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February 24, 2019
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Pinstagram? Instagram code reveals Public Collections feature

in Apps/Delhi/India/instagram/mobile/Pinterest/Politics/Social/Startups by

Instagram is threatening to attack Pinterest just as it files to go public the same way the Facebook-owned app did to Snapchat. Code buried in Instagram for Android shows the company has prototyped an option to create public “Collections” to which multiple users can contribute. Instagram launched private Collections two years ago to let you Save and organize your favorite feed posts. But by allowing users to make Collections public, Instagram would become a direct competitor to Pinterest.

Instagram public Collections could spark a new medium of content curation. People could use the feature to bundle together their favorite memes, travel destinations, fashion items, or art. That could cut down on unconsented content stealing that’s caused backlash against meme “curators” like F*ckJerry by giving an alternative to screenshotting and reposting other people’s stuff. Instead of just representing yourself with your own content, you could express your identity through the things you love — even if you didn’t photograph them yourself. And if that sounds familiar, you’ll understand why this could be problematic for Pinterest’s upcoming $12 billion IPO.

The “Make Collection Public” option was discovered by frequent TechCrunch tipster and reverse engineering specialist Jane Machun Wong. It’s not available to the public, but from the Instagram for Android code, she was able to generate a screenshot of the prototype. It shows the ability to toggle on public visibility for a Collection, and tag contributors who can also add to the Collection. Previously, Collections was always a private, solo feature for organizing your bookmarks gathered through the Instagaram Save feature Instagram launched in late 2016.

Instagram told TechCrunch “we’re not testing this” which is its standard response to press inquiries about products that aren’t available to any public users, but that are in internal development. It could be a while until Instagram does start experimenting publicly with the feature and longer before a launch, and the company could always scrap the option. But it’s a sensible way to give users more to do and share on Instagram, and the prototype gives insight into the app’s strategy. Facebook launched its own Pinterest -style shareable Sets in 2017 and launched sharable Collections in December.

Currently there’s nothing in the Instagram code about users being able to follow each other’s Collections, but that would seem like a logical and powerful next step. Instagrammers can already follow hashtags to see new posts with them routed to their feed. Offering a similar way to follow Collections could turn people into star curators rather than star creators without the need to rip off anyone’s content. Speaking of infuencers, Wong also spotted Instagram prototyping IGTV picture-in-picture so you could keep watching a long-form video after closing the app and navigating the rest of your phone.

Instagram lets users Save posts which can then be organized into Collections

Public Collections could fuel Instagram’s commerce strategy that Mark Zuckerberg recently said would be a big part of the roadmap. Instagram already has a personalized Shopping feed in Explore, and The Verge’s Casey Newton reported last year that Instagram was working on a dedicated shopping app. It’s easy to imagine fashionistas, magazines, and brands sharing Collections of their favorite buyable items.

It’s worth remembering that Instagram launched its copycat of Snapchat Stories just six months before Snap went public. As we predicted, that reduced Snapchat’s growth rate by 88 percent. Two years later, Snapchat isn’t growing at all, and its share price is at just a third of its peak. With over 1 billion monthly and 500 million daily users, Instagram is four times the size of Pinterest. Instagram loyalists might find it’s easier to use the ‘good enough’ public Collections feature where they already have a social graph than try to build a following from scratch on Pinterest.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Opera Touch brings website cookie blocking to iOS

in Apps/cookies/Delhi/India/iOS apps/mobile/Opera/opera touch/Politics/web browser/Website by

Last fall, Opera introduced Opera Touch for iOS – a solid alternative to Safari on iPhone, optimized for one-handed use. Today, the company is rolling out a notable new feature to this app: cookie blocking. Yes, it can now block those annoying dialogs that ask you to accept the website’s cookies. These are particularly problematic on mobile, where they often entirely interrupt your ability to view the content, as opposed to on many desktop websites where you can (kind of) ignore the pop-up banner that appears at the bottom or the top of the page.

