To make Stories global, Facebook adds Archive and audio posts

Facebook’s future rests on convincing the developing world to adopt Stories. But just because the slideshow format will soon surpass feed sharing doesn’t mean people use them the same way everywhere. So late last year, Facebook sent a team to India to learn what features they’d need to embrace Stories across a variety of local languages on phones without much storage.

Today, Facebook will start rolling out three big Stories features in India, which will come to the rest of the world shortly after. First, to lure posts from users who don’t want to type or have a non-native language keyboard, as well as micropodcasters, Facebook Stories will allow audio posts combining a voice message with a colored background or photo.

Facebook Stories will get an Archive similar to Instagram Stories that automatically saves your clips privately after they expire so you can go back to check them out or re-share the content to the News Feed. And finally, Facebook will let Stories users privately Save their clips from the Facebook Camera directly to the social network instead of their phone in case they don’t have enough space.

Facebook Stories Archive

“We know that the performance and reliability of viewing and posting Stories is extremely important to people around the world, especially those with slower connections” Facebook’s director of Stories Connor Hayes tells me. “We are always working on ways to improve the experience of viewing Stories on all types of connections, and have been investing here — especially on our FB Lite app.”

Facebook has a big opportunity to capitalize on Snapchat’s failure to focus on the international market. Plagued by Android engineering problems and initial reluctance to court users beyond U.S. teens, Snapchat left the door open for Facebook’s Stories products to win the globe. Now Snapchat has sunk to its slowest growth rate ever, hitting 191 million daily users despite shrinking in March. Meanwhile, WhatsApp Status, its clone of Snapchat Stories has 450 million daily users, while Instagram Stories has over 300 million.

As for Facebook Stories, it was initially seen as a bit of a ghost town but more and more of my friends are posting there, in part thanks to the ability to syndicate you Instagram Stories there. Facebook Stories has never announced a user count, and Hayes says “We don’t have anything to share yet, but performance of Facebook Stories is encouraging, and we’ve learned a lot about how we can make the experience even better.” Facebook is hell-bent on making Stories work on its own app after launching the in mid-2017, and seems to believe users who find them needless or redundant will come around eventually.

My concern about the global rise of Stories is that instead of only recording the biggest highlights of our lives to capture with our phones, we’re increasingly interrupting all our activities and exiting the present to thrust our phone in the air.

That’s one thing Facebook hopes to fix here, Facebook’s director of Stories Connor Hayes tells me. “Saving photos and videos can be used to save what you might want to post later – So you don’t have to edit or post them while you’re out with your friends, and instead enjoy the moment at the concert and share them later.” You’re still injecting technology into your experience, though, so I hope we can all learn to record as subtly as possible without disturbing the memory for those around us.

Facebook Camera’s Save feature

The new Save to Facebook Camera feature creates a private tab in the Stories creation interface where you can access and post the imagery you’ve stored, and you’ll also find a Saved tab in your profile’s Photos section. Unlike Facebook’s discontinued Photo Sync feature, here you’ll choose to save imagery one at a time. It will be a big help to users lacking free space on their phone, as Facebook says many people around the world have to delete a photo just to save a new one.

Facebook wants to encourage people to invest more time decorating Stories, and learned that some people want to re-live or re-share their clips that expire after 24 hours. That’s why its built the Archive, a hedge against the potentially short-sighted trend of ephemerality.

On the team’s journey to India, they heard that photos and videos aren’t always the easiest way to share. If you’re camera-shy, have a low-quality camera, or don’t have cool scenes to capture, audio posts could get you sharing more. In fact, Facebook started testing voice clips as feed status updates in March. “With this week’s update, you will have options to add a voice message to a colorful background or a photo from your camera gallery or saved gallery. You can also add stickers, text, or doodles” says Hayes. With 22 official languages in India and over 100 spoken, recording voice can often be easier than typing.

