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Instagram now lets you share Stories to a Close Friends list – TechCrunch

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No one wants to post silly, racy or vulnerable Stories if they’re worried their boss, parents and distant acquaintances are watching. So to get people sharing more, and more authentically, Instagram will let you share to fewer people. Today after 17 months of testing, Instagram is globally launching Close Friends on iOS and Android over the next two days. It lets you build a single private list of your best buddies on Instagram through suggestions or search, and then share Stories just to them. They’ll see a green circle around your profile pic in the existing Story tray to let them know this is Close Friends-only content, but no one gets notified if they’re added or removed from your list that only you can view.

“As you add more and more people [on any social network], you start not to know them. That’s obviously going to change the things that you’re sharing and it makes it even harder to form very deep connections with your closest friends because you’re basically curating for the largest possible distribution,” said Instagram director of product Robby Stein, who announced the news onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin. “To really be yourself and connect and be connected to your best friends, you need your own place.”

I spent the last few days demoing Close Friends and it’s remarkably smooth, intuitive and useful. Suddenly there was a place to post what I might otherwise consider too random or embarrassing to share. Teens already invented the idea of “Finstagrams,” or fake Instagram accounts, to share feed posts to just their favorite people without the pressure to look cool. Now Instagram is formalizing that idea into “Finstastories” through Close Friends.

The feature is a wise way to counteract the natural social graph creep that occurs as people accept social networking requests out of a sense of obligatory courtesy from people they aren’t close to, which then causes them to only share blander content. Helping people express their wild side as must-see content for their Close Friends could drive up time spent on the app. But there’s also the risk that the launch creates private echo sphere havens for offensive content beyond the eyes of those who’d rightfully report it.

“No one has ever mastered a close friends graph and made it easy for people to understand,” Stein notesThe path to variable sharing privacy winds through a cemetery. Facebook’s “Lists” product struggled to find traction for a decade before being half-shut down. Google+’s big selling point was “Circles” for sharing to different groups of people. But with both, users found it too boring and confusing to make a bunch of different lists they could share to or view feeds from. Snapchat launched its own Groups feature two months ago, but it’s easy to forget who’s in which list and they’re designed around group chat. Most users just end up trying their best to reject, unfollow or mute people they didn’t want to see or share with.

Now after almost 15 years of Facebook, 12 years of Twitter, eight years of Instagram and seven years of Snapchat, that strategy has failed for many, leading to noisy feeds and a fear of sharing to too many. “People get friend requests and they feel pressure to accept,” Stein explains. “The curve is actually that your sharing goes up and as you add more people initially, as more people can respond to you. But then there’s a point where it reduces sharing over time.”

So Instagram chose to build Close Friends as just a single list in hopes that you won’t lose track of who’s part of it. As the feature rolls out today, there’ll be an explainer Story from Instagram about it in your tray, you’ll get walked through when you hit the Close Friends button on the Story composer, and there’ll be a call out on your profile to configure Close Friends in the Settings menu. You’ll be able to search for your close friends or quickly add them from a list of suggestions based on who you interact with most. You can add or remove as many people as you want without them knowing, they just will or won’t see your green circled Close Friends story. “We’re protecting you and your right to share or not share to certain people. It gives you air cover,” Stein tells me.

From then on, you can use the Close Friends shortcut in the Stories composer to share it with just those people, who’ll see a green “Close Friends” label on the story to let them know they’re special. Instagram will use the signal of who you add to help rank and order your Stories tray, but it won’t automatically pop Close Friends Stories to the front. When asked if Facebook would use that data for personalization too, Stein told me, “We’re the same company,” but said using it to improve Facebook is “not something that we’re actively working on.”

There’s no screenshot alerts, similar to the rest of Instagram Stories, but you won’t be able to DM anyone someone else’s Close Friends Story. That’s it. “We haven’t invented any new design affordances or things you need to know,” Stein beams. For now it’s meant for user profiles, but publishers, social media celebrities and brands would probably love ways to build fan clubs through the feature. Perhaps Instagram would even allow creators to charge users to be admitted to Close Friends. If not, some savvy influencers will probably do it anyways as they try to make Instagram more like Patreon.

