FB could look a lot more like TV soon. While Vine and Instagram Video are booming, you don’t see many people natively uploading videos to Facebook. But now Facebook is bringing auto-play for native videos to all users after testing the feature in September. And it’s just the beginning of a huge push to put Facebook in motion.
Previously, any video uploaded to Facebook directly or shared to the News Feed from Instagram would appear the same as YouTube videos — locked behind a play button. While the conscious decision to stop scrolling for, open the video player, wait for it to load, and watch might not seem like a big deal, it may have been too much of a time and effort investment for some. If people don’t watch videos, they don’t get likes and comments that encourage friends to upload more, and they might skip uploading them themselves.
But after spotting an auto-play video in my feed yesterday and asking Facebook, the company confirms the new format is now internationally rolled out to most iOS and Android users and will reach all of them soon. Facebook tells me it’s still testing this feature on desktop and doesn’t have schedule for when it will roll out there.
On mobile, auto-play gives natively uploaded Facebook videos and ones shared from Instagram an advantage: you don’t have to think about playing them, they play themselves. At first they’ll play in-line even as you scroll, but with no sound. If you tap them, they expand full-screen and the audio kicks in. Videos uploaded to third-party sites retain the old click-to-play-format.
I’ve found the new design to be quite pleasing. As I wrote when Facebook’s auto-play style was first unveiled, it feels a bit like the moving photos in the Harry Potter newspapers.
If you don’t want to watch, you can scroll by with little disruption. This isn’t Myspace, Vine, or Instagram where auto-play sound is suddenly going to bombard everyone around you. If you’re not sure if you want to watch, you get a little preview. Maybe the thumbnail was dull but motion shows the video is actually exciting. A little animated audio levels icon clues you in to there being sound to be heard, though. You can watch silently if you don’t have headphones or privacy, but if you want the full experience, you can tap and the video plays instantly without a loading delay.
To respect users who don’t want to burn data, Facebook has added a setting that lets you only auto-play videos if you’re on WiFi and not on cellular data. It’s found in your phone’s Facebook settings on iOS and the Facebook app’s settings on Android.
Facebook With Commercials
When Facebook started testing auto-play, it was upfront about looking for ways to give the feature to marketers as well as users. It wrote “At first, this feature will be limited to videos posted by individuals, musicians, and bands. We’re doing this to make sure we create the best possible experience. Over time, we’ll continue to explore how to bring this to marketers in the future.” I would bet we’re going to hear some news about this soon, either just before or after the New Year.
Facebook recently starting letting developers put videos in their app install ads, but those don’t auto-play. Maybe they will eventually, though.
For advertisers, auto-play videos could make their ads a lot more noticeable. Most people wouldn’t volunteer to watch a video ad (cool movie trailers aside), but if it’s already playing and looks compelling, they might watch or even expand it to include sound too. Facebook is a fan of consistency, so video ads might have a very similar user experience to organic videos.
Because they’re more captivating, Facebook could potentially charge a lot to show video ads. Back in September, AdAge reported Facebook could charge between $ 1 million and $ 2.4 million to distribute a 15-second video ad for a day. Facebook raked in $ 2.02 billion in Q3 2013, and video ads could give that number a significant bump in Q1 and Q2 2014. Finally, we might start to see a landslide of ad spend previously devoted to television coming online, as the Facebook format would be relatively familiar (though possibly with no sound unless clicked).
The question remains whether users will freak out about video ads. Comments on my last piece about them and general sentiment has been quite wary of what video ads will do to the Facebook experience. If they’re the most eye-catching things on the social network, they could seem quite annoying. AdAge says Facebook might cap video ads so users don’t see more than three a day. Striking the right balance will be critical, though surprisingly, Facebook found that showing static photo ads in the News Feed hasn’t had a significant negative impact on engagement.
And if you’re thinking to yourself, “AdBlock Plus, bro”, that’s up to you. Personally, I think ads are the lifeblood of innovation, funding free products we rely on. But they’re a nuisance unless well-targeted, so hopefully Facebook can keep video ads relevant to the viewer. Otherwise I’d expect a lot of people to look for ways to banish them from their feed.
