Twitter tests design that ditches retweet icon for “sharing”

Twitter ditched its stars in favor of hearts to “like” Tweets, and now, to get more people using Twitter, it is considering replacing its iconic “Retweet” button. TechCrunch has learned and confirmed that Twitter has been testing a new version of its mobile app that drops the current Retweeting icon, along with the arrow for replying to a tweet, and respectively replaces them with a circular icon for “sharing” options and a speech bubble:

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These are the current icons, for reference:

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Twitter confirmed the test to us, adding that it was trying to see how it changed behavior on the site.

“We’re testing new icons on Tweets to evaluate how this impacts the way that people use Twitter,” a spokesperson said in an email.

With the new sharing button, the current two choices of “Retweet” and “Quote Tweet” will be augmented by two more options. As noticed by Twitter user @lasersushi and appearing here in German, the new menu is Retweet, Quote Tweet, Send by Direct Message, and Share Tweet (taking you to the usual menu to share that you get today).

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This is not the first time that Twitter has mulled replacing retweets with sharing. Back in 2014, it also toyed with the idea, although, it seems, without a change to its iconography.

The retweet has been a core part of the Twitter experience from early on, as a way to share content you’ve seen on the service more easily. Twitter has made moves to update it over time to encourage more use of it. For example, in June it started to let users retweet themselves.

Why test out a new way to share? Twitter’s test to roll up and expand sharing options points to how the company, which currently has 313 million monthly active users, has continued to try to figure out better ways of making the service more mainstream and less full of its own jargon.

Critics say that Twitter-specific lingo and special way of doing things puts off new or infrequent tweeters from using the service more regularly, or maybe ever coming to the platform in the first place. Specifically, there is some confusion among some users around the icons on the mobile apps.

And so Twitter is looking to more established social media norms for the solution. Just as Twitter moved to a heart icon from a star to get closer to the universal term of “like” (versus “favorite”) as a way of endorsing something you see on social media; now it’s seeing if “sharing” gets more people to be more social with Twitter content.

@panzer Retweet – OUT; Share – IN. pic.twitter.com/4HTV4GxyU0

— Roy Sheffi (@roysheffi) December 16, 2016

It’s the same reason Twitter would change the reply arrow to a speech bubble: Twitter is looking for more understandable iconography, and having too many arrows was, again, confusing to anyone less familiar with Twitter beyond very regular, existing users. Having a speech bubble icon may also prove to remind people to react more frequently, boosting engagement — a key metric that Twitter, as an ad-based service, needs to grow (especially since user growth has largely been flat).

It’s interesting, incidentally, to see how Direct Messaging has been downgraded a bit in this new test version. It’s still there as an option, but you now have to go into the sharing menu to access it rather than directly through the envelope icon. It makes us wonder just how much that (still pretty new) DM icon is being used; and also whether Twitter may have something else up its sleeve with DMs. (Perhaps the long-fabled, standalone Direct Messaging app?)

Direct messaging is definitely an area that Twitter is focusing on, although it’s hard to guess what the current thinking might be for where it will ultimately go. Or even if there is a cohesive, greater strategy at play, considering reports that it apparently killed off another standalone messaging project in India.

Unsurprisingly, among some of the power users seeing the new version, at least some don’t really understand why Twitter is tweaking.

they changed the retweet icon??? literally why pic.twitter.com/zy9YldsV1b

— Bosby ? (@Bosby_) December 16, 2016

Indeed, if this gets rolled out to everyone as a permanent change, it is unlikely to be popular among long-time users and Twitter purists. But remember that the move from stars to hearts was vehemently opposed and it is now an established part of Twitter, so never say never.

In any case, this is a test, and we’ve heard from an insider that there are “a bunch” of tests that are being tried out at the moment, so it’s anyone’s guess what might stick. If you’ve seen something new pop up in your own Twitter experience, get in touch and tell us about it.

Facebook now flags and down-ranks fake news with help from outside fact checkers

Snopes, FactCheck.org, Politifact, and ABC News will help Facebook make good on four of the six promises Mark Zuckerberg made about fighting fake news without it becoming “the arbiter of truth”. It will make fake news posts less visible, append warnings from fact checkers to fake news in the feed, make reporting hoaxes easier, and disrupt the financial incentives of fake news spammers.

“We’re not looking to get into the grey area of opinion” Facebook’s VP of News Feed Adam Mosseri tells me. “What we are focusing on with this work is specifically the worst of the work — clear hoaxes that were shared intentionally, usually by spammers, for financial gain.”

