Facebook tests MSQRD selfie filters and opening your camera atop feed

Facebook tests MSQRD selfie filters and opening your camera atop feed

Snapchat opens to the camera by default to spur content creation, and now Facebook is trying the same starting with an Olympics-themed test in Brazil and Canada. Instead of just the “What are you doing?” text status update prompt, users will see an open camera window as Facebook executes on Mark Zuckerberg’s promise to put “video at the heart of all of our apps.”

The new feature also sports the first official integration of Facebook’s acquisition MSQRD’s animated selfie filters, which are similar to Snapchat’s selfie Lenses. Using MSQRD’s object recognition tech, users can swipe to apply different Olympics face paint like Brazilian flags and “Go Canada!” that match the contours of their face. People can also add static graphic overlay filters like “Team Canada”, similar to Snapchat’s geofilters, to photos and videos they shoot or upload.

Here’s a demo of the features:

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The test will roll out today to all iOS and Android users in Canada plus iOS users in Brazil, and run through the end of the Olympics. If users show they prefer the camerafeed design and create more content with it, it could be released to everyone.

“The way that people share has changed a lot” Facebook Product Manager Sachin Monga tells me. “12 years ago, most of what was shared was text” so Facebook’s status composer with a big white text box. “Now, mobile changed things a little bit, but we didn’t really change our tools. If you look at what people are sharing, now it’s mostly photos, and soon it will be mostly videos. Our strategy is really simple. We want to make it really easy to share photos and videos” Monga explains.

It can always be a bit shocking to suddenly see your own triple-chin face staring back at your from your phone. Luckily, all you have to do is scroll down and the camera disappears. If you flip it to face the other direction, it will stick like that so you don’t see your awkward self next time.

Facebook AR FiltersHere, Facebook is trying to combat the reported decline in original content sharing. According to figures attained by The Information, original content sharing like status updates, photos, and home-made videos, was down 15% year over year on Facebook as of February. Facebook’s feed began to be dominated by impersonal, generic link sharing and posts by news publishers. But original shares from friends are what make Facebook an indispensable daily habit.

Opening the News Feed to the camera will encourage Facebook’s 1.1 billion daily users to take and share more photos and videos. And thanks the MSQRD filters, people can jazz up their face so they feel less self-conscious or basic about sharing selfies.

When asked where the idea for the camera feed design came from, and whether Snapchat inspired it, Monga was unusually candid, matching the sentiment of Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom who said “They deserve all the credit” when asked about Instagram Stories cloning Snapchat.

“I think there’s a macro level inspiration in the way that people are sharing on Facebook. The modern composer is not going to be centered around a text box, it’s going to be centered around a camera” Monga started.

But when pressed about Snapchat, he said “I think they’ve done a really good job of building a modern composer. The thing that’s created the change from text to visual sharing is that everyone has a phone and a camera in their pocket, but they’ve definitely done a really good job with it.”

Facebook Camera Feed

Eventually, Facebook wants to build even more “magical augmented reality” into its camera, Monga says. Facebook already had graphic filters called “Profile frames” and the ability to add drawings, text, and doodles to your photo uploads. You also could save animated selfies from MSQRD and upload them to Facebook. But now these features are front and center instead of being buried.

And if you think this is just Facebook copying Snapchat’s filters…well, you’re right, but remember that Snapchat originally bought its dog face and flower crown filters through the acquisition of startup Seene.

Could more original content sharing hurt publishers who want you posting their links instead? “In the short term this is something we’re really curious to see” Monga says. “Hopefully we’re not changing much of the dynamics about how News Feed works. Sharing original content on Facebook is a really stronger driver of time spent on Facebook, so this change should benefit everyone.”

Except maybe Snapchat. Between bringing the popular AR selfie filters to News Feed and Instagram launching Stories, Facebook is clearly going full-force at Snapchat. It might not be able to lure away Snapchat’s loyal 150 million daily users. But if it can create good enough clones of its best features, it might box out Snapchat from stealing hundreds of millions of additional users from Facebook.

