Category Archives:Tech

Facebook prototypes a swipeable hybrid carousel of feed posts & Stories

Feed and Stories unite! Facebook is so eager to preempt the shift to Stories that it might even let us use the same interface of horizontally swipeable cards to sift through News Feed posts. If users won’t scroll down any more, Facebook’s ad business could take a huge hit. But by allowing traditional feed posts and ads to appear amidst Stories in the same carousel you’re more prone to swipe through, it could squeeze more views and dollars out of that content. This would help Facebook gracefully transition to the post-News Feed era while it teaches advertisers how to use the full-screen Stories ad format.

In this image, you can see a user in mid-swipe through the hybrid carousel between a News Feed story about a friend updating their profile photo to an animated GIF-style video on the left and a Stories video on the right.

We’re awaiting comment from Facebook about this. There’s a chance it was just caused by a bug like the briefly side-scrollable Instagram feed that popped up in December, or that it will never be publicly tested, let alone launch. But given the significance of Facebook potentially reimagining navigation of its main revenue stream, we considered it worth covering immediately. After all, Facebook predicts that Stories sharing will surpass feed sharing across all social apps sometime this year. It already has 300 million daily users across Stories on Facebook and Messenger, plus another 500 million on Instagram Stories and 450 million on WhatsApp Status.

[Update: Facebook confirms that this feature is a very early-stage prototype of a new way to navigate News Feed posts. A Facebook spokesperson tells TechCrunch that “We are currently not testing this publicly” as the company still needs do a lot more user research before any public experimentation.]

This swipeable hybrid carousel was first spotted by reverse-engineering specialist and frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong. She discovered this unreleased feature inside the Android version of Facebook and screenrecorded the new navigation method. In this prototype, when a News Feed post’s header or surrounding space is tapped, users see a full-screen version of the post. From there they can swipe left to reveal the next content in the hybrid carousel, which can include both traditional News Feed posts, News Feed ads and purposefully vertical Stories and Stories ads.

Users can tap to Like, react to or comment on feed posts while still in the carousel interface. Facebook has been offering ways to syndicate your News Feed posts to Stories since last year, but those posts got reformatted to look like Stories rather than retaining their old design and white background as we see here.

If Facebook moved forward with offering this as an optional way to browse its social network, it would hedge the business against the biggest behavior change it’s seen since the move from desktop to mobile. Vertically scrolling News Feeds are useful for browsing text-heavy content, but the navigation requires more work. Users have to stop and start scrolling precisely to get a whole post in view, and it takes longer to move between pieces of content.

In contrast, swipeable Stories carousels offer a more convenient lean-back navigation style where posts always appear fully visible. All it takes to advance to the next full-screen piece of content is a single tap, which is easier on your joints. This allows rapid-fire fast-forwarding through friends’ lives, which works well with more visual, instantly digestible content. While cramming text-filled News Feed posts may not be ideal, at least they might get more attention. If Facebook combined all this with unskippable Stories ads like Snapchat is increasingly using, the medium shift could lure more TV dollars to the web.

The hybrid posts and Stories carousel can contain both traditional image plus caption News Feed posts and News feed ads as well as Stories

Facebook has repeatedly warned that it’s out of space for more ads in the News Feed, and that users are moving their viewing time to Stories, where advertisers are still getting acclimated. When Facebook made it clear on its Q2 2018 earnings call that this could significantly reduce revenue growth, its share price dropped 20 percent, vaporizing $120 billion in value. Wall Street is rightfully concerned that the Stories medium shift could upend Facebook’s massive business.

Stories is a bustling up-and-coming neighborhood. News Feed is a steadily declining industrial city that’s where Facebook’s money is earned but that’s on its way to becoming a ghost town. A hybrid Stories/posts carousel would build a super highway between them, connecting where Facebook users want to spend time with where the municipality generates the taxes necessary to keep the lights on.

