All posts in “Social”

Wotch is building a creator-friendly video platform

The team at Wotch has created a new social video platform — but wait, don’t roll your eyes quite yet.

“Obviously, we’re very used to someone creating a new internet video-sharing platform,” said co-CEO Scott Willson. “It must be very irritating for everyone to hear that.”

And yet Willson and his co-founder/co-CEO James Sadler have attempted it anyway, and they’re competing today as part of the Startup Battlefield at Disrupt Berlin. They’re only 22 years old, but Sadler said they’ve been working together for the past few years, with past projects including the development of e-learning platforms.

They were inspired to create Wotch because of YouTube’s recent problems around issues like demonetization, where many YouTubers lost the ability to monetize their videos through advertising, and other controversies like an attempted overhaul of its verification system.

Willson said YouTube has been “leaving out creators in terms of communications,” and as the controversies grew, the pair thought, “There has to be a better way of doing this.”

The key, Sadler added, is giving video creators a bigger say in the process: “We’re very hands-on with these creators. We’re not just sending them an automated email.”

In fact, they’re giving creators an opportunity to buy equity in Wotch to get a stake in the company’s success. They’re also appointing a creator board that will be consulted on company policy.

Wotch creators will be able to make money by selling subscriptions, merchandise and ads — not the standard pre-roll or mid-roll ads (which Willson described as “irritants”), but instead partnerships where they incorporate brand products and messages in their videos.

Asked whether this might create the same tension between advertisers and creators that YouTube has been struggling with, Willson argued, “What it comes down to is correctly matching advertisers with creators.” Some advertisers don’t mind working with video-makers who are “pushing the boundaries” — they just need to know what they’re getting into.

Sadler also said that Wotch will be providing creators with more data about their viewers, like identifying their most loyal fans, their most engaged fans and their first “wotchers.”

And the site will take a different approach to content moderation, using technologies like video frame analysis to identify “risky” content, as well as relying more on community moderation. Sadler said it will be a “consensus” approach, rather than the “dictatorship” of other platforms.

“We’re rewarding users for helping to cleanse these platforms,” he added.

Wotch isn’t identifying any of the big creators who he says have signed on, but Sadler told me that the company is largely focused on emerging markets and has already recruited 25 of the top creators in Brazil (where YouTube has an enormous audience, to sometimes detrimental effect) and throughout South America. Those creators won’t be posting on Wotch alone, but they will be creating exclusive videos for the service.

Sadler said it’s those creators who will draw the viewers: “Consumers are loyal to the creators and not the platforms.” And once they’re drawn in, they’ll also experience “a more social platform — see the things your friends are ‘wotching,’ see the things that your favorite creators are ‘wotching.’”

The startup has raised funding from Dominic Smales, the CEO of influencer marketing company Gleam Futures; Bidstack co-founder Simon Mitchell; and Melody VR founder and COO Steve Hancock. Smales is also leading the creator board.

While a beta version of Wotch is already live, Sadler and Willson plan to launch a revamped version of the service early next year. You can get an early preview of the changes by using the promotional code “TECHCRUNCH.”

Twitter will now preserve JPEG quality for photo uploads on the web

Twitter is changing the way it processes uploaded images, and the new way of doing things will be much-appreciated by any photographers sharing their work on the platform. Twitter engineer Nolan O’Brien shared that the platform will now preserve JPEG encoding when they’re uploaded via Twitter on the web, instead of transcoding them, which results in a degradation in quality that can be frustrating for photo pros and enthusiasts.

There are some limitations to keep in mind — Twitter will still be transcoding and compressing the thumbnails for the images, which is what you see in your Twitter feed. But once users click through, they will get the full, uncompressed (at least, not additionally compressed) image you originally uploaded, provided it’s a JPEG.

Twitter will also still be stripping EXIF data (data that provides more information about the picture, including when, how and, potentially, where it was taken or edited), which is readable by some applications. The platform has previously done this, and it’s good that it does, because while sometimes photographers like to peek at this info to check things like aperture or ISO setting on a photo they admire, or to transmit copyright info, it also can potentially be used by people with bad intentions to spy on things like location.

