Twitch publicly launches its free broadcasting software, Twitch Studio

Twitch today publicly launched Twitch Studio, its new software designed to help new streamers get started broadcasting. The idea behind the app is to make it simple for someone new to the space to get started, by offering a quick setup process and other tools to make the stream both look and sound more professional — even if the streamer doesn’t have broadcasting experience.

The software, which was only available in closed beta until today, will detect the user’s mic, webcam, monitor resolution, bitrate and more through a guided setup process. Streamers can then choose from a variety of starter layouts and overlays that will help them personalize their stream’s look-and-feel.

Once live on Twitch, the software will also help streamers to interact with the online community and viewers, including by way of built-in alerts, an activity feed, and integrated Twitch chat.

As the company previously explained, many people have thought about streaming but gave up on doing so because the process was too difficult. The new software aims to get them over that hurdle of setting up a stream for the first time.

As the streamer becomes more knowledgable and capable, they may outgrow their need for Twitch Studio — and that would be fine. The goal was to get them involved with Twitch streaming in the first place, not necessarily keep them on the platform longer-term.

Twitch Studio is currently available only on Windows PCs, not Mac, iOS or Android “at this time,” Twitch says — a hint that cross-platform support could come further down the road. However, in the near-term, Twitch is working to better integrate the software with other Twitch functionality as well as roll out tools that make it easier to chat and engage viewers.

The launch timing is notable as Twitch has recently lost its biggest streamer, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, to Microsoft’s Mixer. The loss was then followed by the exit of Michael “Shroud” Grzesiek, also to Mixer. Meanwhile, Google’s Stadia, which is about to launch on Nov. 19, will make it easy to stream directly to YouTube. 

Twitch says the new Twitch Studio software is available today, in beta, for anyone on Windows 7 or newer.

Google’s CallJoy phone agent for small businesses gets smarter, more conversational

Earlier this year, Google’s in-house incubator launched CallJoy, a virtual customer service phone agent for small businesses that could block spammers, answer calls, provide callers with basic business information and redirect to SMS other requests, like appointment booking or to-go orders. Today, CallJoy is rolling out its first major update, which now enables the computer phone agent to have more of a conversation with the customer by asking questions and providing more information, among other improvements.

Originally, CallJoy could provide customers with information like the business hours or the address, or could ask the customer for permission to send them a link over text message to help them with their request. With the update, CallJoy’s phone agent can answer questions more intelligently. 

This begins by CallJoy asking the customer, “can I help you?,” which the customer then responds to, as they would usually. Their answer allows CallJoy to offer more information than before, based on what the caller said.

For example, if a caller asked a restaurant if they had any vegetarian options, the phone agent might respond: “Yes! Our menu has vegetarian and vegan-friendly choices. Can I text you the link to our online menu?”

This isn’t all done through some magical AI, however. Instead, the business owner has to program in the sort of customer inquiries it wants CallJoy to be able to respond to and handle. While some, like vegetarian options, may be common inquiries, it can be hard to remember everything that customers ask. That’s where CallJoy’s analytics could help.

The service already gathers call data — like phone numbers, audio and call transcripts — into an online dashboard for further analysis. Business owners can tag calls and run reports to get a better understanding of their call volume, peak call times and what people wanted to know. This information can be used to better staff their phone lines during busy times or to update their website or business listings, for example. And now, it can help the business owner understand what sort of inquiries it should train the CallJoy phone agent on, too.

Once trained, the agent can speak an answer, send a link to the customer’s phone with the information or offer to connect the caller to the business’ phone number to reach a real person. (CallJoy offers a virtual phone number, like Google Voice, but it can ring a “real” phone line as needed to get a person on the line.)

Another feature launching today will allow business owners to implement CallJoy as they see fit.

Some business owners may prefer to answer the phone themselves and speak to their customers directly, for example. But they could still take advantage of a service like this at other times — like after hours or when they’re too busy to answer. The updated version now allows them to program when CallJoy will answer, including by times of day, or after the phone rings a certain number of times, for example.

