Facebook’s handling of Alex Jones is a microcosm of its content policy problem

A revealing cluster of emails reviewed by Business Insider and Channel 4 News offers a glimpse at the fairly chaotic process of how Facebook decides what content crosses the line. In this instance, a group of executives at Facebook went hands-on in determining if an Instagram post by the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones violated the platform’s community standards.

To make that determination, 20 Facebook and Instagram executives hashed it out over the Jones post, which depicted a mural known as “False Profits” by the artist Mear One. Facebook began debating the post after it was flagged by Business Insider for kicking up anti semitic comments on Wednesday.

The company removed 23 of 500 comments on the post that it interpreted to be in clear violation of Facebook policy. Later in the conversation, some of the UK-based Instagram and Facebook executives on the email provided more context for their US-based peers.

Last year, a controversy over the same painting erupted when British politician Jeremy Corbyn argued in support of the mural’s creator after the art was removed from a wall in East London due what many believed to be antisemitic overtones. Because of that, the image and its context are likely better known in the UK, a fact that came up in Facebook’s discussion over how to handle the Jones post.

“This image is widely acknowledged to be anti-Semitic and is a famous image in the UK due to public controversy around it,” one executive said. “If we go back and say it does not violate we will be in for a lot criticism.”

Ultimately, after some back and forth, the post was removed.

According to the emails, Alex Jones’ Instagram account “does not currently violate [the rules]” as “an IG account has to have at least 30% of content violating at any given time as per our regular guidelines.” That fact might prove puzzling once you know that Alex Jones got his main account booted off Facebook itself in 2018 — and the company did another sweep for Jones-linked pages last month.

Whether you agree with Facebook’s content moderation decisions or not, it’s impossible to argue that they are consistently enforced. In the latest example, the company argued over a single depiction of a controversial image even as the same image is literally for sale by the artist elsewhere on both on Instagram and Facebook. (As any Facebook reporter can attest, these inconsistencies will probably be resolved shortly after this story goes live.)

The artist himself sells its likeness on a t-shirt on both Instagram and Facebook and numerous depictions of the same image appear on various hashtags. And even after the post was taken down, Jones displayed it prominently in his Instagram story, declaring that the image “is just about monopoly men and the class struggle” and decrying Facebook’s “crazy-level censorship.”

It’s clear that even as Facebook attempts to make strides, its approach to content moderation remains reactive, haphazard and probably too deeply preoccupied with public perception. Some cases of controversial content are escalated all the way to the top while others languish, undetected. Where the line is drawn isn’t particularly clear. And even when high profile violations are determined, it’s not apparent that those case studies meaningfully trickle down clarify smaller, everyday decisions by content moderators on Facebook’s lower rungs.

As always, the squeaky wheel gets the grease — but two billion users and reactive rather than proactive policy enforcement means that there’s an endless sea of ungreased wheels drifting around. This problem isn’t unique to Facebook, but given its scope, it does make the biggest case study in what can go wrong when a platform scales wildly with little regard for the consequences.

Unfortunately for Facebook, it’s yet another lose-lose situation of its own making. During its intense, extended growth spurt, Facebook allowed all kinds of potentially controversial and dangerous content to flourish for years. Now, when the company abruptly cracks down on accounts that violate its longstanding policies forbidding hate speech, divisive figures like Alex Jones can cry censorship, roiling hundreds of thousands of followers in the process.

Like other tech companies, Facebook is now paying mightily for the worry-free years it enjoyed before coming under intense scrutiny for the toxic side effects of all that growth. And until Facebook develops a more uniform interpretation of its own community standards — one the company enforces from the bottom up rather than the top down — it’s going to keep taking heat on all sides.

Pinstagram? Instagram code reveals Public Collections feature

Instagram is threatening to attack Pinterest just as it files to go public the same way the Facebook-owned app did to Snapchat. Code buried in Instagram for Android shows the company has prototyped an option to create public “Collections” to which multiple users can contribute. Instagram launched private Collections two years ago to let you Save and organize your favorite feed posts. But by allowing users to make Collections public, Instagram would become a direct competitor to Pinterest.

Instagram public Collections could spark a new medium of content curation. People could use the feature to bundle together their favorite memes, travel destinations, fashion items or art. That could cut down on unconsented content stealing that’s caused backlash against meme “curators” like F*ckJerry by giving an alternative to screenshotting and reposting other people’s stuff. Instead of just representing yourself with your own content, you could express your identity through the things you love — even if you didn’t photograph them yourself. And if that sounds familiar, you’ll understand why this could be problematic for Pinterest’s upcoming $12 billion IPO.

