Author: Jordan Crook

Discord’s Jason Citron to chat it up at Disrupt SF

In September of 2013, Jason Citron hopped on to the Disrupt Startup Battlefield stage to pitch Fates Forever, a multiplayer online battle arena game for the iPad. Now, five years later, Citron is gearing up to join us once again on the Disrupt stage to discuss the stellar growth of Discord.

Though Fates Forever had all the components to be a great mobile game, users simply never took much interest. The company struggled to monetize, and like any good startup, the team began to reassess its own situation.

The conversation turned to communication, where the space contained a few players with lack-luster products.

“Can we make a 10X project?,” said CMO Eros Resmini, relaying the tale of the company’s pivot to TechCrunch. “Low-friction usage, no renting servers, beautiful design we took from mobile.”

That’s how Discord was born. The platform launched in 2016, and has since grown to 90 million registered users, and has raised nearly $80 million in funding.

Coming from the publishing side, the Discord team had a keen awareness of what gamers want and need: a clean, secure communications platform. Since launch, the team has launched features that let game developers integrate Discord chat into their own games, as well as video-chat and screen-sharing.

But the progress has not been without discord . The company shut down several servers associated with the alt-right for violating the terms of service, bringing Discord to the center of the on-going conversation around censorship and political bias.

That said, Discord has seemed to find its stride, forming partnerships with various esports organizations for verified servers.

There is plenty to discuss with Jason Citron at Disrupt SF, and we hope you’ll join us to check out the conversation live.

The full agenda is here. Passes for the show are available at the early-bird rate until August 1 here.

Twitter turns to academics to improve conversational health on the platform

Twitter is partnering with two groups of academic researchers to figure out how to measure the health of conversations happening on the platform.

It’s all part of the company’s continuing long game for social relevance. Despite the fact that it lost 1 million users, the company also posted $100 million in profit during last week’s earnings. But neither of these numbers seem to change the fact that Twitter needs to make some adjustments to the way people use the social network.

In March, Twitter called for proposals from researchers to see how they might approach the issue of analytics around the types and manner of conversations on Twitter. These proposals were thoroughly reviewed by Twitter employees from a variety of departments at the company, including Engineering, Product, Machine Learning, Data Science, Trust and Safety, Legal and Research. Twitter also says that the review committee was organized to include representatives from diverse groups across the company. (Reminder: less than 10 percent of Twitter employees are diverse, so it was likely a busy few months for those people.)

Well, the review process is now over and Twitter has decided on two research teams, who will focus on two different issues.

The first team, led by scholars from Leiden University, will look at how echo chambers form and their effect, as well as the difference between incivility and intolerance within Twitter conversations. The team — including Dr. Rebekah Tromble, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Leiden University, Dr. Michael Meffert at Leiden, Dr. Patricia Rossini and Dr. Jennifer Stromer-Galley at Syracuse University, Dr. Nava Tintarev at Delft University of Technology, and Dr. Dirk Hovy at Bocconi University — has found in past research that echo chambers can cause hostility and promote resentment towards those not having the same conversation.

The first set of metrics this team is focusing on will look at the extent to which people acknowledge and engage with diverse viewpoints on Twitter. The second set of metrics will look at the difference between incivility and intolerance. Past research by this group shows that incivility can serve important functions in political dialogue, though not without spurring its own problems. On the other hand, intolerant speech (hate speech, racism, xenophobia) threatens our democracy. The team plans to develop algorithms that will distinguish between more useful incivility and the very useless intolerance we encounter daily on Twitter.

The second research project will be led by Professor Miles Hewstone and John Gallacher at The University of Oxford, in partnership with Dr. Marc Heerdink at the University of Amsterdam. The work will be an extension of Prof. Hewstone’s long standing work to study intergroup conflict. The current findings from this study show that when conversation contains more positive sentiments, cooperative emotions, and more complex thinking and reasoning from multiple perspectives, prejudice will go down and the quality of the relationships will go up.

“As part of the project, text classifiers for language commonly associated with positive sentiment, cooperative emotionality, and integrative complexity will be adapted to the structure of communication on Twitter,” the Twitter blog says.