The business owner will also receive a daily email recap of everything CallJoy did, so they know how and when it was put to use.

The product to date has been aimed at small business owners who can’t afford the more expensive customer service phone agent systems. Instead, it’s priced at a flat $39 per month.

A spokesperson for CallJoy says the service has signed up “thousands” of small businesses since its initially invite-only launch in May 2019. 

Google’s Area 120 incubator is a place for Google employees to try out new ideas, while still operating inside Google instead of leaving for a startup. It’s considered a separate entity — some of the apps produced by Area 120 don’t even mention their Google affiliation in their App Store descriptions, for instance. CallJoy, however, has received more of a spotlight than some. It has even being featured on Google’s main corporate blog, The Keyword, today. However, if CallJoy makes the leap to Google — something that hasn’t been decided yet — it wouldn’t be the first Area 120 project to do so.

Area 120’s Touring Bird recently landed inside Google, as did learn-to-code app Grasshopper and others.

We understand that joining Google is something that’s still on the table for CallJoy, but it’s not at the point of making that switch just yet.

WordPress.com sites can now accept subscriptions with new ‘Recurring Payments’ feature

The subscription model is today sustaining a number of businesses, including artists, creators, news publishers, game developers, entertainment providers and more. Now, top publishing platform WordPress.com is making it easier for any creator or web publisher to add a subscription feature to their own website, so they can begin to generate repeat contributions from their supporters, readers, fans, or customers.

The feature is available to any WordPress.com site on a paid plan as well as Jetpack-powered sites. It’s also fairly flexible in nature.

Once enabled, WordPress.com website owners could charge for weekly newsletters, accept monthly donations, sell yearly access to exclusive content, or charge for anything else where they want to be able to bill their supporters on a set schedule.

WordPress.com partnered with internet payment processor Stripe on the new feature, which means WordPress.com blog publishers will also need to set up a Stripe account of their own before using Recurring Payments. Then, they’ll head to the “Earn” page on WordPress.com and click on “Connect Stripe to Get Started” to be walked through the setup process.

Users are able to create as many different payment plans as they like — including those that support different currencies, payment frequencies, and names — which enables them to offer different tiers or types of subscriptions to their customers, readers, or fans.

They’ll also be able to put a Recurring Payments button on their website.

Subscribers, meanwhile, can cancel their subscriptions at any time from their WordPress.com account.

Being able to quickly and easily add subscriptions to any website could convince some creators to move their subscription plans off larger platforms, like Patreon, for example, in order to save on fees and revenue share. However, they would miss out on the other platform resources by doing so. Instead, many may choose to simply add WordPress.com as another channel where they collect subscription revenue.

The feature isn’t necessarily only for creators — it could also be put to use by clubs and organizations who have to collect their own recurring membership fees and dues or anyone else who needs to be able to collect money easily on a regular basis. WordPress.com notes that some people even collect rent through recurring payments, for example.

The launch could have a major impact on the prevalence of subscriptions across the web, given the size of WordPress.com’s footprint. The company today touts that over 409 million people view 20 billion pages on its platform every month, and publishers produce around 70 million new posts per month.

Google Chrome to identify and label slow websites

Is it the web page that’s slow or is it your network connection? In the future, Google’s Chrome web browser may have an answer for you. Google announced today a plan to identify and label websites that typically load slowly by way of clear badging. The company says it may later choose to identify sites that are likely to be slow based on the user’s device and current network conditions, as well.

Google hasn’t yet determined how exactly the slow websites will be labeled, but says it may experiment with different options to see which makes the most sense.

For example, a slow-loading website may show a “Loading…” page that includes a warning, like a caution icon and text that reads “usually loads slow.” Meanwhile, a fast website may display a green progress indicator bar at the top of the page instead of a blue one.

