Twitter’s Mobile Apps Begin to Look a Bit More Like Instagram

Twitter_Instagram

Continuing its trudge toward becoming a more media-centric service, Twitter on Tuesday announced a new version of its iOS and Android mobile applications, giving more prominence to photos and video in the stream.

Instead of needing to click through to see an attached photo in your Twitter timeline, now users will see previews of pictures and videos captured with Vine within the stream as they thumb through it.

It’s a simple yet logical move for the microblogging service, which until now has primarily been relied upon for text-based updates in real-time. With the rise of Instagram over the past few years, users have flocked to more visual platforms, preferring to thumb through images and videos.

The move comes as Twitter aims to broaden its appeal to users, only weeks before the company makes its public debut on the New York Stock Exchange. While practically ingrained into the mainstream media consciousness, Twitter’s user growth rate has slowed year over year; the company is home to around 230 million monthly active users, far short of Facebook’s billion-plus member network.

Not to mention the obvious appeal to advertisers, which will receive more prominent billing in the Twitter feed when including pictures and Vine videos within their tweets. (Digiday’s take on this is good.)

Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram did not help matters for Twitter. The microblogging network was in fierce competition with Facebook to acquire Instagram just a few years ago, but lost out to a last-minute billion-dollar offer directly from CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

As a result, Instagram later rescinded the ability to preview its photos from within the Twitter stream, requiring users to click an extra link in order to reach the Instagram shots. Not only was it annoying for users, it was a blow to Twitter, which lost a great deal of rich visual content.

Shortly after Twitter received the heads-up late last year that Instagram would cut off its integration, the company scrambled to figure out a solution to bringing filters into the Twitter app itself, according to sources familiar with the matter. To do that, Twitter contracted the services of Aviary, an outside company responsible for much of Twitter’s photo filter product.

Twitter certainly learned from the whole situation. What you won’t see are previews of photos uploaded from nonTwitter products; only photos uploaded via Twitter’s apps and services will show up in preview form. Same goes for Vine videos (but not for YouTube videos). No word on whether that will change in the future.

Expect the download to roll out for Android and iPhones on Tuesday.

Lockerz, Though Not Quite Dead, Raises $9 Million to Shift Focus to New Shopping Site Ador

Ador Lockerz

In the spring, reports surfaced that social commerce and photo-sharing service Lockerz was behind a new shoppable digital magazine called Ador.

Now, a new filing with the SEC published online today sheds more light.

Lockerz has rebranded its corporate name to Ador, and has raised $9 million of a possible $25 million round, the filing said.

Despite the document’s wording, Lockerz.com is still operational. In an interview, Q Shay, who identified himself as Ador’s chief operating officer, said that the company had considered shutting Lockerz.com completely, but that it currently has enough repeat visitors to justify keeping it up and running.

At the same time, the vast majority of spending will be invested into Ador.com going forward, not Lockerz, he said. Shay described the funding as a rights offering to its existing shareholders, which have included Kleiner Perkins and DAG Ventures.

The Ador site pulls in images of celebrities and models from fashion blogs and then surfaces either the exact clothes and accessories worn in the photos or ones similar to them. Ador users can then click through to the site where the product is sold to purchase the item, with Ador getting a cut through affiliate networks.

The service joins a crowded field of startups focused on creating a browsable shopping experience for the digital age.

“In our case, we are taking a far different approach and really focusing on a specific audience … those primarily interested in fashion,” said product chief Max Ciccotosto.

Shay acknowledged that there were layoffs earlier this year, but said the company has been hiring recently as it readied for Ador’s public launch earlier this month. He declined to disclose the current size of the staff.

At one time, Lockerz was one of Seattle’s biggest startup names, having raised more than $40 million for a service that gave users rewards points for taking actions such as uploading photos or watching videos. They could then use those points for discounts on clothing.

The startup also operated a photo-sharing service that drove significant traffic to Lockerz.com, but it shut down its API earlier this year, citing Twitter policy changes.

Lockerz’s founder and former CEO Kathy Savitt left the Seattle-based startup last year to become Yahoo’s chief marketing officer.

Could Google or Tencent Beat Facebook to Buying Snapchat?

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Right now, Snapchat is having its “belle of the ball” moment.

The mobile messaging service – which lets users exchange photos and video that disappear after a few seconds – is being courted by Facebook. It has long been an app that CEO Mark Zuckerberg lusted after.

Thursday afternoon brought another turn of the screw. Valleywag reported that Google could also possibly be considering taking a run at Snapchat, matching Facebook’s $3 billion to $3.5 billion offer. Google and Facebook aren’t commenting, but sources said that Google has indeed expressed some interest in a deal. Tencent, the Chinese consumer Internet company, has also been eyeballing the company, according to sources.

