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Social chat app Capture launches to take a shot at less viral success

Social chat app Capture launches to take a shot at less viral success

July 16, 2019

At first glance launching a new social app may seem as sensible a startup idea as plunging headfirst into shark-infested waters. But with even infamous curtain-ripper Facebook now making grand claims about a ‘pivot to privacy’ it’s clear something is shifting in the commercial shipping channels that contain our digital chatter.

Whisper it: Feeds are tiring. Follows are tedious. Attention is expiring. There’s also, of course, the damage that personal digital baggage left out in the open can wreak long after the fact of a blown fuse or fleeting snap.

Public feeds have become vehicles of self-promotion; carefully and heavily curated — which of course brings its own peer pressures to keep up with friends’ lux exploits and the influencer ‘gram aesthetic that pretends life looks like a magazine spread.

Yet for a brief time, in the gritty early years of social media, there was something akin to spontaneous, confessional reality on show online. People do like to share. That’s mostly been swapped for the polish of aspirational faking it on apps like Facebook-owned Instagram. While genuine friend chatter has moved behind the quasi-closed doors of group messaging apps, like Facebook-owned WhatsApp (or rival Telegram).

If you want to chat more freely online without being defined by your existing social graph the options are less mainstream friendly to say the least.

Twitter is genuinely great if you’re willing to put in the time and effort to find interesting strangers. But its user growth problem shows most consumers just aren’t willing (or able) to do that. Telegram groups also require time and effort to track down.

Also relevant in interest-based chat: Veteran forum Reddit, and game chat platform Discord — both pretty popular, though not in a way that really cuts across the mainstream, tending to cater to more niche and/or …

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Mercari’s new Instant Pay feature transfers verified sellers’ balances to their debit cards within minutes

Mercari’s new Instant Pay feature transfers verified sellers’ balances to their debit cards within minutes

July 16, 2019

For online sellers, waiting three to five days for e-commerce platforms to transfer their balance is one of their biggest pain points. Mercari is going after rivals with its new Instant Pay feature, which deposits money in a few minutes. Once sellers are verified, they can instantly transfer up to $500 per month of their Mercari balance to a debit card for a $2 processing fee.

Bradford Williams, Mercari’s head of communications, told TechCrunch in an email that the new feature is a first for peer-to-peer selling apps. “Uber and Lyft made instant payments table stakes for U.S. drivers; we’re extending that to casual sellers. Mercari U.S. is focused on casual sellers (versus power sellers); therefore, we’d like to attract sellers from all marketplaces/platforms,” he said. “Frankly, we see our biggest opportunity in influencing U.S. consumer behavior versus taking share incrementally from established competitors.”

To use Instant Pay, sellers need a debit card and to register for ID Check, Mercari’s new verification system. The feature, currently available only through Mercari’s mobile app, involves uploading a government-issued ID and a selfie. Mercari checks to see if the user’s selfie matches the ID’s photo before verifying them, a process that can take up to 48 hours.

Mercari, which has been downloaded about 45 million times in the United States and currently has 150,000 new listings every day, is typically used by people looking to declutter or make extra cash by offloading items they no longer need. It competes with eBay and Amazon, but its most direct rivals are apps designed for peer-to-peer transactions like Poshmark, Depop, OfferUp and LetGo, as well Facebook Marketplace. Mercari competes with a low selling fee, easy listing process (it says most items can be listed in about three minutes). Its Instant Pay feature will help it attract …

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Facebook’s testimony to Congress: Libra will be regulated by Swiss

Facebook’s testimony to Congress: Libra will be regulated by Swiss

July 15, 2019

The head of Facebook’s blockchain subsidiary Calibra David Marcus has released his prepared testimony before Congress for tomorrow and Wednesday, explaining that the Libra Association will be regulated by the Swiss government because that’s where it’s headquartered. Meanwhile, he says the Libra Association and Facebook’s Calibra wallet intend to comply will all U.S. tax, anti-money laundering and anti-fraud laws.

“The Libra Association expects that it will be licensed, regulated, and subject to supervisory oversight. Because the Association is headquartered in Geneva, it will be supervised by the Swiss Financial Markets Supervisory Authority (FINMA),” Marcus writes. “We have had preliminary discussions with FINMA and expect to engage with them on an appropriate regulatory framework for the Libra Association. The Association also intends to register with FinCEN [The U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network] as a money services business.”

Marcus will be defending Libra before the Senate Banking Committee on July 16th and the House Financial Services Committees on July 17th. The House subcomittee’s Rep. Maxine Waters has already issued a letter to Facebook and the Libra Association requesting that it halt development and plans to launch Libra in early 2020 “until regulators and Congress have an opportunity to examine these issues and take action.”

The big question is whether Congress is savvy enough to understand Libra to the extent that it can coherently regulate it. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimonies before Congress last year were rife with lawmakers dispensing clueless or off-topic questions.

