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Main article: Apps

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Match Group invests in Noonlight to power new safety features in Tinder and other dating apps

18:10 | 23 January

Match Group, the dating app giant and parent company to Match, Tinder, OKCupid, Plenty of Fish, and several other dating apps, announced this morning it has invested in and partnered with connected safety platform Noonlight to roll out a series of new safety features to its suite of dating apps. The tools include those for emergency assistance, location tracking, photo verification, and an updated in-app Safety Center.

The Noonlight partnership follows an investigative report by ProPublica and Columbia Journalism Investigations from December 2019, which revealed how Match Group allowed known sexual predators to use its apps. The report also noted that Match Group didn’t have a uniform policy of running background checks on its dating app users, putting the responsibility on users to keep themselves safe.

The company explained at the time that it didn’t screen users of its free dating apps because it didn’t collect enough personal information to do so. But the results of that strategic decision meant that users of Tinder, OKCupid, Plenty of Fish, and Match Group’s other free dating app platforms could encounter sexual predators — including registered sexual offenders, it admitted.

Today, Match Group says it has invested in Noonlight with the intention of rolling out new safety features to its apps, starting with Tinder on January 28, 2020. Tinder, now Match Group’s leading dating app and biggest moneymaker, has been downloaded over 340 million times and has nearly 5.7 million paying subscribers. It was also the top-grossing non-game app of 2019.

The company didn’t disclose the size of its Noonlight investment, but did say it was joining Noonlight’s Board of Directors. Noonlight, which has been operating for five years, today partners with Uber, Lyft, Alexa, Google Home, Fitbit, Canary, SmartThings and others, according to its website. It has handled over 100,000 emergencies to date and runs 3 monitoring centers.

One key addition to Tinder, powered by Noonlight, will allow U.S. users to share details about upcoming dates via Noonlight’s Timeline technology. Tinder users will be able to share who they are meeting, where and when by adding the date to their timeline.


Beyond being a way to combat the reporting about dating app dangers, Match’s interest in this particular safety feature may also have been inspired by its new competition from Facebook. Last fall, the social network launched its Facebook Dating platform, which allows daters share their live location with a trusted friend via Messenger.

Another new feature in Tinder will allow users to easily and discreetly trigger emergency services via the Noonlight app, if they’re feeling uneasy or in need of assistance. This is something that ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft also offer. Similar to other buttons that connect users to emergency responders at 911, Noonlight’s own dispatchers will first reach out to the user, then alert emergency responders on their behalf if needed. They’ll also be able to provide emergency dispatchers with information from the Tinder user’s timeline, like their location.

Other updates to Tinder include a new Photo Verification feature for verifying a match’s authenticity; a harassment detection prompt (“Does This Bother You?”), powered by machine learning; and a revamped, in-app Tinder Safety Center.

The photo verification feature will allow members to self-authenticate through real-time selfies which are compared to their existing profile photos using a combination of human assistance and A.I. technology. Verified photos will get a blue checkmark to signal they’ve been verified. This feature is now in testing in select markets and will become more widely available in 2020.

Meanwhile, the “Does This Bother You?” prompt will appear when an offensive message has been sent. When a Tinder member responds “Yes,” they will have the option to report the person for their behavior. The technology will also be used to power a new feature called “Undo,” that will ask users if they want to take back a message that contains offensive language before it’s sent.

The new Tinder Safety Center, developed in collaboration with the Match Group Advisory Council, has also been updated to be more comprehensive, informing users of new tools and resources. This is launching first in the U.S., U.K., France and Germany, before rolling out to additional markets in 2020. In the future, the Safety Center will also become personalized to the app’s user.

This set of features will also roll out to Match Group’s other dating apps in the months ahead, following Tinder.

“A safe and positive dating experience is crucial to our business,” said Match Group CEO Mandy Ginsberg, in a statement about the deal. “We’ve found cutting-edge technology in Noonlight that can deliver real-time emergency services – which doesn’t exist on any other dating product – so that we can empower singles with tools to keep them safer and give them more confidence. Integrating this kind of technology, in addition to the other safety standards that Match Group is implementing across our brands, is a necessary step in dating innovation,” she said.

