Category Archives: Mobile

Happn takes on Tinder Places with an interactive map of missed connections

Dating app Happn, whose “missed connections” type of dating experience connects people who have crossed paths in real life, is fighting back at Tinder. Seemingly inspired by Happn’s location-based features, Tinder recently began piloting something called Tinder Places – a feature that tracks your location to match you with those people who visit your same haunts – like a favorite bar, bookshop, gym, restaurant, and more.

Of course Tinder’s move into location-based dating should worry Happn, which had built its entire dating app around the idea of matching up people who could have met in real life, but just missed doing so.

Now, Happn is challenging Tinder Places with a new feature of its own. It’s debuting an interactive map where users can discover those people they’ve crossed paths with over the past seven days.

Happn founder, French entrepreneur Didier Rappaport, dismisses the Tinder threat.

“We don’t see it as a threat at all but as a good thing,” he tells TechCrunch. “Find the people you’ve crossed paths with has always been in Happn’s DNA since the beginning….We are very flattered that Tinder wants to include the same feature in its product. However, we will never use the swipe in our product,” he says.

Rappaport believes swiping is wrong because it makes you think of the other person as a product, and that’s not Happn’s philosophy.

“We want to [give our users a chance] to interact or not with a person, to take their time to decide, to be able to move back in their timeline if suddenly they change their mind and want to have a second chance,” he notes.

To use Happn’s map, you’ll tap on a specific location you’ve visited, and are then presented with potential matches who have been there too, or within 250 meters of that spot. The map will use the same geolocation data that Happn already uses to create its timeline, but just displays it in another form.

For those who aren’t comfortable sharing their location all the time with a dating app (um, everyone?), Happn also offers an “invisibility” mode that lets people hide their location during particular parts of the day – for example, while they’re at work.

While Happn’s new feature is a nice upgrade for regular users, Tinder’s location-based features – we’re sorry to report – are more elegantly designed.

Today, Happn’s invisibility mode has to be turned on when you want to use it, or you have to pay for a subscription to schedule to come on automatically at certain times. That means it requires more effort to use on a day-to-day basis.

Meanwhile, Tinder Places lets you block a regular place you visit – like, say, the gym – from ever being recorded as a place you want to show up for matches. It also automatically removes places that would be inappropriate, including your home and work addresses, and alerts you when it’s adding a new one – so you can quickly take action to remove it, if you choose. Tinder Places is also free. (It’s just not rolled out worldwide at this time).

Happn, however, does offer a way to hide your profile information and other details from select users, and never shows your current location in real time, also like Tinder.

Happn, which launched back in 2014, now claims nearly 50 million users worldwide, across 50 major cities and 40 countries. It claims to have 6.5 million monthly users – but that’s much smaller, compared with Tinder’s estimated 50 million actives.

And with Tinder parent Match Group snatching up Hinge, suing Bumble, and effectively copying the idea of using “missed connections,” one has to wonder how much life rival dating apps, especially those of Happn’s size, have left.

The app is a free download on the App Store, Play Store and Windows Store.

Fb Messenger auto-translation chips at US/Mexico language wall

Facebook’s been criticized for tearing America apart, but now it will try to help us forge bonds with our neighbors to the south. Facebook Messenger will now offer optional auto-translation of English to Spanish and vice-versa for all users in the United States and Mexico. It’s a timely launch given the family separation troubles at the nations’ border.

The feature could facilitate cross-border and cross-language friendships, business, and discussion that might show people in the two countries that deep down we’re all just human. It could be especially powerful for US companies looking to use Messenger for conversational commerce without having to self-translate everything.

Facebook tells me “we were pleased with the results” following a test using AI to translate the language pair in Messenger for US Facebook Marketplace users in April.

Now when users receive a message that is different from their default language, Messenger’s AI assistant M will ask if they want it translated. All future messages will in that thread will be auto-translated unless a user turns it off. Facebook plans to bring the feature to more language pairs and countries soon.

A Facebook spokesperson tells me “The goal with this launch is really to enable people to communicate with people they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise, in a way that is natural and seamless.”

Starting in 2011, Facebook began offering translation technology for News Feed posts and comments. For years it relied on Microsoft Bing’s translation technology, but Facebook switched to its own stack in mid-2016. By then it was translating 2 billion pieces of text a day for 800 million users.

Conversational translation is a lot tougher than social media posts, though. When we chat with friends, it’s more colloquial and full of slang. We’re also usually typing in more a hurry and can be less accurate. But if Facebook can reliably figure out what we’re saying, Messenger could become the modern day Babel Fish. At 2016’s F8, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg through shade on Donald Trump saying “instead of building walls, we can build bridges.” Trump still doesn’t have that wall, and now Zuck is building a bridge with technology.