The secret to making people swallow video ads might be getting them to shoot mini-movies themselves. If there were more user generated videos on the site, the ads would blend in.
The problem is, right now Facebook’s video creation tool is painfully outdated. Unlike its Instagram Video product, there’s no way to shoot multiple shots in a single video, no editing, no stabilization, no cover image, and no filters. That means videos shot with Facebook often look pretty crummy. Crummy videos get few likes, so people don’t shoot them, so no one sees them, so no one thinks to shoot them…
It’s time for Facebook to modernize its video creation tool.
It could easily port in the Instagram Video features, maybe with a better tagging interface since Facebook is more about friends. It also has patents on some pretty futuristic video technologies like recording video as soon as your camera is open, recognizing and tagging faces or locations, and detecting audio and visual cues like saying “that’s beautiful” to select a cover image thumbnail or create anchors for navigating around within a video while watching.
These features could make it much more fun to shoot and view Facebook videos, which could fill the feed with them and camouflage the video ads.
And even if the native creation tools stay the same, a better watching interface could make a big difference. Right now there’s no real way to discover and watch Facebook videos in bulk. A Facebook “channel” that showed your friends’ videos back-to-back (perhaps with clips from Pages and advertisers mixed in) could be an addictive lean-back experience. Better video viewing could pit Facebook in more direct competition with YouTube.
So basically, Facebook has a huge opportunity to step up its video…game, and auto-play on mobile is just the first step. Photos fueled Facebook’s popularity back in its early days. As it turns 10 years old in 2014, we’ll see if video can give it a second wind.
[Image Credit: BGR]
TechCrunch » Social
The relationship between Instagram and competitor Mobli, a photo- and video-sharing app out of Israel, has been a rocky one. Today Instagram blocked Mobli's access to the Instagram API, effectively making users choose between the two.
TechCrunch » Social
Last week, Om Malik at GigaOm reported that Instagram was working on a messaging feature to complement its already very-popular social photo app, now with some 150 million monthly active users. Now we've caught wind of something that could point to a possible feature on this would-be messaging product: @instagram.com email addresses.
A source who works in marketing for an e-commerce company has emailed us a list of such @instagram.com email addresses. They appeared, she says, as part of a request she made of one of the many companies out there that compiles data from social networking sites.
She says that part of the results consisted of Twitter handles and Facebook email addresses, and it seems as if the @instagram.com addresses appeared as part of that list.
“We requested verified email addresses for the followers of a certain fan club on Twitter and received back these results,” she wrote in an email. “We use [the data provider] as a tool for gathering information, and suddenly A LOT of the email fields were being filled in with Instagram email addresses.”
(I'm intentionally keeping out the names of the users, the marketing exec, her e-commerce company, and that of the data provider.)
The data provider, which uses a number of different APIs to populate its database, says that it had never seen these Instagram email addresses before. A spokesperson for Instagram declined to comment for this story.
So what might be going on here?
It could be a pure database fluke. I've been sending messages to the list of email addresses on the list provided by our source, and I've also tried out my own would-be Instagram email based on my own user ID. They have all come back to me with “too many hops” error messages. Too many hops can indicate an endless forwarding loop, or too many servers involved in relaying a message, but not necessarily that the address does not exist.
On the other hand, Instagram email addresses could support Om's claim that a messaging service is on the horizon. (His report noted that messaging features, which could be person-to-person or may include group messaging, will be in the next version of the app, expected before the end of the year.)
For starters, look to Instagram's owner, Facebook. There is something instructive here in how Facebook has built its own messaging services that Instagram may have gleaned.
The world's largest social network saw as far back as 2010 the usefulness of having a native email address integrated with a messaging service. It means making that messaging service more useful, but it also means more ways of keeping people on your own platform. So, when Facebook unveiled its revamped messaging system in 2010, it included the option for users to create @facebook.com email addresses.
Sending messages to that @facebook.com email address then automatically sync up with Facebook's messaging platform, which also aggregate messages sent to you by SMS (if you have a phone number associated with your account); Facebook's standalone Messenger app; or Facebook itself.