The “Make Collection Public” option was discovered by frequent TechCrunch tipster and reverse engineering specialist Jane Manchun Wong. It’s not available to the public, but from the Instagram for Android code, she was able to generate a screenshot of the prototype. It shows the ability to toggle on public visibility for a Collection, and tag contributors who can also add to the Collection. Previously, Collections was always a private, solo feature for organizing your bookmarks gathered through the Instagram Save feature Instagram launched in late 2016.

Instagram told TechCrunch “we’re not testing this,” which is its standard response to press inquiries about products that aren’t available to public users, but that are in internal development. It could be a while until Instagram does start experimenting publicly with the feature and longer before a launch, and the company could always scrap the option. But it’s a sensible way to give users more to do and share on Instagram, and the prototype gives insight into the app’s strategy. Facebook launched its own Pinterest -style shareable Sets in 2017 and launched sharable Collections in December.

Currently there’s nothing in the Instagram code about users being able to follow each other’s Collections, but that would seem like a logical and powerful next step. Instagrammers can already follow hashtags to see new posts with them routed to their feed. Offering a similar way to follow Collections could turn people into star curators rather than star creators without the need to rip off anyone’s content. Speaking of infuencers, Wong also spotted Instagram prototyping IGTV picture-in-picture, so you could keep watching a long-form video after closing the app and navigating the rest of your phone.

Instagram lets users Save posts, which can then be organized into Collections

Public Collections could fuel Instagram’s commerce strategy that Mark Zuckerberg recently said would be a big part of the road map. Instagram already has a personalized Shopping feed in Explore, and The Verge’s Casey Newton reported last year that Instagram was working on a dedicated shopping app. It’s easy to imagine fashionistas, magazines and brands sharing Collections of their favorite buyable items.

It’s worth remembering that Instagram launched its copycat of Snapchat Stories just six months before Snap went public. As we predicted, that reduced Snapchat’s growth rate by 88 percent. Two years later, Snapchat isn’t growing at all, and its share price is at just a third of its peak. With more than 1 billion monthly and 500 million daily users, Instagram is four times the size of Pinterest. Instagram loyalists might find it’s easier to use the “good enough” public Collections feature where they already have a social graph than try to build a following from scratch on Pinterest.

Pinstagram? Instagram code reveals Public Collections feature

Instagram is threatening to attack Pinterest just as it files to go public the same way the Facebook-owned app did to Snapchat. Code buried in Instagram for Android shows the company has prototyped an option to create public “Collections” to which multiple users can contribute. Instagram launched private Collections two years ago to let you Save and organize your favorite feed posts. But by allowing users to make Collections public, Instagram would become a direct competitor to Pinterest.

Instagram public Collections could spark a new medium of content curation. People could use the feature to bundle together their favorite memes, travel destinations, fashion items or art. That could cut down on unconsented content stealing that’s caused backlash against meme “curators” like F*ckJerry by giving an alternative to screenshotting and reposting other people’s stuff. Instead of just representing yourself with your own content, you could express your identity through the things you love — even if you didn’t photograph them yourself. And if that sounds familiar, you’ll understand why this could be problematic for Pinterest’s upcoming $12 billion IPO.

The “Make Collection Public” option was discovered by frequent TechCrunch tipster and reverse engineering specialist Jane Manchun Wong. It’s not available to the public, but from the Instagram for Android code, she was able to generate a screenshot of the prototype. It shows the ability to toggle on public visibility for a Collection, and tag contributors who can also add to the Collection. Previously, Collections was always a private, solo feature for organizing your bookmarks gathered through the Instagram Save feature Instagram launched in late 2016.

Instagram told TechCrunch “we’re not testing this,” which is its standard response to press inquiries about products that aren’t available to public users, but that are in internal development. It could be a while until Instagram does start experimenting publicly with the feature and longer before a launch, and the company could always scrap the option. But it’s a sensible way to give users more to do and share on Instagram, and the prototype gives insight into the app’s strategy. Facebook launched its own Pinterest -style shareable Sets in 2017 and launched sharable Collections in December.

Currently there’s nothing in the Instagram code about users being able to follow each other’s Collections, but that would seem like a logical and powerful next step. Instagrammers can already follow hashtags to see new posts with them routed to their feed. Offering a similar way to follow Collections could turn people into star curators rather than star creators without the need to rip off anyone’s content. Speaking of infuencers, Wong also spotted Instagram prototyping IGTV picture-in-picture, so you could keep watching a long-form video after closing the app and navigating the rest of your phone.

