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Facebook tests Snap Map-style redesign of Nearby Friends – TechCrunch

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Helping friends meet up offline has been a massive missed opportunity for Facebook . Whether because the brand is too creepy or the politely opt-in 2015 rollout of its location sharing feature wasn’t creepy enough, Facebook Nearby Friends never quite took off. Only 103 of my 1,120 friends in San Francisco have it turned on.

It’s not the only one struggling with “The quest to cure loneliness.” Foursquare Swarm, Glympse, Apple’s Find My Friends and Google Maps’ real-time coordinate-sharing option have all failed to become a ubiquitous standard.

The redesigned map homescreen of Facebook Nearby Friends

But last year, Snapchat launched a different take on the idea based on its biggest acquisition ever, French app Zenly. With Snap Map, it wasn’t just about the utility of seeing a list of friends’ locations like on Facebook, but also splayed them out across maps that you could dive into to see their latest geo-tagged Stories. It was as much about fun and content as it was about actually hanging out with people in person.

Now Facebook is testing a significant redesign of Nearby Friends that looks a lot more like Snap Map. It replaces the list view of the neighborhoods and cities friends are in with a map that groups friends together by city. A “view list” button opens up the former homescreen, though in both views you still can only see a friend’s approximate location in a neighborhood or city, not their exact coordinates. Facebook confirms to TechCrunch that “We’re testing a new design for Nearby Friends, a tool people have used for the past four years to meet with their friends in person. People have complete control over whether to use Nearby Friends or not. They can turn it on in the Nearby Friends bookmark.”

That statement both subtly promotes Facebook’s opt-in privacy setting for Nearby Friends while urging people to actually go back and activate it. The screenshot was generated from the code of Facebook’s Android app by mobile researcher and frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong. Interestingly, after TechCrunch’s inquiry, Wong tells me Facebook appears to have deactivated server-side the ability to access the map feature.

The reason this matters is that Facebook is desperate for engagement, especially amongst younger users who are slipping away from it to Snapchat and Instagram. If revamped with this map and other improvements, Nearby Friends could become a more popular utility that keeps people opening Facebook. Getting more people to share their real-time location could open new opportunities for local ad targeting. And Facebook could benefit from showing it unlocks meaningful offline connections given its recent brand troubles following election interference and calls that it’s the opposite of “time well spent.”

The existing design of Facebook Nearby Friends

Snap Map was smart, but it’s sadly buried behind an awkward pinch gesture from Snapchat’s homescreen, or inside the search bar where some users wouldn’t expect it. Internal Snapchat usage data scored by Taylor Lorenz for The Daily Beast revealed that Snap Map had sunk from a high of 35 million daily unique viewers after its June 2017 launch to just 19 million by that September — merely 11 percent of Snapchat’s users at the time. Users never seemed to cease on it as a method of browsing Snapchat’s geo-tagged content.

Unfortunately, none of these location apps have figured out that meeting up isn’t all about location. It’s about availability. It doesn’t matter if I see my best friend is at a coffee shop right away if they’re not actually available to hang out. They could be on date, having a business meeting or trying to get some work done. If I drop in just because I see they’re close by, it could be awkward. You’d have to first message them, but you can come off seeming desperate if they can’t or don’t want to meet up with you.

Location apps need an availability indicator similar to the green “online” dot used by many chat apps. You could toggle that on if you wanted to show you’re interested in some spontaneous friend time.

Facebook’s actually spent the last year trying to build this into Messenger in the form of “Your Emoji” status. It lets you pick an emoji like a martini, fork and knife or barbell that’s temporarily overlaid on your profile pic thumbnail to let people know you’re down for drinking, getting dinner or working out. The feature is yet to be widely tested, indicating that Facebook hasn’t quite cracked the nut of encouraging online meetups.

Ideally, Facebook would combine Nearby Friends and Your Emoji to help users share both approximately where they are and whether they want to hang out. The next step would be making it easy to watch a friend’s geo-tagged Facebook Story from wherever they are. And then, Facebook could further copy Snap Map by making public Stories and other location-based content accessible from the map so you could browse it for fun instead of the News Feed or Stories tray.

Still, making Nearby Friends work could require Facebook to rethink the privacy element. The friend graph has bloated to include family, co-workers, bosses and distant acquaintances with whom users might not want to share their real-time location. Finding a better way to let you share where you are with just your closest friends could make more people comfortable with the feature.

Facebook needs to rethink its entire product stack to embrace the high-definition cameras, big phone screens and fast network connections that make it easier to convey information through imagery than text. Visual communication is the future, and that goes far beyond Stories.

