If Pixar Made The Shining, It Would Still Freak Me Out

Illustration for article titled If Pixar Made The Shining, It Would Still Freak Me Out

Illustration: The Shining/Snapchat

Snapchat has rolled out a new filter that turns users into Disney/Pixar characters, and Twitter has diverted resources into exploring its transformative potential. The movie Heat, fictional serial killer Michael Myers, and sad Ben Affleck all demonstrate that in most cases enlarged Disney eyeballs soften the edges. Naturally, we wondered whether Disney could tone down The Shining, a movie about white male brutality based on a book written on a coke bender.

We made you a storybook to see.

Quick acknowledgment for Justin Pinkney and Doron Adler, independent developers who accomplished a Pixar-ification filter called Toonify last year.

Snap Announces Spectacles 4.0 With Built-In AR Displays That Aren’t for Sale

Illustration for article titled Snap Announces Spectacles 4.0 With Built-In AR Displays That Aren't for Sale

Photo: Snap

Snap continues to forge ahead with its line of techy camera glasses despite previous generations largely proving unprofitable and/or unpopular. But hey, fourth time’s the charm, right? On Thursday, Snap announced its newest Spectacles smart glasses with built-in AR displays, but don’t expect to get your hands on them anytime soon—they’re not for sale.

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More on that in a second. Snap CEO Evan Spiegel debuted the company’s first true augmented reality glasses on Thursday, which come with dual 3D waveguide displays capable of overlaying digital AR effects on the world around you. A demo posted to Twitter shows Spiegel playing fetch with a virtual dog and watching virtual butterflies flutter about, with one landing on his outstretched hand. You can snap videos of moments like this and send them to friends with the click of a button, he said.

However, Snap’s not quite ready to roll out its fourth-generation Spectacles to the general public yet. For one, the battery only lasts 30 minutes. So Snap’s only giving its glasses to an undisclosed number of creators “looking to push the limits of immersive AR experiences” after they’re vetted through its online application process. The hope is that a portion of the 200,000 users already creating AR effects with Snapchat’s software tools will experiment with the new tech and generate hype for its eventual launch, Spiegel told the Verge.

As for its specs (pun intended), the Spectacles feature a built-in touchpad, two RGB cameras, and four built-in microphones. It includes several buttons for controls, but users can also say “Hey Snapchat” to provide audio commands.

Its dual waveguide displays boast a diagonal field of view of 26.3 degrees and 15 millisecond motion to photo latency. The Spectacles have a significantly narrower than other AR headsets like the HoloLens 2 and Magic Leap One, which come in at 52 degrees and 50 degrees respectively. That being said, with its displays capable of shining up to 2000 nits of brightness, the frames seem much better equipped to handle the sunny outdoors than their competitors.

In an interview with the Verge, Spiegel posited that, within a decade or so, AR glasses will be as ubiquitous as smartphones are today.

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“I don’t believe the phone is going away,” he told the outlet. “I just think that the next generation of Spectacles can help unlock a new way to use AR hands-free, and the ability to really roam around with your eyes looking up at the horizon, out at the world.”

Before that happens though, Snap will need to figure out how to get consumers interested in its AR smart glasses, especially with tech giants like Facebook and Apple reportedly planning to roll out their own versions soon. Snap’s first-generation Spectacles purportedly cost the company $40 million in unsold inventory, with “hundreds of thousands” of pairs left to gather dust in warehouses. Spiegel didn’t talk prices for its fourth-gen Spectacles on Thursday, but hopefully, Snap will ditch the steep upward trend it’s been on with the line’s predecessors. The original Spectacles went for $150, the Spectacles 2 for $200, and the third-gen for a whopping $380. Sure, AR lenses are cool to play around with, but I think Snap would learn real quick that a $400+ price tag for “cool” isn’t much of a sales pitch.

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TikTok Will Soon Let You Batch Delete Annoying Comments

Illustration for article titled TikTok Will Soon Let You Batch Delete Annoying Comments

Photo: Loic Venace (Getty Images)

Too bad for you, edgelords, your big boy TikTok jabs will not stand. Today, the platform announced a new feature allowing TikTokers to wipe out up to 100 comments in one stroke. TikTok says that users will now be able to select tick boxes and mass-delete, much like an email inbox. The company expects to roll this out globally in a few weeks.

