Snapchat launches a TikTok-like feed called Spotlight, kick-started by paying creators

After taking on TikTok with music-powered features last month, Snapchat this morning is officially launching a dedicated place within its app where users can watch short, entertaining videos in a vertically scrollable, TikTok-like feed. This new feature, called Spotlight, will showcase the community’s creative efforts, including the videos now backed by music, as well as other Snaps users may find interesting.

Snapchat says its algorithms will work to surface the most engaging Snaps to display to each user on a personalized basis.

To do so, it will rank the Snaps in the new feed using a combination of factors, like how many other people found a particular Snap interesting, how long people spent watching it, if it was favorited or shared with friends, and more. The algorithms will also consider negative factors, like if a viewer skipped watching the Snap quickly, for example. Over time, the feed will become tailored to the individual user based on their own interactions, preferences, and favorites. This is a similar system to what TikTok uses for its “For You” feed.

Image Credits: Snap

However, on TikTok, only users with public profiles can have their videos hit the “For You” feed. Spotlight, meanwhile, can feature Snaps from users with both private or public accounts. These Snaps can be sent to Spotlight directly or posted to Our Story. The company says the Snaps from the private accounts will be featured in an unattributed fashion — that is, no name will be attached to the content. There will also be no way to comment on these Snaps or message the creator, Snapchat explains.

Users who are over 18 can opt in to public profiles in order to have their names displayed, which allows them to build a following. But while this allows users to private and directly reply to the creators, there are no public comment mechanisms on Spotlight.

That’s a different setup than on TikTok and gives Snapchat a way to avoid the much larger hassle of handling comment moderation.

The Spotlight feed itself, though, is moderated. The company says all Snaps that appear on the new feed will have to adhere to Snapchat’s Community Guidelines, which prohibit the spread of false information (including conspiracy theories), misleading content, hate speech, explicit or profane content, bullying, harassment, violence, and other toxic content. The Snaps must also adhere to Snapchat’s new Spotlight Guidelines, Terms of Service, and Spotlight Terms.

Image Credits: Snap

The Spotlight Guidelines specify what sort of content Snapchat wants, the format for the Snaps, and other rules. For example, they state the Snaps should be vertical videos with sound up to 60 seconds in length. They should also include a #topic hashtag and should make use of Snapchat’s Creative Tools like Captions, Sounds, Lenses or GIFs, if possible, The Snaps have to be appropriate for a 13+ audience, as well.

Captions are a new feature, designed for use in Spotlight. Also new is a continuous shooting mode for longer Snaps and the ability to trim singular Snaps.

The Snaps can also only use the licensed music from Snapchat’s own Sounds library and must feature original content, not content repurposed from somewhere else on the internet . That could limit accounts that repost internet memes, which tend draw large subscriber bases on rival platforms, like Instagram and TikTok.

In addition, Snaps in Spotlight won’t disappear from being surfaced in the feed unless the creator chooses to delete them.

Users will be alerted to the new Spotlight feature when they return to Snapchat following Monday’s launch. Afterward, they’ll be able to take Snaps as usual then choose whether they want to send them to their friends, to their Story, to Snap Map, or now to Spotlight.

Image Credits: Snap

The feed itself will be accessible through a prominent new fifth tab on the Snapchat home screen’s main navigation, and is designated with a Play icon.

To encourage users to publish to Spotlight, the company will distribute over $1 million USD every day to Snapchat users (16 and up) who create the top Snaps on Spotlight. This will continue through the end of 2020. The earnings will be determined by Snapchat’s proprietary algorithm that rewards users based on the total number of unique views a Snap gets per day (calculated using Pacific Time), as compared with others on the platform.

The company says it expects many users to earn money from this fund each day, but those with the most views will earn more than others. It will also monitor this feed for fraud, it warns.

With the music licensing aspects already ironed out, Snapchat is now looking to leverage the over 4 billion Snaps created by its users every day to power the new Spotlight feed. This move represents Snapchat’s biggest attempt at taking on TikTok to date — and one that it’s willing to kickstart with direct payments, too. That will likely encourage plenty of participation among Snapchat’s young user base, given they’re already using the app on a regular basis. And once posting to Spotlight becomes a habit, Snapchat could have a viable competitor on its hands, at least among the younger demographic that favors its app.

Its biggest disadvantage, of course, is that it has struggled to reach beyond its young user base. That’s something TikTok has done better with, by comparison. The Wall St. Journal last week noted that TikTok teens were often following accounts from senior citizens, for instance, and the AARP had earlier reported TikTok had attracted a middle-aged crowd, as well.

Snapchat says Spotlight is live today on both iOS and Android in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the U.K., Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and France, with more countries to come soon.

Hulu UX teardown: 5 user experience fails and how to fix them

Hulu is the first major streaming platform to offer a social watching experience. And with most major league sports now being allowed to resume behind closed doors, Hulu’s combined proposition with ESPN will likely help entertain the service’s 30+ million users over the winter months.