 


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Twitter DMs now have emoji reactions

16:27 | 23 January

Twitter is pouring a little more fuel on the messaging fire. It’s added a heart+ button to its direct messaging interface which lets users shortcut to a pop-up menu of seven emoji reactions so they can quickly express how they’re feeling about a missive.

Emoji reactions can be added to text or media messages — either via the heart+ button or by double tapping on the missive to bring up the reaction menu.

The social network teased the incoming tweak a few hours earlier in a knowing

about sliding into DMs that actually revealed the full line-up of reaction emojis — which, in text form, can be described as: Crying lol; shocked/surprised; actually sad; heart; flame; thumb-up and thumb-down.

So instead of a smilie face Twitter users are being nudged towards an on-brand-message Twitter heart, in keeping with its long-standing pick for a pleasure symbol.

The flame is perhaps slightly surprising for a company that’s publicly professed to wanting to improve the conversational health of its platform.

If it’s there to stand in for appreciation a clap emoji could surely have done the trick. Whereas flame wars aren’t typically associated with constructive speech. But — hey — the flame icon does catch the eye…

Twitter is late to this extroverted party. Rival messaging platforms such as Apple iMessage and Facebook Messenger have had emoji reactions for years, whereas Twitter kept things relatively minimal and chat-focused in its DM funnel — to its credit (at least if you value the service as, first and foremost, an information network).

So some might say Twitter jumping on the emoji reaction bandwagon now is further evidence it’s trying to move closer to rivals like Facebook as a product. (See also: Last year’s major desktop product redesign by Twitter — which has been compared in look and feel to the Facebook News Feed.)

But if so this change at least is a relatively incremental one.

Twitter users have also, of course, always been able to react to an incoming DM by sending whatever emoji or combination of emoji they prefer as a standard reply. Though now lazy thumbs have shortcut to emote — so long as they’re down with Twitter’s choice of icons.

In an FAQ about the new DM emoji reactions, Twitter notes that emoting will by default send a notification to all conversation participants “any time a new reaction is added to a message”.

So, yes, there’s attention-spamming potential aplenty here…

Adjust your notification and DM settings accordingly.

You can only choose one reaction per missive. Each symbol is displayed under the message/media with a count next to it — to allow for group tallies to be totted up. 

While clicking on another symbol will swap out the earlier one — generating, er, more notification spam. And really annoying people could keep flipping their reaction to generate a real-time emoji streaming game of notification hell (hi growth hackers!) with folks they’ve been DMing with on Twitter. So that’s another good reason to lock down your settings.

Twitter users still running older version of its apps which don’t support message reactions will see a standard text emoji message per reaction sent — which kinda confusingly makes it look like the reaction sender has actually been liking/flaming their own stuff. All the more reason to not be spammy about emoji.

 


0

Google’s latest user-hostile design change makes ads and search results look identical

13:38 | 23 January

Did you notice a recent change to how Google search results are displayed on the desktop?

I noticed something last week — thinking there must be some kind of weird bug messing up the browser’s page rendering because suddenly everything looked similar: A homogenous sea of blue text links and favicons that, on such a large expanse of screen, come across as one block of background noise.

I found myself clicking on an ad link — rather than the organic search result I was looking for.

Here, for example, are the top two results for a Google search for flight search engine ‘Kayak’ — with just a tiny ‘Ad’ label to distinguish the click that will make Google money from the click that won’t…

Turns out this is Google’s latest dark pattern: The adtech giant has made organic results even more closely resemble the ads it serves against keyword searches, as writer Craig Mod was quick to highlight in a

this week.

Last week, in its own breezy

, Google sought to spin the shift as quite the opposite — saying the “new look” presents “site domain names and brand icons prominently, along with a bolded ‘Ad’ label for ads”:

But Google’s explainer is almost a dark pattern in itself.

If you read the text quickly you’d likely come away with the impression that it has made organic search results easier to spot since it’s claiming components of these results now appear more “prominently” in results.

Yet, read it again, and Google is essentially admitting that a parallel emphasis is being placed — one which, when you actually look at the thing, has the effect of flattening the visual distinction between organic search results (which consumers are looking for) and ads (which Google monetizes).

