Quintacorn Robinhood’s free crypto trading rolls out in Cali, 3 more states

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Robinhood is rolling out its Coinbase-killer that’s already helped the fintech startup’s valuation grow 4X in a year. Zero-fee trading of Bitcoin and Ethereum is now available to all investors in California, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Montana. Everyone else is still on the waitlist. Robinhood users everywhere can already track 16 crypto coins including BTC, ETH, Litecoin, and Ripple, as well as trade traditional stocks with no transaction commission.

Announced in January, Robinhood Crypto vastly undercuts Coinbase’s U.S. fees that range from 1.5 to 4 percent. One million users waitlisted for Robinhood Crypto in the first 5 days after it was announced, and the app now has four million total registered users. Its lack of fees is proving to be a way to lure both veteran and rookie crypto investors to Robinhood, though it lacks support for trading as wide of a range of coins as Coinbase. Rather than charging per trade, Robinhood earns money from interest on money in users’ accounts and its Robinhood Gold subscription service. For for $ 6 to $ 200 a month in subscription fees, users can borrow between $ 1,000 and $ 50,000 to trade with.

Robinhood Gold’s success, adding options and web trading, and the new Robinhood Crypto helped the startup attract a $ 350 million Series D round led by Russian fund DST Global, which a source confirms will value it at $ 5.6 billion and bring it to $ 526 million in total funding. That’s up from the $ 110 million Series C at a $ 1.3 billion valuation it raised last year.

That massive valuation will put a ton of pressure on Robinhood’s co-CEOs Vlad Tenev and Baiju Bhatt to keep it growing, build out its subscription and interest revenue, and invade the space of competitors. [Disclosure: I know the founders from college] Those include traditional brokers like Scottrade and E*Trade that can charge $ 7 or more per trade, crypto-specific exchanges like Coinbase, and news sources like CoinDesk.

Robinhood risks a down round if the heightened societal and regulatory skepticism about cryptocurrencies curtail investments from the public. Robinhood’s historical focus on younger, less wealthy investors who aren’t “accredited” could make it especially vulnerable to crypto backlash if users see the space as too volatile or scammy for amateur investors to join. There are also heightened cybersecurity concerns, as users might bail on the app if they fear their cryptocurrency could be stolen.

Robinhood might do well to get more serious about how it offers crypto education. It’s promised to provide a feed of crypto news to keep people informed about why markets are moving, though it’s still in testing with a small number of users right now. The problem is that the crypto journalism space is rife with integrity violations and reporters with questionable expertise. If Robinhood bought or built a truly neutral crypto news source, it could use that to attract investors to its crypto trading platform.

[Disclosre: The author of this article owns small positions in Bitcoin and Ethereum but does not day trade. Detailed disclosures can be found here.]

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Instagram suddenly chokes off developers as Facebook chases privacy

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Without warning, Instagram has broken many of the unofficial apps built on its platform. This weekend it surprised developers with a massive reduction in how much data they can pull from the Instagram API, shrinking the API limit from 5,000 to 200 calls per user per hour. Apps that help people figure out if their followers follow them back or interact with them, analyze their audiences or find relevant hashtags are now quickly running into their API limits, leading to broken functionality and pissed off users.

Two sources confirmed the new limits to TechCrunch, and developers are complaining about the situation on StackOverflow.

In a puzzling move, Instagram is refusing to comment on what’s happening while its developer rate limits documentation site 404s. All it would confirm is that Instagram has stopped accepting submissions of new apps, just as Facebook announced it would last week following backlash over Cambridge Analytica. Developers tell me they feel left in the dark and angry that the change wasn’t scheduled or even officially announced, preventing them from rebuilding their apps to require fewer API calls.

Third-party Instagram platform apps like Reports+ provide users analytics on their audiences, but are breaking due to the new API limits

Some developers suspect the change is part of Instagram parent company Facebook’s scramble to improve data privacy in the wake of its non-stop string of data scandals. In the past week, Facebook announced it was shutting down Partner Categories ad targeting based on third-party data brokers. TechCrunch reported that Facebook also plans to require businesses to pledge that they have consumers’ consent to attain their email addresses, which they use for ad targeting through Custom Audiences.

