FB could look a lot more like TV soon. While Vine and Instagram Video are booming, you don’t see many people natively uploading videos to Facebook. But now Facebook is bringing auto-play for native videos to all users after testing the feature in September. And it’s just the beginning of a huge push to put Facebook in motion.
Previously, any video uploaded to Facebook directly or shared to the News Feed from Instagram would appear the same as YouTube videos — locked behind a play button. While the conscious decision to stop scrolling for, open the video player, wait for it to load, and watch might not seem like a big deal, it may have been too much of a time and effort investment for some. If people don’t watch videos, they don’t get likes and comments that encourage friends to upload more, and they might skip uploading them themselves.
But after spotting an auto-play video in my feed yesterday and asking Facebook, the company confirms the new format is now internationally rolled out to most iOS and Android users and will reach all of them soon. Facebook tells me it’s still testing this feature on desktop and doesn’t have schedule for when it will roll out there.
On mobile, auto-play gives natively uploaded Facebook videos and ones shared from Instagram an advantage: you don’t have to think about playing them, they play themselves. At first they’ll play in-line even as you scroll, but with no sound. If you tap them, they expand full-screen and the audio kicks in. Videos uploaded to third-party sites retain the old click-to-play-format.
I’ve found the new design to be quite pleasing. As I wrote when Facebook’s auto-play style was first unveiled, it feels a bit like the moving photos in the Harry Potter newspapers.
If you don’t want to watch, you can scroll by with little disruption. This isn’t Myspace, Vine, or Instagram where auto-play sound is suddenly going to bombard everyone around you. If you’re not sure if you want to watch, you get a little preview. Maybe the thumbnail was dull but motion shows the video is actually exciting. A little animated audio levels icon clues you in to there being sound to be heard, though. You can watch silently if you don’t have headphones or privacy, but if you want the full experience, you can tap and the video plays instantly without a loading delay.
To respect users who don’t want to burn data, Facebook has added a setting that lets you only auto-play videos if you’re on WiFi and not on cellular data. It’s found in your phone’s Facebook settings on iOS and the Facebook app’s settings on Android.
Facebook With Commercials
When Facebook started testing auto-play, it was upfront about looking for ways to give the feature to marketers as well as users. It wrote “At first, this feature will be limited to videos posted by individuals, musicians, and bands. We’re doing this to make sure we create the best possible experience. Over time, we’ll continue to explore how to bring this to marketers in the future.” I would bet we’re going to hear some news about this soon, either just before or after the New Year.
Facebook recently starting letting developers put videos in their app install ads, but those don’t auto-play. Maybe they will eventually, though.
For advertisers, auto-play videos could make their ads a lot more noticeable. Most people wouldn’t volunteer to watch a video ad (cool movie trailers aside), but if it’s already playing and looks compelling, they might watch or even expand it to include sound too. Facebook is a fan of consistency, so video ads might have a very similar user experience to organic videos.
Because they’re more captivating, Facebook could potentially charge a lot to show video ads. Back in September, AdAge reported Facebook could charge between $1 million and $2.4 million to distribute a 15-second video ad for a day. Facebook raked in $2.02 billion in Q3 2013, and video ads could give that number a significant bump in Q1 and Q2 2014. Finally, we might start to see a landslide of ad spend previously devoted to television coming online, as the Facebook format would be relatively familiar (though possibly with no sound unless clicked).
The question remains whether users will freak out about video ads. Comments on my last piece about them and general sentiment has been quite wary of what video ads will do to the Facebook experience. If they’re the most eye-catching things on the social network, they could seem quite annoying. AdAge says Facebook might cap video ads so users don’t see more than three a day. Striking the right balance will be critical, though surprisingly, Facebook found that showing static photo ads in the News Feed hasn’t had a significant negative impact on engagement.