Facebook Audio Stories

Some users will still hate Stories, which are getting more and more prominence atop Facebook’s feed. But Facebook can’t afford to retreat here. Stories are social media bedrock — the most full-screen and immersive content medium we can record and consume with just our phones. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself said that Facebook must make sure that “ads are as good in Stories as they are in feeds. If we don’t do this well, then as more sharing shifts to Stories, that could hurt our business.” That means Facebook Stories needs India’s hundreds of millions of users.

There will always be room for text, yet if people want to achieve an emotional impact, they’ll eventually wade into Storytelling. But social networks must remember low-bandwidth users, or we’ll only get windows into the developed world.

For more on Facebook Stories, check out our recent coverage:

To make Stories global, Facebook adds Archive and audio posts

Facebook’s future rests on convincing the developing world to adopt Stories. But just because the slideshow format will soon surpass feed sharing doesn’t mean people use them the same way everywhere. So late last year, Facebook sent a team to India to learn what features they’d need to embrace Stories across a variety of local languages on phones without much storage.

Today, Facebook will start rolling out three big Stories features in India, which will come to the rest of the world shortly after. First, to lure posts from users who don’t want to type or have a non-native language keyboard, as well as micropodcasters, Facebook Stories will allow audio posts combining a voice message with a colored background or photo.

Facebook Stories will get an Archive similar to Instagram Stories that automatically saves your clips privately after they expire so you can go back to check them out or re-share the content to the News Feed. And finally, Facebook will let Stories users privately Save their clips from the Facebook Camera directly to the social network instead of their phone in case they don’t have enough space.

Facebook Stories Archive

“We know that the performance and reliability of viewing and posting Stories is extremely important to people around the world, especially those with slower connections” Facebook’s director of Stories Connor Hayes tells me. “We are always working on ways to improve the experience of viewing Stories on all types of connections, and have been investing here — especially on our FB Lite app.”

Facebook has a big opportunity to capitalize on Snapchat’s failure to focus on the international market. Plagued by Android engineering problems and initial reluctance to court users beyond U.S. teens, Snapchat left the door open for Facebook’s Stories products to win the globe. Now Snapchat has sunk to its slowest growth rate ever, hitting 191 million daily users despite shrinking in March. Meanwhile, WhatsApp Status, its clone of Snapchat Stories has 450 million daily users, while Instagram Stories has over 300 million.

As for Facebook Stories, it was initially seen as a bit of a ghost town but more and more of my friends are posting there, in part thanks to the ability to syndicate you Instagram Stories there. Facebook Stories has never announced a user count, and Hayes says “We don’t have anything to share yet, but performance of Facebook Stories is encouraging, and we’ve learned a lot about how we can make the experience even better.” Facebook is hell-bent on making Stories work on its own app after launching the in mid-2017, and seems to believe users who find them needless or redundant will come around eventually.

My concern about the global rise of Stories is that instead of only recording the biggest highlights of our lives to capture with our phones, we’re increasingly interrupting all our activities and exiting the present to thrust our phone in the air.

That’s one thing Facebook hopes to fix here, Facebook’s director of Stories Connor Hayes tells me. “Saving photos and videos can be used to save what you might want to post later – So you don’t have to edit or post them while you’re out with your friends, and instead enjoy the moment at the concert and share them later.” You’re still injecting technology into your experience, though, so I hope we can all learn to record as subtly as possible without disturbing the memory for those around us.

Facebook Camera’s Save feature

The new Save to Facebook Camera feature creates a private tab in the Stories creation interface where you can access and post the imagery you’ve stored, and you’ll also find a Saved tab in your profile’s Photos section. Unlike Facebook’s discontinued Photo Sync feature, here you’ll choose to save imagery one at a time. It will be a big help to users lacking free space on their phone, as Facebook says many people around the world have to delete a photo just to save a new one.

Facebook wants to encourage people to invest more time decorating Stories, and learned that some people want to re-live or re-share their clips that expire after 24 hours. That’s why its built the Archive, a hedge against the potentially short-sighted trend of ephemerality.

