Category Archives: Mobile

Vine reboot Byte begins beta testing

Twitter shut down Dom Hoffman’s app Vine, giving away the short-form video goldmine to China’s TikTok. Now a year and half since Hoffman announced he’d reimagine the app as V2 then scrapped that name, his follow-up to Vine called Byte has finally sent out the first 100 invites to its closed beta. Byte will let users record or upload short, looped vertical videos to what’s currently a reverse-chronological feed.

It will be a long uphill climb for Byte given TikTok’s massive popularity. But if it differentiates by focusing less on lip syncing and teen non-sense so it’s less alienating to an older audience, there might be room for a homegrown competitor in short-form video entertainment.

Hoffman tells TechCrunch that he’s emboldened by the off-the-cuff nature of the beta community, which he believes proves the app is compelling even before lots of creative and funny video makers join. He says his top priority is doing right by creators so they’ll be lined up to give Byte a shot when it officially launches even if they could get more views elsewhere.

For now, Hoffman plans to keep running beta tests, adding and subtracting features for a trial by fire to see what works and what’s unnecessary. The current version is just camera recordings with no uploads, and just a feed with Likes and comments but no account following. Upcoming iterations from his seven-person team will test video uploads and profiles.

One reassuring point is that Hoffman is well aware that TikTok’s epic rise has changed the landscape. He admits that Byte can’t win with the exact same playbook Vine did when it faced an open field, and it must bring something unique. Hoffman tells me he’s a big fan of TikTok, and sees it as one evolutionary step past Vine, but not in the same direction as his new app

Does the world need Vine back if TikTok already has over 500 million active users? We’ll soon find out of Hoffman can take a Byte of that market.

Instagram hides Like counts in leaked design prototype

“We want your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get. During this test, only the person who share a post will see the total number of likes it gets.” That’s how Instagram describes a seemingly small design change test with massive potential impact on users’ well-being.

Hiding Like counts could reduce herd mentality, where people just Like what’s already got tons of Likes. It could reduce the sense of competition on Instagram, since users won’t compare their own counts with those of more popular friends or superstar creators. And it could encourage creators to post what feels most authentic rather than trying to rack of Likes for everyone to see.

The design change test was spotted by Jane Manchun Wong, the prolific reverse engineering expert and frequent TechCrunch tipster whose spotted tons of Instagram features before they’re officially confirmed or launched. Wong discovered the design change test in Instagram’s Android code and was able to generate the screenshots above.

You can see on the left that the Instagram feed post lacks a Like count, but still shows a few faces and a name of other people who’ve Liked it. Users are alerted that only they’ll see their post’s Like counts, and anyone else won’t.

An Instagram confirmed to TechCrunch that this design is an an internal prototype that’s not visible to the public yet. A spokesperson told us: “We’re not testing this at the moment, but exploring ways to reduce pressure on Instagram is something we’re always thinking about.” Other features we’ve reported on in the same phase, such as video calling, soundtracks for Stories, and the app’s time well spent dashboard all went on to receive official launches.

Instagram’s prototypes (from left): feed post reactions, Stories lyrics, and Direct stickers

Meanwhile, Wong has also recently spotted several other Instagram prototypes lurking in its Android code. Those includie overlaid stickers for Direct messages, augmented reality filters for Direct Video calls, simultaneous co-watching of recommended videos through Direct, karaoke-style lyrics that appear synced to soundtracks in Stories, emoji reactions to feed posts, and a shopping bag for commerce.

It appears that there’s no plan to hide follower counts on user profiles, which are the true measure of popularity but also serve a purpose of distinguising great content creators and assessing their worth to marketers. Hiding Likes could just put more of a spotlight on follower and comment counts. And even if users don’t see Like counts, they still massively impact the feed’s ranking algorithm, so creators will still have to vy for them to be seen.

Close-up of Instagram’s design for feed posts without Like counters

The change matches a growing belief that Like counts can be counter-productive or even harmful to users’ psyches. Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom told me back in 2016 that getting away from the pressure of Like counts was one impetus for Instagram launching Stories. Last month, Twitter began testing a design which hides retweet counts behind an extra tap to similarly discourage inauthentic competition and herd mentality. And Snapchat has never shown Like counts or even follower counts, which has made it feel less stressful but also less useful for influencers.

Narcissism, envy spiraling, and low self-image can all stem from staring at Like counts. They’re a constant reminder of the status hiererarchies that have emerged from social networks. For many users, at some point it stopped being fun and started to feel more like working in the heart mines. If Instagram rolls the feature out, it could put the emphasis back on sharing art and self-expression, not trying to win some popularity contest.

Twitter acquihires highlight sharing app Highly

Quotes from articles are much more eye-catching than links on Twitter, so the social giant is scooping up the team behind highlight sharing app Highly. This talent could help Twitter build its own version of Highly or develop other ways to excerpt the best content from websites and get it into the timeline.