I don’t know Snapchat’s fate, and from what I’ve been told, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel himself is unsure of it. But it got me thinking – whether they’re in the running or not, which companies are most likely to go after the fast-growing Snapchat?

Let’s go down the list.

Facebook:
Zuckerberg wants Snapchat bad. So bad, in fact, that he tried – and failed – to clone the app outright. Sources familiar with the matter have described the Facebook CEO as “obsessed” with Snapchat and the idea of ephemeral messaging. They told AllThingsD that he has made multiple offers to acquire the company, some for more than the $1 billion he paid for Instagram last year.

Likelihood: Very High

Google:
Google may have Google+, but it knows it can’t hold a candle to Facebook or even Twitter when it comes to social mobile apps. Buying Snapchat could give Google immediate overnight relevance in social, while simultaneously dealing a blow to Facebook. Not to mention that $3 billion is a pittance for the highly profitable company to spend on an acquisition.

Likelihood: High

Tencent:
This is a good fit. Spiegel has described Tencent as a “role model” for Snapchat in terms of revenue models – potentially alluding to in-app purchasing possibilities for the startup.

And Tencent is indeed interested – if not in a full acquisition, then at the very least in a large strategic investment.

Likelihood: Very High

Yahoo:
A dark horse, and at this point not an entrant as far as I’ve heard. Still, CEO Marissa Mayer has the cash to make the deal, and is no stranger to acquisitions. Plus, an acquisition of Snapchat could help to both bolster Yahoo’s mobile efforts – which are lacking – and burnish its less-than-cool image – sort of like buying Tumblr did.

Still, there’s no evidence to my knowledge that Yahoo has approached Spiegel or Snapchat about a potential acquisition.

Likelihood: Unlikely

Twitter:
After long considering killing off its direct-messaging feature entirely, Twitter woke up last year and figured out that people actually love sending private messages. Another satellite app acquisition – similar to the one it did with Vine – could make sense.

Problem is, the figures being thrown around for Snapchat now are way out of Twitter’s price range. They’re nearly double the amount the company just raised in its initial public offering. At this point, Snapchat is far too rich for Twitter’s blood.

Likelihood: Not at all likely

A caveat to many of the past week’s stories on this topic: It’s possible – if not likely – that the escalating prices and number of companies involved is largely due to jockeying from Snapchat insiders who stand to make hundreds of millions on the deal. Read each new report with that in mind.

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Another thing to remember: Spiegel intends to raise yet another round of funding for his company at a hefty valuation. If another round goes through, there will likely be a secondary component to it, in which Spiegel and co-founder Bobby Murphy could sell some of their own shares and cash out. That means the two could still continue to go for broke and build out their own company rather than sell to the highest bidder, while having the insurance of already having taken some money off the table. And according to multiple people close to Snapchat, Spiegel and Murphy very much want to build out the startup into a full-fledged company.

Bottom line: If Snapchat keeps growing – and sources said that is indeed the case – Spiegel isn’t under the gun to make a decision today. If all goes well, his acquisition offers – and the high prices they command – likely won’t disappear.

Twitter Shares Down on Second Day Opening

TwitterIPO

After a brief rise on Friday morning, shares of Twitter slipped in the second day of trading. The stock saw an early two-point slide for a four percent drop.

As of mid-Friday morning, TWTR was trading at around $42.50 per share. That’s down from its Thursday debut price of $45.10, but still up more than 70 percent from the $26 per share at which the stock was originally priced.

Chatter around the company’s debut continued into Friday, with commenters dividing into two camps – those who thought Twitter’s massive stock price pop was a good thing for retail and major investors and those who argued that with the surge of nearly $20 up from its pricing, Twitter left more than $1 billion on the table.

As analysts have reiterated, most of the early clamor for Twitter shares has been all on the promise of the company one day delivering big returns; as of today, Twitter is relatively small in both revenue and user numbers compared to its competitor Facebook, and continues not to turn a profit.

Twitter Has 100 Million Monthly Active Users; 50% Log In Every Day

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo revealed some interesting stats about Twitter’s growth, including that it has more than 100 million active users and that signups via iOS device have tripled since the launch of iOS 5.

Twitter has been on a roll in recent months. The company surpassed 200 million tweets per day in June, but has since jumped to nearly 250 million daily tweets. The growth has been tremendous: Twitter had around 100 million tweets per day in January 2011.

Costolo revealed these stats during an interview at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco.

Of those 100 million global active users, half of them log in daily. “We had 30% of our monthly active users loggin in every day at the beginning of the year. Now it’s over 50%,” Costolo revealed.

