Open Facebook’s app, and you’ll find greetings such as “Good afternoon” and “What’s on your mind?”
Part of the allure — and criticism — of Snapchat always has been its confusing design. Users who joined a couple of years ago often had to lean on a more-informed friend to understand what different buttons did and how to take advantage of new features.
That’s not as much the case anymore. Though Snapchat still launches to a camera instead of a homepage and shies away from immediate prompts about what to post, the app quietly has made increasing use of labels and visual cues to guide new and existing users.
The latest case involved the introduction last week of virtual objects, including bubble text and 3-D rainbows, that users can interact with, resize and reposition. Users get to one of these 3-D items by tapping the camera screen. But because Snapchat hasn’t made those decorative elements movable in the past, it’s not immediately obvious that users should tap the rainbows and text and drag them to a preferred spot in the image.
The company’s solution is a helpful white-gloved hand that shows the swiping gesture. Virtual footsteps show a user that they can walk up to and around objects.
The hand, ghostly footsteps and messages like “tap ground to place” started to show up in Snapchat late last year, and they’re likely to become more common.
Blending virtual objects into reality to create games and informative experiences is core to Snapchat’s augmented reality plan. But it’s new technology for users of all ages. Snapchat maker Snap Inc. appears willing to shed some of the app’s abstruseness to encourage maximum usage of new features.
Whether the new dynamic affects user growth and the app’s intimate feel remains to be seen. The Los Angeles company reports its first quarterly financial results as a publicly traded entity May 10.
The glove was used as far back as November, according to Snap, when the company launched its Spectacles sunglasses and wanted to show people how to connect them to the app. It makes another appearance in the welcome video sent to new users.
People who have recently joined the app also now see a lot more tooltips, or explanations, of buttons on the app. For example, a three-circle icon on the right of the app is titled “Stories” for new users. Other pointers include “swipe for filters” and “hold to take a video.”
To be sure, there are plenty of unexplained elements left for new users, such as the app’s mysterious trophy case and friend-status emojis.
Leaf Group goes after new fans with Hunker, Cuteness and Sapling. Subscriptions? Not yet
Online-focused media companies all recognize the big need to generate revenue from sources beyond ads, whether that’s throwing events or selling books and merchandise. They see subscriptions as a key option too.
But many companies say their videos and articles offer nowhere near the value that would be required to get people to pay for content. That includes Leaf Group, the Santa Monica firm formerly known as Demand Media.
Leaf Group, which operates Livestrong.com and Ehow.com, has launched a group of new websites aimed at home-improvement enthusiasts (hunker.com), animal fans (cuteness.com) and people seeking personal finance tips (sapling.com).
The new generation of websites produce revenue through ad sales, just as the first wave did — despite mounting questions about the future of ads on media websites. Ad-blocking technologies, fraud and the challenge from social media ads are contributing to the concerns.
Leaf Group executive Mitchell Pavao says the company’s strategy is sound because of its expertise in ads. The new websites grew out of existing Leaf Group properties because their greater focus is more attractive to readers and advertisers.
It’s difficult to gain a follower on Facebook or Pinterest when the website is posting cat videos one second and serious human-health tips the next, he said.
Diversifying revenue is on the road map. But waiting to launch the websites until the company had a plan to persuade readers to pay for content would have meant sacrificing valuable audience-building time, said Pavao, the senior vice president for media.
“It’s smarter to start moving with what you got than wait till we’re all buttoned up because someone else might come in,” he said. “You have to have a very compelling reason why content that’s behind a paywall deserves to be behind that paywall. It’s something we’ve discussed and are exploring but we haven’t found the right mix.”
In the interim, the Internet gets another fee-free way to discover articles such as “You’ve never seen a dog ride a skateboard like this” and “As it turns out, millennial pink can also be used in a kid’s room.”
“These are absolutely creating value in the marketplace,” Pavao said. “I’m really excited about what we’re doing. But the value for a subscription service, there’s a tipping point. They’ll watch your DIY cat condo video, but for someone to do recurring payments, you’re going to have something different.”
Soylent issues another recall
A pitcher of Soylent and the package the powder comes in. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
Nutritional food-and-drink brand Soylent recalled 890 boxes of its signature powder Monday, saying the shipments accidentally may have contained milk.
The Los Angeles company blamed the cross-contamination issue on a breakdown in its manufacturers’ production and packaging processes. The recall affects 610 customers, the company said in a Food and Drug Administration notice.
It’s the third food-allergy incident for the start-up in the last year. Soylent previously halted sales of its nutrition bars and its powder after finding that people may have been intolerant to a new ingredient.
Smartphone tracking start-up Sense360 receives $7 million
Culver City market research start-up Sense360 Inc. received a $7-million investment from Firstmark, Upfront Ventures and Qualcomm Ventures.
Sense360 exchanges cash or data to get its tracking software into smartphone apps. When people use apps that have that software installed, Sense360 can identify what stores, restaurants and other places the individuals are visiting. Such insights could be of interest to a number of businesses. For instance, Chipotle could pay for a list of regular Taco Bell customers and then purchase ads directed to those people.
Elsewhere on the Web
- A WeWork space recently opened in downtown Long Beach, according to the Pasadena Star News.
- Jaanuu, a start-up developing clothes for doctors and nurses, received a $5-million investment, according to Los Angeles Business Journal.
- A San Francisco diamond manufacturing start-up backed by $100 million in venture capital has its design studio in Los Angeles, according to Inc.
- Hulu’s new live-TV streaming service will send push notifications before sports broadcasts and focus on personalizing the channel guide, according to Fortune.
- The chief executive of health technology start-up Iodine goes behind the scenes of his decision to sell to Santa Monica drug-buying start-up GoodRx, according to Inc.
- Abe Burns helps entertainers such as Chris Rock and Amy Schumer navigate online tools such Facebook Live and Indian music streaming service Saavn, according to Bloomberg.
In case you missed it
- Dietary supplement start-ups such as Ritual, Elysium and Nootrobox are peddling daily multivitamins and energy-boosting gels with transparency and testing that’s turning heads in the industry. But there are signs that these start-ups, like many supplement companies before them, leave out key facts and overstate health claims.
- Upfront Ventures plans to sell 16% of its shares in auto-buying app TrueCar, reducing its ownership stake by about two percentage points as part of a secondary offering.
- The tech industry says others, namely outsourcing firms based overseas, are exploiting the H-1B visa program. And they say if the administration cracks down on the tech industry’s foreign hiring, it could result in just the opposite of what Trump wants.
- Facebook’s been copying Snapchat. But its plan to get ahead is leaning on its force of hundreds of thousands of app makers.
Investment bank Sutton Capital Partners hosts its annual Recurring Revenue Conference, which focuses on business software and online shopping companies, on Wednesday in Marina del Rey.