Most public backlash has focused on #DeleteFacebook and ignored its subsidiaries like Instagram and WhatsApp. But Instagram may hope to prevent the virus of distrust from infecting its app too by cutting the API call limit to 1/25th of its previous volume.

Causing this kind of platform whiplash could push developers away from the Instagram ecosystem, not that the company was too keen on some of these apps. For example, Reports+ charges $ 3.99 per month to give people analytics about their Instagram followers. Sensor Tower tells TechCrunch that Reports+ has grossed more than $ 18 million worldwide since October 2016 on the App Store and Google Play, and made more than $ 1.2 million last month alone.

Instagram might have understandably seen these apps as parasitic, charging users for unofficial functionality or encouraging audience growth hacking that can lead to spam. In January, Instagram announced it would shut down the old API over the next two years, starting with removing the ability to pull a user’s follower list and follow/unfollow people on their behalf on July 31st. Instagram has been slowly trying to clean up its platform for years, having previously threatened legal actions against derivative apps with “Insta” or “Gram” in their names in 2013, and shut down its feed API in 2015 that allowed for unofficial Instagram feed-reading apps.

Instagram is now pushing developers on a much more restrictive platform that only lets approved partners post at users’ behest, and that can only pull mentions of and analytics about business accounts. These changes were slated to kill many of the apps broken by this weekend’s API limit reductions.

But at least developers were given fair warning about the July 31st deadline. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that Facebook put a pause on reviewing any new applications last Monday as it tries to shore up data privacy safeguards in the wake of Cambridge Analytica . Instagram confirms to TechCrunch that the moratorium on app submissions extends to Instagram’s new Graph API, but wouldn’t explain anything about the API limits. So Instagram is breaking old apps while not allowing developers to submit new, compliant ones.

“Instagram’s lack of communication is frustrating to me because now I’m scrambling to update my apps and dealing with loads of unhappy customers,” a developer told me on the condition of anonymity. “If I had had a month to prep for this, I could’ve tweaked things so that limit was harder to reach. I’d be more frugal with my requests. What happened is all of a sudden, I’m getting dozens of emails, DMs on Instagram, with people saying the app’s not working.”

While Facebook is wise to scrutinize apps pulling in lots of user data, doing so without warning or even an announcement is how Facebook hurt its relationships with developers circa 2009 as it tried to rapidly reign in spammy virality. Facebook is enduring a crisis of conscience regarding whether its apps can be misused as weapons by those trying to interfere with elections or just exploit our data for profit.

But as the owner of some of the world’s most popular developer platforms, it’s worrying to see it flail and thrash this way. If Facebook and Instagram can’t even communicate changes to its policies with proper procedure and transparency, it’s hard to imagine it’s composed enough to firmly and fairly enforce them.

For more on Facebook and Instagram’s troubles, check out our feature pieces:

 

Mobile – TechCrunch

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Self-care apps are booming

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Millennials may be a bit obsessed with self-care — and it’s beginning to pay off for the makers of self-care and digital wellness apps. According to data from multiple app store intelligence firms, the category is now seeing notable growth. In the first quarter of 2018, the top 10 grossing self-care apps in the U.S. earned $ 15 million in combined iOS and Android revenue, and $ 27 million in worldwide revenue, according to Sensor Tower.

The firm also found that the top 10 wellness apps (e.g. mindfulness and meditation) made about 170 percent more revenue worldwide in Q1 2018 than the top 10 wellness apps did in Q1 2017 across both the App Store and Google Play. In the U.S., they made about 167 percent more.

However, a big chunk of self-care apps’ revenue is being claimed by just two apps — Calm and Headspace, both of which focus on mindfulness and meditation. Calm, the top grosser, earned about half the total revenue in the U.S. and worldwide, equating to roughly $ 8 million in the U.S. and $ 13.5 million worldwide. Combined with Headspace, the two generated more than 90 percent of the top 10 apps’ revenue last quarter.

Apptopia is also reporting a surge in self-care app revenues and installs, but its numbers don’t agree with Sensor Tower data. (Sensor Tower believes its data is within a couple of percentage points of actual, on the underestimating side.)

