44% of TikTok’s all-time downloads were in 2019, but app hasn’t figured out monetization

January 18, 2020 No Comments

Despite the U.S. government’s concerns over TikTok, which most recently led to the U.S. Navy banning service members’ use of the app, TikTok had a stellar 2019 in terms of both downloads and revenue. According to new data from Sensor Tower, 44% of TikTok’s total 1.65 billion downloads to date, or 738+ million installs, took place in 2019 alone. And though TikTok is still just experimenting with different means of monetization, the app had its best year in terms of revenue, grossing $ 176.9 million in 2019 — or 71% of its all-time revenue of $ 247.6 million.

Apptopia had previously reported TikTok was generating $ 50 million per quarter.

The number of TikTok downloads in 2019 is up 13% from the 655 million installs the app saw in 2018, with the holiday quarter (Q4 2019) being TikTok’s best ever, with 219 million downloads, up 6% from TikTok’s previous best quarter, Q4 2018. TikTok was also the second-most downloaded (non-game) app worldwide across the Apple App Store and Google Play in 2019, according to Sensor Tower data.

However, App Annie’s recent “State of Mobile” report put it in fourth place, behind Messenger, Facebook and WhatsApp — not just behind WhatsApp, as Sensor Tower does.

Regardless, the increase in TikTok downloads in 2019 is largely tied to the app’s traction in India. Though the app was briefly banned in the country earlier in the year, that market still accounted for 44% (or 323 million) of 2019’s total downloads. That’s a 27% increase from 2018.

TikTok’s home country, China, is TikTok’s biggest revenue driver, with iOS consumer spend of $ 122.9 million, or 69% of the total and more than triple what U.S. users spent in the app ($ 36 million). The U.K. was the third-largest contributor in terms of revenue, with users spending $ 4.2 million in 2019.

These numbers, however, are minuscule in comparison with the billions upon billions earned by Facebook on an annual basis, or even the low-digit billions earned by smaller social apps like Twitter. To be fair, TikTok remains in an experimental phase with regards to revenue. In 2019, it ran a variety of ad formats, including brand takeovers, in-feed native video, hashtag challenges and lens filters. It even dabbled in social commerce.

Meanwhile, only a handful of creators have been able to earn money in live streams through tipping — another area that deserves to see expansion in the months ahead if TikTok aims to take on YouTube as a home for creator talent.

When it comes to monetization, TikTok is challenged because it doesn’t have as much personal information about its users, compared with a network like Facebook and its rich user profile data. That means advertisers can’t target ads based on user interests and demographics in the same way. Because of this, brands will sometimes forgo working with TikTok itself to deal directly with its influencer stars, instead.

What TikTok lacks in revenue, it makes up for in user engagement. According to App Annie, time spent in the app was up 210% year-over-year in 2019, to reach a total 68 billion hours. TikTok clearly has users’ attention, but now it will need to figure out how to capitalize on those eyeballs and actually make money.

Reached for comment, TikTok confirmed it doesn’t share its own stats on installs or revenue, so third-party estimates are the only way to track the app’s growth for now.

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Instagram tests Direct Messaging on web where encryption fails

January 16, 2020 No Comments

Instagram will finally let you chat from your web browser, but the launch contradicts Facebook’s plan for end-to-end encryption in all its messaging apps. Today Instagram began testing Direct Messages on the web for a small percentage of users around the globe, a year after TechCrunch reported it was testing web DMs.

When fully rolled out, Instagram tells us its website users will be able to see when they’ve received new DMs, view their whole inbox, start new message threads or group chats, send photos (but not capture them), double click to Like and share posts from their feed via Direct so they can gossip or blast friends with memes. You won’t be able to send videos, but can view non-disappearing ones. Instagram’s CEO Adam Mosseri tweeted that he hopes to “bring this to everyone soon” once the kinks are worked out.

Web DMs could help office workers, students and others stuck on a full-size computer all day or who don’t have room on their phone for another app to spend more time and stay better connected on Instagram. Direct is crucial to Instagram’s efforts to stay ahead of Snapchat, which has seen its Stories product mercilessly copied by Facebook but is still growing thanks to its rapid fire visual messaging feature that’s popular with teens.

But as Facebook’s former Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos tweeted, “This is fascinating, as it cuts directly against the announced goal of E2E encrypted compatibility between FB/IG/WA. Nobody has ever built a trustworthy web-based E2EE messenger, and I was expecting them to drop web support in FB Messenger. Right hand versus left?”

A year ago Facebook announced it planned to eventually unify Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram Direct so users could chat with each other across apps. It also said it would extend end-to-end encryption from WhatsApp to include Instagram Direct and all of Facebook Messenger, though it could take years to complete. That security protocol means that only the sender and recipient would be able to view the contents of a message, while Facebook, governments and hackers wouldn’t know what was being shared.

Yet Stamos explains that historically, security researchers haven’t been able to store cryptographic secrets in JavaScript, which is how the Instagram website runs, though he admits this could be solved in the future. More problematically, Stamos writes that “the model by which code on the web is distributed, which is directly from the vendor in a customizable fashion. This means that inserting a backdoor for one specific user is much much easier than in the mobile app paradigm,” where attackers would have to compromise both Facebook/Instagram and either Apple or Google’s app stores.

“Fixing this problem is extremely hard and would require fundamental changes to how the WWW [world wide web] works” says Stamos. At least we know Instagram has been preparing for today’s launch since at least February when mobile researcher Jane Manchun Wong alerted us. We’ve asked Instagram for more details on how it plans to cover web DMs with end-to-end encryption or whether they’ll be exempt from the plan. [Update: An Instagram spokesperson tells me that as with Instagram Direct on mobile, messages currently are not encrypted. The company is working on making its messaging products end-to-end encrypted, and it continues to consider ways to accomplish this.]

