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After Years of Development, Snap Moves Into the Next Phase of AR

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It’s been a long time coming, but this week, Snapchat announced the next stage of its augmented reality push, with the launch of the first iteration of a fully AR-enabled version of its Spectacles smart glasses.

Snapchat Spectacles AR

Though ‘launch’ is probably not the right term – this new, updated version of Spectacles, which are able to overlay digital graphics onto a person’s real-world view will not be made available to the public, but will instead be distributed to AR creators, who will then essentially partner with Snapchat to assist in the next stage of development.

The announcement is a huge step forward for AR usage, and seemingly, comes a step ahead of bigger players like Facebook and Apple which are also developing their own AR glasses.

But for Snap, this is something that’s been in the works for years, stemming back to the initial launch of Spectacles in 2016. Which, really, have always seemed intended for this next leap.

YeARs of Development

At the time that Snapchat launched Spectacles, it also changed its company description, calling itself ‘a camera company’ as opposed to a social media app.

Snapchat camera company logo

Back then, it seemed like Snap was doing this purely to avoid comparisons to Facebook – at the time, Twitter was being heavily criticized over its failure to grow at a similar rate to The Social Network. But the change actually served an important purpose, in re-aligning what Snap was aiming to achieve, which, even then, pointed to advanced development of its AR tools.

Spectacles seemed built for this, and it almost seemed like Snapchat was forced to release its camera-equipped glasses too early, before it had been able to build the required AR tech.

But Snap was already working on it – shortly after Spectacles V1 was released, Snapchat established a new research and development facility in China, close to where Spectacles were being assembled, which would give it the opportunity to develop its AR tools in secret, away from the prying eyes of western media.  

Snap also launched World Lenses just months after the Spectacles release, which again, pointed to the next stage of AR development.

Snap had the tools to create immersive, digital overlays on real-world environments, it had the hardware device on sale, which was being received with major hype. It just needed to get the two elements together.

Which, evidently, proved a lot harder in practice than Snap had seemingly anticipated.

Spectacles Stumbles

The initial version of Spectacles ending up not meeting Snap’s sales expectations, with hundreds of thousands of units ending up going unsold and sitting in storage facilities. That combined with rising success of Instagram Stories, which was a duplicate of Snapchat’s own Stories feature, seemed to pose a real threat to the very existence of the company, with debts rising, and user growth slowing, and Snap appearing to have gambled too much on the future of AR to help lift it to the next stage.

That caused a significant re-focus at the company, and in the preceding years, Snap has been able to realign its app, and the company more broadly, around a more specific, niche use case, in connecting close friends and providing a more privacy-focused approach to messaging.

From there, Snap has been able to re-grow its platform, rising from the debris left by Facebook’s replication and strengthening its main platform, which also saw massive growth when Snap updated its Android app in 2019. Long considered an afterthought for the company, Snap’s Android re-awakening has now seen it catch on with Indian users in particular, which has helped fuel nine quarters of steady growth for the app.

But AR has always been its main strength. It’s Snapchat’s Lenses that first brought many people to the app to try them out, and they continue to be a key driver of awareness. 

Snap’s AR glasses may be new, but really, this has been the company’s focus all along. It just hasn’t been able to take the leap. Until now.

The Future of Digital Connection

Make no mistake, AR is going to be huge, and will form the next stage of digital connection.

Yes, VR is also a significant advance, with major potential for building wholly immersive digital worlds. But AR can work in complement to your everyday life, and can enhance your real-world experience with helpful prompts and pointers, along with interactive games, graphics, and more.

Again, Snapchat’s Lenses have already proven to be a big winner in helping the company raise awareness, and gain market traction. Therefore, it’s easy to imagine these types of advanced overlays, which are now possible in Snap’s new Spectacles (this is an example from the actual new device), being a major winner, and helping to merge our online and real-world environments in totally new and engaging ways.

Which is why AR may end up being a bigger deal than VR. Definitely, the immersive, all-encompassing nature of VR can transport you to whole new worlds, but that also requires you to essentially leave your current world behind. AR works in complement to your actual life – so while VR establishes another plane of existence, AR enhances your current one, which will likely, eventually, make it a much more popular and valuable addition to people’s daily lives.    