Instagram lets users Save posts, which can then be organized into Collections

Public Collections could fuel Instagram’s commerce strategy that Mark Zuckerberg recently said would be a big part of the road map. Instagram already has a personalized Shopping feed in Explore, and The Verge’s Casey Newton reported last year that Instagram was working on a dedicated shopping app. It’s easy to imagine fashionistas, magazines and brands sharing Collections of their favorite buyable items.

It’s worth remembering that Instagram launched its copycat of Snapchat Stories just six months before Snap went public. As we predicted, that reduced Snapchat’s growth rate by 88 percent. Two years later, Snapchat isn’t growing at all, and its share price is at just a third of its peak. With more than 1 billion monthly and 500 million daily users, Instagram is four times the size of Pinterest. Instagram loyalists might find it’s easier to use the “good enough” public Collections feature where they already have a social graph than try to build a following from scratch on Pinterest.

Pinstagram? Instagram code reveals Public Collections feature

Instagram is threatening to attack Pinterest just as it files to go public the same way the Facebook-owned app did to Snapchat. Code buried in Instagram for Android shows the company has prototyped an option to create public “Collections” to which multiple users can contribute. Instagram launched private Collections two years ago to let you Save and organize your favorite feed posts. But by allowing users to make Collections public, Instagram would become a direct competitor to Pinterest.

Instagram public Collections could spark a new medium of content curation. People could use the feature to bundle together their favorite memes, travel destinations, fashion items or art. That could cut down on unconsented content stealing that’s caused backlash against meme “curators” like F*ckJerry by giving an alternative to screenshotting and reposting other people’s stuff. Instead of just representing yourself with your own content, you could express your identity through the things you love — even if you didn’t photograph them yourself. And if that sounds familiar, you’ll understand why this could be problematic for Pinterest’s upcoming $12 billion IPO.

The “Make Collection Public” option was discovered by frequent TechCrunch tipster and reverse engineering specialist Jane Manchun Wong. It’s not available to the public, but from the Instagram for Android code, she was able to generate a screenshot of the prototype. It shows the ability to toggle on public visibility for a Collection, and tag contributors who can also add to the Collection. Previously, Collections was always a private, solo feature for organizing your bookmarks gathered through the Instagram Save feature Instagram launched in late 2016.

Instagram told TechCrunch “we’re not testing this,” which is its standard response to press inquiries about products that aren’t available to public users, but that are in internal development. It could be a while until Instagram does start experimenting publicly with the feature and longer before a launch, and the company could always scrap the option. But it’s a sensible way to give users more to do and share on Instagram, and the prototype gives insight into the app’s strategy. Facebook launched its own Pinterest -style shareable Sets in 2017 and launched sharable Collections in December.

Currently there’s nothing in the Instagram code about users being able to follow each other’s Collections, but that would seem like a logical and powerful next step. Instagrammers can already follow hashtags to see new posts with them routed to their feed. Offering a similar way to follow Collections could turn people into star curators rather than star creators without the need to rip off anyone’s content. Speaking of infuencers, Wong also spotted Instagram prototyping IGTV picture-in-picture, so you could keep watching a long-form video after closing the app and navigating the rest of your phone.

Instagram lets users Save posts, which can then be organized into Collections

Public Collections could fuel Instagram’s commerce strategy that Mark Zuckerberg recently said would be a big part of the road map. Instagram already has a personalized Shopping feed in Explore, and The Verge’s Casey Newton reported last year that Instagram was working on a dedicated shopping app. It’s easy to imagine fashionistas, magazines and brands sharing Collections of their favorite buyable items.

It’s worth remembering that Instagram launched its copycat of Snapchat Stories just six months before Snap went public. As we predicted, that reduced Snapchat’s growth rate by 88 percent. Two years later, Snapchat isn’t growing at all, and its share price is at just a third of its peak. With more than 1 billion monthly and 500 million daily users, Instagram is four times the size of Pinterest. Instagram loyalists might find it’s easier to use the “good enough” public Collections feature where they already have a social graph than try to build a following from scratch on Pinterest.