On the team’s journey to India, they heard that photos and videos aren’t always the easiest way to share. If you’re camera-shy, have a low-quality camera, or don’t have cool scenes to capture, audio posts could get you sharing more. In fact, Facebook started testing voice clips as feed status updates in March. “With this week’s update, you will have options to add a voice message to a colorful background or a photo from your camera gallery or saved gallery. You can also add stickers, text, or doodles” says Hayes. With 22 official languages in India and over 100 spoken, recording voice can often be easier than typing.

Facebook Audio Stories

Some users will still hate Stories, which are getting more and more prominence atop Facebook’s feed. But Facebook can’t afford to retreat here. Stories are social media bedrock — the most full-screen and immersive content medium we can record and consume with just our phones. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself said that Facebook must make sure that “ads are as good in Stories as they are in feeds. If we don’t do this well, then as more sharing shifts to Stories, that could hurt our business.” That means Facebook Stories needs India’s hundreds of millions of users.

There will always be room for text, yet if people want to achieve an emotional impact, they’ll eventually wade into Storytelling. But social networks must remember low-bandwidth users, or we’ll only get windows into the developed world.

For more on Facebook Stories, check out our recent coverage:

Uber lets you rate mid-ride before you forget feedback

“Last year was pretty hard, I’m not gonna lie” says Peter Deng, Uber’s head of rider experience. But as part of new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s push to rebrand Uber around safety, “we’ve seen the company shift to more listening”.

That focus on hearing users’ concerns prompted today’s change. Have a bad Uber ride when you’re busy and you might neglect to rate the driver or accidentally rush through giving them 5 stars. Forcing users to wait until a ride ends to provide feedback deprives them of a sense of control while decreasing the number of accurate data points Uber has to optimize its service.

I had just this experience last month, leading me to tweet that Uber should let us rate trips mid-ride:

Uber apparently felt similarly, so it’s making an update. Starting today, Uber users can rate their trip mid-ride, providing a star rating with categorized and written feedback, plus a compliment or tip at any time instead of having to wait for the trip to end. “Every day 15 million people take a ride on Uber. If you can capture incrementally more and better feedback . . . we’re going to use that feedback to make the service better” says Deng.

Specifically, the data will be used to “recognize top quality drivers . . . through a new program launching in June”, Uber tells me. “We’re going to be celebrating the drivers that provide really awesome service” Deng says, though he declined to say whether that celebration will include financial rewards, access to extra driver perks, or just a pat on the back.

But Uber will also now use the feedback options that appear when you give a less-than-perfect rating to tune the technology on its backend. So that way, if you say that the pickup was the issue, it might be classifed as a “PLE – pickup location error”, and that data gets routed to the team that improves exactly where drivers are told to scoop you up.

The launch follows the unveiling of Uber’s new in-app Safety Center last month that gives users access to insurance info, riding tips, and emergency 911 button. I asked if reminding users to buckle their seat belts would be in that Safety Center and Uber tells me it’s now planning to add info about buckling up.

After a year of culture and legal issues, Uber needs to win back users who deleted it. Enhanced safety and feedback could help earn their respect.

Snapchat hosts first Creators Summit after years of neglect

Social media stars have always been treated like nobodies instead of VIPs on Snapchat. Despite pioneering the Stories and creative tools they love, the lack of support saw many drift to YouTube’s ad dollars and Instagram’s bigger audience. Now Snap CEO Evan Spiegel is finally stepping up to win back their favor and their content.

Last night, Spiegel joined 13 top Snapchat stars ranging from the US to as far as Lebanon for dinner at the company’s first Creators Summit in LA. Flanked by a dozen Snap execs and product managers, Spiegel tried to impress upon the assembled artists, comedians, and storytellers that the company is turning over a new leaf in how it will treat them. Today the creators sat with Snap VP of content Nick Bell to give the company an unfiltered understanding of the tools they need and give input on Snapchat’s product roadmap.

“The goal of our first creator summit was to listen and learn from them about how we can continue to strengthen opportunities for them on Snapchat — and continue to empower our community to express themselves and have fun together” Bell told TechCrunch. “We are grateful to each of them for coming to the table with candid feedback and are excited about the possibilities ahead.” Snapchat confirms to TechCrunch it plans to hold more of these Creator Summits.

