Few Winners In Anonymous Social Networking, And Secret’s Not One Of Them

Is anonymous social networking a flash-in-the-pan trend? A winner-take-all category? Which of the anonymous social networking apps around today are still thriving, and which are practically dead?

These questions come to mind today as one of the leading companies in the “anonymous social” category, Secret, revamped its application, borrowing ideas from popular apps like Yik Yak and Snapchat and others in order to introduce new features like location-based posts and disappearing private messages.

Secret’s pivot is representative of the app’s inability to maintain growth amid an overall decline in anonymous social networking applications, with the exceptions of Yik Yak, Whisper and, more recently, newcomer After School.

Anonymous Networking and Its Dangers

For a bit of background before diving in: One of the bigger trends among consumer applications in 2014 was the rise of “anonymous social networking” – or apps that allowed users to post publicly to networks without using their real names. Users on these apps share secrets, gossip and other random thoughts.

They are different from private messaging apps because their content is visible to anyone who logs in, or anyone in a given geographical region. That is, they’re “one-to-many” sharing apps, not “one-to-one” mobile messengers.

Investors and the media alike debated about the ethics of these sorts of apps, as they often allow for cyberbullying and shaming of public figures – and in some cases, even seemed to encourage that activity.

Nevertheless, “anonymous social” seemed to be carving out a new category for itself this year.

It almost made sense that this sort of activity would emerge in a post-Snowden society where users realized that social networking on more public, “real-name” networks like Facebook had been tracked by their own government.

Perhaps “anonymous social” would encourage the same sort of human connection that Facebook once offered, without the drawback of disclosing your true identity along the way?

Actually, what anonymous social networking for the most part offered was yet another reminder that when people no longer have to stand behind their words, they can say some pretty terrible things. Ever since the days of Myspace, which had the dubious honor of being the first to bring about a cyberbullying verdict in U.S. courts, social networking users have had to contend with online bullying issues.

Anonymous features in Ask.fm, for example, were referenced as being directly contributing to a good handful of teen suicides, and following its revamp toward more “safe” networking policies, newcomer Yik Yak appeared to be ready to pick up the slack as one of the top mobile-first anonymous networks.

On Yik Yak, which combines anonymity with location-based networking, cyberbullying became so bad this year that the company had to implement technology to block the app on school grounds around the U.S.

School officials warned parents about the dangers of the app, which had become home to threats, including bomb threats and shootings, and vicious bullying. A girl on Yik Yak was even reportedly bullied for getting raped, a news report once said.

Twitter, though not entirely anonymous as many users identify themselves by name, is navigating this same challenge today with respect to handling bullying and threats.

Anonymous Networking Winners and Losers

Sadly, in private, people do want to read about shameful secrets, gossip, and other things that people think, but are too polite to say publicly. When any network caters to this sort of activity, it soars.

Secret’s ascension in the App Store earlier this year is attributable to the fact that it became a go-to destination for tech industry gossip and leaks. When Secret, funded to the tune of $35 million from investors/users, finally had to clamp down on that activity – by recognizing and flagging posts where users were typing in people’s real names and stopping users from posting photos from their camera roll, among other things – it began to decline.

In short: when the trash talk dropped, so did the app’s popularity.

And thus demonstrates the vicious cycle for anonymous apps. Let people misbehave, and the app buzzes with activity. Sanitize the experience to protect people’s feelings (and potentially users’ lives), and the app fails.

Ask.fm is a great example of what “cleaning up” looks like (via App Annie). It declined from the top of the App Store down to #444 after its acquisition this year, which saw it agreeing to work with regulators to implement cyberbullying protections:

 

Losers

While Secret, Yik Yak, Whisper and others reigned this year, a number of others entered the “anonymous social” space this year as well. Few of these still matter.

For instance, a representative sample from the long-tail (data via App Annie):

Winners

And among those who could still be contenders?

They include: Yik Yak, Secret, Whisper, Facebook’s Rooms (if not by traction, but by its parent company’s power to promote it if it chose to), and newly popular entrant After School. To be fair, After School is likely only popular because it had virtually no content protections in place against, and younger users gravitate towards this “wild west” type of sharing experience.

On the chart above, current as of Tuesday, only Yik Yak and Whisper have any significant traction at this time. (After School has been again pulled from the App Store at the time of publication.) (Data for iOS versions, U.S., via SimilarWeb).