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For TikTok’s historical faults (namely, overbroad, sometimes cruel and racist censorship) the company has at least done a better job of publicly focusing on making the platform less toxic than its peers. Rather than, say, producing stupid useless bells and whistles. In March, TikTok rolled out anti-bullying comment filters for creators. Posters can filter by potentially abusive language and spam, and/or sort through all comments for approval. It also added a prompt asking users to reconsider before posting a potentially “inappropriate or unkind” comment.

Aside from the evidence in a casual perusal of comments sections, TikTok has a measurable cyberbullying problem. In a 2020 survey by the security research firm Security.org, parents of children who used social media reported that 64% were cyberbullied on TikTok. That’s after YouTube (79%) and Snapchat (69%). This means that TikTok now surpasses Instagram (61%), previously found to be the most common app for cyberbullying. (The higher rate could have something to do with TikTok’s popularity.)

A platform made a useful social media update. Expect Facebook’s copycat soon.

Pinterest Is Doing Livestreaming Now Too

Illustration for article titled Pinterest Is Doing Livestreaming Now Too

Photo: Spencer Platt (Getty Images)

Image-sharing social network Pinterest is diving into the live events space, TechCrunch first reported on Friday.

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Probably better known to most internet denizens more as an ad-filled SEO landing page for random images than its social functions, Pinterest has been trying to keep up with its titanic competitors with its own programs to financially incentivize creators. According to TechCrunch, it’s planning on running a three-day live event from May 24 to May 26 as the first major test of a built-in livestreaming function in its iOS and Android apps, complete with a comments stream and shopping plugin.

TechCrunch wrote that Pinterest streams will support up to three “guests” and no limit on viewers beyond, one supposes, whatever the company’s infrastructure can handle. The site wrote that Pinterest has enlisted 21 creators to contribute to the event, including celebrity hairdresser Jonathan Van Ness and fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff, for a number of commerce-focused segments not that different from what one might find on Instagram or YouTube:

Jonathan Van Ness‘ session will discuss morning rituals and self-care routines. Fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff will teach Pinterest users how to style their summer wardrobe. Others featured during the event include food creators GrossyPelosi and Peter Som, who will showcase favorite recipes; Women’s Health magazine will talk about using vision boards to achieve your goals; Jennifer Alba will show how to communicate the Zodiac through sign language; and Hannah Bronfman will offer ideas for creating an at-home spa night.

As of right now, TechCrunch reported, Pinterest hasn’t discussed its long-term plans for streaming, nor has it announced any of the other kind of monetization features (donations, tickets, subscriptions, brand partnerships) that makes its larger competitors lucrative for people with large followings. But there’s something to be said for the possibility for Pinterest creators to be a big fish in a small pond.

The company has also rolled out a “Creator Code” that asks personalities on the site to behave significantly better than the standards on its larger brethren like YouTube, aiming to cultivate an “inclusive and compassionate” atmosphere (though it’s had its own issues keeping anti-vaxxers and child sex abuse material off the site). It put together a $500,000 fund to pay out to a small pool of creators throughout 2021, a number that admittedly pales in comparison to that offered by companies like Snapchat and TikTok.

As Engadget noted, this isn’t the first time Pinterest has experimented with livestreaming—it tested a feature called Class Communities last year, although that relied on Zoom to power the video aspect. 

PSA: Spotify Will Now Let You Share Podcast Timestamps

Illustration for article titled PSA: Spotify Will Now Let You Share Podcast Timestamps

Image: Spotify

Spotify is rolling out a handful of new social features.

Among the more notable of these features, beginning today, Spotify is introducing a new tool to allow users to share podcast episodes from a specific point in the program—much like you can on YouTube. Now, in order to share a podcast with a timestamp, click the same “share” button you would normally, toggle on the “share from” button to mark the specific spot you’d like to be shared, and choose which platform you’d like to send it to.

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In addition to the new timestamp feature, Spotify is also introducing more options for its short-form looping visuals feature. Canvas was previously available on Instagram Stories but is now available on Snapchat as well. Lastly, Spotify says it has overhauled its Canvas sharing menu to be easier to use and allow you to preview what and where you’re sharing Spotify content.