Mike Metzler, one of the popular Snappers in attendance, told us “it’s been refreshing. Snap seems very genuinely interested in listening to what we have to say, and committed to making this an important initiative.” But another questioned whether Snapchat was actually going to make changes or was just playing nice.

Creators Cast Aside

A week after Snapchat launched Stories in 2013, I asked “Who will be the first Snapchat Stories celebrity?“. Apparently the young company hadn’t thought that through. It had concentrated entirely on the average American teen to the detriment of power users and the international market.

Snapchat’s jankily engineered app crashed constantly for stars with too many followers. There were no advanced analytics about who was watching them or easy ways to prove their audience to brand sponsors. There was no support from Snapchat if they got hacked or locked out of their account. There was no ad revenue share. There was no promotion to help people discover their accounts.

Without a direct alternative, creators gritted their teeth and dealt with it. But when Instagram Stories came along, with its massive audience, Explore page, and experienced outreach team for dealing with high-profile accounts, some jumped ship. Others focused their attention on Instagram, or YouTube where they could at least get a cut of the ad money they generated. Users drifted too, leading many stars to see their view counts drop.

The situation came to a head on Snap’s November 2017 Q3 earnings call. With user growth slumping to a new low, Spiegel announced a change of course. “We have historically neglected the creator community on Snapchat that creates and distributes public Stories for the broader Snapchat audience. In 2018, we are going to build more distribution and monetization opportunities for these creators” Spiegel admitted.

Snap began rolling out its verification badge, an emoji next to the user name, to social media stars instead of just traditional celebrities. With its recent redesign, it begun promoting creators for the first time if they made something engaging enough to become a”Popular Story”. And in February it finally launched analytics for creators, which would help them secure sponsorship deals.

Still, Snap hadn’t done much soft diplomacy. While top creators frequent the offices of YouTube and Instagram, few had been to Snapchat HQ. They needed a face to connect the efforts to.

Spiegel And The Stars

“[Spiegel] stopped by last night and was so happy to meet us, get to know us, take a selfie” says CyreneQ, a prolific Snapper and master of its illustration tools. While he didn’t make any grand remarks, apologies, or proclamations, his presence signaled that the push to help creators was more than just talk. When asked how the Summit went, musician/comedian Shonduras told me “we collaborated on a lot of ideas and it feels solid.”

Snapchat’s redesign moved creators into the Discover section

The biggest concern amongst the creators was growing their view counts. The recent redesign moved stars, brands, and other popular people who don’t follow you back out of the friends Stories list and into the Discover section alongside professionally produced editorial content. One creator said that helped them find more fans, but another who asked not to be named said “It hasn’t been kind to my views.”

Bell and the Snapchat listened, and informed the group that it’s going to develop a range of “tools and programs to help the creator community”, CyreneQ told me. Pressed for more details, she demurred “I wish I could tell you but they’ll send ninjas after me.”

Monetization options should be high on Snapchat’s list. As long as creators are essentially producing content for free, they’ll be susceptible to the pull of other products. And if Snap can’t speed up its total user growth, it must find ways to get teens addicted to stars that boost the time they spend in its app.

Snap can’t afford to screw this up. With its user count actually shrinking in March, it needs their dynamic, personal, niche content to keep teens loyal to Snapchat. The whole point of Snapchat was to create a more personal form of social media. It’s tough for movie actors and rockstars to come off feeling vulnerable and approachable. But creators, who were just normal people a few years ago, could help Snapchat bridge the divide between raw intimacy and polished entertainment.

‘Facebook Avatars’ is its new clone of Snapchat’s Bitmoji

Hidden inside the code of Facebook’s Android app is an unreleased feature called Facebook Avatars that lets people build personalized, illustrated versions of themselves for use as stickers in Messenger and comments. It will let users customize their avatar to depict their skin color, hair style and facial features. Facebook Avatars is essentially Facebook’s version of Snapchat’s acquisition, Bitmoji, which has spent years in the top-10 apps chart.

