Monthly Archives: June 2021
Instagram is building its own version of Twitter’s Super Follow with a feature that would allow online creators to publish “exclusive” content to their Instagram Stories that’s only available to their fans — access that would likely come with a subscription payment of some kind. Instagram confirmed the screenshots of the feature recently circulated across social media are from an internal prototype that’s now in development, but not yet being publicly tested. The company declined to share any specific details about its plans, saying the company is not at a place to talk about this project just yet.
The screenshots, however, convey a lot of about Instagram’s thinking as they show a way that creators could publish what are being called “Exclusive Stories” to their account, which are designated with a different color (currently purple). When other Instagram users come across the Exclusive Stories, they’ll be shown a message that says that “only members” can view this content. The Stories cannot be screenshot either, it appears, and they can be shared as Highlights. A new prompt encourages creators to “save this to a Highlight for your Fans,” explaining that, by doing so, “fans always have something to see when they join.”
The Exclusive Stories feature was uncovered by reverse engineer Alessandro Paluzzi, who often finds unreleased features in the code of mobile apps. Over the past week, he’s published a series screenshots to an ongoing Twitter thread about his findings.
Exclusive Stories are only one part of Instagram’s broader plans for expanded creator monetization tools.
The company has been slowly revealing more details about its efforts in this space, with Instagram Head Adam Mosseri first telling The Information in May that the company was “exploring” subscriptions along with other new features, like NFTs.
Paluzzi also recently found references to the NFT feature, Collectibles, which shows how digital collectibles could appear on a creator’s Instagram profile in a new tab.
Instagram, so far, hasn’t made a public announcement about these specific product developments, instead choosing to speak at a high-level about its plans around things like subscriptions and tips.
For example, during Instagram’s Creator Week in early June — an event that could have served as an ideal place to offer a first glimpse at some of these ideas — Mosseri talked more generally about the sort of creator tools Instagram was interested in building, without saying which were actually in active development.
“We need to create, if we want to be the best platform for creators long term, a whole suite of things, or tools, that creators can use to help do what they do,” he said, explaining that Instagram was also working on more creative tools and safety features for creators, as well as tools that could help creators make a living.
“I think it’s super important that we create a whole suite of different tools, because what you might use and what would be relevant for you as a creator might be very different than an athlete or a writer,” he said.
“And so, largely, [the creator monetization tools] fall into three categories. One is commerce — so either we can do more to help with branded content; we can do more with affiliate marketing…we can do more with merch,” he explained. “The second is ways for users to actually pay creators directly — so whether it is gated content or subscriptions or tips, like badges, or other user payment-type products. I think there’s a lot to do there. I love those because those give creators a direct relationship with their fans — which I think is probably more sustainable and more predictable over the long run,” Mosseri said.
The third area is focused on revenue share, as with IGTV long-form video and short-form video, like Reels, he added.
Instagram isn’t the only large social platform moving forward with creator monetization efforts.
The membership model, popularized by platforms like OnlyFans and Patreon, has been more recently making its way to a number of mainstream social networks as the creator economy has become better established.
Twitter, for example, first announced its own take on creator subscriptions, with the unveiling of its plans for the Super Follow feature during an Analyst Day event in February. Last week, it began rolling out applications for Super Follows and Ticked Spaces — the latter, a competitor to Clubhouse’s audio social networking rooms.
Meanwhile, Facebook just yesterday launched its Substack newsletter competitor, Bulletin, which offers a way for creators to sell premium subscriptions and access member-only groups and live audio rooms. Even Spotify has launched an audio chat room and Clubhouse rival, Greenroom, which it also plans to eventually monetize.
Though the new screenshots offer a deeper look into Instagram’s product plans on this front, we should caution that an in-development feature is not necessarily representative of what a feature will look like at launch or how it will ultimately behave. It’s also not a definitive promise of a public launch — though, in this case, it would be hard to see Instagram scrapping its plans for exclusive, member-only content given its broader interest in serving creators, where such a feature is essentially part of a baseline offering.
To train a robot to navigate a house, you either need to give it a lot of real time in a lot of real houses, or a lot of virtual time in a lot of virtual houses. The latter is definitely the better option, and Facebook and Matterport are working together to make thousands of virtual, interactive digital twins of real spaces available for researchers and their voracious young AIs.
On Facebook’s side the big advance is in two parts: the new Habitat 2.0 training environment and the dataset they created to enable it. You may remember Habitat from a couple years back; in the pursuit of what it calls “embodied AI,” which is to say AI models that interact with the real world, Facebook assembled a number of passably photorealistic virtual environments for them to navigate.
Many robots and AIs have learned things like movement and object recognition in idealized, unrealistic spaces that resemble games more than reality. A real-world living room is a very different thing from a reconstructed one. By learning to move about in something that looks like reality, an AI’s knowledge will transfer more readily to real-world applications like home robotics.
But ultimately these environments were only polygon-deep, with minimal interaction and no real physical simulation — if a robot bumps into a table, it doesn’t fall over and spill items everywhere. The robot could go to the kitchen, but it couldn’t open the fridge or pull something out of the sink. Habitat 2.0 and the new ReplicaCAD dataset change that with increased interactivity and 3D objects instead of simply interpreted 3D surfaces.
