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.

Freemium isn’t a trend — it’s the future of SaaS

As the COVID-19 lockdowns cascaded around the world last spring, companies large and small saw demand slow to a halt seemingly overnight. Enterprises weren’t comfortable making big, long-term commitments when they had no clue what the future would hold.

Innovative SaaS companies responded quickly by making their products available for free or at a steep discount to boost demand.

While Zoom gets all the attention, there were hundreds of free SaaS tools to help folks through the pandemic. Pluralsight ran a #FreeApril campaign, offering free access to its platform for all of April. Cloudflare made its Teams product free from March until September 1, 2020. GitHub went free for teams in April and slashed the price of its paid Team plan.

A selection of new free, free trial and low-priced offerings from leading SaaS companies. Image Credits: Kyle Poyar/OpenView.

The free products were aimed squarely at end users — whether it be a developer, individual marketer, sales rep or someone else at the edge of an organization. These end users were stuck at home during the pandemic, yet they desperately needed software to power their working lives.

End users prefer to do the vast majority of their research online before ever talking to a sales rep, making free products the ideal way to reach them.

End users prefer to do the vast majority of their research online before ever talking to a sales rep, making free products the ideal way to reach them. Many end users want to jump straight into a product, no hassle or credit card or budget approval required.

After they’ve set up an account and customized it for their workflow, end users have essentially already made a purchase decision with their time — all without ever feeling like they were in an active buying cycle.

An end user-focused free offering became an essential SaaS survival strategy in 2020.

But these free offerings didn’t go away as lockdowns loosened up. SaaS companies instead doubled down on freemium because they realized that doing so had a real and positive impact on their business. In doing so, they busted the outdated myths that have held 82% of SaaS companies back from offering their own free plan.

Myth: A free offering will cannibalize paying customers

GoDaddy is a digital behemoth, known for being a ’90s-era pioneer in web domains as well as for their controversial Super Bowl ads. The company has steadily diversified into business software, now generating roughly $700 million in ARR from its business applications segment and reaching millions of paying customers. There are very few businesses that would see greater potential revenue cannibalization from launching a free product than GoDaddy.

But GoDaddy didn’t let fear stop them from testing freemium when lockdowns set in. Freemium started out as a small-scale experiment in spring 2020 for the websites and marketing product. GoDaddy has since increased the experiment to 50% of U.S. website traffic, with plans to scale to 100% of U.S. traffic and open availability to other markets in 2021.

From bootstrapped to a $2.1B valuation, ReCharge raises $227M for subscription management platform

ReCharge, a provider of subscription management software for e-commerce, announced today that it has raised $227 million in a Series B growth round at a $2.1 billion valuation. 

Summit Partners, ICONIQ Growth and Bain Capital Ventures provided the capital.

Notably, Santa Monica, California-based ReCharge was bootstrapped for several years before raising $50 million in a previously undisclosed Series A from Summit Partners in January of 2020. And, it’s currently cash flow positive, according to company execs. With this round, ReCharge has raised a total of $277 million in funding.

Over the years, the company’s SaaS platform has evolved from a subscription billing/payments platform to include a broader set of offerings aimed at helping e-commerce businesses boost revenues and cut operating costs.

Specifically, ReCharge’s cloud-based software is designed to give e-commerce merchants a way to offer and manage subscriptions for physical products. It also aims to help these brands, primarily direct to consumer companies, grow by providing them with ways to “easily” add subscription offerings to their business with the goal of turning one-time purchasers “into loyal, repeat customers.”

The company has some impressive growth metrics, no doubt in part driven by the COVID-19 pandemic’s push to all things digital. ReCharge’s ARR grew 146% in 2020, while revenue grew over 136% over the same period, according to co-founder and CEO Oisin O’Connor, although he declined to reveal hard numbers. The startup has 15,000 customers and 20 million subscribers across 180 countries on its platform. Customers include Harry’s, Oatly, Fiji Water, Billie and Native. But even prior to the pandemic, it had doubled its processing volume each year for the past five years and has processed over $5.3 billion in transactions since its 2014 inception.

ReCharge also has 328 employees, up from 140 in January of 2020.

“We saw many brick and mortar stores, such as Oatly, offer their products through subscriptions as a result of the pandemic in 2020,” O’Connor told TechCrunch. “Certain categories such as food & beverage and pet foods were some of the fastest growing segments in total subscriber count, with 100% and 147% increases, respectively, as non-discretionary spending shifted online.”

