Messenger Adds New, Snapchat-like Video Option to Message Threads

Messenger Adds New, Snapchat-like Video Option to Message Threads

Facebook has today announced a new video addition to Messenger called “Instant Video” which enables you to share real-time video within your message thread.

Looks kind of cool, right? Though we have seen similar functionality somewhere before.

Messenger Adds New Snapchat-like Video Option to Message Threads | Social Media Today

Yes, Snapchat has had similar functionality within their chat tool for some time, which they recently refined with their Chat 2.0 update. Messenger’s “Instant Video” is essentially the same, though slightly different in its presentation and delivery.

Of course, you’ve been able to connect via video in Messenger since April last year, but as noted by Facebook, that type of video connection is normally “reserved for special occasions like celebrating “in person” with Grandma on her birthday or seeing Dad on a business trip”.

Messenger Adds New, Snapchat-like Video Option to Message Threads | Social Media Today

Instant Video is aimed at enabling people to easily share quick moments and provide additional context to message interactions, as opposed to planned, live video chats.

“Sometimes you want to ask a friend’s opinion on a pair of shoes you want to buy, weigh in on what ice cream flavor they should bring home, or just want to see your BFF’s reaction to your witty message when you’re in a place where you can’t actually talk live.”

Given the focus on providing additional insight to a chat – as opposed to a full video experience – Instant Video plays, initially, without sound. As noted by Messenger chief David Marcus, this means that the person you’re chatting with can see and interact with your video content, even if they’re in an environment in which they can’t participate in a video chat.

Again, Snapchat has the same functionality, in that you can choose to watch and respond to video chats via text if you’re not in a position to broadcast. It’s a clever option that provides users with additional communication tools, while also giving them the ability to avoid intrusion – so if, as Marcus notes, you’re in a meeting at work and someone desperately needs your opinion on a purchase, you can still hold your phone out of view and watch their video without your phone suddenly blurting out all kinds of shopping mall chatter into a crowded conference room.

As you can see from the video above, the process is very simple – you click on the video option in the top right of screen and you’re immediately able to broadcast into the chat thread. If the recipient wants to respond, they can tap the video option within the initial video frame to share their response.

Facebook’s making big bets on messaging, with messaging use one the rise over the past few years. This is largely seen as a response to the over-openness of social networks, where everything is recorded and filed and held on your public record forevermore. While that level of openness is good for some things, it also can have negative impacts, and that’s lead to more people switching their conversations to enclosed message threads and interactions – essentially a more private use of social networks. This behavioral shift is also seen as the driving force behind the rise of Snapchat.

To provide some perspective on messaging use, SMS volume peaked in around 2010, with some 20 billion SMS messages being sent every 24 hours around the world. Facebook, through its messaging platforms (Messenger and WhatsApp), now handles more than three times that volume, every day.

Messenger Adds New, Snapchat-like Video Option to Message Threads | Social Media Today

And with that increased use comes increased business interest – Facebook’s exploring several ways to translate the popularity of their messaging apps into commercial opportunities, through tools like Bots for Messenger and the gradual move towards monetization for WhatsApp.

Given this focus, it makes sense to see The Social Network looking to integrate more and more tools and options into the Messenger experience – and straight away you can see how having Instant Video available within a message thread when interacting with a business could have significant benefits.

And while the option is another feature that Facebook has at least somewhat appropriated from Snapchat, as we’ve noted before on SMT, that imitation factor largely doesn’t matter to the regular user. If the tools provide functionality that people want, they’ll be popular, regardless of their origins.

It’s another small step in the evolution of Messenger, and another new option for users – and businesses – to consider in their interactive and outreach process.

The Best Ways to Use Facebook and Twitter to Promote Your Event [Infographic]
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The Best Ways to Use Facebook and Twitter to Promote Your Event [Infographic]

Most organizations expend a lot of their resources – time, money, and energy – on events and conferences. An event allows you to really engage with your stakeholders and audience both in real life and, if you’re savvy, online.

So how can you best use Facebook and Twitter to get people to attend your event? Here’s a list of steps to take before, during, and after.

