All posts in “Facebook Messenger”

Facebook Messenger is building a “Watch Videos Together” feature

Netflix and chill from afar? Facebook Messenger is now internally testing simultaneous co-viewing of videos. That means you and your favorite people could watch a synchronized video over group chat on your respective devices while discussing or joking about it. This “Watch Videos Together” feature could make you spend more time on Facebook Messenger while creating shared experiences that are more meaningful and positive for well-being than passively zombie-viewing videos solo. This new approach to Facebook’s Watch Party feature might feel more natural as part of messaging than through a feed, Groups, or Events post.

The feature was first spotted in Messenger’s codebase by Ananay Arora, the founder of deadline management app Timebound as well as a mobile investigator in the style of frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong. The code he discovered describes Messenger allowing you to “tap to watch together now” and “chat about the same videos at the same time” with chat thread members receiving a notification that a co-viewing is starting. “Everyone in this chat can control the video and see who’s watching” the code explains.

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch that this is an “internal test” and that it doesn’t have any more to share right now. But other features originally discovered in Messenger’s code like contact syncing with Instagram have eventually received official launches.

Watch Party exists on Facebook but could be more popular as a chat feature

A fascinating question this co-viewing feature brings up is where users will find videos to watch. It might just let you punch in a URL from Facebook or share a video from there to Messenger. The app could put a new video browsing option into the message composer or Discover tab.  Or if it really wanted to get serious about chat-based co-viewing, Facebook could allow the feature to work with video partners, ideally YouTube.

Co-viewing of videos could also introduce a new revenue opportunity for Messenger. It might suggest sponsored videos, such as recent movie trailers. Or it could simply serve video ads between a queue of videos lined up for co-viewing. Facebook has recently been putting more pressure on its subsidiaries like Messenger and Instagram to monetize as News Feed ad revenue growth slows down due to plateauing users growth and limited News Feed ad space.

Other apps like YouTube’s Uptime (since shut down), and Facebook’s first president Sean Parker’s Airtime (never took off) have tried and failed to make co-watching a popular habit. The problem is that coordinating these synced-up experiences with friends can be troublesome. By baking simultaneous video viewing directing into Messenger, Facebook could make it as seamless as sharing a link.

Facebook Messenger starts rolling out Unsend. Here’s how it works

Facebook secretly retracted messages sent by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, TechCrunch reported seven months ago. Now for the first time, Facebook Messenger users will get the power to unsend too so they can remove their sent messages from the recipient’s inbox. Messages can only be unsent for the first ten minutes after they’re delivered so that you can correct a mistake or remove something you accidentally pushed, but you won’t be able to edit ancient history. Using the “Remove For Everyone” button also leaves a “tombstone” indicating a message was retracted. And to prevent bullies from using the feature to cover their tracks, Facebook will retain unsent messages for a short period of time so if they’re reported, it can review them for policy violations.

The Remove feature rolls out in Poland, Bolivia, Colombia, and Lithuania today on Messenger for iOS and Android. A Facebook spokesperson tells me the plan is to roll it out globally as soon as possible, though that may be influenced by the holiday App Store update cut off. In the meantime, it’s also working on more unsend features, potentially including the ability to preemptively set an expiration date for specific messages or entire threads.

“The pros are that user want to be in control . . . and if you make a mistake you can correct it. There are a lot of legitimate use cases out there that we wanted to enable” Facebook’s head of Messenger Stan Chudnovsky tells me in an exclusive interview. But conversely, he says  ”we need to make sure we don’t open up any new venues for bullying. We need to make sure people aren’t sending you bad messages and then removing them because if you report them and the messages aren’t there we can’t do anything.”

Zuckerberg did it. Soon you can too

Facebook first informed TechCrunch it would build an unsend feature back in April after I reported that six sources told me some of Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook messages had been silently removed from the inboxes of recipients, including non-employees with no tombstone left in their place. We saw that as a violation of user trust and an abuse of the company’s power, given the public had no way to unsend their own messages.

Facebook claimed this was to protect the privacy of its executives and the company’s trade secrets, telling me that “After Sony Pictures’ emails were hacked in 2014 we made a number changes to protect our executives’ communications. These included limiting the retention period for Mark’s messages in Messenger.” But it seems likely that Facebook also wanted to avoid another embarrassing situation like when Zuckerberg’s old instant messages from 2004 leaked. One damning exchange saw Zuckerberg tell a friend “if you ever need info about anyone at harvard . . . just ask . . . i have over 4000 emails, pictures, addresses, sns.” “what!? how’d you manage that one?”  the friend replied. “People just submitted it . .  i don’t know why . . . they ‘trust me’ . . . dumb fucks” Zuckerberg replied.