“This is not an email killer. This is a messaging experience that includes email as one part of it,” Zuckerberg said at the time. “This is the way that the future should work.”
Instagram, in a way, has already laid some groundwork for using email on its platform. You share photos by default to your Instagram stream, but you can additionally send them to specific people via email.
Other developers, meanwhile, have already shown the way forward for what an Instagram messaging service might do. Instachat, InstaMessage and InstaDM are among those that are standalone apps that let you send direct messages to your Instagram contacts.
Giving users on the Instagram network native email addresses could make the process of sending directly to individuals more seamless and integrated to the bigger platform. It could also be a way for those recipients of your emailed images a way to respond back to you.
Facebook, it should also be pointed out, has actually already started to create a link between Instagram and direct messaging: an update to Facebook's Messenger app in August let users access their Instagram libraries to send messages to friends. A first step for Instagram messenger, as it were, and a way of offering more picture-messaging services to a public that has demonstrated and appetite for the feature, courtesy of new hits like Snapchat and a host of apps with a image-first focus.
We have seen much written about the big opportunity in messaging services (one recent, strong example here).
Instagram has proven to be the king of photo apps when it comes to social, open consumption, so it seems natural that it, too, would eventually sprout its own private communications channel, to tap into that opportunity as well.
But while Instagram sprouted up at a time when there was little in the way of its growth, times are different today. Services like WhatsApp - at an average of 15 billion messages per day as of November - are now pushing close to SMS's 20 billion/day messaging dominance.
Focusing on sending photos and video that disappear soon after they are sent, Snapchat is not quite that big - the last number Snapchat revealed, earlier this month, was 400 million messages received (not sent) each day. But it is tapping into a key, young segment of consumers, who (at least for the moment) like to use it, a lot.
Between that rock and hard place of apps attracting people to totally new features (ephemeral messages), and those that have become heavyweights in more text-based mobile messaging (SMS, WhatsApp, Instagram's owner Facebook, and many more), whether Instagram will be able to wedge its own 150-million MAU presence into the scene - with email addresses or without - remains to be seen.
(My informal straw poll points to some early resistance to the concept, but as Twitter co-founder Biz Stone once famously said, it could end up being “The messaging system we didn't know we needed until we had it.”)
TechCrunch » Social
Instagram isn't only a place to share perfectly framed photos of sunsets and selfies – some business owners have realized that the site works for pushing product, too. Today, e-commerce startup Soldsie, which previously focused only on businesses selling to their Facebook Page visitors, will now bring similar functionality to Facebook-owned Instagram.
This will put Soldsie in closer competition with services like Chirpify, which has offered in-stream commerce on Instagram for over a year, as well as with newer arrivals like Hashbag, a site which The Daily Dot hilariously described as the “mutant love child of Instagram and Craigslist.”
More broadly speaking, Instagram's ability to be a marketing vehicle for businesses and brands has led to the growth of others, like Oracle-acquired Vitrue and Salesforce-acquired Buddy Media for example, which help companies manage their social media presence and run campaigns. And more recently, Instagram began experimenting with brand advertisements of its own.
But Soldsie's system is designed primarily for small to medium-sized merchants running daily and weekly sales, as opposed to individuals selling their own items, or those running some sort of marketing campaign.
“It's kind of like creating an e-commerce site, but putting it through Facebook and Instagram,” explains Soldsie co-founder Chris Bennett.
He notes that Soldsie had been quietly testing Instagram support with a small number of merchants (under a dozen) since September, ahead of rolling it out more publicly today. And as with Soldsie's Facebook support, the process for selling on Instagram is simple for merchants and shoppers alike: a seller posts a photo of an item for sale and instructs users to comment “sold” along with their email address.
Buyers using Soldsie on Facebook complete their transactions on the site, but Instagram shoppers are treated a little differently. After commenting, buyers are automatically sent an invoice for the item in question via email, though the company is also offering an option that would direct shoppers to a form hosted by Soldsie instead.
The company is also now working with its merchant customers more closely, says Bennett, providing them support that includes advice on how to better run their sales, communicate with their customer base, and more. The pricing for either service – Facebook or Instagram – is not set in stone, Bennett adds, saying that it's now a mix of a minimum of sales or a percentage of sales.