But users have a surplus in choice of streaming services right now, so how will Hulu stay competitive?

With the help of UX expert Peter Ramsey from Built for Mars, we’re going to give Hulu an Extra Crunch UX teardown, demonstrating five ways it could improve its overall user experience. These include easy product comparisons, consistent widths, proportionate progress bars and other suggestions.

Comparing features inside packages

If your product/service has different tiers/versions, ensure that the differences between these options are obvious and easy to compare.

The fail: Hulu has four different packages, but the listed features are inconsistent between options, making it incredibly difficult to compare. Instead of using bullet points, they’ve buried the benefits within paragraphs.

The fix: Break the paragraphs down into bullet points. Then, make sure that the bullet points are worded consistently between options.

 

Steve O’Hear: I’m really surprised this one got past the marketing department. Not a lot to say except that I would argue that when UX, including layout and copywriting decisions, become decoupled from business goals and customer wants, a company is in trouble. Would you agree that’s what has happened here?

Peter Ramsey: Honestly, this happens all the time. I think it’s just a symptom of the designers building things that look nice, not things that work nicely. I probably raise this issue on about one-third of the private audits I do — it’s that common.

Keep a consistent width

Try to maintain a consistent page width throughout a single journey — unless there’s a major benefit to changing the width.

The fail: During the Hulu sign-up process, the page width doubles at a totally unnecessary point. This is disorienting for the user, with no obvious rationale.

The fix: Hulu has a pretty consistent first-half of their journey and then it drops the ball. I’d redesign these “extra-wide” pages to be the default width.

Will Zoom Apps be the next hot startup platform?

When Zoom announced Zapps last month — the name has since been wisely changed to Zoom Apps — VC Twitter immediately began speculating that Zoom could make the leap from successful video conferencing service to becoming a launching pad for startup innovation. It certainly caught the attention of former TechCrunch writer and current investor at Signal Fire Josh Constine, who tweeted that “Zoom’s new ‘Zapps’ app platform will crush or king-make lots of startups.”

As Zoom usage exploded during the pandemic and it became a key tool for business and education, the idea of using a video conferencing platform to build a set of adjacent tooling makes a lot of sense. While the pandemic will come to an end, we have learned enough about remote work that the need for tools like Zoom will remain long after we get the all-clear to return to schools and offices.

We are already seeing promising startups like Mmhmm, Docket and ClassEdu built with Zoom in mind, and these companies are garnering investor attention. In fact, some investors believe Zoom could be the next great startup ecosystem.

Moving beyond video conferencing

Salesforce paved the way for Zoom more than a decade ago when it opened up its platform to developers and later launched the AppExchange as a distribution channel. Both were revolutionary ideas at the time. Today we are seeing Zoom building on that.

Jim Scheinman, founding managing partner at Maven Ventures and an early Zoom investor (who is credited with naming the company) says he always saw the service as potentially a platform play. “I’ve been saying publicly, before anyone realized it, that Zoom is the next great open platform on which to build billion-dollar businesses,” Scheinman told me.

He says he talked with Zoom leadership about opening up the platform to external developers several years ago before the IPO. It wasn’t really a priority at that point, but COVID-19 pushed the idea to the forefront. “Post-IPO and COVID, with the massive growth of Zoom on both the enterprise and consumer side, it became very clear that an app marketplace is now a critical growth area for Zoom, which creates a huge opportunity for nascent startups to scale,” he said.

Jason Green, founder and managing director at Emergence Capital (another early investor in Zoom and Salesforce) agreed: “Zoom believes that adding capabilities to the core Zoom platform to make it more functional for specific use cases is an opportunity to build an ecosystem of partners similar to what Salesforce did with AppExchange in the past.”

Building the platform

Before a platform can succeed with developers, it requires a critical mass of users, a bar that Zoom has clearly passed. It also needs a set of developer tools to connect to the various services on the platform. Then the substantial user base acts as a ready market for the startup. Finally, it requires a way to distribute those creations in a marketplace.

Zoom has been working on the developer components and brought in industry veteran Ross Mayfield, who has been part of two collaboration startups in his career, to run the developer program. He says that the Zoom Apps development toolset has been designed with flexibility to allow developers to build applications the way that they want.

For starters, Zoom has created WebViews, a way to embed functionality into an application like Zoom. To build WebViews in Zoom, the company created a JS Kit, which in combination with existing Zoom APIs enables developers to build functionality inside the Zoom experience. “So we’re giving developers a lot of flexibility in what experience they create with WebViews plus using our very rich set of API’s that are part of the existing platform and creating some new API’s to create the experience,” he said.

The crowd goes wild for Yiming

There’s no shortage of TikTok coverage in the news today as the app’s fate in the U.S. hangs in the air.