Another eagle-eyed user Twitter, going by the name Luca Masters, chipped into the discussion generated by Mod’s tweet — to

that the tech giant is “finally coming at this from the other direction”.

‘This’ being deceptive changes to ad labelling; and ‘other direction’ being a reference to how now it’s organic search results being visually tweaked to shrink their difference vs ads.

Google previously laid the groundwork for this latest visual trickery by spending earlier years amending the look of ads to bring them closer in line with the steadfast, cleaner appearance of genuine search results.

Except now it’s fiddling with those too. Hence ‘other direction’.

Masters helpfully quote-tweeted this

(from 2016), by journalist Ginny Marvin — which presents a visual history of Google ad labelling in search results that’s aptly titled “color fade”; a reference to the gradual demise of the color-shaded box Google used to apply to clearly distinguish ads in search results.

Those days are long gone now, though.

 

Now a user of Google’s search engine has — essentially — only a favicon between them and an unintended ad click. Squint or you’ll click it.

This visual trickery may be fractionally less confusing in a small screen mobile environment — where Google debuted the change last year. But on a desktop screen these favicons are truly minuscule. And where to click to get actual information starts to feel like a total lottery.

A lottery that’s being stacked in Google’s favor because confused users are likely to end up clicking more ad links than they otherwise would, meaning it cashes in at the expense of web users’ time and energy.

Back in May, when Google pushed this change on mobile users, it touted the tweaks as a way for sites to showcase their own branding, instead of looking like every other blue link on a search result page. But it did so while simultaneously erasing a box-out that it had previously displayed around the label ‘Ad’ to make it stand out.

That made it “harder to differentiate ads and search results,” as we wrote then — predicting it will “likely lead to outcry”.

There were certainly complaints. And there will likely be more now — given the visual flattening of the gap between ad clicks and organic links looks even more confusing for users of Google search on desktop. (Albeit, the slow drip of design change updates also works against mass user outcry.)

We reached out to Google to ask for a response to the latest criticism that the new design for search results makes it almost impossible to distinguish between organic results and ads. But the company ignored repeat requests for comment.

Of course it’s true that plenty of UX design changes face backlash, especially early on. Change in the digital realm is rarely instantly popular. It’s usually more ‘slow burn’ acceptance.

But there’s no consumer-friendly logic to this one. (And the slow burn going on here involves the user being cast in the role of the metaphorical frog.)

Instead, Google is just making it harder for web users to click on the page they’re actually looking for — because, from a revenue-generating perspective, it prefers them to click an ad.

It’s the visual equivalent of a supermarket putting a similarly packaged own-brand right next to some fancy branded shampoo on the shelf — in the hopes a rushed shopper will pluck the wrong one. (Real life dark patterns are indeed a thing.)

It’s also a handy illustration of quite how far away from the user Google’s priorities have shifted, and continue to drift.

“When Google introduced ads, they were clearly marked with a label and a brightly tinted box,” says UX specialist Harry Brignull. “This was in stark contrast to all the other search engines at the time, who were trying to blend paid listings in amongst the organic ones, in an effort to drive clicks and revenue. In those days, Google came across as the most honest search engine on the planet.”

Brignull is well qualified to comment on dark patterns — having been calling out deceptive design since 2010 when he founded darkpatterns.org.

“I first learned about Google in the late 1990s. In those days you learned about the web by reading print magazines, which is charmingly quaint to look back on. I picked up a copy of Wired Magazine and there it was – a sidebar talking about a new search engine called ‘Google’,” he recalled. “Google was amazing. In an era of portals, flash banners and link directories, it went in the opposite direction. It didn’t care about the daft games the other search engines were playing. It didn’t even seem to acknowledge they existed. It didn’t even seem to want to be a business. It was a feat of engineering, and it felt like a public utility.

“The original Google homepage was recognised a guiding light of purism in digital design. Search was provided by an unstyled text field and button. There was nothing else on the homepage. Just the logo. Search results were near-instant and they were just a page of links and summaries – perfection with nothing to add or take away. The back-propagation algorithm they introduced had never been used to index the web before, and it instantly left the competition in the dust. It was proof that engineers could disrupt the rules of the web without needing any suit-wearing executives. Strip out all the crap. Do one thing and do it well.”

