s Series B). The company also wants to develop educational content to show its users how to best monetize their platform — if Snipfeed can help its creators make money, then it’ll make more money too.

#abstract-ventures, #ali-hamed, #apps, #beacons, #caa, #crossbeam, #founder, #instagram, #lawyer, #link-in-bio, #linktree, #los-angeles, #michael-ovitz, #monetization, #paris, #real-estate, #social-media, #software, #tiktok, #video-hosting, #website, #world-wide-web

Wix launches a no-code app builder for $200 per month

This morning, Wix announced a new product for business owners called Branded App by Wix, which allows users to develop native apps without writing code. The publicly-traded company provides tools for people and businesses to manage their online presence, but it’s most well-known for its drag-and-drop website builder. Now, the platform is expanding its user-friendly approach by making it possible for anyone to build an app without learning how to code.

“Users came to us with the need to create a native app that is branded with their name and logo,” said Ronny Elkayam, SVP of Mobile, App Market & Strategic Products at Wix. “Many of our users are businesses, and businesses have a desire to portray a situation that they are bigger than they are. They want to follow the big businesses that have native apps.”

At $200 per month, Branded App by Wix is no small investment; users will also have to pay a yearly $99 fee to be on the App Store, and a one-time $25 fee for Google Play. But according to Wix, native mobile apps can help businesses ultimately drive more sales. For users that already have a Wix website, the app builder can automatically integrate features from their website, making the process more simple.

“If you’re a restaurant, and you have your menu configured on your website for online ordering, the same menu is going to show up on the app. You don’t need to configure it. Any purchases or any orders from that menu are going to show up in your dashboard,” Elkayam said.

Out of Wix’s 200 million users, 5 million are paid subscribers. For businesses, Wix’s most popular plan is $27 per month for a website, which includes access to e-commerce features. Even users with a free website (which has limited capabilities and is emblazoned with the Wix logo) can create an app — Branded App by Wix is a new product, not an additional feature for existing subscribers. Business owners can customize their app’s icon, layout, and content, including product pages, booking services, forums and groups, chat functions, blogs, push notifications, and more. Wix will automatically update users’ apps to remain compatible with the latest versions of iOS and Android.

A competitor in the no-code app building space, Bubble charges between $29 and $529 per month, with a free plan for users to learn how to use the product and develop their app. But Bubble’s offerings are web-based, while Wix’s apps are native, which means they can be downloaded from the App Store and Google Play.

In 2020, Wix had 31 million new users — Elkayam said that Wix’s growth increased under the conditions of the coronavirus pandemic. The company will announce its Q2 earnings tomorrow, but in Q1, the company had $304 million in revenue, up 41% year-over-year.

After beta testing with hundreds of users, Branded App by Wix is now available to all users. Those who sign up during the temporary “presale” will get the product for 50% off for life.

#app-builder, #app-store, #apps, #google-play, #mobile-app, #no-code, #software, #svp, #technology, #web-hosting, #wix, #wix-com, #world-wide-web

Privacy-oriented search app Xayn raises $12M from Japanese backers to go into devices

Back in December 2020 we covered the launch of a new kind of smartphone app-based search engine, Xayn.

“A search engine?!” I hear you say? Well, yes, because despite the convenience of modern search engines’ ability to tailor their search results to the individual, this user-tracking comes at the expense of privacy. This mass surveillance might be what improves Google’s search engine and Facebook’s ad targeting, to name just two examples, but it’s not very good for our privacy.

Internet users are admittedly able to switch to the US-based DuckDuckGo, or perhaps France’s Qwant, but what they gain in privacy, they often lose in user experience and the relevance of search results, through this lack of tailoring.

What Berlin-based Xayn has come up with is personalized, but a privacy-safe web search on smartphones, which replaces the cloud-based AI employed by Google et al with the innate AI in-built into modern smartphones. The result is that no data about you is uploaded to Xayn’s servers.

And this approach is not just for ‘privacy freaks’. Businesses that need search but don’t need Google’s dominant market position are increasingly attracted by this model.

And the evidence comes today with the new that Xayn has now raised almost $12 million in Series A funding led by the Japanese investors Global Brain and KDDI (a Japanese telecommunications operator), with participation from previous backers, including the Earlybird VC in Berlin. Xayn’s total financing now comes to more than $23 million to date.

It would appear that Xayn’s fusion of a search engine, a discovery feed, and a mobile browser has appealed to these Asian market players, particularly because Xayn can be built into OEM devices.

The result of the investment is that Xayn will now also focus on the Asian market, starting with Japan, as well as Europe.

Leif-Nissen Lundbæk, Co-Founder and CEO of Xayn said: “We proved with Xayn that you can have it all: great results through personalization, privacy by design through advanced technology, and a convenient user experience through clean design.”

He added: “In an industry in which selling data and delivering ads en masse are the norm, we choose to lead with privacy instead and put user satisfaction front and center.”

The funding comes as legislation such as the EU’s GDPR or California’s CCPA have both raised public awareness about personal data online.

Since its launch, Xayn says its app has been downloaded around 215,000 times worldwide, and a web version of its app is expected soon.

Over a call, Lundbæk expanded on the KDDI aspect of the fund-raising: “The partnership with KDDI means we will give users access to Xayn for free, while the corporate – such as KDDI – is the actual customer but gives our search engine away for free.”

The core features of Xayn include personalized search results; a personalized feed of the entire Internet which learns from their Tinder-like swipes, without collecting or sharing personal data;
an ad-free experience.  