What the press doesn’t always address is how TikTok gets here — how did a Chinese startup seize the lucrative short-video market in the West before Google and Facebook? What did it do differently from its Chinese predecessors who tried global expansion to little avail? Matthew Brennan’s new book “Attention Factory” set out to answer these questions by tracing ByteDance’s trajectory from an underdog despised by Chinese tech workers and investors to the envy of Silicon Valley and the target of the White House.

Matthew has spent years working closely with China’s tech firms, not only analyzing them but also using their products as a curious local, experiences that informed his meticulously researched and entertaining book. Interwoven with captivating anecdotes of TikTok, rare photos of ByteDance’s original team, incisive analysis and telling infographics, “Attention Factory” is an essential read for those looking to understand how ideas in the American and Chinese internet worlds collided, coincided and converged throughout the 2010s.

TikTok is a rare example of a Chinese internet service that has gained worldwide success. Before expanding overseas, ByteDance had already proven the short-video model in China through Douyin, the homegrown version of TikTok.

The excerpt below follows a high-growth period of Douyin, detailing how it gained around 200 million daily active users within a year: a loyal creator community, viral memes, algorithmic recommendation and aggressive ad spending.

Before long, the Chinese startup would replicate that growth playbook in the rest of the world, tweaking it here and there to make it work.


Hundreds of fashionably dressed young people were arriving at 751 D.PARK, an expanse of industrial plants redeveloped into a hip culture venue in northeast Beijing. They were clad in baseball caps, brightly colored dresses, loose-fitting hip-hop style streetwear and limited-edition sneakers. The site had been transformed into something akin to the stage of the talent competition “American Idol,” spanning two floors filled with strobe lighting, high-volume music and trendy backdrops. This was an exclusive party — three hundred top Douyin creators coming together to celebrate the app’s one-year anniversary.

The online stars, billed as the “new generation of internet celebrities,” weren’t there to just socialize and enjoy themselves. Every influencer was aware of the unspoken competition to derive the best content from that night. They were all fighting to achieve a higher level of superstardom and the medium of battle was short video.

The influencers who knew each other gathered in small groups as their assistants tirelessly captured fifteen-second videos of their carefully crafted skits. Loners roamed around the dance floor, absorbed in finding the ideal lighting for their lip-syncing selfie videos. Lesser-known influencers nervously approached more famous ones, proposing to record a dance together to potentially tap into their peers’ following. Loud hip-hop music kept playing in the background as creators hurried to touch up the videos they had just shot. Once the editing was done, they uploaded their works and anxiously waited for the app’s algorithms to judge who would grab more eyeballs.

Dance teams took to the stage to display their skills. The crowd bopped their heads back and forth as rappers attempted to impress with clever lyrics. Later as the hosts were midway through giving out awards, a wave of noise erupted from the back of the crowd interrupting the proceedings.

It was Yiming. Dressed in a black baseball cap and gray T-shirt and accompanied by Lidong. The audience went wild — the CEO had decided to drop in unannounced! Immediately he was bombarded with requests to take pictures and videos. As those around him whooped and cried out wildly, the entrepreneur simply smiled and kept his hands calmly by his side, an awkward 34-year-old engineer type among the hyper fashionable, mostly teenage hip-hop crowd.

Yiming and Lidong appear at a Douyin promotional event marking the app’s first anniversary in Sept 2017

Yiming and Lidong appear at a Douyin promotional event marking the app’s first anniversary in Sept 2017.

He already knew from looking at the data, but this was confirmation in the flesh — Douyin had built a robust community, with powerful momentum and was on the verge of doing something special.

The breakout

October 1st marks the beginning of “Golden Week,” a seven-day-long official Chinese national holiday. Periods like these are big opportunities for China’s internet industry. People’s behaviors change for a week; many find more time for entertainment and to try new things.

Over October, Douyin’s daily users doubled from seven to 14 million; two months later, they reached 30 million. Over those three months, the 30-day retention rates jumped from eight to over 20%, the average time spent in the app soared from 20 to 40 minutes. It was as if some magic rocket fuel had suddenly been added, boosting every key metric. What had changed?

The answer was Zhu Wenjia. Zhu Wenjia, hired from Baidu in 2015, was widely considered to be one of the top-three best people in the entire company when it came to algorithm technology. He ran one of ByteDance’s most capable engineering teams and had recently been assigned to work on Douyin. The team’s work harnessing the full power of ByteDance’s content recommendation back end led directly to the astounding October results.

The better the metrics, the more resources ByteDance placed behind the app as it now had good retention and was fast-tracked into becoming a strategically important product. Suddenly support was coming in from all over the company — people, money, user traffic, celebrity endorsements, brand collaborations, and most importantly, full integration and optimization of ByteDance’s powerful recommendation engine. Chinese stars with massive fan bases such as Yang Mi, Lu Han, Kris Wu, and Angelababy opened accounts, joining in publicity campaigns, and a nationwide “Douyin Party” event roadshow was planned. Douyin had become the hottest upcoming app in China.

