Why Snapchat’s Only Non-Ephemeral Content, The Profile GIF, Is A Big Deal

Why Snapchat’s Only Non-Ephemeral Content, The Profile GIF, Is A Big Deal

Not everything on Snapchat disappears. As much as the app wants memories to span just 10 seconds and live for just 24 hours, one piece of content doesn’t self destruct. The profile GIF. And through its permanence, Snapchat has found a way solve a major problem with its identity system and social graph.

Snapchat Profile PageSnapchat quietly added the profile GIFs in July alongside the flashier shift from tap-and-hold-to-view to tap-to-view. When you swipe down from the Snapchat camera to the profile screen you’ll see your Snapcode QR code that others can scan with their Snapchat camera to follow you. But if you tap on the QR code, you can shoot a series of 5 selfies that Snapchat turns into an animated profile GIF. This appears inside the normally white body of the Snapchat ghost icon inside your Snapcode.

At first, the point seemed to be to customize your Snapcode. This encouraged people to share it more widely, getting more users following each other. This strengthening of the social graph is critical for the company, since following people fills its app with content that keeps you coming back.

But since then, I’ve realized there’s another important purpose for the profile GIFs. They appear  in the Added Me list when you follow someone. Here’s why that matters.

Before, when someone added you on Snapchat, you knew nothing but their username. Due to the app’s inherently anonymous nature, younger user base that’s less interested in tying all their online identities together, and its racy reputation as a sexting app, many people’s usernames provide little hint to who they are. You often can’t even tell the gender or language of someone by their username.

This is a much bigger problem for Snapchat than other apps like Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter where people typically have some public content or a real name available that informs whether you want to follow them.

Added Me GifsThe only thing you could do on Snapchat was to add them, then check to see if their Story was interesting (if they’ve posted in the last 24 hours) and then decide whether to unfollow them. That’s a lot of work. I’d bet a lot of people just never follow back rather than put in the effort. This is especially troublesome for more popular Snapchatters and creators that promote their accounts publicly and let anyone follow them. If you receive lots of new followers each day, there’s no efficient way to decide if you want to follow back.

But the profile GIF provides more transparency to someone’s identity.

Now in the Added Me list, you’ll see the profile GIFs of anyone who’s created one. Immediately, just the fact that someone has a profile GIF tells you they know their way around Snapchat, and they’re probably better at creating content. You’ll also get a peek at their identity. Selfies can tell you someone’s age, gender, and more. Personally, I find really little kids send me more low-quality snaps than older teens and young adults, so I don’t follow them back. And finally, you get a little taste of their style. Did they do something funny with their GIF? Did they try to tell a tiny story?

As Snapchat evolves to provide more forms of content, communication, and utility, the profile’s significance is sure to grow. I hope Snapchat introduces group video chat, and the profile GIFs could work well as a holding screen while you wait for people to join the call. Though the app began as bare-bones ephemeral messaging, it’s becoming the hub of youth communication. Permanent GIFs give profiles the substance necessary to be a foundation of that hub.

Facebook Brings VR-Style 360-Degree Video To News Feed

Facebook Brings VR-Style 360-Degree Video To News Feed

Hold up your phone, spin around, and Facebook’s newest News Feed videos will spin with you, showing you every angle of a scene. Today, Facebook announced that its News Feed will now support 360-degree videos on Android and web, and they’ll work on iOS within a few months. At launch, publishers including Star Wars, Discovery, GoProUninterrupted With LeBron James, NBC’s Saturday Night Live, and VICE will start posting 360 videos.

Facebook tells me the company worked with Oculus to build out 360 video for News Feed. The format could let you share extraordinarily immersive vacation videos and unlock distribution for a burgeoning art form. And just as whenever a new content type comes along, businesses could start exploiting it to make 360 video ads and paying to boost their reach in the feed.