The company told me it was actually already working on an Unsend button for everyone, and wouldn’t delete any more executives’ messages until it launched. Chudnovsky tells me he felt like “I wish we launched this sooner” when the news broke. But then six months went by without progress or comment from Facebook before TechCrunch broke the news that tipster Jane Manchun Wong had spotted Facebook prototyping the Remove feature. Then a week ago, Facebook Messenger’s App Store release notes accidentally mentioned that a ten-minute Unsend button was coming soon.

So why the seven month wait? Especially given Instagram already allows users to unsend messages no matter how old? “The reason why it took so long is because on the server side, it’s actually much harder. All the message are stored on the server, and that goes into the core transportation layer of our how our messaging system was built” Chudnovsky explains. “It was hard to do given how we were architected, but we were always worried about the integrity concerns it would open up.” Now the company is confident it’s surmounted the engineering challenge to ensure an Unsent message reliably disappears from the recipient.

“The question becomes ‘who owns that message?’ Before that message is delivered to your Messenger app, it belongs to me. But when it actually arrives, it probably belongs to both of us” Chudnovsky pontificates.

How Facebook Messenger’s “Remove For Everyone” Button Works

Facebook settled on the ability to let you remove any kind of message — including text, group chats, photos, videos, links, and more — within ten minutes of sending. You can still delete any message on just your side of the conversation, but only messages you sent can be removed from their recipients. You can’t delete from someone else what they sent you, the feature’s product manager Kat Chui tells me. And Facebook will keep a private copy of the message for a short while after it’s deleted to make sure it can review if it’s reported for harassment.

To use the unsend feature, tap and hold on a message you sent, then select ‘Remove’. You’ll get options to “Remove for Everyone” which will retract the message, or “Remove for you” which replaces the old delete option and leaves the message in the recipient’s inbox. You’ll get a warning that explains “You’ll permanently remove this message for all chat members. They can see that you removed a message and still report it.” If you confirm the removal, a line of text noting “you [or the sender’s name] removed a message” (known as a tombstone) will appear in the thread where the message was. If you want to report a removed message for abuse or another issue, you’ll tap the person’s name, scroll to “Something’s Wrong” and select the proper category such as harassment or that they were pretending to be someone else.

Why the ten minute limit specifically? “We looked at how the existing delete functionality works. It turns out that when people are deleting messages because it’s a mistake or they sent something they didn’t want to send, it’s under a minute. We decided to extend it to ten, but decided we didn’t need to do more” Chudnovsky reveals.

He says he’s not sure if Facebook’s security team will now resume removing executive messages. However, he stresses that the Unsend button Facebook is launching “is definitely not the same feature” as what was used on Zuckerberg’s messages.

Messenger is also building more unsend functionality. Taking a cue from encrypted messaging app Signal’s customizable per thread expiration date feature, Chudnovsky tells me “hypothetically, if I want all the messages to be deleted after 6 months, they get purged. This is something that can be set up on a per thread level” though Facebook is still tinkering with the details. Another option would be for Facebook to extend the per message expiration date option from its encrypted Secret messages feature to all chats.

“It’s one of those things that feels very simple on the surface. And it would be very easy if the servers were built one way or another from the very beginning” Chudnovsky concludes. “But it’s one of those things philosophically and technologically that once you get to the scale of 1.3 billion people using it, changing from one model to another is way more complicated.” Hopefully in the future, Facebook won’t give its executives extrajudicial ways to manipulate communications…or at least not until it’s sorted out the consequences of giving the public the same power.

So I sent my mom that newfangled Facebook Portal

“Who am I going to be worried about? Oh Facebook seeing? No, I’m not worried about Facebook seeing. They’re going to look at my great art collection and say they want to come steal it? No, I never really thought about it.” That’s my 72-year-old mother Sally Constine’s response to whether she’s worried about her privacy now that she has a Facebook Portal video chat device. The gadget goes on sale and starts shipping today at $349 for the 15.6-inch swiveling screen Portal+, $199 for the 10-inch Portal, and $100 off for buying any two.

The sticking point for most technology reporters — that it’s creepy or scary to have a Facebook camera and microphone in your house — didn’t even register as a concern with a normal tech novice like my Mom. “I don’t really think of it any different from a phone call” she says. “It’s not a big deal for me.”