ByteDance ramped up the investment in all three short-video products, including Douyin. People, resources and advertising budget were all raised, leading an industry insider to comment later: “The sudden rise of Douyin wasn’t without good cause. Yiming threw more money at this than anyone and dared to hunt down and grab the best people.”

Commercialization began with the first three brand ad campaigns paid for by Airbnb, Harbin Beer and Chevrolet. Douyin’s advertising business would soon make rapid progress. ByteDance already had hundreds of sales and marketing staff who would shortly be able to add Douyin’s advertisement inventory to their sales targets.

Yiming revealed in a later interview that the company had made it compulsory for everyone on the management team to make their own Douyin videos with goals to gain a certain number of likes or suffer forfeits such as doing push-ups. It wasn’t good enough to just look at charts and data; management needed to understand short videos from a creator’s perspective also. Yiming had watched Douyin videos for a long time but creating his own was “a big step for me,” he admitted.

Yiming’s personal Douyin account (3277469). Seventeen videos at the time of writing, including clips from his global travels

Yiming’s personal Douyin account (3277469). Seventeen videos at the time of writing, including clips from his global travels.

‘Oh well … karma’s a bitch’

The video opened to a young woman yawning, dressed in pajamas with messy morning hair. Wearing glasses and with no signs of makeup, she casually lip-syncs the line, “Oh well … karma’s a bitch” and throws a silk scarf into the air. Suddenly loud background music explosively begins. In an instant, she transforms into a glamorous fashion model, almost unrecognizable from a second before. A new meme had taken hold of Douyin.

“Karma’s a bitch” was a new version of the original “Don’t judge me” challenge that had propelled Musical.ly to top the U.S. app store three years earlier. The meme was another breakthrough for Douyin; People loved watching the shocking transformations. Compilations of the meme’s videos started popping up online. In particular, the makeup skills of some women left many men in disbelief. “Karma’s a bitch” left an impact on mainstream culture and gained widespread recognition and publicity, even making waves out into English language global media.

Douyin was also increasingly hypercharging the popularity of catchy pop songs with strong hooks. In late 2017, a track known as the “Ci-li-ci-li song” exploded on Douyin. The song’s catchy energy was undeniably infectious. Yet, it was the novel set of dance moves that had become associated with the track’s hook that turned the music into a meme and dramatically amplified its success.

The track had actually been released back in 2013 by Romanian reggae and dancehall artist Matteo, under the name “Panama.” Four years after its debut, the song’s unexpected and explosive spike in popularity led the singer to hastily organize an Asia tour to capitalize on his track’s sudden fame. A YouTube video shows him meeting Chinese fans at the Hangzhou airport who demonstrate their moves to him in the arrivals hall. With the dance having been created entirely in China, the bewildered artist finds himself in the awkward situation of not knowing how to follow the moves to the song for which he is famous.

Perhaps the most reliable indicator of the platform’s increasing influence on society was how the name, Douyin, had started to enter everyday colloquial vernacular, becoming synonymous with short video. The meaning of “Let’s shoot a Douyin!” needed no explanation.

Make it rain

ByteDance knew they now had a winning formula. Retention was good, word of mouth was excellent, a large, vibrant community of video creators had been fostered. The recommendation engine was doing its job of surfacing the best content. Douyin’s fire was already burning bright; now, it was time to pour gasoline on things and spend, spend, spend.

The holiday week of Chinese New Year is another unique annual opportunity for app promotions. Hundreds of millions travel home to be reunited with their families and find themselves with free time to relax. An entertainment app like Douyin was the perfect way to pass the time; word of mouth spread naturally between family members.

To step up its efforts further, Douyin directly gave out money to users by running a Chinese New Year “lucky money” campaign. Users could collect small cash amounts in special videos by tapping on the “red packet” icons — a digital manifestation of cash-filled envelopes people give to each other during the holiday. ByteDance also went all out, spending wildly, buying adverts and promotions across major online channels to acquire users, spending about 4 million yuan a day (over half a million dollars). The combination of all these effects sent Douyin to the top of the Chinese app store charts. Various reports stated Douyin’s daily users jumped from around 40 to 70 million over the February to March period covering Chinese New Year, with some of the top accounts seeing their follower numbers quadruple.

A chart mapping the progress of Douyin, from zero to 200 million daily active users, during the first two years of operation.

A chart mapping the progress of Douyin, from zero to 200 million daily active users, during the first two years of operation.

 


This article is an excerpt from “Attention Factory: The Story of TikTok and China’s ByteDance,” which was written by Matthew Brennan and edited by TechCrunch reporter Rita Liao, who wrote the introduction to this post.