Critics have called the messaging unification a blatant attempt to stifle regulators and prevent Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp from being broken up. Yet Facebook has stayed the course on the plan while weathering a $ 5 billion fine plus a slew of privacy and transparency changes mandated by an FTC settlement for its past offenses.

Personally, I’m excited, because it will make DMing sources via Instagram easier, and mean I spend less time opening my phone and potentially being distracted by other apps while working. Almost 10 years after Instagram’s launch and six years since adding Direct, the app seems to finally be embracing its position as a utility, not just entertainment.

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Over two dozen encryption experts call on India to rethink changes to its intermediary liability rules

January 14, 2020 No Comments

Security and encryption experts from around the world are joining a number of organizations to call on India to reconsider its proposed amendments to local intermediary liability rules.

In an open letter to India’s IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday, 27 security and cryptography experts warned the Indian government that if it goes ahead with its originally proposed changes to the law, it could weaken security and limit the use of strong encryption on the internet.

The Indian government proposed (PDF) a series of changes to its intermediary liability rules in late December 2018 that, if enforced, would require millions of services operated by anyone from small and medium businesses to large corporate giants such as Facebook and Google to make significant changes.

The originally proposed rules say that intermediaries — which the government defines as those services that facilitate communication between two or more users and have five million or more users in India — will have to proactively monitor and filter their users’ content and be able to trace the originator of questionable content to avoid assuming full liability for their users’ actions.

“By tying intermediaries’ protection from liability to their ability to monitor communications being sent across their platforms or systems, the amendments would limit the use of end-to-end encryption and encourage others to weaken existing security measures,” the experts wrote in the letter, coordinated by the Internet Society .

With end-to-end encryption, there is no way for the service provider to access its users’ decrypted content, they said. Some of these experts include individuals who work at Google, Twitter, Access Now, Tor Project and World Wide Web Consortium.

“This means that services using end-to-end encryption cannot provide the level of monitoring required in the proposed amendments. Whether it’s through putting a ‘backdoor’ in an encryption protocol, storing cryptographic keys in escrow, adding silent users to group messages, or some other method, there is no way to create ‘exceptional access’ for some without weakening the security of the system for all,” they added.

Technology giants have so far enjoyed what is known as “safe harbor” laws. The laws, currently applicable in the U.S. under the Communications Decency Act and India under its 2000 Information Technology Act, say that tech platforms won’t be held liable for the things their users share on the platform.

Many organizations have expressed in recent days their reservations about the proposed changes to the law. Earlier this week, Mozilla, GitHub and Cloudflare requested the Indian government to be transparent about the proposals that they have made to the intermediary liability rules. Nobody outside the Indian government has seen the current draft of the proposal, which it plans to submit to India’s Supreme Court for approval by January 15.

Among the concerns raised by some is the vague definition of “intermediary” itself. Critics say the last publicly known version of the draft had an extremely broad definition of the term “intermediary,” that would be applicable to a wide-range of service providers, including popular instant messaging clients, internet service providers, cyber cafes and even Wikipedia.

Amanda Keton, general counsel of Wikimedia Foundation, requested the Indian government late last month to rethink the requirement to bring “traceability” on online communication, as doing so, she warned, would interfere with the ability of Wikipedia contributors to freely participate in the project.

A senior executive with an American technology company, who requested anonymity, told TechCrunch on Wednesday that even as the proposed changes to the intermediary guidelines need major changes, it is high time that the Indian government decided to look into this at all.

“Action on social media platforms, and instant communications services is causing damage in the real world. Spread of hoax has cost us more than at least 30 lives. If tomorrow, someone’s sensitive photos and messages leak on the internet, there is currently little they can expect from their service providers. We need a law to deal with the modern internet’s challenges,” he said.

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Instagram adds Boomerang effects as TikTok looms

January 12, 2020 No Comments

TikTok has spawned countless memes formats from its creative effects, challenging Instagram for the filtered video crown. Now nearly five years after launching Boomerang, Instagram’s back-and-forth video loop maker is finally getting a big update to its own editing options. Users around the globe can now add SlowMo, “Echo” blurring, and “Duo” rapid rewind special effects to their Boomerangs, as well as trim their length. This is the biggest upgrade yet for one of mobile’s most popular video creation tools.

The effects could help keep Instagram interesting. After so many years of Boomerangs, many viewers simply skip past them in Stories after the first loop since they’re so consistent. The extra visual flare of the new effects could keep people’s attention for a few more seconds and unlock new forms of comedy. That’s critical as Instagram tries to compete with TikTok, which has tons of special effects that have spawned their own meme formats.

Starting today, people on Instagram will be able to share new SloMo, Echo and Duo Boomerang modes on Instagram” a Facebook company spokesperson tells TechCrunch. “Your Instagram camera gives you ways to express yourself and easily share what you’re doing, thinking or feeling with your friends. Boomerang is one of the most beloved camera formats and we’re excited to expand the creative ways that you can use Boomerang to turn everyday moments into something fun and unexpected.”

The new Boomerang tools can be found by swiping right on Instagram to open the Stories composer, and then swiping left at the bottom of the screen’s shutter selector. After shooting a Boomerang, an infinity symbol button atop the screen reveals the alternate effects and video trimmer. Mobile researcher Jane Manchun Wong spotted Instagram prototyping new Boomerang filters and the trimmer last year.

