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Instagram is testing another killer feature that could crush Snapchat even more

Image: lili sams/mashable

Instagram is not slowing down in 2018.

After Instagram crushed Snapchat — seriously, pounded the app into the ground — last year with its own disappearing Stories feature, the Facebook-owned app is now secretly testing a new “Type” feature that’ll let users share text-based clips instead of photos or videos.

The Next Web first spotted the feature back in December when it rolled out to a select group of private users in Japan, and now it appears Instagram is testing it on some users in Europe as well.

Mashable reached out Instagram and received the following statement from a company spokesperson:

“We are always testing ways to improve the experience on Instagram and make it easier to share any moment with the people who matter to you.”

At least one Twitter user also noticed the new feature on a friend’s phone:

According to the report, the Type feature shows up as an option alongside the usual features like Boomerang, Superzoom, and Rewind. As you can see in the video below, the feature also comes with several fonts to pick from, including one in neon cursive:

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WABetaInfo has posted several screenshots of the Type feature in action. One of the fonts, “Typerwriter,” also has an alignment tool.

When the Type feature is selected, users will reportedly get a gradient background for their text-based stories. Alternatively, they’ll also be able to use a photo for a background.

Though the feature is reportedly meant to encourage users to share more text-based clips, it’s unclear how it would be significantly different from simply taking a photo and using the existing text tool to add words on top.

WABetaInfo also reports that Instagram is testing a new screenshot notification that’ll send an alert to users when someone has taken a screenshot of their IG Story. Interestingly enough, the feature only gives you a warning after your first screenshot. Subsequent screenshots will sound the alarms.

“The next time you take a screenshot of a story, the person who posted it will be notified,” warns the alert.

Snapchat has a similar feature that lets you see who screenshotted your Snapchat Story and DMs.

As an Instagram Stories addict, who umm, “broke” it during a trip to Japan last year, Type and the screenshot notification would be welcome additions to the app. That said, just because the feature’s being tested on select users doesn’t mean it’ll ever be made widely available for all users. Instagram frequently tests new features that never make it out of the trial runs.

Even if the feature never makes it out of the beta tests, Snapchat should be worried. Instagram is iterating and adding new features at an insanely fast rate. If Snapchat doesn’t hit back this year with some sweet new features, its remaining users may flock to Instagram and never look back. 8172 97b2%2fthumb%2f00001

What is Snapchat, now Story sharing has stopped growing?

In a betrayal of loyalty signaling poor morale, a massive dump of Snapchat’s usage stats has leaked. The most worrisome is that the number of users posting Stories has shown zero growth, an even worse performance than Snapchat’s total user growth that was sluggish this year. It appears Instagram’s Stories clone has stopped Snapchat’s most monetizable feature dead in its tracks.

This explains why Snapchat’s redesign moves friends Stories into the chat inbox, since visual messaging on the app is growing slightly faster than total users. Messaging is tough to interrupt with ads without being annoying, so combining messages and Stories might be Snap’s best shot at reinvigorating revenue.

Yet the leak as a whole paints a picture of an app that’s falling short of living up to its reputation  as a communication sensation. And with weak morale, a sagging share price, and losses mounting, Snap might not have the momentum it needs to recruit top talent or lure more big acquisitions.

Snapchat’s Soggy Numbers

The leak was scored by The Daily Beast’s Taylor Lorenz, who is quickly making a name for herself as a top reporter on social networks and teen tech culture. She managed to obtain usage data for a wide range of Snapchat’s feature from the end of April to mid-September 2017. You can see the full set of charts at the bottom of this story.

As Lorenz reports, the Snap Map live location sharing and geo-tagged content search feature has sunk from a high of 35 million daily unique viewers after its June launch to just 19 million and falling — just 11 percent of Snapchat’s users. The Discover section where professional publishers post magazine-esque daily editions spiked to 38 million in July, and then has languished at around 34 million daily users — about 19 percent of all users. And usage could fall further as Discover is less prominent in the redesign that’s yet to roll out to most users.

Snapchat’s new redesign

Snap should get credit for soaking up a ton of time from those who do use it, with the app growing average minutes of usage from around 32.7 to 34.8 during the April to September time period.

