Category Archives: Mobile

Instagram Lite quietly launches to find a billion more users abroad

Instagram’s future growth depends on the developing world, so it’s built a version of its app just for them. “Instagram Lite” for Android appeared today in the Google Play App Store without any announcement from the company. “The Instagram Lite app is small, allowing you to save space on your phone and download it quickly” the description reads.

At just 573 kilobytes, Instagram Lite is 1/55th the size of Instagram’s 32 megabyte main app. It lets you filter and post photos to the feed or Stories, watch Stories, and browse the Explore page, but currently lacks the options to share videos or Direct message friends.

Instagram Lite addresses many problems common amongst mobile users in the developing world who are often on older phones with less storage space, slower network connections, or who can’t afford big data packages. Users might not have to delete photos or other apps to install Instagram Lite, or wait a long time and pay more for it to download.

Screenshots of Instagram Lite

The release follows Instagram’s revamped mobile website that launched last month, also designed for the developing world. At the time I wrote, “The launch begs the question of whether Instagram will release an Instagram Lite version of its native app.” The answer is yes. Mobile analytics service Sensor Tower tipped TechCrunch off to the release.

When asked for comment, an Instagram spokesperson confirmed that Instagram Lite began testing in Mexico this week, and provided this statement: “We are testing a new version of Instagram for Android that takes up less space on your device, uses less data, and starts faster.”

The “Lite” trend has picked up steam recently. Facebook launched Facebook Lite in 2015, and it had 200 million users by 2017. That paved the way for the launch of Messenger Lite in April 2018, and Uber glommed on to the strategy with the release of its own Lite app earlier this month. Users have clearly been craving Instagram Lite, since a fake/unofficial Facebook Page with that has racked up over 2000 Likes.

Instagram announced last week at the IGTV unveiling that it had hit 1 billion monthly active users. It’s been growing at roughly 100 million users every four months, with much of that coming from the developing world. Snapchat neglected international markets to focus on US teens, leaving the door open for Instagram and WhatsApp’s clones of Snapchat Stories to grab big user bases in countries like India and Brazil.

With this new growth tool in its belt, Instagram may see even swifter adoption in emerging markets. It could score ad revenue straight from Lite, then as phones and networks improve, hope to shift users onto the full-fidelity version. Now, eyes will be on Snapchat to see if it builds its own Lite app. Otherwise it risks continuing to slip further behind the Instagram juggernaut.

Facebook makes Stories another Like contest with emoji reactions

Ready to scrounge for Likes on your Stories too? Facebook Stories can feel like a ghost town even though it has 150 million daily users. So Facebook is trying to get more people who view your ephemeral content on its Snapchat clone to speak up so you keep posting. Today Facebook is bringing its Like, Haha, Wow, Sad, Angry and Love “Reactions” from News Feed to Stories, replacing the generic emoji quick replies it previously offered. It’s also adding two “interactive stickers” — a flame and a laughing smile — you can add to your own Stories that when tapped by a friend, shimmer and notify you. 

To the same effect, Facebook is letting people start a group reply to your Story with multiple friends that launches a group thread on Messenger. And when you tap to see who’s viewed your Facebook Story, the viewer list will highlight people who sent reactions or Messenger replies.

Combined, these four new ways to give feedback on Stories should make it feel less like you’re posting into a black hole. Facebook has found great success with its Like button and other Reactions for News Feed posts and Instagram’s Heart button. They both trigger a dopamine hit of self-satisfaction that encourages you to continue sharing that’s more visceral than just knowing someone watched your Story.

I wonder if a Like button will come to Instagram Stories, especially after former Facebook VP of News Feed Adam Mosseri was recently named VP of product for Instagram.

Oh, and just in case Stories wasn’t turning into a vanity contest already, according to Mari Smith via Matt Navarra, Facebook is now testing a Selfie mode in the Stories camera with a Soft Focus option similar to the recent Instagram Focus launch.

 

When Snapchat invented the Stories format, it purposefully left out a Like button because it would make sharing into a competition where users craved the binary feedback and posted whatever was most popular.