Twitter confirmed to TechCrunch that the deal was an acquihire, and a spokesperson provided this statement: “We are excited to welcome the Highly team to Twitter. Their expertise will accelerate our product and design thinking around making Twitter more conversational.” We’ve asked about what data portability options Highly will offer.

 

Highly will shut down its iOS and Slack app on April 26th, though it promises that “No highlights will be harmed”. It’s also making its paid “Crowd Control” for private highlight sharing plus Highly For Teams free in the meantime.

“Social highlights can make sharing stories online feel personal, efficient and alive — like retelling a story to a friend, over coffee. They give people shared context and spark meaningful conversations” the Highly team writes.

Quotes can make the difference between someone breezing past a link they don’t want to leave Twitter to explore, and getting a peek at what’s smart about an article so they know if it’s worth diving deeper. Many people use OneShot to generate Twitter-formatted screenshots of posts. But Highly lets you just rub your finger over text to turn it into an image with a link back to the article for easy tweeting. You could also search an archive of your past highlights, and follow curators who spot the best quotes. Its browser extensions and native app let you highlight from wherever your read.

 

“Sharing highlights, not headlines — sharing thinking instead of lazily linking — helps spark the kind of convrsation that leaves participants and observers alike a bit better off than they started. We’d like to see more of this” the Highly teams writes. That’s why it’s joining Twitter to work on improving conversation health. Founded in 2014, Highly had raised a seed round in 2017.

 

How-to video maker Jumprope launches to leapfrog YouTube

Sick of pausing and rewinding YouTube tutorials to replay that tricky part? Jumprope is a new instructional social network offering a powerful how-to video slideshow creation tool. Jumprope helps people make step-by-step guides to cooking, beauty, crafts, parenting and more using voice-overed looping GIFs for each phase. And creators can export their whole lesson for sharing on Instagram, YouTube, or wherever.

Jumprope officially launches its iOS app today with plenty of how-tos for making chocolate chip bars, Easter eggs, flower boxes, or fierce eyebrows. “By switching from free-form linear video to something much more structured, we can make it much easier for people to share their knowledge and hacks” says Jumprope co-founder and CEO Jake Poses.

The rise of Snapchat Stories and Pinterest have made people comfortable jumping on camera and showing off their niche interests. By building a new medium, Jumprope could become the home for rapid-fire learning. And since viewers will have tons of purchase intent for the makeup, art supplies, or equipment they’ll need to follow along, Jumprope could make serious cash off of ads or affiliate commerce.

The opportunity to bring instruction manuals into the mobile video era has attracted a $4.5 million seed round led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and joined by strategic angels like Adobe Chief Product Officer Scott Belsky and Thumbtack co-founders Marco Zappacosta and Jonathan Swanson. People are already devouring casual education content on HGTV and the Food Network, but Jumprope democratizes its creation.

Jumprope co-founders (from left): CTO Travis Johnson and CEO Jake Poses

The idea came from a deeply personal place for Poses. “My brother has pretty severe learning differences, and so growing up with him gave me this appreciation for figuring out how to break things down and explain them to people” Poses reveals. “I think that attached me to this problem of ‘how do you organize information so its simple and easy to understand?’. Lots and lots of people have this information trapped in their heads because there isn’t an a way to easily share that.”

Poses was formerly the VP of product at Thumbtack where he helped grow the company from 8 to 500 people and a $1.25 billion valuation. He teamed up with AppNexus’ VP of engineering Travis Johnson, who’d been leading a 50-person team of coders. “The product takes people who have knowledge and passion but not the skill to make video [and gives them] guard rails that make it easy to communicate” Poses explains.

Disrupting incumbents like YouTube’s grip on viewers might take years, but Jumprope sees its guide creation and export tool as a way to infiltrate and steal their users. That strategy mirrors how TikTok’s watermarked exports colonized the web

How To Make A Jumprope.

Jumprope lays out everything you’ll need to upload, including a cover image, introduction video, supplies list, and all your steps. For each, you’ll record a video that you can then enhance with voice over, increased speed, music, and filters.

Creators are free to suggest their own products or enter affiliate links to monetize their videos. Once it has enough viewers, Jumprope plans to introduce advertising, but it could also add tipping, subscriptions, paid how-tos, or brand sponsorship options down the line. Creators can export their lessons with five different border themes and seven different aspect ratios for posting to Instagram’s feed, IGTV, Snapchat Stories, YouTube, or embedding on their blog.

“Like with Stories, you basically tap through at your own pace” Poses says of the viewing experience. Jumprope offers some rudimentary discovery through categories, themed collections, or what’s new and popular. The startup has done extensive legwork to sign up featured creators in all its top categories. That means Jumprope’s catalog is already extensive, with food guides ranging from cinnabuns to pot roasts to how to perfectly chop an onion. 

