Facebook is testing pop-up messages telling people to read a link before they share it

Years after popping open a pandora’s box of bad behavior, social media companies are trying to figure out subtle ways to reshape how people use their platforms.

Following Twitter’s lead, Facebook is trying out a new feature designed to encourage users to read a link before sharing it. The test will reach 6 percent of Facebook’s Android users globally in a gradual rollout that aims to encourage “informed sharing” of news stories on the platform.

Users can still easily click through to share a given story, but the idea is that by adding friction to the experience, people might rethink their original impulses to share the kind of inflammatory content that currently dominates on the platform.

Twitter introduced prompts urging users to read a link before retweeting it last June and the company quickly found the test feature to be successful, expanding it to more users.

Facebook began trying out more prompts like this last year. Last June, the company rolled out pop-up messages to warn users before they share any content that’s more than 90 days old in an an effort to cut down on misleading stories taken out of their original context.

At the time, Facebook said it was looking at other pop-up prompts to cut down on some kinds of misinformation. A few months later, Facebook rolled out similar pop-up messages that noted the date and the source of any links they share related to COVID-19.

The strategy demonstrates Facebook’s preference for a passive strategy of nudging people away from misinformation and toward its own verified resources on hot button issues like COVID-19 and the 2020 election.

While the jury is still out on how much of an impact this kind of gentle behavioral shaping can make on the misinformation epidemic, both Twitter and Facebook have also explored prompts that discourage users from posting abusive comments.

Pop-up messages that give users a sense that their bad behavior is being observed might be where more automated moderation is headed on social platforms. While users would probably be far better served by social media companies scrapping their misinformation and abuse-ridden existing platforms and rebuilding them more thoughtfully from the ground up, small behavioral nudges will have to do.

State AGs tell Facebook to scrap Instagram for kids plans

In a new letter, attorneys general representing 44 U.S. states and territories are pressuring Facebook to walk away from new plans to open Instagram to children. The company is working on an age-gated version of Instagram for kids under the age of 13 that would lure in young users who are currently not permitted to use the app, which was designed for adults.

“It appears that Facebook is not responding to a need, but instead creating one, as this platform appeals primarily to children who otherwise do not or would not have an Instagram account,” the coalition of attorneys general wrote, warning that an Instagram for kids would be “harmful for myriad reasons.”

The state attorneys general call for Facebook to abandon its plans, citing concerns around developmental health, privacy and Facebook’s track record of prioritizing growth over the well being of children on its platforms. In the letter, embedded below, they delve into specific worries about cyberbullying, online grooming by sexual predators and algorithms that showed dieting ads to users with eating disorders.

Concerns about social media and mental health in kids and teens is a criticism we’ve been hearing more about this year, as some Republicans join Democrats in coalescing around those issues, moving away from the claims of anti-conservative bias that defined politics in tech during the Trump years.

Leaders from both parties have been openly voicing fears over how social platforms are shaping young minds in recent months amidst calls to regulate Facebook and other social media companies. In April, a group of Congressional Democrats wrote Facebook with similar warnings over its new plans for children, pressing the company for details on how it plans to protect the privacy of young users.

In light of all the bad press and attention from lawmakers, it’s possible that the company may walk back its brazen plans to boost business by bringing more underage users into the fold. Facebook is already in the hot seat with state and federal regulators in just about every way imaginable. Deep worries over the company’s future failures to protect yet another vulnerable set of users could be enough to keep these plans on the company’s back burner.

Blind raises $37M to double down on workplace gossip and career advice

Blind has carved out a unique niche in the social-networking world. It’s an app of verified, pseudonymous employees talking to each other about what’s going on at their employers, trading notes on everything from layoffs, to promotions, to policies. Part LinkedIn, part Reddit, part Slack — it’s become widely popular among tech workers at Silicon Valley companies and even outside the tech industry, with 5 million verified users.

Workplaces have changed dramatically post-COVID-19, with remote work becoming more of a norm, and that has made Blind indispensable for many workers who feel increasingly alienated from their companies and their colleagues.

