Headspace might just be considered an app that plays back a soothing voice to help you meditate, but the company says it is increasingly carries a more difficult technology problem as it continues to grow — and it’s hiring on a few people today to tackle it.
Headspace said it has brought on both a head of data science and a new chief technology officer today as it tries to figure out how to continue scaling across new geographies without any hiccups, in addition to making sure it grows in its core markets. Paddy Hannon and Punnoose Isaac, previously at Edmunds.com as the chief technology officer and head of data and analytics respectively, will be joining Headspace to reprise similar roles for the startup that’s trying to become a daily habit for users.
“You can go through the dot-com bubble of the 90s, over all those years, and look at how many companies built great technologies that were solutions looking for problems,” Hannon said. “I think this is a different opportunity — we’re a product company. Technology and content are there to serve the aims and goals of the company. It’s all focused on that. The tech needs to be focused on that, and the product needs to be focused on that. We think about how to transform this company into one that has a global scale that [co-founders] Andy [Puddicombe] and Rich [Pierson] envision. Their vision isn’t Andy’s voice throughout the world, their vision is building products that help people.”
As startups start to take a deeper look at their products and what kinds of interactions users have, they have to actually think about where they can start tracking what their users are doing in sensitive ways in order to improve the experience. That might mean figuring out how often they are logging in, when they are checking their progress, how long they are listening, and other examples in a non-invasive way. But another big challenge is ensuring all that is wrapped up in a way where statisticians and product people can actually easily query all that data and start doing the math on it to figure out how to improve things, and building that out will be part of Isaac’s main jobs.
The rest of the technology problems are ones that startups will typically face as they start to scale, which includes getting on hardware around the world and making sure that all that content is available when necessary. Headspace has increasingly tried to tailor its services for the time that its users have, and not the other way around, and that means making sure it’s actually working right when a user is looking to check out of reality and into a Headspace meditation — especially if it’s only just for a few minutes. Hannon said the plan, currently, is not to move onto its own proprietary infrastructure.
Hannon stressed that the data that the company would be collecting as it tries to improve its products would not be sold or used in any way other than trying to make Headspace a better experience, as the company monetizes through different ways. “While data is an important aspect of what we do, we’re not incentivized to do things with that data that would violate the trust of our consumers because they’re paying us,” Hannon said.
All this is essentially continuing moves to try to make the service more palatable and easier to use — and actually working — as it faces an increasingly crowded space market of apps looking to help users take a minute to just chill and be a bit more mindful. Calm.com, for example, is reportedly hitting a $250 million valuation in an upcoming financing round, and the company that ends up with both the best experience and content may eventually be the one that wins out. That means bringing on the right talent in order to ensure that everything runs smoothly and keeps getting better.
News Source = techcrunch.com
Siempo’s new app will break your smartphone addiction
A new app called Siempo wants to un-addict you from your smartphone and its numerous attention-stealing apps. To do so, Siempo replaces an Android device’s homescreen, while also taking advantage of a number of design principles to push distractions further away, and give you more control over your notifications.
The startup, which launched a few weeks ago on Google Play, actually began as a hardware company.
A hardware startup shifts to software
In 2015, the original co-founders Andreas Gala and Jorge Selva began developing a minimalist feature phone device called Minium, in response to their concerns with today’s always-on culture. But designing hardware from scratch is hard, so they pivoted to making a mindful smartphone called Siempo using an existing handset from China.
The following year, Siempo brought on Mayank Saxena (CTO), who previously ran data storage engineering teams at NetApp, and Andrew Dunn (now CEO), who was previously the number six employee at Flexport.
“I struggled with smartphone and social media addiction as a teenager and had been working on a wearable to help people balance their relationship with tech,” explains Dunn. And Mayank, he says, “had become increasingly concerned about raising balanced children in the digital age,” prior to joining Siempo.
Unfortunately, when the company tried raising funds on Kickstarter in 2017, it didn’t meet its goal.
What the team had underestimated was how difficult it is to convince people to switch smartphones. And in this case, it wasn’t just asking them to buy new hardware – it was a request to try a whole new type of mobile experience, too.
Although the Kickstarter failed, it had provided the team with valuable feedback.
“When we launched our Kickstarter campaign, we heard from dozens of potential backers that they loved our concept but would much prefer to try and pay for a software version on their existing devices,” says Dunn. “We knew we could still build ninety-five percent of what we wanted to, so it was a clear path to explore.”