And if you’re thinking to yourself, “AdBlock Plus, bro”, that’s up to you. Personally, I think ads are the lifeblood of innovation, funding free products we rely on. But they’re a nuisance unless well-targeted, so hopefully Facebook can keep video ads relevant to the viewer. Otherwise I’d expect a lot of people to look for ways to banish them from their feed.
The secret to making people swallow video ads might be getting them to shoot mini-movies themselves. If there were more user generated videos on the site, the ads would blend in.
The problem is, right now Facebook’s video creation tool is painfully outdated. Unlike its Instagram Video product, there’s no way to shoot multiple shots in a single video, no editing, no stabilization, no cover image, and no filters. That means videos shot with Facebook often look pretty crummy. Crummy videos get few likes, so people don’t shoot them, so no one sees them, so no one thinks to shoot them…
It’s time for Facebook to modernize its video creation tool.
It could easily port in the Instagram Video features, maybe with a better tagging interface since Facebook is more about friends. It also has patents on some pretty futuristic video technologies like recording video as soon as your camera is open, recognizing and tagging faces or locations, and detecting audio and visual cues like saying “that’s beautiful” to select a cover image thumbnail or create anchors for navigating around within a video while watching.
These features could make it much more fun to shoot and view Facebook videos, which could fill the feed with them and camouflage the video ads.
And even if the native creation tools stay the same, a better watching interface could make a big difference. Right now there’s no real way to discover and watch Facebook videos in bulk. A Facebook “channel” that showed your friends’ videos back-to-back (perhaps with clips from Pages and advertisers mixed in) could be an addictive lean-back experience. Better video viewing could pit Facebook in more direct competition with YouTube.
So basically, Facebook has a huge opportunity to step up its video…game, and auto-play on mobile is just the first step. Photos fueled Facebook’s popularity back in its early days. As it turns 10 years old in 2014, we’ll see if video can give it a second wind.
[Image Credit: BGR]
Wisely Helps You Find Where To Shop Or Eat Based On Real Consumer Spending Patterns, Not User Reviews
When looking for a new place to eat, drink or shop, most people turn to local recommendations services like Yelp, Google Places or Foursquare. A new mobile application called Wisely, launching today, has a different idea. Instead of user reviews, Wisely taps into actual transaction data, allowing you to filter searches by things like popularity or average bill size.
The app is the latest from a company called Glyph, which pivoted from its earlier efforts launched last year, which had been focused on helping you determine which credit card to use in order to earn better rewards. Explains CEO Mike Vichich, the company found that it was difficult to get people engaged with Glyph for a number of reasons. People use their credit cards for a number of things, he says.
“But we always felt like transaction data was really important, and told a story about the world we live in,” he explains. “If you’re able to view a map of how people swipe their cards, it’s a map of the economy – it tells you which places are quality, which places are popular, how expensive places are, which places are for locals versus tourists. We thought that was something valuable that didn’t exist,” Vichich says.
In the new app Wisely, you can search for things like restaurants, shops or bars, for example, and see search results based on transaction data, not social mechanisms like check-ins or user rankings and reviews.
However, the app isn’t only focused on the “before” side of consumer spending – it also lets you store your loyalty and membership cards for easy access during your visits and helps you understand your spending behavior afterwards, similar to something like Mint. Like Mint and other mobile money management apps, Wisely lets you set a budget and then analyze your spending over time, examining the categories of your past purchases and even where they’re located on a map – the latter an easy way to spot a possible fraudulent transaction, Vichich claims.
At launch, Wisely only supports American Express cardholders, but it will include support for Chase and Bank of America by mid-February, and hopes to include support for 95 percent of transactions (credit or debit) in a year’s time.
The challenge here is that for each credit or debit card brought on board, the company has to write programs to clean up the merchant data, which takes some time, the CEO tells us. The end result, Wisely hopes, will be a platform for both mobile and web where anyone can access this kind of data.
“The mountain that we’re climbing is data democratization,” says Vichich. “One of our foundational beliefs is that payment data is really valuable to consumers and merchants.”