Source: TechCrunch

Spotify follows Discover Weekly with personalized new releases playlist

Spotify follows Discover Weekly with personalized new releases playlist

Spotify is doubling down on its strategy to beat Apple Music with big data-driven personalized playlists like Discover Weekly — a huge hit that saw 40 million users in its first year. Today it launches Release Radar, a 2-hour algorithmically personalized playlist updated each Friday that features newly released songs from artists each user already listens to.

Release Radar will appear at the top of users’ collection of playlists instead of being buried in the graphically organized Browse tab like Spotify’s existing home for finding new releases. The playlist format is more familiar, and users can easily turn it on and continue with their day instead of having to pick something different to play when each songs end.

Release Radar

“The same way that Discover Weekly was able to set Spotify apart from other music services, we’re trying to show that Spotify understands users better than anyone else”, the product’s lead engineer Edward Newett tells me. “I think over time I think over time we’ll see other music services building Discover Weekly clones, but I think Spotify still has a leg up. We’re the first to be solving this. We’re the biggest in terms of streaming data to bring the personalization necessary to make this feature work.”

I demoed the Release Radar playlist this week and was astounded by the accuracy of its recommendations. While Discover Weekly purposefully showed you artists you hadn’t heard of, Spotify’s algorithm quality is much easier to judge based on on Release Radar. Its ability to surface songs by artists I used to play a lot but not recently make it a great complement to the Spotify search box, which can be daunting.

Spotify’s 2014 acquisition of music personalization data provider The Echo Nest is looking like a smarter and smarter move as the on-demand streaming wars get into full swing. Discover Weekly received 5 billion song plays in the first 10 months since launching in July 2015, with at least half the users saving a song each week.

And it’s working. More than half of Discover Weekly’s users save at least one song, listen to at least 10 tracks each week and come back the next week. The 25-to-34 age group is using it the most, which Spotify’s lead engineer Ed Newett says is because these are “the years after college” when your social network has changed and you’re craving exposure to new tunes like you used to get because “it’s not as easy to discover music.”

Release Radar PlaylistHere are the major players, and their strengths and weaknesses:

  • Spotify – the one with personalization – A big head start gives it the lead with 100 million listeners including 30 million paid subscribers, the ad-supported tier helps it lure in users, The Echo Nest and historical listening data power deep personalization of suggestions in playlists like Discovery Weekly and Release radar, strong features as it’s a long-running music product-focused startup, but as a venture-backed company it can’t outspend Apple on marketing, and has lacked headline-worthy exclusives
  • Apple Music – the one with the money — Massive install base from pre-loads on iPhones, integration with your existing iTunes library, some exclusives thanks to its deep pockets, but it launched late though it’s hit 15 million paid subscribers as it tries to catch up, has been criticized as confusing, and lacks a free ad-supported tier
  • Tidal – the one with the exclusives — High-quality exclusives or early access to releases from Beyonce and Kanye West, but a late start, limited features, and no ad-supported tier
  • YouTube – the one with the users – Its free ad-supported default has helped YouTube grow to over 1 billion users, music videos consistently draw big audiences — especially teens, it recently launched its ad-free YouTube Red subscriptions with exclusive video content to earn it and creators more money, but its interface isn’t built for music listening and the frequent pre-roll ads are more interruptive than the audio ads heard on Spotify
  • SoundCloud – the one with the DJs – Hosts the legal grey area of music including unofficial remixes and multi-hour DJ mixsets, feed format promotes discovery, and the ability to self-publish makes it a favorite amongst indie acts, but Soundcloud lacks a lot of popular music, can feel disorganized, some artists and DJs are angry about having their music removed for copyright infringing samples, and its Soundcloud Go subscription service doesn’t seem to be growing as the company has suffered enormous financial losses and has had to take on dirty fundraises
  • Pandora – the one with just radio – Synonymous with radio on the internet, low ad load makes its free tier great for people who don’t want to DJ, and the music genome project and listening data help it make personalized song recommendation, but users crave to listen to artists on-demand after the discover them on Pandora, its been slow to relaunch an on-demand service from the corpse of Rdio it acquired, and other services are making personalized radio just a feature amongst their offering — yet it just rejected a buyout offer from Sirius XM radio’s parent company despite trends going against Pandora

While YouTube owns an important part of the market, the dedicated music streaming service battle is shaking out to be a war between Spotify and Apple Music. To defeat the hardware giant’s ability to outspend it on marketing and exclusives, Spotify will have to rely on its free tier to seduce non-streamers, and then use personalized product features like Release Radar to lock them in and convince them to buy a subscription.