“As Google’s ambitions changed, the tinted box started to fade. It’s completely gone now,” Brignull added.

The one thing Google very clearly wants to do well now is serve more ads. It’s chosen to do that deceptively, by steadily — and consistently — degrading the user experience. So a far cry from “public utility”.

And that user-friendly Google of old? Yep, also completely gone.

 


0

Yo Facebook & Instagram, stop showing Stories reruns

03:55 | 23 January

If I watch a Story cross-posted from Instagram to Facebook on either of the apps, it should appear as “watched” at the back of the Stories row on the other app. Why waste my time showing me Stories I already saw?

It’s been over two years since Instagram Stories launched cross-posting to Stories. Countless hours of each feature’s 500 million daily users have been squandered viewing repeats. Facebook and Messenger already synchronized the watched/unwatched state of Stories. It’s long past time that this was expanded to encompass Instagram.

I asked Facebook and Instagram if it had plans for this. A company spokesperson told me that it built cross-posting to make sharing easier to people’s different audiences on Facebook and Instagram, and it’s continuing to explore ways to simplify and improve Stories. But they gave no indication that Facebook realizes how annoying this is or that a solution is in the works.

The end result if this gets fixed? Users would spend more time watching new content, more creators would feel seen, and Facebook’s choice to jam Stories in all its apps would fee less redundant and invasive. If I send a reply to a Story on one app, I’m not going to send it or something different when I see the same Story on the other app a few minutes or hours later. Repeated content leads to more passive viewing and less interactive communication with friends, despite Facebook and Instagram stressing that its this zombie consumption that’s unhealthy.

The only possible downside to changing this could be fewer Stories ad impressions if secondary viewings of peoples’ best friends’ Stories keep them watching more than new content. But prioritizing making money over the user experience is again what Mark Zuckerberg has emphasized is not Facebook’s strategy.

There’s no need to belabor the point any further. Give us back our time. Stop the reruns.

 


0

Disney sells mobile game studio FoxNet Games to Scopely

21:43 | 22 January

Disney announced today it has sold the game studio FoxNet Games Los Angeles, the makers of “MARVEL Strike Force” and other titles, as well as Cold Iron Studios in San Jose, to the interactive entertainment and mobile game company, Scopely. The studios were acquired by Disney in 2019 as a part of its $71.3 billion deal for 21st Century Fox. Disney is not, however, divesting of Fox’s full gaming lineup. The company clarified that its separate portfolio of Fox IP licensed game titles were not a part of this deal and will continue to be a part of Disney’s licensed games business.

Aquisition terms were not disclosed.

FoxNet Games released its first title, “MARVEL Strike Force” in March 2018 and it brought in $150 million in its first year across iOS and Android. Another FoxNet title “Storyscape,” released in early 2019, offers choose-your-own-adventure tales taking place in the world of “The X-Files” or “Titanic.” More recently, the studio soft-launched “Avatar: Pandora Rising,” a massive real-time strategy and social game set in Pandora from the movie “Avatar.”

According to data from Sensor Tower “MARVEL Strike Force” has been downloaded over 26 million times to date. “Storyscape” has topped 1.7 million installs. The Avatar title isn’t broadly available, as it’s still in development. It only has 100,000 downloads at present.

FoxNet’s website also notes a game based on the movie franchise “Alien,” is coming soon. (This was acquired with FoxNet’s own deal for Cold Iron Studios back in 2018.)

“We have been hugely impressed with the incredible game the team at FoxNext Games has built with MARVEL Strike Force and can’t wait to see what more we can do together,” said Tim O’Brien, Chief Revenue Officer at Scopely, in a statement about the deal. “In addition to successfully growing our existing business, we have been bullish on further expanding our portfolio through M&A, and FoxNext Games’ player-first product approach aligns perfectly with our focus on delivering unforgettable game experiences. We are thrilled to combine forces with their world-class team and look forward to a big future together,” he added.