Sen. Orin Hatch infamously demanded to know “how do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?,” to which Zuckerberg smirked, “Senator, we run ads.” If that concept trips up Congress, it’s hard to imagine it grasping a semi-decentralized stablecoin cryptocurrency …

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Waze now shows road toll prices along your driving route

Waze now shows road toll prices along your driving route

July 15, 2019

Navigation app Waze is making getting to where you’re going even easier — or at least more transparent. A new feature rolling out today will show you any tolls along your route, including the actual amount you’re going to pay, across both the U.S. and Canada.

This is above and beyond what you’ll get in most navigation apps, where you might get a visual or text indicator that there is a toll on one of the roads in your path (and you can opt to avoid them if possible) but you won’t know what you’re actually paying. With Waze, you’ll get the amount — sourced from its community of user-drivers, rather than direct from the official toll road operators — but Waze’s crowd-sourced navigation data often has a leg up on the official source in other cases.

Waze will show you the toll prices up front, too, before the navigation actually gets under way, which is great, because that’s when you actually have the opportunity to do something about it, whether it’s scrounging seat-cushion change or just choosing to drive a different way.

This will be rolling out beginning today, so keep an eye out if you’re trying to get somewhere in the U.S. or Canada.

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Digging into the Roblox growth strategy

Digging into the Roblox growth strategy

July 12, 2019

Could Roblox create a new entertainment and communication category, something it calls “human co-experience”?

When it was a small startup, few observers would have believed in that future. But after 15 years — as told in the origin story of our Roblox EC-1 — the company has accumulated 90 million users and a new $150 million venture funding war chest. It has captured the imagination of America’s youth, and become a startup darling in the entertainment space.

But what, exactly, is human co-experience? Well, it can’t be described precisely — because it’s still an emerging category. “It’s almost like that fable where the nine blind men are touching and describing an elephant.

Everyone has a slightly different view,” says co-founder and CEO Dave Baszucki. In Roblox’s view, co-experience means immersive environments where users play, explore, talk, hang out, and create an identity that’s as thoroughly fleshed out (if not as fleshy) as their offline, real life.

But the next decade at Roblox will also be its most challenging time yet, as it seeks to expand from 90 million users to, potentially, a billion or more. To do so, it needs to pull off two coups.

First, it needs to expand the age range of its players beyond its current tween and teen audience. Second, it must win the international market. Accomplishing both of these will be a puzzle with many moving parts.

What Roblox is today

One thing Roblox has done very well is appeal to kids within a certain age range. The company says that a majority of all 9-to-12-year-old children in the United States are on its platform.

Within that youthful segment, Roblox has arguably already created the human co-experience category. Many games are more cooperative than competitive, or have goals that are unclear or don’t seem to …

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Facebook answers how Libra taxes & anti-fraud will work

Facebook answers how Libra taxes & anti-fraud will work

July 12, 2019

Facebook provided TechCrunch with new information on how its cryptocurrency will stay legal amidst allegations from President Trump that Libra could facilitate “unlawful behavior.” Facebook and Libra Association executives tell me they expect Libra will incur sales tax and capital gains taxes. They confirmed that Facebook is also in talks with local convenience stores and money exchanges to ensure anti-laundering checks are applied when people cash-in or cash-out Libra for traditional currency, and to let you use a QR code to buy or sell Libra in person.

A Facebook spokesperson said the company wouldn’t respond directly to Trump’s tweets, but noted that the Libra association won’t interact with consumers or operate as a bank, and that Libra is meant to be a complement to the existing financial system.

Trump had tweeted that “Unregulated Crypto Assets can facilitate unlawful behavior, including drug trade and other illegal activity. Similarly, Facebook Libra’s ‘virtual currency’ will have little standing or dependability. If Facebook and other companies want to become a bank, they must seek a new Banking Charter and become subject to all Banking Regulations, just like other Banks, both National and International.”

For a primer on how Libra works, watch our explainer video below or read our deep dive into everything you need to know:

In a wide-reaching series of interviews this week, the Libra Association’s head of policy Dante Disparte, Facebook’s head economist for blockchain Christian Catalini and Facebook’s blockchain project subsidiary Calibra’s VP of product Kevin Weil answered questions about regulation of Libra. Here’s what we’ve learned (their answers were trimmed for clarity but not edited):

Would Facebook’s Calibra Wallet launch elsewhere even if it’s banned in the USA by regulators?

Calibra’s Kevin Weil: We believe that creating a financial ecosystem that has significantly broader access where all it …

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Twitter returns after an hour-long outage

Twitter returns after an hour-long outage

July 11, 2019

After an hour of sweet freedom, the world has been returned to the grasp of Twitter.

At about 2:50 pm ET, the desktop and mobile site were down, displaying a “Something is technically wrong” error. The app was also not working. The site returned at about 3:45 pm ET, but took a few minutes to regain full functionality.

Twitter’s status page said little more than it was an “active incident.” A spokesperson for Twitter confirmed the outage but referred us to the status page.

After the site returned, Twitter said it was because of an “internal configuration change,” which it has since rolled back.

