Netflix and chill from afar? Facebook Messenger is now internally testing simultaneous co-viewing of videos. That means you and your favorite people could watch a synchronized video over group chat on your respective devices while discussing or joking about it. This “Watch Videos Together” feature could make you spend more time on Facebook Messenger while creating shared experiences that are more meaningful and positive for well-being than passively zombie-viewing videos solo. This new approach to Facebook’s Watch Party feature might feel more natural as part of messaging than through a feed, Groups or Events post.
The feature was first spotted in Messenger’s codebase by Ananay Arora, the founder of deadline management app Timebound as well as a mobile investigator in the style of frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong. The code he discovered describes Messenger allowing you to “tap to watch together now” and “chat about the same videos at the same time” with chat thread members receiving a notification that a co-viewing is starting. “Everyone in this chat can control the video and see who’s watching,” the code explains.
A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch that this is an “internal test” and that it doesn’t have any more to share right now. But other features originally discovered in Messenger’s code, like contact syncing with Instagram, have eventually received official launches.
A fascinating question this co-viewing feature brings up is where users will find videos to watch. It might just let you punch in a URL from Facebook or share a video from there to Messenger. The app could put a new video browsing option into the message composer or Discover tab. Or, if it really wanted to get serious about chat-based co-viewing, Facebook could allow the feature to work with video partners, ideally YouTube.
Co-viewing of videos could also introduce a new revenue opportunity for Messenger. It might suggest sponsored videos, such as recent movie trailers. Or it could simply serve video ads between a queue of videos lined up for co-viewing. Facebook has recently been putting more pressure on its subsidiaries like Messenger and Instagram to monetize as News Feed ad revenue growth slows due to plateauing user growth and limited News Feed ad space.
Other apps like YouTube’s Uptime (since shut down) and Facebook’s first president Sean Parker’s Airtime (never took off) have tried and failed to make co-watching a popular habit. The problem is that coordinating these synced-up experiences with friends can be troublesome. By baking simultaneous video viewing directing into Messenger, Facebook could make it as seamless as sharing a link.
Facebook secretly retracted messages sent by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, TechCrunch reported seven months ago. Now for the first time, Facebook Messenger users will get the power to unsend too so they can remove their sent messages from the recipient’s inbox. Messages can only be unsent for the first 10 minutes after they’re delivered so that you can correct a mistake or remove something you accidentally pushed, but you won’t be able to edit ancient history. Formally known as “Remove for Everyone,” the button also leaves a “tombstone” indicating a message was retracted. And to prevent bullies from using the feature to cover their tracks, Facebook will retain unsent messages for a short period of time so if they’re reported, it can review them for policy violations.
The Remove feature rolls out in Poland, Bolivia, Colombia and Lithuania today on Messenger for iOS and Android. A Facebook spokesperson tells me the plan is to roll it out globally as soon as possible, though that may be influenced by the holiday App Store update cut-off. In the meantime, it’s also working on more unsend features, potentially including the ability to preemptively set an expiration date for specific messages or entire threads.
“The pros are that users want to be in control . . . and if you make a mistake you can correct it. There are a lot of legitimate use cases out there that we wanted to enable,” Facebook’s head of Messenger Stan Chudnovsky tells me in an exclusive interview. But conversely, he says, “We need to make sure we don’t open up any new venues for bullying. We need to make sure people aren’t sending you bad messages and then removing them because if you report them and the messages aren’t there we can’t do anything.”
Zuckerberg did it; soon you can, too
Facebook first informed TechCrunch it would build an unsend feature back in April after I reported that six sources told me some of Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook messages had been silently removed from the inboxes of recipients, including non-employees with no tombstone left in their place. We saw that as a violation of user trust and an abuse of the company’s power, given the public had no way to unsend their own messages.
Facebook claimed this was to protect the privacy of its executives and the company’s trade secrets, telling me that “After Sony Pictures’ emails were hacked in 2014 we made a number of changes to protect our executives’ communications. These included limiting the retention period for Mark’s messages in Messenger.” But it seems likely that Facebook also wanted to avoid another embarrassing situation like when Zuckerberg’s old instant messages from 2004 leaked. One damning exchange saw Zuckerberg tell a friend “if you ever need info about anyone at harvard . . . just ask . . . i have over 4000 emails, pictures, addresses, sns.” “what!? how’d you manage that one?” the friend replied. “People just submitted it . . i don’t know why . . . they ‘trust me’ . . . dumb fucks” Zuckerberg replied.