Naoki Kamimeada, Partner at Global Brain Corporation said: “The market for private online search is growing, but Xayn is head and shoulders above everyone else because of the way they’re re-thinking how finding information online should be.”

Kazuhiko Chuman, Head of KDDI Open Innovation Fund, said: “This European discovery engine uniquely combines efficient AI with a privacy-protecting focus and a smooth user experience. At KDDI, we’re constantly on the lookout for companies that can shape the future with their expertise and technology. That’s why it was a perfect match for us.”

In addition to the three co-founders Leif-Nissen Lundbæk (Chief Executive Officer), Professor Michael Huth (Chief Research Officer), and Felix Hahmann (Chief Operations Officer), Dr Daniel von Heyl will come on board as Chief Financial Officer, Frank Pepermans will take on the role of Chief Technology Officer, and Michael Briggs will join as Chief Growth Officer.

#artificial-intelligence, #berlin, #california, #chief-executive-officer, #chief-financial-officer, #chief-technology-officer, #computing, #duckduckgo, #europe, #european-union, #facebook, #france, #global-brain-corporation, #google, #head, #japan, #kddi, #online-search, #partner, #privacy, #qwant, #search-engine, #search-engines, #search-results, #smartphone, #smartphones, #tc, #terms-of-service, #websites, #world-wide-web, #xayn

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

Substack doubles down on uncensored ‘free speech’ with acquisition of Letter

Substack announced last week that it acquired Letter, a platform that encourages written dialogue and debate. The financials of the deal weren’t disclosed, but this acquisition follows Substack’s recent $65 million raise.

Newsletters are all the rage — Facebook launched its exclusive, celeb-studded Bulletin platform last month, and Twitter acquired the newsletter startup Revue earlier this year. Letter doesn’t publish email newsletters like Substack, but rather, it allows writers to engage in epistolary exchanges about fraught topics like Brexit, dating and the 2020 U.S. Presidential election. The idea behind Letter makes sense. Complicated conversations require nuance, yet these online debates too often happen on platforms like Twitter, where short-form tweets make it harder to have nuanced conversations.

“We could see that Letter, like Substack, was working in opposition to the ad-driven attention economy, attempting to change the rules of engagement for online discourse,” Substack wrote in its acquisition announcement.

But this acquisition may be cause for concern among those already troubled by the controversy Substack faced earlier this year, when news came out that the platform offered some writers up to six-figure advances as part of its Substack Pro program. The problem wasn’t that Substack was incentivizing writers to join the platform, but rather, who Substack had hand-picked to pay an advance. Plus, Substack says that it’s up to the writer to disclose whether or not they’re part of Substack Pro, which creates a lack of editorial transparency.

As Substack grew, writers left jobs at Buzzfeed and the New York Times, lured by pay raises and cautious optimism. But as more writers came forward as part of the Substack Pro program, Substack was criticized for subsidizing anti-trans rhetoric, since some of these writers used their newsletters to share such views. Substack admits it’s not entirely apolitical, but the choices of which writers to subsidize, and its decision to use only lightweight moderation tactics, are a strong political choice in an era of the internet when content moderation has a tangible effect on global politics. Some writers even chose to leave the platform.

Annalee Newitz, a non-binary writer who since left the platform, wrote on Substack, “Their leadership are deciding what kinds of writing and writers are worthy of financial compensation. […] Substack is taking an editorial stance, paying writers who fit that stance, and refusing to be transparent about who those people are.”

So, when Substack described its new acquisition Letter as a platform that encourages people to “argue in good faith instead of dropping bombs for retweets,” it made the acquisition worthy of a deeper examination. Statements like this sound agreeable, yet this kind of language often appears in arguments that deem social justice a threat to free speech. But free speech shouldn’t mean endorsing hate speech.

Substack wants to position itself as a neutral platform, and for many writers, it’s a valuable way to make money, especially in an unstable journalism industry. But given that some users have already become skeptical of who Substack chooses to financially incentivize, it’s worth examining the implications of buying Letter, a platform that includes writers associated with the so-called intellectual dark web in its group of twenty “featured writers.” On Letter, some of these writers question the validity of childhood transgender identity and refer to the statement “trans women are women” as propaganda, for example. Substack has already lost the trust of some trans and gender non-conforming writers, and the content on its newly acquired Letter won’t help rebuild that trust.

In addition, Letter co-founder Clyde Rathbone wrote in support of a controversial letter published in Harper’s Magazine, which called for the “concerted repudiation of cancel culture.” But critics of the letter point out that free speech isn’t really at stake here.

The open letter had been signed by over 150 prominent writers — like Gloria Steinem, Noam Chomsky (a Letter author), and Malcolm Gladwell (a Bulletin author). It argued: “We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences.” These “professional consequences” echoed the predicament that J.K. Rowling — who also signed the letter — had put herself in. After denying that trans women are women, her reputation suffered. Some might call that “cancel culture,” but others might call it the refusal to continue to platform people who perpetuate harmful beliefs.

“The panic over ‘cancel culture’ is, at its core, a reactionary backlash,” wrote journalist Michael Hobbes. “Conservative elites, threatened by changing social norms and an accelerating generational handover, are attempting to amplify their feelings of aggrievement into a national crisis.”

Substack says it plans to use the acquisition of Letter to help writers collaborate, and that it won’t integrate Letter into its platform. Rather, the Letter team will relocate from Australia to San Francisco to “bring their expertise to help build more of the infrastructure and support.”

