Monthly Archives: April 2019

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Developers can now verify mobile app users over WhatsApp instead of SMS

Category : Mobile

Facebook today released a new SDK that allows mobile app developers to integrate WhatsApp verification into Account Kit for iOS and Android. This will allow developers to build apps where users can opt to receive their verification codes through the WhatsApp app installed on their phone instead of through SMS.

Today, many apps give users the ability to sign up using only a phone number — a now popular alternative to Facebook Login, thanks to the social network’s numerous privacy scandals that led to fewer people choosing to use Facebook with third-party apps.

Plus, using phone numbers to sign up is common with a younger generation of users who don’t have Facebook accounts — and sometimes barely use email, except for joining apps and services.

When using a phone number to sign in, it’s common for the app to confirm the user by sending a verification code over SMS to the number provided. The user then enters that code to create their account. This process can also be used when logging in, as part of a multi-factor verification system where a user’s account information is combined with this extra step for added security.

While this process is straightforward and easy enough to follow, SMS is not everyone’s preferred messaging platform. That’s particularly true in emerging markets like India, where 200 million people are on WhatsApp, for example. In addition, those without an unlimited messaging plan are careful not to overuse texting when it can be avoided.

That’s where the WhatsApp SDK comes in. Once integrated into an iOS or Android app, developers can offer to send users their verification code over WhatsApp instead of text messaging. They can even choose to disable SMS verification, notes Facebook.

This is all a part of WhatsApp’s Account Kit, which is a larger set of developer tools designed to allow people to quickly register and log in to apps or websites using only a phone number and email, no password required.

This WhatsApp verification codes option has been available on WhatsApp’s web SDK since late 2018, but hadn’t been available with mobile apps until today.


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Why women are indefinitely sharing their locations

Category : Social

Rae WitteContributor
Rae Witte is a New York-based freelance journalist covering music, style, sneakers, art and dating, and how they intersect with tech. You can find her writing on i-D, The Wall Street Journal, Esquire and Forbes, among others.

New York-based DJ and creative consultant Amrit and I are sitting at a women’s empowerment dinner waiting for her manager, Ramya Velury. Another friend of ours asks where Ramya is. “She said she was getting an Uber 15 minutes ago,” Amrit says as she unlocks her phone to check Ramya’s location.

“She’s still at home!” Ramya and Amrit share their locations with each other indefinitely through Apple’s Find My Friends app, which allows you to see a contact’s location at all times. Most of us have our locations shared with a friend.

One can easily wonder why anyone would want to allow someone complete 24-hour access to their location, especially the type who text “On my way!” before they’ve even stepped foot into the shower. However, women are foregoing privacy among their most trusted friends to offer full access to their location (more specifically, the location of their phone) at all times.

Conveniences by way of technological advances are normalizing a culture of being alone with strangers. Uber launched 10 years ago and multiple ridesharing apps followed. Tinder changed the world of online dating (and dating as a whole) with its millennial-friendly, instantly gratifying match-making. You can connect with someone nearby and be on the way to meet them as soon as you can get out the door.

We talk to strangers online, pay them to get into their cars and meet up with them alone. These developments go against every rule about strangers that our parents imbedded in our childhood brains.

Danueal Drayton, known as the “dating app murderer,” confessed to killing seven women, all of whom he met on dating apps. His criminal trial has been put on hold pending further psychiatric treatment and evaluation after a Los Angeles County judge deemed him incompetent for trial. And 24-year-old Sydney Loofe was murdered after a 2018 Tinder date.

“We utilize a network of industry-leading automated and manual moderation and review tools, systems and processes — and spend millions of dollars annually — to prevent, monitor and remove bad actors who have violated our Community Guidelines and Terms of Use from our app,” a Tinder spokesperson tells me, regarding the measures it takes to keep users safe. “These tools include automatic scans of profiles for red-flag language and images, manual reviews of suspicious profiles, activity and user-generated reports, as well as blocking email addresses, phone numbers and other identifiers.”

While these aren’t necessarily common occurrences, they are real-life horror stories nonetheless.

Sexual assault and sexual misconduct has gotten bad enough within Ubers that the company can no longer ignore it. In 2018, the company released a list of 21 types (categories, not 21 incidents) of sexual misconduct reported by drivers and riders, ranging from explicit gestures to rape.