Both firms agreed on the top three, however: Calm, followed by Headspace, then 10% Happier: Meditation Daily. Other mindfulness apps appeared on both charts, including The Mindfulness App and Stop, Breathe & Think.

The discrepancies may be attributed to how the companies define “self-care” — as it’s not a specific app store category — as well as data quality.

Apptopia also claimed self-care app installs are up year-over-year, with more new self-care apps arriving every year.

Regardless of which firm is closer to actual, the trend is clear: self-care app adoption is booming.

 

Apple, for example, pegged self-care as one of its top four breakout trends for 2017, saying “never before have we seen such a surge in apps focused specifically on mental health, mindfulness and stress reduction.”

As to why self-care apps are the latest craze, that’s a bit more complicated.

Some experts say millennials’ use of the informational resources on the internet increased awareness about self-care in general; others would say the always-on news cycle of the web combined with the depressing nature of social media led to a growing need for self-care tools. And, of course, cynics would argue it’s simply because millennials are more self-absorbed than other generations, and this trendy focus on self-care is the proof.

But there are plenty of other factors beyond that. Millennials married later and were slower to buy homes as a result — that may have led them to have more time to remained self-focused, as they may not have had the same set of distracting responsibilities as their parents. (Or the related drains on their extraneous funds!)

Meanwhile, the stigma around mental illness is also on the decline, which aids a self-care app surge.

However, not all self-care apps are a replacement for traditional mental health care, when it comes to more serious matters. Some of the talk therapy apps were found to be ineffective, expensive, inconsistent in the quality of care provided and, at worst, potentially dangerous.

For those problems that can’t be meditated away, please still call a doctor or an emergency hotline.

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Fitbit is crashing after a pretty rough note from Wall Street

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Fitbit shaved off another roughly 10% of its value in trading today after a downgrade from a Wall Street firm, which will once again throw on more skepticism as to whether or not Fitbit can be a viable business in the smartwatch market.

The note came from Morgan Stanley this morning, which said it was “hard to see a floor” for the company. This comes amid an increased push from Apple to position its smartwatch as a health-oriented device through a myriad of updates for its health tools, as well as efforts to actually detach it from your smartphone with its own cellular chip. These kinds of notes often tend to send stocks soaring or tumbling depending on the direction they go in as investors look to better calibrate their positions in the market.

Fitbit is working on its next generation of smartwatches that look to go up against the Apple Watch, including the new Fitbit Versa, which my colleague Brian Heater said was the watch “the smartwatch the Ionic should have been” (Fitbit’s first foray into the smartwatch ecosystem, which was a bust). The company is also working on a fitness tracker for kids, and appears to be still doubling down on that health aspect of its wearables that first made it a popular choice among consumers in the first place. Fitbit also bought Twine, a cloud-based health management platform, in February.

Here’s another one of the rough excerpts from the note published by CNBC: “We think new smartwatches will be outweighed by declines in legacy products, while software opportunities in health coaching will take time to ramp.”

Fitbit made its name as a fitness tracker, but Apple increasingly has come out pitching itself not only as a fitness tracker, but one with a robust toolkit for health in general. In addition to a heart monitor, Apple has the ability to create a whole health software ecosystem tied directly into the iPhone, which apps like MyFitnessPal and others can use for data. So Apple will clearly be the biggest hurdle for Fitbit as it looks to figure out what its next-generation fitness wearable looks like, especially as Apple if Apple looks to continue to drop the price of the Apple Watch.

Mobile – TechCrunch

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Grindr sends HIV status to third parties, and some personal data unencrypted

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Hot on the heels of last week’s security issues, dating app Grindr is under fire again for inappropriate sharing of HIV status with advertisers and inadequate security on other personal data transmission. It’s not a good look for a company that says privacy is paramount.

Norwegian research outfit SINTEF analyzed the app’s traffic and found that HIV status, which users can choose to include in their profile, is included in packets sent to Apptimize and Localytics. Users are not informed that this data is being sent.