“You’re not constantly dealing with the frustration of cooking something and trying to start and stop the video with greasy hands. And if you don’t want all the details, you can tap through it much faster” than trying to skim a YouTube video or blog post, Poses tells me. Next the company wants to build a commenting feature where you can leave notes, substitution suggestions, and more on each step of a guide.

Poses claims there’s no one building a direct competitor to its mobile video how-to editor. But he admits it will be an uphill climb to displace viewership on Instagram and YouTube. One challenge facing Jumprope is that most people aren’t hunting down how-to videos every day. The app will have to work to remind users it exists and that they shouldn’t just go with the lazy default of letting Google recommend the videos it hosts.

The internet has gathered communities around every conceivable interest. But greater access to creation and consumption necessitates better tools for production and curation. As we move from a material to an experiential culture, people crave skills that will help them forge memories and contribute to the world around them. Jumprope makes it a lot less work to leap into the life of a guru.

Meet the first judges for The Europas Awards (27 June) and enter your startup now!

I’m excited to announce that The Europas Awards for European Tech Startups is really shaping up! The awards will be held on 27 June 2019, in London, UK on the front lawn of the Geffrye Museum in Hoxton, London — creating a fantastic and fun, garden party atmosphere in the heart of London’s tech startup scene.

TechCrunch is once more the exclusive media sponsor of the awards and conference, alongside new ‘tech, culture & society’ event creator The Pathfounder.

Here’s how to enter and be considered for the awards.

You can nominate a startup, accelerator or venture investor which you think deserves to be recognized for their achievements in the last 12 months.

*** The deadline for nominations is 1 May 2019. ***

For the 2019 awards, we’ve overhauled the categories to a set that we believe better reflects the range of innovation, diversity and ambition we see in the European startups being built and launched today. There are now 20 categories including new additions to cover AgTech / FoodTech, SpaceTech, GovTech and Mobility Tech.

Attendees, nominees and winners will get discounts to TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin, later this year.

The Europas “Diversity Pass”

We’d like to encourage more diversity in tech! That’s why, for the upcoming invitation-only “Pathfounder” event held on the afternoon before The Europas Awards, we’ve reserved a tranche of free tickets to ensure that we include more women and people of colour who are “pre-seed” or “seed stage” tech startup founders to join us. If you are a woman or a person of colour, apply here for a chance to be considered for one of the limited free diversity passes to the event.

The Pathfounder event will feature premium content and invitees, designed be a ‘fast download’ into the London tech scene for European founders looking to raise money or re-locate to London.

The Europas Awards

The Europas Awards results are based on voting by expert judges and the industry itself.

But key to it is that there are no “off-limits areas” at The Europas, so attendees can mingle easily with VIPs.

The complete list of categories is here:

  1. AgTech / FoodTech
  2. CleanTech
  3. Cyber
  4. EdTech
  5. FashTech
  6. FinTech
  7. Public, Civic and GovTech
  8. HealthTech
  9. MadTech (AdTech / MarTech)
  10. Mobility Tech
  11. PropTech
  12. RetailTech
  13. Saas/Enterprise or B2B
  14. SpaceTech
  15. Tech for Good
  16. Hottest Blockchain Project
  17. Hottest Blockchain Investor
  18. Hottest VC Fund
  19. Hottest Seed Fund
  20. Grand Prix
    Timeline of The Europas Awards deadlines:

* 6 March 2019 – Submissions open
* 1 May 2019 – Submissions close
* 10 May 2019 – Public voting begins
* 18 June 2019 – Public voting ends
* 27 June 2019 – Awards Bash

Amazing networking

We’re also shaking up the awards dinner itself. Instead of a sit-down gala dinner, we’ve taken on your feedback for more opportunities to network. Our awards ceremony this year will be in the setting of a garden lawn party where you’ll be able to meet and mingle more easily with free-flowing drinks and a wide-selection of street food (including vegetarian/vegan). The ceremony itself will last approximately 75 minutes, with the rest of the time dedicated to networking. If you’d like to talk about sponsoring or exhibiting, please contact dianne@thepathfounder.com

Instead of thousands and thousands of people, think of a great summer event with the most interesting and useful people in the industry, including key investors and leading entrepreneurs.

The Europas Awards have been going for the last ten years and we’re the only independent and editorially driven event to recognise the European tech startup scene. The winners have been featured in Reuters, Bloomberg, VentureBeat, Forbes, Tech.eu, The Memo, Smart Company, Cnet, many others and of course, TechCrunch.