Source: TechCrunch

Facebook built but won’t launch a “Facebook Stories” Snapchat clone

Facebook built but won’t launch a “Facebook Stories” Snapchat clone

Facebook built its own version of Snapchat Stories called Quick Updates, but will not release it. Though Instagram Stories launched this week, Facebook isn’t going to follow suit.

Quick Updates created a special place to share within the Facebook app but outside of the News Feed. Accessible from a button at the top of the feed, Quick Updates would have let people share 24-hour disappearing photos and videos with overlaid text. These posts wouldn’t appear in the feed or in people’s profiles.

Quick Updates featured its own design style, opposed to Instagram Stories which much more closely copies Snapchat Stories. When asked about cloning Snapchat, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom even said “They deserve all the credit.”

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TechCrunch received screenshots of a test of Quick Updates two weeks ago, but the test quickly disappeared after we published about it. Facebook told me at the time that “Quick Updates” was an experiment shown to some people, and that Facebook would not move forward with it.

But the release of Instagram Stories begged the question of whether Facebook won’t modify the feature or release something similar, perhaps called “Facebook Stories”.

I asked Facebook, and a spokesperson told me “Quick updates was something we were going to test. It’s an idea we’re not pursuing anymore.” When pressed on the issue, the Facebook spokesperson provided this official statement:

“We often conduct small tests of new feature concepts, and this particular experience was an old test feature that was shown to some people.  We don’t have any plans to launch it more broadly.”

So at least hardcore social media users won’t have to post non-stop daily updates to three networks, just two.

Facebook Stories

Screenshots of Facebook “Quick Updates”, a scrapped Snapchat clone

That said, on Facebook’s successful earnings call last week, Mark Zuckerberg vowed that “We see a world that is video first, with video at the heart of all of our apps and service.”

MSQRDYet Facebook hasn’t significantly updated its video uploader in nearly three years, despite me calling for them to modernize since 2013. You still can’t overlay filters, text, drawings, or stickers on videos. You can’t combine multiple clips into a single video, add soundtracks, create transitions, or use features found in other apps like Snapchat, YouTube, Vine, and even Instagram.

Facebook did recently acquire MSQRD, an app for applying animated selfie filters similar to Snapchat’s lenses. But there’s been no official integration of MSQRD into Facebook or Instagram Stories, though Instagram says that’s coming.

Facebook’s video sharing tool is embarrassingly archaic and is sorely due for an upgrade. Instagram Stories just makes that even more clear.

Source: TechCrunch

Facebook’s new anti-clickbait algorithm buries bogus headlines

Facebook’s new anti-clickbait algorithm buries bogus headlines

Facebook Pages and websites that frequently withhold, exaggerate, or distort information in their link headlines will disappear from News Feed thanks to a new anti-clickbait algorithm that’s now rolling out.

Facebook manually classified tens of thousands of headlines with a clickbaitiness score to train the new algorithm. Now it can detect headlines like “When She Looked Under Her Couch And Saw THIS… I Was SHOCKED!”; “He Put Garlic In His Shoes And What Happens Next Is Hard To Believe”; or “The Dog Barked At The Deliveryman And His Reaction Was Priceless.”

Rather than just assigning a binary “Yes, clickbait” or “not clickbait”, each story gets a score about how egregious it is. The algorithm primarily looks for phrases often used in clickbait headlines but not in legitimate headlines, similar to email spam filters.

The higher the clickbait likelihood, the more the algorithm punishes the entire Page that shared them or site they link to by making all their posts or referral links less visible. Facebook’s VP of Product Management on News Feed Adam Mosseri tells me “If you post 50 times a day and post one piece a clickbait, this shouldn’t affect you. If you’re a spammer and post clickbait all day this should affect you a lot.”

