Category Archives: Apps

VLC prepares to add AirPlay support as it crosses 3 billion downloads

VLC, the hugely popular media playing service, is filing one of its gaps with the addition of AirPlay support as its just crossed an incredible three billion users.

The new feature was revealed by Jean-Baptiste Kempf, one of the service’s lead developers, in an interview with Variety at CES and it will give users a chance to beam content from their Android or iOS device to an Apple TV. The addition, which is due in the upcoming version 4 of VLC, is the biggest new feature since the service added Chromecast support last summer.

But that’s not all that the dozen or so people on the VLC development team are working on.

In addition, Variety reports that VLC is preparing to add enable native support for VR content. Instead of SDKs, the team has reversed engineered popular hardware to offer features that will include the option to watch 2D content in a cinema-style environment. There are also plans to bring the service to more platforms, with VentureBeat reporting that the VLC team is eying PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Roku devices.

VLC, which is managed by non-profit parent VideonLAN, racked up its 3 millionth download at CES, where it celebrated with the live ticker pictured above. The service reached one billion downloads back in May 2012, which represents incredible growth for a venture that began life as a project from Ecole Centrale Paris students in 1996.

Facebook cuts down annoying “now connected on Messenger” alerts

“‘You Are Now Connected On Messenger’ Is The Worst Thing On Facebook’ Buzzfeed’s Katie Notopoulos correctly pointed out in a story yesterday. When you friend someone on Facebook or Messenger, or an old friend joins Messenger, you often get one of these annoying notifications. They fool you into thinking someone actually wants to chat with you while burying your real message threads.

Luckily, it turns out Facebook was already feeling guilty about this shameless growth hack. When I asked why, amidst its big push around Time Well Spent, it was sending these alerts, the company told me it’s already in the process of scaling them back.

A Facebook spokesperson gave TechCrunch this statement:

We’ve found that many people have appreciated getting a notification when a friend joins Messenger. That said, we are working to make these notifications even more useful by employing machine learning to send fewer of them over time to people who enjoy getting them less. We appreciate all and any feedback that people send our way, so please keep it coming because it helps us make the product better.

So basically, if Messenger notices you never open those spammy alerts to start a chat thread, it will skip sending some of them.

Personally, I think these alerts should only be sent when users connect on Messenger specifically, which you can do with non-friends outside of Facebook. The company forced everyone to switch from Facebook Chat to Messenger years ago, but some people are only now relenting and actually downloading the app. I don’t think that should ever generate these alerts, since they have nothing to do with your own actions. Similarly, if I confirm a Facebook friend request from someone else, I know I’m now connected on Messenger too so no need to pester me with a notification.

But for now, if you hate these alerts, be sure not to open them so you send a signal to Facebook that you don’t want more.

Facebook does all sorts of this annoying growth hacking, like notifications about friends adding to their Story, “X, Y, and 86 other friends responded to events near you tomorrow”, and all the emails it sends if you stop visiting. If we can properly shame tech giants for the specifics of their most intrusive and distracting behavior, rather than just griping more vaguely about over use, we may be able to make swifter progress towards them respecting our attention.

Deliveroo opens up POS integration for restaurant partners via an API

Restaurant food delivery startup Deliveroo is opening up Point of Sale (POS) integrations to restaurant partners, via an API and developer portal, after trialling the approach this spring and finding appetite for uptake.

The integration is intended to free up front-of-house staff from having to manually input Deliveroo food orders into the restaurant’s sales system.

A Deliveroo spokesman told us that one major chain had been having to assign a single member of staff at peak times to just “sit there and type in the orders”, thereby reducing the number of staff who could attend to customers in the restaurant at a busy time.

Order inputting also isn’t necessarily popular with staff, given there’s no direct opportunity for tips. Automating the task certainly seems a no brainer.

Deliveroo claims initial tests show the integration cuts order processing time from ~2.5 mins to ~30 sec. It also reckons POS companies and “tech savvy restaurants” can complete the integration in two weeks.

“We weren’t sure how many people were going to adopt it — now we can see it’s clearly taken off and is working supporting restaurants,” said the spokesman.