Instagram is now testing a web version of Direct messages

Insta-chat addicts, rejoice. You could soon be trading memes and emojis from your computer. Instagram is internally testing a web version of Instagram Direct messaging that lets people chat without the app. If, or more likely, when this rolls out publicly, users on a desktop or laptop PC or Mac, a non-Android or iPhone or that access Instagram via a mobile web browser will be able to privately message other Instagrammers.

Instagram web DMs was one of the features I called for in a product wish list I published in December alongside a See More Like This button for the feed and an upload quality indicator so your Stories don’t look crappy if you’re on a slow connection.

A web version could make Instagram Direct a more full-fledged SMS alternative rather than just a tacked-on feature for discussing the photo and video app’s content. Messages are a massive driver of engagement that frequently draws people back to an app, and knowing friends can receive them anywhere could get users sending more. While Facebook doesn’t monetize Instagram Direct itself, it could get users browsing through more ads while they wait for replies.

Given Facebook’s own chat feature started on the web before going mobile and getting its own Messenger app, and WhatsApp launched a web portal in 2015 followed by desktop clients in 2016, it’s sensible for Instagram Direct to embrace the web too. It could also pave the way for Facebook’s upcoming unification of the backend infrastructure for Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram Direct that should expand encryption and allow cross-app chat, as reported by The New York Times’ Mike Isaac.

Mobile reverse-engineering specialist and frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong alerted us to Instagram’s test. It’s not available to users yet, as it’s still being internally “dogfooded” — used heavily by employees to identify bugs or necessary product changes. But she was able to dig past security and access the feature from both a desktop computer and mobile web browser.

In the current design, Direct on the web is available from a Direct arrow icon in the top right of the screen. The feature looks like it will use an Instagram.com/direct/…. URL structure. If the feature becomes popular, perhaps Facebook will break it out with its own Direct destination website similar to https://www.messenger.com, which launched in 2015. Instagram began testing a standalone Direct app last year, but it’s yet to be officially launched and doesn’t seem exceedingly popular.

Instagram’s web experience has long lagged behind its native apps. You still can’t post Stories from the desktop like you can with Facebook Stories. It only added notifications on the web in 2016 and Explore, plus some other features, in 2017.

Instagram did not respond to requests for comment before press time. The company rarely provides a statement on internal features in development until they’re being externally tested on the public, at which point it typically tells us “We’re always testing ways to improve the Instagram experience.” [Update: Instagram confirms to TechCrunch it’s not publicly testing this, which is its go-to line when a product surfaces that’s still in internal development. Meanwhile, Wong notes that Instagram has now cut off her access to the web Direct feature.]

After cloning Snapchat Stories to create Instagram Stories, the Facebook-owned app decimated Snap’s growth rate. That left Snapchat to focus on premium video and messaging. Last year Instagram built IGTV to compete with Snapchat Discover. And now with it testing a web version of Direct, it seems poised to challenge Snap for chat too.

Instagram is now testing a web version of Direct messages

Insta-chat addicts, rejoice. You could soon be trading memes and emojis from your computer. Instagram is internally testing a web version of Instagram Direct messaging that lets people chat without the app. If, or more likely, when this rolls out publicly, users on a desktop or laptop PC or Mac, a non-Android or iPhone or that access Instagram via a mobile web browser will be able to privately message other Instagrammers.

Instagram web DMs was one of the features I called for in a product wish list I published in December alongside a See More Like This button for the feed and an upload quality indicator so your Stories don’t look crappy if you’re on a slow connection.

A web version could make Instagram Direct a more full-fledged SMS alternative rather than just a tacked-on feature for discussing the photo and video app’s content. Messages are a massive driver of engagement that frequently draws people back to an app, and knowing friends can receive them anywhere could get users sending more. While Facebook doesn’t monetize Instagram Direct itself, it could get users browsing through more ads while they wait for replies.

Given Facebook’s own chat feature started on the web before going mobile and getting its own Messenger app, and WhatsApp launched a web portal in 2015 followed by desktop clients in 2016, it’s sensible for Instagram Direct to embrace the web too. It could also pave the way for Facebook’s upcoming unification of the backend infrastructure for Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram Direct that should expand encryption and allow cross-app chat, as reported by The New York Times’ Mike Isaac.

Mobile reverse-engineering specialist and frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong alerted us to Instagram’s test. It’s not available to users yet, as it’s still being internally “dogfooded” — used heavily by employees to identify bugs or necessary product changes. But she was able to dig past security and access the feature from both a desktop computer and mobile web browser.

