Category Archives: Social

Research finds heavy Facebook users make impaired decisions like drug addicts

Researchers at Michigan State University are exploring the idea that there’s more to “social media addiction” than casual joking about being too online might suggest. Their paper, titled “Excessive social media users demonstrate impaired decision making in the Iowa Gambling Task” (Meshi, Elizarova, Bender and Verdejo-Garcia) and published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, indicates that people who use social media sites heavily actually display some of the behavioral hallmarks of someone addicted to cocaine or heroin.

The study asked 71 participants to first rate their own Facebook usage with a measure known as the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale. The study subjects then went on to complete something called the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT), a classic research tool that evaluates impaired decision making. The IGT presents participants with four virtual decks of cards associated with rewards or punishments and asks them to choose cards from the decks to maximize their virtual winnings. As the study explains, “Participants are also informed that some decks are better than others and that if they want to do well, they should avoid the bad decks and choose cards from the good decks.”

What the researchers found was telling. Study participants who self-reported as excessive Facebook users actually performed worse than their peers on the IGT, frequenting the two “bad” decks that offer immediate gains but ultimate result in losses. That difference in behavior was statistically significant in the latter portion of the IGT, when a participant has had ample time to observe the deck’s patterns and knows which decks present the greatest risk.

The IGT has been used to study everything from patients with frontal lobe brain injuries to heroin addicts, but using it as a measure to examine social media addicts is novel. Along with deeper, structural research, it’s clear that researchers can apply to social media users much of the existing methodological framework for learning about substance addiction.

The study is narrow, but interesting, and offers a few paths for follow-up research. As the researchers recognize, in an ideal study, the researchers could actually observe participants’ social media usage and sort them into categories of high or low social media usage based on behavior rather than a survey they fill out.

Future research could also delve more deeply into excessive users across different social networks. The study only looked at Facebook use, “because it is currently the most widely used [social network] around the world,” but one could expect to see similar results with the billion-plus monthly Instagram and potentially the substantially smaller portion of people on Twitter.

Ultimately, we know that social media is shifting human behavior and potentially its neurological underpinnings, we just don’t know the extent of it — yet. Due to the methodical nature of behavioral research and the often extremely protracted process of publishing it, we likely won’t know for years to come the results of studies conducted now. Still, as this study proves, there are researchers at work examining how social media is impacting our brains and our behavior — we just might not be able to see the big picture for some time.

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.

Photos on social media can predict the health of neighborhoods

The images that appear on social media – happy people eating, cultural happenings, and smiling dogs – can actually predict the likelihood that a neighborhood is “healthy” as well as its level of gentrification.

From the report:

So says a groundbreaking study published in Frontiers in Physics, in which researchers used social media images of cultural events in London and New York City to create a model that can predict neighborhoods where residents enjoy a high level of wellbeing — and even anticipate gentrification by 5 years. With more than half of the world’s population living in cities, the model could help policymakers ensure human wellbeing in dense urban settings.

The idea is based on the concept of “cultural capital” – the more there is, the better the neighborhood becomes. For example, if there are many pictures of fun events in a certain spot you can expect a higher level of well-being in that area’s denizens. The research also suggests that investing in arts and culture will actively improve a neighborhood.

“Culture has many benefits to an individual: it opens our minds to new emotional experiences and enriches our lives,” said Dr. Daniele Quercia. “We’ve known for decades that this ‘cultural capital’ plays a huge role in a person’s success. Our new model shows the same correlation for neighborhoods and cities, with those neighborhoods experiencing the greatest growth having high cultural capital. So, for every city or school district debating whether to invest in arts programs or technology centers, the answer should be a resounding ‘Yes!’”

The Cambridge-based team looked at “millions of Flickr images” taken at cultural events in New York and London and overlaid them on maps of these cities. The findings, as we can imagine, were obvious.

“We were able to see that the presence of culture is directly tied to the growth of certain neighborhoods, rising home values and median income. Our model can even predict gentrification within five years,” said Quercia. “This could help city planners and councils think through interventions to prevent people from being displaced as a result of gentrification.”

The team expects to be able to assess the health of citizens using the same method, overlaying pictures of food on maps in order to find food deserts and spots where cafes and croissants are on the rise. Just imagine: all those Instagrammed photos of your favorite sandwiches will some day help researchers build happier cities.