Future: Competitive Intelligence For Merchants
For consumers, the data can help them shop, travel, and dine “wisely” (get it?), but the real business model for the service is about providing this data to merchants, which the company plans to do in time as a SaaS platform. Here, Wisely would help merchants analyze what kind of spending takes place where, and even how their own sales look when compared with those of competitors.
In addition, merchants would be able to track their own customers’ loyalty in an anonymized way, and then offer their best customers some sort of reward via the Wisely platform. The merchant side of the business is something Wisely will begin to work on a bit further down the road, however.
In the meantime, the small, Ann Arbor-based company has added an undisclosed amount of funding on top of its earlier $500,000 angel round. They’re expecting to close on a seed round in Q1 2014.
Wisely is currently featured in the App Store under finance, and is a free download here.
Because I’ll install almost any app on my iPhone just to take a look, I’ve got a jam-packed folder called “messaging apps” that’s now five pages deep. It includes only the big names, regional giants, and those newer arrivals buzzy enough to secure coverage on TechCrunch or other tech blogs. You know, recently.
The situation is getting out of hand.
There’s no doubt that the mobile messaging phenomenon is blowing up, and everyone wants a piece of that. Analysts at Ovum last month estimated that the number of messages sent on these types of apps will grow from 27.5 trillion this year to 71.5 trillion by the end of 2014. Said the report, social messaging is “not just a fad,” but a service that will “be around in the long-term.”
“Developers,” they may have well said, “start your engines.”
Elsewhere, there are reports of messaging clients like Whatsapp overtaking Facebook Messenger, as Facebook admits to declining teen usage. There are rumors of Snapchat turning down a $3 billion acquisition offer (Maybe).
But even if mobile messaging itself is not a fad, a lot of the current products being released into the App Store today are.
Too many otherwise talented people are building messaging apps or Snapchat alternatives with only slightly improved or differentiated feature sets. Worse, they’re building messaging app gimmicks. An app for winking selfies? It’s enough to genuinely fear for future generations.
Nearly every day, PR staff hastily hired by developers capable of throwing together a little iOS code send out pitch after pitch about the latest and greatest messaging service – a deluge, where the words begin to blur together and descriptions almost sound copied and pasted from the app that came before it…as in, last week.
Did you see?, they write. [Redacted] is the most secure private texting app available. [Redacted] lets you safely and easily share private messages, make calls, share photos and videos! Everything is private!
Hmm, that sounds familiar.
Some try to zero in on a small feature Snapchat lacks, and make that the basis for their existence. Others pick a single function, turn that into an entire app, hoping to be the next new gimmick, a la FrontBack’s dual-photos. This one does GIFs! This one sends songs! This one too! This one has games! This one lets you post selfies! (Oh, wait. They all do that.)
Dozens of little offshoots of the messaging app Vine have sprung up, slapping on a few extra features and crossing fingers. Let them come, plead app creators post-crapshoot. Let the users come.
What Johnny-come-lately doesn’t understand is that mobile messaging is not an overnight sensation, and true viral success is rare. The landscape has been dotted with messaging players for years, and only now as smartphones are hitting critical mass in key, mature markets while emerging markets like China and India adopt mobile in large numbers, are we seeing the result of what having that previously established footprint looks like.
Whatsapp, for instance, was founded in 2009 and steadily grew its user base by targeting the top charts on the App Store repeatedly by periodically dropping from a paid app to a free one, allowing it to benefit from the rush of new users snagging it on sale as it hit the top free apps list. This year, it finally felt well enough established as one of the top contenders to go free, and currently it sits in spot #28 on the U.S. App Store eating up more downloads.
Meanwhile, many of the larger messaging apps touting their incredible numbers have benefited from a regional focus, like KakaoTalk, LINE, WeChat and others. They later expanded worldwide through users’ personal networks of family and friends.