He was surprised to see that growth also extend beyond the most obvious categories. For example, ReCharge saw beauty care products subscribers grow by 120% last year.

“Overall, we saw a 91% subscriber growth in 2020 across the board in all categories of subscriptions,” O’Connor told TechCrunch. “We believe there is a combination of factors at play: the pandemic, the rise of physical subscriptions and the rise of direct-to-consumer buying.”

ReCharge plans to use its fresh capital to accelerate hiring in both R&D (engineering and product) and go-to-market functions such as sales, marketing and customer success. It plans to continue its expansion into other e-commerce platforms such as BigCommerce, Salesforce Commerce Cloud and Magento, and outside of North America into other geographic markets, starting with Europe. ReCharge also plans to “broaden” its acquisition scope so that it can “accelerate” its time-to-market in certain domains, according to O’Connor, and of course build upon its products and services.

Yoonkee Sull, partner at ICONIQ Growth, said his firm has been watching the rapid rise of subscription commerce for several years “as more merchants have looked for ways to deepen relationships with loyal customers and consumers increasingly have sought out more convenient and flexible ways to buy from their favorite brands.”

Ultimately, ICONIQ is betting on its belief that ReCharge “will continue to take significant share in a fast-growing market,” he told TechCrunch.

Sull believes the ReCharge team identified the subscription e-commerce opportunity early on and addresses the numerous nuanced needs of the market with “a fully-featured product that uniquely enables both the smallest merchants and largest brands to easily adopt and scale with their platform.”

Andrew Collins, managing director at Summit Partners, was impressed that the company saw so much growth without external capital for years, due to its “efficiency and discipline.”

The ReCharge team identified a true product-market fit and built a product that customers love — which has fueled strong organic growth as the business has scaled,” Collins added.

Facebook launches Neighborhoods, a Nextdoor clone

Facebook is launching a new section of its app designed to connect neighbors and curate neighborhood-level news. The new feature, predictably called Neighborhoods, is available now in Canada and will be rolling out soon for U.S. users to test.

As we reported previously, Neighborhoods has technically been around since at least October of last year, but that limited test only recruited residents of Calgary, Canada.

On Neighborhoods, Facebook users can create a separate sub-profile and can populate it with interests and a custom bio. You can join your own lower-case neighborhood and nearby neighborhoods and complain about porch pirates, kids these days, or whatever you’d otherwise be doing on Nextdoor.

Aware of the intense moderation headaches on Nextdoor, Facebook says that it will have a set of moderators dedicated to Neighborhoods to will review comments and posts to keep matters “relevant and kind.” Within Neighborhoods neighborhoods, deputized users can steer and strike up conversations and do some light moderation, it sounds like. The new corner of Facebook will also come with blocking features.

As far as privacy goes, well, it’s Facebook. Neighborhoods isn’t its own standalone app and will naturally be sharing your neighborly behavior to serve you targeted ads elsewhere.

For Trump and Facebook, judgment day is around the corner

Facebook unceremoniously confiscated Trump’s biggest social media megaphone months ago, but the former president might be poised to snatch it back.

Facebook’s Oversight Board, an external Supreme Court-like policy decision making group, will either restore Trump’s Facebook privileges or banish him forever on Wednesday. Whatever happens, it’s a huge moment for Facebook’s nascent experiment in outsourcing hard content moderation calls to an elite group of global thinkers, academics and political figures and allowing them to set precedents that could shape the world’s biggest social networks for years to come.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Trump’s suspension from Facebook in the immediate aftermath of the Capitol attack. It was initially a temporary suspension, but two weeks later Facebook said that the decision would be sent to the Oversight Board. “We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in January.

Facebook’s VP of Global Affairs Nick Clegg, a former British politician, expressed hope that the board would back the company’s own conclusions, calling Trump’s suspension an “unprecedented set of events which called for unprecedented action.”

Trump inflamed tensions and incited violence on January 6, but that incident wasn’t without precedent. In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed by Minneapolis police, President Trump ominously declared on social media “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” a threat of imminent violence with racist roots that Facebook declined to take action against, prompting internal protests at the company.

The former president skirted or crossed the line with Facebook any number of times over his four years in office, but the platform stood steadfastly behind a maxim that all speech was good speech, even as other social networks grew more squeamish.