• No secret VIP rooms, which means you get to interact with the Speakers

• Key Founders and investors attending

• Journalists from major tech titles, newspapers and business broadcasters

Meet the first set of our 20 judges:


Brent Hoberman
Executive Chairman and Co-Founder
Founders Factory


Videesha Böckle
Founding Partner
signals Venture Capital


Bindi Karia
Innovation Expert + Advisor, Investor
Bindi Ventures


Christian Hernandez
Christian Hernandez Gallardo
Co-Founder and Venture Partner at White Star Capital

Facebook prototypes a swipeable hybrid carousel of feed posts & Stories

Feed and Stories unite! Facebook is so eager to preempt the shift to Stories that it might even let us use the same interface of horizontally swipeable cards to sift through News Feed posts. If users won’t scroll down any more, Facebook’s ad business could take a huge hit. But by allowing traditional feed posts and ads to appear amidst Stories in the same carousel you’re more prone to swipe through, it could squeeze more views and dollars out of that content. This would help Facebook gracefully transition to the post-News Feed era while it teaches advertisers how to use the full-screen Stories ad format.

In this image, you can see a user in mid-swipe through the hybrid carousel between a News Feed story about a friend updating their profile photo to an animated GIF-style video on the left and a Stories video on the right.

We’re awaiting comment from Facebook about this. There’s a chance it was just caused by a bug like the briefly side-scrollable Instagram feed that popped up in December, or that it will never be publicly tested let alone launch. But given the significance of Facebook potentially reimagining navigation of its main revenue stream, we considered it worth covering immediately. After all, Facebook predicts that Stories sharing will surpass feed sharing across all social apps sometime this year,. it alrady has 300 million daily users across Stories on Facebook and Messenger, plus another 500 million on Instagram Stories and 450 million on WhatsApp Status.

This swipeable hybrid carousel was first spotted by reverse engineering specialist and frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong. She discovered this unreleased feature inside of the Android version of Facebook and screenrecorded the new navigation method. In this prototype, when a News Feed post’s header or surrounding space is tapped, users see a full-screen version of the post. From there they can swipe left to reveal the next content in the hybrid carousel, which can include both traditional News Feed posts, News Feed ads, and purposefully vertical Stories and Stories ads.

If Facebook moved forward with offering this as an optional way to browse its social network, it would hedge the business against the biggest behavior change it’s seen since the move from desktop to mobile. Vertically-scrolling News Feeds are useful for browsing text-heavy content, but the navigation requires more work. Users have to stop and start scrolling precisely to get a whole post in view, and it takes longer to move between pieces of content.

In contrast, swipeable Stories carousels offer a more convenient lean-back navigation style where posts always appear fully visible. All it takes to advance to the next full-screen piece of content is a single tap, which is easier on your joints. This allows rapid-fire fast-forwarding through friends’ lives, which works well with more visual, instantly digestible content. While cramming text-filled News Feed posts may not be ideal, at least they might get more attention. If Facebook combined all this with unskippable Stories ads like Snapchat is increasingly using, the medium shift could lure more TV dollars to the web.

The hybrid posts and Stories carousel can contain both traditional image plus caption News Feed posts and News feed ads as well as Stories

Facebook has repeatedly warned that it’s out of space for more ads in the News Feed, and that users are moving their viewing time to Stories where advertisers are still getting acclimated. When Facebook made it clear on its Q2 2018 earnings call that this could significantly reduce revenue growth, its share price dropped 20 percent vaporizing $120 billion in value. Wall Street is rightfully concerned that the Stories medium shift could upend Facebook’s massive business.

Stories is a bustling up-and-coming neighborhood. News Feed is a steadily declining industrial city that’s where Facebook’s money is earned but that’s on its way to becoming a ghost town. A hybrid Stories/posts carousel would build a super highway between them, connecting where Facebook users want to spend time with where the municipality generates the taxes necessary to keep the lights on.

Mutiny at HQ Trivia fails to oust CEO

This week’s banishment of host Scott Rogowsky was merely a symptom of the ongoing struggle to decide who will lead HQ Trivia. According to multiple sources, over half of the startup’s staff signed an internal petition to depose CEO Rus Yusupov who they saw as mismanaging the company. But Yusupov then fired three core supporters of the mutiny, leading to a downward spiral of morale that mirrors HQ’s plummeting App Store rank.

TechCrunch spoke to multiple sources familiar with HQ Trivia’s internal troubles to piece together how the live video mobile game went from blockbuster to nearly bust. Two sources said HQ recently only had around $6 million in the bank but was burning over $1 million per month, meaning its runway could be dwindling. But its early investors are reluctant to hand Yusupov any more cash. “

Employees petitioned to remove HQ Trivia’s CEO Rus Yusupov

HQ reimagined gaming and mobile entertainment with the launch of its 12-question trivia game in August 2017 where players all competed live in twice-daily shows with anyone who got all the answers right split a cash jackpot. The games felt urgent since you could only participate at designated times, fun to play against friends or strangers, and winning carried a significance no single-player or non-stop online game could match.