And the brightest point in the data was that the number of daily Snaps viewed rose from around 3.9 billion to 4.6 billion, or 17.9 percent, which vastly outstrips the roughly 7 percent total user growth in the same time period.

Daily Snaps sent grew from around 2.08 billion to 2.21 billion, in line with total user growth. In August, Lorenz reports that users were 64 percent more likely to send a private snap to a friend than to broadcast to Stories.

Stories Stuck In A Rut

Here’s whre the Facebook competition is really hurting Snapchat. Back in Q2 2016 before Instagram Stories came out, Snapchat grew its user base 17.2 percent. Last quarter, it grew just 2.9 percent, as many users find they can just stick with Instagram and share Stories to their existing social graph where they already post permanent imagery rather than building a new graph on Snapchat.

The number of daily users posting to Snapchat Stories held flat at around 51 million users from April to September despite total user growth. That signals that while people may be sticking with or coming to Snapchat to send disappearing messages to friends, they don’t necessarily need to post to Snapchat Stories.

Daily Snapchat Story unique viewers grew 4.37 percent from 137 million to 143 million during the time period — significantly slower than total user growth. Users who do broadcast to Snapchat Stories are posting more often, at least, and are using more Geofilters. But advertisers want scale, and the lack of total Stories sharers is troubling.

With messaging remaining by far its most popular feature, Snapchat may have to massively increase its augmented reality Sponsored Lens and static Sponsored Geofilter sales to make up for the lack of ads in the feature. Otherwise, it will have to risk pissing off teens by jamming more scalable display ads into the messaging experience.

Influence ≠ Business

Overall, Snap has a rocky road ahead. New features like Snap Map and professional content in Discover don’t appear able to change its fate. The company’s best hope for now is that users grow addicted to algorithmic sorting of Stories to show best friends first, which back in April we recommended it adopt. That’s now finally coming in the redesign, and could make it easier to open Snapchat and quickly see the most relevant stuff from the people you care about.

Beyond that, Snapchat might need another blockbuster acquisition to restore growth. Bitmoji’s personalized avatars and Looksery’s AR lenses gave Snapchat mainstream appeal outside of its ephemerality. But with tales of CEO Evan Spiegel’s iron grip on product, a share price down 50 percent from its post-IPO high, and Facebook’s copying machine running at full-tilt, Snap isn’t as attractive of a place to work as it was when it made those acquisitions.

Snapchat has been incredibly impactful on culture. From impermanent content to vertical video, popularizing augmented reality and bringing on the age of visual communication, Speigel’s ideas have redefined the way we share. Unfortunately, Snapchat hasn’t been able to capture much of the monetary benefits of those inventions as they get cloned elsewhere.

The popularity of Snapchat messaging amongst western teenagers means it won’t disappear overnight. But it may be time for it and the world to face the fact that Snapchat could be world-changing product without ever becoming a world-dominating business.

Instagram tests letting users post Stories directly to WhatsApp

Last October, Facebook extended the usage (and flexibility) of Instagram Stories — the Snapchat-like feature that lets you patch together photos and videos into a slide show — by making it easy to directly post a Story to Facebook. Now Facebook is looking at how to bring WhatsApp into the fold.

TechCrunch has learned and confirmed that the company is now running a test to let users post their Instagram Stories directly to WhatsApp, as a WhatsApp Status, a corresponding Snapchat-like feature in the latter messaging app where decorated photos, videos and GIFs can be posted with encryption, disappearing after 24 hours. An Instagram Story posted as a WhatsApp Status also becomes encrypted like the rest of WhatsApp.

“We are always testing ways to improve the experience on Instagram and make it easier to share any moment with the people who matter to you,” a spokesperson said.

From what we understand, the feature is currently being tested with a small number of users.

It’s based on publicly available code that WhatsApp makes available to integrate WhatsApp messaging with third-party apps. Users get an option to tap to share to WhatsApp from the Instagram sharing screen, but they still have to press “send” in WhatsApp to post the story.

The reader who tipped us off on it is based in Brazil, where a local blog has also been reporting several sightings in the wild, one of which is pictured here, with the Instagram Story on the left, and the WhatsApp Status cross-posted on the right (note the Instagram icon in the corner).