And for links, Chrome may use the context menu to help users know if the site will be slow so you can decide whether or not you want to click.

In the long-term, Chrome’s goal will be to identify and badge websites offering “high-quality” experiences which may include other factors beyond just the website’s speed. The company didn’t yet detail what those other factors may be, but says the identification process will include more stringent criteria that’s rolled out gradually over time. However, the goal will be to make these “good user experiences” something any web developer can achieve.

In the meantime, Google suggests web developers visit its resources focused on site performance, including its learning platform web.dev./fast; online tool for optimization suggestions, PageSpeed Insights; and personalized advice tool, Lighthouse.

A faster, more usable web benefits Google, as it helps the company better cater to its primarily mobile users. Since 2015, the majority of Google users start their searches from mobile devices. But that shift has required new ways of indexing and ranking pages and serving users whose connection speeds vary and who may not have powerful devices.

Google now uses a website’s mobile version when indexing its pages, and it offers fast AMP pages to help mobile users get to information more quickly. It makes sense that a next step would be to nudge site owners themselves to speed things up or risk getting labeled as a “slow” website.

This sort of feature would particularly help Google users in emerging markets, like India, where decent bandwidth is often lacking and low-end smartphones are prevalent.

“Speed has been one of Chrome’s core principles since the beginning – we’re constantly working to give users an experience that is instant as they browse the web,” a Chrome blog post explained. “That said, we have all visited web pages we thought would load fast, only to be met by an experience that could have been better. We think the web can do better…,” it read.

Amazon to open its first non-Whole Foods grocery store in 2020

Amazon is opening its first non-Whole Foods grocery store in the L.A. neighborhood of Woodland Hills, the retailer today confirmed. The news of the new store was first reported by CNET, which spotted several job postings referencing the location including those for a zone leader, grocery associates, and a food service associate.

Unlike Amazon’s growing number of cashierless Amazon Go convenience stores, the new store will feature conventional checkout technology, says Amazon. CNBC also noted the store may be located in a former Toys R Us location at a shopping center.

Amazon declined to offer more details about its plans for the store or others like it, but did confirm it’s opening a grocery store in Woodland Hills in 2020.

The retailer’s plans to expand its grocery operations beyond its Whole Foods brand was previously reported by The Wall Street Journal in October. Amazon, the report claimed, was planning a chain of dozens of grocery stores across the U.S., beginning with sites in L.A., Chicago, and Philadelphia. Woodland Hills was mentioned as being among the first locations, along with Studio City and Irvine.

Other locations being scouted included those in the New York metro area, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Amazon’s interest in an expanded brick-and-mortar presence comes at a time when Walmart’s grocery business has been booming, with some reports claiming it now dominates those from rivals, including Amazon, Instacart, and others.

Walmart in Q2 reported 37% increase in e-commerce sales, supported by the strong growth in online grocery. Much of its success in that area can be attributed to the proximity of its stores to its customer base. With no markups on food prices (as some of its competitors do), it’s affordable to order from Walmart Grocery online, then drive to pick up the groceries — or pay a small fee to have them delivered.

Amazon’s Whole Foods, meanwhile, has long had a reputation as a more expensive store. Following the acquisition of the grocery chain, Amazon has tried to combat that notion with weekly sales and discounts for Prime members. But Whole Foods is still considered to be a more high-end store, and its prices continue to reflect that.

The new Amazon grocery stores, on the other hand, will be targeted at the mainstream consumer who typically shops from more traditional, or even value, grocery chains.

“When it comes to grocery shopping, we know customers love choice and this new store offers another grocery option that’s distinct from Whole Foods Market, which continues to grow and remain the leader in quality natural and organic food,” an Amazon spokesperson told CNET.

They said Whole Foods would continue to expand, despite the launch of the new Amazon grocery stores. Whole Foods opened 17 locations this year and has more planned, the company said.

