Архив метки: Jane Manchun Wong

Facebook may finally let you turn off those annoying notification dots

Sick of those anxiety-inducing red dots constantly appearing on the Groups, Watch, or other tabs in your Facebook app? Well the social network may be easing up a little in its unending war for your attention. Facebook is now testing a toggle to turn off the red in-app notification dots on its homescreen. Until now you had to manually open each of Facebook’s features to extinguishing the maddening flame of the notification badge. This could make Facebook feel more tranquil, and keep you focused on whatever you actually opened the app to do.
“It’s related to the work we’re doing with the well-being team. We’re thinking about how people spend their time in the app and making sure that it’s time well spent” a Facebook spokesperson tells me. Many people can’t feel settled if there are red dots begging to be tapped — a psychological quirk Facebook takes advantage of. The company seems to be realizing that its growth hacking can backfire if its pleas for engagement actually deter us from opening its app in the first place.
The Facebook Notification Dots setting was first spotted in its prototype form by reverse engineering specialist Jane Manchun Wong, hidden in the Android app’s code earlier this summer. Today, social media consultant Matt Navarra noticed the feature being publicly tested. Facebook now confirms to TechCrunch that this is a new global test that started recently on iOS and Android for a subset of users. “We are testing new ways to give people more control over the notifications they receive in the Facebook app” a spokesperson tells me.
Facebook plans to continue offering additional ways to personalize notifications so you don’t miss what’s important but aren’t drowned in noise. “People don’t necessarily want to see a notification on the badge [the in-app dots on tabs] if they’re already getting notifications in the jewel [the red counter on the Facebook app icon on your phone’s homescreen]” the spokesperson tells me. It considered a snooze option but went with an on/off switch that’s the least confusion. The Notification dots feature is likely to roll out to everyone unless it suddenly proves to decimate Facebook usage.

How To Turn Off Facebook Notification Dots
If you have access to this feature test, you’ll find the option in your Facebook app under the three-lined More/Menu tab -> Settings & Privacy -> Settings -> Notifications -> Notification Dots. There you can “Choose which shortcuts will show you notifications dots” with options for “Videos On Watch”, “Profile”, “Groups”, “Menu”.
One tab/shortcut where you can’t disable the dots is Notifications, which actually makes sense since that’s the main way the app alerts you to activity around your profile and content. But since you already get a heads-up about new Groups posts or when you’re tagged in a photo there, the notification dots on the other tabs are just redundant and distracting.

If you want to control which activities trigger alerts in your Notifications tab, you can go to More/Menu tab -> Settings & Privacy -> Settings -> Notifications -> Notification Settings -> Mobile. There you can see a list of your recent notifications and turn off ones like it in case you’re sick of hearing about friends starting fundraisers, reminders about upcoming events, or comments after yours on a Group post. The Notification Settings page also lets you turn off sound for Facebook notifications, axe them from specific groups or other apps, turn down the frequency of On This Day alerts, and choose what notifications get bumped up to email or text message.
Confusingly, there’s also a totally separate menu that’s accessible from the Notifications tab’s settings gear icon. There you can temporarily or permanently mute push notifications and choose where you receive each type. Obviously there should be a link between these two different spaces. A great next step for Facebook would be allowing user to batch notifications, Instead of either being constantly pestered or totally in the dark, it could let users opt for an occasional digest of notifications, like once per day or when they get to 10 alerts.

A year ago Facebook trumpeted how it launched a Time Well Spent dashboard in its app and Instagram for showing how long per day you use the apps with an option to set a reminder to stop after enough minutes. But buried inside Menu -> Settings & Privacy -> Your Time on Facebook, the toothless feature we’d previously scooped isn’t doing much good. If Facebook wants to be a principled citizen of our devices, it shouldn’t be so hard to say when we do or don’t want to be nagged for attention.

Facebook may finally let you turn off those annoying notification dots

Instagram hides Like counts in leaked design prototype

“We want your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get. During this test, only the person who share a post will see the total number of likes it gets.” That’s how Instagram describes a seemingly small design change test with massive potential impact on users’ well-being.
Hiding Like counts could reduce herd mentality, where people just Like what’s already got tons of Likes. It could reduce the sense of competition on Instagram, since users won’t compare their own counts with those of more popular friends or superstar creators. And it could encourage creators to post what feels most authentic rather than trying to rack of Likes for everyone to see.

