All posts in “Apps”

Ghost, the open source blogging system, is ready for prime time

Four long years ago John O’Nolan released a content management system for bloggers that was as elegant as it was spooky. Called Ghost, the original app was a promising Kickstarter product with little pizzazz. Now the app is ready to take on your toughest blogs.

O’Nolan just released version 1.0 of the software, a move that updates the tool with the best of modern blogging tools. You can download the self-hosted version here or use O’Nolan’s hosting service to try it out free.

“About four years ago we launched Ghost on Kickstarter as a tiny little prototype of an idea to create the web’s next great open source blogging platform,” said O’Nolan. After “2,600 commits” he released the 1.0 version complete with a new editor and improved features.

The platform uses a traditional Markdown editor and a new block-based editor called Koenig. The new editor lets you edit posts more cleanly within blocks, a feature that uses something called MobileDoc and Ember.js to render complex pages quickly and easily. The team also started a journalism program to support content providers.

While tools like WordPress still rule the day, it’s good to know that there are still strong alternatives out there for the content manager. Although this software has a name that portends dark sorcery and dread magic, I still think it has a “ghost” of a chance.

Uber’s head of developer product leaves citing Kalanick’s ouster

Without the heavyweight backing for the platform from former CEO Travis Kalanick, Uber’s head of developer product Chris Saad is leaving the company. It’s unclear where the platform will rank in Uber’s revised priorities as it tries to right the ship, and so he tells me he is moving on to a company where working with outside developers is a central focus.

Saad stressed that Uber’s platform isn’t dead or shutting down, but said he wants to be somewhere that’s making big, bold bets on developers. It doesn’t seem like that can be Uber right now with its troubles.

He also commented on the internal culture of Uber in comparison to media criticism following Susan Fowler’s report of sexism and discrimination at Uber. “I personally would not have described the culture around me as toxic. Difficult, and challenging, and truth-seeking, and maybe even political, but it doesn’t seem to rise to the level you’d expect from the media reports.”

Saad joined Uber as the head of product for the developer platform in April 2015 after four years as co-founder of real-time engagement web and app tool startup Echo. Joining shortly after the launch of Uber’s first API, he built the platform team responsible for embedding “Request a ride” buttons in other apps, testing ways for merchants to give Uber discounts for rides to their stores, and offering mid-ride content from partners like Snapchat.

Now that product team will have to carry on without its leader. “Getting to be the head of product for the Uber developer platform was a dream job, a dream opportunity” he tells me. “It was a real pleasure working with super smart people who throw their heart and soul into what they’re doing. I’m cheering them on from the sidelines.” Recode reported Saad’s exit early today citing anonymous sources.

As for going forward, Saad tells me he’s doing some developer platform consulting with other companies in the short-term. Eventually he plans to “look for a growth company with a meaningful role where a developer platform and an open ecosystem is central to their mission and vision.” He echoed that sentiment in a Medium post about his departure, further implying that Uber does not see the platform as a “central and strategic part of the company’s vision.”

Saad’s departure underscores the secondary problems stemming from Uber’s leadership shakeup, including the ousting of Kalanick. Top talent may not be willing to stick around through the transition while hoping their projects get as much support from the next CEO as from Kalanick.

When Kalanick was forced to resign, Saad shared on Facebook “Fuck.That.” on a bright red background. He later posted that “The cost of losing him as Uber’s CEO will be incalculable.” He’s also signalled his support for removing investor Benchmark from Uber’s board, and has spoken up in defense of Kalanick and Uber in their ongoing lawsuit with Google’s Waymo over allegedly stolen self-driving technology.

While Kalanick was merely on sabbatical after the death of his mother in a tragic boating accident, Saad said he thought he could potentially return in three to six months. But after his forced resignation, he said it could be years for the narrative to change enough for Kalanick to take back the CEO role.

For now, Uber will have to reassure its talent that it can still have the audacity to succeed as a startup without its CEO, and while making necessary changes to dismantle sexism and discrimination inside the company. Saad said the latter may be the right priorities for Uber as a whole and perhaps Silicon Valley culture as well. But that’s put the most innovative aspects of Uber in limbo.

Facebook and Instagram get redesigns for readability

Taking inspiration from line drawings, Reddit and Messenger, Facebook is overhauling the design of the News Feed to make it more legible, clickable and commentable. Specifically, Facebook now makes it much clearer where threads start and end in comments. Meanwhile, Instagram today got a little redesign itself with comment reels now being threaded so you can have sub-conversations in public.