The company told me it was actually already working on an Unsend button for everyone, and wouldn’t delete any more executives’ messages until it launched. Chudnovsky tells me he felt like “I wish we launched this sooner” when the news broke. But then six months went by without progress or comment from Facebook before TechCrunch broke the news that tipster Jane Manchun Wong had spotted Facebook prototyping the Remove feature. Then a week ago, Facebook Messenger’s App Store release notes accidentally mentioned that a 10-minute Unsend button was coming soon.
So why the seven-month wait? Especially given Instagram already allows users to unsend messages no matter how old? “The reason why it took so long is because on the server side, it’s actually much harder. All the messages are stored on the server, and that goes into the core transportation layer of our how our messaging system was built,” Chudnovsky explains. “It was hard to do given how we were architected, but we were always worried about the integrity concerns it would open up.” Now the company is confident it’s surmounted the engineering challenge to ensure an Unsent message reliably disappears from the recipient.
“The question becomes ‘who owns that message?’ Before that message is delivered to your Messenger app, it belongs to me. But when it actually arrives, it probably belongs to both of us,” Chudnovsky pontificates.
How Facebook Messenger’s “Remove for Everyone” button works
Facebook settled on the ability to let you remove any kind of message — including text, group chats, photos, videos, links and more — within 10 minutes of sending. You can still delete any message on just your side of the conversation, but only messages you sent can be removed from their recipients. You can’t delete from someone else what they sent you, the feature’s PR manager Kat Chui tells me. And Facebook will keep a private copy of the message for a short while after it’s deleted to make sure it can review if it’s reported for harassment.
To use the unsend feature, tap and hold on a message you sent, then select “Remove.” You’ll get options to “Remove for Everyone” which will retract the message, or “Remove for you,” which replaces the old delete option and leaves the message in the recipient’s inbox. You’ll get a warning that explains “You’ll permanently remove this message for all chat members. They can see that you removed a message and still report it.” If you confirm the removal, a line of text noting “you [or the sender’s name] removed a message” (known as a tombstone) will appear in the thread where the message was. If you want to report a removed message for abuse or another issue, you’ll tap the person’s name, scroll to “Something’s Wrong” and select the proper category such as harassment or that they were pretending to be someone else.
Why the 10-minute limit specifically? “We looked at how the existing delete functionality works. It turns out that when people are deleting messages because it’s a mistake or they sent something they didn’t want to send, it’s under a minute. We decided to extend it to 10, but decided we didn’t need to do more,” Chudnovsky reveals.
He says he’s not sure if Facebook’s security team will now resume removing executive messages. However, he stresses that the Unsend button Facebook is launching “is definitely not the same feature” as what was used on Zuckerberg’s messages. If Facebook wanted to truly respect its users, it would at least insert the tombstone when it erases old messages from executives.
Messenger is also building more unsend functionality. Taking a cue from encrypted messaging app Signal’s customizable per thread expiration date feature, Chudnovsky tells me “hypothetically, if I want all the messages to be deleted after six months, they get purged. This is something that can be set up on a per thread level,” though Facebook is still tinkering with the details. Another option would be for Facebook to extend to all chats the per message expiration date option from its encrypted Secret messages feature.
“It’s one of those things that feels very simple on the surface. And it would be very easy if the servers were built one way or another from the very beginning,” Chudnovsky concludes. “But it’s one of those things philosophically and technologically that once you get to the scale of 1.3 billion people using it, changing from one model to another is way more complicated.” Hopefully in the future, Facebook won’t give its executives extrajudicial ways to manipulate communications… or at least not until it’s sorted out the consequences of giving the public the same power.
The idea that social media can be harmful to our mental and emotional well-being is not a new one, but little has been done by researchers to directly measure the effect; surveys and correlative studies are at best suggestive. A new experimental study out of Penn State, however, directly links more social media use to worse emotional states, and less use to better.
To be clear on the terminology here, a simple survey might ask people to self-report that using Instagram makes them feel bad. A correlative study would, for example, find that people who report more social media use are more likely to also experience depression. An experimental study compares the results from an experimental group with their behavior systematically modified, and a control group that’s allowed to do whatever they want.