These aren’t advertising companies but rather services for testing and improving mobile apps — Grindr isn’t selling them this data or anything. The company’s CTO told BuzzFeed News that “the limited information shared with these platforms is done under strict contractual terms that provide for the highest level of confidentiality, data security, and user privacy.” And to the best of my knowledge regulations like HIPAA don’t prevent the company from transmitting medical data provided voluntarily by users to third parties as specified in the privacy policy.

That said, it’s a rather serious breach of trust that something as private as HIV status is being shared in this way, even if it isn’t being done with any kind of ill intentions. The laxity with which this extremely important and private information is handled undermines the message of care and consent that Grindr is careful to cultivate.

Perhaps more serious from a systematic standpoint, however, is the unencrypted transmission of a great deal of sensitive data.

The SINTEF researchers found that precise GPS position, gender, age, “tribe” (e.g. bear, daddy), intention (e.g. friends, relationship), ethnicity, relationship status, language and device characteristics are sent over HTTP to a variety of advertising companies.

Not only is this extremely poor security practice, but Grindr appears to have been caught in a lie. The company told me last week when news of another security issue arose that “all information transmitted between a user’s device and our servers is encrypted and communicated in a way that does not reveal your specific location to unknown third parties.”

At the time I asked them about accusations that the app sent some data unencrypted; I never heard back. Fortunately for users, though unfortunately for Grindr, my question was answered by an independent body, and the above statement is evidently false.

It would be one thing to merely share this data with advertisers and other third parties — although it isn’t something many users would choose, presumably they at least consent to it as part of signing up.

But to send this information in the clear presents a material danger to the many gay people around the world who cannot openly identify as such. The details sent unencrypted are potentially enough to identify someone in, say, a coffee shop — and anyone in that coffee shop with a bit of technical knowledge could be monitoring for exactly those details. Identifying incriminating traffic in logs also could be done at the behest of one of the many governments that have outlawed homosexuality.

I’ve reached out to Grindr for comment and expect a statement soon; I’ll update this post as soon as I receive it.

Mobile – TechCrunch

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Facebook plans crackdown on ad targeting by email without consent

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Facebook is scrambling to add safeguards against abuse of user data as it reels from backlash over the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Now TechCrunch has learned Facebook will launch a certification tool that demands that marketers guarantee email addresses used for ad targeting were rightfully attained. This new Custom Audiences certification tool was described by Facebook representatives to their marketing clients, according to two sources. Facebook will also prevent the sharing of Custom Audience data across Business accounts.

This snippet of a message sent by a Facebook rep to a client notes that “for any Custom Audiences data imported into Facebook, Advertisers will be required to represent and warrant that proper user content has been obtained.”

Once shown the message, Facebook spokesperson Elisabeth Diana told TechCrunch “I can confirm there is a permissions tool that we’re building.” It will require that advertisers and the agencies representing them pledge that “I certify that I have permission to use this data”, she said.

Diana noted that “We’ve always had terms in place to ensure that advertisers have consent for data they use but we’re going to make that much more prominent and educate advertisers on the way they can use the data.” The change isn’t in response to a specific incident, but Facebook does plan to re-review the way it works with third-party data measurement firms to ensure everything is responsibly used. This is a way to safeguard data” Diana concluded.The company declined to specify whether it’s ever blocked usage of a Custom Audience because it suspected the owner didn’t have user consent. ”

The social network is hoping to prevent further misuse of ill-gotten data after Dr. Aleksandr Kogan’s app that pulled data on 50 million Facebook users was passed to Cambridge Analytica in violation of Facebook policy. That sordid data is suspected to have been used by Cambridge Analytica to support the Trump and Brexit campaigns, which employed Custom Audiences to reach voters.

Facebook launched Custom Audiences back in 2012 to let businesses upload hashed lists of their customers email addresses or phone numbers, allowing advertisers to target specific people instead of broad demographics. Custom Audiences quickly became one of Facebook’s most powerful advertising options because businesses could easily reach existing customers to drive repeat sales. The Custom Audiences terms of service require that businesses have “provided appropriate notice to and secured any necessary consent from the data subjects” to attain and use these people’s contact info.