Historical rankings:

Yik Yak flits in and out of the top 10 and 20, Whisper the top 50. After School briefly soared, but also has to deal with being pulled from iTunes. For cyberbullying!, go figure.

Today’s U.S. rankings for these apps in the Social Networking category on iTunes are as follows:

  • Yik Yak: #20
  • Whisper: #62
  • Secret: #199
  • After School: Pulled from the App Store! Again!
  • Facebook’s Rooms: #277

One could argue that FireChat (#161 Social Networking) also deserves to be in this category, but its purpose is a bit different – it’s more about connecting people when an internet connection or phone coverage is not available, rather than being solely focused on anonymity. It has proven popular at outdoor festivals and protests.

What Secret’s Decline Looks Like

When apps like Secret drop in the rankings after cleaning up their experience, they tend to lose their active users as well.

For some insight into this: using data from SimilarWeb’s (beta) service which currently tracks actives on Google Play apps only, you can see Secret’s monthly actives falling over time.

Vs Yik Yak and Whisper:

 

The question for Yik Yak and Whisper, as the only real contenders left given After School’s inability to keep its app in the App Store, is how long they can last.

Whisper is arguably maintaining its popularity today because it has veered into “adult” territory thanks to its “NSFW” category and other sexual content. Yik Yak, meanwhile, may have geo-fenced its app, but kids, teens and other young adults are still using it for cyberbullying as many recent news stories indicate.

If either of these apps clean up their content or cut down on the gossip and sex, their heydays could be over as well – just like Secret, Ask.fm, MySpace, and all the others where cyberbullying once thrived, then died.

Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/Techcrunch/~3/pVsOYwqQxmk/

ZZ Photo Is A Photo App That Can Organize Your Snapshots By Pet

Does your photo management solution recognize your cat? Your mom? Your dog? No, it does not. That’s why there’s ZZ Photo. The app, built by a Ukrainian team, is essentially a shoebox for all of your photos but with a few smarts built in. It is Windows-only right now but the team is working on mobile and Mac versions of the app.

The app won our weekly TC Radio Pitch-Off thanks to their brand manager Tatiana Vezhis’ vibrant description of the tool.

The founders, Alexander Lisovskiy and Artem Chernodub have experience in computer vision and desktop programming. Chernodub is actually head of the computer vision department at the MMSP of National Academy of Science of Ukraine.

They’ve seen a few hundred users so far – they just launched – but they haven’t spent much on coding and the app is ready to download. It essentially allows you to organize your photos by subject and it can automatically recognize people (and the aforementioned pets) and store your photos for easy viewing.

“The market we are entering is not crowded with competitors. In fact, most of them solve only one problem – photo viewing, while ZZ Photo is full-scale solution for collecting and organizing images at home photo libraries,” said Vezhis. “ZZ Photo is unique because it handles duplicate detection, similar pictures detection, recognizing faces, and detecting pets.” The app will soon have cloud access as well.

“The idea of launching this product came to our CEO when he was nervously looking for his newborn son’s photo at his computer and he almost had a heart attack when he thought he’d lost them forever,” said Vezhis. “ZZ Photo can detect pets. We can detect your cat, its fluffy girlfriend next door or your mother’s favorite kitty as well as all dogs in your family during their lifetime.”

The app costs $29 and is available now.

Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/Techcrunch/~3/4b86TYQ7jM0/

Samsung’s ChatOn service will shut down next year (update)

After denying reports that its ChatOn service was close to being disbanded on a region-by-region basis, Samsung has announced in Korea that it’s going away. According to Yonhap News, Samsung’s statement said it will close up shop on February 1st. It’s not immediately clear whether or not that will hold across all regions, but Samsung went on to state that users would be able to back up their data before the shutdown. The company blamed “changing market conditions” for the change, but seems that despite a claimed 100 million strong user base, people weren’t really using the software preloaded on so many smartphones.

Update: We contacted Samsung and were told that on February 1st, ChatOn will shut down in all markets except for the US. In the US, it will shut down at some point in Q1, but a date has not yet been announced.