That Spotify is working to improve its social and sharing features comes as little surprise. Given that Spotify and Apple have for years been at war over content—and more recently, specifically over podcasts—it makes sense that Spotify would invest in tools that would allow its content to be more easily accessible.

Plus, this saves us the trouble of having to share a podcast and double and triple check the timestamp before letting friends know when to start listening. Love that for us.

Too Bad, Zuck: Just 4% of U.S. iPhone Users Let Apps Track Them After iOS Update

Illustration for article titled Too Bad, Zuck: Just 4% of U.S. iPhone Users Let Apps Track Them After iOS Update

Photo: Saul Loeb (Getty Images)

Apple recently rolled out its highly anticipated App Tracking Transparency feature with iOS 14.5, which lets users decide whether apps track their activity for targeted advertising. Overwhelmingly, users seem happy to leave app tracking disabled. Just 4% of iPhone users in the U.S. have agreed to app tracking after updating their device, according to the latest data from Verizon-owned analytics firm Flurry.

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Worldwide, that figure jumps to 12%, a healthy increase but one that still doesn’t spell great news for companies like Facebook that sell targeting to advertisers by hoovering up user data. With iOS 14.5, if a user has app tracking requests enabled, then whenever they download or update an app, it has to ask permission before it can track their activity. And it’s clear most users are saying: “Nah.”

Users who want to turn off tracking altogether without rejecting permissions for each app individually can toggle “Allow Apps to Request Track” in the iPhone’s privacy settings. Since the update launched on April 26, Flurry’s data shows that, on average, about 3% of U.S. iOS users and 5% of international iOS users have restricted app tracking.

Flurry based its findings on a sample size of 2.5 million daily mobile active users with iOS 14.5 in the U.S. and a sample size of 5.3 million such users worldwide. According to the company, its analytics tool is installed in more than 1 million mobile applications and it aggregates data from about 2 billion devices per month.

As a vocal opponent of Apple’s new feature, Facebook has launched a sweeping fearmongering campaign to convince users that these privacy measures are, in fact, a bad thing. Facebook took out multiple full-page ads arguing that Apple’s feature will devastate small businesses that rely on its ad targeting services and warning that many free sites may have to start charging users money for subscriptions or in-app purchases. Other tech giants like Snapchat, Google, and Twitter have also said that, if the majority of users decide to forego app tracking, it will likely affect their bottom line.

Granted, this data is just our first glimpse at the response from users. iOS 14.5 has only been out for a little less than two weeks, and, given more time, we’ll likely gain a better understanding of the average number of users opting-in or opting-out of app tracking. But one thing’s crystal clear: People value their privacy. And if that means missing out on a few personalized ads, well, plenty of folks seem happy to make that sacrifice.

These Are the Best AR Apps You Can Use Outside

Illustration for article titled These Are the Best AR Apps You Can Use Outside

Screenshot: PeakVisor

Warmer weather is coming, the days are getting longer, and we’re all starting to venture outside more—depending on which hemisphere you live in, and what your local coronavirus restrictions look like, of course. If you’re going to be exploring more of the great outdoors in the coming months, these augmented reality apps give you more reasons to leave the house (and make doing so more fun).

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1. Spyglass (freemium for Android, iOS)

Exploring the world is a lot more fun with Spyglass installed on your smartphone. This is essentially a GPS and compass navigation tool, but the way its features are implemented means it’s much more appealing than your standard mapping app. It works offline, it’ll track your pace and altitude, it can log waypoints as you go, and plenty more besides.

Illustration for article titled These Are the Best AR Apps You Can Use Outside

Screenshot: Spyglass

As far as the augmented reality features go, you can overlay the compass on top of whatever your camera is seeing in front of you, see the current position of the sun as you move your phone around, and even use the AR capabilities to find your way around using the stars. It’s an app that’s packed with detail and features to enhance any journey.


2. PeakVisor ($5 for Android, iOS)

PeakVisor’s mission is to help you identify mountains that you come across on your travels. You can point it at a range in front of you and find out which summit is which, thanks to the magic of AR. The app should at least make sure that you don’t spend half a day hiking up the wrong trail, and end up at the top of the wrong mountain peak.