But just like Facebook’s policy told app developers like Kogan not to sell, share, or misuse data they collected from Facebook users, the company didn’t go further to enforce this rule. It essentially trusted that the fear of legal repercussions or suspension on Facebook would deter violations of both its app data privacy and Custom Audiences consent policies. With clear financial incentives to bend or break those rules and limited effort spent investigating to ensure compliance, Facebook left itself and its users open to exploitation.

Last week Facebook banned the use of third-party data brokers like Experian and Acxiom for ad targeting, closing a marketing featured called Partner Categories. Facebook is believed to have been trying to prevent any ill-gotten data from being laundered through these data brokers and then directly imported to Facebook to target users. But that left open the option for businesses to compile illicit data sets or pull them from data brokers, then upload them to Facebook as Custom Audiences by themselves.

The Custom Audiences certification tool could close that loophole. It’s still being built, so Facebook wouldn’t say exactly how it will work. I asked if Facebook would scan uploaded user lists and try to match them against a database of suspicious data, but for now it sounds more like Facebook will merely require a written promise.

Meanwhile, barring the sharing of Custom Audiences between Business Accounts might prevent those with access to email lists from using them to promote companies unrelated to the one to which users gave their email address. Facebook declined to comment on how the new ban on Custom Audience sharing would work.

Now Facebook must find ways to thwart misuse of its targeting tools and audit anyone it suspects may have already violated its policies. Otherwise it may receive the ire of privacy-conscious users and critics, and strengthen the case for substantial regulation of its ads (though regulation could end up protecting Facebook from competitors who can’t afford compliance). Still the question remains why it took such a massive data privacy scandal for Facebook to take a tougher stance on requiring user consent for ad targeting. And given that written promises didn’t stop Kogan or Cambridge Analytica from misusing data, why would they stop advertisers bent on boosting profits?

For more on Facebook’s recent scandals, check out TechCrunch’s coverage:

 

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Arbtr wants to create an anti-feed where users can only share one thing at a time

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At a time when the models of traditional social networks are being questioned, it’s more important than ever to experiment with alternatives. Arbtr is a proposed social network that limits users to sharing a single thing at any given time, encouraging “ruthless self-editing” and avoiding “nasty things” like endless feeds filled with trivial garbage.

It’s seeking funds on Kickstarter and could use a buck or two. I plan to.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Why would I give money to maybe join a social network eventually that might not have any of my friends on it on it? That is, if it ever even exists?” Great question.

The answer is: how else do you think we’re going to replace Facebook? Someone with a smart, different idea has to come along and we have to support them. If we won’t spare the cost of a cup of coffee for a purpose like that, then we deserve the social networks we’ve got. (And if I’m honest, I’ve had very similar ideas over the last few years and I’m eager to see how they might play out in reality.)

The fundamental feature is, of course, the single-sharing thing. You can only show off one item at a time, and when you post a new one, the old one (and any discussion, likes, etc) will be deleted. There will be options to keep logs of these things, and maybe premium features to access them (or perhaps metrics), but the basic proposal is, I think, quite sound — at the very least, worth trying.

Some design ideas for the app. I like the text one but it does need thumbnails.

If you’re sharing less, as Arbtr insists you will, then presumably you’ll put more love behind those things you do share. Wouldn’t that be nice?

We’re in this mess because we bought wholesale the idea that the more you share, the more connected you are. Now that we’ve found that isn’t the case – and in fact we were in effect being fattened for a perpetual slaughter — I don’t see why we shouldn’t try something else.

Will it be Arbtr? I don’t know. Probably not, but we’ve got a lot to gain by giving ideas like this a shot.

Mobile – TechCrunch

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Google’s on-by-default ‘Articles for You’ leverage browser dominance for 2,100 percent growth

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When you’ve got leverage, don’t be afraid to use it. That’s been Google’s modus operandi in the news and publishing world over the last year or so as it has pushed its AMP platform, funding various news-related ventures that may put it ahead, and nourished its personalized Chrome tabs on mobile. The latter, as Nieman Labs notes, grew 2,100 percent in 2017.