TechCrunch asked Substack if the anti-trans content on Letter is cause for concern within the company, given the recent backlash against the platform.

“We think that open debate and disagreement are absolutely part of having free press, and that includes views that you or I may not like,” a representative from Substack said. “Anyone could browse Substack and find things they agree with and things they don’t agree with. Substack has no ad-driven feeds pushing content based on virality and outrage, and there is a direct relationship between writers and readers who can opt out of that anytime. So the bar for us to intervene in that relationship and tell writers what they should be saying is really high, and the fact that Letter allowed writers to openly debate and discuss is consistent with that philosophy.”
We don’t know yet how or if Letter will change Substack — but given the existing discourse around the kind of content Substack pays for, Substack isn’t demonstrating “good faith” with this acquisition.

#apps, #australia, #bulletin, #buzzfeed, #co-founder, #facebook, #j-k-rowling, #journalist, #letter, #malcolm-gladwell, #operating-systems, #presidential-election, #revue, #san-francisco, #social-media, #software, #substack, #the-new-york-times, #twitter, #united-states, #world-wide-web

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

Facebook adds a ‘Payout Time Bonus’ to help retain bug bounty hunters

When it comes to bug bounties, Facebook lags behind the likes of Microsoft and Google in terms of overall payouts and volume of tips received: last year, Microsoft and Google respectively paid out $13.6 million and $6.7 million; Facebook meanwhile paid out just $1.98 million as of November.

But on the other hand, Facebook’s a younger company and is working on improving its system to keep it on bounty hunters’ radar. In the latest development, Facebook today said that it would be adding a new set of bonus rewards when it pays out on a report if more than 30 days have passed since Facebook first received it.

The Payout Time Bonus, as Facebook is calling it, will work on a sliding scale, where payouts made between 30-59 days will get a 5% bonus; payouts made between 60-89 days will get a 7.5% bonus; and payouts made after 90 days or more will get a 10% bonus. Facebook doesn’t specify what the base amount is, but in its last round of bounties, its highest payouts per bug were as much as $80,000 and $60,000 with some $40,000 paid out in its existing bonus program.

The extra money will work as a kind of incentive to bounty hunters who make a living from these tips, so that when delays happen with Facebook paying out for legitimate tips, the bug hunters know they’ll get a more lucrative reward for their work in the end — rather than get turned off from working on Facebook-property bugs altogether.

Bug hunting has become a big business for security researchers, with some making upwards of $1 million annually from the programs. But bounty hunting is a double-edged sword: it definitely focuses top minds on to specific platforms, but in doing so, they spend more time there than looking for vulnerabilities in some places than others. That leads the biggest platforms to ensure that they are making their bug-ridden environments more, or as, “attractive” as others to get people to contribute to their work.

#bounty, #computing, #facebook, #google, #microsoft, #philanthropy, #security, #social-media, #software, #world-wide-web

The Tim Berners-Lee NFT that sold for $5.4M might have an HTML error

Berners-Lee reflecting on the creation of the World Wide Web.

Enlarge / Berners-Lee reflecting on the creation of the World Wide Web. (credit: Courtesy Sotheby’s)

Two weeks ago, World Wide Web creator Tim Berners-Lee sent an NFT of the web’s original source code to the auction block with a starting bid of just $1,000. Yesterday, Sotheby’s announced that the crypto asset sold for $5.4 million. The sum makes Berners-Lee’s work one of the priciest NFTs of all time.

The digital package included not just the source code but also a letter from Berners-Lee reflecting on the creation of the web, some original HTML documents, an SVG “poster” of thousands of lines of code, and a 30-minute visualization of the code being typed on a screen. 

But there’s a twist. An eagle-eyed researcher pointed out on Twitter that the animation initially posted on the Sotheby’s site had errors in the code, possibly introduced when the person making the video fed the Objective-C code through an app or web service to produce the typing effect in the animation. Instead of angle brackets that are present in the code (< and >), the HTML codes for the symbols (&lt; and &gt;) appeared instead. On the poster, which was made by a Python script created by Berners-Lee, the brackets appear correct. Presumably, they are also correct in the code itself.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#auction, #blockchain, #nft, #policy, #tim-berners-lee, #world-wide-web

Facebook’s newsletter platform Bulletin is now live

The cool new thing on Facebook is for Mark Zuckerberg to drop product news in live audio rooms. So today, Zuckerberg took to his brand’s Clubhouse competitor to announce its next new thing: Bulletin, a newsletter platform.

Bulletin is built on a separate platform from Facebook — on its website, the FAQ states that this is to “enable creators to grow their audience in ways that are not exclusively dependent on the Facebook platform.” You don’t need a Facebook account to subscribe to a newsletter, but Bulletin relies on Facebook’s infrastructure, including the use of Facebook Pay to purchase premium subscriptions and join subscriber-only groups and live audio rooms.

Competitors like Substack take a “hands-off” approach to content moderation, allowing anyone to start a newsletter. But every writer currently on Facebook’s Bulletin was hand-picked to contribute. Still, Substack has received scrutiny for subsidizing anti-trans rhetoric through its controversial Substack Pro program, which commissioned particular writers to write on Substack. So, Bulletin won’t be immune to the issues that plague Substack despite its heavily curated model.

The initial slate of writers on Bulletin includes Malcom Gladwell, Mitch Albom, Erin Andrews, and Tan France — the FAQ also notes that its beta program is US-centric, with only two international writers at the moment (“We will look to include more international creators after our beta program launch,” Bulletin says.) Facebook is paying its writers up front for their contributions, and so far, doesn’t plan to take a cut of their profits. If writers choose to move off the platform, they will have the ability to take their subscriber lists with them.