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Illustration for article titled These Are the Best AR Apps You Can Use Outside

Screenshot: PeakVisor

If you don’t know what a particular peak is called, you can simply point your phone’s camera at it to find out, and the app gives you elevation readings and information about different ranges as well. There are apparently around a million hills and mountains stored in the PeakVisor database, so it’s unlikely that you’re going to be able to stump it.

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3. World Around Me (freemium for Android, iOS)

If you’re in an unfamiliar part of the world (or even a familiar one), then sometimes you never know what’s around the corner—and that’s where the World Around Me (WAM) app can come in handy. It works like a mapping app in the way it directs you toward places of interest, but you access everything through your phone’s camera and the power of AR.

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Illustration for article titled These Are the Best AR Apps You Can Use Outside

Screenshot: World Around Me

Whether you’re looking for a landmark, a restaurant, or an ATM, just scan your surroundings with WAM and you’ll be able to see what’s nearby. There are 31 categories of places to look for, and it works really well whether you’re trying to find somewhere specific or you’re just wandering around the neighborhood hoping to discover interesting places.

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4. Snapchat (free for Android, iOS)

Everyone’s heard of Snapchat, though you might not have realized the extent of the AR features inside it. You can summon up all kinds of animations, stickers, effects, creatures and characters in augmented reality, then use them to adorn the photos and videos you send. If you want your social media posts to stand out, this is one way to do it.

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Illustration for article titled These Are the Best AR Apps You Can Use Outside

Screenshot: Snapchat

The AR lenses and effects that are available to you in Snapchat rotate over time, and they’re sometimes dependent on where you are in the world (several are tied to famous landmarks). You can even create your own if you want to. Then there’s everything else Snapchat offers, including looking up your contacts on an interactive map.

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5. Lines Of Play (free for Android)

Lines of Play is an interesting little experimental app from Google to show off some of the capabilities of ARCore on Android—so it’s not available on iPhones, unfortunately. The app lets you drop in augmented reality blocks on top of the real world and have some fun with them. It’s quite limited in what it does, but it’s a good showcase for the potential of AR tech.

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Illustration for article titled These Are the Best AR Apps You Can Use Outside

Screenshot: Lines Of Play

On your next jaunt outside, you can set up a series of colored blocks and have them fall one after another, domino-style. The clever part is the way that the graphics can interact with the real world, whether that’s by the line of blocks disappearing as it goes behind an object, or the cascading movement of the line stopping when it hits a real-world obstacle.

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6) Jurassic World Alive (freemium for Android, iOS)

What’s not to like about dinosaurs rampaging around your neighborhood? You don’t have to be a fan of the movie franchise to enjoy Jurassic World Alive, although it certainly helps—you make progress by exploring your local surroundings and discovering new dino DNA, and it’s then up to you to train and develop your dinosaur team inside the app.

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Illustration for article titled These Are the Best AR Apps You Can Use Outside

Screenshot: Jurassic World Alive

You can put your creatures into battles with other players, share your augmented reality creations on social media, or just challenge yourself to develop the best crew of dinosaurs possible. There’s a good blend of elements, with parts that involve going outdoors and parts that don’t, and the game is varied enough to keep you interested over time too.

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7. Star Chart (freemium for Android, iOS)

You don’t have to limit your outdoor adventuring to just the daytime of course, and if you’re out in the evening or at night, then Star Chart will give you an augmented reality guide to the heavens above you. Just point your mobile device at the sky, and you’ll see labels next to stars, constellations, and planets as you move the viewpoint around.

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Illustration for article titled These Are the Best AR Apps You Can Use Outside

Screenshot: Star Chart

If you want to dig deeper into information about the universe, then Star Chart can help here, too: You’re not just limited to learning about the celestial view in front of you, because Star Chart can take you on a tour across the galaxies. You can even go backwards and forwards in time to see how the constellations have shifted over thousands of years.

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8. Google Maps (free for Android, iOS)

You may already be taking Google Maps around with you on your travels, but make sure you’re fully aware of the AR elements you can find inside it. We’re mostly talking about the Live View part of the walking navigation mode—you’ll see a button to launch Live View at the bottom of the screen when you look for walking directions in the app.

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Illustration for article titled These Are the Best AR Apps You Can Use Outside

Screenshot: Google Maps

You can also enable Live View while you’re actually mid-navigation, just by tapping the icon on the map. As you scan around your location with your phone’s camera, you’ll see AR objects dotted over the view, showing the direction you need to head in, where your next turn is, etc. A recent upgrade means it’ll work in many indoor locations, too.

