Snap turns to search giant Baidu to court Chinese advertisers

Two years have passed since Snap Inc first struck a deal with Baidu that authorized China’s largest search engine to be a reseller of Snapchat ads for companies in Greater China as well as Japan and South Korea, where Baidu runs a portfolio of mobile apps.

This week, the pair announced they have renewed the sales partnership without revealing how revenues are divided between the two and when the extended agreement expires.

Despite being blocked in China like most other western social media services, Snap has shown interest in China in various capacities, including a research and development center in Shenzhen for Spectacles. It’s also serving the country’s game developers, e-commerce merchants and other export-led advertisers who wish to capture the network’s 190 million daily active users around the world.

Facebook and Twitter are in the same overseas ad business in China. Facebook, with an “experience center” in Shenzhen for clients to learn how its ads work, counted China as its second-largest ad spender in 2018, according to Pivotal Research Group. Twitter also holds an annual summit in China for small and medium enterprises going global.

None of the western social giants can go it alone in China, which is why Snap chose Baidu to be its local partner to not only overcome regulatory restrictions on foreign entities but also tap the latter for language support, account management and an extensive advertiser network.

Baidu also intended to resell Facebook ads but did not manage to get a license, a former Facebook employee who wishes to remain anonymous told TechCrunch. Instead, Facebook works with Cheetah Mobile, PapayaMobile and seven other advertising representatives in China.

Through the deal, companies that purchase media through Baidu gain access to all forms of ad slots in Snap’s videos, real-time selfie effects, overlays and more. The return can be satisfying. Besides the opportunity to capture a predominantly young user base, advertisers are reaching a sticky group who, on average, opens Snapchat over 20 times and spends over 30 minutes on the app every day.

“With its young, vibrant user base, Snap’s advertising platform has been instrumental in driving growth for our game AFK Arena,” said Chris Zhang, vice president of Shanghai-based Lilith Games, in a statement.

“Our partnership with Snap Inc. provides Chinese companies new avenues to expand their businesses through Snapchat advertising,” said Sheng Hu, head of U.S. strategy and partnership at Baidu’s Global Business Unit that operates a range of overseas products such as Japanese keyboard app Simeji. “We look forward to connecting with marketing executives in China and beyond on behalf of Snap to discuss the benefits of these advertising solutions.”

Twitter.com launches its big redesign with simpler navigation and more features

Twitter’s website is getting a major overhaul. The company has been testing a new version of its desktop website since the beginning of the year, and today the final product is rolling out to the public. The upgraded experience simplifies navigation with a new — and fairly large — left-hand sidebar that directs you to all of Twitter’s key sections, including Notifications, Direct Messages, Explore, Bookmarks, Lists and more. The site also features an expanded, more inbox-like Direct Messages screen where you can view and respond to conversations in one place; plus easy profile switching, support for more themes, advanced search and other features.

The popular dark modes, Dim and the very black Lights Out mode, are now supported along with more ways to personalize Twitter through different themes and color options.

But the most noticeable change is the organization and layout of the Twitter home screen itself.

Below: the old Twitter.com

Screen Shot 2019 07 15 at 11.03.41 AMBelow: the new Twitter.com

Twitter Web Dark Mode2

The update is designed to make it easier to move around Twitter. Before, you’d have to click on your Profile icon to access features like Lists, Themes, Settings and other options. Meanwhile, getting to Moments was available both in this Profile drop-down menu and in the main Twitter navigation at the top of the screen, next to Notifications and Messages.

Screen Shot 2019 07 15 at 11.04.49 AM

Now, Moments is being downgraded to the “More” menu in the redesign — as seen in a test running earlier this summer — and Explore instead gets the top billing. As on mobile, Explore will direct users to more live videos and personalized local moments, says Twitter. This is also where you’ll find Top Trends, while Personalized Trends will be featured on the right-hand sidebar on the home screen (see above).

In addition, Twitter finally brought the more than year-old Bookmarks feature to the desktop’s main navigation.