This study, led by Melissa Hunt at Penn State’s psychology department, is the latter — which despite intense interest in this field and phenomenon is quite rare. The researchers only identified two other experimental studies, both of which only addressed Facebook use.
One hundred and forty-three students from the school were monitored for three weeks after being assigned to either limit their social media use to about 10 minutes per app (Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram) per day or continue using it as they normally would. They were monitored for a baseline before the experimental period and assessed weekly on a variety of standard tests for depression, social support and so on. Social media usage was monitored via the iOS battery use screen, which shows app use.
The results are clear. As the paper, published in the latest Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, puts it:
The limited use group showed significant reductions in loneliness and depression over three weeks compared to the control group. Both groups showed significant decreases in anxiety and fear of missing out over baseline, suggesting a benefit of increased self-monitoring.
Our findings strongly suggest that limiting social media use to approximately 30 minutes per day may lead to significant improvement in well-being.
It’s not the final word in this, however. Some scores did not see improvement, such as self-esteem and social support. And later follow-ups to see if feelings reverted or habit changes were less than temporary were limited because most of the subjects couldn’t be compelled to return. (Psychology, often summarized as “the study of undergraduates,” relies on student volunteers who have no reason to take part except for course credit, and once that’s given, they’re out.)
That said, it’s a straightforward causal link between limiting social media use and improving some aspects of emotional and social health. The exact nature of the link, however, is something at which Hunt could only speculate:
Some of the existing literature on social media suggests there’s an enormous amount of social comparison that happens. When you look at other people’s lives, particularly on Instagram, it’s easy to conclude that everyone else’s life is cooler or better than yours.
When you’re not busy getting sucked into clickbait social media, you’re actually spending more time on things that are more likely to make you feel better about your life.
The researchers acknowledge the limited nature of their study and suggest numerous directions for colleagues in the field to take it from here. A more diverse population, for instance, or including more social media platforms. Longer experimental times and comprehensive follow-ups well after the experiment would help, as well.
The 30-minute limit was chosen as a conveniently measurable one, but the team does not intend to say that it is by any means the “correct” amount. Perhaps half or twice as much time would yield similar or even better results, they suggest: “It may be that there is an optimal level of use (similar to a dose response curve) that could be determined.”
Until then, we can use common sense, Hunt suggested: “In general, I would say, put your phone down and be with the people in your life.”
Tinder has never really shaken its reputation among consumers as a “hook up” app, instead of one designed for more serious dating. Now, it seems Tinder is planning to embrace its status as the default app for younger users who aren’t ready to settle down. According to Match Group CEO Mandy Ginsberg, speaking to investors on its Q3 earnings call this morning, Tinder is preparing to launch its first-ever brand marketing campaign that will promote the “single lifestyle” with billboard campaigns and other digital initiatives.
The move is something of an admission that Tinder isn’t working for helping people find long-term relationships.
“Tinder was such a phenomenon when it launched and spread so quickly that the market defined the brand, versus the business defining the brand,” said Ginsberg, referring to its “hook up app” reputation.
“Tinder’s brand particularly resonated with 18 to 25 year-olds because it provides a fun and easy way to meet people. Tinder sometimes gets a bad rap for being casual,” she then admitted. “But keep in mind that people in the late teens and early 20s are not looking to settle down. It is a time to explore and discover yourself, meeting lots of people and being social.”
Tinder’s new marketing campaign will focus on the “single journey,” the exec said.
The dating app maker has already started publishing content that’s relevant to this “single lifestyle” on its Swipe Life website with stories relating to dating styles, travel, food, and more. For example, some of its recent articles have included things like: “7 Exit Strategies for Terrible Dates,” “Tinder Diaries: Which of these 5 Guys Will Get the Date?,” and “Study Abroad Hookup Confessions.”
Definitely not material for the relationship-minded.
Now, the company will promote Tinder’s “single lifestyle” even further with billboards across major cities throughout the U.S., as well as on digital channels.
The campaign’s goal, explained Ginsberg, is about “further reinforcing how Tinder can enable users to make the most of this fun and adventurous time in their life.”