Luckily, if a publishers reforms their ways and “they stop posting clickbait, their referral traffic will bounce back” Mosseri explains.

Clickbait is one of the most complained about parts of the News Feed. Some people even file bug reports blaming the News Feed ranking algorithm. The change aligns with Facebook’s recently announced “News Feed Values”. Authentic Communication is one of the five values, along with “Friends And Family Come First”, which led to last month’s feed change to deemphasized news publishers.

Facebook is even open to sharing its insights about how to fight clickbait with other social networks or tech products. “I have no problem walking any company through what we did and how we did it so they can borrow it” Mosseri tells me.

However, Facebook won’t be publicly publishing the multi-page document of guidelines for defining clickbait because “a big part of this is actually spam, and if you expose exactly what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, they reverse in engineer it and figure out how to get around it.”

In a possible slight to Gizmodo, which accused Facebook of suppressing conservative trending topics based on information from anonymous sources, one of Facebook’s fake examples of clickbait comes from a site called “Gizmotecho.com”

Facebook Clickbait

Facebook already made an anti-clickbait algorithm change in 2014, focusing on user behavior. It looked for links that people Liked then clicked, but then immediately bounced back to Facebook and Unliked because the website they arrived at didn’t meet the expectations set by the headline. In February Facebook started looking more closely at how little time people lingered on clickbait sites, and identified links with lots of clicks but very few subsequent Likes. Today’s change focuses on the source of the problem rather than tracking the symptoms.

To help publishers stay on the good side of the enforcement algorithm, Facebook has posted some tips to avoid relying on clickbait. Facebook advises that publishers avoid omission of important information to trick readers into clicking, like “You’ll Never Believe Who Tripped and Fell on the Red Carpet…”. Facebook intead suggests calls to action and text prompts. Facebook also recommends to avoid exaggeration like “This Pen Never Ever Runs Out of Ink! Get It While It Lasts!”

News publishers are naturally nervous about any News Feed change. They depend on Facebook for referral traffic, and are on guard since Facebook said it would prioritize friends and family over them last month.

If all these anti-clickbait efforts work, it could boost referral traffic for legitimate publishers as users may become more confident that links they see are worth a click.

To learn more about the News Feed, come see Facebook’s VP of Product Management for News Feed Adam Mosseri speak at TechCrunch Disrupt SF, September 12-14th

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin
Source: TechCrunch

40 photos from Facebook’s “Area 404” mad science laboratory

40 photos from Facebook’s “Area 404” mad science laboratory

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Source: TechCrunch

Inside Facebook’s new “Area 404” hardware lab

Inside Facebook’s new “Area 404” hardware lab

This is where Facebook will prototype its solar drones, Internet-beaming lasers, VR headsets, and next-gen servers.

The problem with moving faster than most companies is that Facebook was plagued by delays whenever it had to outsource prototyping and testing of its gadgets and gizmos. With so much hardware on its 10-year roadmap, and quarter after quarter of profits stacking up, it made sense to build a dedicated laboratory within its Menlo Park headquarters.

roadmap_final

Facebook’s 10-year roadmap includes drones, satellites, lasers, telecom infrastructure, VR headsets, and augmented reality hardware that will all be prototyped at Area 404

So yesterday, Facebook gave a group of journalists the first look inside Area 404.

Packed with giant, expensive, dangerous machines like a computer-controlled 9-axis drill, Area 404 houses one of the few rooms at Facebook Mark Zuckerberg isn’t allowed in. It’s too unsafe despite all the precautions, certifications, and training Facebook offers its hardware engineers.

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Luckily Facebook rigorously adheres to a 5S safety system — sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain. Every single tool is laid in a labeled square of tape.  Spencer Burns, one of the lab’s CNC Model Maker, explains that Facebook can’t move fast if it can’t find its tools.

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Jay Parikh, Facebook’s Head of Engineering and Infrastructure, tells me the 22,000 square foot space is named Area 404 after the “Not Found” error code. Facebook engineers kept needing to prototype new hardware devices, but the resources necessary were unfortunately “not found” at Facebook.