With the update, the new navigation menu includes: Home, Explore, Notifications, Messages, Bookmarks, Lists, Profile and More — the latter, a menu where you’ll find things like Moments, Twitter’s ad tools, Settings and other features.

The new Compose feature has been slightly tweaked as well, with options to include a photo, GIF, poll or emoji now all in the bottom left — with the emoji button now swapping in for the location button, following Twitter’s decision to make sharing precise location less of a priority, given its lack of use.

Though the new home screen is arguably better-organized, the navigation text itself and the amount of screen real estate it takes up is overly large.

This detracts somewhat from the main content — the tweets themselves — because your eye is naturally drawn to the oversize navigation labels at first, not the posts flowing in the timeline. This also can be a jarring change to get used to for longtime Twitter.com users. (Good thing there’s a new Mac desktop app on the way.)

Screen Shot 2019 07 15 at 11.49.11 AM

If you really can’t stand the navigation labels’ size, you can make the webpage smaller, which then hides the text labels of the navigation items, leaving only their icons. This, unfortunately, isn’t all that useful if you like to keep Twitter open in a tab alongside all your other tabs. It works better if you pop out Twitter.com into its own window.

The navigation changes were likely a design choice Twitter made, in part, to simplify the use of its product by more casual users and newcomers.

The company has struggled with user growth throughout its history, even changing how it reports metrics to paint a better picture of its business. Now, you’d have to be almost completely web illiterate to not find your way around the new Twitter.com. But only time will tell what effect this has on growing its user base.

Not all the changes will be as controversial as the new layout, though.

For example, the now double-paned Direct Message section is more welcome as it makes using Messages feel more like the real inbox it often is — with the message list on the left and conversations on the right.

Search got an update, as well, which puts tabs for moving between “Top,” “Latest,” “People,” “Photos” and “Videos” at the top of the screen, with Advanced Search Filters to the right.

Screen Shot 2019 07 15 at 11.55.49 AM

And for those with multiple Twitter accounts, you can now switch between them from the main navigation. That’s helpful.

Twitter’s tests of the updated design had been rolling out to more people throughout the year — it even tried two different versions for a time. Throughout this process, the company incorporated some of the user feedback it received. For example, the changes to the Messaging screen and the high priority given to Bookmarks were among the requests Twitter addressed.

But generally speaking, Twitter was aiming to deliver a more consistent, seamless experience across both the phone and the web platforms with this update, a company spokesperson told us.

There’s some bad news for old-school Twitter.com users — as of this public launch of the redesign, there’s no option for going back to the legacy experience, as there was during the testing period.

Twitter says the upgraded look will begin rolling out globally starting today.

Daily Crunch: Twitter will let you hide replies

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Twitter will start testing its ‘hide replies’ feature next week, in Canada

Before you start complaining about censorship, keep in mind that hidden replies won’t actually get pulled from Twitter — they’ll disappear from the default view, but you can still tap a gray icon to see them.

The goal is to give the person who starts a conversation more control over which comments are visible, making it harder for trolls to jump in and derail things.

2. Ford and Volkswagen team up on EVs, with Ford the first outside automaker to use VW’s MEB platform

This EV tie-up will see Ford using Volkswagen’s platform to develop “at least one” fully electric car for the European market.

3. YouTube is giving creators more ways to make money

The new features include Super Stickers, allowing users to purchase original animated stickers during a live stream or premiere.

4. Amazon said to be launching new Echo speaker with premium sound next year

Amazon has plans for an Echo that more directly competes with high-end speakers like Apple’s HomePod, according to a new report from Bloomberg.

5. FEC says political campaigns can now get discounted cybersecurity help

In a long-awaited decision, the Federal Elections Commission will now allow political campaigns to appoint cybersecurity helpers to protect themselves from cyberthreats and malicious attackers.

6. WPP sells 60% of market research giant Kantar to Bain, valuing Kantar at $4B

Kantar provides stats and insights on how consumers buy and think of products in areas like technology, media and health — we’ve written many stories citing their numbers.