When TechCrunch wrote the first coverage of HQ Trivia in October 2017, it had just 3500 concurrent players. But by January it had climbed to the #3 game and #6 overall app in the App Store, and grown to 2.38 million players by March. Quickly, copycats from China and Facebook entered the market. But they all lacked HQ’s secret weapon — its plucky host comedian Scott Rogowsky. Affectionately awarded nicknames like Quiz Daddy, Quiz Khalifa, Host Malone, and Trap Trebek from the “HQties” who played daily, he was the de facto face of the startup.

Yet HQ had some shaky foundations. Co-founder Colin Kroll, who’d also started Vine with Yusupov and sold it to Twitter, had been fired from Twitter after 18 months for being a bad manager, Recode reported. He’d also picked up a reputation of being creepy around female employees, as well as Vine stars, TechCrunch has learned. Rapid growth and an investigation by early HQ investor Jeremy Liew that found no egregious misconduct by Kroll paved the way for a $15 million investment. The round was led by Founders Fund’s Cyan Bannister, and it valued HQ at over $100 million.

Yusupov failed to translate that cash into sustained growth and product innovation. His public behavior had already raised flags. He yelled at a Daily Beast reporter after the outlet’s Taylor Lorenz interviewed Rogowsky without Yusupov’s approval, threatening to fire the host. “You’re putting Scott’s job in jeopardy. Is that what you want? . . .  Please read me your story word for word,” Yusupov said. When he learned Rogowsky had expressed his preference for salad restaurant chain Sweetgreen, Yusupov shouted “He cannot say that! We do not have a brand deal with Sweetgreen! Under no circumstances can he say that.” The next day, Yusupov falsely claimed he’d never threatened Rogowsky’s job.

With HQ’s bank account full, sources say Yusupov was extremely slow to make decisions, allowing HQ to stagnate. The novelty of playing trivia for money via phone has begun to wear off, and people increasingly ignored HQ’s push notifications to join its next game. But beyond bringing in some guest hosts and the option to buy a second chance after a wrong answer, HQ ceased to evolve. HQ fell to the #196 game on iOS and the #585 overall app as concurrent players waned.

That’s when things started to get a bit Game Of Thrones.

Pawns In A CEO War

Liew pushed for HQ to swap Kroll into the CEO spot in September 2018 while moving Yusupov to Chief Creative Officer, which was confirmed despite an HR complaint against Kroll for aggressive management. However, three sources tell TechCrunch that Yusupov pushed that HQ employee to file the complaint against Kroll. As the WSJ reported after Kroll’s death, that employee later left the startup because they felt that they’d been exploited. “There was definitely what felt like manipulation there, and that’s also why that employee resigned from the company.” one source said. Another source said that staffer “believed Rus used their unhappiness about work to use them as a pawn in his CEO war and not because Rus actually cared about resolving things.”

Cyan of Founders Fund stepped down from HQ’s board after the decision to swap out Yusupov due to her firm’s reputation of keeping founders in control, Recode’s Kurt Wagner reported. Sources say that despite Kroll’s reputation, the staff believed in him. “Colin loved HQ and was dedicated to all the employees more than Rus. Rus cares about Rus. Colin cared about the content” a source tells me. 

Three sources say that in a desperate ploy to retain power and prevent Kroll’s rise, Yusupov suggested Rogowsky, a comedian with no tech or management experience, be made CEO of HQ Trivia. He even suggested the company film a reality show about Rogowsky taking over. That idea was quickly shot down as preposterous.

“It was a very personal desperation tactic not to have Colin be CEO. It was not a professionally thought-out idea” a source tells me, though another said it was always hard to tell if Yusupov’s crazy ideas were jokes. Both Yusupov and HQ Trivia declined to respond to multiple requests for comment, but we’ll update if we hear back.

HQ Trivia co-founder Colin Kroll passed away in December

Then tragedy struck in December. Kroll, then CEO, was found dead in his apartment from a drug overdose. Employees were distraught over what would happen next. “Colin’s plan was to ship fast, and get new things out there” a source says, noting that Kroll had pushed for the release of HQ’s first new game type HQ Words modeled after Wheel Of Fortune. “He wasn’t perfect but in the time he was in charge, the ship started to turn, but when Rus took over again it was like the 9 months where we did nothing.”

Coup d’éHQ

By February 2019, HQ’s staff was fed up. Two sources confirm that 20 of the roughly 35 employees signed a letter asking the board to remove Yusupov and establish a new CEO. With HQ’s download rate continuing to sink, they feared he’d run the startup into the ground. One source suggested Yusupov might rather have seen the whole startup come crashing down with the blame placed on the product than have it come to light that he played a large hand in the fall. The tone of the letter, which was never formally delivered but sources believe the board knew of, wasn’t accusatory but a plea for transparency about the company’s future and the staff’s job security.

At a hastily convened all-hands meeting in late February, HQ investor Liew told the company his fund Lightspeed would support a search for a new CEO to replace Yusupov, and provide that new CEO with funding for 18 more months of runway. Liew told the staff he would step down from the board once that CEO was found, but the search continues and so Liew remains on HQ’s board.