It’s not difficult to read between the lines here: Tinder’s business model succeeds among people who want to stay single. It succeeds when they’re retained in the app, continually swiping on to the next person they want to meet.
To be fair, Tinder has never really invested in many features that push people to go on dates or exit its app. Instead, it has added addictive features like an in-app news feed – like a social network would have – and tools that enhance in-app chats, like sharing GIFs.
If Tinder was Match’s only dating app, this narrow definition of an app for those embracing their “single lifestyle” would be a problem.
But Match’s strategy has been to diversify its lineup of dating apps. Now it’s a majority owner of dating app Hinge, whose focus has been on helping people get into relationships. In other words, when people are fed up with the ephemeral nature of Tinder, they can just switch apps – while remaining a Match customer, of course!
The company also says it will invest more in Hinge going forward – a move that’s not unrelated to the decisions Match is making around Tinder.
In fact, in another admission that Tinder wasn’t serving those in search of relationships, Ginsberg said Hinge will help the company to address the “previously underserved” audience of 20-somethings looking for a serious relationship.
She speaks of how Hinge’s user interface is clean and simple, and encourages people to be more thoughtful in their initial conversations. It’s a stark contrast to Tinder, which certainly does not.
Hinge downloads have increased five times since Match invested, the company also noted. It’s gaining traction in major cities throughout the U.S, including New York, as well as in international markets, like London.
The plan is to make Hinge the anti-Tinder, then pull in users as they exit Tinder in search of something real. The company said it’s going to increase the marketing spend on Hinge to drive awareness of the app across the U.S.
“We see a real opportunity to invest meaningful dollars in both products and marketing at Hinge to drive long-term growth,” said Ginsberg.
“We think it addresses a great gap in the market,” she continued. “If you think about when Tinder came into the market six years ago, it brought a whole new audience of young users, particularly college-age users. As they start to age…having a product that’s oriented to serious [dating] – but sort of mid-to-late 20s – is really compelling for us,” she added.
Tinder has evolved over the years from casual dating to include those who are more serious. But with Match’s decision to focus on those not looking for lasting relationships, it risks losing some users going forward. The challenge for the company is to pick them up in another dating app it owns, and not lose them to Bumble…or to an exit from dating apps altogether.
Human action requires motivation, but what exactly are those motivations? Donating money to a charity might be motivated by altruism, and yet, only 1% of donations are anonymous. Donors don’t just want to be altruistic, they also want credit for that altruism plus badges to signal to others about their altruistic ways.
Worse, we aren’t even aware of our true motivations — in fact, we often strategically deceive ourselves to make our behavior appear more pure than it really is. It’s a pattern that manifests itself across all kinds of arenas, including consumption, politics, education, medicine, religion and more.
In their book Elephant in the Brain, Kevin Simler, formerly a long-time engineer at Palantir, and Robin Hanson, an associate professor of economics at George Mason University, take the most dismal parts of the dismal science of economics and weave them together into a story of humans acting badly (but believing they are great!) As the authors write in their intro, “The line between cynicism and misanthropy — between thinking ill of human motives and thinking ill of humans — is often blurry.” No kidding.
The eponymous elephant in the brain is essentially our self-deception and hidden motivations regarding the actions we take in everyday life. Like the proverbial elephant in the room, this elephant in the brain is visible to those who search for it, but we often avoid looking at it lest we get discouraged at our selfish behavior.
Humans care deeply about being perceived as prosocial, but we are also locked into constant competition, over status attainment, careers, and spouses. We want to signal our community spirit, but we also want to selfishly benefit from our work. We solve for this dichotomy by creating rationalizations and excuses to do both simultaneously. We give to charity for the status as well as the altruism, much as we get a college degree to learn, but also to earn a degree which signals to employers that we will be hard workers.
The key is that we self-deceive: we don’t realize we are taking advantage of the duality of our actions. We truly believe we are being altruistic, just as much as we truly believe we are in college to learn and explore the arts and humanities. That self-deception is critical, since it lowers the cost of demonstrating our prosocial bona fides: we would be heavily cognitively taxed if we had to constantly pretend as if we cared about the environment when what we really care about is being perceived as an ethical consumer.