#apps, #bulletin, #computing, #facebook, #mark-zuckerberg, #social-media, #social-software, #software, #substack, #world-wide-web, #writer

Creator tools startup Spore raises $1M to build closer bonds between influencers and their fans

Few spaces have grown hotter in the past year than the creator economy has, but for all of the new tools available to those starting a podcast, newsletter or storefront, most players have been more focused on building out their own platform opportunity rather than selling full independence to creators.

Spore wants to transform the creator web experience into a Shopify-like basket of tools that users tap into to connect with their audience across a variety of mediums. Spore CEO Austin Hallock is looking to compete with other creator giants for the “link in bio” real estate on social media sites with a white-label option that uses a creator’s own URL, selling an easy-to-build hub focused solely on connecting personalities with their fans.

With Spore, users can manage their audience, communicate with them and analyze what is and isn’t working.

The platform allows for blasting out newsletter updates, podcasts or texts while embedding functionality like storefronts or Discord-like chat feeds into their sites to keep the interactions going 24/7. Creators can also use the tool to convert free subscribers to paying ones, managing the payments flow while also building flows to allow creators to send certain content to their paying fans.

The small startup has raised a $1 million pre-seed round led by SignalFire with additional participation from Justin Kan & Robin Chan’s GOAT, Canaan, Lenny Rachitsky, Nathan Baschez, Justin Waldron and Dave Nemetz, among others.

Spore’s creator platform backend

It’s the first lead investment for former TechCrunch editor Josh Constine in his role at SignalFire (full disclosure: I used to work closely with Josh). Constine started using Spore to build out a site for his regular show on Clubhouse, fellow investor Justin Kan also grew familiar with the team by building out a website for his podcast and YouTube channel.

“I chose Spore as my first lead investment as a VC because it solves creators’ biggest problems by giving them their own white-labeled website they control, and combining all the best content, communication, analytics, and payment tools so creators can spend their time making art instead of being web developers,” Constine tells TechCrunch.

Spore is certainly a small-scale operation at the moment with 4 full-time employees, though they’re hoping to grow their team with this raise. All of these features are in their early MVP stages, but Hallock wants his company to continue building out its utility to creators so that they can build a direct connection with their fans, one that isn’t obfuscated by algorithms..

“We definitely want to give creators ownership,” Hallock tells TechCrunch. “Today, you’re promoting your Linktree page or Patreon rather than just promoting your own brand… We don’t want it to be about Spore.”

#ceo, #editor, #josh-constine, #justin-kan, #justin-waldron, #patreon, #podcast, #real-estate, #shopify, #social-media, #spore, #tc, #technology, #video-games, #web-developers, #world-wide-web

Adtech ‘data breach’ GDPR complaint is headed to court in EU

New York-based IAB Tech Labs, a standards body for the digital advertising industry, is being taken to court in Germany by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) in a piece of privacy litigation that’s targeted at the high speed online ad auction process known as real-time bidding (RTB).

While that may sound pretty obscure the case essentially loops in the entire ‘data industrial complex’ of adtech players, large and small, which make money by profiling Internet users and selling access to their attention — from giants like Google and Facebook to other household names (the ICCL’s PR also name-checks Amazon, AT&T, Twitter and Verizon, the latter being the parent company of TechCrunch — presumably because all participate in online ad auctions that can use RTB); as well as the smaller (typically non-household name) adtech entities and data brokers which also also involved in handling people’s data to run high velocity background auctions that target behavioral ads at web users.

The driving force behind the lawsuit is Dr Johnny Ryan, a former adtech insider turned whistleblower who’s now a senior fellow a the ICCL — and who has dubbed RTB the biggest data breach of all time.

He points to the IAB Tech Lab’s audience taxonomy documents which provide codes for what can be extremely sensitive information that’s being gathered about Internet users, based on their browsing activity, such as political affiliation, medical conditions, household income, or even whether they may be a parent to a special needs child.

The lawsuit contends that other industry documents vis-a-vis the ad auction system confirm there are no technical measures to limit what companies can do with people’s data, nor who they might pass it on to.

The lack of security inherent to the RTB process also means other entities not directly involved in the adtech bidding chain could potentially intercept people’s information — when it should, on the contrary, be being protected from unauthorized access, per EU law…

Ryan and others have been filing formal complaints against RTB security issue for years, arguing the system breaches a core principle of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — which requires that personal data be “processed in a manner that ensures appropriate security… including protection against unauthorised or unlawful processing and against accidental loss” — and which, they contend, simply isn’t possible given how RTB functions.

The problem is that Europe’s data protection agencies have failed to act. Which is why Ryan, via the ICCL, has decided to take the more direct route of filing a lawsuit.

“There aren’t many DPAs around the union that haven’t received evidence of what I think is the biggest data breach of all time but it started with the UK and Ireland — neither of which took, I think it’s fair to say, any action. They both said they were doing things but nothing has changed,” he tells TechCrunch, explaining why he’s decided to take the step of litigating.

“I want to take the most efficient route to protection people’s rights around data,” he adds.

Per Ryan, the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) has still not sent a statement of issues relating to the RTB complaint he lodged with them back in 2018 — so years later. In May 2019 the DPC did announce it was opening a formal investigation into Google’s adtech, following the RTB complaints, but the case remains open and unresolved. (We’ve contacted the DPC with questions about its progress on the investigation and will update with any response.)