Simulated robots in these new apartment-scale environments can roll around like before, but when they arrive at an object, they can actually do something with it. For instance if a robot’s task is to pick up a fork from the dining room table and go place it in the sink, a couple years ago picking up and putting down the fork would just be assumed, since you couldn’t actually simulate it effectively. In the new Habitat system the fork is physically simulated, as is the table it’s on, the sink it’s going to, and so on. That makes it more computationally intense, but also way more useful.
They’re not the first to get to this stage by a long shot, but the whole field is moving along at a rapid clip and each time a new system comes out it leapfrogs the others in some ways and points at the next big bottleneck or opportunity. In this case Habitat 2.0’s nearest competition is probably AI2’s ManipulaTHOR, which combines room-scale environments with physical object simulation.
Where Habitat has it beat is in speed: according to the paper describing it, the simulator can run roughly 50-100 times faster, which means a robot can get that much more training done per second of computation. (The comparisons aren’t exact by any means and the systems are distinct in other ways.)
The dataset used for it is called ReplicaCAD, and it’s essentially the original room-level scans recreated with custom 3D models. This is a painstaking manual process, Facebook admitted, and they’re looking into ways of scaling it, but it provides a very useful end product.
More detail and more types of physical simulation are on the roadmap — basic objects, movements, and robotic presences are supported, but fidelity had to give way for speed at this stage.
Matterport is also making some big moves in partnership with Facebook. After making a huge platform expansion over the last couple years, the company has assembled an enormous collection of 3D-scanned buildings. Though it has worked with researchers before, the company decided it was time to make a larger part of its trove available to the community.
“We’ve Matterported every type of physical structure in existence, or close to it. Homes, high-rises, hospitals, office spaces, cruise ships, jets, Taco Bells, McDonalds… and all the info that is contained in a digital twin is very important to research,” CEO RJ Pittman told me. “We thought for sure this would have implications for everything from doing computer vision to robotics to identifying household objects. Facebook didn’t need any convincing… for Habitat and embodied AI it is right down the center of the fairway.”
To that end it created a dataset, HM3D, of a thousand meticulously 3D-captured interiors, from the home scans that real estate browsers may recognize to businesses and public spaces. It’s the largest such collection that has been made widely available.
The environments, which are scanned an interpreted by an AI trained on precise digital twins, are dimensionally accurate to the point where, for example, exact numbers for window surface area or total closet volume can be calculated. It’s a helpfully realistic playground for AI models, and while the resulting dataset isn’t interactive (yet) it is very reflective of the real world in all its variance. (It’s distinct from the Facebook interactive dataset but could form the basis for an expansion.)
“It is specifically a diversified dataset,” said Pittman. “We wanted to be sure we had a rich grouping of different real world environments — you need that diversity of data if you want to get the most mileage out of it training an AI or robot.”
All the data was volunteered by the owners of the spaces, so don’t worry that it’s been sucked up unethically by some small print. Ultimately, Pittman explained, the company wants to create a larger, more parameterized dataset that can be accessed by API — realistic virtual spaces as a service, basically.
“Maybe you’re building a hospitality robot, for bed and breakfasts of a certain style in the U.S — wouldn’t it be great to be able to get a thousand of those?” he mused. “We want to see how far we can push advancements with this first dataset, get those learnings, then continue to work with the research community and our own developers and go from there. This is an important launching point for us.”
Both datasets will be open and available for researchers everywhere to use.
An antitrust suit against Facebook by the FTC and several states had the wind taken out of its sails today by a federal judge, who ruled that the plaintiffs don’t provide enough evidence that the company exerts monopoly control over social media. The court was more receptive, however, to revisiting the acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp, and the case was left open for regulators to take another shot at it.
The court decision was in response to a Facebook motion to dismiss the suit. Judge James Boesberg of the D.C. circuit explained that the provided evidence of monopoly and antitrust violations was “too speculative and conclusory to go forward.” In a more ordinary industry, it might have sufficed, he admits, but “this case involves no ordinary or intuitive market.”
It was incumbent on the plaintiffs to back up their allegation of Facebook controlling 60 percent of the market with clear and voluminous data and a convincing delineation of what exactly that market comprises — and it failed to do so, wrote Boesberg. Therefore he dismissed the complaints in accordance with Facebook’s legal argument.
The company wrote in a statement that it is “pleased that today’s decisions recognize the defects in the government complaints.”
On the other hand, Boesberg is sensible that lack of evidence in the record does not mean that the evidence does not exist. So he his giving the FTC and states 30 days to amend their filing, after which the complaints will be reevaluated.
He also found that Facebook’s logic for dismissing the suit’s allegations regarding its controversial acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp was lacking.
Facebook argued that even supposing that these acquisitions were somehow problematic, the FTC is not authorized to prosecute such “long-past conduct” and is limited to more recent or imminent problems. Boesberg was not convinced, finding precedent that essentially says such mergers are legally considered current as long as they exist, and the government can revisit them any time it thinks it has cause. (That’s not the case for the state lawsuits, however, which he dismissed outright for coming too long after the fact.)