Scopely, which hit over a billion in lifetime revenue in summer 2019, had also acquired DIGIT Game Studios last year, home to the top-grossing MMO/strategy game “Star Trek Fleet Command” and strategy MMO “Kings of the Realm.”

Other Scopely top game titles include “Looney Tunes World of Mayhem,” “The Walking Dead: Road to Survival,” “Wheel of Fortune: Free Play,” “WWE Champions 2019,” “Yahtzee with Buddies Dice Game,” “Dice with ellen,” “Scrabble Go,” and many more.

With its latest acquisition, Scopely adds another top-grossing game to its lineup, expands its in-development pipeline, and gains the expertise of FoxNet team. When the transaction completes, FoxNet Games President Aaron Loeb will join Scopely in a newly created executive role and FoxNet Games SVP & GM Amir Rahimi will lead the FoxNext Games Los Angeles studio within Scopely as President, Games.

 


0

Octi launches a social network built around augmented reality

17:07 | 22 January

Octi has created a new social network that uses augmented reality to connect the act of seeing your friends in real life with viewing digital content like their favorite YouTube videos and Spotify songs.

When I wrote about the startup in 2018, it was building AR technology that could do a better job of recognizing the human body and movement. Last week, co-founder and CEO Justin Fuisz (pictured above) told me that this was “a really cool feature,” but that Octi’s investors pushed him “to do more, go deeper.”

Speaking of those investors, the startup says it’s now raised $12 million in funding (including a previously announced seed round of $7.5 million) from Live Nation, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Peter Diamandis’ Bold Capital Partners, Human Ventures, I2BF, Tom Conrad, Scott Belsky and Josh Kushner.

Last week, Fuisz demonstrated what he now sees as Octi’s “mic drop” moment — opening the new app and pointing his iPhone camera at a colleague. The app quickly recognized her, allowing Fuisz to send her a friend request. And once the request was accepted, could Fuisz look at her through the camera again, where she was surrounded by a floating “belt” of virtual items that she’d created with videos, songs and photos.

Octi app

Octi also allows you to include fun effects and stickers. Your friends can change your profile too, making you wear a funny hat or giving you a rousing theme song for the day.

To create a facial recognition experience that’s fast and simple, Fuisz said that Octi’s powered by a “neural network on the edge,” allowing the app to process images on the device (rather than uploading them to the cloud) in a privacy-friendly way.

He said the company has taken other steps to optimize the process, like prioritizing friends-of-friends rather than searching through the faces of everyone in the network, resulting in an app that can identify a friend in as little as 20 milliseconds.

While Octi allows you to view friends’ profiles remotely, it’s worth emphasizing that the core experience is meant to be in-person. In fact, the company provided a statement from analyst Rich Greenfield in which he described the app as “an impressive technology that gives teens a compelling reason to be present and communicate with their phones, while gathered with their closest friends.”

Octi app

I wondered whether a new social dynamic also provides new opportunities for harassment and bullying, but Fuisz noted that for now, Octi profiles and belts are only visible to friends that you’ve approved. So if one of your connections is doing something you don’t like, “You just say goodbye. That’s it. That’s a simple way of dealing with it.”

Fuisz added that this initial version provides a foundation for many more experiences: “There’s endless opportunity for games and other fun things you can do.”

Ultimately, he’s hoping to turn this into a WeChat-style platform for outside developers to build social tools and content. And since Octi works on iPhone 7 and above (with plans for an Android version later this year), it can potentially reach an enormous audience out of the gate, rather than facing the scale issues of a more specialized AR or VR hardware platform.

 


0

Tencent to grow gaming empire with $148M acquisition of Conan publisher Funcom in Norway

15:23 | 22 January

Tencent, one of the world’s biggest videogaming companies by revenue, today made another move to help cement that position. The Chinese firm has made an offer to fully acquire Funcom, the games developer behind Conan Exiles (and others in the Conan franchise), Dune and some 28 other titles. The deal, when approved, would value the Oslo-based company at $148 million (NOK 1.33 billion) and give the company a much-needed cash injection to follow through on longer-term strategy around its next generation of games.