While Facebook has been mired by privacy scandals after a year of Cambridge Analytica and its biggest-ever data breach, the concept that it can’t be trusted hasn’t necessarily trickled down to everyone. And without that coloring her perception, my mom found the Portal to be an easy way to video chat with family, and a powerful reminder to do so.

For a full review of Facebook Portal, check out TechCrunch hardware editor Brian Heater’s report:

When we look at our multi-functional smartphones and computers, connecting with loved ones isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind that way it with an old-school home telephone. But with the Portal in picture frame mode rotating through our Facebook photos of those loved ones, and with it at the beck and call of our voice commands, it felt natural to turn those in-between times we might have scrolled through Instagram instead chatting face to face.

My mother found setting up the Portal to be quite simple, though she wished the little instructional card used a bigger font. She had no issue logging in to her Facebook, Amazon Alexa, and Spotify accounts. “It’s all those things in one. If you had this, you could put Alexa in a different room” the Constine matriarch says.

She found the screen to be remarkably sharp, though some of the on-screen buttons could be better labeled, at least at first. But once she explored the device’s software, she was uncontrollably giggling while trying on augmented reality masks as we talked. She even used the AR Storytime feature to read me a bed time tale like she would 30 years ago. If I was still a child, I think I would have loved this way to play with a parent who was away from home. The intuitive feature instantly had her reading a modernized Three Little Pigs story while illustrations filled our screens. And when she found herself draped in an AR big bad wolf costume during his quotes, she knew to adopt his gruff voice.

One of the few problems she found was that when Facebook’s commercials for Portal came on the TV, they’d end up accidentally activating her Portal. Facebook might need to train the device to ignore its own ads, perhaps by muting them in a certain part of the audio spectrum as one Reddit user suggested Amazon may have done to prevent causing trouble with its Super Bowl commercial.

Convincing younger and middle-aged adults to buy a Portal might be a steep challenge for Facebook. But if it concentrates on seniors and families with young children who might not have the same fears of Facebook or practice using smart phones for video chat, it may have found a way to actually bring us closer together in the way its social network is supposed to.

Facebook will give you 10 minutes to unsend that embarrassing message

Delete that drunk Facebook text to your ex, if you catch it in time.
Delete that drunk Facebook text to your ex, if you catch it in time.

Image: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

You can finally take back your ill-conceived messages on Facebook.

Facebook Messenger will soon roll out an unsend feature, which will give users a grand total of ten minutes to unsend a message, wiping it from your chat history. This will remove the message from the recipient’s inbox as well. 

Facebook announced the upcoming feature in the “coming soon” section of its latest rundown detailing what’s new in the version 191.0 release of Facebook Messenger on the App Store. 

Facebook’s release notes read:

“Remove a message from a chat thread after it’s been sent. If you accidentally send the wrong photo, incorrect information or message the wrong thread, you can easily correct it by removing the message within ten minutes of sending it.”

Currently, while Facebook users can delete messages that they sent from their own inbox, the recipient of the message can still see them. At least, that’s how its worked for users whose name isn’t Mark Zuckerberg.

Earlier this year, Techcrunch reported that the company was deleting old Facebook messages sent by Mark Zuckerberg from its recipients inboxes. The users who had their mailboxes scrubbed of Zuckerberg’s texts weren’t even informed of the removal. Facebook apologized and assured everyone that they would be rolling out an unsend feature to everyone in the coming months.

However, unlike it’s billionaire founder Mark Zuckerberg’s messages which were many years old at the time of deletion, Facebook is only extending us Facebook-using peons the ability to retract and remove messages within a 10 minute timeframe.

Compared to Facebook other messaging application, WhatsApp, you’ll actually have significantly less time to delete a sent message in Facebook’s flagship Messenger app. WhatsApp users are currently afforded just over one hour to remove a message from both users’ inbox.

Google’s unsend feature for Gmail allows users to choose how long they have to unsend an email. Gmail allows users the time intervals of 5, 10, 20, and 30 seconds to take back that drunk email you never should have sent in the first place. 

However, it should be noted that Facebook’s unsend feature for both Messenger and WhatsApp work differently from Gmail’s. Gmail actually holds the email in a que for the time interval chosen. It doesn’t actually send the email until it passes that buffer time. Facebook’s unsend for both its messaging apps will actually deliver the message when you hit send. This gives the recipient the opportunity to read the messages, even if you decide to take it back within the timeframe its eligible to be “unsent.”