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9. Zombies, Run! (freemium for Android, iOS)

Zombies, Run! is part exercise app, part AR experiment, and part zombie game, and it somehow pulls off that combination. In this case, the AR isn’t actually overlaid on top of your phone’s camera; it’s coming through your headphones in the form of an audio adventure you’re in the middle of. The goal is to complete missions, collect supplies, and more.

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Illustration for article titled These Are the Best AR Apps You Can Use Outside

Screenshot: Zombies, Run!

Get your running gear on, load up the game, and get outside. If the thought of undead hordes chasing after you doesn’t improve your average running times around the block, then it’s possible that nothing will. The game works at any speed you like, and you can even use it while walking around, so it’s suitable no matter what your level of fitness.

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Boldly Following Every Other Tech Company, Slack Is Cloning Clubhouse Now

Illustration for article titled Boldly Following Every Other Tech Company, Slack Is Cloning Clubhouse Now

Photo: Stephen Lam (Getty Images)

Slack—following in the grand old tradition of companies like Facebook, TikTok, and Twitter—is planning on cloning buzzy app Clubhouse’s voice chatroom functionality.

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Slack, which builds a chat room product primarily used by businesses, already allows users to place audio calls to one another. Per Protocol, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield said in a recent Clubhouse session hosted by journalist Josh Constine that the company is beta testing a voice message function and it plans to offer on-the-fly video/voice rooms that don’t require prescheduling or an actual call.

One could observe that the ongoing surge in a handful of tech firms just ripping off upstart competitors’ ideas is illustrative of a lack of imagination, anti-competitive behavior, or both. But in this case, it makes perfect sense, and Slack and Clubhouse are in completely different markets (business and consumer). Slack probably isn’t interested in hosting the kind of freewheeling conversations with venture capitalists and other generally unpleasant people Clubhouse is known for so much as competing with video conference apps like Zoom that are eating into their business market.

Bafflingly, Slack is also planning on following Instagram, Twitter, and numerous other lesser apps in implementing its own version of “Stories,” the type of self-deleting video post originally brought to prominence by Snapchat. This builds on prior news that Slack is planning on expanding from an internal messaging platform to a company-to-company communications service, though one ponders whether there’s any actual demand for Slack Stories or this is just another instance of a tech company bandwagoning a feature that’s popular elsewhere. From Protocol:

Butterfield also said Slack would soon get an ephemeral video message feature commonly known as “stories,” similar to a message format originated by Snapchat and imitated by many, from Instagram to LinkedIn. Butterfield first indicated these features were on Slack’s roadmap back in October. The new features come as Slack is making a push to turn its tool for internal company communications into a broader company-to-company messaging service.

As Protocol noted, Salesforce chief operating officer Bret Taylor, whose company plans to buy Slack in a deal currently being scrutinized by antitrust regulators, tweeted that he was surprised by the announcement.

Slack isn’t the only one cloning features. Per Tom’s Guide, Microsoft Teams recently copied the Slack function which allows users to start reply threads under another user’s messages. Slack unrelatedly rolled back another feature that allowed paying users to send invites to any other paying user after it was pointed out that it didn’t have any built-in protection against spam or harassment.

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When Clubhouse Runs Out of Money

Illustration for article titled When Clubhouse Runs Out of Money

Illustration: Angelica Alzona/Gizmodo

Clubhouse is prodigious. At just over a year old, the exclusive, invite-only app still doesn’t have a proper website or even an app on more than a single operating system. What it lacks in usability, though, the app store chart-topper makes up in celebrity cachet, millions of users, and access to a seemingly endless spigot of funds.

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The platform offers audio-only chat rooms with hosts who talk and up to thousands of guests who listen—kind of like a live podcast with audience participation in a gated online community. For a lot of folks, the phenomenon of Clubhouse’s meteoric rise and the backdrop of an ongoing global pandemic are somewhat inextricable.

“You have to wonder whether [Clubhouse] would be this appealing in any other year,” mused Ana Milicevic, co-founder of the Manhattan-based tech advisory firm Sparrow Advisers. With in-person events canceled and most socializing limited to virtual, the success of the app certainly benefitted from quarantined users with sudden time to try out a new social app.