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After enough requests, Facebook burrowed out a bunch of offices in Building 17 of its headquarters, drilled giant support columns down to the bedrock to support the heavy machinery, and turned the space into a gleaming white, futuristic hack center.

It’s a massive upgrade from where Facebook’s tinkering in the physical world started. “Our first hardware lab was a big as a desk in the old mail room” laughs Parikh. His favorite piece of the new lab? An electron microscope with 10,000X magnification for inspecting teeny, tiny failures in hardware. Construction began 9 months ago under the supervision of Facebook’s Mechanical And Power Manager Mikal Greaves, and now the first teams are moving in.

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Jay Parikh explains why Facebook needs a hardware lab

Parikh explains that there are two main objectives for Area 404:

  1. To create a collaboration space big enough to get hardware engineers from across the company together in person to work on shared problems
  2. To build a state-of-the-art hardware laboratory with the equipment necessary to prototype and fail test the early designs of Facebook’s forthcoming gadgets

Both will cut down the time it takes Facebook to get from device conception to working prototype it can then mass produce. The Internet.org Connectivity team that tests apps under weak connections, the Oculus VR squad, Facebook’s mysterious new Building 8 pioneer tech division, and its Infrastructure teams that build servers and data center can now bounce ideas off each other in a shared home. The lab has 50 work benches to accommodate them all.

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Inside the lab we saw everything from 3D design software modeling stations to computer-controlled lathes and mills for forging metal into prototypes to an MRI machine for looking inside a device for errors. Half of the lab is dedicated to electrical engineering experimentation, while half is for prototyping workshops for shaping, cutting, and bending metal as well as manipulating wood, stone, or glass if necessary.

What will be built here? Data infrastructure like Facebook’s open rack network switch Wedge, its Open Vault storage solution, and the sensors for its Telecom Infra Project’s OpenCellular platform. Connectivity Lab inventions like the Terragraph wifi nodes and Project ARIES antenna, as well as parts for the Aquila solar-powered drone that just had its first successful test flight.

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Area 404 doesn’t do everything. There’s no welding tools here, and it won’t be processing its own circuit boards. When devices are ready for scaled production, the prototypes built at Area 404 will be sent elsewhere to be copied. At that point, there shouldn’t be any extra back-and-forth iterations necessary. All the kinks will have been worked out at HQ.

Hardware isn’t a new endeavor for Facebook. It has an Oculus hub in Seattle and an airplane hangar in the UK for its Aquila drone. But with Area 404, it can bring its creations in the physical world up to the same pace of creation and iteration that’s driven Facebook’s success in the software world.

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Source: TechCrunch

Instagram CEO on Stories: Snapchat deserves all the credit

Instagram CEO on Stories: Snapchat deserves all the credit

The one thing you never hear in Silicon Valley is an entrepreneur admit they copied someone else. Yet there in the headquarters of Facebook, the world’s most prolific product cloner, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom surprised me.

He’d just walked me through the demo of Instagram Stories, a pixel for pixel photocopy of Snapchat Stories. The products look so similar I couldn’t help but chuckle as he progressed through the slidedeck about a feature he said would probably look familiar.

For 30 minutes, the elephant lingered there in Systrom’s plush office alongside Instagram’s PR chief and I. We sat around a table made from a print of the first photo every posted on the app. Six years later, Systrom revealed how for the last six days, he’d posted nothing to Instagram.

Despite the glamorous life of a CEO who’d sold his startup for nearly a billion dollars, his day-to-day wasn’t interesting enough to share to Instagram’s feed. It was a permanent place where you “only get to see the highlights”, where teens often delete photos if they don’t get enough Likes in the first few minutes. The app was losing shoot-from-the-hip lifecasting to Snapchat.

So Instagram made Stories.

Still, everyone in attendance knew there was no avoiding the Snapchat question so I just put it bluntly. “Let’s talk about the big thing. Snapchat pioneered a lot of this format. Whole parts of the concept, the implementation, down to the details…”

“Totally” Systrom interrupted me. “They deserve all the credit.”

I was flabbergasted.