Instagram hits 1 billion monthly users, up from 800M in September

Instagram’s meteoric rise continues, dwarfing the stagnant growth rates of Snapchat and Facebook. Today Instagram announced that it has reached 1 billion monthly active users, after reaching 800 million in September 2017 with 500 million daily users.

That massive audience could be a powerful draw for IGTV, the longer-form video hub its launching for creators today. While IGTV monetization options are expected in the future, content makers may flock to it early just to get exposure and build their fan base.

While Snapchat’s daily user count grew just 2.13 percent in Q1 2018 to 191 million, and Facebook’s monthly count grew 3.14 percent to reach 2.196 billion, Instagram is growing closer to 5 percent per quarter.

Hitting the 1 billion user milestone could put more pressure on Instagram to carry its weight in the Facebook family and bring home more cash. Facebook doesn’t break out Instagram’s revenue and has never given any guidance about it. But eMarketer estimates that Instagram will generate $5.48 billion in US ad revenue in 2018, up 70 percent from last year. It reports that Instagram makes up 28.2 pecent of Facebook’s mobile ad revenue.

The Instagram brand increasingly looks like Facebook’s life raft. Sentiment towards Facebook, especially amongst teens, has been in decline, and its constantly rocked by privacy scandals. But many users don’t even realize Facebook owns Instagram, and still love the photo sharing app. With the 1 billion user badge, businesses and content creators may take the photo and video app even more seriously. Selling windows into your friends’ worlds is a lucrative business.

Instagram launches IGTV app for creators, 1-hour video uploads

Instagram is ready to compete head on with YouTube. Today at a flashy event in San Francisco, the company announced it will begin allowing users to upload videos up to 1 hour in length, up from the previous 1 minute limit. And to house the new longer-form videos from star content creators, Instagram is launching IGTV. Accessible from a button atop the Instagram homescreen or a standalone app, IGTV will spotlight popular videos from Instagram celebrities.

The launch confirms TechCrunch’s scoops over the past month outlining the features and potential of IGTV that we said would arrive today, following the WSJ’s report that Instagram would offer videos up to an hour in length.

“It’s time for video to move forward, and evolve” said Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom on stage at the event. “IGTV is for watching long-from videos from your favorite creators.”

Instagram’s press event just started, but the Instagram Business blog has already been updated with all the details of today’s launch.

Kevin Systrom on stage at the IGTV launch

IGTV will let anyone be a creator, not just big name celebrities. People will be able to upload vertical videos through Instagram’s app or the web. Everyone except smaller and new accounts will be able to upload hour-long videos immediately, with that option expanding to everyone eventually. The IGTV will be available globally on iOS and Android sometime today, as well as in th Instagram app. “We made it a dedicated app so you can tap on it andenjoy video without all the distraction” Systrom explained.

In IGTV’s dedicated app or its in-Instagram experience, viewers will be able to swipe through a variety of longer-form videos, or swipe up to visit a Browse tab of personally recommend videos, popular videos, creators they’re following, and the option to continue watching previously started videos. Users will also get callouts from the IGTV button alerting them to new content.

IGTV will also let creators develop Instagram Channels full of their different videos that people can subscribe to. Creators will be able to put links in the description of their videos to drive traffic elsewhere.

“There’s no ads in IGTV today” says Systrom, but he says it’s a “a very reasonable place for them to end up”. He explained that since creators are investing a lot of time into IGTV videos, he wants to make that sustainable by offering them a way to monetize in the future. Instagram isn’t paying any creators directly for IGTV videos either.

With 1 billion users on Instagram, IGTV could be popular with creators not only trying to earn money but grow their audience. Instagram is expected to build out a monetization option for IGTV creators, potentially including ad revenue shares. The big user base could also attract advertisers. eMarketer already expects Instagram to earn $5.48 billion in US ad revenue in 2018.

Instagram has evolved far beyond the initial simplicity of just filtering and sharing photos. When it launched, mobile networks, screens, and cameras weren’t ready for longer-form video, and neither were users. As more families cut the cord or teens ignore television all together, though, Instagram has an opportunity to become the TV of mobile. YouTube may always have a wider breadth of content. But through curation of creators and publishers’ video content, Instagram could become the reliable place to watch something great on the small screen.

Facebook tests “subscription Groups” that charge for exclusive content

Facebook is starting to let Group admins charge $4.99 to $29.99 per month for access to special sub-Groups full of exclusive posts. A hand-picked array of parenting, cooking, and ‘organize my home’ Groups will be the first to get the chance to spawn a subscription Group open to their members.

