Amazon’s two-year-old Instagram competitor, Amazon Spark, is no more.
Hoping to capitalize on the social shopping trend and tap into the power of online influencers, Amazon in 2017 launched its own take on Instagram with a shoppable feed of stories and photos aimed at Prime members. The experiment known as Amazon Spark has now come to an end. However, the learnings from Spark and Amazon’s discovery tool Interesting Finds are being blended into a new social-inspired product, #FoundItOnAmazon.
Amazon Spark had been a fairly bland service, if truth be told. Unlike on Instagram, where people follow their friend, interests, brands like they like, and people they find engaging or inspiring, Spark was focused on the shopping and the sale. While it tried to mock the Instagram aesthetic at times with fashion inspiration images or highly posed travel photos, it lacked Instagram’s broader appeal. Your friends weren’t there and there weren’t any Instagram Stories, for example. Everything felt too transactional.
Amazon declined to comment on the apparent shutdown of Spark, but the service is gone from the website and app.
The URL amazon.com/spark, meanwhile, redirects to the new #FoundItOnAmazon site — a site which also greatly resembles another Amazon product discovery tool, Interesting Finds.
Interesting Finds has been around since 2016, offering consumers a way to browse an almost Pinterest-like board of products across a number of categories. It features curated “shops” focused on niche themes, like a “Daily Carry” shop for toteable items, a “Mid Century” shop filled with furniture and décor, a shop for “Star Wars” fans, one for someone who loves the color pink, and so on. Interesting Finds later added a layer of personalization with the introduction of a My Mix shop filled with recommendations tailored to your interactions and likes.
The Interesting Finds site had a modern, clean look-and-feel that made it a more pleasurable way to browse Amazon’s products. Products photos appeared on white backgrounds while the clutter of a traditional product detail page was removed.
We understand from people familiar with the products that Interesting Finds is not shutting down as Spark has. But the new #FoundItOnAmazon site will take inspiration from what worked with Interesting Finds and Spark to turn it into a new shopping discovery tool.
Interesting Finds covers a wide range of categories, but #FoundItOnAmazon will focus more directly on fashion and home décor. Similar to Interesting Finds, you can heart to favorites items and revisit them later.
The #FoundItOnAmazon site is very new and isn’t currently appearing for all Amazon customers at this time. If you have it, the amazon.com/spark URL will take you there.
Though Amazon won’t talk about why its Instagram experiment is ending, it’s not too hard to make some guesses. Beyond its lack of originality and transactional nature, Instagram itself has grown into a far more formidable competitor since Spark first launched.
Last fall, Instagram fully embraced its shoppable nature with the introduction of shopping features across its app that let people more easily discover products from Instagram photos. It also added a new shopping channel and in March, Instagram launched its own in-app checkout option to turn product inspiration into actual conversions. It was certainly a big move into Amazon territory. And while that led to headlines about Instagram as the future of shopping, it’s not going to upset Amazon’s overall dominance any time soon.
In addition to the shifting competitive landscape, Spark’s primary stakeholder, Amazon VP of Consumer Engagement Chee Chew departed at the beginning of 2019 for Twilio. While at Amazon, Chew was heavily invested in Spark’s success and product managers would even tie their own efforts to Spark in order to win his favor, sources said.
For example, Amazon’s notifications section had been changed to include updates from Spark. And Spark used to sit a swipe away from the main navigation menu on mobile.
Following Spark’s closure, Amazon’s navigation has once again been simplified. It’s now a clutter-free hamburger menu. Meanwhile, Amazon’s notifications section no longer includes Spark updates — only alerts about orders, shipments, and personalized recommendations.
In addition, it’s likely that Spark wasn’t well adopted. Just 10,000 Amazon customers used it during its first 24 hours, we heard. With Chew’s departure, Spark lost its driving force. No one needed to curry favor by paying it attention, which may have also helped contribute to its shuttering.
6/14/19, 10:20 PM ET: Updated with further context after publication.