In fact, when I interviewed Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom in 2016 around the launch of Instagram Stories he told me, “We definitely asked ourselves what if we removed Likes from Instagram? What would happen? … If you have Likes … you get certain behaviors, and the behavior we wanted was for you to be able to share as much as you wanted. And the lack of Likes in this space lets you let down your guard.”

Now Facebook is changing that fundamental principle of Stories, which could give us a whole new quantified measure of our worth to turn into an addiction and coerce us to share not what’s authentic but what’s Likeable.

Facebook tests 30-day keyword snoozing to fight spoilers, triggers

Don’t want to know the ending to a World Cup game or Avengers movie until you’ve watched it, or just need to quiet an exhausting political topic like “Trump”? Facebook is now testing the option to “snooze” specific keywords so you won’t see them for 30 days in News Feed or Groups. The feature is rolling out to a small percentage of users today. It could make people both more comfortable browsing the social network when they’re trying to avoid something, and not feel guilty posting about sensitive topics.

The feature was first spotted in the Facebook’s app’s code by Chris Messina on Sunday, who told TechCrunch he found a string for “snooze keywords for 30 days”. We reached out to Facebook on Monday, which didn’t initially respond, but last night provided details we could publish at 5am this morning ahead of an official announcement later today. The test follows the roll out of snoozing people, Pages, and Groups from last December.

To snooze a keyword, you first have to find a post that includes it. That kind of defeats the whole purpose since you might run into the spoiler you didn’t want to see. But when asked about that problem, a Facebook spokesperson told me the company is looking into adding a preemptive snooze option in the next few weeks, potentially in News Feed Preferences. It’s also considering a recurring snooze list so you could easily re-enable hiding your favorite sports team before any game you’ll have to watch on delay.

For now, though, when you see the word you can hit the drop-down arrow on the post which will reveal an option to “snooze keywords in this post”. Tapping that reveals a list of nouns from the post you might want to nix, without common words like “the” in the way. So if you used the feature on a post that said “England won its World Cup game against Tunisia! Yes!”, the feature would pull out “World Cup”, “England”, and “Tunisia”. Select all that you want to snooze, and posts containing them will be hidden for a month. Currently, the feature only works on text, not images, and won’t suggest synonyms you might want to snooze as well.

The spokesperson says the feature “was something that kept coming up” in Facebook interviews with users. The option applies to any organic content, but you can’t block ads with it, so if you snoozed “Deadpool” you wouldn’t see posts from friends about the movie but still might see ads to buy tickets. Facebook’s excuse for this is that ads belong to a “a separate team, separate algorithm” but surely it just doesn’t want to open itself up to users mass-blocking its revenue driver. The spokesperson also said that snoozing isn’t currently being used for other content and ad targeting purposes.

We asked why users can’t permanently mute keywords like Twitter launched in November 2016, or the way Instagram launched keyword blocking for your posts’ comments in September 2016. Facebook says “If we’re hearing from people that they want more or less time” that might get added as the feature rolls out beyond a test. There is some sense to defaulting to only temporary muting, as users might simply forget they blocked their favorite sports team before a big game, and then wouldn’t see it mentioned forever after.

But when it comes to abuse, permanent muting is something Facebook really should offer. Instead it’s relied on users flagging abuse like racial slurs, and it recently revealed its content moderation guidelines. Some topics that are fine for others could be tough for certain people to see, though, and helping users prevent trauma probably deserves to be prioritized above stopping reality TV spoilers.

Instagram now lets you 4-way group video chat as you browse

Instagram’s latest assault on Snapchat, FaceTime, and Houseparty launches today. TechCrunch scooped back in March that Instagram would launch video calling, and the feature was officially announced in at F8 in May. Now it’s actually rolling out to everyone on iOS and Android, allowing up to four friends to group video call together through Instagram Direct.

With the feed, Stories, messaging, Live, IGTV, and now video calling, Instagram is hoping to become a one-stop-shop for its 1 billion users’ social needs. This massive expansion in functionality over the past two years is paying off according to SimilarWeb, which estimates that the average US user has gone from spending 29 minutes per day on the app in September 2017 to 55 minutes today. More time spent means more potential ad views and revenue for the Facebook subsidiary that a Bloomberg analyst just valued at $100 billion after it was bought for less than $1 billion in 2012.