In a dramatic address in late 2019, Zuckerberg evoked Martin Luther King Jr. as he defended Facebook’s anything goes approach. “In times of social turmoil, our impulse is often to pull back on free expression,” Zuckerberg said. “We want the progress that comes from free expression, but not the tension.” King’s daughter strenuously objected.

A little over a year later, with all of Facebook’s peers doing the same and Trump leaving office, Zuckerberg would shrink back from his grand free speech declarations.

In 2019 and well into 2020, Facebook was still a roiling hotbed of misinformation, conspiracies and extremism. The social network hosted thousands of armed militias organizing for violence and a sea of content amplifying QAnon, which moved from a fringe belief on the margins to a mainstream political phenomenon through Facebook.

Those same forces would converge at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 for a day of violence that Facebook executives characterized as spontaneous, even though it had been festering openly on the platform for months.

 

How the Oversight Board works

Facebook’s Oversight Board began reviewing its first cases last October. Facebook can refer cases to the board, like it did with Trump, but users can also appeal to the board to overturn policy decisions that affect them after they exhaust the normal Facebook or Instagram appeals process. A five member subset of its 20 total members evaluate whether content should be allowed to remain on the platform and then reach a decision, which the full board must approve by a majority vote. Initially, the Oversight Board was only empowered to reinstate content removed on Facebook and Instagram, but in mid-April began accepting requests to review controversial content that stayed up.

Last month, the Oversight Board replaced departing member Pamela Karlan, a Stanford professor and voting rights scholar critical of Trump, who left to join the Biden administration. Karlan’s replacement, PEN America CEO Susan Nossel, wrote an op-ed in the LA Times in late January arguing that extending a permanent ban on Trump “may feel good” but that decision would ultimately set a dangerous precedent. Nossel joined the board too late to participate in the Trump decision.

The Oversight Board’s earliest batch of decisions leaned in the direction of restoring content that’s been taken down — not upholding its removal. While the board’s other decisions are likely to touch on the full spectrum of frustration people have with Facebook’s content moderation preferences, they come with far less baggage than the Trump decision. In one instance, the Oversight Board voted to restore an image of a woman’s nipples used in the context of a breast cancer post. In another, the board decided that a quote from a famous Nazi didn’t merit removal because it wasn’t an endorsement of Nazi ideology. In all cases, the Oversight Board can issue policy recommendations, but Facebook isn’t obligated to implement them — just the decisions.

Befitting its DNA of global activists, political figures and academics, the Oversight Board’s might have ambitions well beyond one social network. Earlier this year, Oversight Board co-chair and former Prime Minister of Denmark Helle Thorning-Schmidt declared that other social media companies would be “welcome to join” the project, which is branded in a conspicuously Facebook-less way. (The group calls itself the “Oversight Board” though everyone calls it the “Facebook Oversight Board.”)

“For the first time in history, we actually have content moderation being done outside one of the big social media platforms,” Thorning-Schmidt declared, grandly. “That in itself… I don’t hesitate to call it historic.”

Facebook’s decision to outsource some major policy decisions is indeed an experimental one, but that experiment is just getting started. The Trump case will give Facebook’s miniaturized Supreme Court an opportunity to send a message, though whether the takeaway is that it’s powerful enough to keep a world leader muzzled or independent enough to strike out from its parent and reverse the biggest social media policy decision ever made remains to be seen.

If Trump comes back, the company can shrug its shoulders and shirk another PR firestorm, content that its experiment in external content moderation is legitimized. If the board doubles down on banishing Trump, Facebook will rest easy knowing that someone else can take the blowback this round in its most controversial content call to date. For Facebook, for once, it’s a win-win situation.

 

Epic Games buys artist community ArtStation, drops commissions to 12%

One the same day as Fortnite maker Epic Games goes to trial with one of the biggest legal challenges to the App Store’s business model to date, it has simultaneously announced the acquisition of the artist portfolio community ArtStation — and immediately lowered the commissions on sales. Now standard creators on ArtStation will see the same 12% commission rate found in Epic’s own Games Store for PCs, instead of the 30% it was before. This reduced rate is meant to serve as an example the wider community as to what a “reasonable” commission should look like. This could become a point of comparison with the Apple App Store’s 30% commission for larger developers like Epic as the court case proceeds.

