FreshRSS

🔒
❌ About FreshRSS
There are new available articles, click to refresh the page.
Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Google Maps takes on Facebook with launch of its own news feed

By Sarah Perez

People are getting frustrated that Stories are everywhere now, but Google Maps is keeping it old school. Instead of adding tiny circles to the top of the app’s screen, Google Maps is introducing its own news feed. Technically, Google calls its new feature the “Community Feed,” as it includes posts from a local area. However, it’s organized as any other news feed would be — a vertically scrollable feed with posts you can “Like” by tapping on a little thumbs up icon.

The feed, which is found with the Explore tab of the Google Maps app, is designed to make it easier to find the most recent news, updates, and recommendations from trusted local sources. This includes posts business owners create using Google My Business to alert customers to new deals, menu updates, and other offers. At launch, Google says the focus will be on highlighting posts from food and drink businesses.

For years, businesses have been able to make these sorts of posts using Google’s tools. But previously, users would have to specifically tap to follow the business’s profile in order to receive their updates.

Now, these same sort of posts will be surfaced to even those Google Maps users who didn’t take the additional step of following a particular business. This increased exposure has impacted the posts’ views, Google says. In early tests of Community Feed ahead of its public launch, Google found that businesses’ posts saw more than double the number of views than before the feed existed.

Image Credits: Google

In addition to posts from businesses, the new Community Feed will feature content posted by Google users you follow as well as recent reviews from Google’s Local Guides — the volunteer program where users share their knowledge about local places in order to earn perks, such as profile badges, early access to Google features, and more. Select publishers will participate in the Community Feed, too, including The Infatuation and other news sources from Google News, when relevant.

Much of the information found in the Community Feed was available elsewhere in Google Maps before today’s launch.

For example, the Google Maps’ Updates tab offered a similar feed that included businesses’ posts along with news, recommendations, stories, and other features designed to encourage discovery. Meanwhile, the Explore tab grouped businesses into thematic groupings (e.g. outdoor dining venues, cocktail bars, etc.) at the top of the screen, then allowed users to browse other lists and view area photos.

With the update, those groups of businesses by category will still sit at the top of the screen, but the rest of the tab is dedicated to the scrollable feed. This gives the tab a more distinct feel than it had before. It could even position Google to venture into video posts in the future, given the current popularity of TikTok-style  short-form video feeds that have now cloned by Instagram and Snapchat.

Image Credits: Google

Today, it’s a more standard feed, however. As you scroll down, you can tap “Like” on those posts you find interesting to help better inform your future recommendations. You can also tap “Follow” on businesses you want to hear more from, which will send their alerts to your Updates tab, as well. Thankfully, there aren’t comments.

Google hopes the change will encourage users to visit the app more often in order to find out what’s happening in their area — whether that’s a new post from a business or a review from another user detailing some fun local activity, like a day trip or new hiking spot, for example.

The feature can be used when traveling or researching other areas, too, as the “Community Feed” you see is designated not based on where you live or your current location, but rather where you’re looking on the map.

The feed is the latest in what’s been a series of updates designed to make Google Maps more of a Facebook rival. Over the past few years, Google Maps has added features that allowed users to follow businesses, much like Facebook does, as well as message those businesses directly in the app, similar to Messenger. Businesses, meanwhile, have been able to set up their own profile in Google Maps, where they could add a logo, cover photo, and pick short name — also a lot like Facebook Pages offer today.

With the launch of a news feed-style feature, Google’s attempt to copy Facebook is even more obvious.

Google says the feature is rolling out globally on Google Maps for iOS and Android.

 

 

Daily Crunch: Snapchat adds Spotlight

By Anthony Ha

Snapchat introduces a TikTok-style feed, Amazon Echo Buds add fitness tracking and Vettery acquires Hired. This is your Daily Crunch for November 23, 2020.

The big story: Snapchat adds Spotlight

Snapchat has introduced a dedicated feed where users can watch short, entertaining videos — pretty similar to TikTok. This comes after the app also added TikTok-like music features last month.

Starting today, users will be able to send their Snaps to the new Spotlight feed. Viewers will be able to send direct messages to creators with public profiles (Spotlight will also include anonymous content from private accounts), but there will be no public commentary on these videos.

To encourage creators to post to Spotlight, Snapchat says it will be distributing more than $1 million every day who create the top videos on Spotlight.

The tech giants

Amazon’s Echo Buds get new fitness tracking features — Say “Alexa, start my workout” with the buds in, and they’ll begin logging steps, calories, distance, pace and duration of runs.

Uber refused permission to dismiss 11 staff at its EMEA HQ —The Dutch Employee Insurance Agency has refused to give Uber permission to dismiss 11 people at the company’s EMEA headquarters.

Facebook launches ‘Drives,’ a US-only feature for collecting food, clothing and other necessities for people in need — The feature is being made available through Facebook’s existing Community Help hub.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Relativity Space raises $500M as it sets sights on the industrialization of Mars — LA-based rocket startup Relativity had a big 2020, completing work on a new 120,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Long Beach.

Resilience raises over $800M to transform pharmaceutical manufacturing in response to COVID-19 — The company will invest heavily in developing new manufacturing technologies across cell and gene therapies, viral vectors, vaccines and proteins.

Video mentoring platform Superpeer raises $8M and launches paid channels — The Superpeer platform allows experts to promote, schedule and charge for one-on-one video calls with anyone who might want to ask for their advice.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Seven things we just learned about Sequoia’s European expansion plans — Steve O’Hear interviews Luciana Lixandru and Matt Miller about the firm’s plans.

Founders seeking their first check need a fundraising sales funnel — Start digging the well before you’re thirsty.

Will Brazil’s Roaring 20s see the rise of early-stage startups? — In September, homegrown startups raised a record $843 million.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. And until November 30, you can get 25% off an annual membership.)

Everything else

Vettery acquires Hired to create a ‘unified’ job search platform — Vettery CEO Josh Brenner said the two platforms are largely complementary.

Gift Guide: Which next-gen console is the one your kid wants? — This holiday season, the next generation of gamers will be hoping to receive the next generation of gaming consoles.