 

ViacomCBS shakes up its content leadership teams following merger

Following the merger of CBS and Viacom announced earlier this year, the combined company today confirmed its plans to restructure its content and digital leadership teams in order to streamline operations. Among the changes, which were first reported by The Wall St. Journal on Sunday, are the departures of Comedy Central Head Kent Alterman and Viacom Networks COO Sarah Levy. Meanwhile, CBS Chief Creative Officer David Nevins will add BET to his responsibilities, while President of MTV, VH1, CMT, and Logo Chris McCarthy, will now become President of Entertainment & Youth Brands, ViacomCBS Domestic Media Networks.

This will put McCarthy in charge of Comedy Central, Paramount Network, Smithsonian Channel and TV Land brands.

Nevins, in addition to BET, will also oversee CBS Television Studios, the CBS Television Network’s Entertainment division, the Showtime Networks and Pop, The CW, and the programming of streaming service CBS All Access.

In terms of children’s content, Nickelodeon President Brian Robbins will oversee kids and young adult-focused programming as President, Kids & Family Entertainment, ViacomCBS Domestic Media Networks. That puts him back in charge of Awesomeness, which he co-founded and sold to Viacom in 2018, in addition to Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite, Nick Jr., TeenNick, Nicktoons and Nickelodeon Studios.

ViacomCBS also said that Carolyn Kroll Reidy will continue her role as President and Chief Executive Officer of Simon & Schuster, Inc. And Jim Gianopulos will continue as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Paramount Pictures, a role that includes oversight of Paramount Animation, Paramount Features, Paramount Players and Paramount TV.

The exec shuffles follow other announcements about the combinations of the two companies’ advertising sales and content distribution teams.

In addition, the company had previously announced Joe Ianniello would serve as Chairman and CEO of CBS, which includes oversight of CBS Television Network (including CBS Entertainment, CBS News, and CBS Sports), CBS Television Studios, CBS Interactive (including CBS All Access) and CBS Television Stations. However, he lost oversight of Showtime and Pop TV to President and CEO of Viacom and ViacomCBS, Bob Bakish.

Also previously reported was that CBS Interactive chief Jim Lanzone had left for Benchmark Capital, to be replaced by Marc DeBevoise. This puts DeBovise in charge of digital operations and reporting to Bakish.

Viacom Digital Studios Kelly Day will continue in her role and report to DeBevoise, the company also said today. And CBS CTO Phil Wiser will become ViacomCBS CTO.

The free streaming service Pluto TV, headed by co-founder Tom Ryan, will report to Bakish. (In news unrelated to the exec changes, Pluto TV announced today it will start streaming music videos from Vevo across 10 new channels.)

These leadership changes are meant to consolidate operations while keeping the production arms of CBS Television Studios and Viacom’s counterpart, Paramount Television, separated, The WSJ said.

Beyond the exec shuffle itself, ViacomCBS also detailed how it plans to maximize its combined assets, on the content from. The company announced this morning it’s putting into place a new “Content Council” that will work to “maximize the use of IP and talent relationships” across the company. The council will be chaired by Nevins and include all the content leaders.

“ViacomCBS will be one of the largest premium content creators in the world, with the capacity to produce content for both our own platforms and for others,” said President and CEO of ViacomCBS Bob Bakish, in a statement. “This talented team of content leaders will work together to ensure we realize the full power of our brands, our deep relationships with the creative community and our intellectual property to drive our growth as a combined company,” he added.

The Viacom-CBS merger is expected to fully close in December.

 

 

 

Twitter drafts a deepfake policy that would label and warn, but not always remove, manipulated media

Twitter last month said it was introducing a new policy to help fight deepfakes and other “manipulated media” that involve photos, videos or audio that’s been significantly altered to change its original meaning or purpose, or those that make it seem like something happened that actually did not. Today, Twitter is sharing a draft of its new policy and opening it up for public input before it goes live.