You may have noticed, since Chrome is a popular mobile browser and this setting is on by default, but the “Articles for You” appear automatically in every new tab, showing you a bunch of articles the company things you’d like. And it’s gone from driving 15 million article views to a staggering 341 million over the last year.

In late 2016, when Google announced the product, I described it as “polluting” the otherwise useful new tab page. I also don’t like the idea of being served news when I’m not actively looking for it — I understand that when I visit Google News (and I do) that my browser history (among other things) is being scoured to determine what categories and stories I’ll see. I also understand that everything I do on the site, as on every Google site, is being entered into its great data engine in order to improve its profile of me.

Like I said, when I visit a Google site, I expect that. But a browser is supposed to be a tool, not a private platform, and the idea that every tab I open is another data point and another opportunity for Google to foist its algorithms on me is rankling.

It has unsavory forebears. Remember Internet Explorer 6, which came with MSN.com as the default homepage? That incredible positioning drove so much traffic that for years after (and indeed, today) it drove disgusting amounts of traffic to anything it featured. But that traffic was tainted: you knew that firehose was in great part clicks from senior citizens who thought MSN was the entire internet.

Of course the generated pages for individual users aren’t the concentrated fire of a link on a major portal, but they are subject to Google approval and, of course, the requisite ranking bonus for AMP content. Can’t forget that!

But wherever you see the news first, that’s your news provider. And you can’t get much earlier than “as soon as you open a new tab.” That’s pretty much the ultimate positioning advantage.

Just how this amazing growth occurred is unclear. If there’s been any word of mouth, I missed it. “Have you tried scrolling down? The news is just right there!” It seems unlikely. My guess would be that the feature has been steadily rolling out in new regions, opting in new users who occasionally scroll down and see these stories.

And unlike many other news distribution platforms, there isn’t much for publishers or sites like this one to learn about it. How are stories qualified for inclusion? Is there overlap with Google News stuff? What’s shown if people aren’t signed in? I’ve asked Google for further info.

Do you, like me, dislike the idea that every time you open a tab — not just when you use its services — Google uses it as an opportunity to monetize you, however indirectly? Fortunately, and I may say consistent with Google’s user-friendliness in this type of thing, you can turn it off quite easily — on iOS, anyway.

Open the menu at the top right of any tab and hit settings. There should be a “Suggested articles” toggle — disable that and you’re done. While you’re at it, you might just head into Privacy and disable search and site suggestions and usage data.

On Android? You’ll have to dig into the app’s flags and toggle the hidden setting there. Not as user-friendly.

Mobile – TechCrunch

Cash For Apps: Make money with android app

Clipisode launches a ‘talk show in a box’

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A company called Clipisode is today launching a new service that’s essentially a “talk show in a box,” as founder Brian Alvey describes it. Similar to how Anchor now allows anyone to build a professional podcast using simple mobile and web tools, Clipisode does this for video content. With Clipisode, you can record a video that can be shared across any platform – social media, the web, text messages – and collect video responses that can then be integrated into the “show” and overlaid with professional graphics.

The video responses feature is something more akin to a video voicemail-based call-in feature.

Here’s how it works. The content creator will first use Clipisode to record their video, and receive the link to share the video across social media, the web, or privately through email, text messaging, etc. When the viewer or guest clicks the link, they can respond to the question the show’s “host” posed.

For example, a reporter could ask for viewers’ thoughts on an issue or a creator could ask their fans what they want to see next.

How the video creator wants to use this functionality is really up to them, and specific to the type of video show they’re making.

To give you an idea, during a pre-launch period, the app has been tested by AXS TV to promote their upcoming Top Ten Revealed series by asking music industry experts “Who Is Your All-time Favorite Guitarist?

BBC Scotland asked their Twitter followers who they want to see hired as the new manager for the Scotland national football team.

A full-time Twitch gamer, Chris Melberger asked his subscribers what device they watch Twitch on.

The content creator can then receive all the video responses to these questions privately, choose which ones they want to include in their finished show, and drag those responses into the order they want. The creator can respond back to the clips, too, or just add another clip at the end of their video. Uploading pre-recorded clips from services like Dropbox or even your phone is supported as well.