Original Content podcast: ‘The Crown’ introduces its Princess Diana — The new season focuses on Queen Elizabeth’s relationship with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and on Prince Charles’ troubled marriage to Diana, Princess of Wales.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Snapchat launches a TikTok-like feed called Spotlight, kick-started by paying creators

By Sarah Perez

After taking on TikTok with music-powered features last month, Snapchat this morning is officially launching a dedicated place within its app where users can watch short, entertaining videos in a vertically scrollable, TikTok-like feed. This new feature, called Spotlight, will showcase the community’s creative efforts, including the videos now backed by music, as well as other Snaps users may find interesting.

Snapchat says its algorithms will work to surface the most engaging Snaps to display to each user on a personalized basis.

To do so, it will rank the Snaps in the new feed using a combination of factors, like how many other people found a particular Snap interesting, how long people spent watching it, if it was favorited or shared with friends, and more. The algorithms will also consider negative factors, like if a viewer skipped watching the Snap quickly, for example. Over time, the feed will become tailored to the individual user based on their own interactions, preferences, and favorites. This is a similar system to what TikTok uses for its “For You” feed.

Image Credits: Snap

However, on TikTok, only users with public profiles can have their videos hit the “For You” feed. Spotlight, meanwhile, can feature Snaps from users with both private or public accounts. These Snaps can be sent to Spotlight directly or posted to Our Story. The company says the Snaps from the private accounts will be featured in an unattributed fashion — that is, no name will be attached to the content. There will also be no way to comment on these Snaps or message the creator, Snapchat explains.

Users who are over 18 can opt in to public profiles in order to have their names displayed, which allows them to build a following. But while this allows users to private and directly reply to the creators, there are no public comment mechanisms on Spotlight.

That’s a different setup than on TikTok and gives Snapchat a way to avoid the much larger hassle of handling comment moderation.

The Spotlight feed itself, though, is moderated. The company says all Snaps that appear on the new feed will have to adhere to Snapchat’s Community Guidelines, which prohibit the spread of false information (including conspiracy theories), misleading content, hate speech, explicit or profane content, bullying, harassment, violence, and other toxic content. The Snaps must also adhere to Snapchat’s new Spotlight Guidelines, Terms of Service, and Spotlight Terms.

Image Credits: Snap

The Spotlight Guidelines specify what sort of content Snapchat wants, the format for the Snaps, and other rules. For example, they state the Snaps should be vertical videos with sound up to 60 seconds in length. They should also include a #topic hashtag and should make use of Snapchat’s Creative Tools like Captions, Sounds, Lenses or GIFs, if possible, The Snaps have to be appropriate for a 13+ audience, as well.

Captions are a new feature, designed for use in Spotlight. Also new is a continuous shooting mode for longer Snaps and the ability to trim singular Snaps.

The Snaps can also only use the licensed music from Snapchat’s own Sounds library and must feature original content, not content repurposed from somewhere else on the internet . That could limit accounts that repost internet memes, which tend draw large subscriber bases on rival platforms, like Instagram and TikTok.

In addition, Snaps in Spotlight won’t disappear from being surfaced in the feed unless the creator chooses to delete them.

Users will be alerted to the new Spotlight feature when they return to Snapchat following Monday’s launch. Afterward, they’ll be able to take Snaps as usual then choose whether they want to send them to their friends, to their Story, to Snap Map, or now to Spotlight.

Image Credits: Snap

The feed itself will be accessible through a prominent new fifth tab on the Snapchat home screen’s main navigation, and is designated with a Play icon.

To encourage users to publish to Spotlight, the company will distribute over $1 million USD every day to Snapchat users (16 and up) who create the top Snaps on Spotlight. This will continue through the end of 2020. The earnings will be determined by Snapchat’s proprietary algorithm that rewards users based on the total number of unique views a Snap gets per day (calculated using Pacific Time), as compared with others on the platform.

The company says it expects many users to earn money from this fund each day, but those with the most views will earn more than others. It will also monitor this feed for fraud, it warns.

With the music licensing aspects already ironed out, Snapchat is now looking to leverage the over 4 billion Snaps created by its users every day to power the new Spotlight feed. This move represents Snapchat’s biggest attempt at taking on TikTok to date — and one that it’s willing to kickstart with direct payments, too. That will likely encourage plenty of participation among Snapchat’s young user base, given they’re already using the app on a regular basis. And once posting to Spotlight becomes a habit, Snapchat could have a viable competitor on its hands, at least among the younger demographic that favors its app.

Its biggest disadvantage, of course, is that it has struggled to reach beyond its young user base. That’s something TikTok has done better with, by comparison. The Wall St. Journal last week noted that TikTok teens were often following accounts from senior citizens, for instance, and the AARP had earlier reported TikTok had attracted a middle-aged crowd, as well.

Snapchat says Spotlight is live today on both iOS and Android in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the U.K., Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and France, with more countries to come soon.

L’Oréal rolls out a line of ‘virtual makeup’

By Lucas Matney

Selfie filters have improved immensely over the past several years, but companies on the forefront of the tech see plenty of room to grow.

The cosmetics world has seen some rapid change in the past several years as makeup has proven particularly ripe for up-and-coming direct-to-consumer and influencer-endorsed brands to take hold. Plenty of legacy brands have seen their revenues decimated, while others have proven resilient by leaning into new tech and sales channel trends.

Back in 2018, L’Oréal made the interesting decision to buy an augmented reality filter company called Modiface. Fast forward to 2020 and they’ve opted to roll out a line of “virtual makeup” selfie filters. The “Signature Face” filters show off eye makeup, lipsticks, and hair products from the company. They’ve gone fairly wide with the rollout supporting Instagram, Snapchat, Snap Camera and Google Duo. Snap Camera support in particular enables the selfies to be used across plenty of video chat services like Houseparty and Zoom, L’Oréal is marketing these selfies as a way to spice up your look on video calls specifically. You can check our more details on where you can use the filters on their site.