The company’s growth amounts to about 40% quarter on quarter. But perhaps the most interesting stat is the impact of iOS 5 on Twitter. Apple’s mobile OS directly integrates Twitter, and that has resulted in a boost for the company. Costolo revealed that Twitter signups via iOS 5 devices have tripled since the launch of that iOS update.

Does anyone still use Twitter #Music? Why the Web and iOS app are quickly fading into obscurity

162642967 520x245 Does anyone still use Twitter #Music? Why the Web and iOS app are quickly fading into obscurity

It’s been a little over three months since Twitter #Music was launched on the Web and iOS. The release signalled Twitter’s desire to broaden its influence on the Web. To be more. To leverage the ever-increasing number of tweets to disrupt the status-quo.

Yet for all its hype, Twitter #Music has been a disappointment. The mobile app sits patiently in a folder on my iPhone, gathering virtual dust and a sense of increasing irrelevancy. I have no desire to open it. Perhaps that’ll change with a future update, but for now it remains rather useless.

It’s not just me either. I’ve asked friends and family what their go-to app is for listening to music on the move. Spotify, Rdio and the default iOS Music app rank high. Twitter #Music does not.

Admittedly, that’s a small group of people to poll. But a quick inspection of the top free music apps in the App Store tells a similar story. Alongside the apps I just mentioned are Deezer, Soundcloud and Shazam, as well as a bunch of emerging services such as Bloom.fm filling out the top 20.

Twitter #Music isn’t featured. Nor is it in the top 50. Top 100? Nope. Top 200? Nope. At the time of writing, the app sits ranked 285. Ouch.

So why is no-one using it?

The purpose of the Twitter #Music app is three-fold; help listeners discover new music; act as an overlay for playing said music; incentivize the music industry – particularly artists and labels – to continue engaging with their fans on Twitter.

To help users find a bunch of brilliant new records, the app offers five charts with rather ambiguous names such as ‘Emerging’, ‘Unearthed’ and ‘Hunted’. They all sound inviting, but I couldn’t tell you what the difference is between any of the three.

twittermusic1 Does anyone still use Twitter #Music? Why the Web and iOS app are quickly fading into obscurity

Tapping one reveals a very compact grid filled with tiny square display pictures. Each of them represents an artist and they’re ranked in accordance with their popularity. The interface is pretty terrible though and at times completely bewildering. The various images are the size of my fingernail and reveal next to nothing about the artist or the sort of music they play. Twitter has also chosen to show their Twitter handle by default – rather than the artist’s name – which only adds to the confusion.

Selecting a specific artist then reveals a jarring profile page that tries to blend both their Twitter account and more of these tiny cuboid images. It’s the same story in the app’s ‘Suggested’ and ‘#NowPlaying’ sections. Everything feels unrefined and lacks consistent aesthetics.

Too many alternatives that are just better

Discovering new music should be a visually stunning and frictionless experience. Soundwave, Bloom.fm and even the ‘Discover’ tab in Spotify do a much better job of this than Twitter #Music by keeping their respective interfaces refreshingly simple and uncluttered. Twitter’s mobile app just feels messy in comparison.

Twitter #Music would also be a novel proposition if it offered its own digital storefront or an on-demand streaming service. But it doesn’t do that either. Tracks are either 30-second previews from iTunes with direct store links – another bid to get music labels and artists on side – or only supported with an active Spotify or Rdio subscription.

twittermusic2 Does anyone still use Twitter #Music? Why the Web and iOS app are quickly fading into obscurity

It begs the question though: why would a Spotify or Rdio subscriber leave their dedicated mobile app for this? There’s no way to create custom playlists, queue tracks or access premium features offered by these more robust and expansive services. The idea, presumably, is to reinforce Twitter #Music’s discovery options by giving users the ability to listen to new tracks in their entirety.

Twitter #Music lacks a defining feature or hook to keep users engaged. It’s an odd blend of ideas that never seem to mesh or offer a significant value proposition to the listener. There’s some potential here though and plenty of time for Twitter to turn it around – but no wonder it’s performing so poorly in the App Store at the moment.

Image Credit: David Ramos/Getty Images

Does Anybody Really Care About Egypt?

Twitter and Egypt

It’s far from a scientific sample, but I noticed a lot of people in my Twitter feed over the past few weeks lamenting a lack of thorough media coverage surrounding the political crisis in Egypt. Certainly, when the George Zimmerman trial reached its apex, one might have assumed things in Egypt had reached a peaceful resolution, given how little news could be found in the mainstream US media.