Uber offers an option where you can share with a friend the status of your ride. The company did not respond to a request for comment about what they’re doing to combat the sexual misconduct within Ubers.

But, that’s just for cars that are actually employed by rideshare apps. Los Angeles resident and self-proclaimed introvert Erika Ramirez pointed to a crime of opportunity when a young woman got into a car that wasn’t her Uber.

“Recently, a 21-year-old woman [Samantha Josephson] was kidnapped and murdered by a man who pretended to be her Uber driver. Unfortunately, it feels like not a day goes by that you don’t hear of a case where a man kills a woman.” (That prompted Uber and Lyft to implement safety features in their apps.)

Conveniences by way of technological advances are normalizing a culture of being alone with strangers.

Ramirez is a freelance journalist and runs her indie publication ILY Magazine mainly from her one-bedroom apartment. “My schedule isn’t too set in stone. I wander to run errands, do laundry, grab food, meet with friends and go on dates at random times of the day or at night,” she says. “To be safe, I share my location with a close girlfriend, in case anything ever goes wrong during any of those instances. I let her know when I’m going on a late snack run or when I’m going on a date with someone.”

Naturally, there are concerns about sharing locations. In 2018, The New York Times reported there were 75 companies that track your location and use, sell or store it. They even illustrated how they were able to get the data and align the anonymous traveling dot to the human it belonged to based on a distinct daily routine.

“When my siblings first asked to share my location with them, I thought they were weird. It’s not like I was doing anything sketchy, but why do you need to know where I am all the time?,” Dr. Brittanny Keeler laments. She was living in Buffalo, N.Y., where she completed her residency and lived for six years. “If someone didn’t see me for 24 hours, the police would be notified. I have a bigger social circle there.”

Now she is an OBGYN in Norwalk, Conn., and newborns don’t adhere to a 9-to-5 work week. “If I deliver babies in the middle of the night, I’m getting out of work at all hours. Here, no one would know I was missing unless I didn’t show up for work.”

It wasn’t an incident or a friend or family member that caused her to reconsider sharing her location. It was one of those horror stories. “I listened to this podcast called Up And Vanished. I think it’s from 2016. It’s about a 30-year-old-woman that left a party and was supposedly going home and was never seen again. I thought to myself, I leave places alone all of the time and hopefully get home. That actual podcast is what prompted me to start sharing my location,” Keeler recalls.

Not at all as a result of Ubers, Tinders and other beneficial disruptive tech, socially, there’s a significant shift in traditional gender norms coinciding with and ultimately utilizing all of these advancements. The percentage of unpartnered adults living alone has risen from 56% in 2007 to 61% in 2017, and women are more likely to live alone than men. Sons are also more likely to live with their parents later in life than daughters, and in 2018, the median age for Americans’ first marriages was the oldest it has ever been, at 30 for men and 28 for women.

Dr. Keeler, Ramirez and Ramya are all unmarried and live alone. Amrit’s boyfriend just moved in after she lived on her own for the majority of her seven years in New York. She’s from Perth, Australia, and her family still lives there.

“Because my family is so far, Ramya is probably the closest to my family and would act responsibly in case of an emergency,” Amrit says. While Ramya is Amrit’s manager, she’s also one of her best friends, and Amrit regularly checks on her location, too. “She always stays out later. If it’s the morning, I’ll check where she is and that she’s made it home.”

It’s not just the number of women living alone that has increased, but more are also traveling alone. As recording artist Tommy Genesis’ tour DJ, it’s not unnatural for Amrit to be traveling as many days as she spends at home in New York. “I’m usually home for two to three weeks and gone for about the same,” she says. Ramirez is nearly bi-coastal, traveling to her former home of New York City once a month and sometimes spending weeks at a time there.

The New York Times just released a discouraging story connecting the dots of dangers the increased number of solo women travelers experience. In it, they highlighted a 2018 study conducted by online hostel booking site Hostelworld that showed a 45 percent increase in solo women travelers from 2015 to 2017. The bottom line of their findings: “Most countries do not comprehensively track violence against female travelers.”

This isn’t to say that women believe sharing their locations with each other will prevent violence against them. However, regardless of their awareness that Apple is not utilizing or sharing their data from Find My Friends, women are in favor of someone they trust to be able to track their every move in case something happens.