One cool feature of Instagram Video Calling is that you can minimize the window and bounce around the rest of Instagram without ending the call. That opens new opportunities for co-browsing with friends as if you were hanging out together. More friends can join an Instagram call in progress, though you can mute them if you don’t want to get more call invites. You’re allowed to call anyone you can Direct message by hitting the video button in a chat, and blocked people can’t call you.

Here’s how Instagram’s group video calling stacks up to the alternatives:

  • Instagram – 4-way plus simultaneous browsing
  • Snapchat – 16-way
  • FaceTime – 32-way (coming in iOS 12 this fall)
  • Houseparty – 8-way per room with limitless parallel rooms
  • Facebook Messenger – 6-way with up to 50 people listening via audio

Instagram is also rolling out two more features promised at F8. The Explore page will now be segmented to show a variety of topic channels that reveal associated content below. Previously, Explore’s 200 million daily users just saw a random mish-mash of popular content related to their interests, with just a single “Videos You Might Like” section separated.

Now users will see a horizontal tray of channels atop Explore, including an algorithmically personalized For You collection, plus ones like Art, Beauty, Sports, and Fashion depending on what content you regularly interact with. Users can swipe between the categories to browse, and then scroll up to view more posts from any they enjoy. A list of sub-hashtags appears when you open a category, like #MoGraph (motion graphics) or #Typeface when you open art. And if you’re sick of seeing a category, you can mute it. Strangely, Instagram has stripped Stories out of Explore entirely, but when asked, the team told us it plans to bring Stories back in the near future.

The enhanced Explore page could make it easier for people to discover new creators. Growing the audience of these content makers is critical to Instagram as it strives to be their favorite app amongst competition. Snapchat lacks a dedicated Explore section or other fan base-growing opportunities, which has alienated some creators, while the new Instagram topic channels is reminiscent of YouTube’s mobile Trending page.

Instagram’s new Explore Channels (left) vs YouTube’s Trending page (right)

Finally, Instagram is rolling out Camera Effects design by partners, starting with Ariana Grande, BuzzFeed, Liz Koshy, Baby Ariel, and the NBA. If you’re following these accounts, you’ll see their effect in the Stories camera, and you can hit Try It On if you spot a friend using one you like. This opens the door to accounts all offering their own augmented reality and 2D filters without the Stories camera becoming overstuffed with lenses you don’t care about.

Instagram’s new partner-made camera effects

What’s peculiar is that all of these features are designed to boost the amount of time you spend on Instagram just as it’s preparing to launch a Usage Insights dashboard for tracking if you’re becoming addicted to the app. At least the video calling and camera effects promote active usage, but Explore definitely encourages passive consumption that research shows can be unhealthy.

Therein lies the rub of Instagram’s mission and business model with its commitment to user wellbeing. Despite CEO Kevin Systrom’s stated intention that  “any time [spent on his app] should be positive and intentional“ and that he wants Instagram to “be part of the solution”, the company earns more by keeping people glued to the screen rather than present in their lives.

Winnie raises $4 million to make parents’ lives easier

An app that has the needs of modern-day parents in mind, Winnie, has now raised $4 million in additional seed funding in a round led by Reach Capital. Other investors in the new round include Rethink Impact, Homebrew, Ludlow Ventures, Afore Capital, and BBG Ventures, among others. With the new funds, Winnie has raised $6.5 million to date.

The San Francisco-based startup, which begun its life as a directory of kid-friendly places largely serving the needs of newer parents, has since expanded to become a larger platform for parents.

Winnie was founded by Bay Area technologists, Sara Mauskopf, who spent time at Postmates, Twitter, YouTube and Google, and Anne Halsall, also from Postmates and Google, as well as Quora and Inkling.

As new parents themselves, they built Winnie out a personal need to find the sort of information parents crave – details you can’t easily dig up in Google Maps or Yelp.

