Архив метки: SXSW

Instagram prototypes video co-watching

The next phase of social media is about hanging out together while apart. Rather than performing on a live stream or engaging with a video chat, Instagram may allow you to chill and watch videos together with a friend. Facebook already has Watch Party for group co-viewing, and in November we broke the news that Facebook Messenger’s code contains an unreleased “Watch Videos Together” feature. Now Instagram’s code reveals a “co-watch content” feature hidden inside Instagram Direct Messaging.
It’s unclear what users might be able to watch simultaneously, but the feature could give IGTV a much-needed boost, or just let you laugh and cringe at Instagram feed videos and Stories. But either way, co-viewing could make you see more ads, drive more attention to creators that will win Instagram their favor or just make you rack up time spent on the app without forcing you to create anything.

The Instagram co-watch code was discovered by TechCrunch’s favorite tipster and reverse-engineering specialist Jane Manchun Wong, who previously spotted the Messenger Watch Together code. Her past findings include Instagram’s video calling, music soundtracks and Time Well Spent dashboard, months before they were officially released. The code mentions that you can “cowatch content” that comes from a “Playlist” similar to the queues of videos Facebook Watch Party admins can tee up. Users could also check out “Suggested” videos from Instagram, which would give it a new way to promote creators or spawn a zeitgeist moment around a video. It’s not certain whether users will be able to appear picture-in-picture while watching so friends can see their reactions, but that would surely be more fun.
Instagram declined to comment on the findings, which is typical of the company when a feature has been prototyped internally but hasn’t begun externally testing with users. At this stage, products can still get scrapped or take many months or even more than a year to launch. But given Facebook’s philosophical intention to demote mindless viewing and promote active conversation around videos, Instagram co-watching is a sensible direction.
Facebook launched Watch Party to this end back in July, and by November, 12 million had been started from Groups and they generated 8X more comments than non-synced or Live videos. That proves co-watching can make video feel less isolating. That’s important as startups like Houseparty group video chatrooms and Squad screenshare messaging try to nip at Insta’s heels.

It’s also another sign that following the departure of the Instagram founders, Facebook has been standardizing features across its apps, eroding their distinct identities. Mark Zuckerberg plans to unify the backend of Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram to allow cross-app messaging. But Instagram has always been Facebook’s content-first app, so while Watch Party might have been built for Facebook Groups, Instagram could be where it hits its stride.
Speaking of the Instagram founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, this article’s author Josh Constine will be interviewing them on Monday 3/11 at SXSW. Come see them at 2 pm in the Austin Convention Center’s Ballroom D to hear about their thoughts on the creator economy, why they left Facebook and what they’ll do next. Check out the rest of TechCrunch’s SXSW panels here, and RSVP for our party on Sunday.

Instagram prototypes video co-watching

Bet money on yourself with Proveit, the 1-vs-1 trivia app

Pick a category, wager a few dollars and double your money in 60 seconds if you’re smarter and faster than your opponent. Proveit offers a fresh take on trivia and game show apps by letting you win or lose cash on quick 10-question, multiple choice quizzes. Sick of waiting to battle a million people on HQ for a chance at a fraction of the jackpot? Play one-on-one anytime you want or enter into scheduled tournaments with $1,000 or more in prize money, while Proveit takes around 10 percent to 15 percent of the stakes.
“I’d play Jeopardy all the time with my family and wondered ‘why can’t I do this for money?’ ” says co-founder Prem Thomas.
Remarkably, it’s all legal. The Proveit team spent two years getting approved as “skill-based gaming” that exempts it from some laws that have hindered fantasy sports betting apps. And for those at risk of addiction, Proveit offers players and their loved ones a way to cut them off.