And as for popular, newer arrivals, there’s a bit of good timing and luck involved. Snapchat, for instance, grew virally in L.A. high schools - luckily for the company, which was before struggling to attract users. They almost accidentally stumbled into an addressable and underserved market than only a few years ago wouldn’t have existed: young teens with expensive smartphones, trying to avoid their parents ‘likes’ on Facebook.
The app is clever, sure, but disappearing messages was not a new idea when it arrived (which is kind of funny, given the legal fight over who came up with the idea for Snapchat). For example, in early 2010, an iPhone app called TigerText claimed it would disappear texts from users’ phones. Before that, a number of online sites let users send private texts from web to phone. Snapchat, as it turned out, was actually a repurposed idea that hit the right group of students at the right time and then took off.
But to optimistic (or perhaps naive) app publishers, the Snapchat story looks like a formula for their own viral success. Build an app for the kids, pitch its private nature…profit. It’s not that simple, of course.
And as more developers release half-baked attempts to ride the coattails of the larger messaging wave, the today still-positive vibe for newer mobile messaging experiences could turn into frustrations. These apps don’t talk to each other, after all, and each one wants you to re-create your social graph upon first sign up. Some even go so far as to hack your address book to do so. How many times can users be burned? How many times do we have to invite friends to join? How many times can we try every silly little goof, before saying “forget this, I’m going back to iMessage/Kik/Snapchat/Whatsapp/etc.” for good?
And really, how many mobile messaging apps does one person need? One? A half-dozen? More?
If mobile messaging is becoming the social networking of the 2010s, then it looks like we’re about to find out.
Spotify plans to make mobile access to its music service free, The Wall Street Journal reports. Now a source confirms with TechCrunch that the free mobile tier will launch December 11th at a press event in New York. We’ve also learned users won’t get unlimited on-demand access, but will be less restricted if they listen to playlists or collections they’ve previously created.
Spotify sent out invites for the December 11th event on December 3rd, but didn’t say what would be launched. It simply noted “We’re having a media event. Like to come? There will be donuts.” But now we’ve confirmed that unveiling limited free mobile access is a big part of the show.
Until now, Spotify has only allowed premium subscribers paying $10 a month to stream music from mobile devices. Free, ad-supported access was available on desktop and laptop computers, and for $5 a month users could remove the ads from those devices but not listen on mobile.
But those rules were put in place years ago when smartphone penetration was lower, high-speed wireless networks were less common, and there were fewer competitors. Now the world is going mobile, and shutting users out of listening on the go unless they pay over $100 a year seems restrictive. It could also endanger Spotify’s ability to grow its paying subscriber base beyond the six million customers it has today (out of 20 million total users).
Presumably, the idea before was that you’d get a taste of Spotify for free on the web, and that would tempt you to buy mobile access. However, now many people hardly use traditional computers, especially in developing markets where people never owned them and skipped straight to mobile. With no way to try out Spotify on mobile, the company had no way to upsell them to paid plans.
Meanwhile, Spotify’s advertising infrastructure has matured over the year. It may be able to more efficiently sell its audio ads, making them a more viable way of earning money or at least breaking even from ad-supported listeners. That means it may be more cost-effective to support free mobile users now than before.
Finally, the last year has seen Google launch a streaming music service while Apple launched iTunes Radio. It still faces competition from startups like Rdio, Slacker, and Deezer. And new music streaming services from Beats and YouTube are slated for next year, making music a crowded market. Spotify can’t risk going into the new year without a free mobile option.
As for how that option will work, The Wall Street Journal’s Hannah Karp reports Spotify has spent a year quibbling with major record labels Sony, Universal, and Warner about how much control free users would get over what they listen to on mobile. The WSJ says Spotify has successfully struck a deal with the labels but users will only be able to play a limited number of songs on demand. After that, it says they’ll be restricted to listening to Spotify’s Pandora-like radio service that’s based on their tastes and input.