Typically, Boomerang captures one second of silent video which is then played forward and then in reverse three times to create a six second loop that can be shared or downloaded as a video. Here are the new effects you can add plus how Instagram described them to me in a statement:

  • SlowMo – Reduces Boomerangs to half-speed so they play for two seconds in each direction instead of one second. “Slows down your Boomerang to capture each detail”
  • Echo – Adds a motion blur effect so a translucent trail appears behind anything moving, almost like you’re drunk or tripping. “Creates a double vision effect.”
  • Duo – Rapidly rewinds the clip to the beginning with a glitchy, digitized look. “Both speeds up and slows down your Boomerang, adding a texturized effect.”
  • Trimming – Shorten your Boomerang with similar controls to iPhone’s camera roll or the Instagram feed video composer. “Edit the length of your Boomerang, and when it starts or ends.”

The effects aren’t entirely original. Snapchat has offered slow-motion and fast-foward video effects since just days after the original launch of Boomerang back in 2015. TikTok meanwhile provides several motion blur filters and pixelated transitions. But since these are all available with traditional video, unlike on Instagram where they’re confined to Boomerangs, there’s more creative flexibility to use the effects to hide cuts between takes or play with people’s voices.

That’s won TikTok a plethora of ingenius memes that rely on these tools. Users high-five themselves using an Echo-esque feature, highlight action-packed moments or loud sounds with Duo-style glitch cuts, and conjure an army of doppelgangers behind them with infinity clones effect. Instagram Stories has instead focused on augmented reality face filters and classier tools like layout.

TikTok Screenshots

Hopefully we’ll see Instagram’s new editing features brought over to its main Stories and video composers. Video trimming would be especially helpful since a boring start to a Story can quickly lead viewers to skip it.

Instagram has had years of domination in the social video space. But with Snapchat finally growing again and TikTok becoming a global phenomenon, Instagram must once again fight to maintain its superiority. Now approaching 10 years old, it’s at risk of becoming stale if it can’t keep giving people ways to make hastily shot phone content compelling.

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Five simple content marketing trends for 2020

January 11, 2020 No Comments

How can you improve your content marketing strategy in 2020? Here are five simple and useful content marketing trends to follow in the new year.

We’ve welcomed 2020 and it’s the perfect time to start thinking of the best way to maintain a successful content marketing strategy over the next 12 months.

New channels, tactics, and trends emerge every day but the challenge is to decide on the ones that you want to include to your own strategy.

There are many posts that focus on the latest big trends and how you could revolutionize your tactics for 2020. We’ve decided to go back to basics to review how simple tactics and trends that can improve your content success.

1. Focus on the experience

It’s not enough to increase the frequency of your blogs to improve your content marketing success. In a digital world full of new content, the challenge is to stand out from your competitors.

A good way to achieve success is to focus on the experience. Your content should be relevant and informative but it should also facilitate the user experience.

Content experience is a growing term that refers to the role that sits between content marketing and UX. It’s about reviewing how you can improve your content, your website and even your strategy to ensure that your readers are spending more time on your posts.

There are many ways to improve your content experience:

  • Test the mobile version of your site
  • Aim for short paragraphs that are easy to read on mobile
  • Enhance the “readability” of your content by allowing your text to “breathe” with images and sub-headings
  • Review your loading speed
  • Aim for personalization

Not all changes require too much of your time. What’s important is to acknowledge how your team, your tools, and your processes can gear up towards improved content experiences in 2020, one step at a time.

2. Include visual data

Visual content can improve the reading experience. It can also help you get the main data to stand out. Infographics, for example, help you summarise your key points in a more visual way. They can even help you enhance the “shareability” of your post.

Visual quotes can also help you get your point across in a way that stands out to the reader. You can also include videos in your content to provide an alternative content format for your story.

Another idea that is very helpful in SaaS marketing is to include GIFs when talking about your product. It’s easier for your readers to understand what you’re referring to.

Using visual data in your content marketing can help you simplify complicated ideas and we’re seeing more brands using videos and GIFs to present their data.

Content marketing trends 2020 using story telling

Visual storytelling is growing stronger and it’s useful to experiment with different formats to find out what works best for your readers.

3. Write long-form content

There is a constant struggle on the internet to grab someone’s attention. Not everyone is spending a lot of time on a page, which pushes us to come up with new ideas of bite-sized content. This is actually a good approach in many ways but we also need to remember that long-form content is not dead.

There are many reasons to create long-form content in 2020:

  • Build trust with your readers
  • Go in-depth in the topics that you’re writing about
  • Showcase your writing style and your personality
  • Improve your SEO

Medium got popular as a platform that focuses on writing rather than distractions. You can find the content of great quality and many writers are not afraid to go in-depth in the topics that they’re covering. The Medium looked at their most successful posts to find out that the ideal blog post on their platform is around 1600 words and it takes seven minutes to read it.


Medium's stat showing long-form content length content marketing trends 2020

Moreover, creating long-form content is also helping your search ranking. Long-form content is helping you cover in-detail a topic that you want to serve as the authority.

Not all your posts should be too long. But it’s still a good idea to dedicate some time every month to produce a few pieces of more than 1000 words.

4. Read your content out loud

A simple method to improve your content writing in 2020 is to start reading your content out loud. It’s easy to get lost in your thoughts when writing content. What seems to be making sense to you might not necessarily do so for anyone else.

Everything you are writing should sound natural. Start creating content that feels more conversational to “hack” a more successful writing style.

Once you start applying this idea to your content marketing strategy, you start realizing that online writing should not be hard to understand. The idea is to help your readers enjoy your content in a simple and authentic way.