Since the GDPR came into application in Europe in May 2018 there has been growth in privacy lawsuits  — including class action style suits — so litigation funders may be spying an opportunity to cash in on the growing enforcement gap left by resource-strapped and, well, risk-averse data protection regulators.

A similar complaint about RTB lodged with the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) also led to a lawsuit being filed last year — albeit in that case it was against the watchdog itself for failing to take any action. (The ICO’s last missive to the adtech industry told it to — uhhhh — expect audits.)

“The GDPR was supposed to create a situation where the average person does not need to wear a tin-foil hat, they do not need to be paranoid or take action to become well informed. Instead, supervisory authorities protect them. And these supervisory authorities — paid for by the tax payer — have very strong powers. They can gain admission to any documents and any premises. It’s not about fines I don’t think, just. They can tell the biggest most powerful companies in the world to stop doing what they’re doing with our data. That’s the ultimate power,” says Ryan. “So GDPR sets up these guardians — these potentially very empowered guardians — but they’ve not used those powers… That’s why we’re acting.”

“I do wish that I’d litigated years ago,” he adds. “There’s lots of reasons why I didn’t do that — I do wish, though, that this litigation was unnecessary because supervisory authorities protected me and you. But they didn’t. So now, as Irish politics like to say in the middle of a crisis, we are where we are. But this is — hopefully — several nails in the coffin [of RTB’s use of personal data].”

The lawsuit has been filed in Germany as Ryan says they’ve been able to establish that IAB Tech Labs — which is NY-based and has no official establishment in Europe — has representation (a consultancy it hired) that’s based in the country. Hence they believe there is a clear route to litigate the case at the Landgerichte, Hamburg.

While Ryan has been indefatigably sounding the alarm about RTB for years he’s prepared to clock up more mileage going direct through the courts to see the natter through.

And to keep hammering home his message to the adtech industry that it must clean up its act and that recent attempts to maintain the privacy-hostile status quo — by trying to rebrand and repackage the same old data shuffle under shiny new claims of ‘privacy’ and ‘responsibility’ — simply won’t wash. So the message is really: Reform or die.

“This may very well end up at the ECJ [European Court of Justice]. And that would take a few years but long before this ends up at the ECJ I think it’ll be clear to the industry now that it’s time to reform,” he adds.

IAB Tech Labs has been contacted for comment on the ICCL’s lawsuit.

Ryan is by no means the only person sounding the alarm over adtech. Last year the European Parliament called for tighter controls on behavioral ads to be baked into reforms of the region’s digital rules — calling for regulation to favor less intrusive, contextual forms of advertising which do not rely on mass surveillance of Internet users.

While even Google has said it wants to depreciate support for tracking cookies in favor of a new stack of technology proposals that it dubs ‘Privacy Sandbox’ (although its proposed alternative — targeting groups of Internet users based on interests derived from tracking their browsing habits — has been criticized as potentially amplifying problems of predatory and exploitative ad targeting, so may not represent a truly clean break with the rights-hostile adtech status quo).

The IAB is also facing another major privacy law challenge in Europe — where complaints against a widely used framework it designed for websites to obtain Internet users’ consent to being tracked for ads online led to scrutiny by Belgium’s data protection agency.

Last year its investigatory division found that the IAB Europe’s Transparency and Consent Framework (TCF) fails to meet the required standards of data protection under the GDPR.

The case went in front of the litigation chamber last week. A verdict — and any enforcement action by the Belgian DPA over the IAB Europe’s TCF — remains pending.

#adtech, #advertising-tech, #amazon, #articles, #att, #computing, #data-protection, #europe, #european-court-of-justice, #european-union, #facebook, #general-data-protection-regulation, #germany, #hamburg, #information-commissioners-office, #ireland, #johnny-ryan, #new-york, #online-advertising, #privacy, #real-time-bidding, #techcrunch, #terms-of-service, #twitter, #united-kingdom, #verizon, #world-wide-web

Tim Berners-Lee makes an NFT from World Wide Web’s Objective-C

Tim Berners-Lee showing off the early World Wide Web at CERN.

Enlarge / Tim Berners-Lee showing off the early World Wide Web at CERN. (credit: Courtesy Sotheby’s)

Next week, Sir Tim Berners-Lee will auction an NFT of the original source code he used to create the World Wide Web.

The centerpiece of the digital collectible will be 9,555 lines of time-stamped source code split among files created by Berners-Lee between October 3, 1990, and August 24, 1991. That code, mostly written in Objective-C, served as the early foundation for much of the modern Internet, including this very site. The files cover implementations of HTML, HTTP, and URIs, along with the original HTML documents that Berners-Lee wrote as a sort of “read me” for the early web.

The NFT will also include a letter recently written by Berners-Lee containing his musings on the original Web code. The letter is written in Markdown, making it Github-ready. The NFT will also come with an animated 30-minute black-and-white visualization of the code being written. Lastly, the lucky winner will receive an SVG “poster” of Berners-Lee’s code, which the man himself made using a Python script. The poster also includes his vectorized signature in the lower right.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#history-of-the-internet, #nfts, #policy, #source-code, #tim-berners-lee, #world-wide-web

Amid controversy, Dispo confirms Series A funding, high-profile advisors, and investors

It’s only been nine months since Dispo rebranded from David’s Disposables. But the vintage-inspired photo sharing app has experienced a whiplash of ups and downs, mostly due to the brand’s original namesake, YouTuber David Dobrik.