What isn’t certain—though there are theories—is how Clubhouse plans to survive if those funding spigots are shut off or whether it can sustain the hype.

Grow first, profit later

Before we talk about the millions of users (and counting) that are on the app, we need to talk about why so many of them flocked there to begin with. First, it debuted in Apple’s Testflight program in April 2020: the same month that states across the country began going under lockdown. By the time that the platform appeared in the App Store in October 2020 as something that anyone could download, it had racked up 10,000 users.

As Milicevic pointed out, when Clubhouse began gaining a foothold with its initial user base, it wasn’t because the app was doing anything cutting-edge. Audio-based chatrooms have been the bread and butter of platforms like Discord and Skype for years at this point. Where Clubhouse did have the upper hand was exclusivity. True to its name, the only way to get into the club is knowing someone already inside—or even buying an invite from some kindly entrepreneurial stranger.

Clubhouse certainly isn’t the first app to foster a kind of exclusivity from the get-go. When Google first rolled out Gmail way, way back in 2004, the company lacked the reliable infrastructure needed to, say, offer unlimited storage to millions of people. Instead, Google gave about 1,000 people access to their new mail product and gave those exclusive few the ability to invite their family and friends. As it turns out, rolling out the product in this way accidentally turned into what one Google employee called “one of the best marketing decisions in tech history.” When access to a hot new piece of tech is only afforded to a select few, it leaves a sense of white-hot FOMO among those on the outside looking in. Some techies have even pointed out that being outside the Clubhouse bubble in 2021 feels not unlike being outside the Gmail bubble in the early 2000s.

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“There’s a lot to be said about momentum in [the app] space,” Milicevic said. “Your ability to acquire new users—especially without paying through the roof for them—is directly related to your ability to survive.” Instead of pouring money into advertising itself, Clubhouse let others do the job by hosting influencer-driven events with massive, built-in audiences.

The first few people Clubhouse brought on board happened to be sort of people that would draw tons of users: preexisting cults of personality in the tech sector that already have a built-in audience on platforms like Twitter: think Oprah, Lindsay Lohan, and—naturally—Elon Musk, whose Clubhouse debut brought in so much traffic that the app short-circuited.

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What drew Musk (and some of the other major names in tech) to Clubhouse in the first place is still an open question, though just about everyone agrees it has something to do with Silicon Valley superfirm Andreesen Horowitz—known as a16z for short. Founders Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz don’t only host their own podcasts on the platform and act as the tireless hype men for other people’s content, but they’re also largely responsible for bankrolling the app, leading two multi-million dollar funding rounds that helped push Clubhouse’s valuation to roughly $1 billion by early 2021.

“Clubhouse could not have come at a better time for social media,” wrote a16z partner Andrew Chen about one of the firms funding rounds earlier this year. “It reinvents the category in all the right ways, from the content consumption experience to the way people engage each other while giving power to its creators. It’s a fresh experience that brings humanity and context to online social engagement.”

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Key to that “experience” Chen referred to in his post is the platform’s decision to forgo the traditional money-making methods that have turned companies like Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube into multi-billion dollar behemoths: targeted advertising. Rather than attempt to turn a profit right out the gate, the app made it through its first birthday riding entirely on VC capital—a tactic that might sound risky but is actually pretty common among the tech set.

“Because of the relatively accessible—and relatively large—sums of VC money in the U.S. ecosystem, we can afford to develop platforms that amass a large audience and then figure out monetization later,” Milicevic explained. “This isn’t a luxury for companies in Europe—the funding ecosystem is just different, and forces companies into getting to monetization faster.”

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In the U.S., Milicevic added, many apps tend to expand outward, putting growth first, and figuring out the path to profitability later. Uber’s net losses totaled $6.77 billion for 2020 with profits still out of reach. Though boasting recent growth, insuretech startup Lemonade lost $33.9 million in Q4 of 2020 alone. At-home fitness hardware and app Peloton only stopped bleeding tens of millions of dollars since gyms across the world closed due to the pandemic.

“That’s just poor design,” Milicevic added, referring broadly to grow-first strategies. “Inevitably, you’re going to end up making trade-offs that aren’t in line with your user-base.”