ArtStation today offers a place for creators across gaming, media, and entertainment to showcase their work and find new jobs. The company has had a long relationship with Epic Games, as many ArtStation creators work with Epic’s Unreal Engine. However, ArtStation has also been a home to 2D and 3D creators across verticals, including those who don’t work with Unreal Engine.

The acquisition won’t change that, the team says in its announcement. Instead, the deal will expand the opportunities for creators to monetize their work. Most notably, that involves the commission drop. For standard creators, the fees will drop from 30% to 12%. For Pro members (who pay $9.95/mo for a subscription), the commission goes even lower — from 20% to 8%. And for self-promoted sales, the fees will be just 5%. ArtEngine’s streaming video service, ArtStation Learning, will also be free for the rest of 2021, the company notes.

The slashed commission, however, is perhaps the most important change Epic is making to ArtStation because it gives Epic a specific example as to how it treats its own creator communities. It will likely reference the acquisition and the commission changes during its trial with Apple, along with its own Epic Games Store and its similarly low rate. Already, Epic’s move had prompted Microsoft to lower its cut on game sales, too, having recently announced a similar 30% to 12% drop.

In the trial, Epic Games will try to argue that Apple has a monopoly on the iOS app ecosystem and it abuses its market power to force developers to use Apple’s payment systems and pay it commissions on the sales and in-app purchases that flow through those systems. Epic Games, like several other larger app makers, would rather use its own payment systems to avoid the commission — or at the very least, be able to point users to a website where they can pay directly. But Apple doesn’t allow this, per its App Store guidelines.

Last year, Epic Games triggered Fortnite’s App Store expulsion by introducing a new direct way to pay on mobile devices which offered a steep discount. It was a calculated move. Both Apple and Google immediately banned the game for violating their respective app store policies, as a result. And then Epic sued.

While Epic’s fight is technically with both Apple and Google, it has focused more of its energy on the former because Android devices allow sideloading of apps (a means of installing apps directly), and Apple does not.

Meanwhile, Apple’s argument is that Epic Games agreed to Apple’s terms and guidelines and then purposefully violated them in an effort to get a special deal. But Apple says the guidelines apply to all developers equally, and Epic doesn’t get an exception here.

However, throughout the course of the U.S. antitrust investigations into big tech, it was discovered that Apple did, in fact, make special deals in the past. Emails shared by the House Judiciary Committee as a part of an investigation revealed that Apple had agreed to a 15% commission for Amazon’s Prime Video app at the start, when typically subscription video apps are 30% in year one, then 15% in year two and beyond. (Apple says Amazon simply qualified for a new program.) Plus, other older emails revealed Apple had several discussions about raising commissions even higher than 30%, indicating that Apple believed its commission rate had some flex.

Ahead of today’s acquisition by Epic Games, ArtStation received a “Megagrant” from Epic during the height of the pandemic to help it through an uncertain period. This could may have pushed the two companies to further discuss deeper ties going forward.

“Over the last seven years, we’ve worked hard to enable creators to showcase their work, connect with opportunities and make a living doing what they love,” said Leonard Teo, CEO and co-founder of ArtStation, in a statement. “As part of Epic, we will be able to advance this mission and give back to the community in ways that we weren’t able to on our own, while retaining the ArtStation name and spirit.”

What3Words sends legal threat to a security researcher for sharing an open-source alternative

A U.K. company behind digital addressing system What3Words has sent a legal threat to a security researcher for offering to share an open-source software project with other researchers, which What3Words claims violate its copyright.

Aaron Toponce, a systems administrator at XMission, received a letter on Thursday from a law firm representing What3Words, requesting that he delete tweets related to the open source alternative, WhatFreeWords. The letter also demands that he disclose to the law firm the identity of the person or people with whom he had shared a copy of the software, agree that he would not make any further copies of the software, and to delete any copies of the software he had in his possession.

The letter gave him until May 7 to agree, after which What3Words would “waive any entitlement it may have to pursue related claims against you,” a thinly-veiled threat of legal action.

“This is not a battle worth fighting,” he said in a tweet. Toponce told TechCrunch that he has complied with the demands, fearing legal repercussions if he didn’t. He has also asked the law firm twice for links to the tweets they want deleting but has not heard back. “Depending on the tweet, I may or may not comply. Depends on its content,” he said.