During the test, Facebook won’t be taking a cut, but since the feature bills through iOS and Android, they’ll get their 30 percent cut of a user’s first year of subscription and 15 percent after that. But if Facebook eventually did ask for a revenue share, it could finally start to monetize the Groups feature that’s grown to over 1 billion users.

The idea for subscription Groups originally came from the admins. “It’s not so much about making money as it is investing in their community” says Facebook Groups product manager Alex Deve. “The fact that there will be funds coming out of the activity helps them create higher quality content.” Some admins tell Facebook they actually want to funnel subscription dues back into activities their Group does together offline.

Content users might get in the exclusive version of groups include video tutorials, lists of tips, and support directly from admins themselves. For example, Sandra Mueller’s Declutter My Home Group is launching a $14.99 per month Organize My Home subscription Group that will teach members how to stay tidy with checklists and video guides. The Grown and Flown Parents group is spawning a College Admissions and Affordability subscription group with access to college counselors for $29.99. Cooking On A Budget: Recipes & Meal Planning will launch a $9.99 Meal Planning Central Premium subscription group with weekly meal plans, shopping lists for different grocery stores, and more.

But the point of the test is actually to figure out what admins would post and whether members find it valuable. “They have their own ideas. We want to see how that is going to evolve” says Deve.

Here’s how subscription Groups work. First, a user must be in a larger group where the admin has access to the subscription options and posts an invitation for members to check it out. They’ll see preview cards outlining what exclusive content they’ll get access to and how much it costs. If they want to join, the admin vets their application, and if they’re approved they’re charged the monthly fee right away.

They’ll be billed on that date each month, and if they cancel, they’ll still have access until the end of the month. That prevents anyone from joining a group and scraping all the content without paying the full price. The whole system is a bit similar to subscription patronage platform Patreon, but with a Group and its admin at the center instead of some star creator.

Back in 2016, Facebook briefly tested showing ads in Groups, but now says that was never rolled out. However, the company says that admins want other ways beyond subscriptions to build revenue from Groups and it’s considering the possibilities. Facebook didn’t have any more to share on this, but perhaps one day it will offer a revenue split from ads shown within groups.

Between subscriptions, ad revenue shares, tipping, sponsored content, and product placement — all of which Facebook is testing — creators are suddenly flush with monetization options. While we spent the last few decades of the consumer internet scarfing up free content, creativity can’t be a labor of love forever. Letting creators earn money could help them turn their passion into their profession and dedicate more time to making things people love.

Instagram’s “IGTV” video hub for creators launches tomorrow

TechCrunch has learned that the Instagram longer-form video hub that’s launching tomorrow is called IGTV and it will be part of the Explore tab, according to multiple sources. Instagram has spent the week meeting with online content creators to encourage them to prepare videos closer to 10-minute YouTube vlogs than the 1-minute maximum videos the app allows today.

Instagram is focusing its efforts around web celebrities that made their name on mobile rather than more traditional, old-school publishers and TV studios that might come off too polished and processed. The idea is to let these creators, who have a knack for this style of content and who already have sizeable Instagram audiences, set the norms for what IGTV is about.

Instagram declined to comment on the name IGTV and the video hub’s home in app’s Explore tab. We’ll get more information at the feature’s launch event in San Francisco tomorrow at 9am Pacific.

Following the WSJ’s initial report that Instagram was working on allowing longer videos, TechCrunch learned much more from sources about the company’s plan to build an aggregated destination for watching this content akin to Snapchat Discover. The videos will be full-screen, vertically oriented, and can have a resolution up to 4K. Users will be greeted with collection of Popular recent videos, and the option to Continue Watching clips they didn’t finish.

The videos aren’t meant to compete with Netflix Originals or HBO-quality content. Instead, they’ll be the kind of things you might see on YouTube rather than the short, off-the-cuff social media clips Instagram has hosted to date. Videos will offer a link-out option so creators can drive traffic to their other social presences, websites, or ecommerce stores. Instagram is planning to offer direct monetization, potentially including advertising revenue shares, but hasn’t finalized how that will work.

We reported that the tentative launch date for the feature was June 20th. A week later, Instagram sent out press invites for an event on June 20th our sources confirm is for IGTV.

Based on its historic growth trajectory that has seen Instagram adding 100 million users every four months, and its announcement of 800 million in September 2017, it’s quite possible that Instagram will announce it’s hit 1 billion monthly users tomorrow. That could legitimize IGTV as a place creators want to be for exposure, not just monetization.