Facebook had blatantly copied Snapchat before with failed products like Poke and Snapchat. It had ripped off entire startups like TimeHop, which Facebook recreated as On This Day, or features like Twitter’s hashtags and trending topics. And when asked where the ideas came from, the company’s executives always said something like “we see behaviors from our community and we try to build on top of them” or “I don’t spend too much time looking at what other people are doing or not doing”.

But Systrom bravely told the truth (emphasis mine):

“When you are an innovator, that’s awesome. Just like Instagram deserves all the credit for bringing filters to the forefront. This isn’t about who invented something. This is about a format, and how you take it to a network and put your own spin on it.

Facebook invented feed, LinkedIn took on feed, Twitter took on feed, Instagram took on feed, and they all feel very different now and they serve very different purposes. But no one looks down at someone for adopting something that is so obviously great for presenting a certain type of information.

Innovation happens in the Valley, and people invent formats, and that’s great. And then what you see is those formats proliferate. So @ usernames were invented on Twitter. Hashtags were invented on Twitter. Instagram has those. Filtered photos were not invented on Instagram.

And I think what you see is that every company looks around and adopts the best of the best formats or state-of-the-art technology. Snapchat adopted face filters that existed elsewhere first, right? And slideshows existed in other places too. Flipagram was doing it for a while. So I think that’s the interesting part of the Valley. You can’t just recreate another product. But you can say ‘what’s really awesome about a format? And does it apply to our network?’

Don’t you think that Snapchat’s done a really awesome job? And Facebook’s done a great job. And Instagram’s done a great job. I think all of these companies have done a great job. Some people invent stuff. We’ve invented things.

Gmail was not the first email client. Google Maps was certainly not the first map. The iPhone was definitely not the first phone. The question is what do you do with that format? What do you do with that idea? Do you build on it? Do you add new things? Are you trying to bring it in a new direction?

We’re bringing some new creative outlets with ‘neon drawing’. You have different ways of navigating back and forth with this. You have a completely different audience. If you’re a business, if you’re a celebrity, if you’re an interest-based account, you can have a giant audience. It’s going to feel very different. I don’t believe these two things are substitutes, and that’s okay.”

In engineering, this concept is known as “The Right Thing” — the ideal way of solving a problem that everyone should use. On the back end of technology products, going with The Right Thing even if someone else invented it, is common. Amazon Web Services and Twilio SMS and MySQL databases.

Yet on the front end, where there are more subjective design choices to be made about not just what to do but how, a sickness of pride has infected Silicon Valley.

Instagram Stories vs Snapchat Stories

Instagram Stories (left) vs Snapchat Stories (right)

With users, and investors, and job candidates all watching, no one is willing to fess up that another company did it right, and there was no better way to reinvent the wheel. You could polish it differently and pretend that was innovation instead of optimization. The press would ding you. Yet in the end, if the product worked and felt useful, people would adopt it, and in techland, growth is king.

But finally, with Systrom, we’ve found someone seemingly resistant to the sickness of pride, and hopefully he can inoculate others to cite their sources and practice the transparency so many preach.

Check out the rest of our Instagram Stories coverage:

How to use Instagram Stories

How to use Instagram Stories

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Source: TechCrunch

Instagram launches “Stories”, a Snapchatty feature for imperfect sharing

Instagram launches “Stories”, a Snapchatty feature for imperfect sharing

People only post the highlights of their life on Instagram, so today the app adds its own version of “Stories” to poach goofy, off-the-cuff, everyday content from Snapchat. It works exactly like Snapchat Stories, allowing you to post 24-hour ephemeral photo and video slideshows that disappear. But since Instagram Stories appear at the top of the old feed, your followers will inevitably see them without you needing to build a new audience in a different app.

Instagram Stories is rolling out globally for iOS and Android over the next few weeks.

You could call it Snapchat for adults, a way for brands to post more without overwhelming people’s feeds, an alternative to Instagram’s Like-driven success theater, or a blatant ripoff.

Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom wouldn’t disagree with you. When confronted about Instagram Stories being a clone of Snapchat Stories, he surprisingly admitted “They deserve all the credit”, but insisted “This isn’t about who invented something. This is about a format, and how you take it to a network and put your own spin on it.”