At this point, the original co-founders moved on to other projects, leaving Dunn to take the helm.
The new project, he says, appealed to him because of the negative nature of today’s technology.
“The attention economy is making people more distracted, stressed, lonely and depressed,” Dunn says. “Big Tech is unlikely to take meaningful leadership in humane design, and individuals are at a loss for what to do because developing healthier digital habits is a long-term, manual, iterative process,” he adds.
Siempo, currently in beta, aims to address this problem with a set of features that should appeal to anyone questioning if they’ve become too addicted to their phone.
After downloading the launcher from the Play Store, you can set Siempo as your default home app – meaning, you’ll now interact with its humanely designed interface instead of the stock version from your smartphone’s maker.
To lessen your attachment to your device, Siempo reverses some of the persuasive, psychologically addicting techniques that have been built into our phone software and mobile apps by developers who specifically engineered their apps to increase user engagement, without fully understanding the ethics of that decision.
Entire OS platforms and massive social media companies like Facebook have, over the years, created systems to reward users who continually check in with their phones. These dopamine-driven feedback loops create a cycle of smartphone addiction, with users having no tools to fight back beyond their own willpower.
The world is just now starting to wake up to these mistakes, including some people who built the systems in the first place.
For instance, former Facebook president Sean Parker has said Facebook’s design exploited weakness in the human psyche to addict users, while former head of user growth turned VC Chamath Palihapitiya admitted to having “tremendous guilt” over what Facebook had become. Meanwhile, former Google exec Tristan Harris created a coalition called the Center for Humane Technology, in an effort to “realign technology with humanity’s best interests.”
And digital wellness is now a movement raking in millions.
Siempo fits in within this broader category of self-care apps focused on a more balanced use of technology.
How Siempo works
Once installed, Siempo makes your homescreen a calmer interface, without things like badged icons or colorful corporate logos. Here, you can personalize a message that appears when you unlock your phone – like a daily mantra – and in an update rolling out Wednesday, you’ll be able to set a custom background or turn on a dark mode.
One of the launcher’s key features is how it lets you batch your notifications.
Instead of allowing apps to alert you at any time they choose, you can configure your phone to send your alerts on a schedule you prefer – like every half hour, the top of the hour, or – if you want to go all in – just once per day. (You can choose which apps, if any, are allowed to break through.)
Siempo also leverages a number of design techniques to distance you from your distractions, including by unbranding app icons and turning them to greyscale.
Plus, the launcher organizes apps into a tiered menu system where distracting apps are further away on a third page, and the location of those apps is randomized upon each visit to prevent unconscious opens and usage.
“Users have reported that merely the act of identifying which apps they want to use less creates a huge shift in their relationship with that app,” notes Dunn.
The app has now been endorsed by the Center for Humane Technology as an example of humane design.
Siempo has raised funds from Backstage Capital for its project. To date, Siempo raised $555,000 for its hardware project and $400,000 for its software.
The app is free during its beta, but plans to implement a pay-as-you-want subscription starting at $1 per month – this will make the app accessible to everyone, no matter how much they can spend. The company says it’s also talking to several startup smartphone brands to become their default interface.
Longer-term, Dunn believes the Siempo experience can span platforms.
“Siempo will be a unified layer across all your tools – smartphone, desktop, tablet, wearables, etc. – protecting your attention, preventing unconscious usage and improving mental health,” he says. “We are excited to build out an A.I. interface that can learn the user’s behavior and adjust their digital world to support their goals and intentions,” Dunn adds, speaking of what he envisions Siempo can become.
“We aim to be a good, trusted, impactful tech company that is on the user’s side, respecting their wellbeing and privacy,” he says.
The app is available on Google Play, as that platform allows for this level of change and customization. A modified version may arrive on iOS in the future.
News Source = techcrunch.com
Vota turns your credit card transactions into recommendations, helps you spot fraud
Oh my god, someone’s doing Blippy again. If you’ve been around the internet as long as I have (too long), you’ll probably remember the meteoric rise of the social network for sharing your purchases, Blippy, which was hyped up to a $46.2 million valuation back in 2010 before the world realized that almost nobody wanted a dedicated network for sharing and viewing each others’ purchases. Well, guess what? Someone’s trying a Blippy-like thing again – this time, in the form of a new app called Vota which automatically records your credit card purchases and the places you visit so you can share them with friends or family, or view them privately for your own reference.