Before the Event

Consider a Facebook campaign specifically for your event. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all offer good methods to target the right people to attend your event with paid social.

“There are a number of ways across each platform, including paid/sponsored posts, hashtags, banner ads, etc.

When someone registers for your event, encourage them to share that they’re participating on Twitter and Facebook. “Make it easy by including a ‘lazy tweet’ – a link with a pre-populated tweet including the desired copy and hashtag – for people to share instantly in order to maximize your social reach before the event,

“Pick an event hashtag that’s short, and ideally, unique to your event  And always, always use this hashtag in every tweet and post.”

For example, the Association of Children’s Museums puts together a conference every year called InterActivity. They used the hashtag #IA16 for this year’s conference on both Twitter and Facebook. They used the hashtag before the conference and soon attendees were using it. The real pay off was during the conference when attendees started posting pictures of themselves and the presentations on both networks. (The Association of Children’s Museums also includes text versions of the presentations from its conferences on their website so that the learning and exchange that happened at the conference can continue online anytime.)

The Best Ways to Use Facebook and Twitter to Promote Your Event | Social Media Today

Usually your Twitter and Facebook bios will link to your website, but when you’re promoting a big event, consider changing these links so they send visitors directly to the event page.

Tweet early and tweet often about your event.

“Unlike email, most tweets are missed as they flow through the social streams of your audience,” says Crestodina. What kind of things should you tweet about? Crestodina has a list of reasons to tweet and suggests that “many of these tweets can be scheduled far in advance, using tools like HootSuite or Buffer.”

Pre-event Tweet ideas:

  • Registration opens
  • Early-bird registration is ending soon
  • Countdown: “Just X days until the event!”
  • Reminder of time and location
  • Thank your sponsors (mention sponsors)
  • “Just saw Jane’s presentation. Wow!” (mention speakers)
  • “See you at the event!” (mention registrants)
  • Thanks for sharing, posting and re-tweeting (mention anyone who shared)
  • Tweets with a testimonial quotes about a speaker (find these on LinkedIn)
  • Tweet to the pre-event blog post using a quote from the interview (mention speaker)

But what about people who can’t attend your event?

“Virtual participation is an option that is under-utilized for fundraising events. It’s great for endurance events, giving days, or auctions. Allowing individuals to fundraise for an endurance event online and run, walk, or ride on the same day as your event but in their hometown can almost double your participation and funds raised,”

During the Event

Create a photo opportunity.

“Whether it’s a picture with your founder, a backdrop, or a ‘step and repeat,’ encouraging your attendees to take pictures during the event and share them in social media, whether through Instagram or Twitter, is a great way to engage your outside audience. Just make sure you encourage them to include your event hashtag so you can track your total reach!”

During your event, post on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn about what’s happening – and remember to always use your event hashtag. Share pictures, videos, quotes, or key takeaways.

“Debut a story, milestone, or video for the first time at the event. Share an amazing piece of content highlighting your impact with your attendees and the world during the event. This is a huge opportunity to do something big,”

Charity:Water played a new film at Hubspot’s INBOUND conference. After the initial screening, HubSpot emailed every attendee a link to share the video on Twitter and Facebook. “When we did this, attendees generated over 3,600 tweets about the video and 50,000 video views in one day,” says Carrado.

After the Event

Follow up with content from the event. And remember to thank everyone.

“Show your gratitude after the event by thanking the speakers, sponsors and attendees in follow up tweets and posts. This is good for networking,” says Crestodina. “Put a few of your best photos on Facebook and Google+. Be sure to tag and mention people… In the days after the event, listen for tweets, mentions and blog posts from others. Hopefully, the hashtag makes this easy. When you see these mentions, share them.”

“Recap the success of the attendees and the event. Share the results in social posts. Taylor Carrado at Hubspot says, “Thank your major donors, top fundraisers, and biggest betters via social media. The more personal your messages are, the more likely those you’re thanking will share your messages with their social networks – or even blog about your event.”