In terms of the filters themselves, there’s nothing terribly more advanced about them than the makeup-centric selfie filters that have been floating around Snapchat for years, but it is interesting to see such a substantial brand leaning in so heavily and pitching this idea where people use selfie filters during video calls in a non-gimmicky way. It’s not clear whether the technology or consumer habits are there yet but it’s certainly plausible that things could move in that direction, especially as social media apps begin a more-focused drive towards becoming commerce platforms.

Facebook’s Snapchat-like ‘Vanish Mode’ feature arrives on Messenger and Instagram

By Sarah Perez

Facebook today announced its new Snapchat-like feature for disappearing messaging, Vanish Mode, is arriving on Messenger and Instagram. The feature, meant for more casual conversations, allows users to set chats to automatically delete after the message is seen and the chat is closed.

In Vanish Mode, Messenger and Instagram users can send text chats, emoji, pictures, GIFs, voice messages, and stickers, which will disappear after they’ve been seen and users leave the chat, Facebook explains.

Image Credits: Facebook

However, unlike on Snapchat, Vanish Mode is not a default setting. Instead, users are meant to enable it from within an existing chat by swiping up on their mobile device’s screen while in the chat.

Upon first launch, a screen will appear explaining how Vanish Mode works. It also notes that users will be alerted if someone takes a screenshot of the conversation — as Snapchat does.

For safety purposes, Facebook supports blocking and reporting in Vanish Mode. If a user in the conversation reports a chat, the disappearing messages will be included for up to 1 hour after they disappear, the company explains. This allows Facebook to review the reported conversation and take action, if need be.

Image Credits: Facebook

Vanish Mode is also an opt in experience — meaning you can can choose whether to enter a Vanish Mode chat. And it only works with people you’re connected to, Facebook says.

Once in Vanish Mode, the screen goes dark to signal the change. To exit Vanish Mode, you tap on the “Turn Off Vanish Mode” button at the top of the screen.

Facebook’s plans for Vanish mode were announced earlier as part of its overhaul of the Instagram messaging experience in September. This update had included the ability for Instagram and Messenger users to communicate across apps, along with other “fun” features.

As a part of that update, Instagram received many Messenger-inspired additions — like the ability to change the chat color or react with any emoji, for example. But though announced, the Vanish Mode feature was then said to be coming “soon.”

Image Credits: Facebook

To be clear, Vanish Mode is not meant for secure chats. For that, Facebook already offers an end-to-end encrypted conversations feature, Secret Conversations. Instead, Vanish Mode meant to chip away at yet another advantage held by rival Snapchat.

That’s part for the course for Facebook these days. The company already copied the Stories format popularlized Snapchat, and now that product alone on each of its platforms is used by more people (500M+) than all of Snapchat. (249M).

To get Vanish Mode, and other recent updates to the Instagram messaging experience, users have to opt-in to the upgrade. Essentially, these new features are being used as lures to get Instagram users to agree to the upgrade.

The upgrade then locks them further inside the Facebook universe as they then also receive the ability to communicate cross-platform with users on Facebook. Eventually, WhatsApp may become a part of this cross-platform communication strategy, as well.

Once upgraded, people can use just one messaging apps to reach friends and family on two of the largest social networks in the world. And with additions like Vanish Mode, they won’t miss out on things found on competitors’ apps. Meanwhile, with Reels on Instagram, Facebook aims to retain TikTok users, too.

Facebook says Vanish Mode is launching starting today on Messenger in the U.S. Canada, Mexico, Peru and Bangladesh, and on Instagram in Canada, Argentina, Chile, Peru and a few other countries. It will soon roll out to other countries across both platforms, the company says.

 

Quibi’s shortform life

By Alex Wilhelm

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast (now on Twitter!), where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

Myself, along with Danny and Natasha had a lot to get through, and more to say than expected. A big thanks to Chris for cutting the show down to size.

Now, what did we get to? Aside from a little of everything, we ran through:

Whew! It was a lot, but also very good fun. Look for clips on YouTube if you’d like, and we’ll chat you all next Monday.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Gen Z spends 10% more time in non-game apps than older users

By Sarah Perez

A new report released today by App Annie digs into how Gen Z consumers engage with their smartphones and mobile apps. According to data collected in Q3 2020, Gen Z users spend an average of 4.1+ hours per month in non-gaming apps, or 10% longer than older demographics. They also engage with apps more often, with 20% more sessions per user in non-gaming apps, at 120 sessions per month per app, compared with older groups.

This app engagement data is only a view into Gen Z trends, but is an incomplete analysis, as it only focuses on select markets, including the U.S., U.K., Brazil, France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, South Korea and Turkey. It also included only data collected from Android devices, which doesn’t provide as full a picture.

App Annie found that Gen Z is more likely to use games than older users, but they don’t access them as often or use them as long. Those ages 25 and older actually spent nearly 20% longer in their most-used games and accessed them 10% more frequently. Both demographics spent more total time gaming than using non-game apps, on a monthly basis.

Image Credits: App Annie

One breakout in the games category for Gen Z users, however, was the casual arcade game Among Us!, which just became the third-most played game worldwide, thanks to its team-based multiplayer features and the surge of Twitch streams. When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez played the game on Twitch last night, it became one of the biggest-ever Twitch streams, peaking at 435,000 concurrent viewers.

Other popular Gen Z games include Match-3 games like Candy Crush Saga and Toon Blast, action games like PUBG Mobile and Free Fire, and casual simulation games like Minecraft Pocket Edition and Roblox.

Image Credits: App Annie

The report also examined what apps Gen Z users prefer across a range of non-game categories across both iOS and Android.

TikTok and Snapchat, in particular, stood out as the top over-indexed social and communication apps among Gen Z in nine out of the 10 markets analyzed for this report. This comes on the heels of Snap’s blowout earnings yesterday, where the social app topped analyst expectations and saw daily user growth climb 4% to 238 million.

Discord is also seeing strong growth, particularly in France, as mobile and remote gaming has become an epicenter of social interactions during the pandemic.

Image Credits: App Annie

Among entertainment apps, Twitch was the top over-indexed app in six out of the 10 markets for Gen Z users, though live streaming niconico was popular in Japan.