It actually may have saved Jaila Gladden’s life. After Jaila’s attacker kidnapped her from outside Atlanta and raped her in her own car, he tasked her with finding a gas station for him to rob, as he planned to take her to Michigan. She convinced him to let her use her phone to do so. She sent her location and alerted her boyfriend what was happening while “looking” for a gas station. Ultimately, police were able to find her, the car and her attacker.

While plenty of users are definitely hot and cold on location services, there is undeniable value and security in knowing someone can find you in case of emergency.

Since 2018, Apple iOS 12 securely and automatically shares location with first responders when U.S. users call 911. Now, iPhone 8s and later have the Emergency SOS feature that requires some setup but ultimately allows for an emergency call to trigger a text to a preselected group of contacts and a location alert to emergency services.

Google also has the iPhone and Android-friendly Google Trusted Contacts App, which allows users to trust and request locations from trusted contacts.

“Not only did I think it was weird that my family wanted to know where I am all the time, but our phones tracking everything in general is creepy to me,” says Dr. Keeler. “I don’t know what data collection I’m contributing to, but I do think it’s necessary for someone to have my location now.”

And it’s because of what Ramirez knows to be true: “Women have been killed by ex-boyfriends, men who’ve forced themselves on them on dates, men whose catcalling were ignored or rejected. Women have to be keenly aware of their surroundings, and sadly have a backup plan in case we are placed in harm’s way.”

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Instagram will now let creators and influencers sell items directly

Category : Social

The monetization hose is on full blast at Instagram now, and today at F8, Facebook unveiled one of the latest developments on that front. The company said that creators will now be able to tag items to sell them directly to people viewing their posts and Stories.

For now, this will work only on items that are tagged from businesses that are part of the new checkout beta program Instagram is running in the U.S.

It’s also part of a bigger transactional swing that we’re seeing at Instagram that extends beyond just catering to consumerism and influencers speaking to Instagram’s billion-plus users.

Today Instagram also confirmed that it would be adding donation stickers in Stories — something we reported it was working on several months ago.

The tags that creators and influencers can now add is a significant development on product tagging, which up to now had been reserved just for businesses and brands, not open to individuals.

But the purpose for now doesn’t seem to be to help creators make commissions on those sales. Facebook tells us that “at this time,” creators will not make a cut on any purchases made as a result of anyone clicking on links in their posts (meaning: it may come down the line).

Rather, the point is to cut down on some of the repeat questions that creators get about what they are wearing, and where to buy it. “People are already shopping from creators by asking product questions in comments and Direct,” a spokesperson said. “With the ability to tag products, creators can provide the information their followers are looking for and get back to expressing themselves and sharing what’s on their mind, which will make their followers happy too.”

But they are not getting diddly, either. The spokesperson notes that creators will also receive additional insights with shopping posts, such as engagements and shopping insights. For those who are making a living out of their influencer status, these could help them leverage better deals with those brands, longer term.

Instagram will start testing first with a small group of creators over the next few weeks, including on the accounts of Gigi Hadid, Kim Kardashian West, Kris Jenner,Kylie Jenner and Leesa Angelique (who runs @saythelees).

“It’s my job to share beauty secrets and tips,” she said about the new feature. “I’m usually writing long, detailed captions about the latest products I’ve been using. Having this tool just makes it that much easier to let everyone know what I’m wearing and from where – down to the shade.”

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Facebook takes its Portal international, adds WhatsApp, Facebook Live support

Category : Social

At its F8 developer conference, Facebook today announced that it is launching its Portal video chat hardware internationally by bringing it to Canada and a select number of European countries, too. This rollout will begin in June in Canada, with Europe following this fall. In the U.S., Portal sells for $199 and $349, depending on the screen size. The company did not announce international pricing.

Portal originally only launched in the U.S. As the company’s co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg noted during his F8 keynote today, the service has done better than the company expected. Given that it launched right during some of Facebook’s biggest privacy scandals, that’s a bit of a surprise, though we don’t know what Facebook’s own expectations were, of course, or how many of the device it has sold.

In addition, Zuckerberg announced that its WhatsApp messenger is also coming to Portal. That means end-to-end encrypted video chats are coming to Portal, something that should reduce some of the privacy concerns around the device. “Now, you can be sure that when you’re having conversations with your friends and family, everything stays between you,” Zuckerberg said, though most current users probably hope that this has always been the case, even when using Portal without WhatsApp .