As a byproduct of this data collection, you may spot credit card fraud or other errant charges, too, or just get a handle on your spending.
But why revisit this concept now, when it failed before?
Well, there’s the argument that some startups are just “too early,” or that they could have succeeded if they had done X instead of Y. That’s coming into play here, a bit.
Plus, the younger generation is a little more comfortable with sharing financial data, as evidenced by the popularity of Venmo, where a feed shows your friends’ payments for seemingly no other reason beyond the fact that someone had to the idea to“make payments social.” (I mean, really – does anyone actually browse their Venmo feed for recommendations?)
Venmo, however, is largely a utility, and a useful one at that. It lets you pay back a friend when you’re splitting the check, the cab fare, or anything else, as well as quickly move money back to and from bank accounts.
Vota, on the other hand, is like turning your credit card transactions into check-ins.
Thankfully, it’s not publicizing them for the world to see, nor is it sharing dollar amounts, as Blippy had done.
The two left HP in 2016 with the goal of building something meaningful.
“One of the things that we came across [was that] nobody knows anything about personal finance, and so we thought, ‘well, maybe we can help with that,’” explains Kubo.
The app lets you connect your bank cards from Chase, Capital One, Wells Fargo, US Bank, Citi, and other Visa cards, to get an easy-to-read feed of what and where you’re spending – information that you can opt to share with individual friends or family members. And because it pulls in data in real-time, Vota can help you quickly spot fraud.
But Kubo admits that, in its current form, Vota could be a hard sell.
“The very first thing we learned was that people are not comfortable sharing their finances,” he says.
That’s why the app removes the dollar amount, makes sharing opt in, and allows you to selectively show or hide individual purchases. It also won’t share some transactions, like online purchases.
But that may not be enough.
There is, arguably, value in seeing a cleaned-up, pretty feed of users’ check-ins. Foursquare’s Swarm does this with some success, for example, as it’s a way of keeping up with friends, and learning about cool places to visit in a sort of indirect way.
But linking a credit card and automating the process will likely give users pause, especially at time when our personal data has been slurped up repeatedly for unscrupulous reasons. To get regular folks to try an app like this, they’ll need a better reason than it being a “useful journal of transactions” or a way to explore what friends are doing.
The company is considering those other paths. In fact, Kubo says that the original idea was to develop a personal finance insights app, but user behavior during the beta led them to focus more heavily on the social portion.
It’s a case of following the data instead of your gut.
However, Vota aims to roll out other features that could broaden its appeal. For example, it may work on features to help people find ways to save – like by highlighting subscriptions you forgot about; or it may automate expense reports for businesses.
The goal is to roll out a set of premium features like this, rather than use the data to target you with ads or offers to monetize Vota (which is boostrapped and not making money today).
These actually sound like better ideas.
An app that shows me all the iTunes subscriptions I forgot about, or helps me to cancel HBO NOW when Game of Thrones ends would be handy – especially if it also alerted me to suspicious transitions and fraud, while helping me budget and track trends. Selective private sharing could also be useful for spouses or partners who are pooling their finances, or need a way to coordinate their spending.
But much of what could make Vota interesting or mainstream-friendly isn’t built yet. And that makes Vota’s launch feel a little early, too.
News Source = techcrunch.com
A leaked look at Facebook’s influencer search engine for advertisers
Facebook’s next money-maker could be this tool for connecting marketers to social media creators so they can team up on sponsored content Facebook ad campaigns. The Branded Content Matching search engine lets advertisers select the biographical characteristics of creators’ fans they want to reach, see stats about these audiences, and contact them to hammer out deals.
Leaked screenshots of Facebook’s promotional materials for the tool were first attained and published in german by AllFacebook.de. TechCrunch has now confirmed with Facebook the existence of the test of the search engine. Facebook first vaguely noted it would build a creator-brand tool in March, but now we know what it looks like and exactly how it works.
Even though Facebook will not actually broker or initially take a cut of the deals, the tool could equip brands with much more compelling and original marketing content. That could in turn encourage them to spend more on Facebook ads to spread that content, while also making the ads users see more entertaining and tolerable so they spend longer on the social network. By getting creators paid, even if not directly by Facebook, they’ll invest more in the quality of their content and size of their following on the app instead of with competitors.