For example, you can use Winnie to find nearby kid-friendly destinations like museums or parks, as well as those that welcome children with features like changing tables in restrooms, wide aisles in stores for stroller access, areas for nursing, and other things.

Winnie serves as a good example of what investing in women can achieve. Somehow, the young, 20-something men that receive the lion’s share of VC funding had never thought up the idea of app that helps new parents navigate the world. (I know, shocking, right?) And yet, the kind of questions that Winnie tries to answer are those that all parents, at some point, are curious about.

The data on Winnie is crowd-sourced, with details, ratings and reviews coming from other real parents. Listings in San Francisco may be more fleshed out than elsewhere, as that’s where Winnie got its start. However, the app is now available in 10,000 cities across the U.S., and has just surpassed over a million users.

In more recent months, Winnie has been working to expand beyond being a sort of “Yelp for parents,” and now features an online community where parents can ask questions and participate in discussions.

“The crowdsourced directory of family-friendly businesses is still a huge component of what we do…and this has grown to over 2 million places across the United States,” notes Winnie co-founder and CEO Sara Mauskopf. “But we also have these real-time answers to any parenting question from this authentic, supportive community,” she says, referring to Winnie’s online discussions.

The idea is that parents will be searching the web for answers to questions about toddler sleep issues or good local preschools or breastfeeding help, and Winnie’s answers will come up in search results, similar to other Q&A sites like Quora or Yahoo Answers.

“A lot of younger millennial parents are turning to Google to find answers to these questions,” adds Winnie co-founder and CPO Anne Halsall. “So we want to have the answer to these questions at the ready, and we want to have the best page. That’s an example of something that’s yield a lot of traffic for us, just because no one else had that data before Winnie,” she says.

Related to this expansion, Winnie is also serving this data across platforms, including – obviously – the web, in addition to its native app on iOS and Android. The hope is that, with the growth, business owners will come in to claim their pages on Winnie.com, too, and update their information.

 

In the near-term, the founders say they’ll put the funding to use building out more personalization features.

“As a technology company, we have a unique opportunity to give you this really tailored experience that grows with your family over time – so as your children are getting older, and you’re entering new phases of development, our product’s adapting and putting relevant information in front of you,” Halsall says. 

Data on businesses serving the needs of parents with older kids – like summer camps or driver’s ed classes, for example – are the kind of things Winnie will focus on as it grows to include information for more parents, instead of just those with younger children and babies.

Winnie will also use the funds to hire additional engineers to help it scale its platform.

Esteban Sosnik from Reach Capital joined Hunter Walk from Homebrew on Winnie’s board as a result of the funding.

The app is a free download for iOS and Android, and is available on the web at Winnie.com.

Facebook mistakenly leaked developer analytics reports to testers

Set the “days without a Facebook’s privacy problem” counter to zero. This week, an alarmed developer contacted TechCrunch, informing us that their Facebook App Analytics weekly summary email had been delivered to someone outside their company. It contains sensitive business information including weekly average users, page views, and new users.

43 hours after we contacted Facebook about the issue, the social network now confirms to TechCrunch that 3 percent of apps using Facebook Analytics had their weekly summary reports sent to their app’s testers, instead of only the app’s developers, admins, and analysts.

Testers are often people outside of a developer’s company. If the leaked info got to an app’s competitors, it could provide them an advantage. At least they weren’t allowed to click through to view more extensive historical analytics data on Facebook’s site.

Facebook tells us it has fixed the problem and no personally identifiable information or contact info was improperly disclosed. It plans to notify all impacted developers about the leak today and has already begun. Below you can find the email the company is sending:

Subject line: We recently resolved an error with your weekly summary email

We wanted to let you know about a recent error where a summary e-mail from Facebook Analytics about your app was sent to testers of your app ‘[APP NAME WILL BE DYNAMICALLY INSERTED HERE]’. As you know, we send weekly summary emails to keep you up to date with some of your top-level metrics — these emails go to people you’ve identified as Admins, Analysts and Developers. You can also add Testers to your account, people designated by you to help test your apps when they’re in development.