7. How Roblox avoided the gaming graveyard and grew into a $2.5B company

Time for a new EC-1, which provides an in-depth profile of a successful startup! This time, we’re focusing on Roblox, a company that took at least a decade to hit its stride. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

Twitter will start testing its ‘hide replies’ feature next week, in Canada

Twitter users are getting more control over which comments are visible in the conversations they start.

The company has been testing and talking about this feature since earlier this year, but starting next week, Twitter will actually roll it out to users in Canada.

As you can see in the GIF below, when you’re looking at replies to your tweets, you’ll be able select any of them and hit the “hide reply” option. However, as the name implies, these posts won’t be fully removed from Twitter, just hidden from the default view — everyone will still be able to tap on a gray icon to view hidden replies.

Here’s how Twitter’s Michelle Yasmeen Haq and Brittany Forks explain the feature:

Everyday, people start important conversations on Twitter, from #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, to discussions around #NBAFinals or their favorite television shows. These conversations bring people together to debate, learn, and laugh. That said we know that distracting, irrelevant, and offensive replies can derail the discussions that people want to have. We believe people should have some control over the conversations they start.

Twitter Hide Replies

As my colleague Sarah Perez noted previously, the current implementation is open to at least two criticisms — one, that it could allow users to hide critical viewpoints or fact-checking of their tweets (maybe quote-tweeting will be the better strategy moving forward), and two, that it still forces people to wade through potentially trollish or hateful content in order to hide replies.

Haq and Forks emphasize that Twitter is still looking for ways to improve the feature: “By testing in one country we want to get feedback and better understand how this tool can improve before it’s available globally.”

And yes, the timing of the news is a little awkward, coming right after Twitter went down for about an hour.

It’s not just you, Twitter is down

Twitter is currently down across the web.

At about 2:45 pm ET, the desktop and mobile site were down, displaying a “Something is technically wrong” error. The app was also not working.

At the time of writing, Twitter’s status page confirmed there was an “active incident,” adding: “We are currently investigating dependencies for Twitter data. Scope of affected APIs is undetermined at this time.”

A spokesperson for Twitter did not immediately comment.

We’ll have more when we get it.

More on Twitter:

Superhuman removes email location logging, will turn read receipts off by default

Superhuman, the buzzy and currently invite-only email startup that you might have come across even if you yourself don’t have access if you’ve ever encountered a “Sent via Superhuman” email signature, is making some changes based on community feedback. These include removing location logging altogether, getting rid of all existing location data and turning off read receipts by default and making them an opt-in feature for users.

The email app’s default email tracking behavior (embedding the commonly used advertising tool of a “pixel” in emails to report back to senders info like whether an email’s been opened or not) raised a number of concerns, centered around this blog post by former Twitter design executive Mike Davidson. Davidson’s post generated a lot of community response, and now Superhuman founder Rahul Vohra has issued a response to that response, including a list of actions that his company is taking to address concerns. Specifically, Superhuman’s product changes are focused around mitigating the potential for abuse of sharing location data – which could be very dangerous in the hands of a sender with ill intent for their recipient.

These include immediately stopping any location logging for any emails sent by the service, and also rolling out new versions of the app that don’t show location data in the interface. All existing logged location data will also be deleted so it’s not even discoverable through means other than the UI, Vohra says in a blog post detailing the changes.

Superhuman won’t be getting rid of its “read status” feature entirely however — it’ll still provide info to Superhuman users about whether or not an email was opened. This feature will be turned off by default, however, so it’s on users to activate it. Note that that still doesn’t change anything for recipients of Superhuman emails with read receipts turned on — they don’t get an option to consent to sending read receipts. Finally, Superhuman will enable disabling of remote image loading, which is itself a way to block incoming tracking pixels.

Vohra said on Twitter the reason Superhuman hasn’t issued a response to this previously, despite a few days of heated conversation about their company, is that the startup was considering how best to address the concerns. As Matthew noted in an article Tuesday on the subject, this is actually how discussion and debate should work.