Like Clubhouse, Dispo was one of this year’s most hyped up new social apps, requiring an invite from an existing member to join. On March 9, when the company said “goodbye waitlist” and opened the app up to any iOS user, Dispo looked poised to be a worthy competitor to photo-sharing behemoths like Instagram. But, just one week later, Business Insider reported on sexual assault allegations regarding a member of Vlog Squad, a YouTube prank ensemble headed by Dispo co-founder David Dobrik. Dobrik had posted a now-deleted vlog about the night of the alleged assault, joking, “we’re all going to jail” at the end of the video.

It was only after venture capital firm Spark Capital decided to “sever all ties” with Dispo that Dobrik stepped down from the company board. In a statement made to TechCrunch at the time, Dispo said, “Dispo’s team, product, and most importantly — our community — stand for building a diverse, inclusive and empowering world.”

Dispo capitalizes on Gen Z and young millennial nostalgia for a time before digital photography, when we couldn’t take thirty selfies before choosing which one to post. On Dispo, when you take a photo, you have to wait until 9 AM the following day for the image to “develop,” and only then can you view and share it.

In both February and March of this year, the app hit the top ten of the Photo & Video category in the U.S. App Store. Despite the backlash against Dobrik, which resulted in the app’s product page being bombarded with negative comments, the app still hit the top ten in Germany, Japan, and Brazil, according to their press release. Dispo reportedly has not yet expended any international marketing resources.

Now, early investors in Dispo like Spark Capital, Seven Seven Six, and Unshackled have committed to donate any potential profits from their investment in the app to organizations working with survivors of sexual assault. Though Axios reported the app’s $20M Series A funding news in February, Dispo put out a press release this morning confirming the financing event. Though Seven Seven Six and Unshackled Ventures intend to donate profits from the app, they remain listed as investors, while Spark Capital is not. Other notable names involved in the project include high-profile photographers like Annie Leibovitz and Raven B. Varona, who has worked with artists like Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Actresses Cara Delevingne and Sofía Vergara, as well as NBA superstars Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala, are also involved with the app as investors or advisors.

Dobrik’s role in the company was largely as a marketer – CEO Daniel Liss co-founded the app with Dobrik and has been leading the team since the beginning. After Dobrik’s departure, the Dispo team – which remains under twenty members strong – took a break from communications and product updates on the app. It’s expected that after today’s funding confirmation, the app will continue to roll out updates.

Dispo is quick to shift focus to the work of their team, which they call “some of the most talented, diverse leaders in consumer tech.” With the capital from this funding round, they hope to hire more staff to become more competitive with major social media apps with expansive teams, like Instagram and TikTok, and to experiment with machine learning. They will also likely have some serious marketing to do, now that their attempt at influencer marketing has failed massively.

Now more than ever, Dispo is promoting the app as a mental health benefit, hoping to shift the tide away from manufactured perfectionism toward more authentic social media experiences.

“A new era of start ups must emerge to end the scourge of big tech’s destruction of our political fabric and willful ignorance of its impact on body dysmorphia and mental health,” CEO Daniel Liss writes in a Substack post titled Dispo 2.0. “Imagine a world where Dispo is the social network of choice for every teen and college student in the world. How different a world would that be?”

But, for an app that propelled to success off the fame of a YouTuber with a history of less than savory behavior, that messaging might fall flat.

According to Sensor Tower, the highest Dispo has ever ranked in the Photo & Video category on the U.S. App Store was in January 2020, when it was still called David’s Disposables. The app ranked No. 1 in that category from January 7 to January 9, and on January 8, it reached No. 1 among all free iPhone apps.

#advisors, #andre-iguodala, #annie-leibovitz, #app-store, #apps, #brazil, #ceo, #co-founder, #computing, #david-dobrik, #digital-photography, #dispo, #freeware, #germany, #instagram, #internet-culture, #japan, #kevin-durant, #mobile-applications, #national-basketball-association, #nba, #social-media, #software, #spark-capital, #techcrunch, #united-states, #unshackled-ventures, #venture-capital, #world-wide-web

In latest big tech antitrust push, Germany’s FCO eyes Google News Showcase fine print

The Bundeskartellamt, Germany’s very active competition authority, isn’t letting the grass grow under new powers it gained this year to tackle big tech: The Federal Cartel Office (FCO) has just announced a third proceeding against Google.

The FCO’s latest competition probe looks very interesting as it’s targeting Google News Showcase — Google’s relatively recently launched product which curates a selection of third party publishers’ content to appear in story panels on Google News (and other Google properties), content for which the tech giant pays a licensing fee.

Google started cutting content licensing deals with publishers around the world for News Showcase last year, announcing a total pot of $1BN to fund the arrangements — with Germany one of the first markets where it inked deals.

However its motivation to pay publishers to licence their journalism is hardly pure.

It follows years of bitter accusations from media companies that Google is freeloading off their content. To which the tech giant routinely responded with stonewalling statements — saying it would never pay for content because that’s not how online aggregation works. It also tried to fob off the industry with a digital innovation fund (aka Google News Initiative) which distributes small grants and offers free workshops and product advice, seeking to frame publishers’ decimated business models as a failure of innovation, leaving Google’s adtech machine scot free to steamroller on.

Google’s stonewalling-plus-chicken-feeding approach worked to stave off regulatory action for a long time but eventually enough political pressure built up around the issue of media business models vs the online advertising duopoly that legislators started to make moves to try to address the power imbalance between traditional publishers and intermediating tech giants.