Elephant in the Brain is a bold yet synthetic thesis. Simler and Hanson build upon a number of research advances, such as Jonathan Haidt’s work on the righteous mind and Robert Trivers work on evolutionary psychology to undergird their thesis in the first few chapters, and then they apply that thesis to a series of other fields (ten, in fact) in relatively brief and facile chapters to describe how the elephant in the brain affects us in every sphere of human activity.
Refreshingly, far from being polemicists, the authors are quite curious and investigatory about this pattern of human behavior, and they realize they are pushing at least some of their readers into uncomfortable territory. They even begin the book by stating that “we expect the typical reader to accept roughly two-thirds of our claims about human motives and institutions.”
Yet, the book is essentially making one claim, just applied in a myriad of ways. It’s unclear to me who the reader would be who accepts only parts of the book’s premise. Either you have come around to the cynical view of humans (pre or post book), or you haven’t — there doesn’t seem to me to be a middle point between those two perspectives.
Worse, even after reading the book, I am left completely unaware of what exactly to do with the thesis now that I have read it. There is something of a lukewarm conclusion in which the authors push for us to have greater situational awareness, and a short albeit excellent section on designing better institutions to account for hidden motivations. The book’s observations ultimately don’t lead to any greater project, no path toward a more enlightened society. That’s fine, but disappointing.
Indeed, for a book that arguably strives to be optimistic, I fear its results will be nothing more than cynical fodder for Silicon Valley product designers. Don’t design products for what humans say they want, but design them to punch the buttons of their hidden motivations. Viewed in this light, Elephant in the Brain is perhaps a more academic version of the Facebook product manual.
The dismal science is dismal precisely because of this cynicism: because as a project, as a set of values, it leads pretty much nowhere. Everyone is secretly selfish and obsessed with status, and they don’t even know it. As the authors conclude in their final line, “We may be competitive social animals, self-interested and self-deceived, but we cooperated our way to the god-damned moon.” Yes we did, and it is precisely that surprise from such a dreary species that we should take solace in. There is indeed an elephant in our brain, but its influence can wax and wane — and ultimately humans hold their agency in their own hands.
Twitter has deleted thousands of automated accounts posting messages that tried to discourage and dissuade voters from casting their ballot in the upcoming election next week.
Some 10,000 accounts were removed across late September and early October after they were first flagged by staff at the Democratic Party, the company has confirmed.
“We removed a series of accounts for engaging in attempts to share disinformation in an automated fashion – a violation of our policies,” said a Twitter spokesperson in an email to TechCrunch. “We stopped this quickly and at its source.” But the company did not provide examples of the kinds of accounts it removed, or say who or what might have been behind the activity.
The accounts posed as Democrats and try to convince key demographics to stay at home and not vote, likely as an attempt to sway the results in key election battlegrounds, according to Reuters, which first reported the news.
A spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee did not return a request for comment outside its business hours.
The removals are a drop in the ocean to the wider threats that Twitter faces. Earlier this year, the social networking giant deleted 1.2 million accounts for sharing and promoting terrorist content. In May alone, the company deleted just shy of 10 million accounts each week for sending malicious, automated messages.
Twitter had 335 million monthly active users as of its latest earnings report in July.
But the company has faced criticism from lawmakers for not doing more to proactively remove content that violates its rules or spreads disinformation and false news. With just days before Americans are set to vote in the U.S. midterms, this latest batch of takedowns is likely to spark further concern that Twitter did not automatically detect the malicious accounts.
Following the publication of Reuters’ report, Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of site integrity, said in a tweet thread that public research identifying bots is often “deeply flawed” and that many are identifying bots “based on probability, not certainty,” since “nobody other than Twitter can see non-public, internal account data.”
Twitter does not have a strict policy on the spread of disinformation in the run-up to election season, unlike Facebook, which recently banned content that tried to suppress voters with false and misleading information. Instead, Twitter said last year that its “open and real-time nature” is a “powerful antidote to the spreading of all types of false information.” But researchers have been critical of that approach. Research published last month found that more than 700,000 accounts that were active during the 2016 presidential election are still active to this day — pushing a million tweets each day.
A Twitter spokesperson added that for the election this year, the company has “established open lines of communication and direct, easy escalation paths for state election officials, Homeland Security, and campaign organizations from both major parties to help us enforce our policies vigorously and protect conversational health on our service.”