The policy is meant to address the growing problem with deepfakes on today’s internet.

Deepfakes have proliferated thanks to advances made in artificial intelligence that have made it easier to produce convincing fake videos, audio and other digital content. Anyone with a computer and internet connection can now create this sort of fake media. The technology can be dangerous when used as propaganda, or to make someone believe something is real which is not. In politics, deepfakes can be used to undermine a candidate’s reputation, by making them say and do things they never said or did.

A deepfake of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg went viral earlier this year, after Facebook refused to pull down a doctored video that showed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stumbling over her words was tweeted by Trump.

In early October, two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner (D-VA) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), called on major tech companies to develop a plan to combat deepfakes on their platforms. The senators asked 11 tech companies — including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit and LinkedIn — to come up with a plan to develop industry standards for “sharing, removing, archiving, and confronting the sharing of synthetic content as soon as possible.”

Twitter later in the month announced its plans to seek public feedback on the policy. Meanwhile, Amazon joined up with Facebook and Microsoft to support the DeepFake Detection challenge (DFDC), which aims to develop new approaches to detect manipulated media.

Today, Twitter is detailing a draft of its deepfakes policy. The company says that when it sees synthetic or manipulated media that’s intentionally trying to mislead or confuse people it will:

  • place a notice next to Tweets that share synthetic or manipulated media;
  • warn people before they share or like Tweets with synthetic or manipulated media; or
  • add a link – for example, to a news article or Twitter Moment – so that people can read more about why various sources believe the media is synthetic or manipulated.

Twitter says if a deepfake could threaten someone’s physical safety or lead to serious harm, it may also remove it.

The company is accepting feedback by way of a survey as well as on Twitter itself, by way of the #TwitterPolicyFeedback hashtag.

The survey asks questions like whether altered photos and videos should be removed entirely, have warning labels, or not be removed at all. And it asks whether certain actions are acceptable, like hiding tweets or alerting people if they’re about to share a deepfake. It also asks when it should remove a tweet with misleading media. The policy Twitter created says tweets will be removed if the tweet threatens someone’s physical safety, but will otherwise be labeled. The survey suggests some other times a tweet could be pulled — like if it threatens someone’s mental health, privacy, dignity, property and more.

The survey takes five minutes to complete and is available in English, Japanese, Portuguese, Arabic, Hindi and Spanish.

What isn’t clear, however, is how Twitter will be able to detect the deepfakes published on its platform, given that detection techniques aren’t perfect and often lag behind the newer and more advanced creation methods. On this front, Twitter invites those who want to partner with it on detection solutions to fill out a form.

Twitter is accepting feedback on its deepfakes policy from now until Wednesday, November 27 at 11:59 p.m. GMT. At that time, it will review the feedback received and make adjustments to the policy, as needed. The policy will then be incorporated into Twitter’s Rules with a 30-day notice before the change goes live.

 

This Week in Apps: Photoshop for iPad bombs, Google Play’s new rewards program, iOS bug fixes

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support, and the money that flows through it all. What are the developers talking about? What Do app publishers and marketers need to know? How is international politics playing out in the App Store? What apps is everyone using?

As November kicks off, we’re looking at a number of big apps launches from Microsoft and Adobe — as well as what went wrong. We’re also looking at the iOS bug-squashing release, a bunch of data about app install trends around the world, Google Play’s new loyalty program and what it means for developers, the continued scrutiny of Chinese apps by the U.S. government, and more.