Mostly everyone was on Jeremy’s side as no one wanted to work under Rus. Jeremy wasn’t trying to screw him over the way Rus would screw other people over. He just wanted to do what was right, getting behind what everyone wanted” a source said of Liew. 

Instead, HQ’s board moved forward with instituting a new executive decision-making committee composed of Yusupov, HQ’s head of production Nick Gallo, and VP of engineering Ben Sheats. Yusupov would remain interim CEO, and he continued to cling to power and there’s been little transparency about the CEO replacement process. Until a new CEO is found, HQ must subsist on its existing funds. The staff is “always worried about running out of runway” and are given vague answers when they ask leadership about how much money is left.

On March 1st, the committee emerged from a meeting and fired three employees who had spearheaded the petition and been vocal about Yusupov’s failings.

One who wasn’t fired was Rogowsky, despite sources saying at one point he’d tried to organize the staff to go on strike. Other employees had been cautious about standing up to Yusupov. “Everyone was terrified of retaliation. Their fears have totally been validated” a source explains. Engineers and other staffers with strong employment prospects began to drain out of the company. Those left were just trying to hold onto their jobs. Without inspiring leadership or a strategy to reverse user shrinkage, recruiting replacements would prove difficult.

Yusupov remains on the board, along with Tinder CEO Elie Seidman who Yusupov appointed to his additional common seat. Liew retains his seat until the new CEO is found and given that seat. And Kroll’s seat appears to have gone to Lightspeed partner Merci Victoria Grace. Lightspeed and Cyan of Founders Fund declined to respond to requests for comment.

Losing Face

Tensions at HQ and a desire to diversify his prospects led Rogowsky to pick up a side gig hosting baseball talk show ChangeUp on the DAZN network, TMZ reported this week. He’d hoped to continue hosting HQ during its big weekend contests. But tensions with Yusupov and the CEO’s desire for the host to remain exclusively at HQ led negotiations to sour causing Rogowsky to leave the startup entirely. TechCrunch was first to report that he’s been replaced by former HQ guest host Matt Richards, who Yusupov bluntly told me Friday had polled higher than Rogowsky in a SurveyMonkey survey of HQ’s top players.

In tweets, Rogowsky revealed that that “Sadly, it won’t be possible for me to continue hosting HQ concurrently as I had hoped” noting, “I wasn’t given the courtesy of a farewell show.” Finding a way to preserve Rogowsky’s ties to HQ likely would have been best for the startup.  TechCrunch had raised the concern a year ago that unless Rogowsky was properly locked in with an adequate equity vesting schedule at HQ, he could leave. Or worse, he could be poached by Facebook, Snapchat, or YouTube to host an HQ competitor.

“Rus is a visionary but not a good leader. He is extremely manipulative in an unproductive way. He’s a dude who just cares a lot about his reputation” a source noted. “A lot of the negative sentiment amongst staff is the belief that he cares more about his reputation than the company itself.”

HQ’s next attempt to revive growth appears to be HQ Editor’s Picks, is described as “a new live show on your phone where our host shows funny viral videos and you decide on who gets paid.” Finally it seems willing to embrace the potential of interactive live video entertainment outside of trivia and puzzles. HQ Editor’s Picks will face an uphill battle, since HQ dropped out of the top 1500 iOS apps last month, according to App Annie. Sensor Tower estimates that HQ saw just 8 percent as many downloads in March 2019 as March 2018.

After the loss of its spirit animal Rogowsky, the employees’ chosen leader Kroll, the supervision of veteran investor Cyan, and its product momentum, tough questions are what remain for HQ Trivia. The company’s struggles have paralyzed its progress towards finding a new viral mechanic or game format that attracts users. While HQ Words is fun, it’s too similar to its trivia competition to change the startup’s trajectory. And all of the in-fighting could scare off any talent hoping to turn HQ around. Unfortunately, securing an extra life for the game will take a more than a $3.99 in-app purchase.

Instagram bug showed Stories to the wrong people

Today in “Facebook apps are too big to manage”, a glitch caused some users’ Instagram Stories trays to show Stories from people they don’t follow.

TechCrunch first received word of the problem from Twitter user InternetRyan who was confused about seeing strangers in his Stories Tray and tagged me in to investigate. The screenshots below show people in his Stories tray who he doesn’t follow, as proven by the active Follow buttons on their profiles. TechCrunch inquired about the issue, and 22 hours later Instagram confirmed that a bug was responsible and it had been fixed.

Instagram is still looking into the cause of the bug but says it was solved within hours of being brought to its attention. Luckily, if users clicked on the profile pic of someone they didn’t follow in Stories, Instagram’s privacy controls kicked it and wouldn’t display the content. Facebook Stories wasn’t impacted. But the whole situation shakes faith in the Facebook corporation’s ability to properly route and safeguard our data, including that of the 500 million people using Instagram Stories each day.