The example above posted by O’Brien is actually a really illustrative one when it comes to showing what kind of detail and quality can be preserved when Twitter doesn’t further compress or transcode your JPEG photos. This is a small, but great feature tweak for the platform, and hopefully it continues to make Twitter more photo-friendly in the future.

The iPhone’s new parental controls can limit who kids can call, text and FaceTime and when

An update to Apple’s iOS operating system, out today, will give parents a new set of tools to fight back against kids’ iPhone addiction. With the release of iOS 13.3, parents will for the first time be able to set limits over who kids can talk to and text with during certain hours of the day. These limits will apply across phone calls, Messages and FaceTime. Parents also can apply a different set of limitations on calls and messaging during the child’s permitted screen time and their downtime hours.

In a new Communication Limits section of Apple’s Screen Time in Settings, iPhone users can set limits based on their contacts. During allowed screen time, users can be contacted by everyone or only by people in their contacts, to prevent unknown contacts from reaching them. And during downtime, they can opt to either be contacted by everyone or only by designated contacts.

And if this is set up under Screen Time’s Parental Controls, parents get to choose who can contact their children and when and vice versa. During downtime, parents can also designate which particular contacts the child can message and call — like only mom or dad, for example.

In practice, this means parents could stop the child from texting friends late at night or during the school day, by scheduling Downtime to run. (To clarify, Downtime doesn’t necessarily mean “night time” — it’s just any time you only want designated apps to be available, and only calls to get through.)

The feature also allows parents to manage the child’s iCloud contacts remotely, which makes it easier for parents to share important numbers with their child. But it also puts parents in full control of the contact list, so only they can edit it.

These new Communication Limits are part of Apple’s larger Screen Time system, which was introduced with iOS 12 last year. The system allows iPhone owners to schedule time away from their screen, set time limits on apps, view usage and activity reports and more.

Many parents have already leveraged these controls to more strictly limit how their children used their devices, including by setting limits on individual apps they wanted to block, like games, as well as by configuring “downtime” hours.

In addition, parents could set times when the child’s device could not be used at all.

Apple isn’t the only tech company that’s been rethinking how to address consumers’ often dysfunctional relationship with technology. Google also introduced its own set of “digital well-being” controls and tools for Android, and even Facebook and Instagram have rewritten parts their software and algorithms with a focus on new metrics like “time well spent,” for example.

While Apple’s Screen Time may have worked well for younger kids, teens quickly found and shared loopholes and workarounds, much to parents’ chagrin.

Time will tell if teens come up with a hack to get their iMessages sent under the new parental control system, too.

Facebook’s video calling Portal devices add WhatsApp login, new features and content

Facebook is making its line of Portal-branded smart video calling devices more relevant to consumers, including those who don’t even have a Facebook account. The company today says its Portal family of products will now work with just a WhatsApp account, allowing users to make video calls to friends and family, as well as access Portal features like its interactive “Story Time.” In addition, the Portal devices are gaining new AR features, support for Facebook’s Workplace product for businesses, and a number of new streaming services, including Amazon Prime Video, FandangoNOW, SlingTV, and others, and more.

The company’s original Facebook Portal devices were aimed at helping connect friends and family over video calling devices used in the home. This year, it expanded the line to include a video chat set-top box for TVs, called Portal TV, to give Facebook better traction in the living room.

But video calling alone has not proved to be enough of a selling point for Portal, whose sales are reportedly “very low,” according to supply chain sources. That’s led Facebook to tacking on new features and services that give consumers more of a reason to invite Facebook into their home.

That trend continues today with the notable addition of WhatsApp login.

This feature allows Portal owners to sign in to the device using only their WhatsApp account. They don’t even need a Facebook account at all. This opens up Portal to a potentially larger market, given WhatsApp’s 1.5 billion monthly users, not all of whom also have Facebook accounts.