The scrappy Florida-based startup has raised $2.3 million so far. With fun games and a snackable format, Proveit lets you enjoy the thrill of betting at a moment’s notice. That could make it a favorite amongst players and investors in a world of mobile games without consequences.
“I could spend $50 for a three-hour experience in a movie theater, or I could spend $2 to enter a Proveit Movies tournament that gives me the opportunity to compete for several thousand dollars in prize money,” says co-founder Nathan Lehoux. “That could pay for a lot of movies tickets!”
Proving it as outsiders
St. Petersburg, Fla. isn’t exactly known as an innovation hub. But outside Tampa Bay, far from the distractions, copycatting and astronomical rent of Silicon Valley, the founders of Proveit built something different. “What if people could play trivia for money just like fantasy sports?” Thomas asked his friend Lehoux.
That’s the same pitch that got me interested when Lehoux tracked me down at TechCrunch’s SXSW party earlier this year. Lehoux is a jolly, outgoing fella who became interested in startups while managing some angel investments for a family office. Thomas had worked in banking and health before starting a yoga-inspired sandals brand. Neither had computer science backgrounds, and they’d raised just a $300,000 seed round from childhood friend Hilt Tatum who’d co-founded beleaguered real money gambling site Absolute Poker.
Yet when he Lehoux thrust the Proveit app into my hand, even on a clogged mobile network at SXSW, it ran smoothly and I immediately felt the adrenaline rush of matching wits for money. They’d initially outsourced development to an NYC firm that burned much of their initial $300,000 seed funding without delivering. Luckily, the Ukrainian they’d hired to help review that shop’s code helped them spin up a whole team there that built an impressive v1 of Proveit.
Meanwhile, the founders worked with a gaming lawyer to secure approvals in 33 states including California, New York, and Texas. “This is a highly regulated and highly controversial space due to all the negative press that fantasy sports drummed up,” says Lehoux. “We talked to 100 banks and processors before finding one who’d work with us.”
Proveit founders (from left): Nathan Lehoux, Prem Thomas
Proveit was finally legal for the three-fourths of the U.S. population, and had a regulatory moat to deter competitors. To raise launch capital, the duo tapped their Florida connections to find John Morgan, a high-profile lawyer and medical marijuana advocate, who footed a $2 million angel round. A team of grad students in Tampa Bay was assembled to concoct the trivia questions, while a third-party AI company assists with weeding out fraud.
Proveit launched early this year, but beyond a SXSW promotion, it has stayed under the radar as it tinkers with tournaments and retention tactics. The app has now reached 80,000 registered users, 6,000 multi-deposit hardcore loyalists and has paid out $750,000 total. But watching HQ trivia climb to more than 1 million players per game has proven a bigger market for Proveit.
Quiz for cash
“We’re actually fans of HQ. We play. We think they’ve revolutionized the game show,” Lehoux tells me. “What we want to do is provide something very different. With HQ, you can’t pick your category. You can’t pick the time you want to play. We want to offer a much more customized experience.”

To play Proveit, you download its iOS-only app and fund your account with a buy-in of $20 to $100, earning more bonus cash with bigger packages (no minors allowed). Then you play a practice round to get the hang of it — something HQ sorely lacks. Once you’re ready, you pick from a list of game categories, each with a fixed wager of about $1 to $5 to play (choose your own bet is in the works). You can test your knowledge of superheroes, the ’90s, quotes, current events, rock ‘n roll, Seinfeld, tech and a rotating selection of other topics.
In each Proveit game you get 10 questions, 1 at a time, with up to 15 seconds to answer each. Most games are head-to-head, with options to be matched with a stranger, or a friend via phone contacts. You score more for quick answers, discouraging cheating via Google, and get penalized for errors. At the end, your score is tallied up and compared to your opponent, with the winner keeping both player’s wagers minus Proveit’s cut. In a minute or so, you could lose $3 or win $5.28. Afterwards you can demand a rematch, go double-or-nothing, head back to the category list or cash out if you have more than $20.
The speed element creates intense, white-knuckled urgency. You can get every question right and still lose if your opponent is faster. So instead of second-guessing until locking in your choice just before the buzzer like on HQ, where one error knocks you out, you race to convert your instincts into answers on Proveit. The near instant gratification of a win or humiliation of a defeat nudge you to play again rather than having to wait for tomorrow’s game.
Proveit will have to compete with free apps like Trivia Crack, prize games like student loan repayer Givling and virtual currency-based Fleetwit, and the juggernaut HQ.
“The large tournaments are the big draw,” Lehoux believes. Instead of playing one-on-one, you can register and ante up for a scheduled tournament where you compete in a single round against hundreds of players for a grand prize. Right now, the players with the top 20 percent of scores win at least their entry fee back or more, with a few geniuses collecting the cash of the rest of the losers.
Just like how DraftKings and FanDuel built their user base with big jackpot tournaments, Proveit hopes to do the same… then get people playing little one-on-one games in-between as they wait for their coffee or commute home from work.
Gaming or gambling?
Thankfully, Proveit understands just how addictive it can be. The startup offers a “self-exclusion” option. “If you feel that you need to take greater control of your life as it relates to skill-gaming,” users can email it to say they shouldn’t play any more, and it will freeze or close their account. Family members and others can also request you be frozen if you share a bank account, they’re your dependant, they’re obligated for your debts or you owe unpaid child support.