Later this summer, Portal will also get new AR effects and a story-reading mode. Starting today, Portal can also display photos from Instagram, and Facebook is building a mobile app that lets you display photos on the Portal. You can do that today, but it’s significantly more complicated because you need to create a private album just for Portal.

Coming soon, too, is the ability to send private video messages and Facebook Live support.

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Old Facebook finally wants you to ‘Meet New Friends’

Category : Social

Facebook’s social graph is aging, full of long-lost acquaintances and hometown friends you don’t care much about seeing in the News Feed any more. But Facebook is now testing a pivot away from its core identity of connecting you with existing friends so it can revitalize the social graph and keep people coming back. Facebook’s “Meet New Friends” lets you browse people from shared communities such as your school, workplace or city who’ve also opted in to the feature. Announced today at Facebook’s F8 conference, Meet New Friends now in testing in a few markets before it’s rolled out more widely soon.

Meet New Friends could give people fresh pals to follow in their News Feed, or help recently registered users grow their network until they have access to enough content to keep them busy. And eventually, Facebook could layer on monetization features similar to dating apps where users pay to be shown more prominently to potential connections.

Fidji Simo, the head of Facebook’s main app, tells me Meet New Friends was based on emerging behaviors the company had spotted. “Developing relationships with people they didn’t already know is very different from the core use case of Facebook,” but she notes, “We’ve already seen that naturally happen in Groups, and Meet New Friends will make that a bit easier.”

When users open Meet New Friends, they pick the communities through which they’re open to meeting new friends. For now they choose between schools, employers and locations, but Facebook will eventually add Groups too. In that sense it works a bit like Facebook Dating, which rolls out to 14 new countries today and opens to dating friends with its new Secret Crush feature.

Algorithms will sort potential connections by who is most relevant, such as those with mutual friends or shared interests, but you won’t get “matched” where both users have to state their interest in the other. Instead, users can just browse profiles, and then either send people a friend request (which might feel a bit out of the blue), or send them a single text-only message to a recipient’s dedicated Meet New Friends chat inbox. They can’t message that same person again until they respond (to prevent spamming), and the text-only limitation ensures no unsavory photos get blasted around. If they do reply, the thread moves to Facebook Messenger.

Meet New Friends will pit Facebook against a range of other apps, from local-focused Meetup and Nextdoor to verticalized apps like Hey Vina for women only to dating-affiliated apps like Bumble BFF. But Facebook benefits from its ubiquity, so users can try Meet New Friends without feeling embarrassed by downloading an app just to make them less lonely.

For years, the mildly creepy People You May Know feature has been a cornerstone of Facebook’s growth strategy. But it’s still just about recreating your offline social graph online. As Facebook strives to become more meaningful to people’s lives, fostering new friendships could give people a fuzzy feeling about the giant corporation.

Click below to check out all of TechCrunch’s Facebook conference coverage from today:

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Facebook Dating opens to friends with Secret Crush

Category : Social

Facebook built Dating to be privacy-safe, hoping to avoid the awkwardness of friends or family checking out your romance profile. But now Facebook has found a way to let you silently express your affection for a friend without them knowing unless they reciprocate.

Facebook announced today at its F8 conference that Dating is opening in 14 more countries, bringing the total to 19. It will launch in the U.S. before the end of the year. Dating brings with it a new feature called Secret Crush that expands it beyond strangers and friends-of-friends. Choose up to 9 friends you like-like. If they’ve opted into Facebook Dating, they’ll get a notification that some friend has a crush on them. If they add you as a Secret Crush too, you’re both notified and can chat on Messenger.

Facebook Dating product manager Charmaine Hung tells me that “I have 2,000 Facebook friends. I’m not best friends with all 2,000 people, and there’s a good chance that one of that could be a really good match with me. I trust them, I appreciate them and I know we’re compatible. The only thing missing is knowing if we’re both interested in being more than just friends without the fear of rejection if you were to do this in real life.”

Read Josh Constine’s thought piece on what Facebook’s conference meant:

Facebook announced Dating at F8 a year ago and launched it in Colombia in September. Users opt-in, and then browse Events and Groups they’re part of for potential matches. They send them a text-only message based on something in their profile, which goes to a special Dating inbox. And if that person reciprocates, they can chat and maybe meet up. Now it’s opening in the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Laos, Brazil, Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, Guyana and Suriname.