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Google Duo arrives to take on FaceTime

Google Duo arrives to take on FaceTime

Google Duo, a new video chat app that works exclusively on phones, is getting released today. I’ve been using it for about a week and I can tell you that it’s fast, easy to use, and devoid of complicated bells and whistles. You tap on the face of the person you want to call, they answer, and you have a one-on-one video chat going. Nobody who uses this app can say that Google didn’t achieve its goal of creating a video chat app that’s relentlessly, explicitly designed solely for phones.

That effort is so single-minded I can’t decide if it’s timid or bold.

First, a bit about how Duo works. It’s available on both Android phones and iPhones. When you sign up, the app checks your phone number from your SIM and then sends you a confirmation text. That’s the whole setup process — there are no accounts to create nor friend lists to maintain. It’s tied directly to your contacts list and your phone number.

That’s great for simplicity, but bad if you want to use Duo on anything other than your phone. It’s also unable to make conference calls, put Hangouts-style funny pirate hats on your head during a call, or offer just about any other fancy feature you might expect from a video conference app.

Duo’s radical simplicity is by design, says vice president of Google’s communications division, Nick Fox. “By being laser-focused on mobile,” he says, “it enables us to just make sure that we were doing a great, wonderful job on that case. … For us, we thought ‘amazing on mobile, nothing on desktop’ was the better approach.”

There is one feature in Duo that feels genuinely new: it’s called “Knock Knock.” When you receive a call on Android (it doesn’t work on the iPhone), your entire screen starts showing the live video from your caller before you even answer. It lets you see who’s calling — and lets the caller make funny faces to try to entice you to answer. Google’s promo video for Duo emphasizes it heavily:

In my testing, Knock Knock worked very well — and it has the added benefit of making the call start immediately. The video call is already running the nanosecond you swipe up to answer it. “Instead of the call starting with frustration and confusion,” Fox says, “you start with a smile because you know it already works.” I don’t know about the smile, but I do know that Duo calls started without all the “Hello, are you there?” that I typically experience with most other video and audio calls.

For those worried about people hijacking their screen with a video feed while they’re at dinner or a meeting, a few notes to ease your mind. First, Knock Knock only works with people you already have saved in your contacts — so random people won’t show up. Second, you can block a caller if you like — but take note that since Duo doesn’t have its own independent friends list, blocking a caller on Duo blocks them everywhere. Last, you can turn the feature off entirely if you don’t like it.

Google also has done a lot of work on the back end to make things feel immediate. It’s based on WebRTC, with some added technical underpinnings to make the call automatically ratchet the quality up or down depending on your connection quality. It’s even able to maintain the call when you switch from Wi-Fi to cellular. After a very brief hiccup, the call just keeps on going.

I mostly tested Duo on a Nexus 5X (running the latest Android Nougat Beta), where call quality was mostly good — better on Wi-Fi, but never so bad that it dropped completely. On the iPhone 6S, call quality was equally good. However, because Google doesn’t have the same ability to integrate on iOS as it does on Android, there are a few hassles: no Knock Knock, and you have to unlock the phone before you answer the call.

Duo is the second of the two apps Google announced at its developer conference this past May. The other is the AI-enhanced text messaging app Allo, for which Google hasn’t yet announced a release date. That’s odd enough, but perhaps not as confusing as Google’s overall strategy with communication apps: instead of fixing its unified solution, Hangouts, Google has opted to release two different (but slightly related) messaging apps: one for video and one for text.

Neither app is designed to replace Google’s other video and messaging app, Hangouts. Instead, Hangouts will continue to exist with a more tightly focused mission: serving enterprise users, where Fox says we can expect “it will increasingly be more integrated with Google Apps suite.” It will still be available for consumers, of course, but those users won’t be the focus of future product development.

And Fox is also not especially concerned that Google is offering a multiplicity of communication apps. He sees Google’s products as split broadly into three bands: Allo and Duo for consumers; Hangouts for the enterprise; and services that are more carrier focused — like SMS, RCS, and even the Phone app. Fox believes that consumers simply aren’t confused by a multiplicity of messaging apps — whether they’re made by Google or not — “People use the apps that their friends are using,” he says. And he’s excited to see Duo (and, later, Allo) compete with all of them head-to-head.