So far around 500 restaurant sites are using integration, having joined during the trial, along with 25 POS companies that are plugging into its API. And Deliveroo says it expects thousands to be doing so by the end of the year.

A “couple of hundred” restaurants are joining each month, the spokesman added.

He said Deliveroo opted to go for an API approach — and rely on restaurants to integrate its order system into their sales systems — because of how diverse the POS market is.

“At a European level it’s crazy how many different types of POS companies there are. So from our perspective, rather than trying to produce our own system which worked with every single one it was best to design a system where they were able to use an API of ours and integrate from their system,” the spokesman told us.

Deliveroo now operates in 12 markets, with eight in Europe and four further afield. And so far POS integrations have been achieved with restaurants in the UK, France, Belgium and Spain — with the UK, where it has with more than 10,000 restaurant partners, being the most “advanced” so far.

The spokesman said it is also working on rolling out integrations to all other markets “in coming months”.

“There are still some places where this isn’t going to work. And this is where firms tend to use middleware companies. And we still are working with a middleware company for places where the direct integration isn’t going to work,” he added.

“But in terms of a principal, Uber have gone down the principal of they’ve bought a middleware company and they’re going to do the middleware themselves. [But] if you can reduce your reliance on middleware you reduce the chances of errors, problems you face and an extra link in the chain that could go down and prevent orders.”

Instagram plans to launch Snapchat Discover-style video hub

Instagram is preparing to unveil a home for longer-form video — a YouTube competitor and its take on Snapchat Discover. Instagram will offer a dedicated space featuring scripted shows, music videos, and more in vertically oriented, full-screen, high-def 4K resolution according to multiple sources. Instagram has been meeting with popular social media stars and content publishers to find out how their video channels elsewhere would work within its app. It’s also lining up launch partners for an announcement of the long-form video effort tentatively scheduled for June 20th.

The public shouldn’t expect Netflix Originals or HBO-level quality. This is not “InstaGame Of Thrones”.  Instead, the feature is more focused on the kind of videos you see from YouTube creators. These often range from five to fifteen minutes in length, shot with nice cameras and lighting but not some massive Hollywood movie production crew. Average users will be able to upload longer videos too, beyond the current 60-second limit.

Instagram intends to eventually let creators and publishers earn money off the longer videos, though it hasn’t finalized how accompanying ads like pre-rolls and mid-breaks or revenue splits would work. It is not paying creators up front for shows like Facebook Watch either. But the videos will each feature a swipe-up option to open a link, which creators can use to drive traffic to their websites, ecommerce stores, or event ticketing. Thanks to Instagram’s 800 million-plus users, the video section could be a powerful marketing tool beyond generating cash for creators directly.

The long-form video section will spotlight a collection of popular videos, and provide a ‘continue watching’ option since users might view long clips over the course of several sessions. Users will also see the long-form clips featured on authors’ profiles near the Stories Highlights bubbles. Creators won’t be able to shoot and post long-form videos, as the section will only allow pre-made video uploads.

Instagram has previously offered Spotlight Collections that assemble multiple videos into a non-stop viewing experience

This new information from TechCrunch’s sources comes after a brief initial report by The Wall Street Journal yesterday that Instagram was talking to content publishers about a vertical video feature. The WSJ’s article focused on the ability for average users to post up to hour-long clips, but the real story here is Instagram launching a professionally produced video entertainment hub. Instagram declined our request for comment.

It’s unclear what the new video feature will be named, or where it will appear. It could possibly live in the Explore tab, get its own tab, or even be spun out into a separate app. Our sources didn’t know how the videos would work with the main Instagram feed, where they could appear full-length or show up as previews to alert a publisher’s fans to their newest long-form clip. The announcement date or feature details could still potentially change.

Facebook’s Watch section of long-form video hasn’t proven popular

Facebook hasn’t had much luck with its own original long-form video section it launched in August 2017, Facebook Watch. Mediocre, unscripted reality shows and documentary clips haven’t proven a draw for the social network, which is now expanding into scripted programs and news shows. Instagram may prove a more natural home for lean-back entertainment content.