Facebook will now refer the most egregious and viral fake news articles flagged by users and algorithms to fact checking services that adhere to Poynter’s International Fact Checking Code of Principles. These include non-partisanship and fairness; transparency of sources, methodology, and funding; and a commitment to corrections. Facebook is starting with the four above but hopes to grow that list to dozens to quickly get a consensus on a story’s accuracy.

If they confirm a story is fake, they notify Facebook through a special reporting website it exclusively built for them, and can include a link to a post debunking the article. Facebook will then show posts of those links lower in the News Feed. It will also attach a warning label noting “Disputed by [one or more of the fact checkers]” with a link to the debunking post on News Feed stories and in the status composer if users are about to share a dubious link, plus prohibit disputed stories from being turned into ads.

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Mosseri confirms that these fact checking services won’t receive any payment from Facebook, but may get a traffic and branding boost from the debunk post links. Facebook will only send the most popular potentially fake news stories to avoid inundating the third-parties.

Beyond warnings, Facebook is making it easier for users to report fake news with the top right corner drop-down menu on News Feed. It will analyze whether people are significantly less likely to share an article after reading it, and use that a signal that a post is low value and should be shown less prominently in the News Feed.

Spammy Facebook Pages that try to masquerade as legitimate publishers (think TechCrunch.co instead of the real TechCrunch.com) will have their stories shown less. And Facebook will continue to detect people commenting “fake” or “hoax” on links to power down-ranking and referrals to fact checkers.

Finally, Facebook is trying to hit purposeful fake news spreaders in the wallet. It will no longer allow domain spoofing in ads that previously spammers say an ad led to a legit publisher instead of their own site. Facebook will also scan landing pages of suspected fakers, and if they’re primarily just ad-covered spam sites, and potentially levy enforcement actions against them.

Mosseri admits that “We have multiple beliefs that are not at odds but do have some tension” in reference to the balance between avoiding censorship of free speech and the need to thwart misinformation. “We believe in giving people a voice…but we also believe we have a responsibility to reduce the spread of fake news on Facebook.”

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The two areas for improvement Zuckerberg cited that Facebook is still working on are better classifiers to automatically detect fake news, and preventing fake news from appearing as “Related Articles” that appear below links. These updates will begin by rolling out in the US where many of the fact-checkers are based, but Mosseri says “we’ll be looking to expand this internationally as soon as we can.”

As for how Facebook will handle all this on the backend, Mosseri says “There are both algorithms and humans involved.” Specifically, people will help check on fake news sites masquerading as real publishers, but “There’s no people involved in the sense that no one [from Facebook] is going to weigh in on whether these stories are true or false.” Algorithms will tally fake news signals and prioritize what’s sent to the fact checkers.

Disrupting fake news and banishing the most obvious cases from the feed is essential to keeping the world accurately informed. 44% of US adults have said they get news from Facebook, and its 1.8 billion users make the impact of hoaxes on the platform massive. Facebook will have to execute on these changes without appearing to lean to the left, as its leadership and employees are known to be liberal, exacerbating accusations that its Trends feature suppressed conservative stories.

If Facebook’s multi-prong approach can decrease the prevalence of fake news without becoming overbearing truth police, it could dismantle one of the greatest threats to its future as a core internet utility.

Social media sites may need to apply age checks under UK anti-porn law

Social media sites such as Twitter face being regulated in the UK under anti-porn proposals, as part of the government’s Digital Economy bill proposal.

If the bill passes into law unamended, social media services could be scooped into needing to apply age verification to ensure all users are over 18 — in the same way the bill seeks to enforce an age-gate on pornography websites, with the overarching aim of trying to prevent children being exposed to adult content online.

Another portion of the proposed law has caused controversy by seeking to prevent the spread of ‘non-conventional’ sex videos online — meaning regulators and/or civil servants will be tasked with determining what passes for ‘acceptably convention porn’ in the UK. And what does not. (Which brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘yes, minister“… )

In a debate about the bill in the UK’s second chamber this week, Baroness Benjamin welcomed the government’s confirmation that the bill covers “ancillary service providers”, such as Twitter, over and above pure-play adult websites.

“There has been some debate about the scope of Clause 15 and the ancillary service providers, but it seems clear to me that social media should be covered by this,” she said.