(Coincidentally, the Instagram-Stories-posted-to-Facebook feature was originally tested in Portugal, another Portuguese-speaking country.)

There are a few reasons why Facebook may be interested in making Instagram Stories more shareable, and specifically on WhatsApp.

The first of these seems simple enough: it’s to give one more bit of functionality and therefore usage to Instagram Stories, which are already very popular and as of last June were outstripping usage of the Snapchat product they were designed to clone.

Facebook tells me that as of last November there were more than 300 million daily active users of Instagram Stories. Adding the ability to share to WhatsApp will give those Stories even more ways of generating traffic, especially in countries where WhatsApp is already hugely popular and outstripping usage of Facebook or its Messenger app.

The second reason could be to help spur more usage of WhatsApp Status. This was ostensibly the reason for why Facebook enabled Instagram Story sharing to Facebook, whose own Stories feature I personally never see get used that much and has been described by my colleague Josh as a ghost town. The same isn’t the case for Status, though, which Facebook tells me is seeing similar levels of usage to Instagram Stories, also with more than 300 million DAUs as of November.

(The relative popularity of all these apps and features is also one drawback to the cross-posting feature: inevitably, there will be people who use them all, which might lead to people getting bored and annoyed at seeing the same content everywhere they look. Ideally Facebook is also working on a way of calibrating Stories, so that if you’ve already seen one in one app, like Instagram, the same exact thing won’t be popping up for you again in a Facebook Story and then a WhatsApp Status.)

The third (and maybe most interesting) reason for testing this feature is that Facebook has been steadily working on ways of not only extending the time spent in specific apps, but also how to better usher people from one Facebook-owned app to another, encouraging usage even when the apps are not open.

This has taken some different forms so far. Last May, the company started testing cross-app notifications between Facebook, Messenger and Instagram to alert people to when they had mentions or messages in any of them. And last month, Facebook launched a click-to-WhatsApp messaging button in Facebook ads, monetizing WhatsApp but not on WhatsApp itself.

Encouraging Story posting between Instagram and WhatsApp Status is notable because it gives a little more social media spin to WhatsApp, which Facebook acquired in 2014 for $19 billion with the explicit promise that it would stay independent of Facebook. As it happens, the new feature that’s being tested does bypass Facebook’s flagship apps completely.

Together, this could all help Facebook grow its overall engagement and traffic footprint. Conversely, it also could spell one more way to destabilize Snapchat and potentially any other app that has any lesser infrastructure to keep your content getting seen by the people you know, whatever app they happen to be using.

We’ll update this post as we learn more.

Instagram becomes an interest network with hashtag following

Instagram has always been a social network where you follow friends and creators, but today it’s evolving with a new way to follow hashtags so you see top posts and Stories about a topic on your home page. Rather than having to dig this content out of search or the Explore tab, can see the best #Slime videos or #FloralNails tutorials no matter who posts them.

Today’s change will require some smart filtering by Instagram to prevent objectionable content or spam from being distributed by hashtag following. But it has the potential to help users see beyond their own social graphs and dive deeper into niche communities they care about, making Instagram more endless. Eventually, hashtag following could give the app more powerful ad targeting data and an opportunity to show more interstitial ads between Stories, but the company says it’s not doing either right now.

Instagram was first spotted testing hashtag following last month by Pippa Akram and The Next Web. Today it rolls out to all users, who will see a Follow button on hashtag pages they reach through search or clicking on one of the tags.

We asked Instagram how posts get chosen to be shown to a hashtag’s followers, and learned that Instagram algorithmically selects the best ones based on factors such as recency and quality. That means just because someone punches in a ton of popular hashtags on their posts doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily see them unless they’re great. You’ll also be able to effectively downvote posts you didn’t want to see from hashtags with a drop down menu in the top right corner.

To weed out spam and objectionable content, Instagram will use automated and manual systems for flagging inappropriate posts and blocking their authors. Hundreds of people on its community operations team will be monitoring user and automated reports to review content 24/7. The company says that over the past few months it’s made improvements to how it sources and ranks hashtag content to ensure what’s shown on hashtag pages is safe, and uses large teams to analyze hashtag trends.