InstaTube

The Instagram long-form video section will be Facebook’s answer to two competing social video destinations it’s yet to successfully clone.

Snapchat’s Discover section offers exclusive, professionally produced vertical video shows from an array of publishers as an alternative to shaky user-generated Stories. But with sagging user growth endangering viewership, backlash to the redesign that buries Discover, and a policy shift to stop paying Discover publishers up front, Instagram and its massive user count may be able to seduce publishers to bring longer videos to its app instead.

YouTube is the stronger foe. Its ad revenue sharing agreements and massive engagement have made it the go-to platform for video makers. Still, creators are always looking to build their fanbases, earn more money, and promote their other online presences. Instagram’s wildfire growth and the familiarity of following people there could make the long-form video section worth embracing.

The feature has big potential as long as it’s not too interruptive of people’s entrenched feed-scrolling and Story-tapping behavior patterns. Instagram will also have to convince creators to shoot their content vertically or find ways to gracefully crop it, and some may be apprehensive if they typically shoot in landscape for traditional video players.

The Facebook family of apps might never be able to match the breadth and depth of YouTube’s video catalog. But Instagram has an opportunity here to skim the best content off the top of the sprawling creator/publisher ecosystem and curate it coherently for casual audiences. That could get us spending more time with Instagram, even if our friends are boring.

Apple Design Award winner Florence breaks new ground in mobile gaming

Designer Ken Wong’s app Florence isn’t exactly a game. Or a comic. It’s a little bit of both — a new experience in storytelling using a mobile device.

The app — or game, if you prefer — comes from the mind of Ken Wong, best known before Florence’s release as Monument Valley’s designer — another app which broke new ground in mobile gaming by creating a visually stunning world that ended up winning the title of Apple’s Game of the Year in 2014, as well an Apple Design Award.

Now Wong has won for his work again on his first venture post-Monument Valley with an Apple Design Award for Florence.

We sat down with the designer on the sidelines of Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference in San Jose this week to talk about how Florence came to be, and what Wong has planned next.

Wong had left ustwo Games (Monument Valley’s publisher) before its sequel, Monument Valley II, because he wanted to try something new.

“I kind of said what I wanted to. The best thing for Monument Valley would be to have other people take over and expression their vision for it,” he says.

Wong moved back to his home country, Australia, from London, to Melbourne, where there’s a thriving indie gaming scene, to launch his new company Mountains.

The team at Mountains is small — just a programmer, producer and artist in addition to Wong.

The company partnered with Annapurna, a film studio behind hits like “Her” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” that now runs its own games division. The studio backed Mountains on the Florence project, but also gave the team advice and input along the way.

As part of this arrangement, Annapurna shares in Florence’s revenue. (Florence sells for $2.99.)

Unlike traditional games, you don’t play the “game” Florence with a goal of getting a high score or achieving goals of some kind.

Instead, you tap your way through the interactive story where a young woman, Florence, meets someone, falls in love and has a relationship. You live through it with her, dealing with everything from parental pressure over her single status, to then first dates and moving in together.

Music is a key part of the experience, and helps the game invoke an emotional response.

When the relationship ends, you’ve been invested in this story and characters, and probably will feel sad.

That’s the point, says Wong.

“A lot of people think of games as things you can win — things that involve luck or skill. But…in video games — or, largely, the digital interactive space — there’s so much that you can do,” he says.

“It seems like we’re surrounded by stories of love and romance and relationships…but it felt like that was a blind spot for mobile games. We wanted to tap into that and see how far we could take a romance game on mobile,” Wong explains.

Wong says he was inspired by stories from friends, as well as his own personal experience, when building Florence, as well as movies about relationships like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” and “500 Days of Summer.”

Like those, Florence is also a portrait of a relationship that’s both light and dark, both joyful and painful.

“It’s my job to provide stimulating material. I just want to move people. And I think moving people in itself can be a goal. What they take out of it is really up to the individual,” he says.

Now that Florence is out there, on both iOS and Android, Wong says he hopes it will inspire other developers to take what the team introduced in terms of the app’s interface design, and use that to tell their own stories.