Reading your content out loud is pushing you to review the way you’re getting your message across. It is a practice that helps you improve your writing along with the reading experience. Next time you’re planning to create content for your customers, read it out loud before you publish it. You might be surprised by the difference it can make.

5. Make your SEO smarter

It’s time to make your search engine optimization smarter for 2020. How about being more strategic with SEO to focus on what matters?

You can start by making small changes that can have a long-term impact:

  • Stop focusing on the most popular keywords and start discovering the long-tail keywords that can help you stand out
  • Spend more time on improving your content rather than making sure that you stuff it with your focus keywords
  • Invest in the tools that can make SEO easier
  • Stop aiming for position one ranking in SERPs and explore the different ways to stand out (for example, visual ranking or featured snippets)
  • Write more conversational content to increase the chances of showing up in the featured snippets and the question boxes

What’s important is to start thinking of SEO as another element of your content marketing strategy that addresses your readers’ needs. It’s not just about ranking at the search results. The end goal should always be to deliver a great experience.

What’s next?

Not every content marketing trend should be groundbreaking. Sometimes even the simplest change can lead to great success.

Look at your existing content marketing strategy and what worked in 2019. Start exploring the areas that you want to improve on and find small wins that you can implement.

Look at these five trends as the starting point to simple changes that you can make to improve the understanding of your audience and their needs.

The post Five simple content marketing trends for 2020 appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

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Twitter’s new reply blockers could let Trump hide critics

January 9, 2020 No Comments

What if politicians could only display Twitter replies from their supporters while stopping everyone else from adding their analysis to the conversation? That’s the risk of Twitter’s upcoming Conversation Participants tool it’s about to start testing that lets you choose if you want replies from everyone, only those your follow or mention or no one.

For most, the reply limiter could help repel trolls and harassment. Unfortunately, it still puts the burden of safety on the victims rather than the villains. Instead of routing out abusers, Twitter wants us to retreat and wall off our tweets from everyone we don’t know. That could reduce the spontaneous yet civil reply chains between strangers that are part of what makes Twitter so powerful.

But in the hands of politicians hoping to avoid scrutiny, the tools could make it appear that their tweets and policies are uniformly supported. By only allowing their sycophants to add replies below their posts, anyone reading along will be exposed to a uniformity of opinion that clashes with Twitter’s position as a marketplace of ideas.

We’ve reached out to Twitter for comment on this issue and whether anyone such as politicians would be prevented from using the new reply-limiting tools. Twitter plans to test the reply-selection tool in Q1, monitor usage, and make modifications if necessary before rolling it out. The company provided this statement:

We want to help people feel safe participating in the conversation on Twitter by giving them more control over the conversations they start. We’ll be experimenting with different options for who can reply to Tweets in early 2020.”

Here’s how the new Conversation Participants feature works, according to the preview shared by Twitter’s Suzanne Xie at CES today, though it could change during testing. When users go to tweet, they’ll have the option of selecting who can reply, unlike now when everyone can leave replies but authors can hide certain ones that viewers can opt to reveal. Conversation Participants offers four options:

Global: Replies from anyone

Group: Replies from those you follow or mention in this tweet

Panel: Replies from only those you mention in this tweet

Statement: No replies allowed

Now imagine President Trump opts to make all of his tweets Group-only. Only those who support him and he therefore follows — like his sons, Fox News’ Sean Hannity and his campaign team — could reply. Gone would be the reels of critics fact-checking his statements or arguing against his policies. His tweets would be safeguarded from reproach, establishing an echo chamber filter bubble for his acolytes.

It’s true that some of these responses from the public might constitute abuse or harassment. But those should be dealt with specifically through strong policy and consistent enforcement of adequate punishments when rules are broken. By instead focusing on stopping replies from huge swaths of the community, the secondary effects have the potential to prop up politicians that consistently lie and undam the flow of misinformation.

There’s also the practical matter that this won’t stop abuse, it will merely move it. Civil discussion will be harder to find for the rest of the public, but harassers will still reach their targets. Users blocked from replying to specific tweets can just tweet directly at the author. They can also continue to mention the author separately or screenshot their tweets and then discuss them.

It’s possible that U.S. law prevents politicians discriminating against citizens with different viewpoints by restricting their access to the politician’s comments on a public forum. Judges ruled this makes it illegal for Trump to block people on social media. But with this new tool, because anyone could still see the tweets, reply to the author separately and not be followed by the author likely doesn’t count as discrimination like blocking does, use of the Conversation Participants tool could be permissible. Someone could sue to push the issue to the courts, though, and judges might be wise to deem this unconstitutional.

Again, this is why Twitter needs to refocus on cleaning up its community rather than only letting people build tiny, temporary shelters from the abuse. It could consider blocking replies and mentions from brand new accounts without sufficient engagement or a linked phone number, as I suggested in 2017. It could also create a new mid-point punishment of a “time-out” from sending replies for harassment that it (sometimes questionably) deems below the threshold of an account suspension.

The combination of Twitter’s decade of weakness in the face of trolls with a new political landscape of normalized misinformation threaten to overwhelm its attempts to get a handle on safety.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

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Daily Crunch: Facebook bans deepfakes

January 7, 2020 No Comments

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Facebook bans deceptive deepfakes and some misleadingly modified media

In a policy update announced late yesterday, Facebook’s Monika Bickert wrote that moving forward, the social network will take a stricter line on manipulated media content — removing content that’s been edited or synthesized “in ways that aren’t apparent to an average person and would likely mislead someone into thinking that a subject of the video said words that they did not actually say.”