A source gave TechCrunch more details on the restrictions, saying that users may have more freedom to listen to their previously compiled playlists or starred collection of songs. The reasoning may be that Spotify sees these subsequent plays of songs users have already shown interest in as less valuable than on-demand access to what they’ve never listened to before. Reserving infinite search-and-listen capabilities for premium customers ensures people don’t get the milk if they don’t buy the cow.
When the free tier launches, these limits may not be especially easy to understand, our source says. That could confuse users, leading to poor user experiences where people think they should be able to listen to something but they can’t. They’ll blame Spotify, but sadly, they should really be blaming the labels, as they’re the ones too stingy to realize a simple user experience creates the delight that keeps users coming back, and maybe even opening their wallets.
We’ll be at the December 11th event covering exactly how things shake out.
Instagram has invited members of the media to an event in NYC on December 12 to “share a moment” with Kevin Systrom and the Instagram team.
It’s unclear what this event is in reference to, but considering that the invitation was sent in the mail, on paper, the photo-sharing app could be hinting at a future in print. Other invites were a block of wood with pictures printed on them, with a hanger on one side to hang on the wall. If that isn’t a hint toward printing, I don’t know what is.
It sounds ridiculous, considering the digital revolution is in full swing and paper is on its way out, but there is an entire ecosystem of applications, services, etc. that piggy backs off of Instagram’s success.
A number of services print Instagram photos on wood, canvas, glass, and even marshmallows so that users can enjoy the physical incarnation of their digital obsession.
With Christmas around the corner, the introduction of a photo printing business could mean big bucks for the photo-sharing app, which has just recently introduced a revenue stream in Instagram ads.
So far, the roll out is slow and small, while reaction is unclear. Printing could be a strong way to quickly bring in revenue with behemoth Facebook as a backup resource to cover printing, shipping costs. It’s an investment, but one that will generate revenue quickly.
On the other hand, Instagram could be trying to pull a fast one on us with these invites, and perhaps release a messaging feature to compete with the likes of Snapchat, as Om Malik reported.
After all, Facebook has seemed awfully jealous of all of the attention Snapchat’s been getting lately. Envy worth $3 billion. That’s mighty green.
In fact, messaging is probably inevitable on Instagram. Though much of the app centers around relatively public interactions, messaging is becoming ingrained in everything we do on the internet. Visit any updated ecommerce or services website and you’re auto-chatting with a service representative. Why do you think Layer, the Disrupt winner looking to bring messaging into any app, is doing so well lately?
Instagram will most likely get in on the messaging game at some point.
Of course, we’ll have to wait until December 12 to find out just what Instagram has in store.
BlackBerry hardware may be languishing unloved on warehouse shelves but the company formerly known as RIM’s long-in-the-tooth mobile messaging client, BBM, ain’t dead yet. Indeed, it’s enjoying a bit of revival — firstly because the company (finally) released it on rivals’ platforms (Android and iOS) where many a former BlackBerry user ended up.
And secondly because, well, mobile messaging as a space is on fire — tipped by analysts for mass adoption next year and a doubling of its global user-base from 1BN to 2BN by year’s end.
That fire is clearly consuming a portion of the attention that used to be funnelled into traditional social networks — redirecting those eyeballs into messaging apps, as kids who previously Facebooked their buddies incessantly now spend their energy sending Snaps or WhatsApps instead (in October Facebook ‘fessed up to some declining usage among teens).
All of which is good news if you’re the app maker of a directory style app for BBM. Search4BBM is just that. When we last wrote about the app, just over a year ago, we described it as “a 411 / Yellow Pages” style system for BBM private users and BBM businesses.
It basically lets people locate others on the BBM network, which uses a pincode system to link chatters to each other (ergo, you need a BBM user’s Pin to send a connection request so you also need a Pincode directory to unlock potential new BBM buddies). Users of the service, which gets its Pin data solely from user submissions, can set their preferred “security level” so their Pin can be found by everyone, only social friends, or only people they personally approve.