As for Mountains, however, the team is now considering what stories they want to tell next. They’re not announcing the details of those discussions, but they have some ideas around telling other types of stories that aren’t represented today through mobile gaming.

We might not see those come to life for some time — it took Florence 15 months to go from idea to launch, and the next title will likely take just as long.

But Wong knows what kind of stories they probably won’t do, he says.

“There are so many other studios out there exploring your traditional power fantasies, like combat and fighting and such,” he says.

“I think where we can really contribute is telling stories that are less explored — human experiences that have to do with family or identity. I think that’s who we are.”

Facebook finally monetizes Marketplace with ads from users and brands

20 months after launching its Craigslist competitor Marketplace and relentlessly promoting it with placement in the main navigation bar, Facebook will start earning money off its classifieds section. Facebook today begins testing Marketplace ads in the U.S. that let average users pay to “Boost” their listing to more people through the News Feed. While they’re easy for novices, requiring buyers to only to set a budget and how long the ads will run, there are no additional targeting options beyond being shown to age 18+ users in nearby zip codes.

Meanwhile, yesterday Facebook announced that it’s launching product ads from businesses that appear within Marketplace. After quietly opening in the U.S. in January and testing in Canada in May, Marketplace ads are now official, and can be bought in those two countries plus New Zealand and Australia. Businesses can extend their existing News Feed, video, Instagram, Messenger and other ad campaigns to Marketplace, and more types of objective-based campaigns will open to the classifieds section soon.

Facebook lets brands show ads within Marketplace

The Boost ads could be a big help if you need to rapidly liquidate your furniture before moving out, or if you’re trying to sell something big a high price, like Marketplace’s new car, housing, jobs, and home services offerings. Yet they seem inefficient, since the lack of targeting means your listing for men’s jewelry might show up to women, or your rock climbing gears ads could show up to senior citizens.

Facebook’s new Boost ads let average users pay to show their Marketplace listings to more people

But Facebook does tell me that ads will but auto-optimized for clicks, so when people start to click your ads, Facebook will show them to people of similar demographics. It will also immediately pause your ad campaign if you mark your item as sold. Boost ads get entered in alongside traditional bids in Facebook’s auction system which then display what it predicts will be the most appealing ads.

“Many Marketplace sellers have told us that they want the ability to show a listing to more people in their local area, especially if they’re trying to sell it quickly” Facebook Product Manager Harshit Agarwal tells TechCrunch. “We’re starting to test a simple way for sellers to boost their listings and help them find a buyer.” For comparison, Craiglist doesn’t run any ads, but charges sellers $5 to $10 for certain product listings cars and brokered apartments.

One interesting quirk is that Facebook says it won’t allow boosting of listings of political products such as a Bernie Sanders For President t-shirt, as its political advertiser verification and labeling system only works with Pages and not individuals right now.

The Boost ads will only appear to a small percentage of U.S. users and Facebook says it’s too early to know if it will roll them out futher. But as the company seems bent on swallowing up every other essential part of the internet, anything that makes Marketplace more useful to sellers and lucrative for the tech giant seems like a good bet for an official launch.

Together, the two formats could unlock new revenue streams for Facebook at a time when it’s starting to run out of ad inventory in the News Feed. The company either needs to open new surfaces like Marketplace to ads, or get people and businesses to pay more to fill its dwindling feed space if it wants to keep Wall Street happy.

Bumble CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd is coming to Disrupt SF

Bumble founder and CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd has always done things her own way.

Whether it’s standing up for her political beliefs, building a company with fully outsourced engineers or avoiding the usual startup fundraising runaround, Wolfe Herd follows her own instincts in building a business. Which is why we’re super excited to announce that Whitney Wolfe Herd will join us at TC Disrupt SF 2018.

Wolfe Herd first came on the scene as a co-founder and VP of Marketing at Tinder, where she helped grow the dating app into one of the world’s biggest dating platforms. But after a lawsuit over sexual harassment and discrimination, which was settled out of court, Wolfe Herd left the company to build an app focused on compliments and positive affirmations.

Originally, she wanted nothing to do with the dating space. But after meeting Andrey Adreev, Badoo founder and Bumble’s majority stakeholder, she realized that giving women a voice in digital dating could be revolutionary. And so, Bumble was born in 2014.