That may very well be the plan of new FTC Chair Lina Khan who has taken a hawkish regulatory position regarding antitrust in general and past acquisitions specifically. At her confirmation hearing she commented that the approvals of the mergers may have been made without complete information and, as such, represented a “missed opportunity” to understand and build rules around.
An FTC representative said that “the FTC is closely reviewing the opinion and assessing the best option forward.”
We’ll likely know more following the agency’s meeting on Thursday. The 30-day punt in fact may be a great opportunity for Khan to put her ideas into practice, as the judge practically literally invites them to rewrite the complaint with more information. Whether she and the FTC have enough material to put together a compelling case remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain: Facebook should put the champagne back in the fridge, for now at least. Khan may not stop at a slap on the wrist.
Email has the highest return on investment of any other marketing channel. On average, email earns you $ 40 for every $ 1 spent. And the best part is that email is an owned channel, which means you can reach your subscriber directly instead of relying on social media algorithms to surface your content.
At Demand Curve, we’ve worked with over 500 startups, meticulously documenting growth tactics for all growth channels. We also incorporate what we’ve learned from our agency, Bell Curve, which works with Outschool, Imperfect Produce and Microsoft to name a few.
To understand how to use email marketing effectively, we interviewed email marketers at this year’s fastest-growing startups. This post covers the most profitable tactics they use that capture 80% of the value using 20% of the effort.
If people don’t open it, nothing else matters
The subject line of your email is the most important, yet most marketers neglect it until after crafting the body of the email.
The subject line of your email is the most important, yet most marketers neglect it until after crafting the body of the email.
Increase the open-rate of your subject lines by making them self-evident. You don’t want people guessing why you want them to pay attention to your email. If the subject line is unclear or vague, your subscribers will ignore it.
One trick is to write like you speak. Try using subject lines that use informal language and contractions (it’s, they’re, you’ll). Not only will this save character count, it will also make your copy more friendly and quick to read.
Subject lines should be relevant to your subaudiences. Marketers generate 760% more revenue from segmented email campaigns than from untargeted emails.
If you’re collecting emails from multiple areas on your website, chances are the context will be slightly different for each. For example, people who subscribe after reading an article on ketogenic diets should receive emails that further educate them on keto and seeds products relevant to that lifestyle. Sending them information and product recommendations for vegetarians would not be relevant and could lead to them unsubscribing.
To ensure you’re sending relevant emails to the right audiences, segment your audience using tags and filters within your email marketing platform. Each platform will do this slightly differently, but all modern platforms should allow you to do this. When crafting your email subject line, ask yourself: “Would this email make sense to receive for this segment of subscriber?”
Your subject lines should be short and concise. About 46% of all emails are opened on mobile devices, which means the subject line must be short enough to fit on a smaller screen while getting your point across. Fifty characters is approximately the maximum length a subject line can be before it gets cut off on a mobile screen.
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Keeping your subject lines short also makes them easier to scan when your subscriber is looking through their inbox. Including emojis in your subject line can cut down your character count and emulates how friends send text messages to each other. Including emojis in your subject lines will make your email feel less corporate and more friendly.
Designing emails that get read
Once your subscriber opens your email, there are three outcomes that can follow: read, skim or bounce.
Subscribers that read your emails are the most valuable, because they will consume the full contents of your email. Skimmers will only read the headlines and look at the images you include. Subscribers who bounce will open your email, but if nothing catches their attention right away, they will simply delete or close your email.
You’re going to want to design your emails to minimize the number of bouncers, satisfy readers and provide enough high-level information that skimmers still understand your message.
To minimize the number of bounces, choose an email design that catches the eye and is relevant to your brand. Take the Casper email below for example. The starry night background and moon illustration is directly relevant to the mattresses they sell. Visually branded email designs will help elevate your brand perception.
To optimize for skimmers, write action-focused headlines. Use designs that draw the eye of your reader to key elements. As you can see in the Headspace example, the image of the rising sun pushes your gaze upward to the headline and the call-to-action button. Skimmers should be able to understand the context of the entire email and take action without needing to read the body.
To convert more readers, fulfill the expectation set by the subject line. Readers will be looking for any promises or hints you gave them in your subject line. Be sure to deliver on this promise in the body. Do so in an aggressively concise way — just because they’re reading doesn’t mean they don’t value their time.
Call to actions that convert
The goal of your body copy is to drive people to your call-to-action button (CTA). Your CTA is crucial, because it’s how you convert an email subscriber into a paying customer. To increase the conversion of your CTA, make a valuable promise in your body copy and headers that’s only delivered through your CTA.
Good CTA copy typically begins with a verb that teases what the reader will encounter next:
- Get your free sample.
- Redeem discount now.
- Browse the full inventory.
Low-converting CTA copy is vague or nonactive:
- Learn more.
- See inventory.
Your email should only have one CTA. Any more and your conversion will decrease due to unnecessary decision-making. Ensure that the page on your site that your CTA leads to fulfills the promise you made in your body and CTA button.
Once the focus of the subject line is clear and the desired outcome is chosen, everything else should be crafted to carry the reader step by step through the email, eventually taking them to the desired action.