DoorDash is ending its delivery partnership with Walmart – TechCrunch
DoorDash is ending its partnership with Walmart after more than four years of delivering the retail giant’s products to customers. The news was first reported by Business Insider. Sources familiar with the matter told Insider that DoorDash decided to end its partnership with Walmart because it was no longer mutually beneficial and because the delivery company wanted to focus on “its long-term customer relationships.”
A spokesperson for Walmart told Insider that the two companies “have agreed to part ways.”
DoorDash is said to have sent Walmart a 30-day notice and a letter earlier this month to end their partnership. The termination will go into effect in September.
“We’d like to thank Walmart for their partnership and are looking forward to continuing to build and provide support for merchants in the years ahead with our leading Marketplace and Platform offerings,” a spokesperson from DoorDash told TechCrunch in an email.
The termination will end a partnership that began in April 2018 as a pilot to deliver Walmart groceries to customers in the Atlanta metro area. Since then, the partnership expanded to states across the country.
Although Walmart has partnered with third-party delivery services like DoorDash, the retail giant has also been focused on building out its own delivery efforts. For instance, Insider reported on Thursday that Walmart is acquiring Delivery Drivers, which is the company behind Walmart’s Spark platform that sees gig workers deliver orders to customers. A Walmart spokesperson told Insider that the Spark platform has grown to become the company’s largest delivery service provider and that it accounts for 75% of Walmart deliveries.
DoorDash, on the other hand, has been building out its DoorDash Drive platform, its business-to-business service that provides drivers to merchants through their own website or app.
While DoorDash’s partnership with Walmart is coming to a close, the company has geared up to collaborate with another notable brand, Facebook parent Meta. DoorDash confirmed earlier this week that DoorDash Drive is now in the early stages of testing a service that will allow DoorDash drivers to pick up and drop off Facebook Marketplace items to customers. DoorDash and Meta are currently offering the test service in several cities in the United States.
It’s worth noting that DoorDash has also been testing a package return feature since March that allows customers to return items to the post office, UPS or FedEx.
Walmart did not respond to TechCrunch’s request for comment.
Update 08/19/2022 11:50 AM ET: The story was updated to include a statement from DoorDash.
Snap, HBO Max partner to launch AR experiences for ‘House of the Dragon’ premiere – TechCrunch
To celebrate the premiere of HBO’s highly anticipated “Game of Thrones” prequel, “House of the Dragon,” HBO Max is partnering with Snap to give users access to in-app AR experiences. For the show’s premiere on August 21, Snap and HBO Max are releasing a new selfie and worldview Lens, along with Landmarker Lenses, that let you immerse yourself into the show’s fantasy world.
The selfie Lens transforms you into a fire-breathing dragon. In the worldview mode, the Lens leverages sky segmentation technology to unleash flying, fire-breathing dragons above you so you can pretend to be part of the Game of Thrones world. Snap says the Lens will go live in regions around the world, including Australia, Europe, India, the Middle East and Northern Africa, North America and more. The Lens can be accessed via the Lens Carousel in the app.
As for the Landmarker Lenses, Snap and HBO Max have coordinated with Lens creators from around the world to build custom AR experiences in their local markets. The Landmarker Lenses will offer users another way to engage with the show, as they will reveal AR renderings of the show’s dragons over local landmarks all over the globe.
The first Lenses will launch for the premiere in Los Angeles at Venice Beach Grand Canals, in Rio De Janeiro at the Princess Isabel Statue, in London at the Tower Bridge, in Chennai at the Sankagiri Fort, in Mumbai at the CST Station and in Prague at the Charles Bridge. The Lenses will be unlockable via the Lens Carousel when users are near a Landmarker location.
There will be around 20 new Landmarker Lenses released throughout the season from creators in more than 10 countries. Snap says as new dragons are introduced over the course of the season, Landmarker experiences featuring those dragons will be made available. The Lenses will focus on three key show moments: the series premiere, pivotal mid-season episodes and the season finale.