App Annie found that finance and shopping apps haven’t yet reached a broad Gen Z audience, but are demonstrating promising growth.

Image Credits: App Annie

Few finance apps over-index with Gen Z, though the demographic tends to interact with non-bank fintech apps like Venmo, Monzo and DANA. In South Korea, a top app was peer-to-peer payments app Toss, which also offers loans, insurance and credit.

Top Gen Z fashion apps, meanwhile, included Shein, ASOS, Shopee and Mercari.

Overall, active Gen Z users are rising faster across the markets analyzed, compared with older groups, with emerging markets like Indonesia and Brazil seeing the most growth.

Image Credits: App Annie

App Annie noted that Gen Z is becoming one of the most powerful consumer segments on mobile, as 98% own a smartphone and have a combined estimated spending power of $143 billion annually.

“Gen Z has never known a world without their smartphone. They see the world through this mobile first lens,” said Ted Krantz, CEO, App Annie, in a statement about the report’s findings.

Watch the trailer for ‘First Person,’ a climate-focused series shot on Snapchat Spectacles

By Anthony Ha

Snapchat is about to launch “First Person,” the first of its original series to be shot on Snapchat Spectacles.

The idea of filming a documentary using AR-centric eyewear might sound gimmicky, but “First Person” is tackling a weighty topic: climate change.

The series is produced by journalist Yusuf Omar (who said he’s been wearing Spectacles “every day of my life since 2016”) and his Hashtag Our Stories program, which has trained more than 10,000 people in 140 countries to create journalism with their mobile phones.

“First Person” sounds like an extension of that work — the team sent Spectacles to subjects in six countries so that they could document the work that they’re doing to fight climate change.

“When Covid-19 hit, a lot of global media productions stopped shooting,” Omar told me via email. “But our innovators didn’t stop working. Shipping Spectacles to them allowed us to reach stories, otherwise impossible to tell during the coronavirus crisis.”

He added that filming with Spectacles isn’t just a production method — it also allows viewers to literally see things from a climate activist’s perspective.

“The beauty of capturing POV Specs footage for a series like this is that we get to witness change makers actually getting their hands dirty and creating, upcycling, recycling and making the change they want to see,” he said. “Their physical actions, seeing both hands at work, through their vantage point make their actions relatable, interesting and immersive. When young audiences watch it, they think ‘I can probably do that too.’”

In fact, the series also includes AR lenses for each episode — one lens, for example, will add cracks to your floor to indicate water shortage, while another will add carbon dioxide clouds in the sky to illustrate carbon emissions.

“First Person” premieres this Saturday, October 24. You can watch the trailer below.

 

We need universal digital ad transparency now

By Walter Thompson
Laura Edelson Contributor
Laura Edelson is a PhD Candidate in Computer Science at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering and is a team member on The Online Political Transparency Project.
Erika Franklin Fowler Contributor
Erika Franklin Fowler is Professor of Government at Wesleyan University where she directs the Wesleyan Media Project (WMP), which tracks and analyzes political advertising in real-time during elections.
Jason Chuang Contributor
Jason Chuang is a researcher at Mozilla.

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg, Mr. Dorsey, Mr. Pichai and Mr. Spiegel: We need universal digital ad transparency now!

The negative social impacts of discriminatory ad targeting and delivery are well-known, as are the social costs of disinformation and exploitative ad content. The prevalence of these harms has been demonstrated repeatedly by our research. At the same time, the vast majority of digital advertisers are responsible actors who are only seeking to connect with their customers and grow their businesses.

Many advertising platforms acknowledge the seriousness of the problems with digital ads, but they have taken different approaches to confronting those problems. While we believe that platforms need to continue to strengthen their vetting procedures for advertisers and ads, it is clear that this is not a problem advertising platforms can solve by themselves, as they themselves acknowledge. The vetting being done by the platforms alone is not working; public transparency of all ads, including ad spend and targeting information, is needed so that advertisers can be held accountable when they mislead or manipulate users.

Our research has shown:

  • Advertising platform system design allows advertisers to discriminate against users based on their gender, race and other sensitive attributes.
  • Platform ad delivery optimization can be discriminatory, regardless of whether advertisers attempt to set inclusive ad audience preferences.
  • Ad delivery algorithms may be causing polarization and make it difficult for political campaigns to reach voters with diverse political views.
  • Sponsors spent more than $1.3 billion dollars on digital political ads, yet disclosure is vastly inadequate. Current voluntary archives do not prevent intentional or accidental deception of users.

While it doesn’t take the place of strong policies and rigorous enforcement, we believe transparency of ad content, targeting and delivery can effectively mitigate many of the potential harms of digital ads. Many of the largest advertising platforms agree; Facebook, Google, Twitter and Snapchat all have some form of an ad archive. The problem is that many of these archives are incomplete, poorly implemented, hard to access by researchers and have very different formats and modes of access. We propose a new standard for universal ad disclosure that should be met by every platform that publishes digital ads. If all platforms commit to the universal ad transparency standard we propose, it will mean a level playing field for platforms and advertisers, data for researchers and a safer internet for everyone.

The public deserves full transparency of all digital advertising. We want to acknowledge that what we propose will be a major undertaking for platforms and advertisers. However, we believe that the social harms currently being borne by users everywhere vastly outweigh the burden universal ad transparency would place on ad platforms and advertisers. Users deserve real transparency about all ads they are bombarded with every day. We have created a detailed description of what data should be made transparent that you can find here.

We researchers stand ready to do our part. The time for universal ad transparency is now.

Signed by:

Jason Chuang, Mozilla
Kate Dommett, University of Sheffield
Laura Edelson, New York University
Erika Franklin Fowler, Wesleyan University
Michael Franz, Bowdoin College
Archon Fung, Harvard University
Sheila Krumholz, Center for Responsive Politics
Ben Lyons, University of Utah
Gregory Martin, Stanford University
Brendan Nyhan, Dartmouth College
Nate Persily, Stanford University
Travis Ridout, Washington State University
Kathleen Searles, Louisiana State University
Rebekah Tromble, George Washington University
Abby Wood, University of Southern California

Crypto-driven marketplace Zora raises $2M to build a sustainable creator economy

By Matthew Panzarino

Dee Goens and Jacob Horne have both the exact and precisely opposite background that you’d expect to see from two people building a way for creators to build a sustainable economy for their followers to participate in. Coinbase, crypto-hack projects at university, KPMG, Merrill Lynch. But where’s the art?