Twitter is digging one of its most important new features out of its settings and putting it within easy reach. Twitter is now testing with a small number of iOS users a homescreen button that lets you instantly switch from its algorithmic timeline that shows the best tweets first but out of order to the old reverse chronological feed that only shows people you follow — no tweets liked by friends or other randomness.
Sometimes you want to see the latest Tweets, first. We’re testing a way for you to make it easier to switch your timeline between the latest and top Tweets. Starting today, a small number of you will see this test on iOS. pic.twitter.com/7NHLDUjrIv
— Twitter (@Twitter) October 31, 2018
Twitter had previously buried this option in its settings. In mid-September, it fixed the setting so it would only show a raw reverse chronological feed of tweets by people you follow with nothing extra added, and promised a more easily accessible design for the feature in the future. Now we have our first look at it. A little Twitter sparkle icon in the top opens a menu where you can switch between Top Tweets and Latest Tweets, plus a link to your content settings. It would be even better if it was a one-tap toggle.
Twitter’s VP of Product Kayvon Beykpour tweeted that “We want to make it easier to toggle between seeing the latest tweets the top tweets. So we’re experimenting with making this a top-level switch rather than buried in the settings. Feedback welcome.. what do you think?”
Given the backlash back in 2016 when Twitter started shifting to an algorithmically sorted timeline based on what you engaged with, many users will probably think this is great. Whether you’re trying to follow a sports game, a political debate, breaking news, or are just glued to Twitter and want the ordering to make more sense, there are plenty of reasons you might want to switch to reverse chronological.
Still, Twitter’s apprehension to make the setting too accessible makes sense. Hardcore users might prefer reverse chronological, but for most people who only open Twitter a few times per day or week, that’d mean they’d likely miss the tweets from their closest friends that could be drown out by the noise of everyone else. Twitter’s user growth rate perked up after the shift to algorithmic.
We’ve asked whether the setting reverts to the Top Tweets default when you close the app. That might be frustrating to some expert users, but could prevent novice users from accidentally getting stuck in reverse chronological and not knowing how to switch back. The company tells TechCrunch that it’s trying out several different duration options for the setting based on user inactivity to see what works best. For example, one version will revert the setting to the Top Tweets default if they’re gone for a day. That method would make sure people who’ve been inactive long enough to forget changing their timeline setting will get the default back and not end up stuck in a chronological abyss.
If Twitter gets the reversion to default situation figured out, the new button could make the service much more flexible, thereby boosting usage. You could start algorithmic in the morning or after a weekend away to see what you missed, then quickly toggle to reverse chronological if something big happens or you’ll be on it non-stop all day to get the real-time pulse of the world.
Google Maps has been steadily rolling out new features to make its app more than just a way to find places and navigate to them. In recent months, it’s added things like group trip planning, music controls, commuter tools, ETA sharing, personalized recommendations, and more. Now, it’s introducing a new way for users to follow their favorite businesses, as well – like restaurants, bars, or stores, for example – in order to stay on top of their news and updates.
If that sounds a lot like Google Maps’ own version of Facebook Pages, you’re right.
Explains the company, once you tap the new “follow” to track a business, you’ll then be able to see news from those places like their upcoming events, their offers, and other updates right in the “For You” tab on Google Maps.
Events, deals and photo-filled posts designed to encourage foot traffic? That definitely sounds like a Facebook Page competitor aimed at the brick-and-mortar crowd.
Businesses can also use the Google Maps platform to start reaching potential customers before they open to the public, Google notes.
After building a Business Profile using Google My Business which includes their opening date, the business will then be surfaced in users’ searches on mobile web and in the app, up to three months before their opening.
This profile will display the opening date in orange just below the business name, and users can save the business to one of their lists, if they choose. Users can also view all the other usual business information, like address, phone, website and photos.
The new “follow” feature will be accessible to the over 150 million places already on Google Maps, as well as the millions of users who are seeking them out.
The feature has been spotted in the wild for some time before Google’s official announcement this week, and is rolling out over the next few weeks, initially on Android.
The “For You” tab is currently available in limited markets, with more countries coming soon, says Google.
