Skype is best known for being a video calling app and, to some extent, that’s because its messaging feature set has been a bit underdeveloped. Today, the company is working to change that image with a series of improvements to Skype’s chatting features aimed at further differentiating it from rival apps.
One of the most useful of the new features is support for Message Drafts.
Similar to email, any message you type up in Skype but don’t yet send is saved within the conversation with a “draft” tag attached. That way you can return to the message to finish it and send it later.
It’s a feature that would be great to see other messaging clients adopt, as well, given how much of modern business and personal communication takes place outside of email.
People have wanted the ability to draft and schedule iMessage texts for years — so much so that clever developers invented app-based workarounds to meet consumers’ needs. Some people even type up their texts in Notepad, waiting for the right time to send them.
In another email-inspired addition, Skype is also introducing the ability to bookmark important messages. To access this option, you just have to long-press a message (on mobile) or right-click (on desktop), then tap or click “Add Bookmark.” This will add the message to your Bookmarks screen for easy retrieval.
You’ll also now be able to preview photos, videos and files before you send them through messages — a worthwhile improvement, but one that’s more about playing catch-up to other communication apps than being particularly innovative.
And if you’re sharing a bunch of photos or videos all at once, Skype will now organize them neatly. Instead of overwhelming recipients with a large set of photos, the photos are grouped in a way that’s more common to what you’d see on social media. That is, only a few are displayed while the rest hide behind a “+” button you have to click in order to see more.
Unrelated to the messaging improvements, Skype also rolled out split window support for all versions of Windows, Mac and Linux. (Windows 10 support was already available.)
As one of the older messaging apps still in use, Skype is no longer the largest or most popular, claiming only 300 million monthly active users compared to WhatsApp’s 1.5 billion, for example.
However, it’s good to see its team getting back to solving real consumer pain points rather than trying to clone Snapchat as it mistakenly tried to do not too long ago. (Thankfully, those changes were rolled back.) What Skype’s remaining users appreciate is the app’s ease-of-use and its productivity focus, and these changes are focused on that direction.
Outside of the expanded access to split view, noted above, all the other new features are rolling out across all Skype platforms, the company says.
Snap is taking a leaf out of the Asian messaging app playbook as its social messaging service enters a new era.
The company unveiled a series of new strategies that are aimed at breathing fresh life into the service that has been ruthlessly cloned by Facebook across Instagram, WhatsApp and even its primary social network. The result? Snap has consistently lost users since going public in 2017. It managed to stop the rot with a flat Q4, but resting on its laurels isn’t going to bring back the good times.
Snap has taken a three-pronged approach: extending its stories feature (and ads) into third-party apps and building out its camera play with an AR platform, but it is the launch of social games that is the most intriguing. The other moves are logical, and they fall in line with existing Snap strategies, but games is an entirely new category for the company.
It isn’t hard to see where Snap found inspiration for social games — Asian messaging companies have long twinned games and chat — but the U.S. company is applying its own twist to the genre.
Facebook’s lead data protection regulator in Europe has asked the company for an “urgent briefing” regarding plans to integrate the underlying infrastructure of its three social messaging platforms.
In a statement posted to its website late last week the Irish Data Protection Commission writes: “Previous proposals to share data between Facebook companies have given rise to significant data protection concerns and the Irish DPC will be seeking early assurances that all such concerns will be fully taken into account by Facebook in further developing this proposal.”
Last week the New York Times broke the news that Facebook intends to unify the backend infrastructure of its three separate products, couching it as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg asserting control over acquisitions whose founders have since left the building.
While WhatsApp’s founders left Facebook earlier, with Brian Acton departing in late 2017 and Jan Koum sticking it out until spring 2018. The pair reportedly clashed with Facebook execs over user privacy and differences over how to monetize the end-to-end encrypted platform.
Acton later said Facebook had coached him to tell European regulators assessing whether to approve the 2014 merger that it would be “really difficult” for the company to combine WhatsApp and Facebook user data.
In the event, Facebook went on to link accounts across the two platforms just two years after the acquisition closed. It was later hit with a $ 122M penalty from the European Commission for providing “incorrect or misleading” information at the time of the merger. Though Facebook claimed it had made unintentional “errors” in the 2014 filing.