Plus, content creators can use Clipisode to overlay professional-looking animations and graphics on top of the final video with the responses and replies. This makes it seem more like something made with help from a video editing team, not an app on your phone.

Because Clipisode invitations are web links, they don’t require the recipients to download an app.

“[People] don’t want to download an app for a one-time video reply,” explains Alvey. “But with this, people can reply.” And, he adds, what makes Clipisode interesting from a technical perspective, is that the web links users click to reply can work in any app in a way that feels seamless to the end user.

“That’s our biggest trick – making this work in other people’s apps, so there’s no new social network to join and nothing to download,” he says.

The app is free currently, but the plan is to generate revenue by later selling subscription access to the authoring suite where users can create the animated overlays and branding components that give the video the professional look-and-feel.

In an online CMS, creators can author, test and deploy animated themes that run on top of their videos.

The final video product can be shared back to social media, or downloaded as a video file to be published on video-sharing sites, social media, or as a video podcast.

Clipisode has been in development for some time, Alvey says. The company originally raised less than a million from investors including Mike Jones and Mark Cuban for a different product the founder describes as a Patreon competitor, before pivoting to Clipisode. Investors funded the new product with less than half a million.

The app itself took a couple of years to complete, something that Alvey says has to do with the animation studio it includes and the small team. (It’s just him and technical co-founder Max Schmeling.)

Clipisode is a free download on iOS and Android.

Mobile – TechCrunch

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The real threat to Facebook is the Kool-Aid turning sour

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These kinds of leaks didn’t happen when I started reporting on Facebook eight years ago. It was a tight-knit cult convinced of its mission to connect everyone, but with the discipline of a military unit where everyone knew loose lips sink ships. Motivational posters with bold corporate slogans dotted its offices, rallying the troops. Employees were happy to be evangelists.

But then came the fake news, News Feed addiction, violence on Facebook Live, cyberbullying, abusive ad targeting, election interference and, most recently, the Cambridge Analytica app data privacy scandals. All the while, Facebook either willfully believed the worst case scenarios could never come true, was naive to their existence or calculated the benefits and growth outweighed the risks. And when finally confronted, Facebook often dragged its feet before admitting the extent of the problems.

Inside the social network’s offices, the bonds began to fray. Slogans took on sinister second meanings. The Kool-Aid tasted different.

Some hoped they could right the ship but couldn’t. Some craved the influence and intellectual thrill of running one of humanity’s most popular inventions, but now question if that influence and their work is positive. Others surely just wanted to collect salaries, stock and resumé highlights, but lost the stomach for it.

Now the convergence of scandals has come to a head in the form of constant leaks.

The trouble tipping point

The more benign leaks merely cost Facebook a bit of competitive advantage. We’ve learned it’s building a smart speaker, a standalone VR headset and a Houseparty split-screen video chat clone.

Yet policy-focused leaks have exacerbated the backlash against Facebook, putting more pressure on the conscience of employees. As blame fell to Facebook for Trump’s election, word of Facebook prototyping a censorship tool for operating in China escaped, triggering questions about its respect for human rights and free speech. Facebook’s content rulebook got out alongside disturbing tales of the filth the company’s contracted moderators have to sift through. Its ad targeting was revealed to be able to pinpoint emotionally vulnerable teens.

In recent weeks, the leaks have accelerated to a maddening pace in the wake of Facebook’s soggy apologies regarding the Cambridge Analytica debacle. Its weak policy enforcement left the door open to exploitation of data users gave third-party apps, deepening the perception that Facebook doesn’t care about privacy.

And it all culminated with BuzzFeed publishing a leaked “growth at all costs” internal post from Facebook VP Andrew “Boz” Bosworth that substantiated people’s worst fears about the company’s disregard for user safety in pursuit of world domination. Even the ensuing internal discussion about the damage caused by leaks and how to prevent them…leaked.

But the leaks are not the disease, just the symptom. Sunken morale is the cause, and it’s dragging down the company. Former Facebook employee and Wired writer Antonio Garcia Martinez sums it up, saying this kind of vindictive, intentionally destructive leak fills Facebook’s leadership with “horror”:

And that sentiment was confirmed by Facebook’s VP of News Feed Adam Mosseri, who tweeted that leaks “create strong incentives to be less transparent internally and they certainly slow us down,” and will make it tougher to deal with the big problems.