Mark Zuckerberg has long said that Facebook is on a steady march to more vivid content formats, from text to photos to videos to VR. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to just pop your phone into a Google Cardboard or other VR headset and watch these clips by spinning your head. But you can imagine a way to split the view into different lenses for VR headsets could be on the way, though that would require videos to be shot with two lenses side-by-side.

GopRo 360

For now, on the web and mobile you’ll be able to swipe around to view different angles, or your phone’s gyroscope will pick up your swiveling motions and convert them into moving your perspective. Facebook actually tip-toed in this direction with its news reader app Paper, which let you tilt your phone back and forth to pan across panoramic photos.

To shoot these videos, you’ll need a somewhat expensive 360 camera like a Bubblcam, which costs $800. That means for now we’re more likely to see bigger brands and publishers sharing these videos than average humans. But as the cost of the technology comes down and phone cameras get better, we could see a democratization of this immersive format.

When Facebook bought Oculus, Zuck talked about the potential for VR to bring people together and make them feel like they’re in the same place. That combined mission is coming to fruition.

Instagram Hits 400M Users Just 9 Months After Announcing 300M

Instagram Hits 400M Users Just 9 Months After Announcing 300M

Today, Facebook-owned photograph-centric social network Instagram announced that it has hit 400 million users. This comes just nine months after announcing that it hit the 300 million mark.

Looks like they’ll have to update this chart:

instagram-30m-chart1

Here’s what the team had to say about hitting the 400 million user mark:

Our community has evolved to be even more global, with more than 75 percent living outside of the US. To all the new Instagrammers: welcome! Among the last 100 million to join, more than half live in Europe and Asia. The countries that added the most Instagrammers include Brazil, Japan and Indonesia.

Yes, it’s no mistake that the team wanted to let all of us know that it’s growing internationally, the key to grabbing its “next 400M.” It’d be sure nice to know what the splits are on iOS vs. Android, though.

For anyone who was worried that ugly Instagram ads would scare users away in droves, that’s not the case. This is good news for advertisers, who are starting to fill up the network with both photos and video commercials.

Our own Josh Constine pretty much nailed why Instagram continues to blow up when the group announced the 300 million mark last December:

…Instagram can rest easy knowing it captured lightning in a bottle. It’s the archetypal mobile app. There were plenty of other ways to share photos before Instagram. There were plenty of other ways to filter photos too. But Instagram took something people already liked to do and made it so simple and delightful they fell in love.

And yup, Instagram sports a bigger user base than Twitter, which last reported 316 million users. Seems like Instagram has cracked the code of finding users in every nook and cranny of the Internet all over the world. With Facebook’s help, of course.

Periscope Turns Screenshotting Into A Social Experience

Periscope Turns Screenshotting Into A Social Experience

A new version of Periscope popped up on the App Store today that allows viewers to share screenshots that they take during your stream. Additionally a little screenshot icon will show up in chat letting you and everyone else know that a screenshot has been taken. It’s basically Periscope’s version of a “retweet.”

It’s a really smart feature that works seamlessly, giving the viewer some context to share with their own followers, which is key. Too often, I see a basic description and a link to a Periscope stream in my Twitter feed and just ignore it. If you showed me what was going on, say, like the gent who did a marathon in his wheelchair, I’d be more likely to click:

  1. IMG_5524

  2. Periscope Screenshots

It’s less about being alerted that a screenshot was taken, especially when it comes to big broadcasters like celebrities, and more about the broadcasting and promotion of your stream. Unlike Snapchat, where the screenshot is a big no-no, Periscope wants screenshotting to be completely social. Leveraging the Twitter graph is the obvious move. Now we’re really seeing why Meerkat got the “kill call.”

This is all about setting Periscope up as the de facto live streaming service for celebs (both internet and mainstream) to build up a following on the service. It fits in nicely with its recently announced web profile feature. I’d like to see all of the screenshots people have taken of your streams pop up on your profile for a truly social experience.