“We want Proveit to be a fun, intelligent entertainment option for our players. It’s impossible for us to know who might have an issue with real-money gaming,” Lehoux tells me. “Every responsible real-money game provides this type of option for its users.
That isn’t necessarily enough to thwart addiction, because dopamine can turn people into dopes. Just because the outcome is determined by your answers rather than someone else’s touchdown pass doesn’t change that.
Skill-based betting from home could be much more ripe for abuse than having to drag yourself to a casino, while giving people an excuse that they’re not gambling on chance. Zynga’s titles like Farmville have been turning people into micro-transaction zombies for a decade, and you can’t even win money from them. Simultaneously, sharks could study up on a category and let Proveit’s random matching deliver them willing rookies to strip cash from all day. “This is actually one of the few forms of entertainment that rewards players financially for using their brain,” Lehoux defends.

With so much content to consume and consequence-free games to play, there’s an edgy appeal to the danger of Proveit and apps like it. Its moral stance hinges on how much autonomy you think adults should be afforded. From Coca-Cola to Harley-Davidson to Caesar’s Palace, society has allowed businesses to profit off questionably safe products that some enjoy.
For better and worse, Proveit is one of the most exciting mobile games I’ve ever played.

Bet money on yourself with Proveit, the 1-vs-1 trivia app

Uber Spins Its Latest Variation On Car Rides: DJs On Party Buses In Chicago

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Uber is still growing its business as a disruptive (sometimes controversial) car service app, but in the meantime it continues to push the envelope on what else it might eventually do with the logistics infrastructure it is also creating. The latest development comes by way of Chicago, where Uber is now laying on busses with DJs and drinks. Yes, it’s bus bumping from Uber.

Uberpalooza will feature DJs Dante, Bobbylite, Megan Taylor and Andrew Hayden, and is being run to coincide with the Lollapalooza music festival taking place in the Windy City this weekend. Those requesting the service will be charged $50 for 25 minutes or 5 miles — whichever comes first (so pick your traffic-clogged streets of Chicago carefully). Up to 10 other people can join in on the party bus — as long as all are over 21.

Uber’s DJ bus is the latest variation on the car service theme. Others have included barbecue delivery and pedicabs during SXSW in Austin, and, just last month, ice cream on demand in different U.S. cities.

How it works: Pretty simple. People using the Uber app in Chicago will be able to select the service a headphones icon on the app.

Uber’s also linking up with Soundtracking, the music/moodsharing app. People who post music on Soundtracking during their rides get entered into a contest to win tickets to a Lollapalooza after-party (but sadly not the sold-out event itself).

Does $50 for 5 miles sound expensive to you? Maybe not for this particular ride. Not only are you getting booze and a live DJ, but the idea is that those already in the music/party mood, and already forking out up to $230 for their weekend Lollapalooza tickets (plus more for everything else), will be well up for taking the experience a little further. Also splitting between 10 friends means it only costs each of you a fiver.

Uber says people who spread the word about Uberpalooza also get the chance to win tickets to other events, as well as an Uber swag bag.


Uber Spins Its Latest Variation On Car Rides: DJs On Party Buses In Chicago

From 0 To $1 Billion In Two Years: Instagram’s Rose-Tinted Ride To Glory

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Even now, it’s still shocking how the remarkably low distribution costs of the web can change a founder’s fate overnight. Many startups are duds, and most grow at a clip that’s just not fast enough to justify an interesting valuation.

But once in awhile, a company comes along and just nails it. The right timing. The right market. The right place. Then all the rules you know about multiples, comparable benchmarks and so on just buckle under the pressure of momentum.