Most infamously in Australia, where lawmakers passed a news media bargaining code earlier this year.

Prior to its passage, both Facebook and Google, the twin targets for that law, warned the move could result in dire consequences — such as a total shut down of their products, reduced quality or even fees to use their services.

Nothing like that happened but lawmakers did agree to a last minute amendment — adding a two-month mediation period to the legislation which allows digital platforms and publishers to strike deals on their own before having to enter into forced arbitration.

Critics say that allows for the two tech giants to continue to set their own terms when dealmaking with publishers, leveraging market muscle to strike deals that may disproportionately benefit Australia’s largest media firms — and doing so without any external oversight and with no guarantees that the resulting content arrangements foster media diversity and plurality or even support quality journalism.

In the EU, lawmakers acted earlier — taking the controversial route of extending copyright to cover snippets of news content back in 2019.

Following on, France was among the first EU countries to transpose the provision into national law — and its competition watchdog quickly ordered Google to pay for news reuse back in 2020 after Google tried to wiggle out of the legislation by stopping displaying snippets in the market.

It responded to the competition authority’s order with more obfuscation, though, agreeing earlier this year to pay French publishers for linking to their content but also for their participation in News Showcase — bundling required-by-law payments (for news reuse) with content licensing deals of its own devising. And thereby making it difficult to understand the balance of mandatory payments vs commercial arrangements.

The problem with News Showcase is that these licensing arrangements are being done behind closed doors, in many cases ahead of relevant legislation and thus purely on Google’s terms — which means the initiative risks exacerbating concerns about the power imbalance between it and traditional publishers caught in a revenue bind as their business models have been massively disrupted by the switch to digital.

If Google suddenly offers some money for content, plenty of publishers might well jump — regardless of the terms. And perhaps especially because any publishers that hold out against licensing content to Google at the price it likes risk being disadvantaged by reduced visibility for their content, given Google’s dominance of the search market and content discoverability (via its ability to direct traffic to specific media properties, such as based on how prominently News Showcase content is displayed, for example).

The competition implications look clear.

But it’s still impressive that the Bundeskartellamt is spinning up an investigation into News Showcase so quickly.

The FCO said it’s acting on a complaint from Corint Media — looking at whether the announced integration of the Google News Showcase service into Google’s general search function is “likely to constitute self-preferencing or an impediment to the services offered by competing third parties”.

It also said it’s looking at whether contractual conditions include unreasonable terms (“to the detriment of the participating publishers”); and, in particular, “make it disproportionately difficult for them to enforce the ancillary copyright for press publishers introduced by the German Bundestag and Bundesrat in May 2021” — a reference to the transposed neighbouring right for news in the EU copyright reform.

So it will be examining the core issue of whether Google is trying to use News Showcase to undermine the new EU rights publishers gained under the copyright reform.

The FCO also said it wants to look at “how the conditions for access to Google’s News Showcase service are defined”.

Google launched the News Showcase in Germany on October 1 2020, with an initial 20 media companies participating — covering 50 publications. Although more have been added since.

Per the FCO, the News Showcase ‘story panels’ were initially integrated in the Google News app but can now also be found in Google News on the desktop. It also notes that Google has said the panels will soon also appear in the general Google search results — a move that will further dial up the competition dynamics around the product, given Google’s massive dominance of the search market in Europe.

Commenting on its proceeding in a statement, Andreas Mundt, president of the Bundeskartellamt, said: “Cooperating with Google can be an attractive option for publishers and other news providers and offer consumers new or improved information services. However, it must be ensured that this will not result in discrimination between individual publishers. In addition, Google’s strong position in providing access to end customers must not lead to a situation where competing services offered by publishers or other news providers are squeezed out of the market. There must be an adequate balance between the rights and obligations of the content providers participating in Google’s programme.”

Google was contacted for comment on the FCO’s action — and it sent us this statement, attributed to spokesperson, Kay Oberbeck:

“Showcase is one of many ways Google supports journalism, building on products and funds that all publishers can benefit from. Showcase is an international licensing program for news — the selection of partners is based on objective and non-discriminatory criteria, and partner content is not given preference in the ranking of our results. We will cooperate fully with the German Competition Authority and look forward to answering their questions.”

The FCO’s scrutiny of Google News Showcase, follows hard on the heels of two other Google proceedings it opened last month, one to determine whether or not the tech giant meets the threshold of Germany’s new competition powers for tackling big tech — and another examining its data processing practices. Both remain ongoing.

The competition authority has also recently opened a proceeding into Amazon’s market dominance — and is also looking to extend another recent investigation of Facebook’s Oculus business, also by determining whether the social media giant’s business meets the threshold required under the new law.

The amendment to the German Competition Act came into force in January — giving the FCO greater powers to proactively impose conditions on large digital companies who are considered to be of “paramount significance for competition across markets” in order to pre-emptively control the risk of market abuse.

That it’s taking on so many proceedings in parallel against big tech shows it’s keen not to waste any time — putting itself in a position to come, as quickly as possible, with proactive interventions to address competitive problems caused by platform giants just as soon as it determines it can legally do that.

The Bundeskartellamt also has a pioneering case against Facebook’s ‘superprofiling’ on its desk — which links privacy abuse to competition concerns and could drastically limit the tech giant’s ability to profile users. That investigation and case has been ongoing for years but was recently referred to Europe’s top court for an interpretation of key legal questions.