Periscope is becoming its own entertainment platform, much like Twitter’s other cap feather, Vine. Both services have emerging “stars” that advertising can be attached to. Brands are frothing at the mouth for the “complete package.”

Earlier this month, we broke that Periscope had been secretly working on an Apple TV app, which means you’re going to see way more live streams in the near future.

On the other hand, Periscope isn’t ignoring the private broadcast use case, as it introduced a private broadcast feature with “mutuals.” It lets you see a list of everyone you follow who follows you back and invite them in a single tap.

Facebook Gives Verified Profiles Its Mentions App With “Live” Streaming And Posts Just To Followers

Facebook Gives Verified Profiles Its Mentions App With “Live” Streaming And Posts Just To Followers

Journalists might start sharing a lot more of their links to Facebook, as now they can finally opt out of spamming their friends and instead only post to their public followers.

Today, journalists and other Verified Profiles on Facebook are getting access to the Mentions iOS app previously reserved for Verified Pages, as we reported they would. It includes Periscope-esque Live streaming and Reddit AMA-style Q&A features normal users don’t have. But it’s the newfound ability to only post to followers, not friends, that could have the biggest impact on Facebook.

Making Self-Promotion Less Awkward

IMG_2427Facebook launched its Twitterish Subscribe feature in late 2011, allowing average users to rack up followers who aren’t their friends, but would see their public posts. The problem was that to share to your followers, you also had to share to your friends. I railed against Facebook to change this.

For many journalists like me, this was uncomfortable. People didn’t necessarily become our friends because they wanted to blasted with all our articles and videos. But that is why people follow us. Only being able to share public posts to all of them at once made it look like we were trying to use our friends just to gain traffic.

This created a serious chilling effect on journalists sharing what they’ve created. While on Twitter, most feel no remorse about posting links to their work. But on Facebook, some like me would only share their most important or widely accessible work.

Facebook, The Direct News Source

Now journalists with Verified Profiles and anyone else with the distinction will be free to share as much of their work as they want just to their followers without thrusting it on their friends. In the Mentions app when composing a status update, Verified Profiles can use an audience privacy selector to post publicly and be visible to everyone, but only appear in the News Feeds of followers, not friends. They can also still use the standard public posting to everyone’s News Feed.

IMG_2431I know that I plan to share a lot more of my TechCrunch articles to my Facebook followers now. As a whole, this could make news on Facebook seem much more personal. Rather than primarily coming from Pages representing the outlets, the journalists themselves will be better able to transmit current events.

Facebook Mention manager Vadim Lavrusik concurs, telling me “You probably have content that only your followers will be interested in, and one of the things we really hope this will enable is…to actually nurture that audience by being able to target content specifically to them…actually speak to that audience.”

This could help Facebook in its quest to compete with Twitter as a social news hub. The more readership it can drive with the News Feed, the more that news outlets become reliant on Facebook. That makes them more likely to adopt programs like fast-loading Instant Articles, or buy Facebook ads.

Mentions For More (Not All)

Facebook launched Mentions in July 2014, but only made it available to Verified Pages like news outlets and popular bands. It allowed for more nimble monitoring of mentions, comments, and wall posts, plus made it easy to jump in to the discussion of big trending topics. The only truly unique feature was Q&A. But without much more, it wasn’t exactly critical.

Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 11.13.35 AM

But with last month’s launch of Facebook’s mobile live stream broadcasting feature “Live” that competes with Periscope and Meerkat, Mentions became a lot more important. The feature is only available in Mentions.

Live lets VIPs start a live stream broadcast that appears in the News Feed of their followers and triggers a notification for fans who’ve recently interacted with them. Viewers can respond in real-time with comments that appear overlaid on the broadcaster’s screen.

IMG_2430Afterwards, the streams turn into saved videos that people can watch on Facebook unless the broadcaster deletes them, unlike Meerkat where streams disappear immediately and Periscope where they’re only replayable for 24 hours. Broadcasters also get analytics on their streams.