The company announced this morning a $37 million Series C funding round led by South Korean venture firm Mainstreet Investment along with Cisco Investments and Pavilion Capital, a subsidiary of Singapore sovereign wealth fund Temasek. The company had filed a Form D in late March for roughly $20.5 million, and the $37 million represents the final total fundraised.

We last did a deep dive in the company back in 2018, so what’s changed? Well, first, there’s the pandemic. Co-founder and general manager Kyum Kim says that Blind’s users are now coming to the app all throughout the day. “Usage used to peak during the commute times,” he said. “8-10 AM before COVID and then after work, 7 PM-10 PM was another timeframe that people used to use Blind a lot. But now, it has kind of flattened out [throughout the day].” The new peak is 2 PM, and according to Kim, users are logging in 30 times per month over about 13-15 days.

This gets to the first of two areas where Blind is experimenting with revenue generation. As remote work has taken hold, particularly at tech companies, internal messaging channels have become less valuable as sources for clear information from executive leadership. Blind believes it has a better pulse on how employees are feeling about policies and their employers, and is building tools around, for example, pulse surveys to give HR teams better insight than they might get from other services.

“People are just more honest on our platform versus these company-sponsored channels,” Kim said. We’re “probably the only platform where people are coming voluntarily, have visibility into their intentions, how they feel about their company’s policies.” Blind wants to protect the identities of its users, while also offering aggregate insights to companies.

To that end, last week the company brought on Young Yuk as chief product officer. Yuk had been an advisor to Blind for the past four years, while daylighting in senior product roles at Intuit, Yelp, and Glassdoor. Kim believes that Yuk’s experience across consumer and enterprise will fit the unique needs of Blind’s business, which combines a consumer social network with B2B products.

For its own users though, the second area of attention is perhaps the most interesting: recruiting. Blind users are obsessed with career paths and compensation, and Kim said that “80% of our search keywords on Blind are company names or company names attached to levels, locations, or teams.” People want to know how to move their careers forward, an area companies are notoriously bad about explaining, and so “people come to Blind to find information from these verified employees.”

Blind is building what it calls “Talent by Blind,” a platform for capturing this hiring intentionality and selling it to recruiters. The goal is to transfer people whose intentions might be, say, L5 engineer at a big tech company in Seattle to a separate platform that can be used as a top-of-funnel for company recruitment efforts. Blind says a couple of companies are currently using this platform.

“Talent by Blind” is a platform to help transfer potential recruits into the top of the recruiting funnel at companies. Image Credits: Blind

Ultimately, Blind’s path has been one of slow and steady growth. The company claims to be deliberate in that approach, noting that pseudonymous communities often falter when they grow too fast and norms aren’t established early. Unlike more notorious anonymous communities from years past like Secret or YikYak, the company says that its network tends to be quite safe, since employees verify their identities and know that they are speaking directly to their colleagues.

Blind’s team has expanded in recent years. Image Credits: Blind.

Revenue approaches remain experimental, but ultimately, the key is that it has the users that companies want to hear from: their own employees and potential future employees. We want to “maintain that integrity with users,” Kim said. “‘Ally to employees and advisor to companies’ is the phrase we are trying to go for.”

“It’s been eight years we have been doing this business, [and] we have been focused on the longness,” he said. “There’s a lot of optimism in the company.” He would know — he probably checked Blind.

Clubhouse finally launches its Android app

Clubhouse finally has an Android app that you can download from the Play Store — provided you live in the U.S.

The voice-based social network launched its beta Android app on Play Store for users in the U.S. on Sunday, and said it will gradually make the new app available in other English-speaking countries and then the rest of the world.

The social network, valued at about $4 billion in its most recent fundraise, launched as an iPhone-only app last year. The app quickly gained popularity last year, attracting several high-profile celebrities, politicians, investors, and entrepreneurs.

Clubhouse began developing the Android app early this year and started to test the beta version externally this month. In a town hall earlier Sunday, the startup said availability on Android has been the most requested product feature.

“Our plan over the next few weeks is to collect feedback from the community, fix any issues we see and work to add a few final features like payments and club creation before rolling it out more broadly,” the team wrote.