IGTV could create a new behavior pattern for users who are bored of their friends’ content, or looking for something to watch in between Direct messages. If successful, Instagram might even consider breaking out IGTV into its own mobile app, or building it an app for smart TVs

The launch is important for Facebook because it lacks a popular video destination since its Facebook Watch hub was somewhat of a flop. Facebook today said it would expand Watch to more creators, while also offering new interactive video tools to let them make their own HQ trivia-style game shows. Facebook also launched its Brand Collabs Manager that helps businesses find creators to sponsor. That could help IGTV stars earn money through product placement or sponsored content.

Until now, video consumption in the Facebook family of apps has been largely serendipitous, with users stumbling across clips in their News Feed. IGTV will let it more directly compete with YouTube, where people purposefully come to watch specific videos from their favorite creators. But YouTube was still built in the web era with a focus on horizontal video that’s awkward to watch on iPhones or Androids.

With traditional television viewership slipping, Facebook’s size and advertiser connections could let it muscle into the lucrative space. But rather than try to port old-school TV shows to phones, IGTV could let creators invent a new vision for television on mobile.

Facebook launches Brand Collabs search engine for sponsoring creators

Facebook wants to help connect brands to creators so they can work out sponsored content and product placement deals, even if it won’t be taking a cut. Confirming our scoop from May, Facebook today launched its Brand Collabs Manager. It’s a search engine that brands can use to browse different web celebrities based on the demographics of their audience and porfolios of their past sponsored content.

Creators hoping to score sponsorship deals will be able to compile a portfolio connected to their Facebook Page that shows off how they can seamlessly work brands into their content. Brands will also be able to find them based on the Top countries where they’re popular, and audience characteristics like interests, gender, education, relationship status, life events, or home ownership.

Facebook also made a wide range of other creator monetization announcements today

  • Facebook’s Creator app that launched on iOS in November rolled out globally on Android today. The Creator app lets content makers add intros and outros to Live broadcasts, cross-post content to Twitter and Instagram, see a unified inbox of their Facebook and Instagram comments plus Messenger chats, and more ways to connect with fans.

  • Ad Breaks, or mid-video commercials, are rolling out to more US creators, starting with those that make longer and original content with loyal fans. Creators keep 55 percent of the ad revenue from the ads.
  • Patreon-Style Subscriptions are rolling out to more creators, letting them charge fans $4.99 per month for access to exclusive behind the scenes content plus a badge that highlights that they’re a patron. Facebook also offers microtransaction tipping of video creators through its new virtual currency called Stars.

  • Top Fan Badges that highlight a creator’s most engaged fans will now roll out more broadly after a strong initial reaction to tests in March.
  • Rights Manager, which lets content owners upload their videos so Facebook can fingerprint them and block others from uploading them, is now available for creators not just publishers.

Facebook also made a big announcement today about the launch of interactive video features and its first set of gameshows built with them. Creators can add quizzes, polls, gamification, and more to their videos so users can play along instead of passively viewing. Facebook’s Watch hub for original content is also expanding to a wider range of show formats and creators.

Why Facebook Wants Sponsored Content

Facebook needs the hottest new content from creators if it wants to prevent users’ attention from slipping to YouTube, Netflix, Twitch, and elsewhere. But to keep creators loyal, it has to make sure they’re earning money off its platform. The problem is, injecting Ad Breaks that don’t scare off viewers can be difficult, especially on shorter videos.

But Vine proved that six-seconds can be enough to convey a subtle marketing message. A startup called Niche rose to arrange deals between creators and brands who wanted a musician to make a song out of the windows and doors of their new Honda car, or a comedian to make a joke referencing Coca-Cola. Twitter eventually acquired Niche for a reported $50 million so it could earn money off Vine without having to insert traditional ads. [Disclosure: My cousin Darren Lachtman was a co-founder of Niche.]

Vine naturally attracted content makers in a way that Facebook has had some trouble with. YouTube’s sizable ad revenue shares, Patreon’s subscriptions, and Twitch’s fan tipping are pulling creators away from Facebook.

So rather than immediately try to monetize this sponsored content, Facebook is launching the Brand Collabs Manager to prove to creators that it can get them paid indirectly. Facebook already offered a way for creators to tag their content with disclosure tags about brands they were working with. But now it’s going out of its way to facilitate the deals. Fan subscriptions and tipping come from the same motive: letting creators monetize through their audience rather than the platform itself.

Spinning up these initiatives to be more than third-rate knockoffs of Niche, YouTube, Patreon, and Twitch will take some work. But hey, it’s cheaper for Facebook than paying these viral stars out of pocket.