“I was particularly delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Shields, confirmed to the Lords Communications Committee on November 29 that: “The Bill covers ancillary services. There was a question about Twitter. Twitter is a user-generated uploading-content site. If there is pornography on Twitter, it will be considered covered under ancillary services”.”

So unless a social media service is able to prove it is free of pornographic content — a very high bar for any user generated content platform — it looks like it could be subject to the bill’s age verification requirements.

Peers asked specifically whether other social media sites such as Facebook could be classed as ancillary service providers under the proposed legislation. Responding on behalf of the government, Lord Ashton of Hyde, the parliamentary under-secretary of state for Culture, Media and Sport, suggested the classification could indeed apply widely.

“The government believe that services, including Twitter, can be classified by regulators as ancillary service providers where they are enabling or facilitating the making available of pornographic or prohibited material,” he said.

Also speaking during the debate, the Earl of Erroll agreed with the government view that social media sites present a loophole for UK lawmakers’ aim of restricting children’s access to adult material online but urged that any age verification process should include privacy safeguards in order to protect individuals’ identities from becoming a target for hackers.

“Imagine the fallout if some hacker found a list of senior politicians who had had to go through an age-verification process on one of these websites, which would mean they had accessed them. They could bring down the Government or the Opposition overnight,” he warned, going on to reveal he has personally shied away from trying to look up something as mild and uncontroversial as online statistics about the demographic breakdown of online pornography users in the UK — on account of another piece of government legislation: the recently passed Investigatory Powers Act (although technically this does not come into force until the start of next year; but its bulk surveillance measures are already evidently impacting browsing behavior).

I have not dared to do so because it will show I have been to that website, which I am sure would show up somewhere on one of these investigatory powers web searches and could be dangerous.

Said Erroll: “Noble Lords could all go to the MindGeek website and look at the statistics, where there is a breakdown of which age groups and genders are accessing these websites. I have not dared to do so because it will show I have been to that website, which I am sure would show up somewhere on one of these investigatory powers web searches and could be dangerous.”

To ward off the risk of hackers swiping age verification identities, he suggested websites should not store the identity of people they age-check, but rather utilize a third party attribute provider to verify age — which would only send back an encrypted token confirming a check has been passed.

However he was less clear on how to prevent the process being reversed to re-link identities to specific adult websites. “They can then reverse it and find out who the person was — but they could still perhaps not be told by the regulator which site it was. So there should be a security cut-out in there,” he suggested, adding: “I am not sure that we should not just put something in the Bill to mandate that a website cannot keep a person’s identity.

“If the person after they have proved that they are 18 then decides to subscribe to the website freely and to give it credit card details and stuff like that, that is a different problem — I am not worried about that. That is something else. That should be kept extremely securely and I personally would not give my ID to such a site — but at the age verification end, it must be private.”

On the general point of how to loop social media websites into compliance with the legislation Erroll suggested payment providers could be targeted as a financial route to enforcing age gates.

“It is probably unrealistic to block the whole of Twitter — it would make us look like idiots. On the other hand, there are other things we can do,” he said. “If we start to make the payment service providers comply and help, they will make it less easy for those sites to make money. They will not be able to do certain things.”

Erroll went on to suggest the legislation may require the government to create an enforcement body. The BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) has been proposed as the regulator to oversee which websites to tell ISPs to block or not — but enforcement may require an additional body, he said: “The BBFC is happy to be a regulator, and I think it is also happy to inform ISPs which sites should be blocked, but other enforcement stuff might need to be done. There is provision for it in the Bill. The government may need to start looking for an enforcer.”

The bill does provide the regulator with the ability to issue fines for non-compliance of age verification checks — of up to £250,000 or five per cent of their turnover. However peers questioned how a UK regulator could enforce such fines on websites based overseas.

Another clause in the bill aims to furnish the regulator with financial transaction blocking powers, however another peer, Lord Morrow, argued the provision is “only half present” — urging further amendments to strengthen the regulator’s powers.

“I also think that there is a very strong case to be made for an amendment giving the regulator power to require ancillary services such as advertisers not to advertise on sites operating in violation of UK law,” he added.

MPs passed the bill back in November — but the legislation can still be amended before passing into law via the scrutiny process in the House of Lords.

Twitter reportedly developed, then killed off, a messaging app for emerging markets

After years of speculation, it appears that Twitter did actually develop a messaging app of its own. But, two caveats, it was intended for emerging markets and it was killed off before ever being released to the masses.

That’s according to a report from BuzzFeed, which claims the app was developed by Twitter’s emerging markets team in India, shortly before Twitter laid off most of its engineers in the country in September.