Back in October I wrote that “Facebook seriously needs its own Bitmoji,” and it seems the company agrees. Facebook has become the identity layer for the internet, allowing you to bring your personal info and social graph to other services. But as the world moves toward visual communication, a name or static profile pic aren’t enough to represent us and our breadth of emotions. Avatars hold the answer, as they can be contorted to convey our reactions to all sorts of different situations when we’re too busy or camera-shy to take a photo.

The screenhots come courtesy of eagle-eyed developer Jane Manchun Wong, who found the Avatars in the Facebook for Android application package — a set of files that often contain features that are unreleased or in testing. Her digging also contributed to TechCrunch’s reports about Instagram’s music stickers and Twitter’s unlaunched encrypted DMs.

Facebook confirmed it’s building Avatars, telling me, “We’re looking into more ways to help people express themselves on Facebook.” However, the feature is still early in development and Facebook isn’t sure when it will start publicly testing.

In the onboarding flow for the feature, Facebook explains that “Your Facebook Avatar is a whole new way to express yourself on Facebook. Leave expressive comments with personalized stickers. Use your new avatar stickers in your Messenger group and private chats.” The Avatars should look like the images on the far right of these screenshot tests. You can imagine Facebook creating an updating reel of stickers showing your avatar in happy, sad, confused, angry, bored or excited scenes to fit your mood.

Currently it’s unclear whether you’ll have to configure your Avatar from a blank starter face, or whether Facebook will use machine vision and artificial intelligence to create one based on your photos. The latter is how the Facebook Spaces VR avatars (previewed in April 2017) are automatically generated.

Facebook shows off its 3D VR avatars at F8 2018. The new Facebook Avatars are 2D and can be used in messaging and comments.

Using AI to start with a decent lookalike of you could entice users to try Avatars and streamline the creation process so you just have to make small corrections. However, the AI could creep people out, make people angry if it misrepresents them or generate monstrous visages no one wants to see. Given Facebook’s recent privacy scandals, I’d imagine it would play it conservatively with Avatars and just ask users to build them from scratch. If Avatars grow popular and people are eager to use them, it could always introduce auto-generation from your photos later.

Facebook has spent at least three years trying to figure out avatars for VR. What started as generic blue heads evolved to take on basic human characteristics, real skin tones and more accurate facial features, and are now getting quite lifelike. You can see that progression up top. Last week at F8, Facebook revealed that it’s developing a way to use facial tracking sensors to map real-time expressions onto a photo-realistic avatar of a user so they can look like themselves inside VR, but without the headset on.

But as long as Facebook’s Avatars are trapped in VR, they’re missing most of their potential.

Bitmoji’s parent company Bitstrips launched in 2008, and while its comic strip creator was cool, it was the personalized emoji avatar feature that was most exciting. Snapchat acquired Bitstrips for a mere $64.2 million in early 2016, but once it integrated Bitmoji into its chat feature as stickers, the app took off. It’s often risen higher than Snapchat itself, and even Facebook’s ubiquitous products on the App Store charts, and was the No. 1 free iOS app as recently as February. Now Snapchat lets you use your Bitmoji avatar as a profile pic, online status indicator in message threads, as 2D stickers and as 3D characters that move around in your Snaps.

It’s actually surprising that Facebook has waited this long to clone Bitmoji, given how popular Instagram Stories and its other copies of Snapchat features have become. Facebook comment reels and Messenger threads could get a lot more emotive, personal and fun when the company eventually launches its own Avatars.

Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly said that visual communication is replacing text, but that’s forced users to either use generic emoji out of convenience or deal with the chore and self-consciousness of shooting a quick photo or video. Especially in Stories, which will soon surpass feeds as the main way we share social media, people need a quick way to convey their identity and emotion. Avatars let your identity scale to whatever feeling you want to transmit without the complications of the real world.

For more on the potential of Facebook Avatars, read our piece calling for their creation:

Vine co-founder halts development of its replacement, V2

There will be no “Vine 2” — at least for now. Trying to take on the giant social networks without external funding proved too tall a task for six-second video app Vine’s co-founder Dom Hofmann. “I’ve made the very difficult decision of postponing the V2 project for an indefinite amount of time. There are several reasons for this, including a bit of ‘sequelitis’, but I’d like to explain the biggest one, which is due to financial and legal hurdles,” Hofmann wrote on the community forums he set up for V2.