However, edits for quality or cuts and splices to videos that simply curtail or change the order of words are not covered by the ban. So as Natasha Lomas notes, a more subtle form of political fakery will still be allowed.

2. TiVo announces a $ 49.99 device that combines streaming and live TV

CEO Dave Shull said the TiVo Stream 4K is launching the company “full on into the streaming wars.” It’s integrated with services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and HBO, and will also include content from TiVo+, the free, ad-supported movie and TV service that the company launched last fall. And it will include live TV and cloud DVR through Sling TV.

3. Union Square Ventures leads legal tech startup Juro’s $ 5M Series A

Juro’s business is focused on taking the tedium out of negotiating and drawing up contracts by making contract-building more interactive and trackable.

4. BMW launches gaze detection so your car knows what you’re looking at

Using its AI tools, the concept car’s systems can follow the driver’s gaze and interpret it. That means you will be able to get more information about a restaurant, or about which movies are playing at a cinema that you’re driving by.

5. Tech-driven change a key priority for new EC president

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has made responding to technology-driven change a key priority for her five-year term — which began last month — alongside challenges posed by climate change and demographic shifts, tacitly linking all three to a rise in regional unease. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. Cloudflare acquires stealthy startup S2 Systems, announces Cloudflare for Teams

Matthew Prince, co-founder and CEO at Cloudflare, says that this acquisition is part of a new suite of products called Cloudflare for Teams, which has been designed to protect an organization from threats on the internet. S2 developed a solution specifically to help prevent browser-based code attacks.

7. Mercedes-Benz and James Cameron built an Avatar-inspired car perfect for Pandora

Speaking of concept cars, Mercedes-Benz channeled the world of James Cameron’s hit movie “Avatar” for its latest — an electric autonomous vehicle covered in bionic flaps that aims to show how man and machine can merge and live responsibly in nature.

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India’s ruling party accused of running deceptive Twitter campaign to gain support for a controversial law

January 6, 2020 No Comments

Bharatiya Janata Party, the ruling party in India, has been accused of running a highly deceptive Twitter campaign to trick citizens into supporting a controversial law.

First, some background: The Indian government passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) last month that eases the path of non-Muslim minorities from the neighboring Muslim-majority nations of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan to gain Indian citizenship.

But, combined with a proposed national register of citizens, critics have cautioned that it discriminates against minority Muslims in India and chips away at India’s secular traditions.

Over the past few weeks, tens of thousands of people in the country — if not more — have participated in peaceful protests across the nation against the law. The Indian government, which has temporarily cut down internet access and mobile communications in many parts of India to contain the protests, has so far shown no signs of withdrawing the law.

On Saturday, it may have found a new way to gain support for it, however.

India’s Home Minister Amit Shah on Thursday tweeted a phone number, urging citizens to place a call to that number in “support of the CAA law.”

Thousands of people in India today, many affiliated with the BJP party, began circulating that phone number on Twitter with the promise that anyone who places a call would be offered job opportunities, free mobile data, Netflix credentials, and even company with “lonely women.”

Huffington Post India called the move latest “BJP ploy” to win support for its controversial law. BoomLive, a fact checking organization based in India, reported the affiliation of many of these people to the ruling party.

We have reached out to a BJP spokesperson and Twitter spokespeople for comment.

If the allegations are true, this won’t be the first time BJP has used Twitter to aggressively promote its views. In 2017, BuzzFeed News reported that a number of political hashtags that appeared in the top 10 Twitter’s trends column in India were the result of organized campaigns.

Pratik Sinha, co-founder of fact-checking website Alt News, last year demonstrated how easy it was to manipulate many politicians in the country to tweet certain things after he gained accessed to a Google document of prepared statements and tinkered with the content.

Last month, snowfall in Kashmir, a highly sensitive region that hasn’t had internet connection for more than four months, began trending on Twitter in the U.S. It mysteriously disappeared after many journalists questioned how it made it to the list.

When we reached out, a Twitter spokesperson in India pointed TechCrunch to an FAQ article that explained how Trending Topics work. Nothing in the FAQ article addressed the question.

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Snapchat quietly acquired AI Factory, the company behind its new Cameos feature, for $166M

January 4, 2020 No Comments

After acquiring Ukraine startup Looksery in 2015 to supercharge animated selfie lenses in Snapchat — arguably changing the filters game for all social video and photo apps — Snap has made another acquisition with roots in the country, co-founded by one of Looksery’s founders, to give a big boost to its video capabilities.

The company has acquired AI Factory, a computer vision startup that Snap had worked with to create Snapchat’s new Cameos animated selfie-based video feature, for a price believed to be in the region of $ 166 million.

The news was first reported by a Ukrainian publication, AIN, and while I’m still waiting for a direct reply from Snap about the acquisition, I’ve had the news confirmed by another source close to the deal, and Snap has now also confirmed the news to TechCrunch with no further comment on the financial terms or any other details.

Victor Shaburov, the founder of Looksery who then went on to become Snap’s director of engineering — leaving in May 2018 to found and lead AI Factory — declined to provide a comment for this story. (The other founders of AI Factory are Greg Tkachenko and Eugene Krokhalev.)

Cameos, launched last month, lets you take a selfie, which is then automatically “animated” and inserted into a short video. The selection of videos, currently around 150, is created by Snap, with the whole concept not unlike the one underpinning “deepfakes” — AI-based videos that look “real” but are actually things that never really happened.