How Duo will actually compete was (and is) one of my biggest questions. Why use Duo when Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, FaceTime, Hangouts, and any number of other options exist? Is Google going to leverage the massive power of the Android install base somehow? Will Duo be part of the standard suite of Google Play apps preinstalled on the vast majority of Android phones (outside of China)? “We haven’t made decisions on that yet,” says Fox. “We want to get it out there, see how it does, and then I see distribution as the next step rather than the first step.”

When I said up top that I couldn’t decide whether Google’s strategy with Duo was bold or timid, this is what I was referring to. It’s not going to be the automatic default for all Android phones, replacing phone calls in the way that iMessage replaces SMS. Google isn’t ready to go there just yet, which feels timid.

But it’s also bold. In this incredibly crowded marketplace, Google is forcing Duo to compete on its own merits. You can invite somebody to use it by sending them a text from inside the app, but otherwise the plan seems to just be to see how it is received in the marketplace. I asked some variant of “how are you going to get users for this thing” no fewer than four times in my hour with Fox, and every time the answer boiled down to this: “We’re focused on building great apps that people love and distribution will follow that.”

I have no idea if that plan will work: sometimes boldness is just naiveté. But I can’t help but respect the clarity of purpose behind the creation of Duo. It’s aggressively, obsessively focused on making the best possible mobile experience for video chat, at the expense of all else. He said no to desktop, no to conference calling, no even to allowing the same account to work on multiple devices. For the Duo team, getting “mobile first” right meant demanding it be “mobile only.”

Duo does one-on-one video chat very well, which is what Google set out to make it do. The question now is whether or not that’s enough.

Riots in the UK: Theresa May to chair meeting on social media with law enforcement agencies

Riots in the UK: Theresa May to chair meeting on social media with law enforcement agencies

The central London summit has been convened following evidence to suggest that social networking sites and messaging services were used to co-ordinate criminality during the riots earlier this month.

The meeting will focus on ways of improving the technological and legal capabilities of the police in the future.

Commenting on today’s meeting, a spokesperson from the Home Office explained: “These discussions will help us determine how law enforcement and the networks can work better together.”

The spokesperson continued: “Among the issues to be discussed is whether and how we should be able to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.”

The Home Office statement also says: “Social networking is not a cause of the recent disturbances, but a means of enabling criminals to communicate. We are working with the police to see what action can be taken to prevent access to those services by customers identified as perpetrators of disorder or other criminal action.”

The Home Secretary explained her intention to meet with social media representatives during a speech in Parliament on 11 August.

At that time, Theresa May told MPs: “Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and messaging services like BlackBerry Messenger have been used to co-ordinate criminality, and stay one step ahead of the police.”

“I will convene a meeting with the Association of Chief Police Officers, police and representatives from the social media industry to work out how we can improve the technological and related legal capabilities of the police.”

Representatives of the three major social networks used during the London and wider England riots earlier this month – Facebook, Twitter and Research in Motion’s BlackBerry Messenger service – have all been called to the Home Office.

Facebook has confirmed its attendance, while Research In Motion (RIM) – developer of the excellent BlackBerry smartphones – said it “welcomes the opportunity for consultation together with other companies in the technology and telecommunications industry”.

A statement from Facebook says: “We look forward to meeting with the Home Secretary to explain the measures we have been taking to ensure that Facebook is a safe and positive platform for people in the UK at this challenging time”.

Pleasingly, many responsible Facebook users ‘self-policed’ the site and duly reported any content they felt may be deliberately inciting violence or disorder.

Two men have been given jail terms for trying to incite the riots on Facebook. 20-year-old Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, were both sentenced to four years, although neither of the events the men attempted to organise actually took place.

The sentences were passed by the Crown Court in Chester.

The Crown Prosecution Service stated that both men pleaded guilty to ‘intentionally encouraging another to assist the commission of an indictable offence’ under Sections 44 and 46 of the Serious Crime Act 2007.

The presiding judge said that, even though the men’s call for violence and rioting was not ‘actioned’ by anyone, the sentences were meant to act as a ‘deterrent’ in the wake of the riots.

Civil rights and penal reform groups have subsequently criticised some of the sentences handed down as ‘disproportionate.’