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That is perhaps what’s happening with Telegram after its decision to adopt targeted advertising after going eight years being largely reliant on founder Pavel Durov’s own savings. Durov even had to explain himself, attempting to convince users not to “worry” about the ads.

Clubhouse’s creator contingency

When Clubhouse confirmed that it netted a $100 million funding round from a16z back in January, it noted that an unspecified chunk of that change went into creating an internal “Creator Grant Program” meant to fund a select group Clubhouse creators and ideally keep them from flocking to the copycat apps that are quickly cropping up on the horizon. Earlier this month, the company’s Creator First accelerator program rolled out in full, promising that 20 of the app’s creators could qualify for funding to help them, as the company put it, “host amazing conversations [and] build their audience” on the app.

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Meanwhile, Clubhouse CEO Paul Davison’s previously hinted that the app’s creators might actually be funded by their own fanbase in the future, through features like subscriptions, ticketed events, and even direct tips.

If you’re wondering why Clubhouse is pouring this many resources into its creator economy when there’s always the very real risk that the economy won’t pan out as planned, look no further than Vine. Previous reports have pointed out that the largely creator-driven app snubbed a 2015 request from its top stars for a $1.2 million payout. Pretty soon after, a third of Vine’s creators left the app, which likely contributed to the app’s unceremonious collapse one year later.

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A year later, we got another cautionary tale when report after report bubbled up describing Snapchat’s relatively chilly relationship with its influencer base. Naturally, a glut of influencers jumped ship for competitors like Instagram Stories, leading to a stock slump that translated to Snapchat bleeding hundreds of millions of dollars over the course of the following year.

“If you’re not going to start off with monetization, then you have to gear your company towards aggressive growth,” Milicevic said. “And if that aggressive growth slows down for whatever reason, well… you’re in a really really tough spot.”

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Considering how people are quite literally falling over each other to get access to this app, it might be hard to imagine its growth sputtering anytime soon. That said, it’s worth remembering that this app is still (technically) in beta. Until now, the company was without a proper website or even a proper app in anything but the iOS operating system—though this week the company announced we should be getting a Clubhouse app on Android before the year’s end.

Meanwhile, the app’s veneer of exclusivity is starting to wane, disenchanting some of its formerly die-hard users. On the unofficial Clubhouse subreddit, some whispered disappointment about what they see as the platform’s slow evolution from professional network to something akin to a bizarre, audio-only Omegle where you end up in a room with a bunch of strangers and, potentially, weirdos. Without high-profile influencers to keep its core audience coming back, then, well. It could be RIP Clubhouse.

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At the same time, Clubhouse is becoming known for its mounting pile of privacy scandals, its inaccessibility, scams (so, so many scams), enabling harassment, grifters, and unchecked conspiracy theories about, well, virtually everything.

Even without a potential user exodus, Clubhouse’s ballooning user base comes with headaches of its own. Back in February, a report from the Stanford Internet Observatory revealed that the glut of the actual “tech” underlying the Clubhouse app was actually licensed from a third-party company—the Shanghai-based startup Agora. From that relationship, one user did some back of the napkin math to estimate what Clubhouse might be paying Agora to keep its app up and running. The costs? $1.4 million per month, assuming that there are two million users spending an average of three hours per week plugged into the platform. And if Clubhouse stays on this trajectory, those costs are only going to keep climbing—meaning that the company will need to figure out how to cash out on its users, and fast.

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The good news is there are plenty of options.

What a Clubhouse consumer cash-out could look like

The first possibility is also arguably the most straightforward: just start charging people to access particular panels, or charging people for the Clubhouse equivalent of a backstage pass to talk with a speaker one-on-one before they hit the main stage in front of hundreds—if not thousands—of fellow Clubhousers.

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“Here’s one way to think about it: Say Elon Musk is speaking, and you really want a smaller, more intimate chat—like say, with 100 other people—before he takes the main stage in front of 5,000,” said Debra Aho Williamson, a principal analyst with eMarketer. “I think people would pay to make that happen.”

Say what you will about Musk’s cavalcade of fans, they’re nothing if not extremely devoted to Tesla’s self-appointed Technoking. We’ve seen countless members from the fold pour upwards of $10,000 into Tesla stocks, even when some don’t even own one of the electric vehicles themselves. Earlier this week, one scammer masquerading as Musk managed to con a fanboy out of $560,000. While Williamson hasn’t calculated what the price point of a service like this would be, it’s safe to say that it would be pretty high up there.