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The Moments In Between

With 500 million monthly active users, 300 million daily actives, and now 250 million users on its Direct messaging feature, Instagram is enormous expansion for what Snapchat pioneered.

Facebook wants to own more unique, must-see original sharing that was reportedly down 15% year over year as of early 2016. But boosting sharing frequency has been hard for Instagram since people only post their most polished selfies, sunsets, and meals.

Systrom admits he hadn’t shared to Instagram at all during the six days before we met because none of the moments seemed special enough. “Instagram is a curated feed, but you only get to see the highlights” Systrom laments. Instagram’s sweat and blemish-hiding filters encouraged that social norm. And while Instagram recently started sorting its feed, people still worry that posting multiple times in a row will seem like they’re spamming their friends, so they hold back.

2. Instagram Stories - Watching

Stories creates a place for content that’s not “good enough” for the Instagram feed, or at least is too silly to fit in amongst the art. Since everything disappears, you don’t have to be ashamed of that awkward face or stupid joke forever the way things posted to your real Instagram profile reflect on you forever.

Facebook has tried multiple times to copy Snapchat with standalone apps like Poke, Slingshot, and Instagram Bolt. No one wanted another app, and they all failed and were pulled from the stores.

But Instagram may have found a breakthrough for solving this problem. Instead of burying a Snapchat competitor in another app people don’t need, it’s put it front and center of one they use all the time. And instead of trying to be special with weird mechanics like Slingshots reply-to-reveal content, it’s cloned Snapchat Stories down to the pixel because it’s already proven to work.

How Instagram Stories Works (Deja Vu)

It’s easiest to think of Instagram Stories in terms of what’s the same and what’s different from Snapchat Stories.

The Same

  • The Stories format laces the last 24-hours of 10-second-max photos and videos you’ve shared into a slideshow you can tap to fast-forward through
  • Everything you post disappears after 1 day
  • You shoot full-screen in the app or upload things from the last 24 hours of your camera roll (recently added to Snapchat with Memories)
  • You adorn your photos with drawings, text, and emoji, and swipeable color filters
  • You can save your individual Story slides before or after posting them
  • Your followers voluntarily tap in to pull your Story and view it, instead of it being pushed into a single feed
  • People can swipe up to reply to your Stories, which are delivered through Instagram Direct private messages
  • You can see who’s viewed your Story

Instagram Stories Privacy

Different

  • Instagram Stories appear in a row at the top of the main feed instead of on a separate screen like Snapchat and are sorted by who you interact with most, not purely reverse chronological like Snapchat
  • Anyone you allow to follow you on Instagram can see your Instagram Stories though you can also block people, opposed to building a separate network on Snapchat
  • You don’t have to be following someone to view their Instagram Stories, which can be viewed from their prolfile as long as they’re public
  • You can swipe right or tap the Stories icon in the top left to open the Stories camera, opposed to Snapchat defaulting to the camera
  • You can hold the screen to pause a slideshow, or tap the left side to go back a slide, oppose to Snapchat’s time-limited, constantly progressing Stories
  • You can’t add old content to Instagram Stories unless you reimport or screenshot, while Snapchat lets you share old Memories with a white border and timestamp around them
  • Instagram offers three brush types for drawing: standard, translucent highlighter, and color-outlined neon, opposed to Snapchat’s single brush
  • Instagram offers custom color control for drawing with an easy picker as well as pre-made palettes like earth-tones or greyscale, while Snapchat custom color control is much more clumsy
  • Instagram currently lacks location filters, native selfie lens filters, stickers,  3D stickers, and speed effects but you can save content from third-party apps like Facebook-owned MSQRD and then share them
  • You can’t see who screenshotted your Instagram Story, while Snapchat warns you
  • You can’t save your whole day’s Story like on Snapchat, but you can post slides from your Story to the permanent Instagram feed

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Eventually, Instagram Stories could be a goldmine, though Systrom says the company won’t focus on monetization until users love it. “I think that businesses and interest accounts, celebrities, etcetera, especially businesses, will find a tremendous use case” he tells me. “They post three times and they think to themselves ‘Aww, should we really be posting that fourth photo?’ And this just opens the floodgates on events.”