Samsung:

On February 1, 2015, ChatON will be discontinued in all markets except the United States, as we strive to meet evolving consumer needs by focusing on our core services. We remain committed to offering services that cater to our consumers’ lifestyles and add value to their everyday lives.

http://www.engadget.com/2014/12/18/samsung-chaton-shutdown/?ncid=rss_truncated

‘Minecraft’ success helps its creator buy a $70 million mansion

It can be difficult for us commoners to fathom just how much money a billion is. So, if you need to see more than just a figure to fully digest the kind of wealth Notch got from selling Minecraft to Microsoft for $2.5 billion (yes, billion with a B), just take a look at his new Beverly Hills mansion. This is the house Minecraft bought, people: a $70 million estate with its own cinema, iPad-controlled fountains, automated glass doors, a panoramic view of LA and, best of all, a candy room, which is exactly what it sounds like. That amount includes all the expensive furniture and 90-inch TVs displayed in the mansion, along with cases of Dom Perignon champagne, because you don’t celebrate buying houses like this with Two Buck Chucks.

Markus Persson (Notch’s real name) apparently paid cash for the eight-bedroom, 15-bath property, six days after closing the deal. According to Bloomberg, Notch outmaneuvered and outbid interested celebrities, including Jay Z and Beyonce, who toured the house several times in the past few months. Then again, Jay and Bey are reportedly worth only $1 billion together, while Notch’s net worth is between $1.5 to $2 billion. We’d look at other pictures of the property on its website, but we’re too busy thinking of a billion-dollar idea to sell Apple/Microsoft/Facebook in the future.

[Image credits: 1181 North Hillcrest]

http://www.engadget.com/2014/12/18/minecraft-success-helps-its-creator-buy-a-70-million-mansion/?ncid=rss_truncated

Microsoft’s new Lumia update adds 4K recording and more to a few Windows Phones

Some Lumia owners will be able to take photos more quickly these holidays — and they might be better, too — now that Microsoft has begun rolling out its latest software update called Denim. We say “some,” because only Lumia 830, Lumia 930, Lumia Icon and Lumia 1520 owners will be able to enjoy the new features for now, and only if they live in one of the select countries getting the update. Denim, which was announced back in September, speeds up the Lumia camera app and brings image quality-boosting features with it. The new Rich Capture mode, for instance, automatically uses HDR, Dynamic Flash and Dynamic Exposure to take pictures, while a new imaging algorithm allows it to snap crisper daylight and lowlight images.

Users who do get Denim will also be able to record 4K videos with one long press of the camera button and activate Microsoft’s voice assistant with a simple “Hey, Cortana.” According to Microsoft’s list of software availability, the update’s now available in several European and Asian countries. Everyone in the US and owners of other Lumia models will likely have to wait until Denim’s wider release in January. Note that it can only be installed on a phone already running Lumia Cyan, though, so those still waiting for the previous software update will have to make do without the new features for a while.

Microsoft Windows Phone 8.1

Instagram purges spam fake accounts, costing celebs millions of followers

Instagram has made good on its promise to start purging inactive, fake and spam accounts this December, and it’s doing such a great job that users are calling it “Instagram Rapture” or “Instapurge.” Celebrities ended up losing a big chunk of their followers, like Justin Bieber whose Belieber count went down by 3.5 million, according to the list created by software developer Zach Allia. Ariana Grande’s numbers are also down by 1.5 million, while Kim Kardashian lost 1.3 million fake minions. Someone named chiragchirag78 even went from boasting 4 million fans to have only eight left — poor user was so devastated, he ended up deleting his account. But it’s still Instagram itself that’s suffered the worst blow, shedding almost 19 million followers in the process.

Since Instagram’s efforts are sitewide, even ordinary people’s follower counts are affected. And while many praised the Facebook-owned service for cracking down on spambots (thereby exposing those who’ve purchased fake followers), there’s an army of slighted users, as well. Some are continuing to post a barrage of insults and profanities on Instagram’s official account, while others are campaigning for people to unfollow it. What these angry users might not know, though, is that the service deactivated those fake accounts and spambots long ago, an Instagram spokesperson told Business Insider. The service is merely removing them for good.

http://www.engadget.com/2014/12/19/instagram-purges-spam/?ncid=rss_truncated

The internet’s governing body was hacked, too

The Sony Pictures hack is getting all of the attention right about now, but it turns out that another prominent organization recently was victim to a security breach as well. Last month, ICANN, the outfit that regulates the internet’s domain names and IP addresses, fell prey to a phishing attack that tricked employees into giving out email login info. What’d the ne’er-do-wells get a hold of? Administrative access to all the files in the Centralized Zone Data System. Which, as The Register points out, granted the hackers access to unalterable generic zone files (what’re needed to resolve domain names to IP addresses), and gifted them with contact information for, among others, some of the world’s registry administrators. Passwords were stored as “salted cryptographic hashes,” but ICANN deactivated them as a precaution anyway. The firm’s wiki was breached too, but aside from public information, a members-only index page and one user’s profile, no other private data was viewed.