Lavrusik tells me “Live’s been going really well. Particularly, why we wanted to make this available as quickly as possible is because we have a lot of demand from journalists.” The company even published some tips for live streaming. [If you want to check out my first Live stream where I discuss the impact of these changes on Facebook, click here.]

While it’s still only on iOS, now Verified Profiles will be allowed to log in to Mentions. Lavrusik says Facebook is constantly adding more accounts to the Verified Profiles program and there are currently “thousands”. Journalists, celebrities, and public figures can apply to be verified here.

Instagram Ads Go Global, Including New 30-Second Commercials

Instagram Ads Go Global, Including New 30-Second Commercials

Instagram is done experimenting and is ready to ramp up ad revenue. It’s making three big changes today to attract marketing dollars from around the world and other ad mediums. Finally, Instagram will make back the money Facebook spent buying it.

MarvelChamp.Kabam.IG.SeptemberFirst, today Instagram ads become officially available in 30 more countries including Mexico, India and South Korea, and will be on sale globally by the end of September. After users in core markets proved loyal despite having ads injected in their feeds, all 300 million people who use Instagram will now see ads. And instead of only working with big brands, Instagram is opening up ads to businesses of all sizes.

Second, Instagram is now courting television and online advertisers with more standardized formats and buying options. Instagram will allow advertisers to run 30-second video ads, rather than just 15 second ones, and use landscape dimensions instead of just squares. Landscape and portrait mode came to users last month, though Instagram’s James Quarles told me it wouldn’t be technically feasible to expand the video length limit to 30 seconds for non-advertisers. This means businesses can easily port their television commercials into Instagram ads.

Instagram is also debuting a new buying option called Marquee that lets advertisers “own a moment” and reach a huge swath of the user base quickly. This is ideal for big product launches or movie releases where brands want big first-day sales. FOX will run the first marquee for its new TV shows, including Scream Queens, seen above.

And third, Instagram is luring advertisers from a wider array of industries to its ads with improved calls to action. These include travel, entertainment, ecommerce, and retail. After testing “Shop Now”, “Install Now”, “Sign Up”, and “Learn More” options, these direct response formats that can link outside of Instagram will open to all advertisers.

Commerce and app install ads will make the photo network more valuable to merchants and developers who want an immediate return on investment. All these formats and placements will now be available through Facebook’s self-serve ad interface, Ads API, and Power Editor, which allow extremely granular interest and demographic targeting.

Fox Marquee

To prove the ads work, Instagram cites some examples:

  • Gilt Group’s campaign drove an 85% increase in app installs
  • Furniture retailer Made.com saw a 10% increase in order value versus its benchmark
  • Game developer Kabam was able to acquire users who played longer and spent more

Facebook’s Acquisition Comes To Fruition

Really, this was the moment Facebook was imagining when it acquired Instagram. Of course it wanted to continue connecting people through photos the way it did with its social network. But on the business side, Instagram held the promise of applying Facebook’s advertising technology and connections with brands to another massive audience. It took three and a half years, but that moment has finally arrived.

Instagram’s Quarles tells me “it would take us years to build that advertising stack on our own.”

It comes down to scale.

Instagram Ads

Advertisers, and in turn, investors, want scale. Facebook already has a ton of it with its nearly 1.5 billion users. Instagram adds another 300 million. This is the scale Wall Street desperately wants Twitter to achieve.

Now, when an advertiser wants to reach a huge audience, all they need is to buy through Facebook and they can push an ad to people on both Facebook and Instagram. With that scale comes efficiencies in sales and backend infrastructure. Each extra dollar earned costs Facebook less.

Now all Instagram has to do is not show so many ads that users get annoyed, change so much that they feel lost, or stay so stagnant that the app gets stale. As long as Instagram doesn’t lose its cool, it will become a massive money-making machine worthy of mention on Facebook’s earnings calls.

Instagram favored growth for its first five years. Now it’s all grown up and ready to be a bread-winner.