And Snap may well be at the forefront of that next shift.

Sure, Facebook and Apple have more resources, and many other tech companies are also developing their own AR tools. But Snapchat has repeatedly shown that it’s highly in-touch with its user communities, with a knack for producing more engaging, interesting AR tools and options.

That may not matter in a utilitarian sense, with the eventual success of AR also hinging on what it can do for you, and how it can enhance your daily life. But Snap is also investing in new tools on this front as well, with additional scanning options and processes that will eventually power whole new experiences via its Spectacles device.

Imagine tapping on your Spectacles to get an immediate price comparison for an item that you’re looking at in-store, or getting recipe insights overlaid on your view when looking over the items in your fridge. Snap’s expanded scanning system will be able to do this, which is why Snap’s gradual shift towards making its scan tools more of a focus in the app are also significant.   

Snapchat AR scanning

After its varied experience in developing its AR tools, Snap knows that it’s not just the technology, but also user behavior that needs to evolve, which is a key element in its strategic approach towards merging people into the next stage of an AR-enabled existence.

It’s come a long way with its Spectacles device. For example, here’s what the new glasses looked like in development:

Snapchat Spectacles AR

And now, we’re into the next major shift for AR, and the next big evolution for Snapchat.

This is the focus for the company, its key chance to become a much bigger player in the market. And Snap is already investing big – it’s acquired FitAnalytics for its AR try-on tools, Pixel8Earth for expanded AR mapping, and most recently, WaveOptics, the supplier of the AR displays that form a key component of its new Spectacles offering. 

These will all play key roles in helping to shape Snap’s advance – while new integrations like this one with Disney will also help to increase awareness, and make Snap itself synonymous with AR tech.

This is a huge opportunity for Snap, one which, as noted, it’s been working towards for most of its existence.

It may not seem like it yet, but soon, AR will be a common component in many of your daily interactions, and if Snap can get it right, it will also play a key role in that process.

It’s a huge bet, but one that Snap increasingly looks to be on the right side of.

Socialmediatoday.com

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Google Outlines Ongoing Efforts to Combat China-Based Influence Operations Targeting Social Apps

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Google Outlines Ongoing Efforts to Combat China-Based Influence Operations Targeting Social Apps

Over the past year, Google has repeatedly noted that a China-based group has been looking to use YouTube, in particular, to influence western audiences, by building various channels in the app, then seeding them with pro-China content.

There’s limited info available on the full origins or intentions of the group, but today, Google has published a new overview of its ongoing efforts to combat the initiative, called DRAGONBRIDGE.

As explained by Google:

In 2022, Google disrupted over 50,000 instances of DRAGONBRIDGE activity across YouTube, Blogger, and AdSense, reflecting our continued focus on this actor and success in scaling our detection efforts across Google products. We have terminated over 100,000 DRAGONBRIDGE accounts in the IO network’s lifetime.

As you can see in this chart, DRAGONBRIDGE is by far the most prolific source of coordinated information operations that Google has detected over the past year, while Google also notes that it’s been able to disrupt most of the project’s attempted influence, by snuffing out its content before it gets seen.

Dragonbridge

Worth noting the scale too – as Google notes, DRAGONBRIDGE has created more than 100,000 accounts, which includes tens of thousands of YouTube channels. Not individual videos, entire channels in the app, which is a huge amount of work, and content, that this group is producing.

That can’t be cheap, or easy to keep running. So they must be doing it for a reason.

The broader implication, which has been noted by various other publications and analysts, is that DRAGONBRIDGE is potentially being supported by the Chinese Government, as part of a broader effort to influence foreign policy approaches via social media apps. 

Which, at this kind of scale, is a concern, while DRAGONBRIDGE has also targeted Facebook and Twitter as well, at different times, and it could be that their efforts on those platforms are also reaching similar activity levels, and may not have been detected as yet.