The app has grown to 30 million users, and continues to grow in popularity based on a simple premise: women make the first move.

But Wolfe Herd’s ambitions don’t stop at dating. The 28-year-old founder has added new verticals to the app, letting users find friends and make professional connections via Bumble.

And all the while, Bumble’s cap table has never changed, with Wolfe Herd’s 20 percent stake as yet undiluted. Wolfe Herd was named one of Time 100’s most influential people this year, and has herself become a brand that represents authenticity and self-empowerment.

We can’t wait to talk to Wolfe Herd at Disrupt SF 2018. You can buy tickets to the show here.

Order-ahead app Ritual picks up $70M to rethink the social office lunch break

While DoorDash, Postmates and other apps are looking to reimagine what the food delivery experience looks like, Ray Reddy says he wants to figure out what the next generation of a food court looks like. Sort of.

Reddy’s startup, Ritual, aims to remake the whole process of leaving your office and walking around five minutes to a nearby deli or cafe to pick up food for lunch. But Reddy and his founders Larry Stinson and Robert Kim wanted to focus first on getting that experience right for a single building that leaves to go pick up coffee or food — and has that daily ritual of getting lunch with the team, or something along those lines. The whole process boils down to an app for consumers to order food or drinks as well as have coworkers piggyback onto that order to create a more socialized experience around getting up and going around the corner for a snack. Ritual said it has raised a new $70 million round led by Georgian Partners, with existing investors Greylock Partners, Insight Ventures, and Mistral Venture Partners all participating.

“If we [couldn’t] build something that is compelling for the 300 people who work at this single building, it’s not gonna work period,” Redddy said. “That helped us define the problem narrowly. We thought, here are the 12 or 14 spots within a five minute walk of this building, let’s focus on simulating what would happen. Let’s not worry about financials or economics, let’s prove this works. Just like Uber’s a remote control for the real world, we viewed this in a similar way where ultimately the app is a remote control for a real world experience.”

Ritual’s main flow is probably something the typical user is accustomed to at this point when it comes to food. They pick a place they like, place an order for food (or coffee), and then go pick it up. But the whole background process involves not only getting restaurants on board with the specific things they want while still trying to calibrate a consistent experience that users at this point expect when it comes to ordering something online after being trained on that simplicity for years by Postmates, DoorDash, or even apps by companies like Starbucks.

But over the past year or so, the company has increasingly tuned itself to employees jumping aboard the same order when considering what to pick up for a snack or a meal. The whole process aims at emulating that experience of figuring out where you want to eat in a Slack channel or arguing over a Seamless order, and in the end whoever has time to run out and grab something will be able to bring things back for teammates (or, of course, everyone can leave at the same time). That whole process is called “piggybacking,” a feature the company introduced around 18 months ago. The company has around 44,500 teams using the app, Reddy said.

 

All this is aimed to help restaurants adapt to the same changes in user behavior that retail has seen in the past decade, Reddy said. Amazon trained users to buy things online, forcing retailers to shift their strategies, just as Postmates and DoorDash have trained users to order food delivery through apps and immediately have access to a ton of options. With all that comes more and more data, which has helped those industries slowly tune their models over time and try to keep up with the increase in demand that has come with reducing friction around the whole experience.

“What restaurants are seeing are right now the same challenges retailers saw 10 years ago,” Reddy said. “What does it mean to become omni-channel, how do you go from one customer segment to dealing with walk-ins plus digital orders. Retailers faced a lot of those challenges 10 years ago, they faced challenges around pricing, fulfillment, and how do they build new capabilities. They are dealing with a new source of demand, and fundamentally the problem was a lot of stores weren’t designed for accepting multi-channel origins.”

While an order-ahead app might be one way to connect online users to a physical location, there’s still plenty of work to do as most restaurants, coffee shops or typical stores aren’t tuned for a digital-first experience, Reddy said. That extends to even not having enough counter space to hold coffee cups that customers have ordered ahead of time, much less including things like NFC readers or QR codes — the latter of which has proved wildly popular and effective throughout Asia thanks to services like Alipay and WeChat. And that’s largely a result of iOS and Android, the main platforms in North America, not really doing a lot with QR codes for a very long time. Reddy said that North America was making some progress, especially when it came to NFC, but for now the company still has to figure out unique ways to connect users to those restaurants.