One concern with Secret Crush is that users might spam the feature by constantly adding and removing people from their list until they discover a match. That’s why Facebook will only let you sub out one person per day after you reach your initial limit of 9.

Currently there’s still no plan to monetize Dating, but that’s not the point. After years of scandals, Facebook needs to prove it deserves to be your social network. Mindlessly browsing the News Feed has proven to be exhausting and at times detrimental to health. But if the app can introduce you to your future spouse, or even just a summer fling, you might keep a place in your heart for Facebook too.

Click below to check out all of TechCrunch’s Facebook conference coverage from today:

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Instagram officially tests hiding Like counts

Category : Mobile

Would we feel less envious, shameful and competitive if Instagram didn’t tell us how many Likes a post received? That’s the idea behind Instagram now hiding Like counts from both a post’s viewers as part of an experiment in Canada. A post’s creator can still open the Likers window to see the names of everyone who hearted their post. Instagram has also recently redesigned the profile to make follower count much less prominent, the app’s head Adam Mosseri says.

Even though Like totals would still impact how the algorithm ranks a post in the feed, if rolled out, the change would refocus Instagram on self-expression instead of being a popularity contest. Users might be less likely to delete a photo or video because it didn’t get enough Likes, or resort to their Finsta account to post something authentic but less “perfect.” It could make us less likely to envy-spiral because we wouldn’t see friends or influencers getting more Likes than us. And people might be more willing to post what truly represents their complicated identities because they’re not battling for the biggest Like count.

“Later this week, we’re running a test in Canada that removes the total number of likes on photos and video views in Feed, Permalink pages and Profile,” an Instagram spokesperson tells TechCrunch. “We are testing this because we want your followers to focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get.” The small percentage of Canadian users in the test will see a notice atop their feed warning them of “a change to how you see Likes.” The announcement came alongside a slew of new product debuts at Facebook’s F8 conference.

One big concern, though, is that influencers often get discovered for paid promotions or have their sponsored content measured by public Like counts or a screenshot of their Liker list. “We understand that this is important for many creators, and while this test is in exploratory stages, we are thinking through ways for them to communicate value to their brand partners,” an Instagram spokesperson tells TechCrunch.

TechCrunch first reported two weeks ago that Instagram had prototyped hiding public Like counts, as spotted by Jane Manchun Wong. The company confirmed the feature had been built but not tested in the wild. The news immediately set off a wave of commentary from users. Many, while initially shocked, thought it would make Instagram usage healthier and cutback on some of the toxic anxiety produced by staring at the little numbers.

So why test in Canada? “Canadians are highly social and tech savvy, with over 24 million people connecting across our family of apps each month. We wanted to test this with a digitally savvy audience that has a thriving community on Instagram,” a company spokesperson told us.

Leading The Fight Against Bullying

On stage at F8, Mosseri announced that Instagram doesn’t just want to stop bullying, but lead the Internet’s battle against it. To that end, he announced several new tests of features Instagram hopes will make the app less toxic and hateful.

  • A new “nudge” feature will warn users if they’re about to comment something hurtful. The test stops short of censorship while still addressing bullying before it happens.
  • “Away Mode” will encourage users to take a break from Instagram at intense times in their life, like moving to a new school. They don’t have to delete their account, but can still get a break from constant notifications and concerns about how they look.
  • “Manage Interactions” will allow users to set limits on how certain people interact with them without having to block them completely. Maybe you don’t want someone to be able to comment on your posts, but still Like them. Or you’re cool with them seeing your photos but don’t want to get DMs from them.

If these features succeed at promoting digital well-being, Instagram will likely roll them out to everyone.

It’s reassuring to see Instagram adding new well-being features after the departure of founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. Systrom in particular had been a big proponent of reducing envy and inauthenticity on social media, which was part of the impetus for launching Instagram Stories, where users could share unpolished looks at their lives. Before he left in September, Instagram rolled out its Your Activity dashboard showing the average time you spent per day on the app, plus a “You’re All Caught Up” warning that tells users they’ve seen all recent feed posts and can stop scrolling.