Today’s meeting comes in the wake of David Cameron’s speech in Parliament when he suggested that Government should be able to ‘disconnect’ social and phone networks to prevent civil disorder.

“Everyone watching these horrific actions will be struck by how they were organised via social media,” said the Prime Minister. “Free flow of information can be used for good, but it can also be used for ill.”

Speaking at the specially convened Parliamentary session, Cameron continued: “When people are using social media for violence we need to stop them, so we are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.”

Any move to ‘disconnect’ potential rioters would certainly mark a fundamental shift in Britain’s stated Internet policy, with free speech advocates likely to accuse the Government of attempting to usher in a new wave of online censorship.

Cameron also said: “There were an awful lot of hoaxes and false trails made on Twitter and BlackBerry Messenger. We require a major piece of work to make sure that the police have all the technological capabilities they need to hunt down and beat the criminals.”

Certainly, Research in Motion is under some degree of pressure to explain its actions during the riots after BlackBerry users apparently employed the secure BlackBerry Messenger application to disseminate targets for rioting and looting.

Twitter’s officials famously said during the riots that “the tweets must flow”, but that hasn’t been seen as a responsible stance by all law enforcement agencies.

Meantime, it’s reported that MI5 and electronics interception agency GCHQ have been brought in by the Government in an attempt to ‘crack’ the BlackBerry encryption so as to help prevent further disorder.

Allo is a messaging app with Google built right in

Allo is a messaging app with Google built right in

Google is announcing a new messaging app today. It’s called Allo and its main feature is a Google assistant that’s built right in. Google says it’ll be available later this summer — for free — on both iOS and Android.

Allo (pronounced like “Aloe” and not like “‘allo, guv’nor!”) is a mobile-only app that you might think is meant to replace Google’s other messaging app, Hangouts. But you’d be wrong. Allo is explicitly meant to be a fresh start for Google’s new communication’s division (which also runs Hangouts and Project Fi).

“It’s really liberating to start from scratch sometimes,” says Erik Kay, director of engineering, communications products. And Allo does feel like a fresh new start. Its interface is clean and easy to understand, with some clever little innovations on what you’ve seen in other chat apps like WhatsApp or Messenger.

Let’s start with the basics. You sign up with your phone number and you can connect your Google account to it, though there’s no need to. You can see the usual chat app stuff: there are sent and received indicators, emoji, and a big set of custom stickers. Amit Fulay, group product manager on Google’s communications products team, says that Google commissioned stickers from artists with an eye toward ensuring there was a wide diversity of options — stuff that would work in India, as well as in America.

When you send a photo, it shows up full-bleed in the screen and you can even doodle on it if you want. Another neat trick: before you hit send, you can drag your finger up or down on the button to enlarge or shrink the text. Google calls it “WhisperShout.”

If that were all there were to Allo, it wouldn’t really have a reason to exist. It certainly wouldn’t give you a good reason to switch away from whatever chat app (or, more likely, chat apps) you’re currently using. But Google thinks the secret weapon it has in the battle for your thumbs is… Google.

More specifically, it’s the Google assistant, the new conversational interface you can use to get information from Google. You can set up a conversation with @google and ask it all sorts of questions. It’ll respond with the stuff you’ve come to expect from typing into a Google search box — but it’ll also engage in a bit of a conversation with you. It’ll suggest further searches, and give you ways to do things that Google can do — like book a table with OpenTable.

And Google’s chatbot is smarter than other chatbots. It has the power of Google’s Knowledge Graph, which understands many thousands of “entities” and how they relate to each other. So you can ask more complicated questions that couldn’t be resolved just by crawling the web. And if you get bored, you can ask @google to start a game like “guess the movie based on a string of emoji.”

But where @google gets more interesting is inside your conversation with your friends. When they send you a message, Allo puts some suggested replies at the bottom. They’re called “suggestion chips” and they’re powered by a massive and massively smart machine learning engine.

In the example Google showed us, a graduation photo came through. The suggested replies were along the lines of “Congratulations!” and “You look great!” Think for a moment about what it takes to do that. Google recognized it was a graduation photo and then went a step beyond just guessing what it was, it guessed at appropriate responses. And even beyond that, the responses are grouped into little meaning clusters — so you get a range of possible reactions instead of just variations on the same theme.