In addition, Facebook Portal is looking to find traction in businesses, by adding support for Facebook Workplace — its corporate version of Facebook that’s used by 3 million paying users, from mostly enterprise-sized businesses. The company announced its plans to launch a Workplace app on Portal earlier this fall, and now it’s rolled out.

For fun, Facebook is adding a lip-sync AR app called Mic Drop to Portal TV, which includes songs from the Backstreet Boys, Coldplay, Katy Perry, and others. Portal TV is also gaining Photo Booth, which lets you take selfies, photos, and videos to share through Messenger.

Across the Portal line, the interactive, AR Story Time app is being updated to include new renditions of classics like Little Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks and the Three Bears, plus new tales from Llama LlamaPete the Cat and Otto.

Portal users today will be able to livestream from their device directly to their Facebook Profile via Facebook Live — an obvious addition for a streaming video product like this, and one that could help Portal find customers among the influencer, gamer, or vlogger crowd, perhaps.

Facebook’s co-watching feature, Watch Together, is also coming to Portal Mini, Portal, and Portal+ so users can view Facebook Watch shows and programs together.

Portal is slowly edging its way into the streaming media player market, as well, with added support for a number of streaming services, including Amazon Prime Video. The company had announced Prime Video was on its way when it debuted new hardware this fall, but the service was not available at launch.

Now, Prime Video is supported in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and France, along with the recently added FandangoNOW and Sling TV in the U.S. For music and podcasts, Deezer is also supported, plus Crave in Canada and France Télévisions in France.

The additions make Portal products more than just fancy video chat cameras, but they don’t solve Portal’s larger challenge: that people aren’t comfortable bringing Facebook products into their homes. The company has repeatedly broken trust with its customer base. And while its users may not be able to quit Facebook just yet, they aren’t rushing out to integrate it more deeply in their lives, either.

The addition of Prime Now and other streaming services also places Portal into a different category of devices, where it has to compete with more advanced media players like Apple TV, Amazon’s Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, Chromecast, Roku, Android TV, and others. In this market, Portal’s small handful of supported streaming services just isn’t enough to make it a compelling competitor in this race.

But Facebook isn’t giving up on Portal, having launched a huge marketing blitz featuring promotions in ABC TV shows as well as TV commercials starring the likes of Kim Kardashian West, Jennifer Lopez, and lately, the Muppets. According to Kantar, Facebook spent nearly $62.7 million out of $97.3 million on TV advertising in the first half of the year, Variety reported.

Facebook says it’s planning to bring more content and experiences to Portal with future software updates.

Soci raises $12M to help big brands manage local marketing

According to CEO Afif Khoury, we’re in the middle of “the third wave of social” — a shift back to local interactions. And Khoury’s startup Soci (pronounced soh-shee) has raised $12 million in Series C funding to help companies navigate that shift.

Soci works with customers like Ace Hardware and Sport Clips to help them manage the online presence of hundreds or thousands of stores. It allows marketers to post content and share assets across all those pages, respond to reviews and comments, manage ad campaigns, and provide guidance around how to stay on-brand.

It sounds like most of these interactions are happening on Facebook. Khoury told me that Soci integrates with “40 different APIs where businesses are having conversations with their customers,” but he added, “Facebook was and continues to be the most prominent conversation center.”

Khoury and CTO Alo Sarv founded Soci back in 2012. Khoury said they spent the first two years building the product, and have subsequently raised around $30 million in total funding.

“What we weren’t building was a point solution,” he said. “What we were building was a massive platform … It took us 18 months to two years to really build it in the way we thought was going to be meaningful for the marketplace.”

Soci has also incorporated artificial intelligence to power chatbots that Khoury said “take that engagement happening on social and move it downstream to a call or a sale or something relevant to the local business.”

The new round was led by Vertical Venture Partners, with participation from Grayhawk Capital and Ankona Capital. Khoury said the money will allow Soci to continue developing its AI technology and to build out its sales and marketing team.

“Ours is a very consultative sale,” he said. “It’s a complicated world that you’re living in, and we really want to partner and have a local presence with our customers.”