Fast Facts

eMarketer remindS us that it recently put out a big report on app installs with a ton of insights. It’s actually been live for a few months, but ICYMI, here are some of the key data points and highlights:

  • The average iPhone user in the U.S. downloaded 47 apps in 2018, up from 44 in 2017.
  • The average number of apps installed is rising — up 15% from 2016. In the U.S., Japan, South Korea, and Australia, users had more than 100 apps downloaded in 2018.
  • Smartphone users spend the most time using their top 5 apps. In 2017, the top 5 accounted for 87% of usage. Now (Apr. 2019) it’s 83%. The No. 1 app had a 49% share of the time spent, now it’s 44%.
  • The number of smartphone users in the U.S. will grow just 3% in 2019, compared with 13.2% in India and 12.1% in Indonesia.
  • Related, app downloads grew 165% in India from 2016 to 2018. In China, 70%. In Indonesia, 55%. And in Brazil, 25%. The U.S. app downloads grew just 5%.
  • In June 2019, the App Store had 1.8 million apps compared with Google Play’s 3.1 million.
  • 43% of iOS app install referrals came from Facebook properties, and only 6.6% came from Google properties.
  • Apple Search Ads drove 12% of non-organic installs in May 2019.
  • In-app video ads outperform display ads. Install-to-register rates for video were 35.1% in Q1
    2019 on the Liftoff network, compared with 28.5% for display ads.
  • App engagement drop-off rates after day one are the biggest in shopping apps. (25% engagement after the first day, but 8% at 30 days). Travel also sees a big drop-off. (20% after the first day and 6% after 30 days).

Headlines

iOS Bug Squashing: Apple fixed the iOS bug that killed your background apps. Apple this week finally squashed a very annoying bug in iOS 13 that made the OS overly aggressive about killing background apps and tasks. Apps like Safari, YouTube, Overcast and others were impacted, leading users to lose emails or the video they were watching just when they switched away for a few seconds. What Apple can’t fix is a growing concern that Apple has “lost the plot” following a series of extremely buggy software updates across its product line, which made users hesitant to upgrade to macOS Catalina, and bricked people’s HomePods.

Google admits it can’t secure the Play Store on its own: Google this week announced partnerships with security firms ESET, Lookout, and Zimperium to form what it has branded the “App Defense Alliance.” The goal, the company says, is to unite the security industry to fight malicious apps across Android’s ecosystem of 2.5 billion devices. Basically, Google will integrate its own detection systems with each partner’s scanning engine to help it uncover potential risks and threats. However, the fact that Google is now essentially outsourcing security to a partner ecosystem is an admission of failure, to some extent, about its abilities to keep the Play Store free from bad actors on its own. (But of course, we all knew that already, right?)

Photoshop for iPad is tanking: Adobe released its most important mobile app ever with this week’s launch of Photoshop for iPad. But fans panned the app because it’s missing several key features. Like RAW support! The app now has 2 stars out of 5…yikes. So what went wrong?

To read more, subscribe to Extra Crunch.

Roku puts a remote on your wrist with new Apple Watch app

The Roku remote is coming to your wrist. The company announced today the launch of an Apple Watch app that lets you control your Roku device, including Roku media players and select Roku TVs, with a tap — just like the Roku mobile app, but sized for your wrist.

Considered the limited screen real estate, the app is fairly robust in terms of its feature set.

In addition to the expected media controls — like the ability to play and pause what you’re watching –, the app also offers a home button, the select button (“OK”), a back button and directional arrows. And it includes a way to launch your favorite channels, which are organized in order of the most recently launched to make them easier to access. That way, if you always watch Netflix, you don’t have to scroll down to find it.

In addition, the tiny remote app includes voice search functionality. To activate, you just tap the voice icon, then say things like “Launch Hulu” or “search for comedies,” or even change sources, like “switch to HDMI 1” for your Roku TV, the company explains. This will work on Apple Watch versions 1 through 5.

And if you have a Roku Ultra or a Roku TV with the Remote Finder functionality which uses an audible chime to locate a lost remote control in the couch cushions, you can also use the Roku Apple Watch app to signal your Roku remote to start making a noise.

All these features will be familiar to anyone who has already used the Roku remote for smartphones, as the Apple Watch app is just a miniaturized version. The only thing it’s missing is the ability to stream The Roku Channels’ free movies, but obviously that’s not a feature you’ll want on your wristwatch. (I mean…right?)