Instagram’s Robby Stein (left) tells TechCrunch’s Josh Constine about Close Friends at Disrupt Berlin

The one concern here is that Close Friends could create little bunkers in which people can share objectionable content without consequence. It’d be sad to see it harbor racism, sexism or other stuff that doesn’t belong anywhere on Instagram. Stein says that because you’re talking with friends instead of strangers on a Reddit, “it self regulates what it’s used for. We haven’t seen a lot of that usage in the testing that we’ve done. It’s still a broadcast channel and it doesn’t generate this group discussion. It doesn’t spiral.”

Overall, I think Close Friends will be a hit. When it started testing a prototype called Favorites in June 2017 it worked with feed posts too, but Instagram decided the off the cuff posts wouldn’t fit right next to your more widely broadcasted highlights. But confined to Stories, it feels like a natural and much-needed extension of what Instagram was always supposed to be but that’s gotten lost in our swelling social networks: giving the people you love a window into your life.

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Smartphone sales down 6% as chip shortages begin to impact market – TechCrunch

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Canalys reported this morning that global smartphone sales are off 6% this quarter, and it’s not because of lack of demand. It’s due to the worldwide chip shortage.

The pandemic has had a negative impact across supply chains, and chips have been particularly hard hit. Canalys principal analyst Ben Stanton says that manufacturers are trying to keep up as best they can, but the chip shortage is a legitimate roadblock right now. “On the supply side, chipset manufacturers are increasing prices to disincentivize over-ordering in an attempt to close the gap between demand and supply. But despite this, shortages will not ease until well into 2022,” he said in a statement.

What did the market look like this past quarter as a result of these supply chain issues? Well, the usual suspects maintained their market share positions with Samsung holding steady year over year at 23%. Meanwhile Apple saw YoY sales increase 3% to 15% this quarter. Xiaomi held steady in third place at 10% with no change YoY.

Canalys Smartphone marketshare chart for Q32021.

Image Credits: Canalys

Manufacturers have to be concerned at this turn of events, especially as we head into the crucial holiday shopping season. Apple released the new iPhone 13 at the end of September, too late for this quarterly report, but no doubt timed for the shopping season. The chip shortage issues could put a damper on its plans. Even though both Samsung and Apple make their own chipsets for their mobile devices, each company is still feeling the impact of the chip component shortage.

As a result, Stanton says it will be unlikely consumers will see any cost cutting this year, as manufacturing costs continue to spiral upward. Instead, he anticipates that we may see more bundling of phones with other devices as a buying incentive. “Customers should expect smartphone discounting this year to be less aggressive. But to avoid customer disappointment, smartphone brands which are constrained on margin should look to bundle other devices, such as wearables and IoT to create good incentives for customers.”

CNBC reported just yesterday that the consumer chip shortage could persist even longer than Stanton is predicting, perhaps as long as two to three years, according to president of Hisense, Jia Shaoqian, whose company makes devices like home appliances and consumer goods.

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Google modernizes US mobile search results with continuous scrolling – TechCrunch

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Google announced today it’s changing the way search works on mobile devices, initially in the U.S. Now, when you reach the bottom of a set of search results on your phone, you won’t have to tap to go to the next page. Instead, the next set of results will automatically load so you can continuously scroll down to see more information.

The change will roll out on the mobile web and will be supported on the Google mobile app for both iOS and Android in the U.S. for most English-language searches for the time being. Because it’s a staggered release, you may initially encounter some results which scroll and others that do not.

While most people find what they’re looking for in the first few results, says Google, those who are looking for additional information tend to browse through four pages of search results. That’s why the company is making the change, we’re told. Now, those users will be able to more seamlessly move between pages without having to click the “see more” button at the bottom of the page.