That can take a lot of different forms. While Ritual has to figure out how to create a seamless experience that covers a lot of different restaurants or shops, Reddy said the startup still has to offer those same stores some kind of control over the experience. That means giving those customers some value proposition beyond just telling them to sign up for another order-ahead app. Ritual, for example, lets restaurants who onboard Ritual customers themselves keep the full transaction for a purchase, while it takes a small slice off other transactions. That, in addition to other marketing options, helps restaurants control their own destiny, he said.

Of course, at its heart, it’s an order-ahead app — even with that social experience on top of it. And if you’ve ever looked at where to eat nearby with coworkers, you’ve probably checked Yelp or a few other places, and possibly even settled the argument with a giant order on an online ordering platform like DoorDash or Seamless. All these have already tapped that user experience, and it’s not clear if Ritual would be able to clear enough room should any one of them go after a similar experience while already having that customer and user relationship, in addition to being the spot customers go already. In the end, Reddy says that it’ll come down to users having a few apps, and hopes that by offering restaurants flexibility and focusing on the hyper-local idea of just a single office building will help build up that moat.

“The way that things have played out in Asia [with platforms like WeChat] is exactly striking the right balance between a platform and giving stores control,” Reddy said. “When you think of the consumer view, people — for the same reason you don’t have 10 retail apps — don’t have 10 food apps. You’re not gonna download an app for every neighborhood spot. It’s not that these apps are bad or don’t work well, people are just not gonna download 10 apps. There’s gonna be a handful of platforms people are going to use to access their neighborhoods. We have to have a unified platform, but give restaurant partners enough control, not only over being able to speak with their customers, but control for the look and feel of their storefront. That’s the middle ground we’re looking to find, which we think is a win for customers and our storefronts.”

Password AutoFill in iOS 12 will work with third-party password managers

Apple will now allow password manager applications to integrate with Password AutoFill in iOS 12. That means you’ll have easier access to all your passwords when trying to sign into mobile websites and apps, not just those stored in iCloud Keychain.

This may seem like a small change, but it’s actually an important one.

Many users today take advantage of password management applications to help get control over their dozens, or even hundreds, of online accounts.

Password managers help them secure their credentials and recall them quickly, making it easier to use complex, secure, but hard-to-remember passwords. And the password managers can help alert to other problems -like services that have experienced a data breach such as with the 92 million compromised MyHeritage accounts, for example – as well as issues with re-used passwords, passwords that are too easy to guess, and other issues.

But even though many users today rely on password managers, they’ve been a bit cumbersome to access while on Apple mobile devices.

You’d either have to launch the password manager’s iOS app and copy and paste the password, then return to the app or website in question, or you could use workaround solutions – like 1Password’s use of the iOS Share Sheet to pull up your password with a series taps without having to directly launch its own app.

This still took time, and was overly complicated when compared to the ease-of-use of just tapping on the AutoFill option on the QuickType Bar.

Allowing users to instead access the passwords they’ve saved in their preferred password manager application through the same Password AutoFill flow they’re comfortable with today will make it not only faster to sign in, but could also encourage more adoption of password manager apps, in general.

1Password, upon hearing the news at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference this week in San Jose, was so excited about the solution that it went ahead and gave the new software a shot.

As you can see in the 1Password demo above, the new API will allow you to simply tap on the QuickType bar to access your credentials saved with 1Password. The location of those credentials is also identified on the bar itself, after the dash. If two different sets of credentials are stored in both the password manager and in iCloud Keychain, they would both appear in the QuickType bar, so the user could choose.

This is a feature 1Password has been clamoring for since the introduction of Password AutoFill for Apps last year.

“With iOS 11, Apple introduced the ability to fill from your iCloud Keychain into Safari and into apps,” says 1Password’s Mac and iOS team lead at AgileBits, Michael Fey. “As soon as we saw this, we got in touch with them, and said can we get this for 1Password as well?”