In the current design, Direct on the web is available from a Direct arrow icon in the top right of the screen. The feature looks like it will use an Instagram.com/direct/…. URL structure. If the feature becomes popular, perhaps Facebook will break it out with its own Direct destination website similar to https://www.messenger.com, which launched in 2015. Instagram began testing a standalone Direct app last year, but it’s yet to be officially launched and doesn’t seem exceedingly popular.

Instagram’s web experience has long lagged behind its native apps. You still can’t post Stories from the desktop like you can with Facebook Stories. It only added notifications on the web in 2016 and Explore, plus some other features, in 2017.

Instagram did not respond to requests for comment before press time. The company rarely provides a statement on internal features in development until they’re being externally tested on the public, at which point it typically tells us “We’re always testing ways to improve the Instagram experience.” [Update: Instagram confirms to TechCrunch it’s not publicly testing this, which is its go-to line when a product surfaces that’s still in internal development. Meanwhile, Wong notes that Instagram has now cut off her access to the web Direct feature.]

After cloning Snapchat Stories to create Instagram Stories, the Facebook-owned app decimated Snap’s growth rate. That left Snapchat to focus on premium video and messaging. Last year Instagram built IGTV to compete with Snapchat Discover. And now with it testing a web version of Direct, it seems poised to challenge Snap for chat too.

A photo of an egg has toppled reality star Kylie Jenner as Instagram’s most-liked post

Instagram has found something it likes more than a Kardashian-Jenner family baby, and it’s an egg.

This weekend, a photo of a plain egg became the most-liked photo on Instagram, the social app owned by Facebook with over one billion users that’s reflective of internet culture.

The photo, which you can see below in its full glory, currently has more than 23 million likes at the time of writing. That has seen it surpass a February 18 photo from Kylie Jenner — the sister of Kim Kardashian and a reality TV star in her own right — which announced the birth of her baby with rapper Travis Scott and has 18.2 million likes.

Unlike Jenner, who has 21 million Instagram followers, the egg account — “world_record_egg” — is a newcomer that seems to have been created in early January. Nothing is known of its ownership, although it now has 2.4 million followers which could — and I can’t believe I’m writing this… — make it an influencer account.

While much can be said about Jenner’s rise to fame, she’s a pretty successful entrepreneur. Her two-year-old ‘Kylie Cosmetics’ brand is estimated to gross over $600 million in annual revenue. While it is funny that a photo of an egg can take the record on Instagram there might be more to it. Jenner’s company trades on her brand, the egg could be a rejection or protest of today’s reality TV culture… which is best embodied by the Kardashians and, in particular, Kylie Jenner. That certainly seems the case looking at the splurge in new and egg-related comments on Jenner’s birth post from last year.

Maybe that’s wishful thinking and this is just another internet phenomenon that can’t be explained. It could simply be a joke that blew up, but don’t discount the potential that this is a stunt from a company launching a new product or wanting to make a splash.

Showing that she might have a sense of humor, 21-year-old Jenner acknowledged the new record in a video of her smashing an egg.

View this post on Instagram

Take that little egg

A post shared by Kylie (@kyliejenner) on

This is the second social media record set this year after Twitter got a new most-retweeted tweet — however, the roles were very much different.

Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese billionaire who is paying Elon Musk’s SpaceX for a trip to the moon, saw a tweet that offered nearly $1 million in prize money for retweets surpass a true internet phenomenon, U.S. teen Carter Wilkerson. Back in April 2017, Wilkerson took to Twitter to plead for free chicken nuggets; his original tweet now has around 3.6 million retweets.

My product launch wishlist for Instagram, Twitter, Uber and more

‘Twas the night before Xmas, and all through the house, not a feature was stirring from the designer’s mouse . . . Not Twitter! Not Uber, Not Apple or Pinterest! On Facebook! On Snapchat! On Lyft or on Insta! . . . From the sidelines I ask you to flex your code’s might. Happy Xmas to all if you make these apps right.

Instagram

See More Like This – A button on feed posts that when tapped inserts a burst of similar posts before the timeline continues. Want to see more fashion, sunsets, selfies, food porn, pets, or Boomerangs? Instagram’s machine vision technology and metadata would gather them from people you follow and give you a dose. You shouldn’t have to work through search, hashtags, or the Explore page, nor permanently change your feed by following new accounts. Pinterest briefly had this feature (and should bring it back) but it’d work better on Insta.