Netflix’s latest experiment is a TikTok-like feed of funny videos

Netflix already borrowed the concept of short-form video “Stories” from social apps like Snapchat and Instagram for its Previews feature back in 2018. Now, the company is looking to the full-screen vertical video feed, popularized by TikTok, for further inspiration. With its latest experiment, Fast Laughs, Netflix is offering a new feed of short-form comedy clips drawn from its full catalog.

The feed includes clips from both originals and licensed programming, Netflix says. It also includes video clips from the existing Netflix social channel, “Netflix Is A Joke,” which today runs clips, longer videos and other social content across YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Fast Laughs resembles TikTok in the sense that it’s swiped through vertically, offers full-screen videos and places its engagement buttons on the right side. But it’s not trying to become a place to waste time while being entertained.

Like many of Netflix’s experiments, the goal with the Fast Laughs feed is to help users discover something new to watch.

Instead of liking and commenting on videos, as you would in a social video app, the feed is designed to encourage users to add shows to their Netflix watch list for later viewing. In this sense, it’s serving a similar purpose to Netflix’s “Previews” feature, which helps users discover shows by watching clips and trailers from popular and newly released programming.

As users scroll through the new Fast Laughs feed, they’ll encounter a wide range of comedy clips — like a clip from a Kevin Hart stand-up special or a funny bit from “The Office,” for example. The clips will also range in length anywhere from 15 to 45 seconds.

In addition to adding clips to Netflix’s “My List” feature, users can also react to clips with a laughing emoji button, share the clip with friends across social media, or tap a “More” button to see other titles related to the clip you’re viewing.

The feature was first spotted by social media consultant Matt Navarra, based in the U.K. In his app, Fast Laughs appeared in front of the row of Previews, where it was introduced with text that said “New!”

Netflix confirmed to TechCrunch the experiment had been tested with a small number of users earlier this year, but has recently started rolling out to a wider group this month — including users in the U.K., the U.S. and other select markets.

It’s currently available to a subset of Netflix users with adult profiles or other profiles without parental controls on iOS devices only. However, users don’t need to be opted in to experiments nor do they need to be on a beta version of the Netflix app to see the feature. It’s more of a standard A/B test, Netflix says.

And because it’s a test, users may see slightly different versions of the same feature. The product may also evolve over time, in response to user feedback.

Netflix is hardly the first to “borrow” the TikTok format for its own app. Social media platforms, like Instagram and Snapchat, have also launched their own TikTok rivals in recent months.

But Netflix isn’t a direct competitor with TikTok — except to the extent that any mobile app competes for users’ time and attention, as there are only so many hours in a day.

Instead, the new feed is more of an acknowledgment that the TikTok format of a full-screen vertical video feed with quick engagement buttons on the side is becoming a default style of sorts for presenting entertaining content.

“We’re always looking for new ways to improve the Netflix experience,” a Netflix spokesperson said, confirming the experiment. “A lot of our members love comedy so we thought this would be an exciting new way to help them discover new shows and enjoy classic scenes. We experiment with these types of tests in different countries and for different periods of time — and only make them broadly available if people find them useful,” they added.

Gillmor Gang: Check, please

When we recorded this Gillmor Gang, it was Day Four post-election, or midweek in counting the late incoming mail and other provisional ballots. We were largely convinced of the Biden victory, but that nagging doubt instilled in us by 2016 still pervaded the Zoom session. Saturday’s street party felt more like it, and the sheer joy of Kamala Harris’s historic ascendancy was palpable.

As we sit yet another day later, the perception that Trump will never concede is matched by the equal feeling that we could care less. The air slowly leaking out of the tire doesn’t seem particularly impactful, but the moment when the metal rim connects with the concrete will bring things quickly to the reality. What’s really stark is the network chatter about Trump’s silence, that he has no plan. Is this new? He’s never conceded anything, and his plan is to disrupt any plan.

Still, we are so used to wallowing in this mess that we feel lost in our fatigue and good luck. Even as we recorded, processing the size of the vote on both sides took some effort. We understand the pandemic-mandated mail-in surge, but why the closeness of the numbers? Part of the surprise is how engaged the opposition is given the horror of the death toll, the clarity of the lies and evasions, the totalitarian suppression of information.

The presidency is at its heart an emotional transmitter: here’s what the deal is, here’s what we need to do, here’s what we’re going to do. However chaotic Trump’s message is, he is easy to understand. Biden was successful enough in his pitch to suggest he saw the world in similar ways, replacing fear with collective hope. Two distinct messages, one basic approach: fix the other guy’s mistakes. It’s not a beauty contest, but an ugly contest.

On Saturday Night Live, Dave Chappelle explored this odd coalition. He had a quizzical look that raised and answered the musical question: Can I get away with this? Only occasionally funny in words, he was deep in courage and rigorous in opposition to conventional partisan wisdom. Are we ready to see it both ways, not just one way, our way? Smoking, swearing ugly, he peered out into the moment with that questioning expression: Am I getting away with this? Should I?