I met Instagram’s co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger before they were working together. Mike, or “Mikey,” is one of the sweetest, most self-effacing engineers and user experience designers I know. At the time, he was toiling away at Meebo. He would test their interface with groups of high school students he brought into the company’s Mountain View office. Funnily enough, while in university, he actually worked on a photo-sharing project for a class. It was a featurephone-era app for treating seasonal affective disorder and it was called something like, “Send Me Some Sunshine.” The idea was that one user on one side of the world would send a photo of sunshine to another in a wintery climate with fewer hours of daylight just to cheer them up.

Systrom, meanwhile, had just come off of a year at Nextstop, a travel-oriented startup that had sold to Facebook in a talent acquisition. He had also spent a year in Google’s corporate development department (read: the department that does M&A). But after interning at the company that would become Twitter, he always had the itch to do something on his own.

In early 2010, Systrom was messing around with a few ideas. Back then, location was hot, hot, hot. Foursquare had launched about a year earlier and had made the check-in a cultural phenomenon. It made sense to experiment with location. Perhaps an HTML5-based check-in app was the way to go.

So Systrom, ever the connoisseur of fine whiskeys, tested an app called Burbn. It was very basic. It had about four tabs. You could “Move” or check in somewhere new. You could also post your plans, echoing Plancast, a service built by a TechCrunch alum Mark Hendrickson. But from a user experience perspective, it was a little rickety. HTML5 has latency issues (as you might be able to tell from Facebook’s current mobile apps, which are largely written in HTML5).

Users weren’t exactly checking in all the time on Burbn. Instead, we were sharing photos. Latte photos. Dog photos. Beer photos. Photos of our reflection in the bathroom mirror taken with an iPhone. Just mundane photos of everyday life.

It was around this time that Krieger, who was ready for change after a year and a half at Meebo, came on board. He ended up being a fantastic complement to Systrom, who had honed his programming skills while building Burbn. Krieger joined Systrom in Dogpatch Labs when it was still at San Francisco’s Pier 38.

The pair looked at how users in Burbn’s beta gravitated toward photo-sharing and then studied every single popular app in the photography category.

They scrapped Burbn and started over. It seems obvious in retrospect, but it wasn’t clear at the time that this the was right move. The photography category seemed saturated, but Systrom saw an opening that many others didn’t. Hipstamatic was super-fun and came packaged with all of these filters, but it wasn’t very social. Systrom thought there was a sweet spot in between Hipstamatic and Facebook, and that’s precisely where Instagram landed.

It took several months of prototyping and experimentation. There was a precursor to Instagram called Scotch, but it didn’t have filters and it was slow and buggy. Yet the concept of photo-sharing kept calling out to them.

With their UX skills, Krieger and Systrom refined Instagram to require as few actions as possible. Unlike the original version of Path, Instagram didn’t force users to add tags about people or places to their photos. A photo could be posted in as few as three clicks. Mirroring Twitter, they made Instagram public by default.

After months of testing, Instagram launched on Sept. 20, 2010. Systrom and Krieger didn’t know exactly what to expect, but 25,000 users showed up on the first day. For late 2010 when there were fewer iPhones on the market, that was a big number. The traffic was so overwhelming that they didn’t get home until 6 a.m. the next day.

After that, it was just a whirlwind ride. Instagram had nailed the timing. The iPhone 4 was just arriving and its camera was finally good enough to cannibalize point-and-shoot cameras. Apple also had an installed base of iOS devices that was now large enough to produce the network effects that Instagram needed to take off.

Instagram hit one million users in three months. Then that became two million, which then became 10 million users. Unlike many apps at the top of the charts, Instagram didn’t have to spend a dime to get where it was. It was organic growth.

Krieger had to carry around his laptop everywhere and be ready to whip it out at a moment’s notice in case the site crumbled under the server load. (He often did this. In the middle of dinner. In a bar. Everywhere and thankfully so, since there was never any Instagram version of Twitter’s infamous “Fail Whale.”)

Every month seemed more unreal. When Justin Bieber joined, there was literally a visible spike in activity as thousands of girls responded to his every photo. Then there was the time that Bieber’s agent called up Systrom demanding that the pop star be compensated for using Instagram. As the story goes, Systrom said no and Bieber ended up using it anyway.

Kevin and Mikey weirdly became celebrities in their own right. Krieger met Michelle Obama at the State of the Union. Systrom met U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and hung out with Jamie Oliver. They appeared on magazine covers.