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Musk says Twitter will offer “amnesty” to suspended accounts • TechCrunch

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Elon Musk said Thursday Twitter will grant “a general amnesty” to accounts that had been suspended from the platform beginning next week. The CEO posted a poll the day earlier over whether the platform should restore affected accounts.

The news comes within a week of Musk also ending former president Donald Trump’s ban from the platform after running a similar poll. Trump was banned after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, but said he doesn’t intend to return to the platform.

Musk’s poll to users included a caveat that suspended account holders could rejoin the platform “provided they have not broken the law or engaged in egregious spam.” Around 3.2 million users responded to the poll, which voted 72.4% in favor of amnesty.

“The people have spoken. Amnesty begins next week. Vox Populi, Vox Dei,” Musk said, using a Latin phrase that means “The voice of the people is the voice of god.”

Historically, Twitter has banned accounts that glorify hate and harassment, have the potential to incite violence or rampantly spread misinformation that can lead to harm. Some high profile individuals who were banned include MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell after he made a series of claims that Trump actually won the 2020 presidential election; former Trump advisor and former executive chairman of Breitbart Steve Bannon after he said Anthony Fauci and FBI Director Christopher Wray should be beheaded; and Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes for violating the site’s policy of prohibiting violent extremist groups.

It’s unclear from Musk’s brief tweet how Twitter will deal with content moderation in the future, now that more potentially problematic voices will be returning to the platform. These concerns have only been exacerbated by Musk’s mass layoffs and the general exodus of employees who’d rather quit than be “hardcore.”

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Amazon is working on a TV series about FTX drama with Russo Brothers • TechCrunch

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The FTX drama is not over yet — and Amazon wants a piece of it. The company is partnering with Russo Brothers, best known for Marvel movies, to make a show on the spectacular collapse of the giant cryptocurrency empire.

Amazon has partnered with the duo’s production house AGBO to make the show, which will go into production in Spring 2023, Variety first reported. Amazon is also trying to rope in the brothers to direct the show, the report added.

The company confirmed the news in a statement and said “Hunters” creator David Weil will write the pilot.

“We are excited to be able to continue our great working relationship with David, Joe, Anthony, and the AGBO team with this fascinating event series I can’t think of better partners to bring this multifaceted story to our global Prime Video audience,” Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke said.

The Russos are also working with Amazon to create a multinational international spy series called “Citadel.”

“This is one of the most brazen frauds ever committed. It crosses many sectors — celebrity, politics, academia, tech, criminality, sex, drugs, and the future of modern finance,” the Russos said of the upcoming show surrounding FTX in a statement. “At the center of it all sits an extremely mysterious figure with complex and potentially dangerous motivations. We want to understand why.”

FTX collapse

FTX and its former CEO Sam Bankman-Fried have been at the center of media coverage across the world after the celebrated cryptocurrency exchange imploded earlier this month.

Coindesk reported earlier about the concerning finances of Alameda Research, the trading firm founded by Bankman-Fried and intertwined closely with the exchange. The report triggered a set of events, culminating in Binance chief executive Changpeng “CZ” Zhao unveiling plans to sell FTX’s native token FTT that it had received as part of an investment exit from the firm.

The move shook the confidence of retail investors and prompted a bank run on FTX and unraveled fraudulent misuse of FTX customers’ data.

Bankman-Fried, who along with his firm have attracted regulatory scrutiny in recent weeks, attempted to salvage FTX by signing a deal to be acquired by Binance, its chief rival then. Binance pulled out of the deal after finding FTX had dug too deep of a hole in its balance sheet. Within days, FTX filed for bankruptcy with Bankman-Fried stepping down from the CEO post.

In the aftermath of this chaos, Bankman-Fried gave a Vox reporter an interview over Twitter direct messages in which he criticized regulators and expressed regrets about filing for bankruptcy and walked back on many of the long-believes he had portrayed about himself to the world. Reports have since also found that FTX used corporate funds to purchase houses for employees and owes the top 50 creditors over $3 billion.

Time for the show

All of this makes for a good TV, for sure. It also helps that startup founders doing things has become a sleeper hit of a genre in recent years as evidenced by hits like “WeCrashed” (Apple TV+) on the WeWork and Adam Neumann fiasco, “Dropout” (Hulu) on the Theranos-Elizabeth Holmes saga, and “Super Pumped” (Showtime) on Uber led by Travel Kalanick. So Amazon is keen to get a hit show centering on a controversial tech founder on its catalog. But we could see more adoption of the FTX story.