Those thoughts weigh heavy on Facebook’s team. A source close to several Facebook executives tells us they feel “embarrassed to work there” and are increasingly open to other job opportunities. One current employee told us to assume anything certain execs tell the media is “100% false.”

If Facebook can’t internally discuss the problems it faces without being exposed, how can it solve them?

Implosion

The consequences of Facebook’s failures are typically pegged as external hazards.

You might assume the government will finally step in and regulate Facebook. But the Honest Ads Act and other rules about ads transparency and data privacy could end up protecting Facebook by being simply a paperwork speed bump for it while making it tough for competitors to build a rival database of personal info. In our corporation-loving society, it seems unlikely that the administration would go so far as to split up Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp — one of the few feasible ways to limit the company’s power.

Users have watched Facebook make misstep after misstep over the years, but can’t help but stay glued to its feed. Even those who don’t scroll rely on it as a fundamental utility for messaging and login on other sites. Privacy and transparency are too abstract for most people to care about. Hence, first-time Facebook downloads held steady and its App Store rank actually rose in the week after the Cambridge Analytica fiasco broke. In regards to the #DeleteFacebook movement, Mark Zuckerberg himself said “I don’t think we’ve seen a meaningful number of people act on that.” And as long as they’re browsing, advertisers will keep paying Facebook to reach them.

That’s why the greatest threat of the scandal convergence comes from inside. The leaks are the canary in the noxious blue coal mine.

Can Facebook survive slowing down?

If employees wake up each day unsure whether Facebook’s mission is actually harming the world, they won’t stay. Facebook doesn’t have the same internal work culture problems as some giants like Uber. But there are plenty of other tech companies with less questionable impacts. Some are still private and offer the chance to win big on an IPO or acquisition. At the very least, those in the Bay could find somewhere to work without a spending hours a day on the traffic-snarled 101 freeway.

If they do stay, they won’t work as hard. It’s tough to build if you think you’re building a weapon. Especially if you thought you were going to be making helpful tools. The melancholy and malaise set in. People go into rest-and-vest mode, living out their days at Facebook as a sentence not an opportunity. The next killer product Facebook needs a year or two from now might never coalesce.

And if they do work hard, a culture of anxiety and paralysis will work against them. No one wants to code with their hands tied, and some would prefer a less scrutinized environment. Every decision will require endless philosophizing and risk-reduction. Product changes will be reduced to the lowest common denominator, designed not to offend or appear too tyrannical.

Source: Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency + David Ramos/Getty Images

In fact, that’s partly how Facebook got into this whole mess. A leak by an anonymous former contractor led Gizmodo to report Facebook was suppressing conservative news in its Trending section. Terrified of appearing liberally biased, Facebook reportedly hesitated to take decisive action against fake news. That hands-off approach led to the post-election criticism that degraded morale and pushed the growing snowball of leaks down the mountain.

It’s still rolling.

How to stop morale’s downward momentum will be one of Facebook’s greatest tests of leadership. This isn’t a bug to be squashed. It can’t just roll back a feature update. And an apology won’t suffice. It will have to expel or reeducate the leakers and those disloyal without instilling a witch hunt’s sense of dread. Compensation may have to jump upwards to keep talent aboard like Twitter did when it was floundering. Its top brass will need to show candor and accountability without fueling more indiscretion. And it may need to make a shocking, landmark act of humility to convince employees its capable of change.

This isn’t about whether Facebook will disappear tomorrow, but whether it will remain unconquerable for the forseeable future.

Growth has been the driving mantra for Facebook since its inception. No matter how employees are evaluated, it’s still the underlying ethos. Facebook has poised itself as a mission-driven company. The implication was always that connecting people is good so connecting more people is better. The only question was how to grow faster.

Now Zuckerberg will have to figure out how to get Facebook to cautiously foresee the consequences of what it says and does while remaining an appealing place to work. “Move slow and think things through” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Mobile – TechCrunch

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