Deepfake videos have been around for a while. But if your experience of that word has strong dystopian undertones, we now appear to be in a moment where consumer apps are tapping into the technology in a race for new — fun, lighthearted — features to attract and keep users. Just today, Josh reported that TikTok has secretly built a deepfake tool, too. I expect we’ll be hearing about Facebook’s newest deepfake tool in 3, 2, 1…

From what I understand, while AI Factory has offices in San Francisco, the majority of the team of around 70 is based out of Ukraine. Part of the team will relocate with the deal, and part will stay there.

Snap had also been an investor in AI Factory. Part of its early interest would have been because of the track record of the talent associated with the startup: lenses have been a huge success for Snap — 70% of its daily active users play with them, and they not only bring in new users, but increase retention and bring in revenues by way of sponsorships or users buying them — so creating new features to give users more ways to play around with their selfies is a good bet.

It’s not clear whether AI Factory will be developing a way to insert selfies into any video, or if the feature will be tied just to specific videos offered by Snap itself, or whether the videos will extend beyond the timing of a GIF. It’s also not clear what else AI Factory was working on: the company’s site is offline and there is very little information about the company beyond its mission to bring more AI-based imaging tools into mainstream apps and usage.

The company’s LinkedIn profile says that AI Factory “provide[s] multiple AI business solutions based on image and video recognition, analysis and processing,” so while the company will come under Snap’s wing, there may be scope for the team to build some of its technology into more innovative ways for businesses to use the Snap platform in the future, too.

We’ll update this post as we learn more.

Updated with Snap’s confirmation of the acquisition.

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Quantum supremacy and nine SEO trends that’ll flip 2020 on its head

January 2, 2020 No Comments

Get ready because SEO trends will undergo revolutionary changes in 2020. Make sure you are on the side that embraces this revolution, rather than the one that resists it.

Google has achieved “Quantum Supremacy”, this means that they have built a quantum computer capable of performing tasks that would take modern-day supercomputers 10’s of thousands of years to accomplish.

In 2020 Google will start using these new breakthroughs for commercial purposes. This will make Google’s search algorithm exponentially more powerful since the quantum processor is fully programmable and can run general-purpose quantum algorithms and machine learning applications.

I know, scary, right.

Quantum Supremacy might affect SEO in several ways:

  • Making search more relevant
  • New tactics to overcome black hat SEO
  • Lightning fast and reactive algorithmic updates
  • Rankings that are truly based on relevancy and merit of website content (instead of backlinks) 
  • Dramatically change Google Image search results

This is just one aspect of the future of SEO, let’s talk about the rest.

1. NLP oriented content

Google just released a new update in October of 2019 called BERT (which is based on NLP), which has impacted the ranking of more than 10% of queries in Google.

What is NLP?

In computer science, natural language processing (NLP) is a field in machine learning which focuses on the ability of a computer to understand, analyze, manipulate, and potentially generate human language.


Do you want to learn about the basics of NLP? This paper from Stanford University can surely help.

Furthermore, NLP is changing the landscape of businesses since it has the ability to extract critical information from unstructured data (mainly in the form of invoices, online customer chats, emails, or any plain text).

BERT is a deep learning model in NLP used to analyze large bodies of text to provide interesting results and insights to users. The best part is that it’s open-source, which means anyone with Python experience can train the model.

If you’re interested in learning more BERT then check out this official explanation of BERT from Google.

This breakthrough has the capability to understand a sentence based on concepts, intent, and context (not solely on keywords). Moreover, It looks at words that come before and after a sentence when understanding context.

In a nutshell, what makes BERT different is its bi-directional approach that wasn’t implemented in the preceding algorithms of Google, like Word2Vec and GloVe.

Let’s understand it with an example

Sentence-A: The man went to the shop.

Sentence-B: He bought a PlayStation 5.

Label: IsNextSentence

BERT can perceive the relationship between Sentence-A and Sentence-B based on the word ‘the man’ and ‘He’ and ‘the shop’ and ‘PlayStation 5’. Previous algorithms couldn’t understand the left and right context in sentences.

Thanks to BERT, Google can now understand longer queries better than before. Moreover, it can detect the opposite as well. Have a look at the below example:

Sentence-A: The man went to the shop.

Sentence-B: Google is changing the gaming industry.

Label: IsNotNextSentence

Sentence-A and Sentence-B have no relationship, and they are entirely dissimilar.

But what is BERT’s takeaway?

There is no official explanation from Google, but according to the real SEO experts like Bill Slawski and Ryan Jones, who have been in the SEO industry for more than ten years, you should ignore advice from so-called SEO experts.

Bill Slawskis tweet about BERT being one of the big SEO trends in 2020

Bill Slawski's tweet about BERT being one of the big SEO trends in 2020


Are you thinking BERT can’t be implemented practically until you are a Python geek?

Boy, do I have some news for you.

Let me show you the Google NLP API tool that you can use to optimize your content.

This tool helps businesses identify unique entities from invoices, live chats, emails, or any plain text.

The part I love about this tool is that it can recognize your content against your competitors’ content and Google is using the same technology in ranking websites.

Follow the steps

Go to Google NLP Tool that looks like this:

Google's NLP API tool

Type anything that comes to mind. I’ve input my author bio and clicked Analyze.

This powerful tool shows four critical sections: Entities, sentiments, syntax, and categories – each section has significance for understanding content.

As it’s evident, in the ‘entities’section, Google can understand ‘Ata Khan’ is the name of a person. Entities can be the name of any person, a place, an organization, a number, and so on. Google is rapidly growing its entity library.

In ‘sentiment’, Google can understand the context of any sentence from being positive to negative.

‘Syntax’ is the technical part of language forms the grammatical structure of sentences.

The ‘categories’section is my favorite part which lets you know if your content is written for the right industry or not.