Facebook periodically updates its design, typically stripping out unnecessary “chrome,” or user interface framing, to create a sleeker, more readable look. There’s more and more white space on Facebook, which could be intended to reduce eye fatigue during long browsing sessions and let your friends’ content pop off the screen more vividly.

Facebook’s design team writes “we did not want to just ‘fiddle at the edges’, but rather make something that billions of people use every day less frustrating.”

Both the Facebook and Instagram changes will roll out to all iOS and Android users over the next few weeks.

Facebook comments

Facebook is adopting the Messenger bubble style for comments. This will make threading more obvious, but also encourage the rapid-fire conversations people typically have in private messages. Facebook has been trying to make comments feel more alive recently with fast-moving conversations becoming their own chat windows.

Navigation and like buttons

Facebook has made its navigation and feedback buttons bigger and easier to recognize with a new unfilled line drawing style. The News Feed, Video, Marketplace, Like, Comment and Share buttons now all feature this look. Meanwhile, Facebook is swapping the classic globe notifications icon for a more standard alerts bell. These could all be less distracting to the eye so you focus on Facebook’s content, not its chrome.

Other redesigns for legibility include higher contrast text that’s easier to see and circular profile photos that take up less space and feel more human. Link previews are now a little bigger, too, which could get more people clicking and sending referral traffic to other sites. However, Facebook says today’s changes shouldn’t impact the reach or traffic of Pages. The URL domain is now more prominent, appearing above the link’s headline, which could reduce the likelihood that users click fake/hoax sites that mimic popular news publisher URLs.

Knowing where you are

Facebook wants to make sure you don’t get lost several layers deep beyond the feed. Now you’ll see a more obvious header with a bigger black back button when you dive into a post from the News Feed. Facebook also says you’ll be able to “See where a link will take you before clicking on it,” though it already had link previews, blurbs and URLs, so we’ve asked for clarification here.

Design ethics

As Facebook and Instagram restyle themselves to boost usage, a question arises about design ethics. Is building a better mousetrap beneficial to society? Facebook and Instagram certainly allow communities and friend groups to grow their bonds, but when does fruitful exchange and sentimental entertainment give way to mindless scrolling?

As former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris discusses in his TED talk, over-optimization for engagement on social networks has created apps that are addictive to the point of being destructive.

[embedded content]

Over the years I’ve repeatedly asked Facebook’s top executives like CPO Chris Cox and VP of News Feed Adam Mosseri about whether the company is doing research into how to prevent or minimize internet addiction that can stem from Facebook’s ad-driven business model, and I’ve never gotten a direct answer that indicates they think it’s a priority.

They do care about their users’ experience, with Cox telling me “We’re getting to a size where it’s worth really taking a careful look at what are all the things that we can do to make social media the most positive force for good possible.” But you can always have too much of a good thing.

The execs tell me Facebook wants to make sure all your time spent on its apps is “meaningful”. Yet at some point when people are sitting in the dark alone refreshing the feed over and over, it could be worth surfacing Internet addiction and mental health tips, or encouraging them to connect directly with a friend via messaging.

Perhaps one day our apps will be redesigned not just to soak up more attention, but to warn us when we’re neglecting everything else.

Facebook adds eBay’s Daily Deals to its Marketplace on mobile

Facebook is again getting into the daily deals space, this time in collaboration with eBay. The company has launched a new feature within its Marketplace section on its mobile app, where a selection of inventory from eBay’s Daily Deals program is now available. The deals can be shopped directly in Facebook’s app, but checkout takes place on eBay’s website through an in-app browser.

The new addition expands the focus for Marketplace, Facebook’s answer to Craigslist. This section today is prominently positioned in Facebook’s mobile app, occupying the central spot on the bottom bar on iOS (or top bar on Android), in between the Video and Notifications icons.

Launched publicly last fall, the idea has been to aggregate the “for sale” postings from the social network’s various “buy and sell” groups, allowing for an easier, more centralized way to search and shop for items from local sellers. You can also list your own items for sale, and chat with buyers or sellers via Marketplace’s integration with Messenger.

To date, however, it has been a peer-to-peer marketplace, not a source for deals from third-party websites, like eBay.

That has now changed, as some users will see a new “Daily Deals” section when clicking into Marketplace.