“Believe it or not, I used to have dreams of being a rapper,” laughs Goens. “There’s a SoundcCloud out there somewhere. With that passion you explore the inner workings of the music industry. I would excitedly ask industry friends about the advance and 360 deal models only to realize they were completely broken.”

And, while many may be well-intentioned, these deal structures often exploit artistry. In many cases taking the majority of an artist’s ownership. “I grew curious why artists were unable to resource themselves from their community in an impactful way — but instead, were forced to seek out potentially predatory relationships. To me, this was bullshit.”

Horne says that he’d always wanted to create a fashion brand. 

“I always thought a fashion brand would be something I’d do after crypto,” he tells me. “I love crypto but it felt overly focused on just finance and felt like it was missing something. Then I started to play with the idea of combining these two passions and starting Saint Fame.”

While at Coinbase, Horne hacked on Saint Fame, a side project that leveraged some of the ideas on display in Zora. It was a marketplace that allowed people to sell and trade items with cryptocurrency, buying intermediate variable-value tokens redeemable for future goods. 

“I realized that culture itself was shaped and built upon an old financial system that is systemically skewed against artists and communities,” says Horne. “The operating system of ownership was built in the 1600s with the Dutch East India Trading Company and early Nation States. Like what the fuck is up with that?” 

We have the internet now, we can literally create and share information to billions of people all at once, and the ownership system is the same as when people had to get on a boat for six months to send a letter. It’s time for an upgrade. Any community on the internet should be able to come together, with capital, and work towards any shared vision. That starts with empowering creators and artists to create and own the culture they’re creating. In the long term this moves to internet communities taking on societal endeavors.”

The answer that they’re working on is called Zora. It’s a marketplace with two main components but one philosophy: sustainable economics for creators. 

All too often creators are involved in reaping the rewards for their work only once, but the secondary economy continues to generate value out of their reach. Think of an artist, as an example, that creates a piece and sells it for market value. That’s great, but thereafter, every ounce of work that the artist puts into future work, into building a name and a brand and a community for themselves puts additional value into that piece. The artist never sees a dime from that, relying instead on the value of future releases to pay dividends on the work. 

Image Credits: Zora

That’s basically the way it has always worked. I have a little background in this as I used to exhibit and was involved in running a gallery and my father is a fine artist. If he sells a painting today for $300, gets a lot better, more popular and more valued over time, the owner of that painting may re-sell it for hundreds or thousands more. He will never see a dime of that. And God forbid that an artist like him gets too locked into the gallery system, which slices off enormous chunks of the value of a piece for a square of wall space and the marketing cachet of a curator or storefront. 

The same story can be told across the recording industry, fashion, sports and even social media. Lots of middle-people and lots of vigs to pay. And, unsurprisingly, the same creators of color that drive so much of The Culture are the biggest losers, hands down. 

The primary Zora product is a market that allows creators or artists to launch products and then continue to participate in their second market value. 

Here’s how the Zora team explains it:

On Zora, creators have the ability to set two prices: start price and max price. As community members buy and sell a token, it moves the price up or down. This makes the price dynamic as it opens price discovery on the items by the market. When people buy the token it moves the price closer to its maximum. When they sell, it moves closer to its minimum. 

For an excited community like Jeff [Staple’s], this new dynamic price can cause a quick increase in the value of his sneakers. As a creator, they capture the value from selling on a price curve as well as getting a take on trading fees from the market which they now own. What used to trade on StockX is now about to trade on a creator owned market.

There have been some early successes. Designer and marketer Jeff Staple launched a run of 30 Coca-Cola x Staple SB Dunk customs by Reverseland and their value is trending up around 234% since release. A Benji Taylor x Kevin Doan vinyl figure is up 210%

I have seen some other stabs at this. When he was still at StockX, founder Josh Luber launched their Initial Product Offerings, a Blind Dutch Auction system that allowed the market to set a price for an item, with some of the cut of pricing above market going back to the manufacturer or brand making the offering. The focus there was brands versus individual creators (though they did launch with a Ben Baller slide). Allowing brands to tap into second market value for limited goods is a lot less of a revolution play, but the thesis is similar. I thought that was a good idea then, and I like it even better when it’s being used to democratize rather than maximize returns. 

Side note: I love that this team is messing around with interesting ideas like dogfooding their own marketplace with the value of being in their own TestFlight group. I’m sort of like, is that allowed, but at the same time it’s dope and I’ve never seen anything like it. 

Zora was founded in May of 2020 (right in the middle of this current panny-palooza). The team is Goens (Creators and Community), Horne (Product), Slava Kim (Design), Dai Hovey (Engineering), Ethan Daya (Engineering) and Tyson Battistella (Engineering). 

Zora has raised a $2 million seed round led by Kindred Ventures, with participation from Trevor McFedries of Brud, Alice Lloyd George, Jeff Staple, Coinbase Ventures and others.

Tokenized community

But this idea that physical goods or even digitally packaged works have to exist as finite containers of value is not a given either. Goens and Horne are pushing to challenge that too with the first big new product for Zora: community tokens. Built on Ethereum, the $RAC token is the first of its kind from Zora. André Allen Anjos, stage name RAC, is a Portuguese-American musician and producer who makes remixes that stream on the web, original music and has had commercial work featured in major brand ads. 

Though he is popular and has a following in the tens of thousands, RAC is not a social media superpower. The token distribution and subsequent activity in trades and sales is purely driven by the buy-in that his fans feel. This is a key learning for a lot of players in this new economy: raw numbers are the social media equivalent of a billboard that people drive by. It may get you eyeballs, but it doesn’t guarantee action. The modern creator is living in a house with their fans, offering them access and interacting via Discord and Snap and comments. 