Let me explain all this with an example

Type your keyword that you want to rank for in Google. I’ve used the keyword “Best Smartphones 2019”. I opened the site that was ranking for the number one position and copied the content.

I then pasted into Google NLP. Now comes the best part, you can check whether you’re writing for the right industry or not.

Paste your content into the box to compare the results with your competitors’ content.

You should aim for a confidence score of 90% or higher in the industry you want to rank for.

But what happens when it doesn’t show the right industry? Double-check to see if you are using industry buzzwords and words used y by experts in your field (by observing the content ranked by Google).

Want to see an example of why Google ranks the ‘Car Movie’ Wikipedia page?

The 'Cars Movie' Wiki page

The reason is simple – the page contains words that are all related to movies, words like :

  • Director
  • Producer
  • Screenplay
  • Actor

The secret to a better ranking is to include as many entities as possible in your content, as per Bill Slawski.

2. SEO semantic HTML

Semantic HTML is a crucial part of SEO which most marketers ignore.

What saddens me is that most companies hire web developers that don’t have any SEO experience. This, of course, presents huge problems down the road.

I believe every good developer should know SEO, primarily technical SEO (which helps earn better rankings in search engines).

Below is a developer’s style of writing code that doesn’t possess SEO skills






        <div id=”header”>

            Here goes logo, navigation, etc.


        <div id=”main-content”>

            A place for website’s main content


        <div id=”footer”>

            Footer information, links, etc.




Now, look at the below code, which is perfectly written for SEO. It has <title>, <main>, <p>, and <footer> that aids Google in identifying important elements on the page.







            Here goes logo, navigation, etc.



            <p>A place for website’s main content</p>



            Footer information, links, etc.




What is the main advantage? Semantic HTML helps in getting a featured snippet of your website on search results pages.

According to my research, most featured snippets are taken from the <p> element.

Look at this keyword “Why people fall in love”.

Example of semantic search SEO trends 2020

Now take a look at the HTML version of the answer.

What do you find? The featured snippet is taken from within a <p> tag element.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen businesses hiring writers who don’t have any basic knowledge of HTML and end up publishing content that doesn’t rank well.

They write on Microsoft Word or Google Doc, and they use different features to make an article look better, but at the cost of poor HTML structure.

Need a real example?

Take an article written in MS Word and I paste it into the visual editor of WordPress. It looks something like this:

Such a messy code isn’t likely to be featured as a snippet by Google.

3. Schema implementation

As of November, 45% of websites on the internet don’t use Schema at all.

Stat showing schema implementation as one of the big SEO trends in 2020

This is a great opportunity to increase your organic traffic as few businesses are utilizing this great traffic source.

And here’s what a search listing with featured snippets look like:

You can mark up any information with schema tags that are relevant to your business, such as reviews, ratings, and prices as compared to normal snippets which only contain a title, URL, and meta description. The greatest benefit of utilizing rich snippets is that they attract more clicks because of the larger real estate they take when displayed on SERPs (as well as providing additional useful information for searchers).

For some people, the implementation of schema tags appears to be a daunting task…But it’s not! Google tag manager makes this process very easy. Check out this tutorial which breaks down schema tag implementation step by step.

4. Voice search

Voice search is becoming more useful to users because it’s more personalized. Now, you can talk to your personal assistance as if it were a real human. 

SEOs have been talking about voice search for a decade, but they still don’t know how to optimize their content for it.

If you want to be picked up by Google Assistant, you need to optimize for featured snippets because more than 40.7% of the voice searches are taken from featured snippets, according to Backlinko.

Why is voice search the future?

The reason is simple…people have become lazy. People love to shop online. And people love to chat with friends instead of meeting at a physical location. 

So how do you optimize your featured snippets to be presented in Google Voice Search? Simply write the answer to the question but be sure that specific words from the questions are mentioned.

Need an example?

Look at the keyword below. The words in the question are included in the answer. This has helped to get the snippet featured.

Featured snippets may contain:

  • Paragraphs
  • Numbered lists
  • Bullet lists
  • Table featured snippets
  • Youtube snippets

You should try to use as many of these formatting types when writing your answers. Check out this detailed guide on getting featured snippets picked up by voice search.

5. The speed update

This is a pretty common trend, so why did it make this list? Because despite Google addressing its importance, corporations continue to ignore it.

So what has Google done so far?

  • Made speed a ranking factor.
  • Investing time and money on AMP technology across Google.
  • Built the new speed feature in Google Search Console.

  • The latest chrome version now labels slow websites with a “shame” badge.
    The shame badge

So why is Google coming down hard on page speed optimization? Does it really matter? Well, Amazon is a great example of the importance of page speed optimization. They found that every 100ms of latency cost them1% in profit – that’s a staggering $ 4 million dollars in sales.

That’s a tenth of one second! Imagine what Amazon could achieve if it increases its speed by 1 second!

Ever wonder why this happens? It’s because our brain makes decisions in milliseconds, not seconds.

6. Creating branded queries

Branded queries are a direct sign of your business’ credibility since users are searching for your brand name in Google.

According to the ranking factors report by Brian Dean, branded search is a ranking factor.

The founder of Backlinko has created an astounding SEO blog that has become a brand in the SEO industry. 

These branded queries provide a hint to Google that users love their blog which has helped them gain higher positions in the SERPs.

Have a look at the below Google Analytics report, 40% of monthly traffic is coming from returning visitors. It’s become a brand.

Moreover, you can also use Google Search Console to see your branded search queries by clicking New>Query>Type your website name>Apply from the Performance Report.

But the real question is how will you make your website a brand?