Trump taps conservative pundits for ‘social media summit’

Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk and PragerU are among the conservative voices that have been tapped to attend next week’s White House “social media summit.” That news is courtesy of The Washington Post, which highlights some of the plans for the July 11 event, set to focus on “opportunities and challenges of today’s online environment.”

The move event won’t come as a surprise to anyone whose followed the news cycle since Trump arrived in office. While social media sites have been the subject of plenty of criticism from both the left and the right, conservatives in particular have had companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter in their sights over claimed “liberal biases.”

Just yesterday, Trump told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson that the sites have been “fighting” him. “I know for a fact a lot of people try and follow me and it’s very hard,” the President said. “I have so many people coming up that they say, ‘Sir, it’s so hard. They make it hard to follow.’ What they’re doing is wrong and possibly illegal. And a lot of things are being looked at right now.”

While Trump offered no specific evidence around his claims, the move follows a pattern of accusing different platforms of “shadow banning” Trump and other conservative voices. Last week, Twitter announced that it would be issuing warnings for “abusive behavior” from prominent news figures. While not a block or a ban, the move is an attempt to walk the line between curbing abuse and maintaining “newsworthy” content. Many saw the move as specifically targeting Trump.

Tesla’s in-dash sketchpad gets a boost in next update, music tools coming later

Tesla owners will be better able to express themselves artistically using their in-vehicle infotainment touchscreen with the next update of their vehicle’s in-car software. Tesla revealed via Twitter today that the forthcoming software update will bring improved Sketchpad features, providing essential upgrades to an Easter Egg it first debuted over two years ago that lets Tesla owners doodle in their cars.

In response to a request from a fan asking for Tesla’s in-car drawing software (this is a weird phrase to be writing) to add a color picker, saturation controls and an undo history, Tesla noted that new features are coming in the next big update planned for Tesla vehicle software. It sounds like all of those could be on the menu, based on this tweet, and that might not be the end of the improvements in store.

In May, Tesla CEO Elon Musk responded to another Twitter fan who was requesting animation support. Musk replied just a simple ‘Ok’ but given his general meme love, I would not at all be surprised if the next version of Sketchpad supports GIF output.

Musk also noted at around the same time that “Every Tesla should have good art & music creation software” which does not actually seem like an essential accoutrement for a vehicle at all, but then again Musk is a billionaire and I am not.

The CEO also followed up with some more details on what he has in mind for music curation: A ‘little music tool’ to be released later, and even in-car karaoke.

Apple tries out the ‘choose-your-own adventure’ Twitter thread format that recently went viral

It looks like choose-your-own-adventure Twitter games won’t be a one-hit wonder, now that Apple’s social team has adopted the format. A new tweet from the @AppleTV Twitter account today helps users find a movie to watch by having them click through a series of Twitter threads. However, their effort (so far at least) pales compared with the original viral sensation — a Twitter choose-your-own-adventure style game that blew up earlier this month, where Twitter users try to not get fired as Beyoncé’s new assistant.

If you haven’t seen this masterpiece of Twitter handiwork, give yourself a break this Friday and go try it. It’s great fun.

The game is played by presenting you with a multiple choice question. You then click on your answer from among the Twitter replies presented by the original poster.

For example, you start your day by ordering Queen Bey her breakfast. You’re asked to choose between ordering a five-star breakfast or granola and yogurt. If you choose the former (spoiler alert!), you’re fired. If you click the right answer, you move on to the next task.

Further questions take you to new threads where you choose things like who Beyoncé should FaceTime, what activity you suggest while she waits for hair and makeup, what song to play for her when she asks for music, when she should get dressed for the event and where, whether you should photobomb her on the red carpet to fix her dress, where she sits at an event, and so on.

The game isn’t always simple A/B choices, either. The answers lead you down different paths. Your choice may not immediately result in being fired, but still could later on. For instance, if you send Beyoncé swimming, there’s no way to save your job when the next set of choices comes.

According to a TIME profile, the idea for the thread came from 19-year-old student Landon Rivera, who lives in L.A.