The deals will emphasize those products in the Consumer Electronics, Fashion, and Home & Garden categories.

At the top of the page, there’s a countdown that indicates how long the deals will be available. Each item also displays the percentage off. But to see the actual sale price, you have to click into the deal itself.

There will be around 100 new items posted to this section daily, we understand. Deals can be shared with others via SMS or Messenger, which will link to the deal via eBay’s ShopBot app.

Facebook characterizes this as a test.

“We’re conducting a test to determine if people are interested in shopping for discounted products when they visit Marketplace,” said Facebook Product Manager, Akash Anand, in a statement shared with TechCrunch.

The Daily Deals feature is currently available to a small percentage of people in the U.S. as of earlier this month, and is displaying on both the Android and iOS Facebook mobile apps.

While eBay is the current source for these deals, Facebook’s arrangement with eBay is not exclusive. That means if this proves to be a popular feature, Facebook could expand Daily Deals to include those from other third parties as well.

For the time being, transaction revenue is not being shared between eBay and Facebook. Instead, users who click on a deal will be linked over to the eBay website within the Facebook app, where they can view more product details, and complete their purchase.

Daily deals is an area Facebook explored years ago, during Groupon’s heyday. The idea back then was to connect users to deals for area restaurants, shops, group activities, and more, from local businesses. But these days, businesses that want to reach customers on Facebook set up their own Pages, and run ads. Plus, the can entice users with Facebook Offers, which can also be run as ads.

The new Daily Deals section, on the other hand, gives Facebook more of a “real” shopping feature – a way to browse products from eBay’s trusted sellers, then buy right in the Facebook app.

Though a different angle on daily deals than before, it’s not the first time Facebook has dabbled with enabling commerce on its site. Most notably, the current “Shops” feature (originally called the “Shopping” feed) pulls in product listings from Facebook Pages, then lets you checkout from the seller’s own website, while still in Facebook.

Facebook has not publicly announced the Daily Deals feature, as it remains a test. It’s not clear when or if the feature may become more broadly available, but we understand it’s not connected with the European Marketplace expansion news announced yesterday.

Ebay also confirmed the test of Daily Deals on Facebook.

“At eBay, we are always looking to broaden our reach and surface inventory through new channels,” a spokesperson said. “We are currently running a test with a small subset of people on Facebook in the U.S. who can browse eBay’s Daily Deals on Facebook Marketplace.”

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Facebook boosts snubbed Stories Camera with Live, GIF, & text sharing

Despite the tepid reception for Facebook Stories, the social network is doubling down on its full screen Camera feature. Today Facebook added the ability to go Live, shoot two-second GIFs, and share full-screen text posts on colored background from Facebook Camera, which lets you share to Facebook Stories, Direct messaging, and the traditional news feed.

[embedded content]

The features give Facebook Camera near parity with Instagram’s Stories camera, and could make it more flexible and attractive to teens looking for ways to share visually. Combining the Camera’s augmented reality face filters with Live could make people more comfortable broadcasting since they won’t have to show their real face.

Facebook had already offered colored backgrounds for status updates through the traditional composer. It tested a GIF creator in Camera last month. And Facebook tested Live via Camera last earlier this month, after allowing users to go Live from the News Feed composer since 2016. But now Facebook is officially rolling out these features to all iOS and Android users.

Facebook globally launched Camera and 24-hour ephemeral Stories in March, declaring war on Snapchat directly after fighting by proxy via Instagram since last year.

But while Snapchat clones Instagram Stories and WhatsApp Status have both surpassed the original to hit 250 million daily users, Facebook hasn’t given updates on how many people use its Camera and Stories. Critics in the West where Snapchat and Instagram are popular have dubbed Facebook Camera redundant. Some ask why we need multiple Facebook-owned properties to share the same Stories. Other find the Story bubbles atop the feed obtrusive, especially when people seem to be pouring very little content into the distribution channel. Right now only four of my friends have a Story posted.

But between Facebook’s launch of the augmented reality Camera Effects Platform in April and today’s addition of new features, Facebook seems hellbent on making its Camera popular. It could always cut and run, folding Facebook Camera and directing users to Instagram Stories. But if Mark Zuckerberg is convinced video and visual communication is the future, and is betting Facebook can lead by offering an AR development platform Snapchat lacks, the company may be willing to take its lumps and wait for the trends to push people to Camera.