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.”

Facebook snags former Vine GM to run product for its new experimental app division, NPE Team

Is Facebook preparing to launch a serious competitor to TikTok? If so, the company just picked up some key talent to make that happen. Last week, Facebook announced plans for a new division, called the NPE Team, which will build experimental consumer-focused apps where it will try different ideas and features, then see how people react. Now, Facebook has picked up former Vine GM Jason Toff to join the NPE team as a Product Management Director.

Toff’s experience also includes time spent at Google, most notably as a Product Lead for YouTube before exiting to Vine in 2014. At the short-form video app maker, Toff worked as Head of Product for a year, then became Vine’s General Manager.

Vine, of course, was later snatched up by Twitter — and there, Toff moved up to Director of Product Management before boomeranging back to Google, where his initial focus was on AR and VR projects.

Most recently, Toff worked as a Partner at Google’s Area 120, Google’s in-house incubator where employees work on experimental projects.

That’s not all that different from what Facebook appears to have in store with its own NPE Team ambitions. Similar to Area 120 or Microsoft Garage, for example, the NPE Team plans to deliver apps that will “change very rapidly” in response to consumer feedback. It will also be quick to close down experiments that aren’t useful to people in fairly short order.

That’s not how Facebook itself operates. Its more experimental apps have had longer runs, as the company used them to gain feedback to inform its larger projects. For example, its photo-sharing app Moments ran from 2015 through early 2019, and its TrueCaller-like app Hello for emerging markets ran for several years, despite fairly limited adoption.

Facebook has also tried and failed with a number of other offshoots over the past decade, like Facebook Paper, Notify, a Snapchat clone called Lifestage, and others, as well as those it picked up through acquisitions, then later shut down like tbh or Moves. It also previously ran an internal incubator of sorts called Facebook Creative Labs, which birthed now-failed projects like Slingshot, Riff, and Rooms.

Many of these efforts were fairly high-profile at launch, which made their eventual shut down more problematic for Facebook’s image. With NPE Team — as with Area 120 or Microsoft Garage — there’s a layer of separation between the test apps and the larger company. Many of the apps that the NPE Team puts out will bomb, and that’s the point — it wants to get the failures out of the way faster so others can find success.

While Toff can’t yet say what he’ll be working on at Facebook, there’s a lot of speculation that NPE Team will try to come up with some sort of answer to TikTok, the Beijing-based short-form video app that sucked up Musical.ly in 2018 and now is a Gen Z social networking hit with some 500 million-plus monthly users. Toff’s background with Vine could certainly be helpful if that were the case.

Facebook, of course, already tried to get a TikTok clone off the ground with Lasso, but the experiment didn’t take off and the app lead, Brady Voss, left Facebook soon after its launch. It

Toff says he’s hiring for NPE Team, including both UX designers and engineers.

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.

‘The Operators’: Understanding your user – The art and science of UI/UX behind Facebook, Google, Mint, and Edmodo

Welcome to this transcribed edition of The Operators. TechCrunch is beginning to publish podcasts from industry experts, with transcriptions available for Extra Crunch members so you can read the conversation wherever you are.

The Operators highlights the experts building the products and companies that drive the tech industry. Speaking from experience at companies like Airbnb, Brex, Docsend, Edmodo, Facebook, Google, Lyft, Mint, Slack, Uber, WeWork, etc., these experts share insider tips on how to break into fields like design and enterprise sales. They also share best practices for entrepreneurs to hire and manage experts in fields outside their own.

This week’s edition features Gülay Birand, UX Lead and Product Design Manager at Facebook, and Tim Rechin, Head of Design at Edmodo, the leading education technology company. Gülay and Tim share their experiences and explain design, UI/UX, how to build a career in these fields, and how entrepreneurs should think about them.