It’s a good idea to work backward from the desired outcome you want the reader to perform. If the desired outcome is for them to click on a CTA button, frame your subject line, headers and body copy as a valuable promise that can only be achieved by clicking the button.
Consider the experience of your email through the eyes of all three types of subscribers: readers, skimmers and bouncers. Use visual and written prompts that make the purpose of your email clear to all three categories. Failing to do so could lead to unsubscribes and lost revenue.
Email has the highest return on investment than any other marketing channel because you have a captive audience who has opted-in to you communicating with them. Email can drive six times more conversions that a Twitter post and is 40 times more likely to get noticed than a Facebook post.
It’s been a tough year for business. From ransomware attacks and power outages to cloud downtime and supply-chain disruptions, it’s never been more important to communicate to customers and stakeholders about what’s going wrong and why. Yet, with partial data and misinformation often spreading faster than official word, it’s also never been harder to deliver accurate and timely messages.
Given the complexities of this environment, I wanted to convene a group of specialists to talk about what the future of crisis comms holds for startups, technology companies, and business more broadly. We had a great set of three folks discuss how to build resilient orgs, handle the decentralization going on in tech today, and how to prioritize crisis management over the mundane tasks every day.
Joining us were:
- Admiral Thad Allen, who as commandant of the Coast Guard and during his career, was commander of the Atlantic coast during 9/11, and led federal responses during Hurricane Katrina, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
- Ana Visneski, who worked with Allen on building out the Coast Guard’s first digital presence as an officer and chief of media, is now senior director of communications and community at H20.ai and was formerly global principal of disaster communications for Amazon Web Services.
- John Visneski is the chief information security officer (CISO) at Accolade, and was formerly director of information security at The Pokémon Company. He served 10 years in the U.S. Air Force, where he served as chief of executive communications, and yes, is Ana’s brother.
This discussion has been edited and condensed for clarity
Prepping an organization for catastrophe
Danny Crichton: You’ve all been in disaster communications, in some cases for decades. What are some of the top-level lessons you’ve learned about the field?
Admiral Thad Allen: Great communications and great communications people can’t save a dysfunctional organization. There’s only so much you can do with what you’ve got. I want to say that as a proviso because I’ve seen a lot of people try to communicate their way out of a problem.
The big difference between Katrina in 2005 and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 was Katrina was before Twitter and Facebook and Deepwater was after it. In the old days, you went out and did your job. There might be an after-action report, but it was pretty much done within your organizational structure.
I’m going to really date myself. We sent forces into Somalia [around 1993]. It was the first time in history that CNN watched the people come to shore from the amphibious vehicles and I knew life had changed dramatically. There is no operation that takes place these days where the public is not part of the operation, part of the environment, part of the outcomes that are generated. If you fail to realize that, you’re going to fail right away. Anybody who’s got a cell phone enters your world of work.
So the question is, how do you think about that? That’s resulted in a significant Black Lives Matter movement with George Floyd and somebody happened to be there with a cell phone, and if that had not happened, that situation probably would not have turned out the way it did. So the question is what are we to make of that loop?
John Visneski: Generally speaking, your organizational hierarchies are not designed to be optimized for a crisis. They’re designed to build consensus. They’re designed to understand budgets. They’re designed for long-term planning. It’s the same in the military and it’s even worse in the private sector. And so there’s no concept of situational leadership. There’s no concept of who’s actually in charge during a particular crisis.
In recent attacks, the folks that were in my position, didn’t do a good enough job of explaining the technical aspects of what was going on in such a way that their organization could channel that into something that could then be translated to the public.
Ana Visneski: That’s actually called the theory of excellence in crisis communications, which is basically you have to have this transparency and this well-organized system before something goes wrong. And almost everyone doesn’t.
A good example is in 2017, when S3 broke for AWS, which is how I ended up doing crisis comms for them. I looked around and I said, “Well, why don’t we use our crisis comms plan?” And my boss said, “Our what?” And so I ended up building the critical event protocol and I built it based off the Incident Command System (ICS) that is used by federal agencies during a disaster. And essentially it was a big red button that says “Stop! Everyone get on a call, figure out who’s in charge of responding” that just unifies everyone.
Admiral Thad Allen: I’ll give you a classic antidote because I’ve written about it quite a bit. When I was going to the Sloan School at MIT, in December of ’88, we went down to New York and visited a bunch of CEO’s, and one of the days we went across the river to see the CEO at Exxon, a guy named [Lawrence G. Rawl]. During the discussion, I asked, “Bhopal was the biggest industrial accident in the history of the world today. As a CEO running a big corporation, have you thought about what happened if you had a similar Bhopal-type situation?” He spent 20 minutes going over their extremely well-thought-out communications plan and four months later, the Exxon Valdez ran underground and they actually failed at everything.
John Visneski: Your plan that you write down on paper is only as good as how much you practice it. Right? One of the things that the military typically is pretty good at is practicing before you play. Doing mock drills, doing tabletop exercises, having a red team that throws things at you that you might not expect.