During the beta period, the first business to test the Instagram selling feature saw 72 orders in its first day, and another business is seeing $ 1,000 per day in sales on average, says Bennett. “People are beginning to build their following counts on Instagram, and it's great to see that the businesses we work with are seeing a great return on investment for building up their following base,” he says.
However, Soldsie's beta tests have been too small to draw larger conclusions from at this point. What we do know is that social media can drive purchases – see, for example, the value of a Pinterest pin – but whether or not it will ever drive a significant number of in-stream purchases, so to speak, is something that's still being proven.
Earlier this summer, Soldsie reported over $ 10 million in transactions processed on its platform, and a reach of over 1,000 merchants. Bennett says the company is growing and has now seen $ 15 million in transactions as of today.
[Image credits: Shutterstock; Instagram merchant Prepobsessed]
TechCrunch » Social
Instagram is a great app for sharing creative and unique pictures. We have to admit though, we're starting to see some patterns emerge in the users we follow.
In an incredibly thorough and highly scientific process, we narrowed down all of Instagram into 10 users. These users are everywhere, they weave in and out of our lives and feeds, constant, like the North Star or Kevin Bacon. You'll recognize them instantly — they're your friends, family, colleagues. They are you
Look through our list and see if there's anyone you recognize, or anybody we forgot. Read more...
With the temperature dropping and your radiator clanking, you may find yourself crossing fingers for a snow day
Whether the the thought of a wintery wonderland excites or burdens you, reconsider the public declaration of feels when less than an inch of white stuff has fallen to the ground. Those are leaves, and you are confused about winter.
What's sadder than these little Instagram flurries, is that in some places, it might actually qualify as a snow day. People in Minnesota, get ready to laugh.
Sunsets? Landscapes? Latte art? Look back at your old photos and you'll notice they're boring unless there's a human face in them. Now think about teens on social media. Immaturity fuels bullying and drama-filled comment reels. So RockLive has taken funding from Justin Bieber to solve these problems with Shots of Me, a self-portrait photo sharing iOS app that launches today.
Selfies - photos you shoot of yourself, often with the front-facing camera. That's what you do on Shots of Me. Take selfies. Share selfies to the app's Instagram-style internal social network or to Twitter (with Instagram sharing coming soon). Like Selfies from other people.
Yes, you read that right. It's a social network entirely for selfies. The premise is simple, but it hides the amount of work and detail that went into Shots of Me.
“We were creating these games and had a good, young demographic. Always high schoolers,” RockLive CEO John Shahidi tells me. “We giggled that we knew how to market to high school girls so let's build something even bigger,” he says.
The idea for Shots of Me came from Shahidi looking at the photo app craze and realizing “People enjoy looking at humans. Not just yourself. People like looking at other people. It doesn't ever really get old. Looking at a coffee or salad…”, Shahidi trails off, but the implication is clear. Instagram is the home for photos of food and inanimate object photography, as the filters make them look interesting. But they're not. And people are sick of staring at your lunch.
Does the world need another photo app? Maybe not. But if you suspend your skepticism for a moment, seeing the smiling faces of your friends more often probably isn't such a bad thing.
Instagram For Selfies
RockLive's five-person team began building Shots of Me in May and today it becomes available for download. Open the iOS-only app and you'll find a full-screen feed of selfies from your Shots of Me friends and anyone you pull from your Twitter contacts.
In a cool chameleon design trick, the name/location and caption/likes bars above and below each photo take on the colors of the pic and change as you scroll. It's like you're looking through a steamy window. Shahidi proclaims “We want to be a top of the line product. You spend $ 500 on a phone. Does this app fit the quality of the iPhone, does this feel like a like Mercedes or a Ferrari?” That might be pushing it, but the app has number of flourishes like letting you pick the color of the navigation chrome.
To enforce the selfies-only rule, you have to take photos using the front-facing camera. And similar to Snapchat, you can only shoot Shots of Me within the app. No uploading means the emotions you see in a newly uploaded Shot Of Me is how that person is feeling right now.