Gülay and Tim bring experience from other great companies including Google, Amazon, Mint, and SAP. Having seen and grown in their disciplines from a variety of companies and customer types, they share deep insight from across tech.

image1 2

Neil Devani and Tim Hsia created The Operators after seeing and hearing too many heady, philosophical podcasts about the future of the world and the tech industry, and not enough attention on the practical day-to-day work that makes it all happen.

Tim is the CEO & Founder of Media Mobilize, a media company and ad network, and a Venture Partner at Digital Garage. Tim is an early-stage investor in Workflow (acquired by Apple), Lime, FabFitFun, Oh My Green, Morning Brew, Girls Night In, The Hustle, Bright Cellars, and others.

Neil is an early-stage investor based in San Francisco with a focus on companies solving serious problems, including Andela, Clearbit, Recursion Pharmaceuticals, Vicarious Surgical, and Kudi.

If you’re interested in becoming a designer, doing UI/UX research, furthering your career in that field, or starting a company and don’t know when to hire or how to manage this discipline, you can’t miss this episode!

The show:

The Operators highlights the experts building the products and companies that drive the tech industry. Speaking from experience at companies like Airbnb, Brex, Docsend, Edmodo, Facebook, Google, Lyft, Mint, Slack, Uber, WeWork, etc., these experts share insider tips on how to break into fields like design and enterprise sales. They also share best practices for entrepreneurs to hire and manage experts in fields outside their own.

In this episode:

In Episode 3, we’re talking about design and UI/UX. Neil interviews Gülay Birand, UX Lead and Product Design Manager at Facebook, and Tim Rechin, Head of Design at Edmodo.

Neil Devani: Hello and welcome to The Operators, where we talk to the people building the companies of today and tomorrow. We publish every other Monday and you can find us online at Operators.co.

Today’s episode is very special, we are talking to two UI/UX experts who have designed and researched products that have been touched by billions of people. I’m your host, Neil Devani and we’re coming to you today from the Vault of Joi here at Digital Garage in downtown San Francisco.

Joining me is Tim Rechin, Head of Design at Edmodo, the leading classroom and education community with 100 million users globally. Also joining us is Gülay Birand, a UX lead and product design manager at Facebook.

Gülay works on the newsfeed product used by billions of people every day. Thank you for joining us, if you could tell us more about yourselves and your work it would be great to hear more.

Gülay Birand: Thank you, my name is Gülay Birand. I’m a product design manager at Facebook . I’ve been at Facebook for about three months. Prior to that I was at Google for about 8 years, and I led a horizontal team on Google Cloud Platform for about four years, leading growth and engagement, support, and product excellence initiatives.

Prior to that I did a bit of a tour to Google, so I worked on search, identity, a couple of other areas like mobile ads, and before that I was at T-Mobile where I was building mass market and franchise home experiences, mainly on Android. And prior to that I was at Amazon leading experiences for the very first Kindle, so that was a lot of fun.

Devani: And Tim tell us more about yourself and how you got here.

Tim Rechin: Yeah, so I’m currently at Edmodo, leading up design and that’s really across the entire platform that serves our teachers, students and parents in the US and globally. And before Edmodo, I was at Facebook, and I was on the Feed Ads team and responsible for the lead ads product that we launched that year. Before that I was at Mint, so doing personal finance and some of you may be using Mint.

Devani: I’m definitely using Mint, its great, I love it.

Rechin: And then before that SAP, Yahoo, eBay, and then Elance very early on which is now Upwork.

Devani: Very cool, all companies that I’ve used, products that I enjoy, thank you for helping create them.

Birand: Thank you.

Devani: So it’d be great if you could tell folks more about what you do every day. Who are the folks in your company that you are interacting with, what are your responsibilities, what does it mean to do the job that you do?

Rechin: That’s a good question, it’s a bit mixed. Just for some context, Edmodo is a company a little over 100 people and so our product teams are in the 6-7 product managers range. I lead a team of 3 designers. So my day to day is really getting to work and really trying to figure out what’s going on, so this year is a particularly busy year as we get ready for back to school.