Web DMs Instagram’s messaging feature has become the defacto place for sharing memes and trash talk about people’s photos, but it’s stuck on mobile. For all the college kids and entry-level office workers out there, this would make being stuck on laptops all day much more fun. Plus, youth culture truthsayer Taylor Lorenz wants Instagram web DMs too.

Upload Quality Indicator – Try to post a Story video or Boomerang from a crummy internet connection and they turn out a blurry mess. Instagram should warn us if our signal strength is low compared to what we usually have (since some places it’s always mediocre) and either recommend we wait for Wi-Fi, or post a low-res copy that’s replaced by the high-res version when possible.

Oh, and if new VP of product Vishal Shah is listening, I’d also like Bitmoji-style avatars and a better way to discover accounts that shows a selection of their recent posts plus their bio, instead of just one post and no context in Explore which is better for discovering content.

Twitter

DM Search – Ummm, this is pretty straightforward. It’s absurd that you can’t even search DMs by person, let alone keyword. Twitter knows messaging is a big thing on mobile right? And DMs are one of the most powerful ways to get in contact with mid-level public figures and journalists. PS: My DMs are open if you’ve got a news tip — @JoshConstine.

Unfollow Suggestions – Social networks are obsessed with getting us to follow more people, but do a terrible job of helping us clean up our feeds. With Twitter bringing back the option to see a chronological feed, we need unfollow suggestions more than ever. It should analyze who I follow but never click, fave, reply to, retweet, or even slow down to read and ask if I want to nix them. I asked for this 5 years ago and the problem has only gotten worse. Since people feel like their feeds are already overflowing, they’re stingy with following new people. That’s partly why you see accounts get only a handful of new followers when their tweets go viral and are seen by millions. I recently had a tweet with 1.7 million impressions and 18,000 Likes that drove just 11 follows. Yes I know that’s a self-own.

Analytics Benchmarks – If Twitter wants to improve conversation quality, it should teach us what works. Twitter offers analytics about each of your tweets, but not in context of your other posts. Did this drive more or fewer link clicks or follows than my typical tweet? That kind of info could guide users to create more compelling content.

Facebook

(Obviously we could get into Facebook’s myriad problems here. A less sensationalized feed that doesn’t reward exaggerated claims would top my list. Hopefully its plan to downrank “borderline content” that almost violates its policies will help when it rolls out.)

Batched Notifications – Facebook sends way too many notifications. Some are downright useless and should be eliminated. “14 friends responded to events happening tomorrow”? “Someone’s fundraiser is half way to its goal?” Get that shit out of here. But there are other notifications I want to see but that aren’t urgent nor crucial to know about individually. Facebook should let us decide to batch notifications so we’d only get one of a certain type every 12 or 24 hours, or only when a certain number of similar ones are triggered. I’d love a digest of posts to my Groups or Events from the past day rather than every time someone opens their mouth.

I so don’t care

Notifications In The “Time Well Spent” Feature – Facebook tells you how many minutes you spent on it each day over the past week and on average, but my total time on Facebook matters less to me than how often it interrupts my life with push notifications. The “Your Time On Facebook” feature should show how many notifications of each type I’ve received, which ones I actually opened, and let me turn off or batch the ones I want fewer of.

Oh, and for Will Cathcart, Facebook’s VP of apps, can I also get proper syncing so I don’t rewatch the same Stories on Instagram and Facebook, the ability to invite people to Events on mobile based on past invite lists of those I’ve hosted or attended, and the See More Like This feature I recommended for Instagram?

Uber/Lyft/Ridesharing

“Quiet Ride” Button – Sometimes you’re just not in the mood for small talk. Had a rough day, need to get work done, or want to just zone out? Ridesharing apps should offer a request for a quiet ride that if the driver accepts, you pay them an extra dollar (or get it free as a loyalty perk), and you get ferried to your destination without unnecessary conversation. I get that it’s a bit dehumanizing for the driver, but I’d bet some would happily take a little extra cash for their compliance.

“I Need More Time” Button – Sometimes you overestimate the ETA and suddenly your car is arriving before you’re ready to leave. Instead of cancelling and rebooking a few minutes later, frantically rushing so you don’t miss your window and get smacked with a no-show fee, or making the driver wait while they and the company aren’t getting paid, Uber, Lyft, and the rest should offer the “I Need More Time” button that simply rebooks you a car that’s a little further away.