What makes Shots of Me functionally unique is actually what it lacks: Comments. “People share photos because they felt so positive at that moment” Shahidi explains. “Drama kills that moment.”
If someone makes fun of your photo of the ocean, whatever. But selfies leave people vulnerable. A hateful comment about your face could really hurt, especially if you're a sensitive teenager. So rather than comments, Shots of Me has a direct messaging system where you can ping anyone who follows you, similar to Twitter. This way, any drama stays private and randos can't troll you.
The Bieber Seal Of Approval
It was this philosophy of positivity that attracted Justin Bieber to Shots of Me. The pop star was introduced to the RockLive and Shots of Me, and Shahidi says “Honestly, he loved it. He was a bit annoyed by other platforms” referring to the constant homophobic slurs and hate Justin gets on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks.
“The commenting thing was something he really cared about. Not just for himself, but for the kids. He said ‘I want a platform where my fans don't have to deal with this. We didn't ask him for money. He said ‘I want to be part of this.'”
RockLive had already raised $ 1.6 million from Shervin Pishevar, boxer Floyd Mayweather, early Apple employee Tom McInerney and NALA investments. NALA had set terms to put in some more money, but RockLive let Bieber in at the last minute to let him contribute the majority of the $ 1.1 million second round.
This is Bieber's first publicly announced personal investment without the help of his manager Scooter Braun, who he's invested in a few startups with. Shahidi says Bieber “did a lot of due diligence. He asked a lot of questions and he calls all the time.”There's no business model to analyze, though, as Shots of Me is focused solely on growth, which will be a tough fight.
Some will undoubtedly say Bieber has no business investing in tech, but if he can consistently sell millions of record and huge numbers of concert tickets, he must have a knack for understanding what kids want.
A Photo App Shootout
Overall, Shots of Me feels refreshing because every face is fascinating. There are no botched attempts at artful photos of stale scenes cluttering the feed. Sure, Shots of Me could become a vehicle for vanity, but that's human nature. You can say it will fail. You can say it's dumb. But it doesn't change the fact that people are taking selfies at an alarming rate. Someone's going to capitalize. Some say selfies are a fad, but we've been painting and shooting portraits for a long, long time.
The question now is whether Shots of Me's focus on selfies, no-drama feed, and aid from the Bieber-nation will be enough to carve out an audience amongst the slew of other photo apps.
Most obviously, Shots of Me will be taking on Instagram and its 150 million highly engaged users. Then there are stalwarts Facebook and Twitter. Snapchat has become a destination for sharing silly self-portraits, and maybe the mysterious, unlaunched startup “Selfie” will seduce some users.
The biggest threat may be the recently launched Frontback, which cleverly lets you share two-photo diptychs that feature a front-facing selfie plus a rear-facing shot to show where you are. With 300,000 downloads since its launch in August and $ 3 million in new funding, Frontback is capitalizing on its unique format. It permits funny photo mashups, also prohibits comments, and combines eye-catching faces with added context. Beating out all these apps will be a serious challenge.
Shahidi remains confident, noting that “Taking one photo is already a lot of work” and that the non-selfie part of Frontbacks could get stale because “people are typically doing the same thing every day. If you're in the office, the office is kind of boring”. RockLive actually considered offering the diptych style, but concluded “There's more opportunities to take photos of yourself than figuring out the other side.”
With any luck, Shots of Me will get Bieber to share selfies exclusively on its app to attract some of his 47 million Twitter followers and 57 million Facebook fans. It could blow past Frontback if just 1 percent of those people checked out Shots of Me. Still, Shahidi hopes his product can stand on its own two feet.
“Before Instagram, there were dozens of apps that could let you take photos with filters, but Instagram was the first to create a home for your filtered pictures. You knew you were going to see elegant photos.” He hopes Shots Of Me will do the same for selfies. “People are going to enjoy seeing their life documented through the app. They're your memories. If you're not in the photo, it didn't happen.”
TechCrunch » Social
About a month after Instagram announced that it would start running Sponsored Photos and Sponsored Videos, and about a week after it published previews of those ads, it looks like Instagram ads have arrived.