Anaxi launches feeds to help developers manage their notifications

Anaxi, the software development tool that helps developers get a better view of their projects in Jira and GitHub, is launching a small but nifty addition to its iOS and web apps today that allows developers to cut down on the steady stream of notifications and updates those services create.

The company, which was founded by former Apple engineering manager and Docker EVP of product development Marc Verstaen and former CodinGame CEO John Lafleur, rightly argues that tools like GitHub and Jira weren’t really made for personal productivity. Developers waste a lot of time going through updates and tickets in Jira, for example, some of which may be relevant and timely, while others are only distractions. In the end, you end up constantly switching context from ticket to ticket, which tend to be grouped in chronological order, and you may still miss important information.

Anaxi also argues that having a Slackbot constantly emit notifications for every new event only creates more distractions. “As a result, more and more developers turn off those notifications to avoid interruptions,” the team writes. “But then, you’re back to square one with all notifications being in chronological order.”

The way the team is trying to bring more clarity into this process is through feeds. The idea here is to allow developers to create dedicated feeds for whatever they need to focus on — maybe that’s a sprint or a single component of an app they are working on. That way, whatever you are looking at in Anaxi is relevant to your work because you can create filters based on issue, priority, status and any other label you want to track. From inside Anaxi, you can then also comment on tickets.

Anaxi first launched last September. At the time, it was an iOS-only service, but the team has since launched a web client, too. While the service does cache some data locally, no information is ever shared with Anaxi itself. Instead, the service pulls its data directly from the services it supports. The team is considering some server-side features, though, to maybe use machine learning to prioritize tickets or perform other more advanced analytics. As Verstaen and Lafleur tell me, though, this will be very transparent to users — and is also still a while out. In the near future, the team is more focused on adding support for GitHub Enterprise users and Jira Server, which will open up the service to more enterprise users.

Bad news: Facebook leads in news consumption among social feeds, but most don’t trust it, says Pew

As Facebook prepares to launch a “news tab” this month featuring news stories curated by humans to complement the headlines that appear in your social feed generated by your friends’ shares, paid promotions and algorithms, a new report paints a damning picture of how social media is viewed as a news platform today.

Screenshot 2019 10 02 at 07.29.54

Pew social media news consumption

A survey from the Pew Research Center found that more than half of the U.S. adults surveyed by the group this past July — some 52% — already get their news from Facebook, making it the most popular social platform for news sourcing, with YouTube and Twitter the second- and third-most popular at 28% and 17%, respectively, and a variety of other platforms like Instagram, LinkedIn, Reddit and Snapchat also making smaller but notable appearances.

Overall, a full 88% of all those surveyed believed that social media has “at least some control” over the news people see.

But sentiments about that control are poor.

A majority — 62% — of respondents believe social media has “too much control” over the mix of news we see on their platforms, and 55% said they believed that this results in a worse mix of news. A full 53% identified one-sided news and 51% named inaccurate news as “very big problems” on social media.

The findings are unsettling: They underscore an already huge amount of power that the likes of Facebook have when it comes to news consumption, but they also underscore how people seem to have already determined that the effect of that has been bad.

The findings also come on the heels of disturbing stories about how much those platforms get manipulated by bad actors. The stories of how political groups and state actors hiding their identities have promoted misleading stories on social platforms stretch back years at this point, but even as the platforms work to try to identify and take down these accounts, other misuse that is less hidden continues to arise.

Just last month, it was found that those promoting stories through paid channels (advertising, that is) can rewrite news headlines to fit their own political agendas, shifting the tone of the news for the vast majority of people who never click through to stories and only read the summary headlines as they scroll to see the latest pictures of their friends’ kids.

And it’s not just bad news for consumers. Publishers have long lamented that they don’t get a cut of any kind on the revenues that social platforms make from sharing their stories and turning them into monetizing traffic, and there has been some thinking that this would soon change as a result of increased regulatory scrutiny. However, a report in the WSJ this week implies that this might not be changing anytime soon. It claims that Facebook will only be paying a small handful of the publishers whose content will get shared in its human-curated news tab.