A few other areas were breached as well, like the organization’s blog and WHOIS page, but the company doesn’t seem too worried about those, saying neither were impacted after discovering the breach this month. The outfit, for its part, claims its new security measures aided in keeping unauthorized access to a minimum. ICANN also says that nothing else has been compromised either, including Internet Assigned Numbers Authority which keeps the web running in ship shape. The key takeaway here is that humans do in fact run the internet and even they can get fooled by phishers. What’s surprising, though, is that ICANN didn’t require two-factor authentication for employee email accounts — we’re guessing that’ll change rather soon.

[Image credit: AFP/Getty Images]

http://www.engadget.com/2014/12/19/icann-phishing-hack/?ncid=rss_truncated

Still Not On Inbox By Gmail? They Just Gave All Users 10 Invites Each

Have you somehow still not gotten a chance to try Inbox, despite Google opening up the service to anyone who asked on multiple occasions?

It’s okay. I understand. You can’t be sitting on Twitter looking for these sorts of things to pop up all the time. You have stuff to do. Important things, like “Work”, or “Feeding the dog”, or “literally anything that isn’t staring at a computer monitor all day.”

Whatever the case: Google is loosening reins a bit again today. Alas, it’s not the free-for-all chaos that they’ve unleashed a few times with their “You get an invite! You get an invite! You get an invite!” style happy hours, but it’s still pretty easy: just ask anyone who has Inbox for an invite.

While Google has given users a slow trickle of friend-to-friend invites since launch, they just dumped a 10-pack of invites onto the laps of anyone and everyone who has already made their way past the front door.

If you’ve got a friend on Inbox who has told you they were out of invites, get to pestering — they’ve got more now.

Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/Techcrunch/~3/d4d8Fgrq61M/

Restaurant Discovery Service Zomato Acquires Italy’s Cibando

Zomato, the restaurant search and discovery service backed by Vy Capital, Info Edge, and Sequoia Capital, continues to be on an acquisition spree as a means to accelerate its international expansion.

After recently adding a presence in Central and Eastern Europe by means of two local acquisitions, the New Delhi-headquartered company, which now boasts a presence in 20 countries, has gobbled up Italy’s Cibando.

Terms of the acquisition remain undisclosed, though Zomato says all of Cibando’s team will be joining the company and will now lead its efforts to build out the service in Italy. This will include integrating Cibando into Zomato, thus transitioning its user base and traffic.

It also plans to scale up its teams in Rome and Milan to 30-40 full-time employees over the next three months, up from Cibando’s current headcount of 10.

Even longer term, Zomato says it will invest $6 million in its newly-acquired Italian operations over the next 2 years, growing the team to 150-200 people across the country’s top six cities.

That planned increase in headcount is probably a reflection of Zomato’s relatively labor-intensive business model, at least compared to other pure Internet plays.

To power part of its restaurant search and discovery engine, the company collects menus from restaurants and scans them using OCR. Its menu data is then re-checked in person by Zomato’s team every three months to ensure it stays relatively fresh, and it’s this “feet on the street” approach that attempts to differentiate the company from competitors, such as Yelp, IAC-owned Urbanspoon, Priceline-acquired OpenTable, and TripAdvisor.

Discussing today’s acquisition, Zomato co-founder Pankaj Chaddah tells me that Cibando is one of the largest restaurant search services in Italy and lists 82,000 restaurants across various cities.

“Their existing rich content base, traffic and user base will give us a great start as we launch Zomato in the country,” he says, noting that Yelp is the only other significant player in Italy. “We don’t see that as a threat – there are many other markets where we have entered after Yelp and are now bigger than them.”

Furthermore, Zomato’s appetite for buying up local players doesn’t show any signs of lessening. “We are currently in talks with 4 other players. There are always a lot of moving parts so can’t put a timeline for the next one,” adds Chaddah.

In November, the company closed a further $60 million in funding, giving it a post-money valuation of $660 million, and taking total funding to over $113 million.

Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/Techcrunch/~3/4vQgND1hstM/