Google notes this could be helpful in particular for searches where people are looking for a variety of ideas or inspiration on a given topic, instead of just quick answers.

However, there are other benefits of this design, as well, which Google did not reference.

For starters, the continuous scroll doesn’t force you to stop at some arbitrary point in your search then tap a link to move forward — a holdover from the desktop era of web search. That “click for more” type of design feels outdated in a world where in-app feeds — like Facebook’s News Feed for instance — present a never-ending stream of information and updates. And by continuing to scroll, Google’s users may end up spending more time in the app where they’ll also see more ads.

The continuous scroll could also give Google more flexibility in terms of ad placement. Instead of limiting ads to the top of a results page, they could be inserted amid the search results as you move down — more like how ads on social networking feeds appear.

While Google didn’t publicly detail its plans for ads with this change, the company told us upon follow up it will redistribute the number of text ads that appear between the top and bottom of pages for U.S.-English mobile queries. Now, text ads will show at the top of the second page and beyond, while fewer text ads will show at the bottom of each page. But, there is no change to how Shopping and Local ads show at this time, we understand.

In addition, as Google Search has become cluttered with info boxes, search suggestions, products to buy, and buttons that take you to other search verticals, like Videos, it’s become more difficult to tap the correct button to move forward in the search results. This is particularly true because Google will shade other buttons darker in hopes of catching your eye and encouraging a click to another destination.

The change to search follows a modern redesign of the results page on mobile announced earlier this year, which focused on making search results easier to read through the use of added whitespace in some areas and color in others; a larger, bolder font (Google’s own, in fact); and a move away from rounded, shaded boxes in favor of straight lines; among other things.

However, that change was more about how the search results looked, not how they functioned.

Google says the new continuous scroll will begin to roll out today in the U.S.

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Spotify expands access to its in-car entertainment device ‘Car Thing’ – TechCrunch

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Spotify’s in-car entertainment system known as just “Car Thing,” launched this spring on an invite-only basis, is now becoming more broadly available. The company announced today Car Thing will become available to U.S. users who want to purchase the $79.99 device. Previously, Spotify had distributed the product for just the cost of shipping during its limited release testing period, noting that this was Spotify’s first hardware and it wanted to “get things right.”

Now, Spotify says U.S. users who had previously signed up for the Car Thing waitlist will be offered the ability to purchase the device ahead of others. However, any current Spotify user — free or Premium — can sign up for the Car Thing waitlist. The product will roll out to these customers in time.

The device requires a Spotify Premium membership (either an Individual, Family or Student plan). Users will also need a smartphone for the mobile data. But you won’t need a paid subscription in order to enter your name on the waitlist at this time.

The device itself is a lightweight (3.4 oz.), thin (4.6″ x 2.5″ x 0.7″) music and podcast player that offers a combination of voice control, knobs, buttons, and a touchscreen display for navigating its menus and selecting the media you want to hear. Through Car Thing, users can access Spotify’s entire catalog of music and podcasts while in their vehicle.

The idea is to offer a way for vehicle owners without built-in infotainment systems, like Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, to have an easier way to access Spotify’s personalized listening experience.

Car Thing can be mounted inside the car in a number of different ways, thanks to the variety of different mounts that ship alongside the gadget along with a car charger and USB-C cable.

Image Credits: Spotify

Its main interface features four preset buttons that let you save your favorite content for quick access. By default, these are configured with your Liked Songs and Spotify’s Daily Drive and Morning Commute playlists, with the last preset empty. You can change any of these to match your own preferences.

You can also speak to Car Thing using the “Hey Spotify” voice commands, which the device receives through its four microphones at the top. Currently, Spotify’s policy regarding its use of voice data explains the company will collect recordings and transcripts of what you say along with information about the content it returned to you, and may use the data to improve the feature over time.

Since its limited launch earlier this year, Spotify has already released some software updates aimed at improving the Car Thing experience. The company says it will continue to do so in the future, as well, as the device rolls out to more people.

Spotify did not say how many Car Thing devices have been shipped to date.

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