Image Credits: Zora

But those houses are all other people’s houses, which leads into the reason that Zora is launching a token.

The token drop serves multiple purposes: 

  • It unites fans across multiple silos. Whether they’re on Intsa, TikTok, Spotify or Snapchat, they can all earn tokens. That token serves as a unifying community unit of value that they all understand and pivot around. It’s a way to own a finite binary “atom” of an artist’s digital being.
  • It creates a pool of value that an artist can own and distribute themselves. Currently you cannot buy $RAC directly. You can only earn it. Some of that is retroactive for loyal supporters. If, for instance, you followed RAC on Bandcamp dating back to 2009, you’ll get some of a pool of 25,000 RAC. Bought a bit of RAC merch? You get some credit in tokens too. Future RAC distributions will be given to Patron supporters, merch purchasers, etc.
  • The value stays in the artist’s universe, rather than being spun out into currency. It serves as a way for the artist to incentivize, reward and energize their followers. RAC fans who buy his mixtape get tokens, and they can redeem them for purchases of further merch. 
  • It allows more flexibility for creators whose work doesn’t fall so neatly into package-able categories. Performance art, activism, bite-sized entertainment. These are not easy to “drop” for money. But if you have a circulating token that grows in value as you grow your audience, there is definitely something there. 

The future of Zora most immediately involves spinning up a self-service version of the marketplace, allowing creators and entrepreneurs to launch their products without a direct partnership and onboarding. There are many, many uncertainties here and the team has a lot of challenges ahead on the traction and messaging front. But as mentioned, some early releases have shown promise, and the philosophy is sound and much needed. As the creator universe/passion economy/whatever you call it depends on how old you are/fandom merchant wave rises, there is definitely an opportunity to rethink how the value of their contributions are assigned and whether there is a way to turn the long-term labor of building a community into long-term value. 

The last traded price of RAC’s tape, BOY, by the way? $3,713, up 18,465%. 

Temporal raises $18.75M for its microservices orchestration platform

By Frederic Lardinois

Temporal, a Seattle-based startup that is building an open-source, stateful microservices orchestration platform, today announced that it has raised an $18.75 million Series A round led by Sequoia Capital. Existing investors Addition Ventures and Amplify Partners also joined, together with new investor Madrona Venture Group. With this, the company has now raised a total of $25.5 million.

Founded by Maxim Fateev (CEO) and Samar Abbas (CTO), who created the open-source Cadence orchestration engine during their time at Uber, Temporal aims to make it easier for developers and operators to run microservices in production. Current users include the likes of Box and Snap.

“Before microservices, coding applications was much simpler,” Temporal’s Fateev told me. “Resources were always located in the same place — the monolith server with a single DB — which meant developers didn’t have to codify a bunch of guessing about where things were. Microservices, on the other hand, are highly distributed, which means developers need to coordinate changes across a number of servers in different physical locations.”

Those servers could go down at any time, so engineers often spend a lot of time building custom reliability code to make calls to these services. As Fateev argues, that’s table stakes and doesn’t help these developers create something that builds real business value. Temporal gives these developers access to a set of what the team calls ‘reliability primitives’ that handle these use cases. “This means developers spend far more time writing differentiated code for their business and end up with a more reliable application than they could have built themselves,” said Fateev.

Temporal’s target use is virtually any developer who works with microservices — and wants them to be reliable. Because of this, the company’s tool — despite offering a read-only web-based user interface for administering and monitoring the system — isn’t the main focus here. The company also doesn’t have any plans to create a no-code/low-code workflow builder, Fateev tells me. However, since it is open-source, quite a few Temporal users build their own solutions on top of it.

The company itself plans to offer a cloud-based Temporal-as-a-Service offering soon. Interestingly, Fateev tells me that the team isn’t looking at offering enterprise support or licensing in the near future, though. “After spending a lot of time thinking it over, we decided a hosted offering was best for the open-source community and long term growth of the business,” he said.

Unsurprisingly, the company plans to use the new funding to improve its existing tool and build out this cloud service, with plans to launch it into general availability next year. At the same time, the team plans to say true to its open-source roots and host events and provide more resources to its community.

“Temporal enables Snapchat to focus on building the business logic of a robust asynchronous API system without requiring a complex state management infrastructure,” said Steven Sun, Snap Tech Lead, Staff Software Engineer. “This has improved the efficiency of launching our services for the Snapchat community.”

Snapchat launches its TikTok rival, Sounds on Snapchat

By Sarah Perez

Snapchat this summer announced it would soon release a new music-powered feature that would allow users to set their Snaps to music. Today, the company made good on that promise with the launch of “Sounds on Snapchat” on iOS, a feature that lets users enhance their Snaps with music from curated catalog of both emerging and established artists.

The music can be added to Snaps either pre or post capture, then shared without any limitations. You can post it to your Story or share directly with friends, as you choose.

At launch, the Snapchat music catalog offers “millions” of licensed songs from Snap’s music industry partners, the company says.

When users receive a Snap with Sounds, they can then swipe up to view the album art, the song title, and the name of the artist. There’s also a “Play This Song” link that lets you listen to the full song on your preferred streaming platform, including Spotify, Apple Music and SoundCloud.

This differentiates Snapchat’s music feature from rival TikTok, where a tap on the “sound” takes users to a page in the app that shows other videos using the same music clip. Only some of these pages also offer a link to play the full song, however.

To kick off the launch of the new Snapchat music feature, Justin Bieber and benny blanco’s new song “Lonely” will be offered as an exclusive in Snapchat’s Featured Sounds list today.

Music makes video creations and communication more expressive, and offers a personal way to recommend music to your closest friends,” notes the company, in announcement about the feature’s launch.

Snap had said in August it would begin testing the new music feature and detailed the deals that made the addition possible.

To power Sounds on Snapchat, the company forged multi-year agreements with major and independent publishers and labels, including Warner Music Group, Merlin (including their independent label members), NMPA, Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner Chappell Music, Kobalt, and BMG Music Publishing.