Clubhouse download figures across some of its popular markets, according to estimates by mobile insight firm AppMagic. (Though Clubhouse’s precise download figures from other mobile insight firms vary, they all agree that Clubhouse app’s popularity has dropped in recent months.)

As Clubhouse struggles to maintain its growth — data from mobile insight firms including AppMagic suggests that Clubhouse installs have drastically dropped in recent months — the Android app could prove pivotal in boosting the startup’s reach across the globe.

Clubhouse could potentially — on paper — also supercharge its growth by allowing any user to join the service without an invitation. But the startup said retaining the waitlist and invite system is part of its effort to “keep the growth measured.” (Clubhouse has faced several moderation challenges in recent months.)

Clubhouse’s launch on Android comes at a time when scores of technology giants including Facebook, Twitter, Discord, Spotify, Reddit, and Microsoft’s LinkedIn, have either launched their similar offerings — or announced plans to do so.

Twitter’s clone of Clubhouse, called Spaces, has emerged as one of the biggest competitors to the A16z and Tiger Global-backed-startup. An unplanned Twitter Spaces, available on Android as well, hosted by a high-profile Indian startup founder on earlier Sunday attracted hundreds of listeners within a few minutes, for instance.

“As we head into the summer and continue to scale out the backend, we plan to begin opening up even further, welcoming millions more people in from the iOS waitlist, expanding language support, and adding more accessibility features, so that people worldwide can experience Clubhouse in a way that feels native to them,” Clubhouse team wrote.

Clubhouse’s beta Android app currently lacks a number of features such as the ability to follow a topic, in-app translations, localization, ability to create or manage a club, link Twitter and Instagram profiles, payments, as well as the ability to change the profile name or user name.

“With Android, we believe that Clubhouse will feel more complete,” read the blog post.

WhatsApp is doing fine despite months-long backlash over policy update

It’s safe to say WhatsApp didn’t have the ideal start to 2021. Less than a week into the new year, the Facebook-owned instant messaging app had already annoyed hundreds of thousands of users with its scary-worded notification about a planned policy update. The backlash grew fast and millions of people, including several high-profile figures, started to explore rival apps Signal and Telegram.

Even governments, including India’s — WhatsApp’s biggest market by users — expressed concerns. (In case of India, also an antitrust probe.) The backlash prompted WhatsApp to offer a series of clarifications and assurances to users, and it also postponed the deadline for enforcing the planned update by three months. Now with the May 15 deadline just a week away, we are able to quantify the real-world impact the aforementioned backlash had on WhatsApp’s user base: Nada.

The vast majority of users that WhatsApp has notified about the planned update in recent months have accepted the update, a WhatsApp spokesperson told TechCrunch. And the app continues to grow, added the spokesperson without sharing the exact figures. The company also didn’t share how many users it has notified about the planned update.

Facebook’s recent earnings call gives us some idea: The company’s family of apps had 3.45 billion monthly active users as of March 31, 2021, up from 3.3 billion on December 31, and 3.21 billion on September 30.

Users who don’t agree to the new terms, as TechCrunch has previously reported, won’t lose access to their accounts or any feature on May 15, WhatsApp said. But after an unspecified number of weeks, such users will lose several core functionalities — though not at the same time.

“We’ll continue to provide reminders to those users within WhatsApp in the weeks to come,” the spokesperson added.

Since 2016, WhatsApp’s privacy policies have granted the service permission to share with Facebook certain metadata such as user phone numbers and device information.

The new terms allow Facebook and WhatsApp to share payment and transaction data in order to help them better target ads as the social juggernaut broadens its e-commerce offerings and looks to merge its messaging platforms.

Twitter Tip Jar lets you pay people for good tweetin’

Twitter today confirmed earlier reports that it’s testing a new Tip Jar feature. The new addition utilizes a number of different payment platforms, including PayPal, Venmo, Patreon, Cash App and Bandcamp (all region-dependent).

“Tip Jar is an easy way to support the incredible voices that make up the conversation on Twitter,” the company wrote in a blog post confirming the news. “This is a first step in our work to create new ways for people to receive and show support on Twitter — with money.”