Search4BBM has more than 3M BBM pincodes listed in its directory, and allows users to find friends’ BBM Pins by connecting it with their Facebook account, or find others’ Pins by searching by various other criteria — including gender, country, profession, location, GPS, age, city, state and BBM business pages.
At the time we last covered the app (November 2012) it had some 1M active global users who were apparently performing 6M searches per month. (It defines active users as people who have used the app at least once a month — while logged in users makes an average of 11 to 15 searches per log in, which may sound a lot but users in some countries use its service as a potential date directory too). Search4BBM launched its service in June 2011 and crossed the 1M active user mark by mid 2012.
After that point its fortunes dipped, as you’d expect — in step with declining usage of BlackBerry’s own platform. Founder Barak Hirchson tells TechCrunch it was getting about 50% less traffic in 2013 than it did in 2012. In 2011 and 2012 it had between 11M to 14M searches per month, but in 2013 this dropped down to a low of between 2M to 4.5M monthly searches.
However, Hirchson says things have picked up in the past two months — i.e. since BlackBerry liberated BBM from its own walled garden, and allowed it to roam across Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. It’s now seeing 5.5M to 7M searches per month, according to Search4BBM.
“After the BBM launch for iOS and Android we instantly saw the users coming back to use BBM,” he adds.
Search4BBM launched an Android version of its app about a week ago — giving this the practical name of BBM Pin Finder — and says it’s managed to pass 3,000 users (without any marketing/advertising) for this version of the app. It’s expecting to hit 2M new users on Android in the next three months.
iOS and BB10 versions of its apps are also due soon — within “weeks”, adds Hirchson.
If you’re wondering where in the world BBM remains most popular, as measured via searches of this single BBM directory service, the top 10 countries performing searches are as follows:
India – 11%
South Africa – 11%
Nigeria – 9%
Egypt – 8%
United Kingdom – 8%
Indonesia – 8%
United Arab Emirates – 5%
Malaysia – 5%
United States – 5%
Canada – 4%
“In India and Indonesia the users use us as ‘Tinder‘ for BBM,” adds Hirchson. “Most of the users search for friends and for new dating with strangers. They search by ‘location near to me’ sort the users by the gender and age and start meeting new users by BBM.”
Android developers should keep two things in mind when designing an app, in addition to a beautiful user interface.
In the latest video of our Ask a Dev series, Android engineer Ernest Holloway takes a look at helpful tools for memory analysis of Android apps and the versions of Android that should be supported when starting to build an app.
To ensure your app is running fast and using little memory, Holloway recommends using the Eclipse Memory Analyzer Tool, which reports excessive memory consumption, memory leaks and other memory measurements. He also suggests the Hierarchy Viewer, through which developers can learn how to optimize user interface and pinpoint how to improve certain elements. Other helpful resources include Stack Overflow and Google Developers. Read more…
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again…to build another social network around users’ recent shopping purchases. Trace is the latest startup to give social commerce a go, with a new iPhone app, launching now, which allows users to share what they’ve just bought with a network of friends.
Today, Instagram users will sometimes post their recent shopping purchases as an expression of joy over a new find (or bragging, if they’re rich kids). And Pinterest users like to collect items they plan to buy later. But Ryan Stevens, Trace founder and CEO, thinks photos of your favorite new things deserve their own, standalone destination.
It’s an idea that’s been tried before.
“Things get lost on social networks,” says Stevens of how Trace competes with existing social networks and photo-sharing sites. You may remember seeing a friend post a great new pair of shoes on Instagram, for example, but there’s a challenge in trying to retrieve that image weeks or months later when it comes to mind, he explains. “It’s very complicated. We’re trying to make Trace an aggregate of things that you buy.”
Sound familiar? If not, you must be new here.
The idea for a shopping-based social network of sorts has been tried in the past, most prominently with Blippy, a failed startup that dug into users’ credit card purchases to find their purchases and share them. Users were hesitant to provide their credit card details, though, and when dollar amounts are involved, sharing purchases feels a bit gauche. Then, more recently, a startup called Mine used an email importer to perform a similar task.