We contacted Twitter for comment earlier today during Asian business hours but the company has not responded at the time of writing.

The report says that Twitter acknowledged that it has a growth issue in emerging markets like India, where the likes of WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger continue to grow at speed, so it hatched a plan to develop a chat app based around topics and content gleaned from the main Twitter service.

BuzzFeed explains more:

Sources familiar with the messaging app’s development told BuzzFeed News that Twitter intended to identify “influencers” around certain topics — let’s say news or politics or sports — and encourage them to create groups of interest within the app.

Not only could users chat among themselves in these groups, they could also subscribe them to relevant Twitter accounts whose tweets would be pulled in automatically into these groups — functionality that’s similar to what’s already possible in Slack channels.

The idea seems to be to gently introduce new users to the kinds of content that exists on Twitter, with the aim of sparking their interest in using the main service.

There was a time that a Twitter messaging app could have been compelling, but this particular vision seems problematic. Messaging is popular because it is simple, this Twitter app sounds rather complicated just on paper. Perhaps it isn’t a huge surprise that Twitter killed it off following less-than-impressive feedback from trials it conducted among students in India.

BuzzFeed’s sources also claim that the Twitter India engineering team worked on a ‘Lite’ version of the main app for emerging markets. That’s similar to lightweight apps developed by Facebook among others, but Twitter Lite has apparently disappeared without a trace.

Twitter has since shuttered its engineering facility in Bangalore as part of restructuring that saw nine percent of its staff laid off. Unfortunately that was the end of the road for the team working on these test apps, which could perhaps have been tweaked to find the right fit for emerging market users. As it stands, the Twitter service is nothing like as popular as the likes of WhatsApp, Facebook, Messenger, Instagram or YouTube in emerging markets — and it is hard to see that changing any time soon.

Featured Image: Gustav Dejert/Getty Images

Facebook Messenger’s artsy new camera turns any text into filters

What’s better than a few geofilters? A billion algorithmically generated filters. That’s Facebook Messenger’s strategy to steal the visual communication crown from Snapchat, thanks to its new camera feature that rolls out today. Well, actually, “a billion” is selling it short.

Messenger’s camera can make an infinite number of overlaid graphics to jazz up your photos and videos. It takes anything you type, then programmatically spawns art that blows up those words in goofy fonts that you can splash atop your imagery. If Messenger recognizes the meaning of your text in any of 15 different popular languages, it will even offer up filters with related art.

Plus, it’s got augmented reality selfie lenses, holiday-themed masks, props to paste on, Prisma-esque style transfers, influencer-suggested filters and art that helps you tell friends what you’re doing or ask them to hang out. This camera is a swipe away or tap away at all times, living a layer beneath the rest of Messenger.

“A lot more conversations are starting from photos,” Facebook’s head of Messenger David Marcus tells me. Around 10 percent, in fact. “We wanted to make sure we could be a first-class citizen when it comes to visual messaging, and naturally for that you need a good camera.”

Indeed, 2.5 billion photos, videos, emoji and stickers are already sent each day on Messenger, now that emergent behavior is getting the product support it deserves. The new features are rolling out to all users today and tomorrow on iOS and Android, and the holiday effects should be available for everyone by December 21st.

TechCrunch got a deep look inside the creation of the new Messenger camera, speaking with execs and artists to learn why and how the texting app is redefining itself in the age of chat via images.

MessengArt

For a social network that’s really just a skeleton brought to life by the media its users share, Facebook has always had a penchant for art. As I walk the immense length of Facebook’s new 430,000-square foot Menlo Park office building, it’s hard not to stop and gawk at the posters. Facebook’s Analog Research Lab screen printing room churns out motivational banners with wild colors and bold text.

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Now Facebook is bringing that flare inside Messenger. “At first we didn’t have any art so we had to work to assemble an art team,” Marcus explains. They were tasked with turning the most commonly expressed feelings, activities and questions into images people could stick on their Messenger photos. And not just in English.

“We work with creators all over the world for people all over the world,” says Jennifer Whitley, Messenger’s Creative Director. “One-third of our library is created for specific regions and demographics.” Both social media influencers and local graphic designers were recruited to give Messenger a diversity of iconography.

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That comes with risks, though. Snapchat was criticized for offering a “yellowface” selfie filter that looked like an Asian stereotype. Whitley tells me that when Messenger’s team made art for countries like Thailand, “we vet that and get that reviewed by people who speak the language. We don’t want to help self-expression that could be dangerous.”