Just like any social network, Twitter provides scaffolding. Users, on the other hand, construct buildings made of dialogue. How exactly Twitter will be able to adjust the scaffolding to produce more useful, empathetic conversations is still a mystery. But bringing in the academic community to help is an excellent next step.

Tinder Loops, the dating app’s new video feature, rolls out globally

Tinder Loops, the recently announced video feature from Tinder, is today rolling out globally.

Tinder has been testing this feature in Canada and Sweden since April, when it was first announced, and has rolled out to a few other markets since then.

Today, Loops are available to Tinder users across the following markets: Japan, United Kingdom, United States, France, Korea, Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Russia, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, Iceland, Ireland, Kuwait, New Zealand, Norway, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand and United Arab Emirates.

Loops are two-second, looping videos that can be posted to users’ profiles. Users can’t shoot Tinder Loops from within the app, but rather have to upload and edit existing videos in their camera roll or upload a Live Photo from an iOS device.

Tinder is also expanding the number of images you can post to your profile to nine, in order to make room for Loops without displacing existing photos.

Given that Tinder has been testing the feature since early April, the company now has more data around how Tinder Loops have been working out for users. For example, users who added a Loop to their profile saw that their average conversation length went up by 20 percent. The feature seems to be particularly effective in Japan — Loops launched there in June — with users receiving an average of 10 percent more right swipes if they had a Loop in their profile.

In the age of Instagram and Tinder, people have used photos to represent themselves online. But, with all the editing tools out there, that also means that photos aren’t always the most accurate portrayal of personality or appearance. Videos on Tinder offer a new way to get to know someone for who they are.

Instagram tests questions in Stories

Instagram has been incredibly busy of late, announcing IGTV, Instagram Lite and a slate of features including Stories Soundtracks. But the Facebook-owned photo-sharing service doesn’t show any signs of letting up.

Android Police today noted that Instagram is testing a feature that would allow users to post questions to their followers and receive answers.

Instagram already offers the ability to publish polls to followers with multiple-choice options for answering. But this test seems to point toward the option to offer lengthier responses to users’ questions.

One user in Indonesia sent to Android Police a screencap of the feature(pictured above), and a user in Spain also spotted the feature. That said, we still have very little information on just how this might work.

Right now, when a user posts to their Story, their followers can respond via DM. With more open-ended questions and responses, it’s unclear if responses will still come in via DM or be bundled together as part of the story.

The latter seems more in keeping with Instagram’s push to make Stories as interactive as possible. The open-ended question could serve as a jumping off point for a collaborative story comprised of everyone’s responses.

That said, this feature hasn’t been confirmed by Instagram, though we’ve reached out and will update the post when we learn more.

IRL wants to get people together offline

Social planning apps are a dime a dozen, but none have risen to become a mainstay in our digital lives. IRL, founded by Abe Shafi and Scott Banister, is looking to break the pattern, focusing on positivity to get people excited about hanging out offline.

When users first sign up, they’re asked a series of multiple choice questions about their friends: “Who is the best at building pillow forts?” or “Who has the best style?” with four of your contacts as possible answers. These ‘nominations’ are meant to catalyze making plans with those friends. Those nominations stay anonymous.

From there, users can choose from a wide variety of interests like “Netflix and Chill,” “Grab Burgers,” or “Watch the World Cup.” Once they’ve chosen an interest, they can mark the time (today, soon, or pick a date) and send an invite to friends, at which point the group comes up with the right time and place for the plans.

According to cofounder and CEO Abe Shafi, the structure of IRL is meant to take the pressure off of any one person from being the ‘host.’

“We designed IRL so that people could send out lightweight invitations,” said Shafi. “We want people to be able to say ‘hey, I want to do something’ and send it out to a larger group of friends, letting people opt in and decide what they want to do. Creating a safe container that lets people opt in helps with social anxiety around making plans.”

This isn’t Shafi’s first go-round in the world of tech startups. Shafi sold his startup GetTalent to Dice in 2013. Shafi said that one of the difficulties in enterprise software was that he felt less and less connected to the problems he was solving, and knew that he felt at his best spending time with friends and family.

“I knew I didn’t want to participate in the distraction economy,” said Shafi. “More and more articles came out saying the healthiest thing you can do is spend time with people. I thought more about creating an app to help people get together, which in many ways is the white whale of consumer web.”