Cookie dialogs have become prevalent across the web as a result of Europe’s GDPR, but many people find them overly intrusive. Today, it takes an extra click to dismiss these prompts, which slows down web browsing – especially for those times you’re on the hunt for a particular piece of information and are visiting several websites in rapid succession.

The cookie blocking feature was first launched in November on Opera’s flagship app for Android, but hadn’t yet made its way to iOS – through any browser app, that is, not just one from Opera. The company says it uses a mix of CSS and JavaScript heuristics in order to block the prompts.

At the time of the launch, Opera noted it had tested the feature with some 15,000 sites.

It’s important to note that the default setting for the cookie blocker on Opera Touch will allow the websites to set cookies.

Here’s how it works. When you enable the feature, it will hide the dialog boxes from appearing, allowing you to read a website without having to first close the prompt. However, when you turn on the Cookie Blocker option, another setting is also switched on: one that says “automatically accept cookie dialogs.”

That means, in practice, when you’re enabling the Cookie Blocker, you’re also enabling cookie acceptance if you don’t take further action.

But Opera says you can disable this checkbox, if you don’t want your browser to give websites your acceptance.

In addition to the new cookie blocking, the browser has a number of other options that make it an interesting alternative to Safari on iOS or Google Chrome.

For example, if offers built-in ad blocking, cryptocurrency mining protection (which prevents malicious sites from using your device’s resources to mine for cryptocurrencies), a way to send web content to your PC through Opera’s “Flow” technology, and – most importantly – a design focused on using the app with just one hand.

Since the app’s launch in April, the company has rolled out 23 new features in total. This include a new dark theme, as well as the addition of a private mode, plus search engine choice which offers 11 options, including Qwant and DuckDuckGo, and other features.

The app is a free download on iOS.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Rakuten’s Viber chat app plans to charge to operate chatbots in controversial move

in Apps/Asia/chatbot/Delhi/e-commerce/India/Japan/KDDI/messaging apps/Messenger/myanmar/Philippines/Politics/rakuten/TechStars/Viber/voip/WhatsApp by

Viber, the messaging app down by Japanese e-commerce firm Rakuten, is poised to implement a controversial new strategy that will see it charge companies that run chatbots on its platform.

The conventional wisdom is to work with content companies to help bring users to messaging platforms and keep them engaged but Viber, which has struggled to keep up with rivals like WhatsApp and Line, is turning that on its head.

Starting April 1, Viber will charge chatbot operators $4,500 per month for the ability to send up to 500,000 messages to users. Those who exceed that range will be eligible to send up to one million messages per month for $6,500. The new fees are being communicated to companies that operate Viber chatbots, but Viber hinted at its new monetization plans in an email to TechCrunch.

“Bots can be published for free; however, to ensure the highest discoverability and quality of content for bots, we will be introducing a commercial commitment in the coming months. A key aim with this move is to ensure that users are presented with a steady stream of highly relevant and relatable content and a commercial commitment is one key tool for ensuring a quality experience for users,” Debbi Dougherty, head of B2B Marketing & Communications for Viber, explained.

This is a risky strategy that is likely alienate companies that operate chatbots on Viber as well a brands who bought into a bot strategy.

These costs have come out of the blue, much to the surprise of startups that spent time developing chatbots for the Viber platform.

“For an early stage startup, this isn’t going to work,” Edmundas Balčikonis, co-founder of Eddy Travels — a travel concierge service that took part in Techstars’ Toronto program — told TechCrunch by phone.

Balčikonis said his startup was attracted to the Viber platform because it provided all the necessary documentation and APIs to build a chatbot up front and in public. Having spent eight months developing its Viber bot, Eddy Travels plans to double down on its efforts with Facebook Messenger and Telegram where its bot-based service runs without charge and has seen multiples more users and engagement.

“Viber encouraged us to built the bot, but never discussed the price and there’s no price in the website documentation,” he said. “Messenger is showing way more traction for us… we didn’t get any significant engagement on Viber.”