Admiral Thad Allen: Yeah. I’ve dealt with a couple of large firms that have had very big problems. The default setting, if you haven’t thought about this ahead of time, is they go to a subject matter expert and hold them accountable for what the organization should do. That is not the way to do it. You need a designated person to create unity of effort. It’s got to involve the C-suite, and it’s got to involve not only your clients and your stakeholders, but your supply chain.
Ana Visneski: We keep talking about training, but just having a plan in the first place is critical. With some of these big companies, they’re so siloed that when something like this happens, everyone’s trying to do the right thing and running into each other. If you don’t have redundancies built in and backups for your backups, you’re going to go down hard.
You’ve got a plan for what happens if your main spokesperson was the incident? Or what happens if there was an earthquake and, all of a sudden, you don’t have your C-suite to talk? And John can talk a lot about this, but the last mile is another problem with crisis comms. If it’s a big disaster, you’ve got to plan around your tech, how are you going to get the information from the field back to where you can actually broadcast it out to people?
Admiral Thad Allen: When I got called to go to Katrina, I was on my way to the airport and the last thing I did was I sent my son along to a Best Buy to get me a mobile handheld and a SiriusXM receiver, so I could have awareness of what was being done. As far as the communications, a thing like that was the smartest thing I did.
John Visneski: One of the biggest challenges is this all needs to be resourced, right? Your company needs to actually dedicate resources to that prior planning. To being able to build out the infrastructure, to being able to have hot-swap data centers and locations and things like that. And sometimes whether it’s your board or whether it’s your CFO or whoever’s holding the purse strings for your organization, it’s really hard to justify the return on investment that a lot of folks see as sort of a rainy day fund.
So it’s incumbent upon the leadership of the organization, particularly the leadership that is going to be involved in some sort of a disaster response to get ahead of those conversations and understand how disaster response can do things to protect revenue.
Ana Visneski: Because of the pandemic, we’ve had almost two years of shit hitting the fan. So we’re seeing a lot more C-suite leaders going, “We need to know how to be prepared for what happens next.”
Communicating in a decentralized and flat world
Danny Crichton: If you think about the last 20 years, particularly in the private sector, we went from a model of headquarters buildings, large leadership structures all in one place, oftentimes a fairly hierarchical model of how to operate a company, etc. Today, we’re seeing decentralization, and a sort of horizontalness in a lot of companies. How does this new culture affect disaster communications?
Ana Visneski: Well, now that there is this decentralization, it’s incredibly difficult to wrangle all of your people and get everyone on the same page. And you have to think about what happens if Slack goes down. It goes back to redundancies — you have to have multiple ways of contacting your people.
Along that line, I am not a fan of companies saying is, “You can’t post on social media or you shouldn’t do this or that.” Because all that does is sows distrust. Instead, I am a big fan of training your people to do it right. Of course, you have to have company policy that if someone during a crisis is posting secure information or lies, or is just being a racist jerk, obviously there are consequences, but training your people to use the tool right, helps with transparency.
Admiral Thad Allen: My motto when I was commandant was transparency of information breeds self-correcting behavior. If you put enough information out and everybody holds it, organizational intent becomes embedded into how people see the environment they’re in. They’re going to understand what’s going on and you won’t have to give them a direct order to do the right thing. They’ll understand that. And I think that’s really important.
In the military, we have something called a “common operating picture,” and it’s basically a display where everybody’s at, what they’re doing at any one time. It’s not an order. It’s not hierarchical. Instead, it provides context and provides a window into what you’re doing.
So I think there’s a difference between creating a common operating picture and what actually constitutes authority. If you can separate those, the more you put into the former, the less of the latter you’re going to have to do.
John Visneski: I’m based in Seattle. We have an office in Philadelphia, an office in Houston, an office in San Francisco, and an office in Prague. There’s people in all those offices who are critical for our business. The advantage we have is the advantage that a lot of tech organizations take for granted, which is we were already going through a digital transformation, or we were already on the backside of digital transformation. Cloud focus, Software as a Service, Slack, email, Signal on my phone, a million different ways for me to communicate with my team, communicate with leadership and things like that.
What we take for granted is, there are a lot of organizations in the United States and worldwide that have not gone through that digital transformation. No offense to the military, but when I was at the Pentagon, if email went down, you might as well play hockey in the hallways because no work was going to get done.
Admiral Thad Allen: You can add losing GPS as well.
John Visneski: Exactly. So a lot of organizations have had to come to terms with how do they communicate when they’re distributed like that? The answer isn’t one-size-fits-all. It might be different for an Accolade, different from a Facebook, different from a Twitter, different from a Bank of America or a Bank of New York Mellon. Just based on what their architecture looked like pre-pandemic, what their architecture looks now, and what sort of investments they’ve made to future-proof themselves, should something this ever happen again.
Ana Visneski: I was on a Twitter Space recently, and I was talking that in the United States, especially those of us who are in the tech industry, we tend to take for granted all of this stuff. There are all of these assumptions that are made. In reality, not only do you have to deal with the last mile if a disaster happens, but you also have to deal with the fact that not everyone has one of these super computers in their pockets all over the world.