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Other categories of Clubhouse creators could just as easily charge a cover price to listen in on their room. Think standup comedians, musicians, and podcasters.

Then there are the brands. In spite of the overt lack of advertising, we’ve seen a slew of major brands start shuffling themselves onto the platform and striking up deals with influencers that are already there. Earlier this month, a handful of these creators that had previously worked with major names like Netflix, Cashapp, and Showtime actually rolled out their own marketing agency specifically catered towards what can only be called “branded audio events.” Not long after, another Clubhouse user-created “Clubmarket”: a self-described “sponsorship marketplace” that—as the name implies—lets creators shop around for Clubhouse sponsorships that can potentially net them thousands of dollars depending on the room. Others have pointed out that in these sorts of branded deals, all Clubhouse needs to do is nab itself a commission.

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What Williamson doesn’t see working is the typical banner ads that we’ve come to associate with other major platforms—both because targeted ads are kind of the worst, and because Clubhouse has kind of cemented its reputation as being a staunchly anti-ad platform.

That said, a middle-ground she could see working are the kind of ads you’d typically associate with podcast feeds: mid-roll spots that the announcer reads out (and potentially riffs over), perhaps bundled with a special promo for the people listening. These sorts of ads are gaining steam among advertisers, and fast, meaning that Clubhouse could snag some of that ad spend for itself.

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Whatever approach Clubhouse lands on, it might want to act quickly. As its exclusivity steadily drains, another finite resource may soon become limited, post-pandemic—our time.

YouTube’s TikTok Clone Has Arrived

Illustration for article titled YouTube's TikTok Clone Has Arrived

Photo: Robyn Beck (Getty Images)

After a slew of TikTok competitors cropped up across the U.S. this past summer, it looks like we’re getting yet another name added to that list. Enter YouTube Shorts, which the company rolled out in beta on Thursday for its American audience after testing the program over the past few months in India.

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During that initial run abroad, Shorts looked and felt the same way TikTok did: Users could record their clips over music, speed up segments or slow them down, and string shorter clips together thanks to its “multi-segment camera” feature. With this wider rollout, YouTube’s bringing in some new sample-friendly features for creators that want to use them. Users are now free to snag audio samples from other Shorts for their own content, and in the coming months, they’ll also be able to use audio from YouTube’s endless clip archive. YouTube also promises that video creators who don’t want their audio sampled are free to opt-out if they choose.

If the bottomless pit of YouTube content wasn’t enough, the company noted in its blog post announcing the rollout that it now licenses music from hundreds of record labels and publishers, including Sony, Universal, and Warner Music Group—and that library is growing. Chances are, if you can think of a song, you can probably use it in Shorts.

Illustration for article titled YouTube's TikTok Clone Has Arrived

Graphic: YouTube

Naturally, YouTube is using the new product as a chance to cross-promote its other services—including YouTube Music, which still lags pretty far behind the music-streaming giant Spotify when it comes to popularity. If you’re watching a Short and want to hear more of the song snippet that it used, for example, all you’ll need to do is tap the clip to see their official artist channel, according to YouTube. If you’re watching a music video on YouTube and want to remix it for your own Short, YouTube says that all you’ll need to do is hit a button below the video to remix it yourself, or see other Shorts using audio from that same clip.

While Shorts is officially on U.S. soil starting today, YouTube’s blog notes that this is going to be a “gradual” rollout over the upcoming weeks. When that happens, YouTube is naturally planning to make it as visible as humanly possible: The company notes that it’s already intro’d a row for Shorts on YouTube’s homepage, along with a new “watch experience” that lets users swipe vertically from video to video, not unlike TikTok and literally every other TikTok competitor.

Speaking of all those competitors, you have to wonder how successful Shorts is going to ultimately be. When Instagram’s TikTok clone, Reels, first rolled out to the masses, it was pretty universally booed for not only being a blatant knock-off, but a blatant knock-off that hardly had the memeworthy appeal its inspiration did. Snapchat’s foray with its Spotlight, meanwhile, was called “cringey and grotesque” by some and an unmoderated mess by others. If YouTube wants to get this right, it’s going to need more than a massive music catalog to do it.

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