A further couple of years on and Facebook has now graduated to seeking full platform unification of separate messaging products.
“We want to build the best messaging experiences we can; and people want messaging to be fast, simple, reliable and private,” a spokesperson told us when we asked for a response to the NYT report. “We’re working on making more of our messaging products end-to-end encrypted and considering ways to make it easier to reach friends and family across networks.”
“As you would expect, there is a lot of discussion and debate as we begin the long process of figuring out all the details of how this will work,” the spokesperson added, confirming the substance of the NYT report.
There certainly would be a lot of detail to be worked out. Not least the feasibility of legally merging user data across distinct products in Europe, where a controversial 2016 privacy u-turn by WhatsApp — when it suddenly announced it would after all share user data with parent company Facebook (despite previously saying it would never do so), including sharing data for marketing purposes — triggered swift regulatory intervention.
Facebook was forced to suspend marketing-related data flows in Europe. Though it has continued sharing data between WhatsApp and Facebook for security and business intelligence purposes, leading to the French data watchdog to issue a formal notice at the end of 2017 warning the latter transfers also lack a legal basis.
A court in Hamburg, Germany, also officially banned Facebook from using WhatsApp user data for its own purposes.
Early last year, following an investigation into the data-sharing u-turn, the UK’s data watchdog obtained an undertaking from WhatsApp that it would not share personal data with Facebook until the two services could do so in a way that’s compliant with the region’s strict privacy framework, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Facebook only avoided a fine from the UK regulator because it froze data flows after the regulatory intervention. But the company clearly remains on watch — and any fresh moves to further integrate the platforms would trigger instant scrutiny, evidenced by the shot across the bows from the DPC in Ireland (Facebook’s international HQ is based in the country).
The 2016 WhatsApp-Facebook privacy u-turn also occurred prior to Europe’s GDPR coming into force. And the updated privacy framework includes a regime of substantially larger maximum fines for any violations.
Under the regulation watchdogs also have the power to ban companies from processing data. Which, in the case of a revenue-rich data-mining giant like Facebook, could be a far more potent disincentive than even a billion dollar fine.
We’ve reached out to Facebook for comment on the Irish DPC’s statement and will update this report with any response.
Here’s the full statement from the Irish watchdog:
While we understand that Facebook’s proposal to integrate the Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram platforms is at a very early conceptual stage of development, the Irish DPC has asked Facebook Ireland for an urgent briefing on what is being proposed. The Irish DPC will be very closely scrutinising Facebook’s plans as they develop, particularly insofar as they involve the sharing and merging of personal data between different Facebook companies. Previous proposals to share data between Facebook companies have given rise to significant data protection concerns and the Irish DPC will be seeking early assurances that all such concerns will be fully taken into account by Facebook in further developing this proposal. It must be emphasised that ultimately the proposed integration can only occur in the EU if it is capable of meeting all of the requirements of the GDPR.
Facebook may be hoping that extending end-to-end encryption to Instagram as part of its planned integration effort, per the NYT report, could offer a technical route to stop any privacy regulators’ hammers from falling.
Though use of e2e encryption still does not shield metadata from being harvested. And metadata offers a rich source of inferences about individuals which, under EU law, would certainly constitute personal data. So even with robust encryption across the board of Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp the unified messaging platforms could still collectively leak plenty of personal data to their data-mining parent.
Facebook’s apps are also not open source. So even WhatsApp, which uses the respected Signal Protocol for its e2e encryption, remains under its control — with no ability for external audits to verify exactly what happens to data inside the app (such as checking what data gets sent back to Facebook). Users still have to trust Facebook’s implementation but regulators might demand actual proof of bona fide messaging privacy.
Nonetheless, the push by Facebook to integrate separate messaging products onto a single unified platform could be a defensive strategy — intended to throw dust in the face of antitrust regulators as political scrutiny of its market position and power continues to crank up. Though it would certainly be an aggressive defence to more tightly knit separate platforms together.
But if the risk Facebook is trying to shrink is being forced, by competition regulators, to sell off one or two of its messaging platforms it may feel it has nothing to lose by making it technically harder to break its business apart.