“We filed some bug reports and presented them with mockups of ways we though it could work. And this year, it turns out, they granted our request,” he says. (The enhancement request filed with Apple was a joint effort between 1Password, Dashlane, and LastPass. All three filed the same request with the same requirements.)

1Password, and likely those other password manager apps as well, will have their integrations ready as soon as Apple’s software launches publicly this fall.

 

 

The erosion of Web 2.0

It seems quaint to imagine now but the original vision for the web was not an information superhighway. Instead, it was a newspaper that fed us only the news we wanted. This was the central thesis brought forward in the late 1990s and prophesied by thinkers like Bill Gates – who expected a beautiful, customized “road ahead” – and Clifford Stoll who saw only snake oil. At the time, it was the most compelling use of the Internet those thinkers thought possible. This concept – that we were to be coddled by a hive brain designed to show us exactly what we needed to know when we needed to know it – continued apace until it was supplanted by the concept of User Generated Content – UGC – a related movement that tore down gatekeepers and all but destroyed propriety in the online world.

That was the arc of Web 2.0: the move from one-to-one conversations in Usenet or IRC and into the global newspaper. Further, this created a million one-to-many conversations targeted at tailor-made audiences of fans, supporters, and, more often, trolls. This change gave us what we have today: a broken prism that refracts humanity into none of the colors except black or white. UGC, that once-great idea that anyone could be as popular as a rock star, fell away to an unmonetizable free-for-all that forced brands and advertisers to rethink how they reached audiences. After all, on a UGC site it’s not a lot of fun for Procter & Gamble to have Downy Fabric Softener advertised next to someone’s racist rant against Muslims in a Starbucks .

Still the Valley took these concepts and built monetized cesspools of self-expression. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter are the biggest beneficiaries of outrage culture and the eyeballs brought in by its continuous refreshment feed their further growth. These sites are Web 2.0 at its darkest epitome, a quiver of arrows that strikes at our deepest, most cherished institutions and bleeds us of kindness and forethought.

So when advertisers faced either the direct monetization of random hate speech or the erosion of customer privacy, they choose the latter. Facebook created lookalike audiences that let advertisers sell to a certain subset of humanity on a deeply granular level, a move that delivered us the same shoe advertisement constantly, from site to site, until we were all sure we had gone mad. In the guise of saving our sanity further we invited always-on microphones into our homes that could watch our listening and browsing habits and sell to us against them. We gave up our very DNA to companies like Ancestry and 23andMe, a decision that mankind may soon regret. We shared everything with everyone in the grand hope that our evolution into homo ligarus – the networked man – would lead us to become homo deus.

This didn’t happen.

And so the pendulum swings back. The GDPR, as toothless as it is, is a wake up call to every spammer that ever slammed your email or followed you around the web. Further, Apple’s upcoming cookie control software in Safari should make those omnipresent ads disappear, forcing the advertiser to sell to an undifferentiated mob rather than a single person. This is obviously cold comfort in an era defined by both the reification of the Internet as a font for all knowledge (correct or incorrect) and the genesis of an web-based political cobra that whips back to bite its handlers with regularity. But it’s a start.

We are currently in an interstitial period of technology, a cake baked of the hearty camaraderie and “Fuck the system” punk rock Gen X but frosted with millennial pragmatism and desire for the artisanal. As we move out of the era of UGC and Web 2.0 we will see the old ways cast aside, the old models broken, and the old invasions of privacy inverted. While I won’t go as far to say that blockchain will save us all, pervasive encryption and full data control will pave the way toward true control of our personal lives as well as the beginnings of a research-based minimum income. We should be able to sell our opinions, our thoughts, and even our DNA to the highest bidder and once the rapacious Web 2.0 vultures are all shooed away, we will find ourselves in an interesting new world.

As a technoutopianist I’m sure that were are heading in the right direction. We are, however, taking turns that none of us could have imagined in the era of Clinton and the fax machine and there are still more turns to come. Luckily, however, we are coming out of our last major skid.

 

Photo by George Fitzmaurice on Unsplash

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