Drilling into some of the more interesting details, Pew found that Republicans are more cynical about the effect of social media on news than Democrats, with 75% of those on the right believing that social media has too much control, versus 53% of those on the left. Ironically, these numbers appear to run counter to the assumption that social media is an echo chamber of your own opinions.

Screenshot 2019 10 02 at 07.32.02

Pew also notes that 48% of social media news consumers — recall that more Republicans than Democrats believe social media sites have too much control — believe the news they see is “liberal or very liberal.” That compares to 14% believing news is conservative or very conservative. This would support the feeling among many on the right that the media is too liberal, but also that they are being fed news that is not in keeping with their own political leanings.

The survey also puts paid to the recent report about how only a handful of publishers will get paid by Facebook: 82% of respondents feel that not all news sources are treated equally by social media now — meaning some get more circulation than others. Some 88% believe that those publishing “attention-grabbing” articles, otherwise known as “click bait,” are more likely to appear in the feed. And, 84% believe that social media following plays an important role, and 79% believe that the political leaning of the story affects how much it appears in your feeds.

On the division between male and female readers, the report’s findings are not unsurprising and follow much of the same lines we’ve seen in other social media surveys: the likes of Reddit lean heavily to male readers, while Facebook leans female.

Screenshot 2019 10 02 at 07.43.45

Lastly, while the report is more about bias in news and sentiment around that, it’s interesting to note which platforms are appearing here and in what concentration. TikTok — which many think could be the next big juggernaut in social — is at less than 1 % when it comes to being a platform for getting news. Snapchat, meanwhile, also is languishing at a mere 6% for news delivery.

Given their heavy concentration on younger users, this points to the fact that younger people are not really using any social channels to get news, but also that they are not particularly interested in reading news. Social platforms may currently be positioned as pariahs in the news landscape, but they don’t have to be: these could also be opportunities to change the conversation, bringing in more people who traditionally are not being cut in.

Pew surveyed 5,107 respondents from its American Trends research panel from July 8 to July 21.

Stock trading app Robinhood revamps its newsfeed with The Wall Street Journal and ad-free videos

Robinhood may be best known for its free stock trading, but today it’s rolling out a new version of the newsfeed, adding content from Reuters, Barron’s and market coverage from The Wall Street Journal, with no paywall or additional charge.

In addition, Robinhood is introducing video into the newsfeed, with ad-free videos from CNN Business, Cheddar and (again) Reuters.

The startup, which recently raised $323 million at a $7.6 billion valuation, has been showing more interest in content lately with the acquisition of the financial podcast and newsletter MarketSnacks — and as part of the redesign, the newsletter (now called Snacks) can be read directly in the app.

“A lot of this is not even about making investment decisions,” Robinhood’s vice president of Product Josh Elman told me. “[Some users] check Robinhood very, very often just to consume the news and understand the companies that they’re watching, the ones that they are invested in and continuing to hold.”

He added that just buying and selling stocks is “sort of a utility,” so Robinhood wants to help its users “to feel informed, to be empowered to make their own decisions.”

Robinhood newsfeed

Before redesigning the newsfeed, Elman said the team did a seven-day study, where they asked subjects to create a diary of “all of their experiences reading and understanding market news.”

Among other things, Elman’s team learned that people “really want to read news from multiple, trusted sources,” which is why Robinhood is partnering with these publications. In addition, they saw that people like watching videos: “Even if it’s in the background, ultimately, people really told us they feel more confident and control in their decisions.”

Along with bringing in new content (which, again, is taken out from behind paywalls and is ad-free), Elman said the Robinhood newsfeed also features “all-new algorithms and a whole new display layer.” Robinhood users can see the new interface for themselves, but I was curious about those algorithms.

“We start with the companies you either own and hold in your portfolio or are watching, what types of sources do you frequently like to watch … and we make sure that we’re bringing you that news as much as possible,” Elman said. “And we have a lot of room to grow from here.”