At the time of the acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp Facebook promised autonomy to their founders. Zuckerberg has since changed his view, according to the NYT — believing integrating all three will increase the utility of each and thus provide a disincentive for users to abandon each service.
It may also be a hedge against any one of the three messaging platforms decreasing in popularity by furnishing the business with internal levers it can throw to try to artifically juice activity across a less popular app by encouraging cross-platform usage.
And given the staggering size of the Facebook messaging empire, which globally sprawls to 2.5BN+ humans, user resistance to centralized manipulation via having their buttons pushed to increase cross-platform engagement across Facebook’s business may be futile without regulatory intervention.
When it comes to shift workers communicating with each other in the workplace when they are not face-to-face, gone are the days of cork announcement boards. Now, the messaging app is the medium, and today one of the startups tackling that opportunity in a unique way has raised a round of funding to get to the next stage of growth.
Crew, a chat app that specifically targets businesses that employ shift workers who do not typically sit at computers all day, has now raised $ 35 million in Series C funding from DAG Ventures, Tenaya Capital and previous backers Greylock Partners, Sequoia Capital, Harrison Metal Capital and Aspect Ventures. With the funding news, it’s also announcing the launch of a new feature called Crew Enterprise, which helps businesses better manage messaging across large groups of these workers.
The funding and new product come on the heels of the company hitting 25,000 organizations using its service — many of them multi-store retailers with an emphasis in the food industry; household names like Domino’s Pizza and Burger King — with some strong engagement. Its users are together sending some 25 million messages or responses to other messages each week, on average six times per day per user, with more than 55 percent of its whole user base logging in on an average day.
There are quite a lot of messaging apps out in the market today, but the majority of them are aimed at so-called knowledge workers, people who might be using a number of apps throughout their day, who often sit at desks and use computers alongside their phones and tablets. Crew takes a different approach in that it targets the vast swathe of other workers in the job market and their priorities.
As it turns out, co-founder and CEO Danny Leffel tells me that those priorities are focused around a few specific things that are not the same as those for the other employment sector. One is to get the latest shift schedules for work, especially when they are not at work; another is to be able to swap those shifts when they need to; and a third, largely coming from the management end, is to make sure that everything gets communicated to the staff even when they are not in for work to attend a staff meeting.
“Some of the older practices feel like versions of a Rube Goldberg machine,” he said. “The stories we hear are quite insane.” Shift schedules, he said, are an example. “Lots of workplaces have rules, where you can’t call in to check the schedule because it causes employees to come off the floor. One hotel manager told us he couldn’t hold staff meetings with everyone there because he runs a 24/7 workplace so some people would have to come in especially. One store GM from a supermarket chain told us that the whole store has only one email address, so when an announcement goes out, the GM prints that and hands it to everyone. And the problems just compound when you talk to them.”
Crew is by no means the only business internal messaging service that is aiming to provide a product specifically for shift workers. Workplace, Facebook’s own take on enterprise communications, has also positioned itself as a platform for “every worker,” and has snagged a clutch of huge clients such as Walmart (2.2 million employees globally) and Starbucks (254,000) to fill out that vision.
Leffel, however, paints a sightly different picture of how this is playing out, since in many cases even when a company has been “won” as a global customer that hasn’t translated to a global roll out.
“Starbucks is theoretically using Workplace, but it’s been deployed only to managers,” he said. “We have almost 1,000 Starbucks locations using Crew. We knew we had a huge presence there, and we were worried when Facebook won them, but we haven’t seen even a dent in our business so far.”
Leffel has had some previous experience of getting into the ring with Facebook — although it hasn’t ended with him the winner. His previous startup, Yardsellr, positioned itself as the “eBay of Facebook,” working as a layer on top of the big social network for people to sell items. It died in 2013, when Facebook took a less friendly turn to Yardsellr using Facebook’s social graph to grow its own business (it was a time when it was cutting off apps from Zynga for similar reasons). Today, Facebook itself owns the experience of selling on its platform via Marketplace.