Currently available on both iOS and Android, the feature is designed to give users a way to quickly tip creators with a few taps. Tip Jar is beginning to roll out to select groups of users, including nonprofits, journalists, experts and creators. The company has further plans to roll it out to additional groups and languages.

For now, those using Twitter in English will be able to send a tip. Those profiles that have enabled it will show the Tip Jar icon on their profile page to the left of the Follow button. Hitting that will show a list of the aforementioned third-party money transfer apps. The opt-in feature will pop up in the mobile app, letting qualified users choose which payment platforms they’ll accept.

In addition to the above, Android users will be able to send money via Twitter’s Clubhouse competitor, Spaces. The company says it won’t be taking a percentage of those transactions.

The feature comes as the service looks to become a more well-rounded content-creation platform. In addition to the audio feature, Spaces (which recently saw a much wider roll out), Twitter has also been looking to take on the likes of Substack with its own newsletter-style offering.

 

 

BigBrain aims to bring live mobile trivia back to glory

If you ask Nik Bonaddio why he wanted to build a new mobile trivia app, his answer is simple.

“In my life, I’ve got very few true passions: I love trivia and I love sports,” Bonaddio told me. “I’ve already started a sports company, so I’ve got to start a trivia company.”

He isn’t kidding about either part of the equation. Bonaddio actually won $100,000 on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?”, which he used to start the sports analytics company numberFire (acquired by FanDuel in 2014).

And today, after a period of beta testing, Bonaddio is launching BigBrain. He’s also announcing that the startup has raised $4.5 million in seed funding from FirstRound Capital, Box Group, Ludlow Ventures, Golden Ventures and others.

Of course, you can’t mention mobile trivia without thinking of HQ Trivia, the trivia app that shut down last year after some high-profile drama and a spectacular final episode.

BigBrain

Image Credits: BigBrain

But Bonaddio said BigBrain is approaching things differently than HQ in a few key ways. For starters, although there will be a handful of free games, the majority will require users to pay to enter, with the cash rewards coming from the entry fees. (From a legal perspective, Bonaddio said this is distinct from gambling because trivia is recognized as a game of skill.)

“The free-to-play model doesn’t really work for trivia,” he argued.

In addition, there will be no live video with a live host — Bonaddio said this would “very, very difficult from a technical perspective and very cost ineffective.” Instead, he claimed the company has found a middle ground: “We have photos, we have different interactive elements, it’s not just a straight multiple choice quiz. We do try to keep it interactive.”

Plus, the simpler production means that where HQ was only hosting two quizzes a day, BigBrain will be hosting 20, with quizzes every 15 minutes at peak times.

Topics will range from old school hip hop to college football to ’90s movies, and Bonaddio said different quizzes will have different prize structures — some might be winner take all, while others might award prizes to the top 50% of participants. The average quiz will cost $2 to $3 to enter, but prices will range from free to “$20 or even $50.”

What kind of quiz might cost that much money to enter? As an example, Bonaddio said that in a survey of potential users, he found, “There are no casual ‘Rick and Morty’ fans … They’re almost completely price sensitive, and since they’ve seen every episode, they can’t fathom a world where someone knows more about ‘Rick and Morty’ than they do.”

Snap to launch a new Creator Marketplace this month, initially focused on Lens Creators

Snap on Wednesday announced its plan to soon launch a Creator Marketplace, which will make it easier for businesses to find and partner with Snapchat creators, including lens creators, AR creators and later, prominent Snapchat creators known as Snap Stars. At launch, the marketplace will focus on connecting brands and AR creators for AR ads. It will then expand to support all Snap Creators by 2022.

The company had previously helped connect its creator community with advertisers through its Snapchat Storytellers program, which first launched into pilot testing in 2018 — already a late arrival to the space. However, that program’s focus was similar to Facebook’s Brand Collabs Manager, as it focused on helping businesses find Snap creators who could produce video content.