Eventually Instagram could sell ads that point users to a brand’s Story, like a clothing label with a Story from their fashion show, a politician from their rally, or a brand doing a sponosred content tie-in with a social media star. Instead of directing people to their sluggish profile, they can point them to a dynamic, urgent story.

No Likes, No Judgement

At their core, the use cases of Instagram Stories and Snapchat Stories are identical: Shoot, decorate, and frequently share little clips from your life. Instagram lacks some of Snapchat’s advanced features, but it’s built where many people, especially adults, already have a social graph built.

It’s that placement of Stories atop the Instagram, a simple design choice, that could make Instagram a hit. People love to vie for attention. If you give them a new window to show off through that’s smack dab at the front of an app their friends use, vanity will kick in and people will fill that space with their face and creations.

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 6.59.23 AMWhen Instagram launched six years ago, it was a new network open to experimentation in front of friends. People were trying to learn how to make art from camera phones. But over time, Instagram evolved into a game where everyone seeks to win the most Likes and validation. And so they only share the most exciting, pretty parts of the their life, and everything else is swept under the rug.

Eventually Instagram became the core permanent profile of the mobile generation, and everything you posted had to be good enough for you to be judged by forever. Teens created fake Instagram profiles called “Finstagrams” only their closest friends could see just so they could post whatever they wanted without grubbing for Internet points.

Now Instagram is offering a different way to share with no likes, no public comments, and a lot less pressure.

The bright colored text and sloppy drawing may feel a bit out of place on Instagram at first, which is why Instagram was smart not to simply add the Stories creation tool to the main feed’s default uploader.

Some people already loyal to Snapchat might not see the need for Instagram Stories…but the screen real estate will likely be too attractive to pass up. They’ll easily be able to save and reshare their Snaps to Instagram Stories anyways. And anyone who’s dipped their toe into Snapchat and found it fun but couldn’t rebuild a following there may revel in this new playground built inside Instagram.

“We’re north of 500 million people using the product” Systrom concludes. We can either let the system evolve the way it evolves — I think that’s a great consumption business. But we want to make sure to keep the soul of what made us love it at the beginning: Share whatever I want, when I want, with who I want. The daily use case.”

Source: TechCrunch

Didi wins, Uber retreats, but Chinese riders and drivers lose

Didi wins, Uber retreats, but Chinese riders and drivers lose

No one wants to fight a land war in Asia, not even Uber. It could have burnt mountains of cash battling for market share with local ride app juggernaut Didi Chuxing, between marketing, discounts, and driver incentives.

Instead, Uber surrendered.

It’s sold its UberChina operation to Didi in exchange for a 20% stage in the merged company, while Didi has invested $1 billion into Uber at a stunning $68 billion valuation

Essentially, Uber didn’t think it could own enough of the Chinese market minus the enormous amount it would have spent competing with its new ally to do better than walking away with 20% of Didi.

Eliminating this hole Uber had been throwing money down, the coast is clear for it to IPO. If the deal lets Uber concentrate on winning the rest of the globe, it’s not really a loss to concede China. Just a battle it had to sacrifice as part of Word War Ride.

But there is a loser in the UberChina – Didi Chuxing merger: the Chinese ride app user.

didi dacheWithout these two super-powers trying to undercut each on ride prices and one-up each other on partner compensation, both drivers and riders are left at the mercy of what looks much more like an on-demand transportation monopoly.

Compared to when there was hardcore competition, Didi won’t have to race to improve functionality, from its app interface to its routing algorithms. It won’t have to offer as enticing bonuses to the men and women behind the wheel. And it won’t have to make concessions to get more cars on the road so it always has the shortest wait time.

China, historically lax on local monopolies, isn’t likely to break up a local business winner over anti-trust concerns.

It all makes me thankful that the US has Lyft nipping at Uber’s heels, keeping it on its toes.

Whether it’s Google Search butting out Yelp local results or Facebook’s approach to privacy, we’ve seen how domination of a technology space by one company leaves the masses with less power.

Source: TechCrunch