Which then also relates to TikTok, a Chinese-owned app that now has massive influence over younger audiences in western nations. If programs like this are already in effect, it stands to reason that TikTok is also likely a key candidate for boosting the same, which remains a key concern among regulators and officials in many nations.

The US Government is reportedly weighing a full TikTok ban, and if that happens, you can bet that many other nations will follow suit. Many government organizations are also banning TikTok on official devices, based on advice from security experts, and with programs like DRAGONBRIDGE also running, it does seem like Chinese-based groups are actively operating influence and manipulation programs in foreign nations.

Which seems like a significant issue, and while Google is seemingly catching most of these channels before they have an impact, it also seems likely that this is only one element of a larger push.

Hopefully, through collective action, the impact of such can be limited – but for TikTok, which still reports to Chinese ownership, it’s another element that could raise further questions and scrutiny.

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The Drum | Trump’s Instagram & Facebook Reinstatement Won’t Cause Marketers To Riot Yet, Experts Say

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The Drum | Trump's Instagram & Facebook Reinstatement Won’t Cause Marketers To Riot Yet, Experts Say

While the reinstatement of Donald Trump’s Twitter account in November had some advertisers packing up in protest, many will strike a different tune with Meta-owned Facebook and Instagram, experts predict.

Meta Wednesday announced that it’s lifting the ban on a handful of Facebook and Instagram accounts, including that of former US president Donald Trump – who was suspended nearly two years ago following the January 6, 2021 riots at the Capitol.

In a blog post yesterday, Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, explained the reasons for the company’s decision, saying that it “evaluated the current environment” as it pertains to the socio-political landscape and security concerns and determined that “risk has sufficiently receded.” As a result, the company will welcome Trump back onto Facebook and Instagram.

The former president will be expected to comply with Meta’s user policies, but, considering his past violations, will face “heightened penalties for repeat offenses,” Clegg explained.

While it’s unclear whether Trump will become an active user on either platform following the decision, media and marketing experts are already sounding alarm bells at his potential return.

In particular, experts are cautious considering recent developments at Twitter. Elon Musk’s turbulent takeover – which has included mass layoffs, dramatic platform changes and the decision to reinstate the accounts of controversial figures like Trump and Kanye West (whose account has since been re-suspended) – has led to an exodus of advertisers. Could Meta’s decision to reintroduce Trump invite a similar fate?

‘Fear, frustration and protest’ could catalyze drawback

Concerns regarding brand safety and suitability on Facebook and Instagram are piquing among marketers. Trump’s presence on social media has long proven to exacerbate the spread of misinformation online. The risks of a potential recession, paired with new political tensions spurred by the 2022 midterms and the anticipation of the 2024 presidential election, may only up the ante.

“Misinformation on Meta’s platforms was an issue prior to Trump’s ban, during the ban and will likely continue to be an issue, even with the new [policies that] Meta has put in place,” says Laura Ries, group director of media and connections at IPG-owned ad agency R/GA. In light of this fact, Ries says, “Advertisers will need to continue to consider the type of content they’ll show up next to when evaluating whether or not to advertise on the platforms, especially as we march toward the 2024 election.”

She predicts that Meta may see some advertisers leave Facebook and Instagram “out of fear, frustration or protest.”

Others agree. “I suspect advertisers will not be pleased with this move and might make reductions in spend as they have done with Twitter,” says Tim Lim, a political strategist, PR consultant and partner at creative agency The Hooligans.

Although some advertisers are sure to pull back or cut their investments, the number will likely be low – largely because the scale and reach promised by both Facebook and Instagram will make it hard for most advertisers to quit. Smaller brands and startups in particular often rely heavily on Meta’s advertising business to spur growth, says Ries.

A ripple, not a wave

Most industry leaders believe Trump’s reinstatement won’t cause anything more than a ripple in the advertising industry. “Marketers who advertise on Facebook and Instagram care about their own problems, which generally [entail] selling more products and services,” says Joe Pulizzi, an entrepreneur, podcaster and author of various marketing books. “If Meta helps them do that, they don’t care one bit about brand safety – unless this blows up into a big political issue again. It might not, so marketers won’t do a thing.”