Snap’s new marketplace, meanwhile, has a broader focus in terms of connecting all sorts of creators with the Snap advertising ecosystem. This includes Lens Creators, Developers and Partners, and then later, Snap’s popular creators with public profiles.

Snap says the Creator Marketplace will open to businesses later this month to help them partner with a select group of AR Creators in Snap’s Lens Network. These creators can help businesses build AR experiences without the need for extensive creative resources, which makes access to Snap’s AR ads more accessible to businesses, including smaller businesses without in-house developer talent.

Lens creators have already found opportunity working for businesses that want to grow their Snapchat presence — even allowing some creators to quit their day jobs and just build lens for a living. Snap has been further investing in this area of its business, having announced in December a $3.5 million fund directed towards AR Lens creation. The company said at the time there were tens of thousands of Lens creators who had collectively made over 1.5 million Lenses to date.

Using Lenses has grown more popular, too, the company had noted, saying that over 180 million people interact with a Snapchat Lens every day — up from 70 million daily active users of Lenses when the Lens Explorer section first launched in the app in 2018.

Now, Snap says that over 200 million Snapchat users interact with augmented reality on a daily basis, on average, out of its 280 million daily users. The majority (over 90%) of these users are 13-25 year olds. In total, users are posting over 5 billion Snaps per day.

Snap says the Creator Marketplace will remain focused on connecting businesses with AR Lens Creators throughout 2021.

The following year, it will expand to include the community of professional creators and storytellers who understand the current trends and interests of the Snap user base and can help businesses with their ad campaigns. The company will not take a cut of the deals facilitated through the Marketplace, it says.

This would include the creators making content for Snap’s new TikTok rival, Spotlight, which launched in November 2020. Snap encouraged adoption of the feature by shelling out $1 million per day to creators of top videos. In March 2021, over 125 million Snapchat users watched Spotlight, it says.

Image Credits: Snapchat

Spotlight isn’t the only way Snap is challenging TikTok.

The company also on Wednesday announced it’s snagging two of TikTok’s biggest stars for its upcoming Snap Originals lineup: Charli and Dixie D’Amelio. The siblings, who have gained over 20 million follows on Snapchat this past year, will star in the series “Charli vs. Dixie.” Other new Originals will feature names like artist Megan Thee Stallion, actor Ryan Reynolds, twins and influencers Niki and Gabi DeMartino, and YouTube beauty vlogger Manny Mua, among others.

Snap’s shows were watched by over 400 million people in 2020, including 93% of the Gen Z population in the U.S., it noted.

 

 

Twitter rolls out bigger images and cropping control on iOS and Android

Twitter just made a change to the way it displays images that has visual artists on the social network celebrating.

In March, Twitter rolled out a limited test of uncropped, larger images in users’ feeds. Now, it’s declared those tests a success and improved the image sharing experience for everybody.

On Twitter for Android or iOS, standard aspect ratio images (16:9 and 4:3) will now display in full without any cropping. Instead of gambling on how an image will show up in the timeline — and potentially ruining an otherwise great joke — images will look just like they did when you shot them.

Twitter’s new system will show anyone sharing an image a preview of what it will look like before it goes live in the timeline, resolving past concerns that Twitter’s algorithmic cropping was biased toward highlighting white faces.

“Today’s launch is a direct result of the feedback people shared with us last year that the way our algorithm cropped images wasn’t equitable,” Twitter spokesperson Lauren Alexander said. The new way of presenting images decreases the platform’s reliance on automatic, machine learning-based image cropping.

Super tall or wide images will still get a centered crop, but Twitter says it’s working to make that better too, along with other aspects of how visual media gets displayed in the timeline.

For visual artists like photographers and cartoonists who promote their work on Twitter, this is actually a pretty big deal. Not only will photos and other kinds of art score more real estate on the timeline, but artists can be sure that they’re putting their best tweet forward without awkward crops messing stuff up.

Twitter’s Chief Design Officer Dantley Davis celebrated by tweeting a requisite dramatic image of the Utah desert (Dead Horse Point — great spot!)

We regret to inform you that the brands are also aware of the changes.

The days of “open for a surprise” tweets might be numbered, but the long duck can finally have his day.