An Instagram spokesperson provided this statement: “We’re aware of an issue that caused a small number of people’s Instagram Stories trays to show accounts they don’t follow. If your account is private, your Stories were not seen by people who don’t follow you. This was caused by a bug that we have resolved.”

The problem comes after a rough year for Facebook’s privacy and security teams. Outside of all its scrambling to fight false news and election interference, Facebook and Instagram have experienced an onslaught of technical troubles. A Facebook bug changed the status update composer privacy setting of 14 million users, while another exposed up to 6.8 million users unposted photos. Instagram bugs have screwed up follower accounts, and made the feed scroll horizontally. And Facebook was struck by its largest outage ever last month, after its largest data breach ever late last year exposed tons of info on 50 million users.

Facebook and Instagram’s unprecedented scale make them extremely capital efficient and profitable. But that size also leaves tons of surfaces susceptible to problems that can instantly impact huge swaths of the population. Once Facebook has a handle on misinformation, its technical systems could use an audit.

Instagram now demotes vaguely “inappropriate” content

Instagram is home to plenty of scantily-clad models and edgy memes that may start to get fewer views starting today. Now Instagram says “We have begun reducing the spread of posts that are inappropriate but do not go against Instagram’s Community Guidelines”. That means if a post is sexually suggestive, but doesn’t depict a sex act or nudity, it could still get demoted. Similarly, if a meme doesn’t constitute hate speech or harassment, but is considered in bad taste, lewd, violent, or hurtful, it could get fewer views.

Specifically, Instagram says “this type of content may not appear for the broader community in Explore or hashtag pages” which could severely hurt the ability of creators to gain new followers. The news came amidst a flood of “Integrity” announcements from Facebook to safeguard its family of apps revealed today at a press event a the company’s Menlo Park headquarters.

“We’ve started to use machine learning to determine if the actual media posted is eligible to be recommended to our community” Instagram’s Product Lead for Discovery Will Ruben said. Instagram is now training its content moderators to label borderline content when they’re hunting down policy violations, and Instagram then uses those labels to train an algorithm to identify.

These posts won’t be fully removed from the feed, and Instagram tells me for now the new policy won’t impact Instagram’s feed or Stories bar. But Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s November manifesto described the need to broadly reduce the reach of this “borderline content”, which on Facebook would mean being shown lower in News Feed. That’s policy could easily be expanded to Instagram in the future. That would likely reduce the ability of creators to reach their existing fans, which can impact their ability to monetize through sponsored posts or direct traffic to ways they make money like Patreon.

Today Facebook’s Henry Silverman explained that “As content gets closer and closer to the line of our Community Standards at which point we’d remove it, it actually gets more and more engagement. It’s not something unique to Facebook but inherent in human nature.” The borderline content policy aims to counteract this incentive to toe the policy line. Just because something is allowed on one our apps doesn’t mean it should show up at the top of News Feed or that it should be recommended or that it should be able to be advertised” said Facebook’s head of News Feed Integrity Tessa Lyons. ”

This all makes sense when it comes to click bait, false news, and harassment which no one wants on Facebook or Instagram. But when it comes to sexualized but not explicit content that has long been uninhibited and in fact popular on Instagram, or memes or jokes that might offend some people despite not being abusive, this is a significant step up of censorship by Facebook and Instagram.

Creators currently have no guidelines about what constitutes Borderline Content — there’s nothing in Instagram’s rules or  terms of service that even mention non-recommendable content or what qualifies. The only information Instagram has provided was what it shared at today’s event. The company specficied that violent, graphic/shocking, sexuall suggestive, misinformation, and spam content can be deemed “non-recommendable” and therefore won’t appear on Explore or hashtag pages.

 

Instagram denied an account from a creator claiming that the app reduced their feed and Stories reach after one of their posts that actually violates the content policy taken down.

One female creator with around a half-million followers likened receiving a two-week demotion that massively reduced their content’s reach to Instagram defecating on them. “It just makes it like, ‘Hey, how about we just show your photo to like 3 of your followers? Is that good for you? . . . I know this sounds kind of tin-foil hatty but . . . when you get a post taken down or a story, you can set a timer on your phone for two weeks to the godd*mn f*cking minute and when that timer goes off you’ll see an immediate change in your engagement. They put you back on the Explore page and you start getting followers.”

As you can see, creators are pretty passionate about Instagram demoting their reach. Instagram’s Product Lead on Discovery Will Ruben said regarding the feed/Stories reach reduction: No, that’s not happening. We distinguish between feed and surfaces where you’ve taken the choice to follow somebody, and Explore and hashtag pages where Instagram is recommending content to people.”