The thread, now which now has over a quarter million Twitter likes, was noticed by celebs like Chrissy Teigen and Questlove, the report also noted.

After the Beyoncé game blew up into a viral hit, the creator started new threads about being Cardi B’s bodyguard and getting away with murder. These haven’t yet taken off to the extent the original Beyoncé thread did, which today stands at over 250K Likes on the thread placeholder tweet, and 97,300 retweets.

While it’s interesting that Apple’s social media team has now copycatted the idea, their choose-your-own-adventure thread falls short.

Actually, really short.

In fact, it’s not much of an adventure at all.

Instead, the movie suggestion thread doesn’t go much further than letting your pick between two movie watching scenarios, then directs you into a genre of your choosing…then, it dead ends with a movie suggestion.

This overlooks the reasons the Beyoncé game went viral in the first place: because it was lengthy, complex, multi-branched, and funny. You could get down several threads deep into the thing and then get booted out and lose.

The questions themselves also prompted commentary from those who knew Beyoncé actual habits (or at least, thought they did.)

Social media teams looking to replicate this formula for their own success will need to do more than create a handful of quick-to-end threads with little payoff. Either invest the serious effort in designing a clever branching narrative or just tweet as usual.

 

 

 

NTWRK moves into live IRL events

NTWRK, is a fascinating experiment in live video shopping for the iPhone set. It’s been described as a blend of QVC and Twitter and Twitch and they just got a new slice of money from investors like Drake and Live Nation to expand into physical events.

There’s been a bunch of attempts at this kind of hybrid event shopping experience, but none of them have quite hit a home run yet. NTWRK was a pretty compelling experience even at launch last year. The core experience is a live show presented only in NTWRK’s app, where guests can talk about products which become available in the app as the show airs.

There was a built in opportunity to offer limited availability streetwear and sneakers, and an audience that founder Aaron Levant knew very well from his time running ComplexCon and Agenda, two big streetwear and marketing shows.

One of the first shows starred Ben Baller and Jeff Staple, and featured a drop of a new colorway of Staple’s iconic Pigeon Dunk from Nike . I tuned in and found the experience to be compelling in its own way. The live show provided context for the product and the interface let you purchase in a couple taps of a button (the shoes sold out immediately and the app inevitably crashed from the rush of hype beasts). The stream and app have gotten more stable since then.

IMG 6407

Since the launch, NTWRK has experimented with various product areas and promotions. The latest funding is enabling expansion back into physical events and some new angles on the NTWRK model.

After getting kicked out of high school in 10th grade, Levant went on to work in graphic design, sales and marketing for an LA streetwear brand. That led to trade show attending and eventually to Levant founding his own show, Agenda in 2003. Agenda got bigger over the next 10 years, becoming one of the biggest action sports, streetwear and lifestyle tradeshows in the world. He sold a majority of Agenda to ReeedPOP, which owns Comic Con and stayed on in a development role. Eventually, he developed other shows including ComplexCon, a smash hit culture and sneaker show in partnership with Complex.

Last year, Levant left to found NTWRK.

“That transition really happened through a conversation that I had with Jimmy Iovine in September of 2017,” Levant told me in an interview last year. “I got introduced to him by a friend. He expressed his interest in a new company for him and his son, and we had similar interests and ideas around that. That night that I met him, I went home, stayed up all night to 4:00 in the morning and wrote the entire business plan for NTWRK.”

Iovine ended up as an investor via the MSA Enterprises vehicle, along with Warner Bros. Digital Networks, LeBron James, Maverick Carter and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Jimmy’s son Jamie is a co-founder and Head of Fandom at NTWRK.

One of Levant’s big takeaways from his time with ComplexCon and Agenda was that the physical audiences were valuable but a digital audience is built to foster through earned media and user-generated content around these lifestyle events.

“There’s 50,000 people in the room but I think there’s probably a million people online who want to engage with those products and that content,” said Levant. “Maybe I felt a little bit like I was using my skill set and I wasn’t extracting the full value out of it because I wasn’t in the e-com or digital media business in the past. I think that was a key unlock for me, how do I do that better with a phase two of my career?”