Spotify/Music Streaming Apps

Scan My Collection – I wish I could just take photos of the album covers, spines, or even discs of my CD or record collection and have them instantly added to a playlist or folder. It’s kind of sad that after lifetimes of collecting physical music, most of it now sits on a shelf and we forget to play what we used to love. Music apps want more data on what we like, and it’s just sitting there gathering dust. There’s obviously some fun viral potential here too. Let me share what’s my most embarrassing CD. For me, it’s my dual copies of Limp Bizkit’s “Significant Other” because I played the first one so much it got scratched.

Friends Weekly Spotify ditched its in-app messaging, third-party app platform, and other ways to discover music so its playlists would decide what becomes a hit in order to exert leverage over the record labels to negotiate better deals. But music discovery is inherently social and the desktop little ticker of what friends are playing on doesn’t cut it. Spotify should let me choose to recommend my new favorite song or agree to let it share what I’ve recently played most, and put those into a Discover Weekly-style social playlist of what friends are listening to.

Snapchat

Growth – I’m sorry, I had to.

Bulk Export Memories – But seriously, Snapchat is shrinking. That’s worrisome because some users’ photos and videos are trapped on its Memories cloud hosting feature that’s supposed to help free up space on your phone. But there’s no bulk export option, meaning it could take hours of saving shots one at a time to your camera roll if you needed to get off of Snapchat, if for example it was shutting down, or got acquired, or you’re just bored of it.

Add-On Cameras – Snapchat’s Spectacles are actually pretty neat for recording first-person or underwater shots in a circular format. But otherwise they don’t do much more, and in some ways do much less, than your phone’s camera and are a long way from being a Magic Leap competitor. That’s why if Snapchat really wants to become a “Camera Company”, it should build sleek add-on cameras that augment our phone’s hardware. Snap previously explored selling a 360-camera but never launched one. A little Giroptic iO-style 360 lens that attaches to your phone’s charging port could let you capture a new kind of content that really makes people feel like they’re there with you. An Aukey Aura-style zoom lens attachment that easily fits in your pocket unlike a DSLR could also be a hit

iOS

Switch Wi-Fi/Bluetooth From Control Center – I thought the whole point of Control Center was one touch access, but I can only turn on or off the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It’s silly having to dig into the Settings menu to switch to a different Wi-Fi network or Bluetooth device, especially as we interact with more and more of them. Control Center should unfurl a menu of networks or devices you can choose from.

Shoot GIFs – Live Photos are a clumsy proprietary format. Instagram’s Boomerang nailed what we want out of live action GIFs and we should be able to shoot them straight from the iOS camera and export them as actual GIFs that can be used across the web. Give us some extra GIF settings and iPhones could have a new reason for teens to choose them over Androids.

Gradual Alarms – Anyone else have a heart attack whenever they hear their phone’s Alarm Clock ringtone? I know I do because I leave my alarms on so loud that I’ll never miss them, but end up being rudely shocked awake. A setting that gradually increases the volume of the iOS Alarm Clock every 15 seconds or minute so I can be gently arisen unless I refuse to get up.

Maybe some of these apply to Android, but I wouldn’t know because I’m a filthy casual iPhoner. Send me your Android suggestions, as well as what else you want to see added to your favorite apps.

[Image Credit: Hanson Inc]

Captiv8 report highlights data for spotting fake followers

Captiv8, a company offering tools for brands to manage influencer marketing campaigns, has released its 2018 Fraud Influencer Marketing Benchmark Report. The goal is to give marketers the data they need to spot fake followers — and thus, to separate the influencers with a real following from those who only offer the illusion of engagement.

The report argues that that this a problem with a real financial impact (it’s something that Instagram is working to crack down on), with $2.1 billion spent on influencer marketing on Instagram in 2017 and 11 percent of the engagement coming from fraudulent accounts.

“For influencer marketing to truly deliver on its transformative potential, marketers need a more concrete and reliable way to identify fake followers and engagement, compare their performance to industry benchmarks, and determine the real reach and impact of social media spend,” Captiv8 says.

So the company looked at a range of marketing categories (pets, parenting, beauty, fashion, entertainment, travel, gaming, fitness, food and traditional celebrity) and randomly selected 5,000 Instagram influencer accounts in each one, pulling engagement from August to November of this year.

The idea is to establish a baseline for standard activity, so that marketers can spot potential red flags. Of course, everyone with a significant social media audience is going to have some fake followers, but Captiv8 suggests that some categories have a higher rate of fraud than others — fashion was the worst, with an average of 14 percent of fake activity per account, compared to traditional celebrity, where the average was just 4 percent.