As counting continues, we take a break to watch a Netflix series, “The Queen’s Gambit.” Binge chess, with a mesmerizing mix of mid-60s sets and soundtrack, and the hypnotic rhythm of timer competitive chess and the coming of age of a teenaged future Grand Master girl. The counterpoint of Trump’s silence and time travel tracking shots in and through a Vegas hotel chess convention produces a comforting feeling that this transition has room to breathe. Waiting for the consensus to develop in an intricate chess match soothes us as we wait today for political reality to firm up.

The stakes are high, and the outcomes unknown. We may not know how the war with the virus will go, but at least we’ve somehow given ourselves a reasonable chance of resetting the clock. As we recorded the show, we had enough data to guess the result, even if we still don’t know the precise steps to January 20th.

The election data suggests Trump will have leverage to primary Republicans who openly challenge him. How he parlays that to his personal advantage will likely include a run at some version of TrumpTV, though his usual play is to license the brand. He may find that difficult with the prospect of going head to head with Murdoch, Fox News and The Wall Street Journal. That group may require Trump to concede in order to make a deal.

But enough, already. Lame duck is a great place for the Donald to try and blast his way out of the sand trap. Democrats have earned a well-deserved respite for the holidays, thanks to the Biden team’s relentless focus on winning the Electoral College for once. Who knew? They did. And the moment in chess when the loser offers resignation comes not at the bitter end but three or four moves before.

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary, and Steve Gillmor . Recorded live Friday, November 6, 2020.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

For more, subscribe to the Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook … and here’s our sister show G3 on Facebook.

Gillmor Gang: Shaken Not Stirred

With one day to go to the election, our thoughts are with those who look forward to talking about something else. Difficult as it might be to imagine, there must be other things to work on. One thing that comes to mind is the impact of the virus on how we manage our days and nights in a digital environment. Mobile devices have already propelled much of the change, but the pandemic has accelerated the move to a hybrid distributed lifestyle.

The election has mandated our attention to the political situation in ways that have expanded early voting and legal efforts to slow it down. Regardless of the outcome, the pressure to adapt to this new collaborative workflow will intensify. People have already seen significant shifts from commuting to time switching in a home context. Podcasting, which had emerged from a hackerish geeky hobby in recent years, has morphed into a more commercial adjunct to mainstream media.

In the process, new formats such as newsletters and live streaming have attracted investment from companies including Spotify and Audible, related technologies like Otter (transcription), Substack, Medium, new bundles of services (Apple One) and cable network disrupters, Digital first publishers like The Recount may have started out as traditional takes on political commentary, but in the windup of the campaign they are reaching audiences via notifications rather than repetitive cable talking heads and panels.

This roll up of breaking notifications and user-controlled editorial access have major implications for the near future post-electuon, however long it takes to plow through legal challenges and the restaffing of whichever government is formed. Also impacted will be Congressional and antitrust attempts to regulate social media, and what I suspect will be a shift to private discussions and trend analysis. The interest groups and market makers that result from this realignment will offer exit strategies for companies like Twitter and YouTube where the risk of being broken up will be mitigated by powerful new business models for content creation and distribution.

By January 20th, a new influencer architecture based on notifications and live streaming will endow the media with tools it needs to lead the transition to safe, secure, hybrid digital/live events. Streaming will give new artists and entrepreneurs a platform to separate influence and impact from lossleader gatherings online, bolstered by association with food and tools delivery winners like Apple and Amazon. A similar synergy between tech companies and media advertising will be overt (Apple + and Prime) as well as implicit (the growth in Amazon search.and Twitch watch parties.)

COVID therapeutics such as Regeneron create a roadmap for these private groups to reorganize as CostCo-like next wave restaurants, entertainment events, and political efforts to consolidate economic power. With a combination of transparency and what could be called reverse boycotts, customers will align with products and companies who promote values-based association with stakeholders acrosss the spectrum.

Central to the relationship is providing ethical access to important data in return for clear guidelines for the use of that data at scale. If this election has been correctly assessed as signaling a massive change in the electorate, the period of deescalation from the pandemic can foster a sense of ownership of that success by the incoming majority. Notification-based entertainers such as Sarah Cooper and more mainstream projects like Matthew McConaughey’s new book, Greenlights, speak initially to the Zoom home/work crowd, and soon to the formation of new studios and networks.

Who really knows how this transformation is playing out given the terrible consequences of Trump’s impact on our country and its standing in the world. But the generation that followed the Greatest Generation is discovering it has more to it than the free love of rock and roll and following our bliss. That same generation ushered in the technology and media revolutions.

Now we’re suffering the backlash of so-called free software where our data is the real product, where Big Brother is extending power by acquihires and preemptive pivots. Yet still our democracy persists. Time to count the vote.