Meanwhile, design and engineering teams worked to extract meaning from common phrases, and link them to different art so Messenger can create “programmatic frames” that scale to 15 languages, with more coming. And by collaborating with the MSQRD artificial intelligence selfie filter team Facebook acquired this year, they built out a slew of new masks to make you look funny, or just more comfortable, on camera.

  1. staticart-imdoing

  2. specialeffect-grey

  3. specialeffect-paint

  4. specialeffect-panda

  5. specialeffect-starrynight

  6. specialeffect-unicorn

  7. staticart-whosupfor

  8. aidenalexander

  9. allychen

  10. carrieliao

  11. griffinarlund

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  13. kathycanomurillo2

  14. natalietashathompson2

  15. holidayframe-cheers

  16. holidayframe-merryandbright

  17. holidayframe-mistletoe

  18. holidayframe-ornaments

  19. holidayframe-dreidle

  20. holidayframe-christmaslights

  21. natalietashathompson

A gallery of all the different Messenger art

Facebook Camera 2.0

Before Facebook suddenly acquired Instagram in 2012, it was building its own photo editing app called… Facebook Camera. Before getting shut down to give Instagram room to breathe, it taught the company about multi-image uploads and color filters.

Now Facebook is reviving the project. It’s testing some of the same features in Facebook proper as are launching today on Messenger, in a multi-pronged attack on Snapchat, which has become its most cunning competitor. The new camera is also at the heart of Messenger’s direct Snapchat Stories clone called “Messenger Day” that debuted a few months ago in Poland and is now testing in 15 countries.newsroom-2

Here’s a crash course in all the new Messenger Camera features:

Swipe to Access: Just pull down from anywhere on the Messenger app’s inbox, hit the overlaid shutter button, or the camera icon in threads, to open the camera. It sits behind your inbox, as well as individual threads so you can instantly capture those spontaneous moments.

Stylized Shutter Button: To tip you off if there’s new seasonal creative tools you won’t want to miss, the normally transparent shutter button that sits atop your inbox will occasionally get bedazzled with holiday gift wrapping or other effects to let you know there are Santa hats and reindeer antlers to try on.

Shoot First, Pick Friends Later: Now instead of having to a pick a thread, then shoot a photo, you capture content first, then select all the different friends or group chats you want to send it to in a distribution screen reminiscent of Snapchat.

Selfie Masks, Style Transfers and Effects: Before you shoot, you can add different Snapchat-style 3D selfie masks, filters that make your images look like paintings and environmental effects.

Art Picker: After you shoot, tap on the Smiley icon atop the camera screen and you’ll pull up a tray of all the different art you can add. They’re divided into categories like “I’m Doing,” “I’m Feeling” and “Who’s Up For?,” which combine art and utility to turn boring text messages into eye-catching imagery so you’ll be more social.

Programmatic Frames: Type words into the Art Picker’s search box and you’ll see pre-made art related to the meaning of your text. And if it’s a name, gibberish or something Messenger doesn’t understand, it will algorithmically generate stylized filters that incorporate your words in fun fonts.

Props: Add some eyeglasses, a hat or a beard with prop stickers you can paste on your face. Grab a multi-piece disguise and resize different pieces separately to fit your head.

Type, Doodle or Sticker: You can also spice up your images the old-fashioned way with overlaid text, drawing or any of Facebook Messenger’s popular stickers.

Blank Canvas: If you don’t want to take a photo, you can swipe sideways or hit the palette button to create a solid color canvas to write on top of or adorn with stickers that are already sent 2 billion times per day.

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The human behind the text message

“When I already know what I want to say, how do I personalize what I’m saying?” That’s how Messenger Director of Product Management Peter Martinazzi describes the intent of all these new features.

artpickerThere are plenty of visual “communication” apps, from Snapchat to Instagram and beyond. But they were all built off a base of photo sharing, rather than messaging. So while other apps might focus on showing friends something fun, Messenger’s camera has a practical bent. It wants to help you make plans, express what’s on your mind and inform close friends what you’re up to.

“At its core it’s a messaging app, so we want to make sure if you want to communicate ‘who’s up for drinks?’ you can do that in areally cool, engaging way,” Marcus concludes. “The main use case we’re trying to power is people communicating with their friends and families, expressing themselves when they’re apart.”