The legal threat sent to Aaron Toponce. (Image: supplied)

U.K.-based What3Words divides the entire world into three-meter squares and labels each with a unique three-word phrase. The idea is that sharing three words is easier to share on the phone in an emergency than having to find and read out their precise geographic coordinates.

But security researcher Andrew Tierney recently discovered that What3Words would sometimes have two similarly-named squares less than a mile apart, potentially causing confusion about a person’s true whereabouts. In a later write-up, Tierney said What3Words was not adequate for use in safety-critical cases.

It’s not the only downside. Critics have long argued that What3Words’ proprietary geocoding technology, which it bills as “life-saving,” makes it harder to examine it for problems or security vulnerabilities.

Concerns about its lack of openness in part led to the creation of the WhatFreeWords. A copy of the project’s website, which does not contain the code itself, said the open-source alternative was developed by reverse-engineering What3Words. “Once we found out how it worked, we coded implementations for it for JavaScript and Go,” the website said. “To ensure that we did not violate the What3Words company’s copyright, we did not include any of their code, and we only included the bare minimum data required for interoperability.”

But the project’s website was nevertheless subjected to a copyright takedown request filed by What3Words’ counsel. Even tweets that pointed to cached or backup copies of the code were removed by Twitter at the lawyers’ requests.

Toponce — a security researcher on the side — contributed to Tierney’s research, who was tweeting out his findings as he went. Toponce said that he offered to share a copy of the WhatFreeWords code with other researchers to help Tierney with his ongoing research into What3Words. Toponce told TechCrunch that receiving the legal threat may have been a combination of offering to share the code and also finding problems with What3Words.

In its letter to Toponce, What3Words argues that WhatFreeWords contains its intellectual property and that the company “cannot permit the dissemination” of the software.

Regardless, several websites still retain copies of the code and are easily searchable through Google, and TechCrunch has seen several tweets linking to the WhatFreeWords code since Toponce went public with the legal threat. Tierney, who did not use WhatFreeWords as part of his research, said in a tweet that What3Words’ reaction was “totally unreasonable given the ease with which you can find versions online.”

We asked What3Words if the company could point to a case where a judicial court has asserted that WhatFreeWords has violated its copyright. What3Words spokesperson Miriam Frank did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Atlassian launches a Jira for every team

Atlassian today announced a new edition of its Jira project management tool, Jira Work Management. The company has long been on a journey of bringing Jira to teams beyond the software development groups it started out with. With Jira Service Management, it is successfully doing that with IT teams. With Jira Core, it also moved further in this direction, but Jira Work Management takes this a step further (and will replace Jira Core). The idea here is to offer a version of Jira that enables teams across marketing, HR, finance, design and other groups to manage their work and — if needed — connect it to that of a company’s development teams.

“JIRA Software’s this de-facto standard,” Atlassian’s VP of Product Noah Wasmer told me. “We’re making just huge inroads with JIRA Service Management right now, bringing IT teams into that loop. We have over 100,000 customers now on those two products. So it’s really doing incredibly well. But one of the things that CIOs say is that it’s really tough to put JIRA Software in front of an HR team and the legal team. They often ask, what is code? What is a pull request?”

Image Credits: Atlassian

Wasmer also noted that even though Jira Software is specifically meant for developers, about half of its users are already in other teams that work with these development teams. “We think that [Jira Work Management] gives them the more contextually relevant tool — a tool that actually helps them accelerate and move faster,” Wasmer said.

With Jira Work Management, the company is looking at making it easier for any team to track and manage their work in what Wasmer described as a “universal system and family of product.” As company’s look at how to do remote and hybrid work, Atlassian believes that they’ll need this kind of core product to keep track of the work that is being done. But it’s also about the simple fact that every business is now a software business and while every team’s work touches upon this, marketing and design teams often still work in their own silos.

Image Credits: Atlassian

These different teams, though, also have quite different expectations of the user interface they need to manage their work most effectively. So while Jira Work Management features all of the automation features and privacy controls of its brethren, it is based around a slightly different and simplified user interface than Jira Software, for example.

What’s even more important, though, is that Jira Work Management offers a variety of views for teams to enter and manipulate their data. To get new users onboarded quickly, Atlassian built a set of templates for some of the most common use cases it expects, though users are obviously free to customize all these different views to their hearts’ — and business needs’ — content.