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary, and Steve Gillmor . Recorded live Friday, October 30, 2020.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

For more, subscribe to the Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

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Apple eyes the TikTok generation with an updated version of Clips

Apple is today rolling out an update to its video creation app, Clips, which brings much-needed support for vertical videos, allowing for sharing to TikTok and the “Stories” feature in other social apps. The addition is one of several arriving with the release of Clips 3.0, which also introduces support for horizontal video, as well as HDR for iPhone 12 users, along with other smaller changes, like new stickers, sounds and posters, for example.

Apple’s Clips was first launched in 2017 with an eye on being a first stop for video creation before publishing to Instagram. But the app’s support for only square-formatted video has since become outdated. Casual social videos today are often now published to newer video-centric social media networks, like TikTok and its short-form rivals, including Triller, Dubsmash, Instagram Reels and others.

Meanwhile, Stories — like those found on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Pinterest and, soon, Twitter — have become a key way that today’s users publish content to social media.

Apple, in fact, says that support for vertical video had become its No. 1 request from users since Clips launched.

Clips 3.0 supports both 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios, in addition to the square format. When the app is opened on iPad, it will default to the landscape format, which can be particularly useful in educational scenarios where teachers are using the app in classrooms with students.

On iPad, Clips users can also interact with the app when their iPad is in a case, like Magic Keyboard for iPad and others. It also supports use with a mouse or trackpad, and allows users to write text in text fields using Apple Pencil.

Image Credits: Apple

The new app will also now support recording HDR video footage with the rear-facing camera on iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro.

Clips’ overall user interface has been refreshed, too. You’ll notice a redesigned record screen that floats on top of the viewer when shooting vertically or horizontally, which could help to address some user complaints of the app feeling “slow.”

Users will also be able to more easily view and access the various Effects options, their Clips Projects and other media.

The tweaks to the user interface also feel a bit like a nod to TikTok. For example, you can now swipe up on the Effects to see a full-height card that shows you the available stickers and text labels to add to your videos. This format of a pop-up card filled with effects is similar to TikTok — though there it’s opened with a button tap and not a gesture.

Image Credits: Apple

The update also brings more content options, including eight new social stickers (like “Sound On” for Instagram Stories), 24 new royalty-free soundtracks (bringing the total library to 100), and six new arrows and shapes. From the new Media browser in Clips, you can pull in your own photos and videos or toggle over to a Posters section to pick from 70 customizable, animated full-screen title cards that can be added to your video.

There are also updated filters, Live Titles and Selfie scenes available.

When your project is complete, you can easily share the resulting video to social networks from an updated sharing screen that includes quick access to destinations like Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Twitter and Snapchat, in addition to standard options like iMessage or saving the file locally.

Though Clips hasn’t had as much attention as some of Apple’s other apps — its last update was six months ago, for instance — it has gained a following. Apple says that users create “millions” of Clips projects per day, and it sees higher usage in the U.S., U.K. and China.

This year, Clips usage increased by 30%, Apple noted — a change that could have been brought about by the shift to virtual schooling which saw teachers in need of tools for creating digital content.

Image Credits: Apple

With its expanded focus on vertical video, Clips has the potential to reach a much broader audience.

Today, many users prep videos for Stories or TikTok on third-party apps, like InShot, Prequel, Splice, PicCollage, Canva, VSCO, Funimate, KineMaster, Magisto, CapCut and others topping the App Store charts. But Clips, until now, couldn’t compete because it didn’t include vertical video support at all.

The new version of Clips is rolling out today to users worldwide.

Instagram extends time limits on live streams to 4 hours, will soon support archiving

Instagram is adapting to the way creators have been using its service during the coronavirus pandemic. With individuals and businesses now limited from hosting in-person events — like concerts, classes, meetups, and more — users have turned to Instagram to live stream instead. Today, the company says it’s significantly expanding the time limit for these streams, from 1 hour to now 4 hours for all users worldwide.

The change, the company explains, is meant to help those who’ve had to pivot to virtual events, like yoga and fitness instructors, teachers, musicians, artists and activists, among others. During the height of government lockdowns in the U.S., Instagram Live became a place for people to gather as DJ’s hosted live sets, artists played their music for fans, celebs hosted live talk shows, workout enthusiasts joined live classes, and more. Live usage had then jumped 70% over pre-coronavirus numbers in the U.S. as people connected online.

Many of these Instagram Live creators had wanted to extend their sessions beyond the 60 minute time limit without an interruption.

The change puts Instagram on par with the time limits offered by Facebook for live streams from mobile devices, which is also 4 hours. (If live streaming from a desktop computer or via an API, the Facebook time limit expands to 8 hours.)

While the longer time limit is opening up to all creators worldwide starting today, Instagram says the creator’s account has to be “good standing” in order to take advantage. That means the account can’t have a history of either intellectual property or policy violations.