All the while, Systrom kept saying he never felt threatened by Facebook. Facebook’s mobile apps were just too complicated. The iOS app just had too many things in it. To please the company’s more than 850 million monthly active users, Facebook had to stuff every bell and whistle of the desktop site into its mobile app. That just wasn’t conducive to a great user experience on a phone.

In contrast, Instagram kept its app lean. They didn’t change much to the app’s essential experience even as its user base ballooned. It was more important to say ‘No’ to new features instead of ‘Yes.’ When Instagram took funding from Benchmark Capital, their new board member Matt Cohler, who came from Facebook, encouraged them to focus on growth first and worry about the revenue model later.

Indeed, when you have a consumer-facing app that is going to be advertising dependent, scale matters most. If you don’t have the eyeballs, you don’t get the advertising dollars.

Instagram had grown so fast that Systrom appeared on-stage last month at SXSW to announce that the app had 27 million registered users. That was nearly twice the size of Foursquare and the app was still only on one platform. If you consider that Apple has said it has sold a cumulative 315 million iOS devices to date, that implies that Instagram is probably on more than 10 percent of all active iPhones.

Systrom made a veiled threat to Facebook on-stage last month at SXSW. He said he thought of Instagram as more of a social network than a photo-sharing app.

He said, “It’s Facebook-level engagement that we’re seeing.”

Last week when Instagram launched on Android, it racked up more than 1 million users in 24 hours. In the blink of an eye, Instagram may have ended up with 50 million users. With Android and iOS adding more devices per month than Facebook is adding users, there was a threat that a brand new social network could spring up right under Facebook’s nose.

The rationale for the deal makes sense. As for the price? You can debate all you want about the price, considering that Instagram was still pre-revenue and had about a dozen employees. Whatever price it went for at this stage, it was going to be controversial. And Instagram was going to be worth whatever Mark Zuckerberg felt like paying for it. That is the definition of “worth” — it’s whatever the market will bear. We can talk about the Bubble-nomics in another post.

In the end, it’s been a truly wild ride for the pair. Congrats, guys. You’re damn lucky, but you earned it too.


From 0 To $1 Billion In Two Years: Instagram’s Rose-Tinted Ride To Glory

After A Bump From SXSW, Banjo Tries To Bolster Its Position As The All-In-One Location App

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What’s a SXSW bump worth? To Redwood City’s Banjo, which pools check-ins and geotagged updates from friends across all the major social networks, it was worth 100,000 downloads during the interactive part of the conference. That brought the app to more than 900,000 users. Of those, a little more than a half-million users are active every month and iOS users still outnumber Android ones by two-to-one.

That’s not bad for an app that has grown pretty much organically since it came out nine months ago, and Banjo is showing an upward tick in users at least if you look at its footprint on Facebook. Social networking is a tougher category to acquire customers in at least compared to games, where developers usually have very cash rich businesses that can pay for marketing. For comparison, Path has said in the past that it has two million registered users, but it’s not clear how many of those are active. Banjo’s numbers almost certainly make it larger than every new social, local and mobile app that we profiled ahead of SXSW.

On the back of that momentum, Banjo has an update out that makes the app even more of a central hub for all location activity on other social networks like Twitter, Foursquare and Facebook. It adds Instagram to the other social networks that Banjo pulls check-ins and location-tagged status updates from. Our own Sarah Perez has called Banjo the “creepy/awesome cyber-stalking app“ that shows you who’s nearby based on their Facebook and Foursquare check-ins and geotagged tweets.

Banjo now feeds all notifications all into one place and there’s a new slide-out navigation menu that’s similar to what Facebook introduced to its mobile apps a few months ago.

Banjo’s chief executive Damien Patton said the company was extra careful around not creating too much hype around SXSW. The issue is that the conference has gotten very crowded with product launches which mostly flame out afterward.

“We made a conscious decision not to have a big presence at SXSW,” Patton said. “They’re not our target market.”

He also says that like in earlier years, post-SXSW consolidation is coming soon. “I don’t have a crystal ball to know who will get acquired, but we’re really trying to focus on the mainstream user for now,” he said. Banjo is funded by BlueRun Ventures and Lightspeed Venture Partners.


After A Bump From SXSW, Banjo Tries To Bolster Its Position As The All-In-One Location App