Earlier this week, Deadline reported that buyers — including Apple — are chasing to sign celebrated author Michael Lewis’ yet-to-be-published book. Lewis — who has previously written hits that were later adapted into movies such as “The Big Short,” “Moneyball,” and “The Blind Side” — had been closely following Bankman-Fried for over six months before the recent implosion.

Amazon’s show will be based on “insider reporting” from various journalists who have covered the issue extensively, according to Variety.

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Mark Cuban-backed streaming app Fireside acquires Stremium to bring live, interactive shows to your TV • TechCrunch

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Mark Cuban-backed streaming app Fireside, which today offers podcasters and other creators a way to host interactive, live shows with audience engagement, will soon expand to the TV’s big screen. Variety reported, and Fireside confirmed, it’s acquired the open streaming TV platform Stremium, which will allow Fireside’s shows to become available to a range of connected TV devices, including Amazon Fire TV, Roku, smart TVs and others.

Deal terms were not disclosed. Cuban retweeted Variety’s reporting but made no other public comment.

A company spokesperson confirmed the deal to TechCrunch, noting it was for a combination of IP and talent.

“Fireside has acquired all of Stremium including its full team and intellectual property,” the spokesperson said. “The company is the first interactive web3 streaming platform and the acquisition will help Fireside accelerate delivering on being the only platform that turns creators, celebrities, brands, and IP owners into the studio, networks, and streaming services of the future. Expect other major announcements coming soon on this front,” they added.

Launched just over a year ago, Fireside arrived on the heels of the pandemic-fueled demand for startups offering live entertainment as well as a growing number of startups catering to the creator economy.

Despite some early — and erroneous — comparisons between Fireside and other live audio platforms like Twitter Spaces or Clubhouse, the startup gained traction due to a differentiated feature set that also prioritizes video content. Shows on Fireside’s platform could be streamed live to its app, recorded, saved, or even simulcast to other social networks. The app additionally includes audience engagement tools and other features to aid creators with promotion, editing, measurement, distribution, monetization, and audience growth, all of which are part of Fireside’s end-to-end content production experience. More recently, the company had been exploring web3 technologies, including NFTs.

Co-founded by Cuban, early Yammer employee Mike Ihbe, and former Googler, YouTuber and Node co-founder Falon Fatemi, who sold her last company to SugarCRM, Fireside has managed to attract some high-profile creators like Jay Leno, Michael Dell, Melissa Rivers, Craig Kilborn, and screenwriter and Entourage creator Doug Ellin over the past year.

In a letter to Fireside investors published by Variety, Fatemi shared that the Stremium acquisition would help Fireside to offer a “second screen experience where the audience can use their phones to engage and interact in real-time while watching on their TVs.”

“Imagine watching a live cookalong show with your favorite chef simultaneously on your TV and your phone where you can interact and get invited to talk directly to them and even show them what you are cooking from the palm of your hand,” Fatemi explained. Plus, Stremium’s infrastructure would allow creators to upload, publish, program and distribute their live shows across both mobile and TV, she added. (Stremium confirmed to us the letter’s accuracy.)

TechCrunch this February reported Fireside was in talks to raise a $25 million Series A that valued its business at $125 million. That round has since closed, but Fireside hasn’t yet made a formal announcement about raise, investors, or its valuation. We understand this may be because Fireside is still adding some additional strategic investors to the deal, and it plans to detail the fundraise soon. Of course, the funding may have helped pave the way for Fireside to make this new acquisition.

Other investors in Fireside include the Chainsmokers, HBSE, Goodwater, Animal Capital, and NFL stars Larry Fitzgerald and Kelvin Beachum and former NBA star Baron Davis, in addition to Cuban. Ahead of its Series A, Fireside had raised around $8 million.

Stremium had been developing a service that allowed consumers to aggregate all their favorite channels using their “TV Everywhere” credentials and use a cloud DVR instead of downloading separate streaming apps. It also included a selection of free streaming channels. But the service faced an increasingly competitive landscape where there are now numerous ways to watch free streaming content, like Tubi, Pluto TV, The Roku Chanel, Freevee (formerly IMDb TV), Plex, and more. Meanwhile, cord-cutting is accelerating leaving fewer people with cable TV logins for Stremium to market its services to.

The Stremium website is now pointing visitors to Fireside and confirms the acquisition. Fireside is aiming to release its TV product sometime next year as a result of the deal.

 

 

 

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