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.

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.

Facebook is funding news programs from CNN, Fox News, Univision and others

Facebook has unveiled its initial lineup of news programming that will be airing in a dedicated section of Watch, the original video content initiative that the social network launched last year.

While these shows are being produced by outside media organizations, it’s actually Facebook that’s funding them. In a blog post, Head of News Partnerships Campbell Brown described this as an extension of the company’s announcement in January that it would prioritize meaningful social interaction over publisher content.

While that decision took a toll on digital publishers, Brown echoes CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s rationale for the move, saying that while there will be less news in users’ feeds, what remains should be “trustworthy, informative, and local.”

Here’s how Brown describes the news initiative:

This first lineup of funded shows includes news publishers from broadcast to digital native, national and local. The shows will be hosted by award-winning journalists, as well as new faces, and the formats will vary from a mix of daily briefings, weekly deep dives, and live breaking news coverage. They’ll debut later this summer, and we’ll announce additional shows in the coming weeks. We will work closely with our publisher partners to experiment with these different formats to understand what works, and they will have full editorial control of their shows.

The shows include:

  • A daily news show from ABC News
  • “Chasing Corruption,” a series from Alabama’s Advance Local that interviews watchdog journalists
  • A weekly explainer program from ATTN:
  • CNN’s “Anderson Cooper Full Circle,” a weekday news brief featuring Cooper and guests
  • Daily updates from Fox News’ Shepard Smith and others.
  • A twice weekly show from Mic.
  • Univision’s “Real America with Jorge Ramos,” where Ramos interviews immigrants from diverse backgrounds. Univision will also air a daily news roundup in Spanish.

Facebook introduces new bidding support for in-app ads

Facebook is expanding its support for header bidding, a technology that allows publishers to auction off ad impressions through real-time bidding between ad networks.

The company announced its support for header bidding on the mobile web last year. Today, it’s adding something similar for in-app advertising.

That means app publishers who use header bidding can include ads from Facebook’s Audience Network in their auctions. To enable this, Facebook is partnering with Fyber, MAX and Twitter’s MoPub.

Here’s how Facebook’s Vijay Balan laid out the benefits of the new approach:

Currently, ad networks are called one-by-one until an app ad is filled, determined by historical average CPMs rather than which buyer is willing to pay the most. This method often overlooks a network willing to pay more for an impression because it is lower in the chain.

App bidding enables app publishers and developers to establish an impartial and open auction over their ad inventory. All advertising networks are called simultaneously and the highest bidder for the placement wins, thereby providing publishers with opportunities to earn more. Publishers can maximize their access to high value advertisers, fueling the creation of sustainable ad businesses that help ensure people continue to enjoy access to high quality free content.

Balan said Facebook has already been testing this with publishers who have their own ad-serving technology, including Rovio, Talefun and GameInsight. Those early tests have seen revenue gains of up to 20 percent.

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

Apple adds camera effects like stickers, filters, and Memoji to messages

Apple is invading Snapchat’s territory with new effects that let you embellish what you shoot through the Messages camera. Today at WWDC, Apple announced that iOS 12’s Messages camera will offer a variety of sticker packs, style transfers like a “comic book” filter, drawn shapes, and both Animoji and the new personalized avatar Memoji.

These effects will also be available in FaceTime, which now supports group video conversations with up to 32 people. That could spell trouble for dedicated group video chat apps like Houseparty and Facebook’s Bonfire, as well as bigger apps that offer it like Snapchat.

These effects could make people who want more visual communication choose Apple’s native messaging app rather than third parties like Snapchat, Instagram Direct, or Facebook Messenger. The new features will be available in iOS 12 that launches today.

Stickers were previously only available in message threads where they’d appear on a white background. But now you can overlay them on photos, videos, and FaceTime. That opens opportunities for new fashion stickers that let you add sunglasses, hats, mustaches, clothes, and more that only make sense when stuck to your selfie.

Apple is starting far behind here. Snapchat’s been adding creative features since 2013, and Instagram joined in with its clone of Stories in 2016, followed by Facebook in 2017. They’re all now equipped with GIFs, color filters, augmented reality, and more. Animoji and Memoji are the Messages camera’s biggest differentiators, so Apple may need to aggressively promote the ability to overlay these on imagery if it wants to steal attention from Snap and Facebook.

Share