If Facebook Messenger’s redesign succeeds, you won’t really notice it even happened. I hardly did over the past week of testing. There’s just a subtle sense that the claustrophobia has lifted. Perhaps that’s why Facebook decided to throw a big breakfast press event with 30 reporters today at its new downtown San Francisco office, complete with an Instagram-worthy donut wall. Even though the changes are minimal — fewer tabs, color-gradient thread background and a rounder logo — Facebook was eager to trigger an unequivocally positive news cycle.
Old Messenger versus New Messenger
In the seven years since Facebook acquired group chat app Beluga and turned it into Messenger, it’s done nothing but cram in more features. With five navigation bar options, nine total tabs, Stories, games and businesses, Messenger’s real purpose — chatting with your friends — started to feel buried. “You build a feature, and then you build another feature, and they are piling up,” says Facebook’s head of Messenger Stan Chudnovsky. “We either continue to pile on, or we build a foundation that will allow us to build simplicity and powerful features on top of something new that goes back to its roots.”
But suddenly uprooting the old design with a massive overhaul wasn’t an option. “It’s impossible to launch something for 1.3 billion people that will not piss people off,” Chudnovsky told me. “It takes so much time to test things out and make sure you’re not doing something that will prevent people from doing things that are really, really important to them. At the end of the day, no one really likes change. People generally want things the way they are.”
So starting today, Messenger is globally rolling out an understated redesign globally over the next few weeks. It’s got a simpler interface with a lot more white space, a little less redundancy and a casual vibe. Here’s a comparison of the app before and after.
Previously, there were five main navigation buttons along the bottom of the app. Between the actually useful Chats section that’d been invaded by Stories and the chaotic People section, there were tabs for calls, group chats and active friends. Between them was a camera button that aggressively beckoned you to post Stories, a dedicated Games tab and a Discover tab for finding businesses and utility app.
In Messenger v4, now there are just three navigation buttons. The camera button has been moved up next to the chat composer inside the Chat section above Stories, People now contains the Active list as well as all Stories by friends, and Discover combines games and businesses. The fact that Stories is in both the Chats and People section make it seem that the company wants a lot more than the existing 300 million users across Facebook and Messenger opening its Snapchat copycat.
While 10 billion conversations with businesses and 1.7 billion games sessions happen on Messenger each month, and both hold opportunities for monetization, they’re not the app’s purpose, so they got merged. And though 400 million people — nearly a third of all Messenger users — make a video or audio call each month, those typically start from a button inside chat threads, so Facebook nixed the Calls tab entirely.
All the old features are still available, just not quite as prominent as before. The one new feature is several color gradients you can use to customize specific chat threads. If you rapidly scroll through the messages, you’ll see the bubble background colors fade through the gradient. And one much-requested feature still on the way is Dark Mode, which Facebook says will launch in the next several weeks to reduce glare and make night-time usage easier on the eyes.
Finally, Messenger has a softer new logo. The sharp edges have been rounded off the quote bubble and lightning insignia. It seems designed to better compete with Snapchat and remind users that Messenger is fun and friendly, as well as fast.
Inside the Messenger War Room
With the company’s downward scandal spiral of breaches, election interference and fake news-inspired violence, it’s not just Messenger that’s a mess. It’s all of Facebook, both literally and metaphorically. Cleaning up, fighting back — those are the messages the company wants to drive home.
Facebook scored a win on this front last week by getting dozens of journalists (myself included) to breathlessly cover its election “war room,” until everyone realized they’d played themselves for page views. Today’s Messenger event felt a little like déjà vu as Facebook drilled the word “simple” into our heads. Chudnovsky even acknowledged that Facebook had already milked the redesign for a press hit back in May. “We previewed this at F8 but that was when the work was just beginning.”
Hopefully, this will be the start of a company-wide interface cleanup. Facebook’s main app is full of cruft, especially with products like Facebook Watch stuffed in the nav bar despite lukewarm user interest. Messenger did a good job of ceasing to shoehorn the camera and games into our chat behavior, though Stories still appear twice in the app even if some wish they disappeared permanently. The world would benefit from a Facebook more concerned with what users want than what it wants to show them.
With the news going live just an hour after the event ended, many reporters stayed, writing their posts about Facebook while still inside Facebook. Chudnovsky admitted that beyond educating users via the press, the event was designed to celebrate the team that had labored over each pixel. “You can imagine at a company like ours, how many conversations you have to have about changing the logo.”
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