A 2013 study by Krasnova et al. discovered that 20 percent of envy-causing situations that experiment participants experienced happened on Facebook. They also determined that Facebook causes toxic envy, noting that “intensity of passive following is likely to reduce users’ life satisfaction in the long-run, as it triggers upward social comparison and invidious emotions.” Instagram, with its focus on imagery and manicured looks at our lives, might cause even more envy. Hiding Likes would be a strong step toward us judging ourselves less.

Click below to check out all of TechCrunch’s Facebook conference coverage from today:

Correction: Instagram originally told us a post’s creator couldn’t see its Like count either, but now tells us the count will only be hidden from viewers.

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Facebook Messenger will get desktop apps, co-watching, emoji status

Category : Mobile

To win chat, Facebook Messenger must be as accessible as SMS, yet more entertaining than Snapchat. Today, Messenger pushes on both fronts with a series of announcements at Facebook’s F8 conference. Those include that it will launch Mac and PC desktop apps, a faster and smaller mobile app, simultaneous video co-watching and a revamped Friends tab, where friends can use an emoji to tell you what they’re up to or down for.

Facebook is also beefing up its tools for the 40 million active businesses and 300,000 developers on Messenger, up from 200,000 developers a year ago. Merchants will be able to let users book appointments at salons and masseuses, collect information with new lead generation chatbot templates and provide customer service to verified customers through authenticated links. Facebook hopes this will boost the app beyond the 20 billion messages sent between people and businesses each month, which is up 10X from December 2017.

“We believe you can build practically any utility on top of messaging,” says Facebook’s head of Messenger Stan Chudnovsky. But he stresses that “All of the engineering behind it is has been redone” to make it more reliable, and to comply with CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s directive to unite the backends of Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram Direct. “Of course, if we didn’t have to do all that, we’d be able to invest more in utilities. But we feel that utilities will be less functional if we don’t do that work. They need to go hand-in-hand together. Utilities will be more powerful, more functional and more desired if built on top of a system that’s interoperable and end-to-end encrypted.”

Here’s a look at the major Messenger announcements and why they’re important:

Messenger Desktop – A stripped-down version of Messenger focused on chat, audio and video calls will debut later this year. Chudnovsky says it will remove the need to juggle and resize browser tabs by giving you an always-accessible version of Messenger that can replace some of the unofficial knock-offs. Especially as Messenger focuses more on businesses, giving them a dedicated desktop interface could convince them to invest more in lead generation and customer service through Messenger.

Messenger’s upcoming desktop app

Project Lightspeed – Messenger is reengineering its app to cut 70 mb off its download size so people with low-storage phones don’t have to delete as many photos to install it. In testing, the app can cold start in merely 1.3 seconds, which Chudnovsky says is just 25 percent of where Messenger and many other apps are today. While Facebook already offers Messenger Light for the developing world, making the main app faster for everyone else could help Messenger swoop in and steal users from the status quo of SMS. The Lightspeed update will roll out later this year.

Video Co-Watching – TechCrunch reported in November that Messenger was building a Facebook Watch Party-style experience that would let users pick videos to watch at the same time as a friend, with reaction cams of their faces shown below the video. Now in testing before rolling out later this year, users can pick any Facebook video, invite one or multiple friends and laugh together. Unique capabilities like this could make Messenger more entertaining between utilitarian chat threads and appeal to a younger audience Facebook is at risk of losing.

Watch Videos Together on Messenger

Business Tools – After a rough start to its chatbot program a few years ago, where bots couldn’t figure out users’ open-ended responses, Chudnovsky says the platform is now picking up steam with 300,000 developers on board. One option that’s worked especially well is lead-generation templates, which teach bots to ask people standardized questions to collect contact info or business intent, so Messenger is adding more of those templates with completion reminders and seamless hand-off to a live agent.

To let users interact with appointment-based businesses through a platform they’re already familiar with, Messenger launched a beta program for barbers, dentists and more that will soon open to let any business handle appointment booking through the app. And with new authenticated links, a business can take a logged-in user on their website and pass them to Messenger while still knowing their order history and other info. Getting more businesses hooked on Messenger customer service could be very lucrative down the line.