The design change test was spotted by Jane Manchun Wong, the prolific reverse engineering expert and frequent TechCrunch tipster whose spotted tons of Instagram features before they’re officially confirmed or launched. Wong discovered the design change test in Instagram’s Android code and was able to generate the screenshots above.
You can see on the left that the Instagram feed post lacks a Like count, but still shows a few faces and a name of other people who’ve Liked it. Users are alerted that only they’ll see their post’s Like counts, and anyone else won’t. Many users delete posts that don’t immediately get ‘enough’ Likes or post to their fake ‘Finstagram’ accounts if they don’t think they’ll be proud of the hearts they collect. Hiding Like counts might get users posting more since they’ll be less self-conscious.
An Instagram confirmed to TechCrunch that this design is an internal prototype that’s not visible to the public yet. A spokesperson told us: “We’re not testing this at the moment, but exploring ways to reduce pressure on Instagram is something we’re always thinking about.” Other features we’ve reported on in the same phase, such as video calling, soundtracks for Stories, and the app’s time well spent dashboard all went on to receive official launches.
Instagram’s prototypes (from left): feed post reactions, Stories lyrics, and Direct stickers
Meanwhile, Wong has also recently spotted several other Instagram prototypes lurking in its Android code. Those include chat thread stickers for Direct messages, augmented reality filters for Direct Video calls, simultaneous co-watching of recommended videos through Direct, karaoke-style lyrics that appear synced to soundtracks in Stories, emoji reactions to feed posts, and a shopping bag for commerce.
It appears that there’s no plan to hide follower counts on user profiles, which are the true measure of popularity but also serve a purpose of distinguishing great content creators and assessing their worth to marketers. Hiding Likes could just put more of a spotlight on follower and comment counts. And even if users don’t see Like counts, they still massively impact the feed’s ranking algorithm, so creators will still have to battle for them to be seen.
Close-up of Instagram’s design for feed posts without Like counters
The change matches a growing belief that Like counts can be counter-productive or even harmful to users’ psyches. Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom told me back in 2016 that getting away from the pressure of Like counts was one impetus for Instagram launching Stories. Last month, Twitter began testing a design which hides retweet counts behind an extra tap to similarly discourage inauthentic competition and herd mentality. And Snapchat has never shown Like counts or even follower counts, which has made it feel less stressful but also less useful for influencers.
Narcissism, envy spiraling, and low self-image can all stem from staring at Like counts. They’re a constant reminder of the status hierarchies that have emerged from social networks. For many users, at some point it stopped being fun and started to feel more like working in the heart mines. If Instagram rolls the feature out, it could put the emphasis back on sharing art and self-expression, not trying to win some popularity contest.

Instagram hides Like counts in leaked design prototype

Instagram prototypes bully-proof moderated School Stories

Instagram is considering offering collaborative School Stories that only a certain school’s students can see or contribute to. And to make sure these Stories wouldn’t become bullying cesspools, Instagram’s code shows a warning that “School stories are manually reviewed to make sure the community is safe.” School Stories could create a fun space for kids to share with their peers beyond the prying eyes of their parents or strangers, though they could also exacerbate teen culture issues around envy and exclusionary social scenes.
The code was first discovered by TechCrunch’s top tipster Jane Manchun Wong. Instagram declined to comment on the record regarding the code, though previous discoveries from its code that it also “no-comment’ed” — such as video calling and Nametags — went on to officially launch. But typically, Instagram confirms if it’s internally or externally testing features we spot, so if it ever decides to actually launch School Stories, it might not be for months or longer.

Instagram could still scrap the feature rather than having to risk the harassment issues and invest in moderation. Bullying isn’t always obvious name-calling. It can mean excluding certain kids from gatherings, using inside jokes to belittle people or just purposefully making life look more glamorous than it is. Instagram would have to develop an extraordinarily nuanced rubric for deciding what’s allowed, and do deep training of moderators to make sure they don’t miss anything. The question will be whether the teen engagement is worth the gamble.
In other news from Wong’s findings, Instagram is also prototyping a URL scheme for Stories so users could share deep links directly to their Stories outside of Instagram. That could be very powerful for influencers, public figures and brands trying to build their audience with behind-the-scenes and day-to-day Stories content instead of just feed posts that already have URLs.
Instagram declined to comment on a Stories URL as well, so again it could be a while before this rolls out, if ever. But marketers might especially love the idea of being able to funnel ad clicks or fans of their other social profiles to their Instagram Stories. You could imagine Stories links floating around Twitter, YouTube and more. Snapchat has never offered more than a deep link to user profiles, so this could be a way for Instagram to show it does more than just copy.
Instagram already allows users to contribute to public collaborative Stories around locations and hashtags, while Facebook offers them for Events and Groups. And Facebook Stories recently launched holiday Stories where friends can see collections of each other’s posts for Halloween or other big moments.