Indeed, the strategy seems to be quite the opposite that Viber needs to take if it is to gain marketshare from the chat app leaders. WhatsApp — the world’s largest messaging service with over 1.6 billion monthly active users — doesn’t currently support chatbots, but instead of playing to its strengths, Viber is trying to squeeze additional revenue here under the cloak of “a quality user experience.”

Times are already hard though at Viber. TechCrunch spoke to six chatbot startups who develop a range of services for customers, including banks, insurance companies and media, but we found that none run any projects on Viber. Each said their desire to work on the Viber platform would diminish further if they were forced to pay for the privilege.

The Viber service is popular in pockets of the world, including the Philippines, Myanmar and some Eastern European markets. Current CEO Djamel Agaoua, a seasoned advertising executive, promised to work on the revenue and business model when he took the helm in 2017. Under his leadership, Viber has pushed its communities chat feature for brands and tried to tap into e-commerce, but little is known of how that has progressed.

Rakuten’s recent 2018 financial report was released this month and it made scant reference to Viber, other than to note that the service and Rakuten Mobile, the company’s MVNO offering in Japan, had “substantially increased revenue thanks to their full-scale aggressive sales activities.”

No raw figures were provided but Rakuten’s ‘Internet Services’ division, which houses Viber and Rakuten Mobile, saw its annual revenue increase by 15.9 percent to 788.4 billion JPY. That’s around $7.1 billion and it sounds impressive, but the bulk of that revenue is from Rakuten Mobile, which has teamed up with traditional operator KDDI to take a crack at Japan’s mobile market.

What we know about Viber is that it has increased its content monetization — which included advertising, sponsored stickers and more — and that now accounts for the bulk of its revenue having surpassing income from Viber VoIP calling packages.

But, again, there’s no raw revenue data here. Rakuten also no longer provides active user information for Viber, which it said said has registered over one billion users since its creation in 2011. That’s not an informative statistic.

Things seem to be so bad that Viber doesn’t even provide an active user number to advertisers, according to a pitch deck seen by TechCrunch. The data shown includes a selection of actions that Viber claims happen per minute, including 1.2 million logins, but there’s no headline monthly active user statistic. Barcelona, which counts Rakuten as a sponsor, and Coke are among the brands that use Viber.

Now the service’s content monetization push has extended into chatbots, but the obvious risk is that companies and brands will simply go elsewhere where, frankly, they already have a larger and more captive audience.

Rakuten bought Viber for $900 million in January 2014, just one month before Facebook forked out $19 billion to acquire WhatsApp. The Viber deal seemed prescient. Sure it didn’t have the same scale as WhatsApp but it was comparable — 300 million registered compared to WhatsApp’s 450 million active — and teaming with a major internet company would bring a larger budget and opportunities.

The sad reality of today, however, is WhatsApp has grown into one of the world’s most important social services but Viber has floundered. Policies that are as short-sighted as monetizing chatbots will ensure Viber continues to be an also-ran. That surely wasn’t how Rakuten envisaged its acquisition progressing.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Twitter’s latest test changes ‘Retweet with Comment’ so it looks more like a Reply

in Apps/Delhi/India/Politics/Social/social media/tweet/Twitter by

Twitter’s new prototype testing program isn’t the only way it’s working to fix conversations on its site. The company confirmed it’s currently running another public-facing test focused on making Twitter “more conversational” – but this time with Retweets instead of Replies. The test involves using a thin line to connect a quote-style retweet to the person commenting on the tweet, instead of placing the quoted tweet in a box as before.

Here are some visual aids.

Today, when you comment on a tweet you’re reposting, the original tweet is boxed in like this:

The new test sees Twitter eliminating the box entirely, and connecting the comment to the tweet using the same sort of line that is used today with Replies.

For example, here is a before and after of the change. (Click through to the tweet to view the images larger). You can see the original look on the left, and the update using the line on the right:

We asked Twitter if this was a permanent change or just a test, and a spokesperson confirmed it was the latter.