Google builds up these suggestion chips based on the machine learning it can apply to the way that you actually type. Kay told us that his suggestions were the text-version of smileys because he prefers to use those over actual emoji.

When you “invoke” @google in a chat either by hitting one of those suggestion chips or just typing @google, both you and everybody you’re chatting with can see and respond to the answers. So picking a restaurant becomes a group activity where everybody is looking at what you’re looking for and helping pick the right one. And debates about who starred in that movie you saw can be resolved immediately and definitively.

At this point, you’re probably a little creeped out, so let me tell you what the privacy rules are with Allo. First, all conversations are encrypted “on the wire,” which means that nobody on the internet can read them as you send your message. They are read by Google’s servers, but Kay assures me that the data is stored “transiently,” which is to say that Google doesn’t keep your chat logs around to be subpoenaed. And Fulay adds that Google doesn’t assign identity to the chat logs on those servers even then.

If that’s not strong enough for you, there’s also an Incognito Mode — similar to Incognito Mode on Chrome. When you enable it, your conversation is encrypted end-to-end and Google can’t read it at all. And notifications from Incognito chats don’t reveal their contents on your lock screen, either. It means you won’t get the power of the Google assistant, but it also ensures a higher level of privacy. Both Kay and Fulay tell me that Google plans on adding other features to Incognito in the future, such as expiring messages.

ALLO IS FAST AND GOOGLE IS POWERFUL, BUT IS THAT ENOUGH?

At several points during the demo, I couldn’t help but think that nothing that I was seeing the Google assistant do was strictly new. But Google, it turns out, is really good at this sort of thing and has been for a long time — so even though the only new functionality here is the conversational interface itself, it still felt pretty powerful.

But there are limits to Allo, and the biggest one is that the only chatbot you’ll be talking to is Google. The company isn’t diving into the deep end with chatbots in the way that virtually every other tech giant on the planet (save Apple) seems to be doing. Kay says that Google wants “to be thoughtful about bringing multiple things in until we get the interaction right.”

That’s probably a fine decision for now, especially given the lackluster experience many have had with bots on Facebook Messenger so far. But this is a space that’s heating up quickly, so Google may find that it needs to move quickly to keep up.

Speaking of keeping up: Google flat-out hasn’t in the messaging space. Hangouts was supposed to be a grand reset and Google’s big entry into the field — the company told us as much three years ago. Instead, Hangouts has become something of a rueful, inside joke among Android users. The iOS version is more advanced, but it too could stand to be cleaned up a bit. On the desktop, it still feels like it was designed for a previous age.

And so the big question that any messaging app — especially one from Google — has to face is really simple: how are you going to get people to use your app? Whatsapp and Messenger are nearing or passing a billion monthly active users, and there’s an army of chat apps vying for users installs too: WeChat, QQ, Line. And of course, there’s iMessage.

IT’S VERY HARD TO COMPETE WITH CHAT APPS THAT HAVE A BILLION USERS

Kay says that the diversity of Android hardware precludes Google from creating an iMessage-like system that co-opts SMS — not to mention that Allo also needs to work on iOS. Instead, the plan for acquiring users for Allo seems a little, well, unformed. Rather than talk about jump-starting user growth, Fulay emphasized that Google is just focused on making a good app: “The first order of business is just nail the product… make sure we have a product people love.” Kay says that “if you don’t have a great product that users love and are willing to recommend to their friends, then there’s no sense in worrying about distribution.”

I’ll admit that I think Allo looks like a great product (though I wish that it wasn’t strictly phone number-based and mobile-only and therefore tied to to a single phone). But as we’ve watched other messaging platforms achieve billion-user scale, I also think that convincing them to switch is going to be very hard. Talking to Google in a chat app looks pretty great, but who you really want to talk to are your friends. Right now, they’re using something else.

Google can’t undo the mistakes it made with Hangouts over the past three years, it can only move forward with a new (and better) app. Allo is definitely both of those things, but it will need to be even more than that to really challenge Facebook and Apple.

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