That’s how the idea for IRL started. But it wasn’t always called IRL. In fact, Shafi first launched an app called Gather, which we wrote about in early 2017.

Gather did an incredibly poor job of notifying users when it was sending out texts to their friends and contacts to join the app. While social apps have a limited window to get people on the app with their friends, Gather’s approach was reckless and ended up backfiring.

“That was our biggest mistake,” said Shafi. “We had a lot of really bad UX and UI that didn’t make it clear at all when you were inviting someone to Gather whether they were on or off the app, and it made people really confused.”

Shafi says that he and the team have learned a lot from Gather, and have implemented much more clear notifications around when a button in the app might send a text to someone who isn’t already on the IRL app. For example, during onboarding when the app asks you to send out nominations, it’ll show a couple of people already on the app and a couple of people from your contacts that haven’t downloaded the app. Those who aren’t on IRL will have an asterisk next to their name with a note on the page saying that those with an asterisk will be sent a text.

Some people still don’t do a great job of reading the fine print, so there are still some users in the app’s review section expressing their displeasure. But IRL has done a much better job of clarifying any step or action that might initiate a text send to a contact off the app.

Today, IRL launches its Android app, which you can find in the Google Play store.

IRL has received an undisclosed amount of funding from Floodgate and Founders Fund, and Cyan Banister (Scott Banister’s partner) led the Founders Fund round.

Bumble CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd is coming to Disrupt SF

Bumble founder and CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd has always done things her own way.

Whether it’s standing up for her political beliefs, building a company with fully outsourced engineers or avoiding the usual startup fundraising runaround, Wolfe Herd follows her own instincts in building a business. Which is why we’re super excited to announce that Whitney Wolfe Herd will join us at TC Disrupt SF 2018.

Wolfe Herd first came on the scene as a co-founder and VP of Marketing at Tinder, where she helped grow the dating app into one of the world’s biggest dating platforms. But after a lawsuit over sexual harassment and discrimination, which was settled out of court, Wolfe Herd left the company to build an app focused on compliments and positive affirmations.

Originally, she wanted nothing to do with the dating space. But after meeting Andrey Adreev, Badoo founder and Bumble’s majority stakeholder, she realized that giving women a voice in digital dating could be revolutionary. And so, Bumble was born in 2014.

The app has grown to 30 million users, and continues to grow in popularity based on a simple premise: women make the first move.

But Wolfe Herd’s ambitions don’t stop at dating. The 28-year-old founder has added new verticals to the app, letting users find friends and make professional connections via Bumble.

And all the while, Bumble’s cap table has never changed, with Wolfe Herd’s 20 percent stake as yet undiluted. Wolfe Herd was named one of Time 100’s most influential people this year, and has herself become a brand that represents authenticity and self-empowerment.

We can’t wait to talk to Wolfe Herd at Disrupt SF 2018. You can buy tickets to the show here.

Instagram now lets you mute accounts

Instagram today introduced a way to mute accounts, giving users a way to continue following accounts without seeing their posts all the time.

Muted accounts will not be made aware that they’ve been muted, and users can unmute accounts at any time. Users can still see posts on the muted account’s profile page and get notified about comments or posts they’re tagged in.

Users can mute accounts by tapping the “…” in the corner of the post and choosing between muting posts, stories, or posts and stories.

First and foremost, this continues Instagram’s effort to block bullying and harassment on the social network. While users have had the ability to block accounts for a long time, muting is a next step in blocking out someone without any of the consequences that might come from blocking them.

This could also come in handy for folks going through a break-up or some other social split, as they don’t necessarily want to see every single post from their ex but don’t want to be seen unfollowing them either.

Of course, the broader demographic will simply have more control over Instagram’s algorithmic feed, which prioritizes accounts and posts it thinks you will like (read: promotes engagement at all costs).

The algorithmic feed has added a layer of complexity to Instagram, making users think more cautiously about the way they throw around likes. Posts, and accounts, that you like may very well get top billing in your feed because of it, even if you only liked the post to show friends some love.

Muting gives users a bit more control over what they see regardless of what they’ve liked or what Instagram’s algorithm deems relevant.