This is the latest of a dozen attempts by Facebook to copy Snapchat’s top features and prevent more users from straying there. Facebook appears undaunted by criticism of it stealing ideas, hoping its versions will stick even if they make it look unoriginal or uncool to some.

Maintaining Messenger’s efficiency as a utility is critical. More thaner one billion users rely on it to handle the normal conversations that get them through the days. Messenger can’t stray too far from the mission or people will ditch it for more spartan chat apps. That’s why it’s worked to embed the new art features without obstructing the speed of text if people want to keep it simple.

And that’s where the true opportunity for Messenger is. Rather than ham-handedly trying to force the logistics of your life through an ephemeral content platform like Snapchat or a photos-first app like Instagram, its camera is designed to augment words rather than replace them.

That could even make us less lonely. Tossing a drab “who wants to hang out?” text into a group chat can seem desperate, discouraging the shy. But if Messenger makes that same question fun to look at it, we might not be so apprehensive to reach out.

Amino Apps raises $19.2M to build more mobile communities

Amino Apps, a startup aiming to reinvent online forums for the mobile world, has raised $19.2 million in Series B funding.

The New York City-based company started out by building individual apps focused on topics like anime and Doctor Who, but earlier this year it launched a new, all-purpose Amino app that allows anyone to launch a community. Now more than 250,000 communities have been created, covering everything from veganism to Star Wars to ballet, with the biggest ones attracting more than 100,000 members.

Amino does take a role in helping the high-quality communities rise to the top — maybe a necessity now, since there are so many of them. Leaders can submit their communities to Amino for approval, and while not every community needs to be approved, those approved communities will show up first in search results and in the curated Explore section of the Amino app.

Popular communities can still get their own standalone apps — Amino has now launched 250 of them. CEO Ben Anderson described the main Amino app as the “incubator,” which can then spin off new apps that find new fans who aren’t yet aware of Amino.

Anderson said Amino apps have now seen around 13 million downloads, with users spending an average of 60 minutes each day in the apps.

The new funding follows a $6.5 million Series A last year. The Series B was led by GV (the firm previously known as Google Ventures), with participation from Venrock, Union Square Ventures and Box Group, as well as new backers Time Warner Investments and Goodwater Capital.

Looking ahead, Anderson said noted that Amino already goes beyond plain-text posts by allowing users to create things like polls and customized profiles. He said he wants to continue adding new features and formats.

“We’re trying to create a product that appeals and works for every single interest in the world,” he said. “We want to continue to double down on those strategies and give people lots of ways to communicate with each other in a seamless way.”

Amino Apps isn’t making any money yet, but Anderson eventually plans to add ways for the community leaders to generate revenue, starting with digital goods like stickers and moving into advertising and e-commerce — with Amino taking a cut of each transaction.

Instagram surges past 600M users, fueled by algorithmic feed

Instagram has gone through a whirlwind of changes the past few months. Between bookmarks, likable comments, live video, tags, zoom, drafts, Stories and of course the controversial algorithmic feed – no one can argue that the Facebook-owned photo sharing app hasn’t been innovating at a rapid pace.

But the real question is what effect are these product enhancements having on the bottom line – which in the case of Instagram is measured in user growth. And the answers seems to be that it’s working.

The app just announced that they have grown to over 600 million monthly active users. This is almost 10% of the world population – and 100 million more than the company had 6 months ago when they announced a milestone of 500M monthly actives. As a comparison, it took about 9 months to get from 400M to 500M monthly actives – so their growth is still accelerating, even with such a large user base.

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While the growth over the past 6 months was still broad-based, the company noted that they were doing partially well in Asian countries – a part of the world that will be important if they want to keep up this rapid growth.

And of course the product enhancements above have helped. Stories have given people a reason to check Instagram more frequently than ever before, and the personalized algorithmic feed has made sure people only see what they want to see on their feed – which also increases the chances they come back to the app.

As you may recall the algorithmic feed was controversial at first – people wanted their feed to remain in chronological order, and didn’t trust Instagram to show them what they wanted to see. But now it seems that not only has this outcry completely vanished, but the personalization is actually helping with retention and growth. Of course Instagram already knew this – the same thing happened when their big brother Facebook changed from a chronological to algorithmic newsfeed.

So now the question is how long will it take Instagram to hit its next 100M active users, and what product enhancements will they roll out to help make it happen faster?