Appointment booking on Messenger

Close Friends and Emoji Status – Perhaps the most interesting update to Messenger, though, is its upcoming effort to help you make offline plans. Messenger is in the early stages of rebuilding its Friends tab into “Close Friends,” which will host big previews of friends’ Stories, photos shared in your chats, and let people overlay an emoji on their profile pic to show friends what they’re doing. We first reported this “Your Emoji” status update feature was being built a year ago, but it quietly cropped up in the video for Messenger Close Friends. This iteration lets you add an emoji like a home, barbell, low battery or beer mug, plus a short text description, to let friends know you’re back from work, at the gym, might not respond or are interested in getting a drink. These will show up atop the Close Friends tab as well as on location-sharing maps and more once this eventually rolls out.

Messenger’s upcoming Close Friends tab with Your Emoji status

Facebook Messenger is the best poised app to solve the loneliness problem. We often end up by ourselves because we’re not sure which of our friends are free to hang out, and we’re embarrassed to look desperate by constantly reaching out. But with emoji status, Messenger users could quietly signal their intentions without seeming needy. This “what are you doing offline” feature could be a whole social network of its own, as apps like Down To Lunch have tried. But with 1.3 billion users and built-in chat, Messenger has the ubiquity and utility to turn a hope into a hangout.

Click below to check out all of TechCrunch’s Facebook conference coverage from today:

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Energizer’s massive battery/phone proves a viral hit ≠ crowdfunding success

Category : Mobile

Oof. This isn’t the sort of thing you want to see when you’re rounding the corner of your crowdfunding campaign:

There are long shots and then there’s coming up with $15,000 of your $1.2 million goal. The Indiegogo page for the Energizer Power Max P18K Pop understandably focused on the viral sensation the ridiculously beefy phone with the 18,000mAh battery spurred at Mobile World Congress this year. There are even photos of the scrum of journalists elbowing to take a shot of the thing at the event.

Understandable that its creators took that approach. Heck, the thing may have outshined all of the foldable and 5G phones that were set to take center stage at the event. We wrote about it. Lucas rightfully called it “basically a giant battery with a smartphone built into it.”

The takeaway seems clear, though. Just because everyone’s talking about a product doesn’t mean that anyone intends to buy it. If anything, the devices seemed more a comment on the state of smartphone battery life than actual enticing product.

And honestly, there’s been a shift in recent years among many smartphone manufacturers to provide power saving options and larger capacity batteries, so this has become less of a problem (though 5G’s approach could aversely impact that). Also, there are eight million power banks, and you can get them pretty cheap these days, making the P18K Pop any even sillier proposition. Not to mention all the things that can go wrong when you buy a phone based on a single feature.

Even so, the product’s creators closed the campaign out on a hopeful note, writing, “Although it didn’t reach its goal, we will work on further improvement on the P18K (design, thickness, etc.) as we do believe there is a rising interest for smartphones with incredible battery life, which can also be used as power banks.”

Certainly features from companies like Samsung and Huawei have proven that power sharing is a compelling feature. It just probably won’t come with Energizer’s name attached.

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ManyChat raises $18M to help businesses tap into messaging

Tags :

Category : entrepreneur

Mobile marketing company ManyChat has raised $18 million in Series A funding.

The startup, co-founded by CEO Mikael Yang, is currently focused on Facebook Messenger. It offers tools for creating a bot on Messenger while also supporting live human chatting (ManyChat says its approach is a “smart blend of automation and personal outreach”), and additional options like advertising to get more users to engage with your messaging channels.

ManyChat is just one of several startups hoping to build a business around Facebook Messenger bots, but this sounds like a product that businesses are actually using. The company says more than 1 million accounts have been created on the platform, with customers coming from e-commerce, traditional retail, gyms, beauty salons restaurants and more.

Those customers have collectively enlisted 350 million Messenger subscribers, and there are 7 billion messages sent on the platform each month. Plus, with an average open rate of 80 percent, these messages are actually being read.

The funding was led by Bessemer Venture Capital, with participation from Flint Capital. Bessemer’s Ethan Kurzweil is joining the board of directors, while the firm’s Alex Ferrara also becomes a board observer.

“ManyChat is at the forefront of a major shift in how businesses market to customers,” Kurzweil said in the funding announcement. “It’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ email lists and static forms get replaced with a more personalized and conversational approach to customer engagement.”

He added that the company’s work with Messenger is “only the beginning”: “With Instagram, WhatsApp, RCS, and others on the horizon, there’s endless potential to scale.”