Funcom is traded publicly on the Oslo Stock Exchange, and the board has already recommended the offer, which is being made at NOK 17 per share, or around 27% higher than its closing share price the day before (Tuesday).

The news is being made with some interesting timing. Today, Tencent competes against the likes of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo in terms of mass-market, gaming revenues. But just earlier this week, it was reported that ByteDance — the publisher behind breakout social media app TikTok — was readying its own foray into the world of gaming.

That would set up another level of rivalry between the two companies, since Tencent also has a massive interest in the social media space, specifically by way of its messaging app WeChat . While many consumers will have multiple apps, when it comes down to it, spending money in one represents a constraint on spending money in another.

Today, Tencent is one of the world’s biggest video game companies: in its last reported quarter (Q3 in November), Tencent said that it make RMB28.6 billion ($4.1 billion) in online gaming revenue, with smartphone games accounting for RMB24.3 billion of that.

Acquisitions and controlling stakes form a key part of the company’s growth strategy in gaming. Among its very biggest deals, Tencent paid $8.6 billion for a majority stake in Finland’s Supercell back in 2016. It also has a range of controlling stakes in Riot Games, Epic, Ubisoft, Paradox, Frontier and Miniclip. These companies, in turn, also are making deals: just earlier this month it was reported (and sources have also told us) that Miniclip acquired Israel’s Ilyon Games (of Bubble Shooter fame) for $100 million.

Turning back to Funcom, Tencent was already an investor in the company: it took a 29% stake in it in September 2019 in a secondary deal, buying out KGJ Capital (which had previously been the biggest shareholder).

“Tencent has a reputation for being a responsible long-term investor, and for its renowned operational capabilities in online games,” said Funcom CEO Rui Casais at the time. “The insight, experience, and knowledge that Tencent will bring is of great value to us and we look forward to working closely with them as we continue to develop great games and build a successful future for Funcom.”

In retrospect, this was laying the groundwork and relationships for a bigger deal just months down the line. 

“We have a great relationship with Tencent as our largest shareholder and we are very excited to be part of the Tencent team,” Casais said in a statement today. “We will continue to develop great games that people all over the world will play, and believe that the support of Tencent will take Funcom to the next level. Tencent will provide Funcom with operational leverage and insights from its vast knowledge as the leading company in the game space.”

The rationale for Funcom is that the company had already determined that it needed further investment in order to follow through on its longer-term strategy.

According to a statement issued before it recommended the offer, the company is continuing to build out the “Open World Survival segment” using the Games-as-a-Service business model (where you pay to fuel up with more credits); and is building an ambitious Dune project set to launch in two years.

“Such increased focus would require a redirection of resources from other initiatives, the most significant being the co-op shooter game, initially scheduled for release during 2020 that has been impacted by scope changes due to external/market pressures with increasingly strong competition and internal delays,” the board writes, and if it goes ahead with its strategy, “It is likely that the Company will need additional financing to supplement the revenue generated from current operations.”

 


0

India likely to force Facebook, WhatsApp to identify the originator of messages

01:33 | 22 January

New Delhi is inching closer to recommend regulations that would require social media companies and instant messaging app providers operating in the country to help law enforcement agencies trace the messages back to their originator, two people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

India will submit the suggested change to the local intermediary liability rules to the nation’s apex court later this month. The suggested change, the conditions of which may be altered before it is finalized, currently says that law enforcement agencies will have to produce a court order before exercising such request, sources who have been briefed on the matter said.

But regardless, asking companies to comply with such requirement would be “devastating” for international social media companies, a New Delhi-based policy advocate said. WhatsApp executives have insisted in the past that they would have to compromise end-to-end encryption of every user to meet such a demand — a move they are willing to fight over.

The government did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday evening.

More to follow…

 


0

Spotify test lets influencers post Stories to introduce their own playlists

23:28 | 21 January

Spotify is testing a new Stories feature that will allow select influencers to incorporate video elements into their public playlists, TechCrunch has learned and Spotify confirmed. The first influencer to test the feature is makeup and fashion YouTube star Summer Mckeen, who currently has a social media fan base that includes 2.33 million YouTube subscribers, 2.1 million Instagram followers, and 126,455 Spotify followers. Mckeen is using the new feature to introduce a playlist of her all-time favorite songs, which she’s titled her “all time besties.”