Periscope sunk without Twitter’s wings

Periscope’s app is slipping beneath the waves. It has steadily dropped from No. 23 on the overall iOS app charts in January to No. 441 this weekend. Now Twitter is adding Periscope’s live streaming abilities to its own app, something it should have done from the start. Taking 21 months to build broadcasting into Twitter feels painfully slow, considering the fast-moving live-stream market and Twitter’s insistence that live video is its future.

Twitter tried to operate its early 2015 acquisition of Periscope independently, the way Facebook successfully did with Instagram. However, there are fundamental differences that torpedoed Twitter and Periscope’s sovereignty plan while working swimmingly for Facebook and Instagram. Periscope deserved its own real estate, but that didn’t prohibit Twitter from building streaming into the tweet composer much sooner.

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Here’s why Periscope and live streaming didn’t have the characteristics that benefited Instagram as an independent app:

No Existing Community: Periscope was acquired pre-launch by Twitter, so it had no user base to build on. Instagram had 30 million registered iOS users and 5 million on Android when Facebook bought it, though Facebook paid roughly 10X more for its acquisition.

No Similar Feature: Twitter had no live streaming option when it bought Periscope, but was ripe to become the natural home for real-time, see-it-as-soon-as-it’s-broadcast content. Facebook already had a thriving photography feature, but that was differentiated with an algorithmically sorted feed, so it made sense to run them distinctly.

Intense Competition: Periscope launched on the heels of Meerkat, which had already established itself as the pioneering mobile live-streaming app. Periscope looked almost identical, just slicker. And while Meerkat faded quickly, Facebook Live soon barged in, baked within Facebook’s wildly popular main app.

A Parent Company in Need: Facebook was thriving when it bought Instagram, having added around 200 million monthly users in the previous year to reach 900 million at the time. It had a winning formula it didn’t need to change. Twitter had added about 50 million monthly users in the year before buying Periscope to reach 302 million, and its growth was starting a long plateau. It could have used the extra firepower.

Not for Everyone: Everyone knew how to easily take and share photos on Instagram from the get-go, but there wasn’t a great dedicated mobile social network in which to do it, just creation tools like Hipstamatic and archives like Flickr. Instagram had room to win as a full-fledged social network. Live streaming was a relatively new concept many people still don’t understand; it takes a ton of effort and skill to do well, and most people don’t feel compelled to broadcast regularly. It proved difficult to institute itself as a must-have app.

periscope-twitterCombined, these factors signal part of why Periscope has failed to maintain momentum as an independent app.

Live streaming may have functioned better as a feature of Twitter, as well, or instead as a separate app, the way Facebook Live works. Twitter only added native viewing for Periscope streams this January, a button to open Periscope this May and broadcasting directly from Twitter today. By betting on a separate silo, Twitter squandered nearly two years when it couldn’t afford to take its time.

Instagram has grown to more than 500 million monthly users, while Periscope hasn’t announced a user count since reaching 10 million registered users in August 2015.

But Periscope’s download stats wouldn’t have mattered if it had been fully integrated into Twitter, with its own app as just a power-user interface. Instead, what would matter was total watch time of Periscopes. That hit 110 years per day in March, and the company hasn’t updated the stat since.

Hindscope is 20/20

Perhaps this independent structure was the only way Twitter could convince Periscope to come aboard via acquisition. But it was a costly compromise. At the very least, Twitter should have heavily integrated Periscope into its main app immediately or as soon as possible, not 21 months later as it did today.

Unfortunately, Twitter had only added video uploads at the start of 2015, and its infrastructure might not have been prepared for fully native live-streaming support. Twitter spent 2014 and 2015 mired in leadership changes and decision paralysis, hesitating to make important changes to its app in terms of Periscope and everything else. There were surely large engineering hurdles to this integration, but with more than 3,000 employees, the timetable seems sluggish and detrimental.

livevideo1

Twitter added a live-streaming option powered by Periscope to its main app today

With the right mandate of engineering resources, Twitter could have built Periscope-powered broadcasting into the tweet composer at launch or soon after, and added stream discovery to its… Discover tab. It could have simultaneously operated a separate Periscope app, with the dedicated broadcast browsing by category and location, search and stream management features it has today.

Instead, the already confusing-to-some Twitter product’s video offering was fragmented, with users having to maintain another social graph in another app with Periscope. It seems many people didn’t give the Twitter family an additional home screen slot for an activity too exhaustingly performative and foreign to use regularly.

In retrospect, Twitter may have been better off never acquiring Periscope and instead building its own native live-streaming feature. Or at least finding a more cohesive model for running the two apps in parallel.