It’s not the first time Twitter’s had a hiccup in the past few weeks. The social media giant was hit by a direct message outage earlier this month. In fact, between June and July, most of the major internet companies had some form of outage, knocking themselves or other sites offline in the process.

Please tweet about how it was down and how it’s hard to tweet about how Twitter’s down when it is itself down, and the irony therein.

We’ll patiently wait to hear from Twitter about the cause of the outage.

Devin Coldewey contributed.

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New Google Area 120 project Shoelace aims to connect people around shared interests

New Google Area 120 project Shoelace aims to connect people around shared interests

July 11, 2019

A new project from Google’s in-house incubator, Area 120, aims to help people find things to do and others who share your same interests. Through a new app called Shoelace — a name designed to make you think of tying things together — users can browse through a set of hand-picked activities, or add their own to a map. For example, someone who wanted to connect with fellow dog owners could start an activity for a doggie playdate at the park, then start a group chat to coordinate the details and make new friends.

The end result feels a bit like a mashup of Facebook Events with a WhatsApp group chat, perhaps. But it’s wrapped in a clean, modern design that appeals more to the millennial or Gen Z user.

Like Meetup and others in the space, Shoelace’s focus is not on building yet another social networking app, but rather on leveraging a social app to inspire real-world connections.

This is not a novel idea. In fact, startups many times over have tried to create an alternative to Facebook by offering tools to connect users around locations or shared interests, instead of only re-creating users’ established-friend networks online. And many cities today have their own social clubs designed to help people make new friends and participate in fun, local activities.

Shoelace is still in invite-only testing and only offered in New York City, for the time being.

However, its website says that the long-term goal is to bring the app to cities nationwide after the team learns what does and does not work. There’s also a form that will allow you to request Shoelace in your own community.

Google has had a rocky history when it comes to social networking products. Its largest effort to date, Google+, finally

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How Roblox avoided the gaming graveyard and grew into a $2.5B company

How Roblox avoided the gaming graveyard and grew into a $2.5B company

July 11, 2019

There are successful companies that grow fast and garner tons of press. Then there’s Roblox, a company which took at least a decade to hit its stride and has, relative to its current level of success, barely gotten any recognition or attention.

Why has Roblox’s story gone mostly untold? One reason is that it emerged from a whole generation of gaming portals and platforms. Some, like King.com, got lucky or pivoted their business. Others by and large failed.

Once companies like Facebook, Apple and Google got to the gaming scene, it just looked like a bad idea to try to build your own platform — and thus not worth talking about. Added to that, founder and CEO Dave Baszucki seems uninterested in press.

But overall, the problem has been that Roblox just seemed like an insignificant story for many, many years. The company had millions of users, sure. So did any number of popular games. In its early days, Roblox even looked like Minecraft, a game that was released long after Roblox went live, but that grew much, much faster.

Yet here we are today: Roblox now claims that half of all American children aged 9-12 are on its platform. It has jumped to 90 million monthly unique users and is poised to go international, potentially multiplying that number. And it’s unique. Essentially all other distribution services offering games through a portal have eventually fizzled, aside from some distant cousins like Steam.

This is the story of how Roblox not only survived, but built a thriving platform.

Seeds of an idea

(Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

Before Roblox, there was Knowledge Revolution, a company that made teaching software. While designed to allow students to simulate physics experiments, perhaps predictably, they also treated it like a game.

“The fun …

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SEC approves 1st consumer RegA+ token Props for cross-app rewards

SEC approves 1st consumer RegA+ token Props for cross-app rewards

July 11, 2019

After cracking down on ICOs, the SEC just okayed the first two RegA+ tokens that offer an alternative way for anyone to gain a financial stake in a company, even unaccredited investors. Blockstack got approved for a $28 million digital token sale to raise money, while influencer live-streaming app YouNow’s spin-off Props received a formal green light for a consumer utility “Howey” token users can earn to get loyalty perks in multiple apps.

Props has already raised $21 million by pre-selling tokens to Union Square Ventures, Comcast, Venrock, Andreessen Horowitz’s Chris Dixon and YouTuber Casey Neistat, so it isn’t raising any money with the RegA+ by selling its tokens like Blockstack. Instead, users earn or “mine” Props by engaging with apps like YouNow, which will award the tokens for creating broadcasts, watching videos and tipping creators. Having more Props entitles YouNow’s 47 million registered users bonus features, VIP status and more purchasing power with the app’s proprietary credits called Bars, which users have bought $70 million-worth of to date.

But unlike most virtual currencies that can only be used in a single app and don’t technically belong to consumers, the open-sourced Props blockchain system can be integrated into other apps via an API and people can export their Props to cryptocurrency wallets. That lets them apply their Props in other apps beyond YouNow. Four partnered apps have been lined up, including xSplit, a 17 million-registered-user app for video game streaming.

While Props aren’t currently redeemable for fiat currency, they were valued at $0.1369 each by the SEC-approved filing. The company is working to have Props listed on Alternative Trading Systems that work similarly to cryptocurrency exchanges. That lets Props give everyday app users a financial incentive to see the network of apps that adopt them grow. Because there’s a finite …

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