Announced in late December out of his frustration regarding how Twitter neglected and eventually shut down Vine, Hofmann had since built a creative tool startup called Byte, and is still leading a virtual reality company called Interspace, but was trying to run V2 as a self-funded personal project on the side. The plan was to launch in 2018 with an app that let you record or upload 2 to 6-second looping videos and much stronger anti-harassment safety features.

But without millions in outside investment, it was an insurmountable task to develop the app, host the videos and grow the audience. While Hofmann didn’t specify, it seems Twitter wasn’t happy about him using the name V2 and an almost identical logo. “The interest has been extremely encouraging, but it has also created some roadblocks . . . The attention has also raised an issue that we might not have faced otherwise: legal fees have been overwhelming,” Hofmann wrote. We’ve asked him and Twitter if Twitter was suing or threatening legal action against Hofmann or V2.

While there’s still no ubiquitous way to share super-short videos, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube are no paltry competitors. So now, Hofmann says, “We take a step back. The code and ideas still exist, but until everything else comes together, we can’t move forward. Again, this is indefinite, which means that it could take a long time. But it’s necessary.”

You can read Hofmann’s full announcement here:

Instagram quietly launches payments for commerce

Get ready to shop the ‘Gram. Instagram just stealthily added a native payments feature to its app for some users. It lets you register a debit or credit card as part of a profile, set up a security pin, then start buying things without ever leaving Instagram. Not having to leave for a separate website and enter payment information any time you want to purchase something could make Instagram a much bigger player in commerce.

TechCrunch reader Genady Okrain first tipped us off to the payment feature. When we asked Instagram, a spokesperson confirmed that native payments for booking appointments like at restaurants or salons is now live for a limited set of partners.

One of the first equipped is dinner reservation app Resy. Some of its clients’ Instagram Pages now offer this native payment for booking. And in the future, Instagram says you can expect direct payments for things like movie tickets through the app. Instagram initially announced in March 2017 that “we’ll roll out the ability to book a service with a business directly from their profile later this year,” but never mentioned native payments.

Instagram’s native appointment booking

We’ve confirmed that the payment settings are now visible; some, but not all, users in the U.S. have it while at least some in the U.K. don’t. A tap through to the terms of service reveals that Instagram Payments are backed by Facebook’s Payments rules.

With its polished pictures and plethora of brands, shopping through Instagram could prove popular and give businesses a big new reason to advertise on the app. If they can get higher conversion rates because people don’t quit in the middle of checkout as the fill in their payment info, brands might prefer to push people to buy via Instagram.

Instagram’s existing Shoppable Tags feature forces you out to a business’ website to make a purchase, unlike the new payments feature

Facebook started dabbling in native commerce around 2013, and eventually started rolling out peer-to-peer payments through Messenger. But native payment for shopping is still in closed beta in the chat app. It’s unclear if peer-to-peer payments might come to Instagram, but having a way to add a credit or debit card on file is a critical building block to that feature.

It’s possible that the payments option will work with Instagram’s “Shoppable Tags,” which first started testing in 2016 to let you see which products were in a post and tap through to buy them on the brand’s site. Since then, Instagram has partnered with storefront platforms BigCommerce and Shopify to get their clients hooked up, and expanded the feature to more countries in March. For now, though, none of Instagram’s previous shopping feature partners like Warby Parker or Kate Spade let you checkout within Instagram, and still send you to their site.

But the whole point of Instagram not allowing links in captions is to keep you in a smooth, uninterrupted browsing flow. Getting booted out to the web to buy something broke that. Instagram Payments could make impulse buys much quicker, enticing more businesses to get on board. Even if Instagram takes no cut of the revenue, brands are likely to boost ad spend to get their shoppable posts seen by more people if the native payments mean more of them actually complete a purchase.

Instagram isn’t the only one who sees this potential. Snapchat started testing its own native payments and checkout feature in February.