It turns out that media companies are pretty astute at knowing what their audiences want to see, even if it doesn’t jibe with the smaller but more vocal Twitterati. Turn on your local network news for five minutes and you’ll figure out the formula: If people aren’t interested in a given topic, the media doesn’t spend a lot of time trying to change our minds.

What about Egypt?

Egypt seems to have all the makings of a sensational news topic, with its mass protests, violence, and intrigue. But do Americans really care?

We surveyed over 2,000 US adults over the past few days to gauge how concerned they were about the crisis in Egypt. Here’s how they answered:

Interest in Egypt

Over two-thirds of Americans have some degree of concern, with a full 30 percent characterizing themselves as Very Concerned. Thirty-two percent don’t seem to care at all. When we looked at demographics, we found that women were much more likely than men to be Very Concerned, as were people over age 45, and those with an advanced education.

This doesn’t tell us much, though, without comparing Egypt to other issues. So, we looked at 19 other issues we’ve studied using the exact same question format, like this one:

Interest in Income Equality

Most topics we follow on a daily basis (for our long-term tracking questions, we looked at results over the past 3 months), but a few issues were timely, like last December’s Fiscal Cliff. We included a mixture of both for contrast.

To develop a consistent “Concern Index,” we took the percentage of people who said “Very Concerned” and multiplied it by two, then added the percentage of people who said “Somewhat Concerned” (this did NOT take a Carnegie Mellon-trained data scientist). Based on this system, the crisis in Egypt would have a score of 98 ((30% x2) + 38%). Income inequality achieves a score of 115.

Now let’s look at a litany of other issues to see how the crisis in Egypt compares:

Concern Index

What Stands Out?

Let’s first address the elephant in the room. No matter how we sliced our numbers, the public health implications of texting-while-driving (“TWD”) produced the highest concern score. These were all large samples sizes, over 5,000 respondents, reweighted to match the full US adult population. So we can’t argue with the numbers. TWD is a big deal to a lot of people.

The next items on the list should come as little surprise. Health Care and Public Education rank slightly above the Economy and Jobs, but within a thin margin of error. Consumer Privacy has surged in recent months, making it to #7 on the list, just behind Gas and Energy Prices.

It’s interesting to note that issues like last year’s Fiscal Cliff and Bullying in Schools rank so highly above Crime and Violence and Climate Change among the general population. Clearly, these numbers might be different among respondents across the socio-economic and ideological spectrum.

We don’t find the Crisis in Egypt until #17, ranking more highly than only Concussions in the NFL and last summer’s LIBOR interest rate scandal. These are niche topics, to say the least.

If the mainstream media is providing little coverage of the Eqypt dispute, they may know what they’re doing. Our data makes a pretty convincing case that most consumers are concerned more about issues that impact their everyday lives, like failing schools, out-of-control health care costs, tight job markets and, most importantly, that college kid in the car in front of them sending a text to his girlfriend.

Vatican: Following the Pope on Twitter Means Less Time in Purgatory

Pope Francis

The Vatican has taken another step in its efforts to embrace social media by offering “indulgences” to followers of Pope Francis’ (@Pontifex) Twitter account. Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reports that the church will reduce the time Catholics have to spend in purgatory if they follow official Vatican events on TV, radio, and through social media. One such event is the Catholic World Youth Day, commencing in Rio de Janeiro on July 22nd. The Apostolic Penitentiary, a Vatican tribunal responsible for issues relating to the forgiveness of sins, will award the privilege to the faithful that follow the event using different forms of media. Pope Francis’ followers are not immediately granted an indulgence for tracking the event, with the penitentiary noting that it would hinge on the user having previously confessed and being “truly penitent and contrite.”

Read the full story at The Verge.

Twitter Amplify signs its first sponsored video partnership in Europe with French TV channel TF1

154605103 520x245 Twitter Amplify signs its first sponsored video partnership in Europe with French TV channel TF1

Twitter launched its Amplify service for sponsored in-tweet video clips in May, and now it has signed its first European partnership for the program with French TV channel TF1, as reported by Le Figaro. The partnership will bring sponsored videos from “Dancing with the Stars” to tweets this fall.

Amplify has grown to roughly 30 partners, most of whom are in the US. ESPN recently upped its commitment to the program by signing a deal to post NCAA college football videos to Twitter with sponsorship from Verizon Wireless. The US Tennis Association also recently joined Amplify in time for the US Open.

Earlier this week, Twitter announced that it had purchased social analytics company Trendrr as it set its sites on the TV industry. In February, Twitter also bought TV analytics and advertising business Bluefin Labs.

Twitter Amplify goes Continental with first deal in Europe. (Tweet)

Photo credit: FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images