Talking about technological arrogance, but people forget radio. People forget that there are these older technologies that in a disaster are still where you’re going to go. John makes fun of me all the time, because I’m trying the new thing every time it comes out, but you can’t forget the stuff that works like radio in the morning.
The crisis of crises and how to handle the infinite range of disasters today
Danny Crichton: The next subject I want to get to is the range and diversity of crises that are hitting organizations today. The Admiral had brought up Exxon and ’89. Okay, you’re an oil company, you have an oil spill — I wouldn’t call it predictable, but you can certainly create a plan. You can say, “Here’s how we need to communicate. Here’s how we handle this.”
But look at the range of stuff we’ve had to deal with in the last year. Everything from a pandemic to Texas power outages, wildfires in California, TSMC is dealing with a drought in Taiwan, you’ve got internal employee hostile workplace protests, external protests, ransomware attacks, bitcoin heists, and on and on.
Ultimately does the same toolbox work no matter what the crisis is? Or do different types of crises demand different kinds of responses? And how would you know the difference?
Admiral Thad Allen: I taught crisis leadership in large complex organizations for four years at George Washington University. In the last class, I told my students to write down the worst catastrophe they could ever think would happen that you have to go and wake up the president in the middle of the night. They all wrote it down on a piece of paper, folded it up and put it in a ball cap. I shook it up and pulled one of the pieces out.
I said to the class, “Just listen to what I’m about to say. Thanks for getting up and coming in early to the White House Press Corps office this morning. I want you to know the president was notified at 4:30 this morning about what happened. He and the First Lady were overwhelmed with grief for the loss of life and the impact on the community. We’ve set up a schedule where we’re going to brief the president every four hours and a meeting following the brief to the president. There’ll be a brief to the press 30 minutes after that. The cabinet’s been advised.” And I went on and on and on.
I finished and I said, “What do you think about that?” And James Carville, who was visiting, said, “It’s great” and he asked, “Well, what was the event?” And I said, “I never opened the paper.” So to your point there’s some things that are just a goddammed no-brainer.
Ana Visneski: I took the ICS [Incident Command System] structure and rebuilt it basically to work in the corporate setting. And the reason that’s so effective is it’s built to be flexible. You have someone who’s in charge overall, you have someone who’s in charge of communications. You have someone who’s in charge of logistics. You have someone who’s in charge of security, and it flexes up or down. And so no one can necessarily predict a “black swan” event. But you can build a core response system that is as close to all hazards as possible.
Admiral Thad Allen: Predict complexity.
Ana Visneski: Yes. And you predict that it will be complex and that nothing goes to plan. We’ve made a lot of jokes that nothing prepared me for a wedding during COVID like having been a first responder. Well, my brother got married last year too. And I did a little bit of help there with my background, but for my wedding, nothing was the same. And it’s the same thing during a disaster. Katrina is different from Gustaf. Gustaf was different from Sandy, but they’re all hurricanes at their core.
Admiral Thad Allen: I just spent an hour with a bunch of government employees earlier today on the same topic. What happens in a “complex” situation is that existing standard operating procedures, legal theories, frameworks, and governance break down and do not work, and they have to be replaced with some other way to deal with it.
ICS allows you to do, and with the right standard doctrine, you can get pretty close to a 50-60% solution that will get you headed in the right direction while you figure out the rest of it.
John Visneski: I’ll say at least from the tech side of things is those plans need to abstract technology almost entirely. Take it up to a level where it doesn’t matter what your communications method is from a technological standpoint. Don’t assume that you’re going to have the bits and bytes flowing the way that we do now. Don’t assume cell towers, don’t assume power, don’t assume any of those sorts of things, because the second that you predicate your plan on those assumptions is the second that the complexity is going to come in and tell you you’re wrong. The 40% that is not planned for is going to become what outweighs the 60%.
Ana Visneski: I think one of the things the tech industry kind of runs into is we are so reliant on the technology now that we can’t imagine what we’d do without it. At the end of the day, good crisis comms relies on good people, and good crisis and disaster response relies on the people doing it.
So you have to build your plan around the people and the structure there, and then use the technology at hand during the event to augment what plans you already have for people. Because by the time I’d write a crisis plan for something. If I included Twitter and blah, blah, blah, well, one like John just said, it’s going to break. Or by the time we have the crisis, the technology has changed and we’re using something else. So you got to write it from a perspective of people first and tech is the tool.
Prioritizing crisis management over the day-to-day metrics of a business
Danny Crichton: Okay, so obviously we should all spend more time figuring out how to communicate better during crises. But everyone is busy, and every person is trying to hit whatever metric they need for the quarter. How do you get a low-risk but hugh-impact issue like crisis management on the priority list?
John Visneski: For a B2B organization or a B2C organization or really anybody that’s selling a particular service, typically you need to lean on compliance requirements first. So customer contracts are going to say, from a security perspective, your data security addendum, your privacy addendums, and things that are generally going to have some language that centers around having a business continuity plan, a disaster response plan, an incident response plan, a cyber incident response plan, and then the really good contracts are the ones that actually specify you’ll do it no less than two times a year. So the first thing to lean on is those compliance requirements, because those will actually directly tie to revenue.