To get the Roku Apple Watch app, you’ll need to download or update your Roku iOS app to the latest version (6.1.3), and the app will appear on your Watch as long as you haven’t disabled “Automatic App Install” in the Watch’s Settings.

Facebook’s first experimental apps from its ‘NPE Team’ division focus on students, chat & music

This July, Facebook announced a new division called NPE Team which would build experimental consumer-facing apps, allowing the company to try out new ideas and features to see how people would react. It soon thereafter tapped former Vine GM Jason Toff to join the team as a product manager. The first apps to emerge from the NPE Team have now quietly launched. One, Bump, is a chat app that aims to help people make new friends through conversations, not appearances. Another, Aux, is a social music listening app.

Aux seems a bit reminiscent of an older startup, Turntable.fm, that closed its doors in 2013. As in Turntable.fm, the idea with Aux is that of a virtual DJ’ing experience where people instead of algorithms are programming the music. This concept of crowdsourced DJ’ing also caught on in years past with radio stations that put their audiences in control of the playlist through their mobile app.

Later, streaming music apps like Spotify experimented with party playlists, and various startups launched their own guest-controlled playlists.

The NPE Team’s Aux app is a slightly different take on this general idea of people-powered playlists.

The app is aimed at school-aged kids and teens who join a party in the app every day at 9 PM. They then choose the songs they want to play and compete for the “AUX” to get theirs played first. At the end of the night, a winner is chosen based on how many “claps” are received.

As the app describes it, Aux is a “DJ for Your School” — a title that’s a bit confusing, as it brings to mind music being played over the school’s intercom system, as opposed to a social app for kids who attend school to use in the evenings.

Aux launched on August 8, 2019 in Canada, and has less than 500 downloads on iOS, according to data from Sensor Tower. It’s not available on Android. It briefly ranked No. 38 among all Music apps on the Canadian App Store on October 22, which may point to some sort of short campaign to juice the downloads.

The other new NPE Team app is Bump, which aims to help people “make new friends.”

Essentially an anonymous chat app, the idea here is that Bump can help people connect by giving them icebreakers to respond to using text. There are no images, videos or links in Bump — just chats.

Based on the App Store screenshots, the app seems to be intended for college students. The screenshots show questions about “the coolest place” on campus and where to find cheap food. A sample chat shown in the screenshots mentions things like classes and roommate troubles. 

There could be a dating component to the app, as well, as it stresses that Bump helps people make a connection through “dialog versus appearances.” That levels the playing field a bit, compared with other social apps — and certainly dating apps — where the most attractive users with the best photos tend to receive the most attention.

Chats in Bump take place in real time, and you can only message in one chat at a time. There’s also a time limit of 30 seconds to respond to messages, which keeps the chat active. When the chat ends, the app will ask you if you want to keep in touch with the other person. Only if both people say yes will you be able to chat with them again.

Bump is available on both iOS and Android and is live in Canada and the Philippines. Bump once ranked as high as No. 252 in Social Networking on the Canadian App Store on September 1, 2019, according to Sensor Tower. However, it’s not ranking at all right now.

What’s interesting is that only one of these NPE Team apps, Bump, discloses in its App Store description that the NPE Team is from Facebook. The other, Aux, doesn’t mention this. However, both do point to an App privacy policy that’s hosted on Facebook.com for those who go digging.

That’s not too different from how Google’s in-house app incubator, Area 120, behaves. Some of its apps aren’t clear about their affiliation with Google, save for a link to Google’s privacy policy. It seems these companies want to see if the apps succeed or fail on their own merit, not because of their parent company’s brand name recognition.

Facebook hasn’t said much about its plans for the NPE Team beyond the fact that they will focus on new ways of building community and may be shut down quickly if they’re not useful.

Facebook has been asked for comment about the new apps and we’ll update if one is provided.