The launch comes as Snap says more than 250 million users engage with augmented reality every day on average on the app and that Snapchat sees over 6 billion AR Lens plays every day on average. The company also says more than 250,000 Lens Creators have built 2.5 million Lenses through its AR creation tool, Lens Studio. In addition, Snap says over 300 developers have reached more than a billion views on their Lenses that and Lenses built by its community have been viewed more than 5 trillion times.
“House of the Dragon” is set 200 years before the events of “Game of Thrones.” The series will focus on the beginning of the end of House Targaryen, as the infamous Dance of Dragons will take center stage as family members of House Targaryen fight for the Iron Throne.
HBO is going all in with AR experiences for “House of the Dragon,” as the series has its own companion AR app called DracARys. The app rolled out globally on July 25 across iOS and Android devices and lets fans raise their own virtual dragon.
How W4 plans to monetize the Godot game engine using Red Hat’s open-source playbook – TechCrunch
A new company from the creators of the Godot game engine is setting out to grab a piece of the $200 billion global video game market — and to do so, it’s taking a cue from commercial open source software giant Red Hat.
Godot, for the uninitiated, is a cross-platform game engine first released under an open source license back in 2014, though its initial development pre-dates that by several years. Today, Godot claims some 1,500 contributors, and is considered one of the world’s top open source projects by various metrics. Godot has been used in high-profile games such as the Sonic Colors: Ultimate remaster, published by Sega last year as the first major mainstream game powered By Godot. But Tesla, too, has apparently used Godot to power some of the more graphically-intensive animations in its mobile app.
Among Godot’s founding creators is Juan Linietsky, who has served as head of development for the Godot project for the past 13 years, and who will now serve as CEO of W4 Games, a new venture that’s setting out to take Godot to the next level.
W4 quietly exited stealth last week, but today the Ireland-headquartered company has divulged more details about its goals to grow Godot and make it accessible for a wider array of commercial use-cases. On top of that, the company told TechCrunch that it has raised $8.5 million in seed funding to make its mission a reality, with backers including OSS Capital; Lux Capital; Sisu Game Ventures; and — somewhat notably — Bob Young, the cofounder and former CEO of Red Hat, an enterprise-focused open-source company that IBM went on to acquire for $34 billion in 2019.
But first… what is a game engine, exactly?
In simple terms, a game engine serves up the basic building blocks required for developers to create games, and may include anything from renderers for 2D or 3D graphics, to scripting and memory management. It’s basically a software framework that developers can use and reuse without having to redesign the wheel with each new game they create.
“This allows developers to utilize pre-made functionality that is common to most games when creating their own, and only create the parts that make the game unique,” Linietsky explained to TechCrunch.
While many companies, particularly larger game studios, develop their own engines in-house, as games and the associated development processes have become more complex, third-party general purpose game engines have grown in popularity. This includes long-established incumbents such as Unity, developed by tech powerhouse Unity Software, which is currently in the process of merging with IronSource.
One reason why a studio might use a third-party game engine is to cut down on in-house development costs, but a trade-off here is that it then has to work with a gargantuan code-base which it has limited control over. And that is why Godot has gained some fans through the years — as an open-source project, it gives developers an oven-baked game engine that they can tweak and fine-tune to their own needs, with improvements pushed back to the development community for everyone to benefit from.
“The result is reduced development costs and more freedom to innovate,” Linietsky said. “Godot brings to the game industry the same benefits that enterprise software has been enjoying from it [open source software] for decades.”
The open source factor
Anyone who has even remotely paid attention to the technology sphere over the past decade or so will have noticed that open source is now big business. The likes of Elastic and Cockroach Labs have built billion-dollar businesses off the back of open source projects, while Aiven recently hit double-unicorn status for a business that helps enterprises make the most of open source technologies in cloud environments.
But Red Hat, arguably, remains one of the biggest success stories from the open source world, selling enterprises premium support and services for some of the world’s biggest community-driven projects, from Linux to Kubernetes.
“Companies like Red Hat have proven that with the right commercial offerings on top, the appeal of using open source in enterprise environments is enormous,” Linietsky said. “W4 intends to do this very same thing for the game industry.”