How Facebook’s influencer marketing search engine works
A Facebook spokesperson explained the motive behind the tool like this. Facebook wants to help businesses find creators who can reach their target audience in an authentic way, while allowing creators a path to monetizing their Facebook content and fan base. Creators opt in to participating in the test and set up a portfolio showcasing their audience size and metrics plus their best branded content. Facebook is starting the program primarily with a set of lifestyle brands and creators.
Advertisers in the test can search for creators with specific audience demographics using a wide range of targeting options. Those include both general and industry-specific parameters like:
- Top countries where they’re popular
- Education history
- Relationship status
- Life events
- Home ownership status
- Home type
The search engine’s results page shows a list of creators with each’s audience match percentage to the search terms, percentage of their followers they reach, engagement rate, follower count, and video views. Advertisers can save their best matches to private lists, and reach out to contact the creators, though Facebook is still figuring out if it’s best to connect them through their Facebook Page or traditional contact info. One question is how Facebook will ensure it’s only connecting businesses to brand-safe creators who won’t get them in trouble by posting racist, sexist, or objectionable content the way star YouTuber PewDiePie did.
The deals for product placement or sponsored content creation and sharing are then worked out between the brand and creator without Facebook’s involvement. The platform is not taking any revenue cut during the testing phase, but longer-term will evaluate whether it should. The only thing Facebook doesn’t allow is pure re-sharing deals where influencers are paid to just post the brand’s pre-made content they didn’t help create.
The crowsourced future of advertising
Foreshadowed the launch of its dedicated Facebook Creator app in November, this is the company’s first serious foray into influencer marketing. This emerging industry holds the potential to overhaul the way advertising content is produced. In days of old, brands couldn’t target very narrow segments of their customers since they were using broadcast mediums like TV commercials, magazine ads, and billboards, or endoresements from mainstream celebrity like movie actors. They might only make a few separate styles of marketing compaigns that would appeal to wide swaths of their target audience.
With the Internet and targeting data-rich social networks like Facebook, they can reach extremely specific subsets of their customers with marketing messages tuned to their identity. But reaching these niche audiences with corporate content that feels authentic rather than fake and smarmy is difficult. That’s where social media creators come in. Not only do they have a pre-existing and intimate relationship with their fans who’ll take their endorsements to heart. They’ve also already spent years figuring out exactly what type of content appeals to these specific people. When they team up with brands, the businesses get their products recontextualized and interpreted for that audience with content they could never come up with themselves.
Twitter realized this early, which is why it acquired creator-brand deal broker Niche for a reported $50 million back in 2015. [Disclosure: I got fascinated with this industry because my cousin Darren Lachtman is one of the co-founders of Niche] But now as Facebook seeks to attract influencers and their audiences to its social network, it’s trying to find ways to get them paid. Otherwise, they’re likely to stray to YouTube’s ad revenue shares and Patreon’s subscription payments. So far Facebook has tested tipping and subscriptions from fans, as well as letting creators host ad breaks — essentially commercials — during their videos. But brands want the creators’ help designing the content, not just distributing it.
But what about Instagram and YouTube influencers?
The Branded Content Matching search engine will help brands find those creators…but only on Facebook for now. The tool doesn’t pull in their audience sizes and metrics from other important platforms like Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, or Twitch. Brands don’t get a holistic view of the value and reach of a creator, who might be way more popular on another platform than Facebook.
And really, Instagram is where all these influencers spend their time and share their content. Though Facebook owns it, it says it’s not showing Instagram influencers in the tool at the moment. Adding them in, the same way advertisers can push ads to Facebook and Instagram from one interface, would make the search engine much more powerful.
There’s already a whole industry of independent creator search engines and databases for marketers like Hypr, Whalar, Fohr Card, Tap Influence, and Creator IQ. If Facebook built one with first-party data from across its properties, or even pulled stats from competing platforms, it might squash these startups. Alternatively, it might buy one to ramp up its efforts here like how Twitter bought Niche.
Facebook is running out of ad inventory in the News Feed. It needs to make each ad better and more watchable so it can grow revenue by charging more per ads rather than selling more ads. Meanwhile, yesterday it started testing ads in Facebook Stories, where brands will need help navigating the more personal, vertical video format. Awesome content made by creators could be the answer. And Facebook could finally start helping more of these artists, comedians, and storytellers to turn their passion into a profession.
News Source = techcrunch.com
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