Spotify misses on revenue in first earnings report with 170M users

In Spotify’s first ever earnings report, the streaming music came up short, pulling in $1.36 billion revenue That’s compared to $1.4 billion in revenue and an adjusted EPS loss of $0.34. Spotify hit 170 million monthly active users, up 6.9 percent from 159 million in Q4 2017, and 75 million paid subscribers, up 5.6 percent from 71 million.

Spotify shares promptly fell 5 percent in after-hours trading to around $161, beneath its IPO pop a month ago but well above its $149 day one closing price and $132 IPO pricing.

Spotify is hoping to boost paid subscriber numbers by first luring more users to its free ad-supported service. Last month it unveiled a revamped free tier that lets users listen to songs on-demand on particular Spotify-controlled playlists instead of only being able to play in shuffle mode. The idea is that once users get a taste of on-demand listening, they’ll pay to upgrade so they can listen to whatever they want across the whole catalog.

That strategy could not only boost subscriber numbers, but also give Spotify more leverage over the record labels. More than 30 percent of all Spotify listening now happens on its owned playlists. That gives it the power to choose what will become a hit, and in turn means record labels need to play nice. This could help Spotify secure more exclusive content and a better bargaining position in royalty negotiations.

Stories are about to surpass feed sharing. Now what?

We’re at the cusp of the visual communication era. Stories creation and consumption is up 842 percent since early 2016, according to consulting firm Block Party. Nearly a billion accounts across Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Messenger now create and watch these vertical, ephemeral slideshows. And yesterday, Facebook chief product officer Chris Cox showed a chart detailing how “the Stories format is on a path to surpass feeds as the primary way people share things with their friends sometime next year.”

The repercussions of this medium shift are vast. Users now consider how every moment could be glorified and added to the narrative of their day. Social media platforms are steamrolling their old designs to highlight the camera and people’s Stories. And advertisers must rethink their message not as a headline, body text, and link, but as a background, overlays, and a feeling that lingers even if viewers don’t click through.

WhatsApp’s Stories now have over 450 million daily users. Instagram’s have over 300 million. Facebook Messenger’s had 70 million in September. And Snapchat as a whole just reached 191 million, about 150 million of which use Stories according to Block Party. With 970 million accounts, it’s the format of the future. Block Party calculates that Stories grew 15X faster than feeds from Q2 2016 to Q3 2017. And that doesn’t even count Google’s new AMP Stories for news, Netflix’s Stories for mobile movie previews, and YouTube’s new Stories feature.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg even admitted on last week’s earnings call that the company is focused on “making sure that ads are as good in Stories as they are in feeds. If we don’t do this well, then as more sharing shifts to Stories, that could hurt our business.” When asked, Facebook confirmed that it’s now working on monetization for Facebook Stories.

From Invention To Standard

“They deserve all the credit”, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom told me about Snapchat when his own app launched its clone of Stories. But what sprouted as Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel and his team reimagining the Facebook News Feed through the lens of its 10-second disappearing messages has blossomed into the dominant way to see life from someone else’s perspective. And just as Facebook and Twitter took FriendFeed and refined it with relevancy sorting, character constraints, and all manners of embedded media, the Stories format is still being perfected. “This is about a format, and how you take it to a network and put your own spin on it” Systrom followed up.

Snapchat is trying to figure out if Stories from friends and professional creators should be separate, and if they should be sorted by relevancy or reverse chronologically. Instagram and Facebook are opening Stories up to posts from third-party apps like Spotify that makes them a great way to discover music. WhatsApp is pushing the engineering limits of Stories, figuring out ways to make the high-bandwidth videos play on slow networks in the developing world.

Messenger is removing its camera from the navigation menu, and settling in as a place to watch Stories shared from Facebook and Instagram. Meanwhile, Messenger is merging augmented reality, commerce, and Stories so users can preview products in AR and then either share or buy them. Facebook created a Stories carousel ad that lets businesses share a slideshow of three photos or videos together to string together a narrative. And perhaps most tellingly, Facebook is testing a new post composer for its News Feed that actually shows an active camera and camera roll preview to coerce you into sharing Stories instead of a text status. Companies who refuse the trend may be left behind.