But Mine quickly closed up shop after launch, apparently the result of a small acquisition by Twitter for team and tech after it failed to grow as quickly as the company had hoped. (Mine raised $600K, and two of its co-founders are now Twitter engineers.)
Says Stevens, Trace is not auto-sharing purchases and dollar amounts, or trying to build a product database like Mine was, nor is it immediately focused on sending users directly to e-commerce sites to generate affiliate revenues (though that may come later on). Instead, he just wants Trace to serve as a “live feed of the cool things people are buying.”
Stevens, along with co-founder Sudhir Navalapakam, got started on the idea for Trace a little over a year ago, following their stint at now-shuttered mobile payments service ZipPay. At ZipPay, they noticed then that a number of users were already sharing their purchases out to other social networks, like Facebook and Twitter. “We started talking about ways to make that a better experience for them,” says Stevens.
For the past 14 weeks, the app has been in private beta testing with around 1,500 users. Predominantly, the crowd is young, professional women, generally post-college grads now with a little extra income to spend.
Trace: A Pleasant App, But Busy Space
As for the app itself, there’s a familiar user interface involving a way to post and tag a product photo, a feed, a favoriting option, a friend finder, some suggested users to get you started, and a way to browse and explore through various categories.
Photos can also be shared out more broadly to Facebook or Twitter, and they do have their own dedicated, though not fully fleshed out, web pages which could later become the basis for Trace’s web version.
The app itself is pleasant enough to use, but it’s going to be tough for it to truly differentiate itself from other social commerce applications already out there. Though it’s focused on a user’s own purchases (at least in theory), more people are drawn to services like this not for the content creation aspects, but the consumption – that is, to see what others have shared. They browse Pinterest looking for ideas, or check out what’s trending on Wanelo or Svpply. Meanwhile, they’re still connecting with friends on Instagram, and shopping on a number of modern e-commerce sites on web and mobile, which have “popular” feeds of their own.
But Stevens though thinks there’s still room for something that’s solely focused on purchased items, and the resulting conversations around them. His team is working with bloggers and video bloggers (especially those doing the “haul videos“) to establish Trace’s core user base, he says.
The company has a small amount of seed funding ($250K) from Kae Capital and Tandem Entrepreneurs. They’re currently working out of Tandem’s auxiliary offices in Burlingame, California, after a fire destroyed Tandem’s main offices over the holidays. Fortunately for Trace, nothing was lost as they were working out of Hacker Dojo just before, and hadn’t yet set up shop. (Other teams weren’t so lucky).
Trace is a free download, here on iTunes.
Social Travel App Jetpac Ditches Facebook, Pivots To Instagram-Based “City Guides” For At-A-Glance Recommendations
Facebook-based social travel apps may have run their course. Jetpac, a gorgeous but ultimately slow-to-grow travel app for iPad, which last year raised $2.4 million in Series A funding, is shifting its focus today with the launch of its new Jetpac City Guides for iPhone. These visual guides cover millions of venues in 5,000 cities worldwide, but in a different way than you might expect: by analyzing Instagram photos.
Social travel apps were growing in popularity when Jetpac first launched, with a number of competitors like Trippy and social travel planner Gogobot also tied to Facebook’s social network to improve their usefulness. The space was buzzy. These days? Not so much.
At the core of Jetpac’s earlier product, which relied on friends’ shared Facebook photos, were image processing capabilities that allowed the app to automatically understand where images were taken, even when they weren’t geo-tagged. The company then curated all the photos from any given travel destination, and showed you just the top 10% in terms of quality.
Likewise, Jetpac’s new Instagram-based City Guides also lean on the company’s image analysis algorithms. The system looks for faces in the photos, determines if they’re happy or sad, makes style judgements (mustache? could be a hipster! lipstick? people get dressed up to visit here!), and more. Jetpac also determines if a shot is outdoors or indoors, if there are plates or cups in view, and makes a call about the image’s overall quality.