The move to introduce a music feature is meant to counter the growing threat of the ByteDance-owned TikTok app, which has popularized short-form video sharing with posts set to music from a large catalog.

Though TikTok’s future in the U.S. remains uncertain due to the ever-changing nature of the Trump administration’s TikTok ban (and an election that could upset those plans), it still remains one of the top U.S. apps, with around 100 million monthly active U.S. users as of August. (TikTok is currently engaged in a lawsuit to challenge its ban, so the app remains live today.)

Social media companies have capitalized on the chaos surrounding a possible TikTok U.S. exit to promote their alternatives, like Triller, Dubsmash, Byte, and others, including, of course Instagram Reels.

Snapchat, meanwhile, touts its traction with a younger user base as its new music feature goes to launch.

In the U.S., Snapchat now reaches 90% of all 13-24 year-olds, which the company notes is more than Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger combined. It also reaches 75% of all 13-34 year-olds and, o average, more than 4 billion Snaps are created every day.

The feature is live now on iOS to start.

Snapchat among first to leverage iPhone 12 Pro’s LiDAR Scanner for AR

By Sarah Perez

Apple introduced its latest flagship iPhone models, the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max, at its iPhone event on Tuesday. Among other things, the devices sport a new LiDAR Scanner designed to allow for more immersive augmented reality (AR) experiences. Snapchat today confirms it will be among the first to put the new technology to use in its iOS app for a lidar-powered Lens.

As Apple explained during the event, the LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) Scanner measures how long it takes for light to reach an object and reflect back.

Along with iPhone’s machine learning capabilities and dev frameworks, lidar helps the iPhone understand the world around you.

Apple adapted this technology for its iPhone 12 Pro models, where it’s helping to improve low-light photography, thanks to its ability to “see in the dark.”

Image Credits: Apple presentation, screenshot via TechCrunch

The technology can also be used by app developers to build a precise depth map of the scene, and help speed up AR so it feels more instantaneous, while enabling new app experiences that use AR.

In practice, what this means for app developers is the ability to use lidar to enable things like object and room scanning — think, better AR shopping apps, home design tools or AR games, for example.

It also can enable photo and video effects and a more exact placement of AR objects, as the iPhone is actually able to “see” a depth map of the room.

Image Credits: Apple presentation, screenshot via TechCrunch

That can lead to new AR experiences like what Snapchat is prepared to introduce. Already known for some best-in-class AR photo filters, the company says it will soon launch a lidar-powered lens specifically for the iPhone 12 Pro models.

Apple gave a brief peek at Snapchat’s lidar-powered feature during the lidar portion of the iPhone event today.

Here, you can see an AR Lens in the Snapchat app where flowers and grasses cover the table and floor, and birds fly toward the user’s face. The grasses toward the back of the room looked as if they were further away than those closer to the user, and vegetation was even climbing up and around the kitchen cabinets — an indication that it saw where those objects were in the physical space.

The birds in the Snapchat Lens disappear as they move behind the person, out of view, and even land precisely in the person’s hand.

We understand this is the exact Lens Snapchat has in the works, but the company is holding further details for the time being. However, it shows what a lidar-enabled Snapchat experience would feel like.

You can see the Snapchat filter in action at 59:41 in the Apple iPhone Event video.

 

Updated, 10/13/20, 4:47 PM ET with confirmation that the Lens shown during the event is the one that will launch.

TikTok launches a US elections guide in its app

By Sarah Perez

Though TikTok is in the middle of fighting off the Trump administration’s attempt to ban its app in the U.S. over data privacy concerns, the company today is launching a new feature focused on the 2020 U.S. elections. TikTok announced this morning it’s introducing an in-app guide to the elections, which offers its 100 million U.S. users with information about the candidates, details about how to vote, and educational videos about misinformation, media literacy, the elections process and more.

The company, however, is not producing this content itself. It’s leaving that up to partner organizations, including the National Association of Secretaries of State, BallotReady, SignVote, and several others.

BallotReady, for example, will power the elections guide with detailed information about the candidates at the federal, state and local level, in both English and Spanish. Details about how to vote in every state are offered by National Association of Secretaries of State. MediaWise will provide the educational videos about spotting misinformation and the elections process, as well as how to vote.

The effort will also include resources for voters in different circumstances, TikTok says. This includes information about voting as a person with disabilities, from SignVote; as someone overseas, through the Federal Voting Assistance Program; as a student with help from Campus Vote Project; and as a person with past convictions, with help from Restore Your Vote.

TikTok will feature this elections guide starting today in the U.S., where it will be accessible both on the TikTok Discover page and on election-related search results. It will also feature the guide at the bottom of videos relating the elections and on videos posted by verified political candidates, it says.

The company preemptively explains it only verifies accounts to indicate the authenticity of the account ownership, but the verified badge does not indicate TikTok’s endorsement. (The issue around what it means to be verified on a social network is a problem Twitter has faced for years, as it doled out its coveted verified badges to controversial figures, like white nationalists.)

Image Credits: TikTok

Though TikTok is working with established partners to put its elections guide together, the mere act of involving itself in any way in American politics right now is a fairly bold choice on the company’s part. As users interact with the new elections guide, they could be sharing additional signals about their political leanings.

In theory, these signals could be used to tweak their personalized recommendations, like those shown on TikTok’s For You page, for example. But TikTok could also store this signal data with the user’s TikTok account for future use. That’s not all that different from how Facebook is able to identify your leanings by parsing your profile information or the Pages you’ve “liked.”

TikTok, though, says it won’t be collecting any users’ personal information with the launch of the guide, nor will it use the signals to customize your experience.

“…A user must visit the website for a state or a non-profit for anything that involves sharing their information, including registering to vote,” the company stated, in an announcement. “Interactions with this guide in our app have no bearing on future TikTok experiences, such as recommendations or ads.”

Image Credits: TikTok

Despite the controversies surrounding TikTok’s ownership, TikTok is joining many social networks that are offering voter guides or running “get out the vote” campaigns in their apps.