The first ad comes from designer Michael Kors, and as promised, it's a regular Instagram photo, but it's also showing up in the feeds of users who don't follow the Michael Kors account, albeit with a “Sponsored” label. Instagram has said that users will be able to tap a button with three dots under the ad to hide it and provide feedback.
I've emailed Instagram to confirm that this is indeed the very first ad to go live, and I'll update if I hear back, but that seems to be the consensus.
TechCrunch » Social
Vine, Twitter's six-second looping video app, has just released an update that brings two new big features to the video-sharing platform: Sessions and Time Travel.
Time Travel essentially lets you edit videos, which has always been something Vine was very rigid about. In the past, you could never go back in time with Vine, but rather have to shoot continuously without a mistake. With Time Travel, users can remove, reorganize or replace any shot within at post at any time.
To use Time Travel, simply tap the green bar that shows you're recording, or push edit when you're previewing a post.
Meanwhile, Sessions lets you maintain multiple drafts that are currently being edited and created at once, so you can switch from one project to the other.
The update is a big one, as users have never been able to edit Vine videos retroactively. Here's what Vine has to say about the feature, according to the official blog post:
Vine was built for one purpose: to make it easy for people to capture life in motion and share it with the world. That is the reason we built the Vine camera, and it's why we continue to improve upon and build new tools for your creations, nurturing the balance between power and simplicity that you've come to expect from us.
Vine's last update was on July 3, and was presumably a counter attack against the just-launched Instagram Video feature. The earlier update redesigned the camera, added further navigation with categories, and let users “revine” videos from their stream. The July update also let users see a hovering, transparent preview of their last shot to line up stop-animation videos better, as well as the ability to focus, and see the video in grid view.
This update, though not following a major release from Instagram, also seems to compete with Facebook's photo-sharing phenom. You still can't upload video into Vine, which Instagram allows, but the ability to edit clips (as you can in Instagram) seems like a me-too move from Vine, which has always been stingy about letting users edit.
Still, Vine, which reached 40 million users in August according to Twitter, certainly isn't threatened by Instagram Video. The apps are very different, and Instagram users loved Instagram for being a photo-sharing platform, but there isn't proof that the introduction of video grew that love. Meanwhile, Viners have always enjoyed making short films. All 13 million of them.*
*And that's as of June, before Android launched.
TechCrunch » Social
The food porn that currently occupies a good portion of your Instagram feed could be turning you off from the types of foods you’re observing, according to a recent study out of BYU that was published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.
Research suggests that seeing photos of certain foods, as opposed to eating them, still gives you a feeling of satiation, which makes those foods less appealing when it actually comes time to chow down.
Here’s how the test was conducted: BYU professors Ryan Elder and Jeff Larson recruited 232 people to rate pictures of food. Half of the participants looked at (and rated) pictures of salty foods while the other half rated pictures of sweets. At the end of the rating period, all the participants were fed peanuts.
People who observed salty food the whole time weren’t so excited by the peanuts, even though peanuts never appeared in any of their salty food photos. Apparently, just seeing salty foods made those participants all salted out, satiated on the experience of saltiness without orally consuming any salt.
Luckily for foodies on Instagram, it takes more than a few pictures of a certain food to be satiated on it.
“You do have to look at a decent number of pictures to get these effects,” Elder said. “It’s not like if you look at something two or three times you’ll get that satiated effect.”
So what do we do with this information?
Well, the way I see it, this is good news. If you think of humans in the context of all animals, with us simply residing at the top of the food chain, our relationship with food is pretty weird. Wild animals eat to survive, and if something tastes good, it’s simply an indication that their body can safely digest that food.
Meanwhile, we’re putting all kinds of crazy chemicals into processed foods that have now made the United States an embarrassingly overweight country. We gorge ourselves on delicious meals like it’s the last time we’ll ever see food, without the slightest consideration that we’ll eat again in a matter of hours.
If anything, our obsession with photographing food is just one more bit of proof that we should adjust our relationship with food. But perhaps this is evolution at play. The more we photograph food, and then stare at it, the less we want it, and eventually Instagram’s #foodporn hashtag will go down in medical journals as the beginning of a new obesity cure (but I doubt it).