The sentiment is underscored by Dr Karen Freberg, a professor of strategic communications at University of Louisville, who says: “Facebook and Instagram are key fundamental platforms for advertisers. Marketers may … be aware of the news, but I am not sure if it will make a drastic change for the industry.” She points out that Twitter’s decision to lift the ban on Trump’s account in November caused such a big stir among marketers advertisers that Meta’s decision to do the same may come as less of a shock.

Trump’s return may even benefit Meta’s ads business by giving the company new opportunities to serve ads to Trump devotees, says Pulizzi. Ultimately, he says, Meta “needs personalities like Trump,” who, whether through love or hate, inspire higher engagement. “With Facebook plateauing and Instagram now chasing – and copying – TikTok at every turn, Trump’s follower base is important to Meta, which is hard to believe, but I think it’s true.”

But while some users may be energized by the former president’s return to Meta platforms, others may be outraged – even to the point of quitting Facebook and Instagram, points out Ries. In this case, she says, “advertisers will need to follow them to TikTok, Snap or other platforms where they’re spending their newfound time.”

R/GA, for its part, which services major brands including Google, Samsung, Verizon and Slack, will work on “a client by client basis” to address concerns about Facebook, Instagram or any other platform, says Ries. “R/GA recommended pausing activity on Facebook and Instagram after the insurrection and won’t hesitate to do so again if another incident occurs.”

For more, sign up for The Drum’s daily US newsletter here.

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Snap Launches New Ad Campaign to Showcase its AR Offerings

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Snap Launches New Ad Campaign to Showcase its AR Offerings

Snapchat has launched a new promotional campaign which leans into the uniqueness of its viral AR trends, with a showcase of bizarre effects, as a means to present people with a different perspective on the real world.

Pretty trippy, huh?

As explained by Snap:

At Snap, we celebrate the joy, irreverence, and spontaneity of communicating with your real friends in fun, unexpected ways. Over the years, we’ve pushed the boundaries of how people see and experience the world through augmented reality. AR makes conversations and experiences better, and unlocks new ways to connect with others, learn about the world, shop, and more. [Our new campaign] shows you what it’s like to see the world the way Snapchatters do.”

It’s pretty weird, but will that get more people using Snap?

Certainly, the campaign will grab attention, and with 72% of active Snapchat users already engaging with AR elements in the app every day, there’s clearly a lot of interest in these types of weirdo activations that provide a new way of seeing the familiar.

Maybe that’ll prove to be a good lure to get people into the app, and broaden its user base. I mean, at the least, it’ll spark intrigue, which will likely get at least a few more people downloading the app to see what they can do.

AR is a key focus for Snap, and despite operating at a much smaller scale than Meta and Apple, which are both also investing big in AR projects, Snap has continued to punch above its wait in this area, by continually coming out with AR content that grabs attention, and engages audiences.

Meta is still struggling to maintain relevance with younger audiences, a key element that could de-rail its metaverse vision, while Apple has actually leaned on Snap to help showcase its advanced AR tools over time.

If nothing else, Snapchat has its finger on the pulse, which is why virtually every AR trend – from anime filters to baby faces, from crying faces to vomiting rainbows – all of these have originated from Snapchat, and that’s remained consistent over time, even with newer platforms like TikTok entering the same realm.

Snap is very in-tune with its user base, which is also why its Snapchat+ subscription offering is already doing better than Twitter Blue, even with the addition of tweet editing verification ticks (Snapchat+ has over 1.5 million paying subscribers, versus an estimated 325k for Twitter Blue).

That community sense has helped Snap maintain growth and relevance. But it also needs to expand – and maybe, through a bizarre showcase like this, that could help to make more people aware of the things that they can do in the app.

And this is how Snapchat Lenses tend to be shared. Somebody uses it, then they just have to show their friends.

In this respect, it seems like a good initiative, which could help Snap spark more interest and engagement.

It also serves as a demo of scanning in the Snap camera – if you want to try out any of the Lenses featured in the ad, you can scan the screen in the Snap camera, which will then open up whichever Lens is featured at that moment.

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