Facebook rolled out voting resources to U.S. users this August, and Twitter debuted its Elections hub earlier this month. Snapchat said it helped 400,000 people get registered to vote. YouTube, meanwhile, recently began adding vetted information about mail-in voting to counter misinformation along with a few features that encourage users to register to vote.

Even Tinder is running a promotion in the U.S. to drive voter registration through the use of in-app cards that direct users to online resources.

Image Credits: TikTok

However, TikTok’s voter registration efforts could be impactful because of its younger, Gen Z user base. For decades, youth voters fail show up at the polls. And every election year, reports wonder if this year will be any different.

But TikTok users, in particular, have been politically motivated in recent months. Some helped to prank the Trump campaign by registering for tickets to Trump’s Tulsa rally, which they didn’t intend to use. They also trolled the official Trump campaign app to the point that it finally had to reset its App Store ratings. And many went on the app to troll their parents’ political choices.

To what extent TikTok’s young users will transition from being armchair activists to real-world voters –if they’re even of age — remains to be seen. And though news coverage has focused on left-leaning TikToker’s, the app can easily direct you to the pro-Trump bubble where you’ll find plenty of MAGA hat-sporting teens.

Like the rest of the U.S., teens on TikTok have their own political divides. That means even if TikTok is successful in boosting youth voter turnout, there’s no reason to believe it will necessarily help sway the vote one way or the other.

GV bets on young team behind high school social app HAGS

By Lucas Matney

As high schools pivot to hybrid models and students see less in-person face time with friends, the current social app sphere seems to be missing a way to build deeper bonds with classmates. HAGS is building a social network designed around high school networks and they’ve picked up some fresh funding led by Google’s venture arm GV.

The team is building on old school social play focused on modern high school socialization. The first iteration of their vision was a digital yearbook they rolled out earlier this year which allowed high schoolers torn from the last weeks of their school year by the COVID-19 pandemic to leave messages for friends in a virtual yearbook, replicating the act of passing around the memento over Snapchat. The team’s acronymic name “HAGS” refers to the “have a great summer” message often speedily scrawled in a classmate’s yearbook.

The young founding team at HAGS is fully remote with CEO Suraya Shivji, 23, her younger brother Jameel, 18, and co-founder James Dale, 19, building out the product. The company says that “tens of thousands of high school students” used the app after its initial launch. In the course of building out their app, the team caught the eye of investors over Twitter and began to roll together some early investments.

“Especially when you’re investing so early, you lean on the team so much when it comes to an investment decision,” GV’s Terri Burns told TechCrunch in an interview. “HAGS is really early and very much in the spirit of experimentation.”

HAGS team, photo via HAGS.

The HAGS team ended up pulling together a $1 million investment led by GV with participation from BoxGroup and a handful of angel investors. It’s a smaller deal for some of the names involved, but the team’s product represents a familiarly ripe opportunity, shipping social products to teens. The HAGS app leverages high school networks, prompting users to log into their specific school. The team has already begun building out a network of “ambassadors” at several high schools to bring people into the app.

The app comes during an unprecedented period of upended socializing for high schoolers amid a pandemic, one that could offer more opportunities for a social app that aims to keep students in touch with a broader swatch of their classmates that goes beyond their core friend group.

The team kicked things off with the yearbook built onto Snapchat’s Snap Kit SDK, but they’re staying open minded about what comes next as they plan for the next feature launches inside their app in the coming months. The team is aiming to expand their utility while also staying dialed in to the core of their feature set.

“We ended up with this idea that the foundation of everything we do is creating things that are fun, and seeing that as a need and a first principle of what we do.” CEO Suraya Shivji tells TechCrunch. “Now, we’re basically exploring how to take this socially intimate space for a high school student and build on that.”

Snapchat’s new Lens celebrates tomorrow’s NFL kickoff

By Anthony Ha

Snap and the NFL recently announced a multi-year extension to their content partnership. Now, with the season starting tomorrow, they’re revealing more details about what kinds of content fans can expect to find on Snapchat.

For tomorrow night’s kickoff, they’ve created a special augmented reality Lens that takes fans from the Kansas City Chiefs’ locker room (the Chiefs are hosting the Houston Texans) through the tunnel and into Arrowhead Stadium, where they’ll be greeted by Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Houston’s Deshaun Watson.

The Lens will be available nationally, and as regular games begin, it will transform into an entrance into a more generic NFL stadium.

After that, the NFL will be creating a highlight show that updates each game day, plus three weekly shows — “Rankings” (which offers historic NFL facts designed to encourage fan debates), “Mic’d Up” (a behind-the-scenes look at what coaches and players say during the games) and “Predictions.” The NFL will also continue producing “Real Talk with the NFL,” a show that highlights the league’s social justice initiatives.

Ian Trombetta, the NFL’s senior vice president of social and influence marketing, told me that all of this content is created by the league’s social lab in partnership with Snap. And while the NFL continues to see high ratings on traditional linear TV, he said Snapchat plays “a really critical role for us.”

NFL Kickoff Portal Lens

Image Credits: Snap

“It’s always about: How do we engage new audiences, younger audiences, and do it in ways that are very authentic to the platforms?” Trombetta said. “We don’t look to do things that are just content dumps.”

Snapchat says that viewership of NFL content increased 80% during the 2019-20 season, and that 90% of viewers were under the age of 35.

Of course, it’s going to be a strange season. Like other professional sports organizations, the NFL has to test its players for COVID-19, and different teams are taking different approaches toward allowing fans in the stadiums — many games will be taking place without fans at all.

.@NFL launches @Snapchat AR portal celebrating tomorrow’s kickoff https://t.co/mOqNzfZ2wQ @TechCrunch @anthonyha pic.twitter.com/qRKWi282mD

— Russ Caditz-Peck (@RussCP) September 9, 2020

“The [NFL] organization is leaning on us more than they ever had,” Trombetta said. “We didn’t ignore the fact of what’s happening, anyone would be crazy to think we could totally shut that off. There has to be an acknowledgement of it, while also finding new ways, very seamless ways for fans to engage and celebrate rituals around games that they’ve established over years and decades.”

❌