Related to this change, Instagram will also update the “Live Now” section in IGTV and at the end of live streams to help direct users to more live content.

Instagram also today pre-announced another feature which has yet to arrive.

It says that it will “soon” add an option that will allow creators to archive their live streams for up to 30 days.

Image Credits: Instagram

Before, users could archive their Feed posts or their Stories to a private archive, but the only way to save a live stream was to publish it to IGTV immediately after the stream, through a feature introduced in May. 

The company says the new option to archive live broadcasts will mirror the existing archive experience for Stories and Feed Posts.

The difference is that archived live videos will be permanently deleted after 30 days.

But up until that time, the creator has the option to return to the video to save it or download it. This would allow the creator to publish the video on other social platforms, like Facebook or YouTube, or even trim out key parts for short-form video platforms, like TikTok. The Archive feature also means if a creator’s Live stream crashes for some reason — or if the creator forgot to download it in the moment — it can still be downloaded later on.

The news follows another recent Instagram update which introduced a new way for creators to monetize their Live streams.

The company earlier this month began rolling out badges in Instagram Live to an initial group of over 50,000 creators who will test the feature by selling badges at price points of $0.99, $1.99, or $4.99. These badges help fans’ comments stand out in busy streams, allow fans to support a favorite creator, and places the fan’s name on the creator’s list of badge holders.

Gillmor Gang: Unsuppressed

Not just the future of civilization is up for grabs this November. In this age of mobile social computing, we’re figuring out how to vote, entertain, teach, learn, and commit to meaningful change. Thanks to the pandemic emergency, our plans for transforming our country and planet are subject to immediate recall.

Much of the current political dynamic is expressed through the lense of “how much change can we afford to make?” The swing states in the race for the electoral college are those most profoundly affected by the transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy. The choice: how many jobs will we lose by shifting away from oil and gas to wind and solar. Workers in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, and Michigan are fearful of losing their livelihood to a future of retraining and disruption.

Regardless of where we sit along the left/right spectrum, we share the increasing understanding that government doesn’t work. Running for office is a gauntlet of fundraising and promises you can’t keep; legislating is a lobbyist playground where special interests are neither special nor in our interests. The courts are overwhelmed by political power plays timed to inflame and suppress voting turnout. It’s no wonder that the common reaction to this week’s final presidential debate was relief that the campaign is almost over.

The most important fix to the body politic is the mute button. For a brief moment in the debate, we got to experience a few seconds of not talking. Time seemed to stand still, as if we were being handed down a digital tablet of things to not do: don’t interrupt, don’t disrespect, don’t mock, don’t waste our time. Above all, don’t forget the people we’ve lost to the virus. Remember the days when our biggest problems were what show to watch, what music to play, what jokes to tell. It’s amazing what you can hear when the agenda is turned back to ourselves.

In that moment, you can hear things that smooth the soul. In that moment, you can hear the words leaders will have to speak to get our vote next time. I feel much better about the next election no matter how this one turns out. The explosive numbers of early voting tell us a lot about how this will go. The genie is out of the bottle and people are beginning to connect the dots. If the vote is suppressed, it only makes us try harder.

Mobility is about a return to value, to roots, to resilience. Working from home is a big step toward living from everywhere. AR stands for accelerated reality, VR for valued reality. If we want to know what social is good for, switch on the mute button and listen to what you’ve lost. If you can mute the sound, you can unmute it and find your voice.

At first, the mute button was a defensive move. It counteracted the business model of the cable news networks, the repetitive time-filling of partisan perspective mixed with not listening to the grievances of the other side. The hardest thing I’ve had to do is be open to the truth emanating from the least likely location. We are taught to attack our opponent’s weaknesses; a better strategy might be to respect their strengths and adopt them as your own. Don’t worry, though. You probably won’t find too much there to reflect.

Once you experience the mute button envelope, you can hear it even if it’s not there. The rules of the revised debate were that the first two minutes of each candidate’s response used the mute button, then the old rules returned. Even then, the experience of using the mute button informed the rest of the debate. Particularly noticeable was Joe Biden’s response to a series of back and forths when the moderator asked if he had any further response. “… … … No.”

There have been other mute buttons in history. The 18 and a half minute gap spoke loudly when Rose Mary Woods erased a crucial Watergate tape. Before that, we assumed there might be a smoking gun. After that, we knew there might be others, too. Throughout the campaign, we could learn more about what was really going on by listening for the moments when key questions were left unanswered, ducked, or bounced back to the opponent like some Pee Wee Herman playground retort.

Soon we’ll know the answer to the important question: how do we confront the virus? I vote for listening to the science, wearing a mask, socially distancing both off and online, rapid testing, and contact tracing. And the candidates who agree.

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary, and Steve Gillmor . Recorded live Friday, October 23, 2020.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

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