Social Media Bedrock

As I wrote two years ago when Snapchat with the only app with Stories:

“Social media creates a window through which your friends can watch your life. Yet most social networks weren’t designed that way, because phones, screen sizes, cameras, and mobile network connections weren’t good enough to build a crystal-clear portal.

With all its text, Twitter is like peering through a crack in a fence. There are lots of cracks next to each other, but none let you see the full story. Facebook is mostly blank space. It’s like a tiny jail-cell window surrounded by concrete. Instagram was the closest thing we had. Like a quaint living room window, you can only see the clean and pretty part they want you to see.

Snapchat is the floor-to-ceiling window observation deck into someone’s life. It sees every type of communication humans have invented: video, audio, text, symbols, and drawings. Beyond virtual reality and 360 video — both tough to capture or watch on the go — it’s difficult to imagine where social media evolves from here.” It turns out that over the next two years, social media would not evolve, but instead converge on Stories. 

What comes next is a race for more decorations, more augmented reality, more developers, and more extendability beyond native apps and into the rest of the web. Until we stop using cell phones all together, we’ll likely see most of sharing divided between private messaging and broadcasted Stories.

The medium is a double-edged sword for culture, though. While a much more vivid way to share and engender empathy, they also threaten to commodify life. When Instagram launched Stories, Systrom said it was because otherwise you “only get to see the highlights”.

But he downplayed how a medium for capturing more than the highlights would pressure people around the world to interrupt any beautiful scene or fit of laughter or quiet pause with their camera phone. We went from people shooting and sharing once or a few times a day to constantly. In fact, people plan their activities not just around a picture-perfect destination, but turning their whole journey into success theater.

If Stories are our new favorite tool, we must learn to wield them judiciously. Sometimes a memory is worth more than an audience. When it’s right to record, don’t get in the way of someone else’s experience. And after the Story is shot, return to the moment and save captioning and decoration for down time. Stories are social media bedrock. There’s no richer way to share, so they’re going to be around for a while. We better learn to gracefully coexist.

Snapchat scrambles to fix failed redesign, moves Stories to Discover

Snapchat’s redesign was a disaster. It cratered ad views and revenue and led Snapchat’s user count to actually shrink in March. That’s why CEO Evan Spiegel just announced a big reversal of the redesign’s worst part.

“We learned that combining watching Stories and communicating with friends into the same place made it harder to optimize for both competing behaviors. We are currently rolling out an update to address this by sorting communication by recency and moving Stories from friends to the right side of the application, while maintaining the structural changes we have made around separating friends from creators and sorting friends’ Stories by relationships.”

Snap had previously tested this change, and also tried creating separate tabs for Chat and chronologically-sorted Stories inside the Friends section on the left side of the app. Below you can see the new version of Discover, which shows preview tiles of friends’ Stories up top, sorted by who you interact with most. It’s reminiscent of Instagram Stories, which also users a horizontal scrolling row of Stories.

I think this design is still a mess. It takes Snapchat’s pioneering Stories product and buries it amongst all the professional content inside Discover. Essentially, Snapchat has taken its redesign philosophy too far. Originally it pulled brands and social media stars out of the Stories list and put them in Discover because it didn’t want your friends’ Stories to have to compete with the pros. But now those Stories and the pro content are all crammed into one screen.

What Snap needs to do is create tabs for relevancy-sorted Stories and chronologically-sorted messages in the friends side of the app, and keep all professional content in the Discover section, but with the option to subscribe to your favorite creators to move them over to the Friends’ story lists.

Spiegel says he expects users metrics to stabilize as people get used to the redesign. But Snapchat doesn’t have time to be patient. Its losses are mounting and the growth of WhatsApp Status is explosive. That Facebook-owned Stories clone now has 450 million daily users. Snapchat needs to stuff its pride and philosophy and drill down into what users actually want. Spiegel has always gone by his gut, but this awful earnings report should give him indigestion.