And so we have a lot of concurrent projects going, so one of the things I like to do when I get in is level set, kind of see how my day is and I’ll go check in with the different teams. That’s part of the work I do, working with the different product teams and the strategy.

So like I said, we are working on lots of different projects, so it’s really just keeping everyone aligned and making sure that designers are delivering things on time, that any issues or gaps are being filled and we can go answer those questions that are coming from product managers and designers. In some cases too, there is a project that is about to be kicked off, so everything is not clean, phased, there are always these things that kind of pop up.

So I will find myself in meetings in talking about strategy to figure out how to kick off those projects or what our go-to-market is for back to school.

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.)

Verified Expert Brand Designer: Studio Rodrigo

Ritik Dholakia worked as a startup product manager before he co-founded Studio Rodrigo, a branding and product design agency based in NYC. Unlike traditional branding firms, Studio Rodrigo is proud of its product design chops, especially when it comes to helping early-stage startups build version one of their product. It’s not an easy balancing act since most companies eventually want to bring their product design talent in-house, but it turns out, Studio Rodrigo can help with that too. Learn more about the studio in our Q&A with founder Ritik Dholakia.

Studio Rodrigo’s unique approach:

“Studio Rodrigo listened to all of our goals and dreams, concerns and uncertainties, and created a brand identity, website, and marketing materials that were true to our vision but better than anything we could have imagined.” Tze Chun, NYC, Founder, Uprise Art

“Basically, we’re a full-stack product design team. We have people who can do brand identity from a pure graphic design and visual communications standpoint, and who can also connect the dots between design and technology, business, and customer needs. We don’t have a traditional agency model with a project and account management overhead. You work directly with our designers.”

On Studio Rodrigo’s ideal client:

“We like working with clients that are solving big, meaty, challenging problems. We’ve got a smart team that likes to wrap their heads around the kinds of technologies that are pushing industries forward. For us, that’s currently technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence.”

designer fast facts 30

Below, you’ll find the rest of the founder reviews, the full interview, and more details like pricing and fee structures. This profile is part of our ongoing series covering startup brand designers and agencies with whom founders love to work, based on this survey and our own research. The survey is open indefinitely, so please fill it out if you haven’t already. 


Interview with Studio Rodrigo Co-founder Ritik Dholakia

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Yvonne Leow: First things first, how did you get into brand design and product development?

Ritik Dholakia: I’ve been in digital design and product development for about 20 years now. I actually started my career as a product manager at a startup. I worked for two venture-backed startups as the first product manager. I was part of the Series A team, managing product development, acquiring initial customers, and building market traction.

The first startup was an enterprise software platform for customers doing triple bottom line reporting. The second one was one of the earliest social networking platforms, pre-Facebook, and around the same time as Friendster, LinkedIn, and Spoke.

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.

New Google Area 120 project Shoelace aims to connect people around shared interests

A new project from Google’s in-house incubator, Area 120, aims to help people find things to do and others who share your same interests. Through a new app called Shoelace — a name designed to make you think of tying things together — users can browse through a set of hand-picked activities, or add their own to a map. For example, someone who wanted to connect with fellow dog owners could start an activity for a doggie playdate at the park, then start a group chat to coordinate the details and make new friends.

The end result feels a bit like a mashup of Facebook Events with a WhatsApp group chat, perhaps. But it’s wrapped in a clean, modern design that appeals more to the millennial or Gen Z user.

Like Meetup and others in the space, Shoelace’s focus is not on building yet another social networking app, but rather on leveraging a social app to inspire real-world connections.

This is not a novel idea. In fact, startups many times over have tried to create an alternative to Facebook by offering tools to connect users around locations or shared interests, instead of only re-creating users’ established friend networks online. And many cities today have their own social clubs designed to help people make new friends and participate in fun, local activities.

Screen Shot 2019 07 11 at 2.06.41 PM

Shoelace is still in invite-only testing and only offered in New York City, for the time being.