Captiv8 report

So what should you look out for? For starters, the report says the average daily change in follower counts for an influencer is 1.2 percent, so be on the lookout for shifts that are significantly larger.

The report also breaks down the average engagement rate for organic and sponsored content by category (ranging from 1.19 percent for sponsored content in food to 3.51 percent in entertainment), and suggests that a lower engagement rate “shows a high probability that their follower count is inflated through bots or fake followers.”

Conversely, it says it could also be a warning sign if a creator’s audience reach or impressions per user is higher than the industry benchmarks (for example, image posts in fashion have an average audience reach of 23.69 percent, with 1.32 impressions per unique user).

You can download the full report on the Captiv8 website.

China’s WeChat is the latest to get Snap-like ‘Stories’

WeChat, the Chinese messaging giant with more than 1 billion monthly active users around the world, just added a Snap-like ephemeral video feature as part of its biggest overhaul since 2014.

The revamp comes as Tencent, which owns stakes in Snap, sees increasing rivalry from up-and-comers like video app TikTok and news app Jinri Toutiao. WeChat has, over the years, morphed beyond a straight-up messenger to include many utility purposes. With more than 1 million lightweight apps up and running, users can accomplish a long list of tasks, ranging from shopping to ride-hailing, without ever having to leave WeChat.

Meanwhile, some have expressed frustration over WeChat’s core as a social app. Moments, a feature akin to Facebook News Feed, was once a haven for close friends to share articles, photos and videos. But newsfeed content became blander over time as people’s contact list grew to include their bosses and their local fruit seller who needs to be added as a friend to process WeChat payments.

WeChat founder Allen Zhang is known for his obsession with user experience and has been cautious with tweaks, so a major redesign to the super app is effectively a guidebook for where WeChat is headed for the next few years.

The new off-the-cuff video feature, aptly named “Time Capsule,” is one of WeChat’s more noticeable updates. In the past, users shared videos to three main destinations: A friend, a group chat or Moments. This route remains unchanged, but with Time Capsule, users also can upload videos of up to 15 seconds that disappear after 24 hours, similar to how Snap Stories and its slew of clones, including Instagram Stories, work. Meanwhile, Snap also has drawn inspiration from Chinese apps in a recent redesign.

A blue ring will appear near the profile of those who have recorded an instant story. Screenshot by TechCrunch

Different from Instagram, which recently started allowing users to share Stories to close friends, WeChat doesn’t let users share Time Capsule videos to friends yet. Instead of lining up all the instant videos at the top of the app as Instagram does, WeChat is asking users to find them in less conspicuous ways: On Moments, in a group chat or in one’s starred friend list, a blue ring will appear near the profile of those who have recorded instant stories.

These secret entry points mean users are prompted to watch videos of those they know well, as they rarely click on the profile of, say, a fruit vendor.

Time Capsule is also a step up from WeChat’s old video sharing tool, with additional features such as locations and music, functions that are ubiquitous in TikTok and other short-form video apps. Users also can react to Time Capsule videos by blowing virtual “bubbles,” whereas the old video format doesn’t allow such interaction.

Time Capsule is a step up from WeChat’s old video sharing tool, with additional features such as locations and music. Screenshot by TechCrunch

While Time Capsule is not necessarily a direct challenger to TikTok — a product of the world’s most valuable startup ByteDance — it enriches the video experience for users who want to give close friends a window into their life. TikTok, by comparison, delivers content by relying on artificial intelligence to read users’ past habits rather than studying their social graphs.

That said, WeChat has shown signs to catch up with TikTok by rolling out a dozen video apps this year. While Tencent blocks TikTok videos from being shared to WeChat, its own proprietary video app Weishi gets preferential treatment. When users choose to record a video on WeChat, there’s an option to record it via Weishi. But Tencent’s short video fleet has a long way to go before they reach TikTok’s global dominance of 500 million monthly active users.

Another WeChat update also appears as a response to a popular ByteDance app. While WeChat users could show appreciation for an article by clicking on a “like” button, there was no effective way in the past to know what their friends enjoyed. The revamped WeChat now lets people see all the articles their friends have liked under one single stream called “Wow.”

That’s a feature that ByteDance’s Jinri Toutiao news app cannot rival, as Wow is built on billions of users who know each other, unlike Jinri Toutiao, which relies on AI personalization like its sibling TikTok. WeChat is already colossal and can never please every user, but its new move shows that it’s paying close attention to whoever that may steal its users’ eyeball time away.