School Stories could build on the idea of Instagram sub-networks, which it first started testing last month with universities. Instagram used signals from what you post about, your location and your network to invite users to join their university’s network. This lets them show off a line in their profile with their school, class year, major, sports team and/or Greek affiliation, and show up in a directory for the school so people could follow them or DM their pending inbox.
Facebook was originally school network-based when it launched in 2004. Users could leave their content visible by default to everyone at their school. While Facebook and Instagram are a lot more careful with privacy these days, School Stories could bring back that feeling of in-group community where users can post things that might be irrelevant or confusing to outsiders.

Instagram prototypes bully-proof moderated School Stories

First look at Instagram’s self-policing Time Well Spent tool

Are you Overgramming? Instagram is stepping up to help you manage overuse rather than leaving it to iOS and Android’s new screen time dashboards. Last month after TechCrunch first reported Instagram was prototyping a Usage Insights feature, the Facebook sub-company’s CEO Kevin System confirmed its forthcoming launch.
Tweeting our article, Systrom wrote “It’s true . . . We’re building tools that will help the IG community know more about the time they spend on Instagram – any time should be positive and intentional . . . Understanding how time online impacts people is important, and it’s the responsibility of all companies to be honest about this. We want to be part of the solution. I take that responsibility seriously.”

Now we have our first look at the tool via Jane Manchun Wong, who’s recently become one of TechCrunch’s favorite sources thanks to her skills at digging new features out of apps’ Android APK code. Though Usage Insights might change before an official launch, these screenshots give us an idea of what Instagram will include. Instagram declined to comment, saying it didn’t have any more to share about the feature at this time.
This unlaunched version of Instagram’s Usage Insights tool offers users a daily tally of their minutes spent on the app. They’ll be able to set a time spent daily limit, and get a reminder once they exceed that. There’s also a shortcut to manage Instagram’s notifications so the app is less interruptive. Instagram has been spotted testing a new hamburger button that opens a slide-out navigation menu on the profile. That might be where the link for Usage Insights shows up, judging by this screenshot.

Instagram doesn’t appear to be going so far as to lock you out of the app after your limit, or fading it to grayscale which might annoy advertisers and businesses. But offering a handy way to monitor your usage that isn’t buried in your operating system’s settings could make users more mindful.
Instagram has an opportunity to be a role model here, especially if it gives its Usage Insights feature sharper teeth. For example,  rather than a single notification when you hit your daily limit, it could remind you every 15 minutes after, or create some persistent visual flag so you know you’ve broken your self-imposed rule.
Instagram has already started to push users towards healthier behavior with a “You’re all caught up” notice when you’ve seen everything in your feed and should stop scrolling.
I expect more apps to attempt to self-police with tools like these rather than leaving themselves at the mercy of iOS’s Screen Time and Android’s Digital Wellbeing features that offer more drastic ways to enforce your own good intentions.
Both let you see overall usage of your phone and stats about individual apps. iOS lets you easily dismiss alerts about hitting your daily limit in an app but delivers a weekly usage report (ironically via notification), while Android will gray out an app’s icon and force you to go to your settings to unlock an app once you exceed your limit.
For Android users especially, Instagram wants to avoid looking like such a time sink that you put one of those hard limits on your use. In that sense, self-policing shows both empathy for its users’ mental health, but is also a self-preservation strategy. With Instagram slated to launch a long-form video hub that could drive even longer session times this week, Usage Insights could be seen as either hypocritical or more necessary than ever.

New time management tools coming to iOS (left) and Android (right). Images via The VergeInstagram is one of the world’s most beloved apps, but also one of the most easily abused. From envy spiraling as you watch the highlights of your friends’ lives to body image issues propelled by its endless legions of models, there are plenty of ways to make yourself feel bad scrolling the Insta feed. And since there’s so little text, no links, and few calls for participation, it’s easy to zombie-browse in the passive way research shows is most dangerous.
We’re in a crisis of attention. Mobile app business models often rely on maximizing our time spent to maximize their ad or in-app purchase revenue. But carrying the bottomless temptation of the Internet in our pockets threatens to leave us distracted, less educated, and depressed. We’ve evolved to crave dopamine hits from blinking lights and novel information, but never had such an endless supply.
There’s value to connecting with friends by watching their days unfold through Instagram and other apps. But tech giants are thankfully starting to be held responsible for helping us balance that with living our own lives.