The past few months have seen a series of high profile launches and collaborations with sneaker and streetwear people. And now, the Live Nation and Drake tie up will lead to artist-driven collections sold on NTWRK’s app, unique ticket access, promo bundles developed by NTWKR and, yes, a new live event called NTWRK Presents that will launch in Q4.

In recent months, Drake sold some of his tour merch exclusively on NTWRK.

Screen Shot 2019 06 26 at 4.32.30 PM

They’ve also been running auctions for rare resell market items like Supreme guitars and sneakers.

The concept of shopping as entertainment is far from new. There’s a reason that the easy buzzphrase people attach to NTWRK is ‘QVC for millennials’. But there has yet to be a platform that has managed to pin together the right culture with the right delivery mechanism at the right time. NTWRK has a chance to do this I believe because Levant has the taste for it, but also because he’s backing into this from a place of understanding when it comes to culture.

Too many times we see the technology of the platform take center stage — a clever delivery mechanism or good design. But, fundamentally, most tech companies are absolutely crap at culture. They’re too homogenic — they do not allow for and encourage the influence of the spaces that they’re catering to.

Black Twitter made Twitter. Creators of color made Vine. Asian and Indian users dominate Whatsapp. But when there is an attempt to engage even niche cultures in commerce or monetization the lack of inclusivity and understanding causes them to just screw up over and over.

Having started with live events that existed primarily as a framework for culture to create its own moments, Levant and NTWRK are in a better position to figure this out. If you’ve ever been to an Agenda or ComplexCon you know what I mean. There’s this pungent melange of culture, music, money, rare goods and ephemeral moment creation happening. The challenge is to make that work in a digital context, of course, and then to sort of ‘re-export’ that back into event formats.

“I think that, as I’ve said countless times, physical events have a huge organic digital ripple, but we needed the digital platform to already be established and scalable before we implemented the physical events, to have an effect on the larger digital platform,” Levant says about moving NTWRK into an IRL context. “In my previous roles, I spent 15 years really focusing on the physical experiential events and towards the end of my career doing that I came to the realization I was doing it backwards.”

I don’t necessarily think that this model’s going to work for everybody. I think Levant and co have a unique skill of bringing people together and I think the celebrity thing is a strong overall angle – right down to the investors.

“Obviously Drake is an icon that has massive influence over all of pop culture and I think there are few people in that category of him that can capture consumer’s imagination,” says Levant. “I couldn’t think of someone better than him to be involved with our company.”

There are other angles too, though, that still have the same thing at the core. NTWRK is creating this engaged audience and they’re giving them value and then offering them a very on-the-face, honest transaction: “Look, here’s this thing. If you buy it, we benefit. Thanks, peace.”

That kind of interaction model is foreign to media because of this idea that advertising is the only gain and the only way to build that monetary relationship. I think people are going to start to get wise to that but they still are very resistant.

“We were out there, talking to every brand and every agency in the world and it’s really interesting to watch who gets it and who’s totally confused,” said Levant when we spoke about the launch. “It’s really fun to have these conversations because people are just like, ‘Wait, what are you doing?’

They have a really hard time grasping it and they don’t know who we should talk to. Should we be talking to the media buying team? Should we be talking to the wholesale team? Should we talk to the PR team? I’m like, ‘No, we’re talking to everybody.””

“Companies tend to divide their business up into these silos, these business units and these internal categories and they usually don’t collaborate and play well together and when you get these big, global organizations, their head’s spinning because they don’t know who we should talk to because no one’s done this one-to-one yet.”

Right now as I write this I’m watching Bobby Hundreds talk live about his memoir This is Not A T-Shirt — while selling a bundle that includes the book and, yes, a t-shirt. Hundreds (Bobby Kim), built a streetwear brand when it was definitely not a thing to build a streetwear brand.

The bundle runs $50. I’m thinking about buying it.