Like other Stories’ products found on social media apps, the Spotify version offers a similar experience that includes short video clips that users can tap on to advance to the next screen. There are also horizontal lines at the top that indicate how many screens still await them ahead.

Above: where Stories are found on playlists

Meanwhile, the entry point for the Spotify Story is a circular icon right found above the playlist’s title. This has also been designed to catch your attention with an animated preview of the video you’ll see if you tap through.

Above: Mckeen introduces her playlist of favorite songs

Once in the Story, the clips will play and advance automatically and the playlist where you found the Story is featured at the top. You can also tap the “X” to exit at any time.

Spotify’s unique take on the Stories format involves its use of music, of course.

In the new Stories feature, the influencer can also share video clips that contain small song snippets and the album art as a way of previewing the songs in the playlist. In Mckeen’s case, a few of these follow her introduction of the new playlist.

Above: Song clips in Stories

Mckeen is the first influencer to go live on Spotify Stories, but we understand the company is also planning to roll this out to other notable names across the entertainment, lifestyle and music industries in the near future. This initial group of testers is being determined by a variety of factors — including follower count, how engaged their followers are, and how active the influencer in question is on Spotify. Mckeen was selected because she’s someone who likes to make playlists on her own and has many user-generated playlists she shares with fans.

Spotify isn’t rolling out the feature to its artists, however, as it’s meant to be more a tool for music discovery, rather than one for promotional purposes. Artists, instead, can reach fans creatively using Canvas — the recently launched looping videos product that can take the place of album art when a song plays.

Despite the similarity with other Stories found on apps like Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube, Spotify’s goal isn’t to turn its app into another social media platform. Instead, it will rely on the influencers to get the word out to fans themselves using their existing accounts found elsewhere. Mckeen, for example, posted to her Instagram Stories with a deep link directly to the playlist in question.

Above: Mckeen’s IG Story

Currently, the Spotify Stories product can only be seen on iOS and Android, not desktop. (Mckeen’s is here.) And it’s available to all Spotify users — free and paid — although that could one day change. Spotify considers the product just a test for now, but is open to considering a broader rollout in the future.

Spotify confirmed the test to TechCrunch and offered a short statement.

“At Spotify, we routinely conduct a number of tests in an effort to improve our user experience. Some of those tests end up paving the path for our broader user experience and others serve only as an important learning,” a Spotify spokesperson said. “We have no further news to share on future plans at this time,” they added.

This is not the first time Spotify has dabbled with a Stories format, however. Last year, Spotify was spotted testing a Stories-like product called Storyline that was similar to “Behind the Lyrics,” but instead allowed artists to share their own insights, inspiration, and other details more directly. This can still be found on Spotify on select songs, but hasn’t become broadly available.

 


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Huawei’s answer to life after Google Maps? TomTom

21:33 | 21 January

Losing access to Google software and services understandably threw Huawei for a loop. The Chinese hardware giant has clearly been working on a contingency plan to deal with the loss of access to things like Android and the Play Store, but Google’s offering formed so much of the devices’ software core — as they do so many of its competitors.

Huawei just lined up a pretty big name in its attempts to rebuild a competitive software suite. Dutch mapping giant TomTom has agreed to provide access to its navigation, mapping and traffic information. The two companies finalized a deal this week, per Reuters, letting Huawei use that information to build its own proprietary apps.

TomTom confirmed the deal, but declined to offer additional information. The move comes as the mapping company has taken a step back from hardware offerings, in favor of monetizing its software services. Given Huawei’s pretty massive footprint in the global smartphone market, this presents a pretty big deal for TomTom, which had previously provided info for AppleMaps.

Huawei was left reeling from U.S. sanctions that cut off access to U.S.-produced software and components. The company has been working to build its own Android competitor behind the scenes, though what we’ve seen of HarmonyOS has thus far been fairly muted. Rumors have also swirled around Huawei developing its own Maps competitor, so it’s hard to say how much it views this new deal as a stopgap. 

 


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