The end result are clever mini-guides like “bars women love,” “coffee shot spots,” “happiest places in town,” “hipster hangouts,” and others, as well as more traditional lists like “galleries and museums,” “places to stay,” or just “restaurants,” for example.
There are billions of Instagram photos to pull from these days, and the highly visual format makes sense for a generation which is more interested in communication via photos, rather than status updates or lengthy text. Coupled with the photos is basic venue info, like name, location, phone number and map. And instead of user reviews, the app tells you about “who goes there” – like “wine lovers,” “dog people,” “outdoorsmen,” “students,” etc.
Farewell To Facebook, Hello To Instagram
While the company’s original vision was to give people better travel recommendations and visual inspiration, which the iPad app achieves through trusted friends’ recommendations via their shared travel photos, that didn’t really pan out, explains Jetpac CEO Julian Green.
“What we learned from the iPad app, is that your friends’ haven’t been everywhere, and people want specific venue recommendations rather than just which friend has been to a city, and their photos,” he admits. With the ability to process the public Instagram photos from around the world, Jetpac’s guides can offer users more recommendations than before.
“You can now search for places to go to in the way that you naturally visualize it, rather than reading through an amenities list or parsing text reviews,” says Green. “People use it to quickly get a sense of a place and the people who go there – photos don’t lie,” he adds.
Going forward, the plan is to build out the social functions in the app, so you can layer on places your friends are into over top the wisdom of the crowds aspect. To some extent, there are similarities here with Foursquare, which leveraged check-in data to point you to places your friends visit, and the photos shot there. But instead of relying the check-in, which is seeing declining user interest forcing Foursquare to prompt users to provide data in other ways, Jetpac is taking advantage of an activity which users are doing anyway — taking Instagram photos.
That being said, while the guides may be good for a quick visual take on popular spots, lacking user or critics’ reviews limits their practicality for serious vacation planners who would want more detailed data about a venue, including pricing, recommendations, overall ambience, quality of service, travel times to key areas (like the city center, or the airport), and more.
Instead, the guides come across as less of a way to plan a trip, and more of a way to explore your own backyard.
The Facebook-based Jetpac iPad app is not going away immediately, Green says, but it will no longer be the focus. The app drew in only hundreds of thousands of App Store downloads, not millions, we’re told. Eventually, it, too, will be transitioned over to this new experience…well, assuming Jetpac is able to raise a new round, which Green says the company needs to do next year.
Jetpac’s City Guides are here.
Like moths to a flame, kids gravitate toward iPad and iPhone games. But for parents that want their children to still be exposed to real-world toys, a new startup called ZowPow is offering a way that they can do both.
The company makes plush toys that can control gameplay.
One of their very first toys is a tiny plane that can control up-and-down movement for a paired game called “Tiny Plane,” which is published by EA’s Chillingo.
The game controller they built has built-in sensors and accelerometers that can tell which direction the plane is facing, so that the plane in the game mimics its movement through Bluetooth LE (see the video below).
The two-person startup, which was just accepted for Y Combinator’s upcoming batch, is launching with two partner companies. The other is Get Set Games, a fairly well-known smaller studio that’s behind Mega Jump and Mega Run. The franchise’s protagonist Redford is getting his very own plush toy controller that costs $29.99.
The startup is selling both of their toys through their online store. This is just an initial start. Co-founder Jennifer Lu, who came from a business development background at Andreessen Horowitz-backed game developer TinyCo, says the startup plans to sign up many more titles from third-party developers.
They don’t plan to focus on building their own intellectual property in-house, and instead would rather partner with developers that already have their own unique characters and audiences. There’s a revenue share with the original developer for each toy they sell.
ZowPow’s platform supports iOS devices that are the iPhone 4S or later, the iPad 3 or later, then the iPad Mini and the iPod Touch 5. They can also connect to TVs if the iOS device owner has an HDMI adapter or AirPlay.