Crew seems to have found a strong foothold among enterprises in terms of its usefulness, not just use, which is one sign of how it might have more staying power.
A survey it conducted among 50,000 of its users found that 63 percent of leaders who use Crew report fewer missed shifts and 70 percent see increased motivation on their team. Crew worked out that among respondents, it is generating time savings of four or more hours per week for 93 percent of surveyed managers. And because of better communication, people are working faster when handing off things to each other on the front line — a Domino’s Pizza franchisee sped up delivery punctuality by 23 percent as one example. (The company offers services on three tiers, ranging from free for small teams, Pro at $ 10 per month per location and to Enterprise priced on negotiation.)
Crew’s new enterprise tier is aiming to take the company to the next step. Today, Leffel says that a lot of its customers are buying on a location-by-location basis. The idea with Crew Enterprise is that larger organizations will be able to provide a more unified experience across all of those locations (not to mention pay more for the functionality). Managers can use the service to message out details about promotions, and they have a better ability to manage conversations across the platform and also get more feedback from people who are directly interacting with customers. Meanwhile, admins also gain better ability to manage compliance.
If some of this sounds familiar, it’s not just because Workplace is the only one that is also targeting the same users. Dynamic Signal and Zinc (formerly Cotap) are two other startups that are also trying to provide better messaging-based communications to more than just white-collar knowledge workers. Crew will have its work cut out for it, but there is a lot of room for now for multiple players.
“We are seeing a shift in the marketplace, going from ‘absolutely don’t use your phone at work’ to ‘don’t use it when customers are present,’” Leffel said of the opportunity. “Some have started to change the rules to allow workers to use their own phones to perform price checks. We are solving for this evolving workflow.”
On the heels of a major redesign of its desktop site which delivered an overall cleaner look-and-feel and a “dark mode” for nighttime watching, YouTube this week announced it will soon roll out an update to its mobile app, as well. The new app will better support video shot in other formats and orientations, by dynamically adapting its player to whatever video you’re… Read More
Social – TechCrunch
This latest round takes the overall investment in the Finnish messaging startup to a cool €3.9 million (circa $ 5.2m).
The company, which competes with a plethora of social messaging apps including WhatsApp, Viber, Yuilop, Facebook Messenger/Poke, Line, and Snapchat, has its legacy in apps for feature phones, but at the beginning of this year re-booted with the launch of its youth-oriented and free social messaging app targeting modern smartphone platforms. It hoped to cut through a noisy marketplace with its emphasis on “personalisation” — specifically with the ability to send animated virtual stickers, a fun and beefed up form of emoticons that doesn’t seem like such a differentiator nearly 11 months on.
Like other mobile social messaging apps, Jongla is designed to circumvent the need to use SMS text messaging by piggybacking a user’s data connection to offer an Instant Messenger-like experience. Along with a colourful and cartoony design and those animated stickers, the app offers features such as syncing with the phone’s address book, the ability to send images directly from the phone’s camera roll to any contact, location sharing, and real-time feed back when a recipient is typing.
So, what’s a social messaging app to do with fresh funding? Jongla says today’s investment will be used to develop its products and “roll out its growth strategy”, including international expansion. Asia and Europe are, rather broadly, pegged as key targets for growth due to what the startup says is rising popularity of instant messaging apps, especially amongst young people.
In a statement, Riku Salminen, CEO of Jongla, says: “The latest round of funding will allow us to continue to build and improve our service. The aim for the company now is focus on the regions where the app has experience good traction and look to grow that further. Exciting times lay ahead for the company.”
Exciting times, maybe, but no word on number of downloads or monthly active users. All the company will say is that Thailand, India, Saudi Arabia, Philippines, and Singapore are “experiencing impressive growth”. The app generates revenue via in-app purchases of additional virtual stickers and other “personalisation”.
- 4 Can’t Miss Paid Media Keynotes
- Facebook has acquired Servicefriend, which builds ‘hybrid’ chatbots, for Calibra customer service
- Facebook has acquired Servicefriend, which builds ‘hybrid’ chatbots, for Calibra customer service
- How changing domains challenge SEO
- Q&A with Microsoft’s Noël Reilly: Data, discovery, customer-first mindset