However, its website says that the long-term goal is to bring the app to cities nationwide after the team learns what does and does not work. There’s also a form that will allow you to request Shoelace in your own community.

Google has had a rocky history when it comes to social networking products. Its largest effort to date, Google+, finally wound down its consumer business in April. That said, Shoelace is not really a “Google” product — it’s a project built by Googlers as a part of the Area 120 incubator, where employees can experiment with new ideas full-time without having to leave the company.

“One of the many projects that we’re working on within Area 120 is Shoelace, an app that helps people meet others with similar interests in person through curated activities,” a Google spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch. “Like other projects within Area 120, it’s an early experiment so there aren’t many details to share right now,” they said.

The app is live on Google Play and iOS (TestFlight) for those who have received an invite.

Facebook tries to make ad targeting explanations more useful

Facebook has been adding new tools to provide more transparency about why users are seeing certain ads and content (and what they can do about it), but in a blog post today, Product Manager Sreethu Thulasi wrote, “We heard feedback from people that they can still be hard to understand and difficult to navigate.”

To address that, the company said it’s making two changes. First, when you select the “Why am I seeing this ad?” option on an advertisement, you’ll get more info:

In the past, “Why am I seeing this ad?” highlighted one or two of the most relevant reasons, such as demographic information or that you may have visited a website. Now, you’ll see more detailed targeting, including the interests or categories that matched you with a specific ad. It will also be clearer where that information came from (e.g. the website you may have visited or Page you may have liked), and we’ll highlight controls you can use to easily adjust your experience.

An accompanying video shows how a user might dig into an ad to see how their interests, location, demographic information and a past visit to the advertiser’s website all played a role in the targeting. If you don’t like what you see, you can adjust your interests on Facebook, or your can click through to the “What You Can Do” section, which will point out options like blocking all ads from that advertiser or limiting the personal data that’s shared by third-party companies.

Speaking of third-party data, Facebook said it’s also telling you more about the businesses that are uploading data about you, dividing the listing (found in your Ad Preferences) into two sections — one that shows advertisers that have uploaded a list with your information and used it to run an ad in the past seven days, and another of businesses that have shared lists with your data, along with advertisers that have used that data to show you an ad in the past seven days.

Like many privacy tools, these may not get used by most Facebook users. But for those who are curious or concerned, this seems like a clear way to make the information accessible without dumbing it down too much.

And of course, this is just one of a number of steps Facebook has taken recently to increase transparency as it faces regulatory scrutiny (and even proposals for a break-up).

Snapchat announces new shows from Serena Williams, Arnold Schwarzenegger and others

Snapchat just announced that it’s making shows with big names like Serena Williams, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Kevin Hart, as well as online stars like Emma Chamberlain, Loren Gray, Rickey Thompson, Baby Ariel and FaZe Banks.

Snapchat launched its original content efforts two years ago, and today it’s unveiling a new program called Creator Shows. As initially announced in the Hollywood Reporter, these will be first-person shows designed around individual creators.

For example, Schwarzenegger will be providing motivational advice in a show called “Rules of Success,” while Thompson will weigh in on fashion and lifestyle trends on “Trend or End” and Gray offers beauty advice on “Glow Up.”

The shows will begin airing this month. They’re all exclusive to Snapchat, and many of them come from creators who have a substantial following on other platforms — Chamberlain, for example, was just described in The New York Times as “the funniest person on YouTube.

Rickey Thompson Premieres July 10

“Snapchat has always been my favorite platform to post random and funny things on because it’s so relaxed,” Chamberlain said in a statement. “My favorite part about it is that I get to watch my own Snapchat Stories a few hours after I post them for entertainment… kind of embarrassing, I know…”

Snap isn’t sharing viewership numbers around its original shows, but it does say that daily time spent watching those shows tripled over the past year.

And as media giants funnel more and more money into original video content, this might be the strategy that Snapchat needs to compete — rather than trying to find the next big-budget hit, it can focus on personality-driven shows from creators with large followings.