It’s an interesting parallel, for sure, and one that seems pretty obvious when presented with such a comparison. Linux’s open source credentials were what led it to become the leading operating system for web servers, while Android’s mobile market share dominance can substantively be attributed to its Linux kernel base. Elsewhere, other open source projects such as Kubernetes are powering enterprise adoption of microservices and container technologies.
In truth, Godot is nowhere near having the kind of impact in gaming that Linux has had in the enterprise, but it’s still early days — and this is exactly where W4 could make a difference.
“We expect Godot to take the same route in the game industry as other open source software has taken in the enterprise, which is to slowly become the de facto standard,” Linietsky continued. “It is very difficult for companies that create proprietary software to compete with the massive talent pool that popular open source projects have, and unappealing for software users to concede the freedom to use software as they please to a third-party entity.”
On top of that, having one of Red Hat’s original founders on board as an investor can only be construed as a major coup for a startup that is just eight months old.
“Bob is an incredible human being who helped create a whole new type of business where nobody expected it was possible,” Linietsky continued. “He identified the opportunity for Godot and W4 as very similar to Linux and Red Hat two decades ago, and has been very kind to share his wisdom with us, as well as becoming an investor in our company.”
Support and services
W4’s core target market will be broad — it’s gunning for independent developers and small studios, as well as medium and large gaming companies. The problem that it’s looking to solve, ultimately, is that while Godot is popular with hobbyists and indie developers, companies are hesitant to use the engine on commercial projects due to its inherent limitations — currently, there is no easy way to garner technical support, discuss the product’s development roadmap, or access any other kind of value-added service.
But perhaps more importantly, while Godot is touted as a cross-platform game engine spanning the web, mobile, and desktop, it has hitherto lacked direct support for games consoles. The reason for this is that as an open source project served under a permissive MIT license, Godot can’t provide support for consoles because it wouldn’t be allowed to publish the code required to interact with the proprietary hardware — game studios that develop for consoles have to sign strict non-disclosure agreements. Plus, console makers will only work with registered legal entities, which Godot is not.
Put simply, Godot can’t be a community-driven open source project and support consoles at the same time. But there are ways around this, which is why W4 hopes to make money by offering a porting service to help developers convert their existing games into a console-compatible format.
“W4 will offer console ports to developers under very accessible terms,” Linietsky said. “Independent developers won’t need to pay upfront to publish, while for larger companies there will be commercial packages that include support.”
Elsewhere, W4 is developing a range of products and services which it’s currently keeping under wraps, with Linietsky noting that they will most likely be announced at Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco next March.
“The aim of W4 is to help developers overcome any problem developers may stumble upon while trying to use Godot commercially,” Linietsky added.
It’s worth noting that there are a handful of commercial companies out there already, such as Lone Wolf Technology and Pineapple Works, that help developers get the most out of Godot — including console porting. But Linietsky was keen to highlight one core difference between W4 and these incumbents: it’s expertise.
“The main distinctive feature of W4 is that it has been created by the Godot project leadership, which are the individuals with the most understanding and insight about Godot and its community,” he said.
Of Godot’s 1,500 or so contributors, 10 are more-or-less permanent hires, paid via community donations. Similarly, W4’s current team of 12 largely consists of long-standing Godot contributors, spread across eight different countries in the Americas and Europe. This is much like how other companies built on an open source foundation started out, including Red Hat and WordPress.com’s parent Automattic, which was one of the most well-known “distributed” company out there, long before the remote-work revolution came along in 2020.
Indeed, distributed work is one of the core defining characteristics of open source software development. By way of example, Linietsky is based in Spain, while cofounder and COO Rémi Verschelde works from Denmark. The other two founders, CTO Fabio Alessandrelli and CMO Nicola Farronato, operate from different locations in Italy.
But every legal entity needs to choose somewhere as its corporate home. And similar to many tech companies, W4 elected Dublin, Ireland as its official HQ — though this presence is really just on paper, only.
“We are based in Ireland because two of the cofounders have previously established there, have relatives, and are very familiar with the Irish ecosystem,” Linietsky said.
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