While Facebook won’t allow us to have Zuckerberg’s god-level ability to scrub 8 year old messages, we’ll certainly take the ten minutes over the current option of fresh out of luck.

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Zuckerberg says the future is sharing via 100B messages & 1B Stories/day

The News Feed won’t sustain Facebook forever, and that’s scaring investors. Today on Facebook’s earnings call, Mark Zuckerberg stressed that sharing is shifting to private chat, where people send 100 billion messages per day on Facebook’s family of apps, and Stories, where he says people share 1 billion of these slideshows per day (though it’s unclear if that includes third-party apps like Snapchat).

But that means Facebook will have to realign its business towards these mediums where monetization is more complex and it has less experience. The result of Zuckerberg’s comments was a reversal of Facebook’s initial 2 percent share price gain after earnings were announced, dragging it down to a 3.5 percent loss. That was only reversed when Zuckerberg said Facebook would reduce limits on video advertising, pushing shares up 3 percent in after-hours trading.

Facebook’s year-over-year revenue growth has already slowed from 59 percent in Q3 2016, to 49 percent a year ago, to 33 percent now as it hits saturation in developed markets and runs out of News Feed space. Now it will both have to deal with the sharing medium shift, and that the new users it’s adding in the Asia-Pacific and Rest Of World regions earn it 10X less than users in North America.

Battling iMessage

In messaging, Zuckerberg says more photos and links are shared privately than through Feeds. He sees Facebook’s position as strong, saying “we’re leading in most countries” due to the success of WhatsApp and people’s love of its end-to-end encrypted privacy. But that’s mostly in the developing world Android market where people choose their own default messaging app. In the US and other developed nations where iPhones are popular and ared “bundled” with iMessage, Zuckerberg says Apple “is still ahead”.

The “bundled” language harkens back to to antitrust lawsuits against Microsoft for bundling computers with Internet Explorer. With Apple CEO Tim Cook constantly harping on the poor privacy practices of ad-supported companies like Facebook, Zuckerberg might be gunning to draw regulator attention to iMessage.

Facebook is starting to more aggressively monetize Messenger through inbox ads, and its now selling enterprise tools to brands on both Facebook and WhatsApp that let them pay to ping users. But Facebook risks its chat apps seeming annoying or intrusive if it packs in too many ads or allows too much Message spam. Users could stray to status quos like iMessage and Android Messages if it puts monetization above the user experience.

With Snapchat Vanquished, Facebook Competes With YouTube

On Stories, Zuckerberg says Facebook is doing even better. Over 1 billion people use its Stories features across Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp each day, compared to 186 million daily users on Stories inventor Snapchat as a whole. Stories are where the majority of Facebook sharing growth is happening, and Facebook Stories are gaining momentum after a slow and buggy start. That’s why Zuckerberg never mentioned Snapchat, and instead talk about YouTube as its primary competitor in video.

Beyond Stories, Facebook salvaged its after-hours share price by discussing how it plans to show more video, and therefore more of its lucrative video ads. Back in January, Facebook admitted its Q4 user count had declined and revenue might stumble in part because it had decided to show people fewer viral videos that they watch passively. This came as part of its drive for Time Well Spent. But now, Zuckerberg says that Facebook has cracked the code for how to make passive video consumption a positive experience, so Facebook will lift some limits:

People really want to watch a lot of video. To a large degree we’ve had to rate limit its growth, and we need to do the things so we can stop limiting it. The things that have caused us to limit it are on the one hand, when we see passive consumption of video displacing social interactions . . . We needed to figure out a way that video can grow but people can also keep on interacting and doing what they tell us that they uniquely want from Facebook. And now I think we’re starting to work through what the formula is going to be so we can take some of those rate limits off and let video grow at the rate that it wants to. I feel that that’s a very exciting opportunity ahead.”

The problem is that creating attractive video ads, especially vertical full-screen ones for Stories, is beyond the capability of the long-tail on small businesses that have fueled Facebook’s News Feed ad revenue. Users often rapidly skip through Stories ads, and Facebook currently doesn’t offer unskippable ones like Snapchat. Many people don’t think to tap or swipe up to visit a link from a Story, or simply don’t want to lose their place in ways that didn’t happen on desktop or even mobile feed ads.

Across Facebook’s other products, Zuckerberg noted that 800 million people now use Marketplace, its Jobs feature have helped people find 1 million jobs, and its birthday fundraisers have raised $300 million alone this year. But it will be teaching advertisers how to effectively create sponsored messages and Stories ads that will define whether Facebook’s revenue keeps growing.