 

#andreas-mundt, #artificial-intelligence, #australia, #companies, #digital-media, #europe, #european-union, #facebook, #france, #germany, #google, #google-news-showcase, #media, #news-showcase, #policy, #president, #spokesperson, #websites, #world-wide-web

Google hires former SiriusXM CPO/CTO to lead its Maps team

Almost exactly a year ago, Google announced a couple of leadership changes that saw Prabhakar Raghavan, who joined the company back in 2012, take over the lead of Search, Assistant and Maps. Now, sources familiar with the hiring tell us, the company has hired Christopher Phillips, who was previously the chief product and technology officer at SiriusXM, to lead its geo team, which is responsible for products like Google Maps, Google Earth and Google Maps Platform, the company’s enterprise business around these products. Google has confirmed his hire but declined to share any additional information. Phillips will officially join the company later this month.

Christopher Phillips

Image Credits: Christopher Phillips/LinkedIn

Phillips came to SiriusXM after the company acquired music service Pandora last year. Before the acquisition, he spent six years as Pandora’s CPO and head of Technology, a role he took after leading product and design for Amazon Music from 2012 to 2014 and executive roles at Workspeed and Intuit before that.

In his new role at Google, Phillips will lead both product and engineering for the Geo team and report directly to Raghavan, who will continue to oversee Search, Assistant, Geo, Commerce and Ads. Before last year’s leadership shuffle, Jen Fitzpatrick essentially played a similar role for the Geo team.

According to Search Engine Land, Dane Glasgow and Liz Reid became the leads for the Geo team after her departure. Glasgow has since departed Google and is now at Facebook, while Reid recently took on a new role to lead Google’s search experiences. That obviously left a bit of a vacuum, which Phillips will now fill.

While Phillips doesn’t have any direct experience in building geo products, he does bring with him extensive experience in managing product-oriented engineering teams. His hiring also comes at an interesting time for Google Maps, which only recently announced a number of major updates and which is becoming an increasingly important part of Google’s product portfolio.

 

 

#amazon, #artificial-intelligence, #assistant, #christopher-phillips, #computing, #facebook, #google, #google-maps, #intuit, #pandora, #personnel, #prabhakar-raghavan, #sirius-xm, #software, #tc, #world-wide-web, #xm-satellite-radio

Google Cloud launches Vertex AI, a new managed machine learning platform

At Google I/O today Google Cloud announced Vertex AI, a new managed machine learning platform that is meant to make it easier for developers to deploy and maintain their AI models. It’s a bit of an odd announcement at I/O, which tends to focus on mobile and web developers and doesn’t traditionally feature a lot of Google Cloud news, but the fact that Google decided to announce Vertex today goes to show how important it thinks this new service is for a wide range of developers.

The launch of Vertex is the result of quite a bit of introspection by the Google Cloud team. “Machine learning in the enterprise is in crisis, in my view,” Craig Wiley, the director of product management for Google Cloud’s AI Platform, told me. “As someone who has worked in that space for a number of years, if you look at the Harvard Business Review or analyst reviews, or what have you — every single one of them comes out saying that the vast majority of companies are either investing or are interested in investing in machine learning and are not getting value from it. That has to change. It has to change.”

Image Credits: Google

Wiley, who was also the general manager of AWS’s SageMaker AI service from 2016 to 2018 before coming to Google in 2019, noted that Google and others who were able to make machine learning work for themselves saw how it can have a transformational impact, but he also noted that the way the big clouds started offering these services was by launching dozens of services, “many of which were dead ends,” according to him (including some of Google’s own). “Ultimately, our goal with Vertex is to reduce the time to ROI for these enterprises, to make sure that they can not just build a model but get real value from the models they’re building.”

Vertex then is meant to be a very flexible platform that allows developers and data scientist across skill levels to quickly train models. Google says it takes about 80% fewer lines of code to train a model versus some of its competitors, for example, and then help them manage the entire lifecycle of these models.

Image Credits: Google

The service is also integrated with Vizier, Google’s AI optimizer that can automatically tune hyperparameters in machine learning models. This greatly reduces the time it takes to tune a model and allows engineers to run more experiments and do so faster.

Vertex also offers a “Feature Store” that helps its users serve, share and reuse the machine learning features and Vertex Experiments to help them accelerate the deployment of their models into producing with faster model selection.

Deployment is backed by a continuous monitoring service and Vertex Pipelines, a rebrand of Google Cloud’s AI Platform Pipelines that helps teams manage the workflows involved in preparing and analyzing data for the models, train them, evaluate them and deploy them to production.

To give a wide variety of developers the right entry points, the service provides three interfaces: a drag-and-drop tool, notebooks for advanced users and — and this may be a bit of a surprise — BigQuery ML, Google’s tool for using standard SQL queries to create and execute machine learning models in its BigQuery data warehouse.

We had two guiding lights while building Vertex AI: get data scientists and engineers out of the orchestration weeds, and create an industry-wide shift that would make everyone get serious about moving AI out of pilot purgatory and into full-scale production,” said Andrew Moore, vice president and general manager of Cloud AI and Industry Solutions at Google Cloud. “We are very proud of what we came up with in this platform, as it enables serious deployments for a new generation of AI that will empower data scientists and engineers to do fulfilling and creative work.”

#amazon-sagemaker, #analyst, #andrew-moore, #artificial-intelligence, #aws, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #computing, #developer, #enterprise, #google, #google-cloud-platform, #google-i-o-2021, #harvard, #machine-learning, #product-management, #tc, #technology, #web-developers, #world-wide-web