We mistakenly sent the last weekly email summary to your Testers, in addition to the usual group of Admins, Analysts and Developers who get updates. Testers were only able to see the high-level summary information in the email, and were not able to access any other account information; if they clicked “View Dashboard” they did not have access to any of your Facebook Analytics information.

We apologize for the error and have made updates to prevent this from happening again.

One affected developer told TechCrunch “Not sure why it would ever be appropriate to send business metrics to an app user. When I created my app (in beta) I added dozens of people as testers as it only meant they could login to the app…not access info!” They’re still waiting for the disclosure from Facebook.

Facebook wouldn’t disclose a ballpark number of apps impacted by the error. Last year it announced 1 million apps, sites, and bots were on Facebook Analytics. However, this issue only affected apps, and only 3% of them.

The mistake comes just weeks after a bug caused 14 million users’ Facebook status update composers to change their default privacy setting to public. And Facebook has had problems with misdelivering business information before. In 2014, Facebook accidentally sent advertisers receipts for other business’ ad campaigns, causing significant confusion. The company has also misreported metrics about Page reach and more on several occasions. Though user data didn’t leak and today’s issue isn’t as severe as others Facebook has dealt with, developers still consider their business metrics to be private, making this a breach of that privacy.

While Facebook has been working diligently to patch app platform privacy holes since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, removing access to many APIs and strengthening human reviews of apps, issues like today’s make it hard to believe Facebook has a proper handle on the data of its 2 billion users.

Facebook prototypes tool to show how many minutes you spend on it

Are you ready for some scary numbers? After months of Mark Zuckerberg talking about how “Protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits”, Facebook is preparing to turn that commitment into a Time Well Spent product.

Buried in Facebook’s Android app is an unreleased “Your Time On Facebook” feature. It shows the tally of how much time you spent on the Facebook app on your phone on each of the last seven days, and your average time spent per day. It lets you set a daily reminder that alerts you when you’ve reached your self imposed limit, plus a shortcut to change your Facebook notification settings.

Facebook confirmed the feature development to TechCrunch, with a spokesperson telling us “We’re always working on new ways to help make sure people’s time on Facebook is time well spent.”

The feature could help Facebook users stay mindful of how long they’re staring at the social network. This self-policing could be important since both iOS and Android are launching their own screen time monitoring dashboards that reveal which apps are dominating your attention and can alert you or lock you out of apps when you hit your time limit. When Apple demoed the feature at WWDC, it used Facebook as an example of an app you might use too much.

Images of Facebook’s digital wellbeing tool come courtesy of our favorite tipster and app investigator Jane Manchun Wong. She previously helped TechCrunch scoop the development of features like Facebook Avatars, Twitter encrypted DMs, and Instagram Usage Insights — a Time Well Spent feature that looks very similar to this one on Facebook.

Our report on Instagram Usage Insights led the sub-company’s CEO Kevin Systrom to confirm the upcoming feature, saying ““It’s true . . . We’re building tools that will help the IG community know more about the time they spend on Instagram – any time should be positive and intentional . . . Understanding how time online impacts people is important, and it’s the responsibility of all companies to be honest about this. We want to be part of the solution. I take that responsibility seriously.”

Facebook has already made changes to its News Feed algorithm designed to reduce the presence of low-quality but eye-catching viral videos. That led to Facebook’s first ever usage decline in North America in Q4 2017, with a loss of 700,000 daily active users in the region. Zuckerberg said on the earnings call that this change “reduced time spent on Facebook by roughly 50 million hours every day.”

Zuckerberg has been adamant that all time spent on Facebook isn’t bad. Instead as we argued in our piece “The Difference Between Good And Bad Facebooking”, its asocial, zombie-like passive browsing and video watching that’s harmful to people’s wellbeing, while active sharing, commenting, and chatting can make users feel more connected and supported.

But that distinction isn’t visible in this prototype of the “Your Time On Facebook Tool” which appears to treat all time spent the same. If Facebook was able to measure our active vs passive time on its app and impress the health difference, it could start to encourage us to either put down the app, or use it to communicate directly with friends when we find ourselves mindlessly scrolling the feed or enviously viewing people’s photos.