Atlassian also changed some of the language around Jira tickets. There are no ‘stories’ and ‘bugs’ in Jira Work Management (unless you add them yourself) and instead, these templates use words like ‘tasks,’ ‘assets’ (for design use cases) or ‘candidates’ (for HR).

Image Credits: Atlassian

Given the fact that spreadsheets are the universal language of business, it’s maybe no surprise that the List view is core here, with an Excel/Airtable-like experience that should immediately feel familiar to any business user. It’s in-line editable and completely abstracts away the usual Jira ticket, even though underneath, it’s the same taxonomy and infrastructure.

“We really wanted people to walk into this product and just understand that there is work that needs to be done,” Chase Wilson, the head of product marketing for Jira Work Management, said. He noted that the team worked on making the experience feel snappy.

Image Credits: Atlassian

The other view available are pretty straightforward a calendar and Gantt chart-like timeline view, as well as the traditional Kanban board that has long been at the core of Jira (and Agile in general).

Jira Work Management also lets users build forms, using a drag and drop editor that makes it easy for anybody inside an organization to build forms and collect requests that way. Only a few weeks ago, Atlassian announced the acquisition of ThinkTilt, the company behind the popular no-code from builder ProForma and it looks like it is already putting this acquisition to work here.

As Wasmer stressed, Jira Work Management is meant to help different teams get work done in a way that works best for them. But because Jira is now a family of products, it also enables a lot more cross-team collaboration. That means a development team that is working on implementing a GDPR requirement can now build a workflow that ties in with the project board for a legal team that then allows legal to hold up a software release until it approves this new feature.

“We hear about this all the time today,” he said. “They just stick the legal team into JIRA Software — and it over-inundates them with information that’s not relevant to what they’re trying to get done. Now we can expose them. And we also then get that legal team, that marketing team, exposed to different templates for different work. What they’re finding is that once they get used to it for that must-do use case, they start saying: Well, hey, why don’t I use this for contract approvals at the end of the quarter?'”

Image Credits: Atlassian

As for pricing, Atlassian follows its same standard template here, offering a free tier for teams with up to 10 users and then the paid tiers start at $5/user/month, with discounts for larger teams.

Looking ahead, Atlassian plans to add more reporting capabilities, native approvals for faster signoffs and more advanced functionality across the new work views.

It’s worth noting that Jira Work Management is the first product to come out of Point A, Atlassian’s new innovation program “dedicated to connecting early adopter customers with product teams to build the next generation of teamwork tools.”

Social networking app for women Peanut adds live audio rooms

Mobile social networking app for women, Peanut, is today becoming the latest tech company to integrate audio into its product following the success of Clubhouse. Peanut, which began with a focus on motherhood, has expanded over the years to support women through all life stages, including pregnancy, marriage and even menopause. It sees its voice chat feature, which it’s calling “Pods,” as a way women on its app can make better connections in a more supportive, safer environment than other platforms may provide.

The pandemic, of course, likely drove some of the interest in audio-based social networking, as people who had been stuck at home found it helped to fill the gap that in-person networking and social events once did. However, voice chat social networking leader Clubhouse has since seen its model turned into what’s now just a feature for companies like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, LinkedIn, Discord, and others to adopt.

Like many of the Clubhouse clones to date, Peanut’s Pods offer the basics, including a muted audience of listeners who virtually “raise their hand” to speak, emoji reactions, and hosts who can moderate the conversations and invite people to speak, among other things. The company, for now, is doing its own in-house moderation on the audio pods, to ensure the conversations don’t violate the company’s terms. In time, it plans to scale to include other moderators. (The company pays over two dozen moderators to help it manage the rest of its app, but this team has not yet been trained on audio, Peanut notes.)

Though there are similarities with Clubhouse in its design, what Peanut believes will differentiate its audio experience from the rest of the pack is where these conversations are taking place — on a network designed for women built with safety and trust in mind. It’s also a network where chasing clout is not the reason people participate.

Traditional social networks are often based on how many likes you have, how many followers you have, or if you’re verified with a blue check, explains Peanut founder CEO Michelle Kennedy.

“It’s kind of all based around status and popularity,” she says. “What we’ve only ever seen on Peanut is this ‘economy of care,’ where women are really supportive of one another. It’s really never been about, ‘I’ve got X number of followers.’ We don’t even have that concept. It’s always been about: ‘I need support; I have this question; I’m lonely or looking for a friend;’ or whatever it might be,” Kennedy adds.