Then the secret sauce and what a lot of us in the cyber community are trying to get better at is how do you take that next step? We know that compliance does not necessarily mean security. We know that just because we have a written business continuity plan and that we say we exercise it, we present a report that says we exercise it, doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going that next mile to make sure that we train our employees. The education piece of it is really what we need to advocate to get additional resources for.
Admiral Thad Allen: My pitch to these big companies is if you’ve got a regulatory requirement, you have a plan that’s required. Why would you fund that and not take the opportunity to add just a little bit of incremental effort and resources to take advantage of the natural cycle that you’re required to do anyway?
Ana Visneski: Hit them where the money is, because a good crisis plan can range in price. Let’s say you spend $ 200,000 getting your system set up. If you’re looking at these companies, a disaster or a crisis could tank your company. Or it could cost you millions and millions of dollars if you’re not prepared. So at the end of the day, the ROI is huge.
And like I said before, with COVID having just happened, I think more of leadership is aware that, “Hey, we’re not crisis proof just because we’re a gaming company or just because we’re whatever.” No, one’s crisis proof. So at the end of the day, you’re going to save money. If you just do it in the first place, because then you just have to update it every year, and you just have to do a little bit of training. The biggest cost is on the front end and then just maintaining it after that and updating it.
John Visneski: Everyone knows that if something bad happens, if you don’t have plans in place, you’re going to lose a shit load of money. But let’s think about it from a consumer standpoint. Generally speaking, your average consumer is becoming much more conversant when it comes to privacy.
Moving forward, it isn’t enough just to say, “If we don’t have this, things can go really bad.” It’s also to say, “We can leverage this if we do this really well. And if we can advertise to our customers, whether it’s another business or whether it’s the consumer that not only do we protect your data, but also we have all these plans in place in order to react to complex situations.” You can actually use that as something that separates you from your near-peer competitors in the business world.
Ana Visneski: At the end of the day, if the trust isn’t there in the tech and the trust isn’t there that you’re doing the right things, it doesn’t matter what you do when a crisis hits. You’re already in the trashcan.
Happs, an app that lets creators stream live video simultaneously across social platforms, has raised $ 4.7 million in a post-seed round. The product originally began as a platform for independent journalists, but expanded its mission last year to offer tools to all online creators while connecting them through a new social network.
The funding was led by Bullpen Capital and Crosslink, Goodwater, Corazon, Rob Hayes of First Round Capital and Bangaly Kaba, previously at Instagram and Sequoia, also participated.
What sets Happs apart from some established competitors in the space is the team’s desire to not only build tools that help video creators produce professional-looking online streams, but to cultivate a kind of meta-community that brings people together from across other social media sites.
“We kind of view this as the essence of what the creator economy is all about,” Happs CEO Mark Goldman told TechCrunch. “The idea of locking creators into an individual platform is a very traditional way of thinking about content creation.”
Like Goldman, the other co-founders, David Neuman and Drew Shepard, come from the media world. Goldman was the founding COO of Current TV, an experimental TV channel that dabbled in user-generated content and eventually sold to Al Jazeera in 2013.
“The whole idea was to democratize media and open it up,” Goldman said of his time working on Current TV, which he connects directly to his interest in building Happs. “[We] loved the creativity unleashed by that.”
Online creators tend to be siloed within the app where they’ve built the biggest community, but Happs wants to empower them to reach as many followers as possible in a platform-agnostic way. For creators, the appeal with multistreaming is maximizing reach while making content efficiently. There’s a risk of alienating YouTube followers at the expense of your Twitch community if you don’t play your cards right, but some savvy content creators have turned toward the model to grow their audiences.
Happs connects people across platforms in a few ways. For one, Happs users can broadcast live to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Twitch simultaneously. The app also collects live comments from all supported social media sites and beams them into its own interface where they appear in a continuous cross-platform stream.
The integrated comment feature is nice built-in option for anyone who’s straddled comments across multiple devices simultaneously while livestreaming, which is no easy feat. When you’re streaming live you can feature a comment so that followers can see it on the screen no matter what platform they’re watching on.
Other companies in the space like OBS, Streamlabs and Restream are focused on the tools part of the equation, offering power users a useful backend for pushing out multi-streamed live video. Streamyard also offers multistreaming to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other platforms through a simple browser interface.
Unlike those services, Happs feels more like a social network, with familiar features like user profile photos, follower counts and a feed next to a “go live” button. Anyone can use the multi-streaming platform through its iOS or Android apps or a web interface, whether they’re a creator signing up for the tools or a fan looking to support the content they love.
Happs lacks some of its competitors’ bells and whistles, stuff like fancy customized graphics and lower-thirds, but has a few interesting tricks of its own. While streaming live on Happs, you can invite someone else on the app to join your feed for a real-time collaboration. The social networking elements are meant to encourage cross-platform creativity, so a YouTuber and a Twitch personality could hang out together and boost both of their reaches, all while streaming to a bunch of other apps.
Happs also offers users monetization tools from the get-go, with no requirements before they can start making money. That speaks to the app’s appeal for creators who might be less established or just starting out. Happs could be a much harder sell for a popular creator deeply invested in a platform like Twitch, which has rules against multi-streaming for most accounts that are allowed to monetize.