There is no secret. You’ll need to focus on providing excellent content to your audience that no one else can provide.

According to my experience, blogs with their own unique voice and personality (that no other blog can replicate) have the highest chances of becoming a brand.

Here are some tips to make your blog a brand:

  • Keep the website name easy to pronounce, easy to spell, and easy to speak.
  • The shorter the domain, the better (and .coms are best).
  • Promote your brand name on social media like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
  • Write your own unique content. Branded topics perform substantially better than non-branded ones (like the “Skyscraper Technique” by Backlinko).
  • Survey your visitors and customers to understand what they need from your industry. 

7. Cumulative optimization

Cumulative optimization is the process of continually optimizing your website and pages until you achieve your goals. The idea is that you never stop making improvements and analyzing your customers’ needs and wants.

Let’s talk about a case study by Ahrefs.

Ahrefs attempted to rank number one for the keyword “free backlink tool”, but they failed. The webpage kept at the 8th position on the SERP despite them doing the following:

  • On-page SEO
  • Page speed optimization
  • Image optimization
  • Internal linking
  • Paid traffic
  • Guest posting

The first rule of optimizing is to ask the question, why are you optimizing in the first place? Maybe you’re not getting the rankings you deserve, maybe you’re not generating sales, or maybe it’s something else. Whatever it is, make a note of it.

Once you’ve identified your issue, you need to type your keyword into Google and observe the top-ranking pages. Specifically, you should observe:

  • On-Page SEO with comprehensive content analysis
  • Off-Page SEO with no-follow and do-follow backlink breakdown

Ahrefs recognized that the top-ranked pages were providing backlink tools free of cost, but Ahrefs’ cost seven dollars (as a trial demo). 

A week within the day Ahrefs made their backlink tool-free (which allowed anyone to check the backlinks of any website – along with other useful information), Ahrefs gained the number one ranking. They didn’t create a new page, they simply updated their existing page.

That’s why if you’re not getting the desired ranking for your page you’ll need to audit the page and find out what you lack that could be holding you back.

8. Video SEO 

Businesses that utilize the power of video marketing get 49% more revenue year-over-year than those that don’t.

The reason? People love watching videos. 

Leading blogs in the SEO industry like Ahrefs, SEMrush, and Backlinko focus on making videos to generate quality leads.

Small businesses don’t focus on making video due to it being expensive But thanks to freelancing platforms it’s become cheaper these days. Moreover, you can use video tools that can help you further to create engaging videos.

You’ll need to understand that making videos on just any topic isn’t an effective way of video marketing (you must fuel it with keyword research).

Keyword research is a crucial step in finding topics that can be picked by YouTube and Google. 

You can also find great topics on YouTube. Go to any channel in your industry, click “Sort By”, and choose “Most Popular”. You’ll end up with a list of topics that are popular – create videos for those.

Another fantastic way to find topics is by YouTube Search Predictions.

*Note – Do you want to copy the keywords from the suggest list all at once without any tool? Click on “Report search predictions” at the bottom of the suggestions list. It will pop up like this:

Once you do that there will be an option to select all keywords and copy.

Are you eager to make successful videos? Follow these tips:

  • You have five seconds to persuade users to keep watching your video.
  • Retention is a ranking factor. If you are getting more views, but only a few users are watching the entire video.
  • Most of the views on YouTube come from suggestions. It means you need to invest time to make a good thumbnail to attract users.
  • Invest in writing a script. Nothing can beat a good script. As an example to learn, watch the best videos in your niche and download subtitles.

9. E-A-T centric website

E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness three factors help Google whether to trust a site.

Recent Google algorithms have penalized many health sites because misleading health information can lead to the death of a person. Many blogs hire cheap writers to write thin content and then rank those blogs with black hat techniques.

Google hired more than 10,000 search quality raters to discover thin websites, and they follow the instructions mentioned in the official PDF.

Every SEO should read this entire document to have a better understanding of the future of SEO.

Healthline strictly follows the instructions in the document and gets traffic in millions.

But how?

As we know, “Expertise” is the number one element. Healthline only hires professionals who are experts in their niche.

The second element is “Authoritativeness”. Healthline provides strong references to prove the authenticity of a topic. 

“Trustworthiness” is the third element and it looks at the website’s UX and UI, age of the website, reputation on social media and online reviews.

It indicates when you should focus on:

  • Hiring expert writers in your niche. Not all writers are equal. If you write yourself, make sure you follow the E-A-T rule with an impressive author bio.
  • Must have an “About Us” page to show your testimonials from clients, awards, and qualifications. 
  • Content should be written to help users, not Google. If you make your users happy, Google will reward your website with higher rankings.

Wrapping up

SEO trends keep changing with the advent of machine learning and artificial intelligence, but the main mission of Google remains the same – to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

So don’t let your competitors have all the fun. Execute these aforementioned SEO trends and watch your site climb the ranks.

Here is a short summary of what we just covered

  • Using Google’s NLP tool to optimize your content
  • Implementing Schema to cover more space and clicks from users
  • Making use of featured snippets to get traffic from voice search
  • Speeding up your site to avoid Chrome shame badge
  • Writing quality content to entice users to remember and search for your brand on Google
  • Focusing on improving a webpage that is not performing well until it achieves abetter ranking
  • Making interesting and compelling videos
  • Making your website E-A-T Centric (that is, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness)

What do you think the future of SEO will look like in the year 2020? Give us your thoughts in the comments section below.

Ata Khan is Co-Founder of Xoobo, a digital marketing agency that is on the bleeding edge of the industry.

The post Quantum supremacy and nine SEO trends that’ll flip 2020 on its head appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

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