Instagram’s hashtags are another expression of Facebook’s new overarching mission to “bring the world closer together”. Like Facebook’s Groups, hashtag following lets users explore outside of their own social bubble. Whether you friends have different tastes than you or you’re just sick of their selfies and sunsets, hashtag following will let you customize your experience to make Instagram your window into whatever world you want.

Instagram lets you Archive and Highlight your favorite expired Stories

Instagram is copying Snapchat’s Memories feature and going a step further, letting you create a permanent home to show off formerly ephemeral content. Rolling out globally today on iOS and Android, Instagram Stories will now automatically Archive your Stories to a private part of your profile when they disappear 24 hours after being posted.

You’ll then be able to create Stories Highlights, which are named collections of your past Stories that show up in a new horizontal bar across the top of your profile. You could make Highlights of a specific vacation, all your selfies, or the cutest dogs you’ve seen, while brands will surely use it to highlight different product lines and ad campaigns.

“As more and more people adopt Stories, we realized that the profile has become less and less representative of you and your life” an Instagram spokesperson tells me. “And yet the profile is one of the top destinations on Instagram – it’s a powerful space for self-expression and feeling closer to others. But up until now there was no way to keep your favorite stories or add them to your profile – we wanted to fix that.”

There are three important value-adds to these features

Save Your Work – Archive and Highlights could make investing time in creating Stories feel less wasteful. It might have seemed silly going through the work of shooting Stories and jazzing them up with captions and stickers if they’d disappear the next day. This could make Stories appeal to older demographics whose friends might not be so addicted to Instagram that they open to watch Stories every single day. Highlights will surely be well utilized by brands who pour resources into shooting Stories, and now can create product or campaign specific collections.

Preserve Your Storage – Now you won’t have to worry about expending your phone’s storage space by downloading your old Stories. Instead, Instagram will save them in the cloud, where you can privately view, publicly share, or re-download them later. For younger users on older phones with limited space, that could be a life saver.

Expressing Your Identity – Instagram has never before let you share without that content being visible on the homescreen to your followers. That meant it could feel like you were spamming friends if you wanted to share niche content, deterring content creation. Stories Highlights will let you exhibit the different angles of yourself. You could create a Highlight of just your cat, your food, your favorite art, or your professional life.

TechCrunch broke the news of Instagram launching an Archive feature for your permanent feed posts in December which was designed to let people temporarily or permanently hide their past feed posts in order to deter people from impulsively deleting content they later want back.

Instagram Stories Archive and Highlights one-up Snapchat Memories, which only lets your repost old clips to your current Story. There’s still no permanent content on your Snapchat profile. Rather than forcing ephemerality, Instagram is making it optional to appeal to a wider audience. It’s a similar choice to YouTube with its new Stories product Reels, which also don’t expire after 24 hours.

Archive so you never lose your Stories

Archive will be activated automatically for everyone soon, and you’ll get a notification when it opens to you with the option to turn it off. Stories clips are saved in the same quality you uploaded them at. You can find the Archive on your Profile and switch between the Stories Archive and Posts Archive. Archived posts appear in reverse chronological order with date stamps for clarity. You can’t download your entire Archive at once, but instead will have to download individual clips. Archived posts can be reshared to Highlights, Direct Messages, the feed, or downloaded and then pushed to your current Story.

Users were often already downloading their Stories before they expired, but often might forget, causing them to lose their content. Now they don’t have to think about it.

Highlight your quirks or your products

To create a Highlight, tap New on the left side of your profile, choose Stories from your archive, choose a cover image for the Highlight, and name it. That Highlight will appear as a Stories-style bubble atop the profile and play like one big Story when tapped by one of your followers. They’ll remain visible unless you delete them, and you can remove clips but not reorder them.

You can add up to 100 photos or videos to a Story Highlight, and there’s no limit to how many Highlights you can create. Similarly, if you add more than 100 clips to your current Story, the first one will be removed and added to your Archive. And if you don’t want any trace of your old Stories available privately to you, you can opt out and turn off Stories Archive.

Together, these features could further encourage Instagram Stories’ 300 million users to post more about a wider variety of content, knowing it doesn’t have to disappear.