The test was available on Android on Tuesday of this week, but began rolling out to iOS users yesterday.

Despite the launch of the new testing program, the company said it would continue to A/B test various conversational features and other changes within its public app.

“The fact that we’re doing this [Twitter prototype testing program] doesn’t mean that we don’t do regular testing – like we do with all our development processes in our regular app all the time,” Sara Haider, Twitter’s director of product management, had noted in an interview at CES in January.

The prototype program, meanwhile, serves as more of an experimental testing grounds where Twitter users are able to directly influence the development process with their feedback and opinions.

Twitter had learned over the years that some of the best ideas come from the community itself. Many of its products – including @ Replies, the hashtag (#), tweetstorms (now “threads”), and Retweets (originally “RT”) – were developed in response to how people were already using Twitter. Now, Twitter hopes to tap into the hive mind to build whatever else in coming next.

But not all of Twitter’s changes are community-driven. (After all, I’m not sure anyone was really all that concerned about how Retweets were displayed.)

That means you’ll still see Twitter testing smaller changes like this one in the public app.

Whether or not the lines will eventually come to replace the box for Retweets still remains to be seen, however. While it does make the comment seem more like someone is continuing a conversation, the update arguably makes it easier to confuse a Retweet with a Reply, too.

“We’re working on updates to Retweet with Comment as part of our efforts to make Twitter more conversational,” a spokesperson for Twitter confirmed to TechCrunch. They also hinted we’d see more tests of this nature in the future, as well.

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

Google’s ‘Digital Wellbeing’ features hit more devices, including Samsung Galaxy S10

in Apps/Delhi/India/mobile/Politics by

Google’s latest effort to help users monitor and control their screen time, Digital Wellbeing, is making its way to more devices. Initially available exclusively to Pixel and Android One device owners, Digital Wellbeing’s feature set is now rolling out to Nokia 6 and Nokia 8 devices with Android Pie, as well as on the new Samsung Galaxy S10.

The site NokiaPowerUser was first to spot the addition to Nokia devices, which was picked up by XDA Developers and noted on their blog. XDA also noticed Digital Wellbeing was available in the Samsung Galaxy S10‘s device settings, which makes it the first non-Pixel or non-Android One phone to ship with Digital Wellbeing installed.

Digital Wellbeing, by way of background, is basically Google’s version of Apple’s Screen Time, and one of the key ways the company is addressing consumer concerns over device addiction.

This has been a hot topic in the tech industry in recent months, as people have become more aware of our unhealthy behaviors with regard to our use of smartphones and their apps. In fact, a number of those involved with mobile apps’ creation have since come out to say that they were complicit in building apps that exploited weaknesses in the human psyche for the sole purpose of addicting users.

One former Google exec, Tristan Harris, kicked off a whole movement focused on this problem. He also created the Center for Humane Technology, which encourages the implementation of new design principles that help put users back in control of their technology.

In the meantime, companies are rolling out features to give us control over our behaviors around existing technology.

For example, Facebook last year changed how its News Feed operates to reduce time spent on its site in favor of wellbeing. And Facebook-owned Instagram introduced a time well spent feature, by informing users “you’re all caught up” instead of offering an endless scroll. YouTube lets you schedule reminders to take a break.

We also have OS-level features like Apple’s Screen Time and Google’s Digital Wellbeing for more comprehensive control and monitoring.

Specifically, Digital Wellbeing allows you to track your device addiction in several ways, including how often you check your phone, how many notifications you receive, how often you use apps, and more, and allows you to set limits on usage, and configure settings like a nightly “Wind Down” mode and Do Not Disturb settings.

Announced at Google I/O 2018, this feature set first debuted on Pixel devices last year as part of Android Pie. It later came to Android One devices last fall.

According to the standalone Digital Wellbeing app’s release notes, it exited beta on February 19. However, the note didn’t indicate it was coming to non-Pixel, non-Android One devices.

Google has not yet responded to a request for comment about the expansion of Digital Wellbeing.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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