The difference between good and bad Facebooking

Instagram plans to launch Snapchat Discover-style video hub

First look at Instagram’s self-policing Time Well Spent tool

‘Facebook Avatars’ is its new clone of Snapchat’s Bitmoji

Hidden inside the code of Facebook’s Android app is an unreleased feature called Facebook Avatars that lets people build personalized, illustrated versions of themselves for use as stickers in Messenger and comments. It will let users customize their avatar to depict their skin color, hair style and facial features. Facebook Avatars is essentially Facebook’s version of Snapchat’s acquisition, Bitmoji, which has spent years in the top-10 apps chart.
Back in October I wrote that “Facebook seriously needs its own Bitmoji,” and it seems the company agrees. Facebook has become the identity layer for the internet, allowing you to bring your personal info and social graph to other services. But as the world moves toward visual communication, a name or static profile pic aren’t enough to represent us and our breadth of emotions. Avatars hold the answer, as they can be contorted to convey our reactions to all sorts of different situations when we’re too busy or camera-shy to take a photo.

The screenhots come courtesy of eagle-eyed developer Jane Manchun Wong, who found the Avatars in the Facebook for Android application package — a set of files that often contain features that are unreleased or in testing. Her digging also contributed to TechCrunch’s reports about Instagram’s music stickers and Twitter’s unlaunched encrypted DMs.
Facebook confirmed it’s building Avatars, telling me, “We’re looking into more ways to help people express themselves on Facebook.” However, the feature is still early in development and Facebook isn’t sure when it will start publicly testing.

In the onboarding flow for the feature, Facebook explains that “Your Facebook Avatar is a whole new way to express yourself on Facebook. Leave expressive comments with personalized stickers. Use your new avatar stickers in your Messenger group and private chats.” The Avatars should look like the images on the far right of these screenshot tests. You can imagine Facebook creating an updating reel of stickers showing your avatar in happy, sad, confused, angry, bored or excited scenes to fit your mood.
Currently it’s unclear whether you’ll have to configure your Avatar from a blank starter face, or whether Facebook will use machine vision and artificial intelligence to create one based on your photos. The latter is how the Facebook Spaces VR avatars (previewed in April 2017) are automatically generated.
Facebook shows off its 3D VR avatars at F8 2018. The new Facebook Avatars are 2D and can be used in messaging and comments.
Using AI to start with a decent lookalike of you could entice users to try Avatars and streamline the creation process so you just have to make small corrections. However, the AI could creep people out, make people angry if it misrepresents them or generate monstrous visages no one wants to see. Given Facebook’s recent privacy scandals, I’d imagine it would play it conservatively with Avatars and just ask users to build them from scratch. If Avatars grow popular and people are eager to use them, it could always introduce auto-generation from your photos later.
Facebook has spent at least three years trying to figure out avatars for VR. What started as generic blue heads evolved to take on basic human characteristics, real skin tones and more accurate facial features, and are now getting quite lifelike. You can see that progression up top. Last week at F8, Facebook revealed that it’s developing a way to use facial tracking sensors to map real-time expressions onto a photo-realistic avatar of a user so they can look like themselves inside VR, but without the headset on.

But as long as Facebook’s Avatars are trapped in VR, they’re missing most of their potential.
Bitmoji’s parent company Bitstrips launched in 2008, and while its comic strip creator was cool, it was the personalized emoji avatar feature that was most exciting. Snapchat acquired Bitstrips for a mere $64.2 million in early 2016, but once it integrated Bitmoji into its chat feature as stickers, the app took off. It’s often risen higher than Snapchat itself, and even Facebook’s ubiquitous products on the App Store charts, and was the No. 1 free iOS app as recently as February. Now Snapchat lets you use your Bitmoji avatar as a profile pic, online status indicator in message threads, as 2D stickers and as 3D characters that move around in your Snaps.

It’s actually surprising that Facebook has waited this long to clone Bitmoji, given how popular Instagram Stories and its other copies of Snapchat features have become. Facebook comment reels and Messenger threads could get a lot more emotive, personal and fun when the company eventually launches its own Avatars.
Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly said that visual communication is replacing text, but that’s forced users to either use generic emoji out of convenience or deal with the chore and self-consciousness of shooting a quick photo or video. Especially in Stories, which will soon surpass feeds as the main way we share social media, people need a quick way to convey their identity and emotion. Avatars let your identity scale to whatever feeling you want to transmit without the complications of the real world.
For more on the potential of Facebook Avatars, read our piece calling for their creation:

Facebook seriously needs its own Bitmoji

‘Facebook Avatars’ is its new clone of Snapchat’s Bitmoji