There are a few different ways to monetize. One lets anyone on Happs sponsor a broadcaster through regular monthly payments. The other is a one-off option that lets you chip in an award for any livestream, or to the VOD (video on demand) after the fact. The in-app currency is a virtual coin that users can buy or earn through doing stuff on the app. There are no plans for ads (yet, anyway).
The company will take 30% cut of subscription earnings, though according to Goldman they’ll be waiving those fees for an unspecified period of time to attract people to the platform.
“We raised this round to really build up product and tech team [and] to make the platform much more stable and reliable,” Goldman said. The company is looking forward to leveraging the new resources to “really go out now and get in front of creators so they know Happs exists.”
In an ideal world, online media providers have systems that automatically stop trademark infringements from happening. Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple.
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After years of solely focusing on its mobile product, Instagram is at long last thinking about letting users post from their computers. A number of Twitter uses noticed that the test feature had gone live Thursday, and Instagram confirmed the test to TechCrunch.
“We know that many people access Instagram from their computer,” an Instagram spokesperson said. “To improve that experience, we’re now testing the ability to create a Feed post on Instagram with their desktop browser.”
#Instagram is rolling out the ability to create posts from the desktop website
Tweeted 42 days before the roll out https://t.co/Fiq1U2MOAw
— Alessandro Paluzzi (@alex193a) June 24, 2021
Why now? Apparently over the course of the pandemic, the company saw a rise in people cruising Instagram from their computers rather than their phones.
To see if the test is live for you, head to Instagram in your browser and look for a new “plus” icon in the icon tray on the top right. The test isn’t available to everyone and it only allows users to create posts for the main feed.
The new test feature is the company’s most recent sign of life for its desktop product: Instagram added the ability to view Stories on the web in 2017 and added direct messaging to desktop late last year.
“… We haven’t found any evidence that the Instagram desktop web experience cannibalizes engagement from the native apps,” a data scientist with Instagram observed with the launch of web messaging.
“In fact, it’s quite the opposite — users who use both interfaces spend more time on each interface, compared to users who use each interface exclusively.”
Regularly testing waterways and reservoirs is a never-ending responsibility for utility companies and municipal safety authorities, and generally — as you might expect — involves either a boat or at least a pair of waders. Nixie does the job with a drone instead, making the process faster, cheaper and a lot less wet.
The most common methods of testing water quality haven’t changed in a long time, partly because they’re effective and straightforward, and partly because really, what else are you going to do? No software or web platform out there is going to reach into the middle of the river and pull out a liter of water.
But with the advent of drones powerful and reliable enough to deploy in professional and industrial circumstances, the situation has changed. Nixie is a solution by the drone specialists at Reign Maker, involving either a custom-built sample collection arm or an in-situ sensor arm.
The sample collector is basically a long vertical arm with a locking cage for a sample container. You put the empty container in there, fly the drone out to the location, then submerge the arm. When it flies back, the filled container can be taken out while the drone hovers and a fresh one put in its place to bring to the next spot. (This switch can be done safely in winds up to 18 MPH and sampling in currents up to 5 knots, the company said.)
This allows for quick sampling at multiple locations — the drone’s battery will last about 20 minutes, enough for two to four samples depending on the weather and distance. Swap the battery out and drive to the next location and do it all again.
For comparison, Reign Maker pointed to New York’s water authority, which collects 30 samples per day from boats and other methods, at an approximate cost (including labor, boat fuel, etc) of $ 100 per sample. Workers using Nixie were able to collect an average of 120 samples per day, for around $ 10 each. Sure, New York is probably among the higher cost locales for this (like everything else) but the deltas are pretty huge. (The dipper attachment itself costs $ 850, but doesn’t come with a drone.)
It should be mentioned that the drone is not operating autonomously; it has a pilot who will be flying with line of sight (which simplifies regulations and requirements). But even so, that means a team of two, with a handful of spare batteries, can cover the same space that would normally take a boat crew and more than a little fuel. Currently the system works with the M600 and M300 RTK drones from DJI.
The drone method has the added benefits of having precise GPS locations for each sample and of not disturbing the water when it dips in. No matter how carefully you step or pilot a boat, you’re going to be pushing the water all over the place, potentially affecting the contents of the sample, but that’s not the case if you’re hovering overhead.
In development is a smarter version of the sampler that includes a set of sensors that can do on-site testing for all the most common factors: temperature, pH, troubling organisms, various chemicals. Skipping the step of bringing the water back to a lab for testing streamlines the process immensely, as you might expect.
Right now Reign Maker is working with New York’s Department of Environmental Protection and in talks with other agencies. While the system would take some initial investment, training, and getting used to, it’s probably hard not to be tempted by the possibility of faster and cheaper testing.
Ultimately the company hopes to offer (in keeping with the zeitgeist) a more traditional SaaS offering involving water quality maps updating in real time with new testing. That too is still in the drawing-board phase, but once a few customers sign up it starts looking a lot more attractive.
The pandemic greatly accelerated the evolution of digital marketing, creating new marketing trends and opportunities for businesses in a short period of time.
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