Facebook Live, Periscope, and Meerkat (from left)

Facebook Live, Periscope and Meerkat (from left)

Now the question is whether Twitter can reinvigorate Periscope despite the competition, or have its own app carry the live-streaming torch, and whether the separate app will languish as a superfluous tool or if Twitter will shut down Periscope as a discrete product the way it announced it will do with Vine.

For now, at least, a Periscope spokesperson tells me, “There are no plans to shut down Periscope; the team will continue to invest in building out the app.” And today’s integration is a big step in the right direction.

Standalone apps can be great for focused user interfaces and unique branding, or as a hedge to a parent company’s longevity. But marooning a feature on a separate island without the population of the mainland can end up as a shipwreck.

Facebook exploring creation of its own original video content

Facebook is looking into the possibility of buying its own video content from creative partners, including original scripted and unscripted shows, as well as sports. The desire is to help “kickstart” an overall “ecosystem of partner content,” according to College Humor co-founder and recent Facebook team employee Ricky Van Veen speaking to Recode.

This isn’t entirely new territory for Facebook; the company has done deals with media organizations that provides them revenue in exchange for using its Facebook Live video broadcasting platform, for instance. Those were aimed at getting outlets with audiences creating exclusive content solely for Facebook, as a way to drive eyeballs to the new format.

Facebook buying its own content, both from the outset and via licensing, which it also says it would consider as part of its plans, could result in a more Netflix or Amazon Prime Video-style outcome, with owned content as a driver for the rest and vice versa. Facebook looks more inclined to use anything it produces as primarily a spark for getting third-parties creating, however.

But why even bother? Facebook has a lot of video on the platform already, and it’s user-generated content, which is low-cost and low intensity in terms of effort required in its creation.

The answer might be in the nature of the destination it wants video to be. Right now, it’s a pretty scattered experience; video is mostly interspersed throughout a user’s timeline, and on dedicated sections of individual pages. Facebook added a video tab to the site earlier this year, but it’s still not really a destination in the way you’d navigate to other video sites, apps or outlets.

Creating their own library of original content, including big audience draws like sports, could help Facebook chart a better path towards monetization on the platform both for itself and other partners who are already using the network to push their videos. And ultimately that will lead to more video content, which will in turn result in bigger, stickier audience and those lovely, lovely DAUs that FB loves so well.

Still, this isn’t a done deal, as Van Veen only said that they’re “exploring” the idea of funding original content. Even an exploration by Facebook in this area should be enough to make traditional cable and satellite providers stand up and start strategizing, however, since the social network’s outsized audience only stands to accelerate the general trend toward online viewing.

Of course, this also would make Facebook pretty irrefutably a media company, which is interesting given its stance on how its algorithms handle news distribution currently.

Instagram now lets you bookmark posts for later viewing

Instagram will now let you save your favorite posts from its service for later viewing via a new bookmarking button that appears below the posts in your feed. The idea is that there are times you’ll encounter content you’ll want to revisit – including, perhaps, a product you want to buy from one of Instagram’s advertisers. By tapping the bookmarking button, you’ll be able to more easily locate these items in a new, private tab on your profile at a later point.

In its announcement, Instagram suggests you could use the feature for those times when you “stumble upon a funny video you want to remember, a new outfit you like or even inspiration for an upcoming vacation.”

Those latter two items position the app as something of a challenge to the image and link-saving pinboard site, Pinterest, which also focuses on inspiring users ahead of their eventual purchases.

By allowing this same sort of activity to take place on Instagram, where it can also be tied into more extensive profile data from the service and from parent company Facebook, Instagram will be able to learn more about users’ interests, even before they make a transaction. This could eventually help with ad targeting, as the data set becomes more robust.

The company is already touting the new feature to potential advertisers, explaining that it could be used by people who want to remember a post about their business.

Also of note on this front: Instagram recently began testing tying a business’s Instagram profile page directly to their Facebook presence, via a new feature that puts a link to their Facebook page at the bottom of their bios. Facebook confirmed the test, but declined to comment further.

Additionally, the new feature is similar to Facebook’s own “Save” option, which is often used with links and videos you want to go back to read or watch later. On Instagram, being able to bookmark videos could also lead to increased app engagement from users who will go back to watch and rewatch their favorite content.

Instagram says the bookmarking icon is rolling out now in version 10.2 of its mobile app for iOS and Android. It will arrive on Windows 10 in the coming weeks.