In Peanut Pods, the company says it will continue to enforce the safety standards that make women feel comfortable social networking. This focus in particular could attract some of the women, and particularly women of color, who have been targeted with harassment on other voice-based networking platforms.

“The one thing I would say is we’re a community, and we have standards,” notes Kennedy. “When you have standards and you let everyone know what those standards are, it’s very clear. You’re allowed an opinion but what you’re not allowed to do are listed here…Here are the things we expect of you as a user and we’ll reward you if you do it and if you don’t, we’re going to ask you to leave,” she says.

Freedom of speech is not what Peanut’s about, she adds.

“We have standards and we ask you to adhere to them,” says Kennedy.

In time, Peanut envisions using the audio feature to help connect women with people who have specific expertise, like lactation consultants for new moms or fertility doctors, for example. But these will not be positioned as lectures where listeners are held hostage as a speaker drones on and on. In fact, Peanut’s design does away with the “stage” concept from Clubhouse to give everyone equal status — whether they’re speaking or not.

In the app, users will be able to find interesting chats based on what topics they’re already following — and, importantly, they can avoid being shown other topics by muting them.

The Pods feature is rolling out to Peanut’s app starting today, where it will reach the company’s now 2 million-plus users. It will be free to use, like all of Peanut, though the company plans to eventually launch a freemium model with some paid products further down the road.

Adobe launches a new, simplified digital asset manager

Adobe today announced the launch of a new asset management tool, Adobe Experience Manager Assets Essentials. That’s a mouthful, but while the company didn’t necessarily simplify the name, the idea here is to give teams that work with lots of digital assets an easier-to-use management experience in the Adobe Experience Cloud than Adobe’s current enterprise-centric asset management tool can offer.

In addition, Adobe is also launching the first tool to integrate this new experience: the Adobe Journey Optimizer. This new tool is meant to help users leverage their customer data to build out customer journeys and figure out the best ways to deliver messages and content along that journey.

“The push towards digital content and building these richer, engaging experiences — customers expect it,” Elliot Sedegah, director of Strategy and Product Marketing, Adobe, told me. “Almost every interaction that you go along, you expect a rich experience. And not only at that point of just having richer material, like images or video, etc., but you expect it at every point of interaction with that customer. So that customer, if you think of it, isn’t just interacting with a brand, but our customers, they think of it as a customer journey. So using the same content, from awareness to conversion to post-sale and loyalty — they expect that same story to maintain. And it’s getting increasingly hard to get to all the different touchpoints.”

Image Credits: Adobe

Like with similar products, the idea here is to create a centralized, collaborative space for content creators and the teams that use their work. In that respect, this new tool isn’t necessarily all that different from other shared online file management services. But Adobe is also leveraging some of its unique capabilities. It’s using its AI smarts and Adobe Sensei platform to help users organize and tag their assets, for example, to make them more easily searchable. And the new tool is integrated with Adobe Asset Link, so creative professionals can search, browse and edit these assets directly from Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and XD without having to switch context.

As Sedegah noted, not too long ago, it was mostly the creative teams and marketing that were involved in the content creation and management process. But today, this group also includes sales teams and customer support, for example, and the pandemic only accelerated this process.

Image Credits: Adobe

“[Our customers] have been forced to rethink their business models, rethink the way that they engage with customers — and it essentially accelerated this digital-everywhere process of the experiences customers get, the agility that customers expect from businesses, and then the number of people — and how they work — leveraging that content.”

So while Adobe’s enterprise asset management tools worked just fine before, the company’s users were telling it that it needed to do a better job at creating tools that made its asset management technology easier to use by more teams.

The first tool to integrate this new asset management experience directly is the Journey Optimizer. “That was a great opportunity for us to rethink that user experience that our customers wanted to deliver — and then make it easier for that person to do,” Sedegah said. “So as you’re building out a content journey — or maybe you’re designing a piece of content that’s going to get sent to maybe a customer as they engage with a brand — the digital assets appear right there for that author to use.”

Next up for integration is Workfront, the work management platform Adobe acquired last year. There’s an obvious synergy here between Workfront’s abilities to manage the planning, review and approval stages of a project and an asset management system like this.

The long-term strategy, though, is to integrate this experience across all Experience Cloud applications.