The questions now are whether borderline content demotions are ever extended to Instagram’s feed and Stories, and how content is classified as recommendable, non-recommendable, or violating. With artificial intelligence involved, this could turn into another situation where Facebook is seen as shirking its responsibilities in favor of algorithmic efficiency — but this time in removing or demoting too much content rather than too little.

Given the lack of clear policies to point to, the subjective nature of deciding what’s offensive but not abusive, Instagram’s 1 billion user scale, and its nine years of allowing this content, there are sure to be complaints and debates about fair and consistent enforcement.

New privacy assistant Jumbo fixes your Facebook & Twitter settings

Jumbo could be a nightmare for the tech giants, but a savior for the victims of their shady privacy practices.

Jumbo saves you hours as well as embarrassment by automatically adjusting 30 Facebook privacy settings to give you more protection, and by deleting your old tweets after saving them to your phone. It can even erase your Google Search and Amazon Alexa history, with clean up features for Instagram and Tinder in the works.

The startup emerges from stealth today to launch its Jumbo privacy assistant app on iPhone (Android coming soon). What could take a ton of time and research to do manually can be properly handled by Jumbo with a few taps.

The question is whether tech’s biggest companies will allow Jumbo to operate, or squash its access. Facebook, Twitter, and the rest really should have built features like Jumbo’s themselves or made them easier to use, since they could boost people confidence and perception that might increase usage of their apps. But since their business models often rely on gathering and exploiting as much of your data as possible, and squeezing engagement from more widely visible content, the giants are incentivized to find excuses to block Jumbo.

“Privacy is something that people want, but at the same time it just takes too much time for you and me to act on it” explains Jumbo founder Pierre Valade, who formerly built beloved high-design calendar app Sunrise that he sold to Microsoft in 2015. “So you’re left with two options: you can leave Facebook, or do nothing.”

Jumbo makes it easy enough for even the lazy to protect themselves. “I’ve used Jumbo to clean my full Twitter, and my personal feeling is: I feel lighter. On Facebook, Jumbo changed my privacy settings, and I feel safer.”

Valade’s Sunrise pedigree and plan to follow Dropbox’s bottom-up freemium strategy by launching premium subscription and enterprise features has already attracted investors to Jumbo. It’s raised a $3.5 million seed round led by Thrive Capital’s Josh Miller and Nextview Ventures’ Rob Go, who “both believe that privacy is fundamental human right” Valade notes. Valade’s six-person team in New York will use the money to develop new features and try to start a privacy moment.

How Jumbo Works

First let’s look at Jumbo’s Facebook settings fixes. The app asks that you punch in your username and password through a mini-browser open to Facebook instead of using the traditional Facebook Connect feature. That immediately might get Jumbo blocked, and we’ve asked Facebook if it will be allowed. Then Jumbo can adjust your privacy settings to Weak, Medium, or Strong controls, though it never makes any privacy settings looser if you’ve already tightened them.

Valade details that since there are no APIs for changing Facebook settings, Jumbo will “act as ‘you’ on Facebook’s website and tap on the buttons, as a script, to make the changes you asked Jumbo to do for you.” He says he hopes Facebook makes an API for this, though it’s more likely to see his script as against policies.

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For example, Jumbo can change who can look you up using your phone number to Strong – Friends only, Medium – Friends of friends, or Weak – Jumbo doesn’t change the setting. Sometimes it takes a stronger stance. For the ability to show you ads based on contact info that advertisers have uploaded, both the Strong and Medium settings hide all ads of this type, while Weak keeps the setting as is.

The full list of what Jumbo can adjust includes Who can see your future posts?, Who can see the people, Pages and lists you follow?, Who can see your friends list?, Who can see your sexual preference?, Do you want Facebook to be able to recognize you in photos and videos?, Who can post on your timeline?, and Review tags people add to your posts the tags appear on Facebook? The full list can be found here.

For Twitter, you can choose if you want to remove all tweets ever, or that are older than a day, week, month (recommended), or three months. Jumbo never sees the data, as everything is processed locally on your phone. Before deleting the tweets, it archives them to a Memories tab of its app. Unfortunately there’s currently no way to export the tweets from there, but Jumbo is building Dropbox and iCloud connectivity soon which will work retroactively to download your tweets. Twitter’s API limits mean it can only erase 3200 tweets of yours every few days, so prolific tweeters may require several rounds.

While there are other apps that can clean you tweets, nothing else is designed to be a full-fledged privacy assistant. Perhaps it’s a bit of idealism to think these tech giants will permit Jumbo to run as intended. Valade says he hopes if there’s enough user support, the privacy backlash would be too big if the tech giants blocked Jumbo. “If the social network blocks us, we will disable the integration in Jumbo until we can find a solution to make them work again.”

But even if it does get nixed by the platforms, Jumbo will have started a crucial conversation about how privacy should be handled offline. We’ve left control over privacy defaults to companies that earn money when we’re less protected. Now it’s time for that control to shift to the hands of the user.