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Meta Tests New Avatar Reactions in Instagram Stories

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A key element of Meta’s metaverse push is the use of digital avatars in more ways, as it looks to turn these virtual representations into more habitual interaction tools, in all aspects.

The main platform in this respect is VR, with users interacting via their cartoonish proxies within wholly immersive spaces. But Meta also wants to enable non-VR users to engage in the same way, with the characters that they choose to represent themselves becoming a more prominent extension of their personality and presence.

To do that, Meta needs to make its avatars more engaging, and more customizable, which it’s already doing with the implementation of 3D avatars on Facebook, Messenger and within stickers on Instagram.

And now, Meta’s taking the next steps, with some users now seeing avatar reactions as an option within Instagram Stories.

As you can see in this example, shared by user Pururaj Dutta, some users are now seeing a new prompt to use either ‘Emoji’ or ‘Avatar’ reactions to Stories. Tap on the ‘Avatar’ option and you’ll be directed to create your custom avatar character (if you haven’t already) before being presented with a range of custom sticker responses, using your character.

It’s another way to get more users creating custom characters, which, again, is part of Meta’s broader push to turn this into a more common, habitual engagement behavior, with a view to these depictions becoming the way that you represent yourself online.

Which would then have a range of expanded applications.

Interacting within virtual worlds – or the metaverse – is the main push, but the broader implementation of custom digital characters will also provide new opportunities for Meta to sell virtual items within its evolving spaces.

For example, Snapchat already has a range of corporate-sponsored items available for its Bitmoji avatar characters, enabling users to dress up their avatars in adidas, Nike and other well-known brands.

It doesn’t cost anything, right now, to dress your character up in these digital clothing variations, but the eventual expansion of avatar usage will see increased demand for exclusive items and customizations, that the platforms will be able to charge for, as people look to adopt more unique, more elusive variations that can give them a level of prestige within the virtual realm.

That’s already happening in existing metaverse-type spaces, with limited edition skins in Fortnite and Roblox enabling users to display their experience and skill via earned or purchased avatar clothing and additions.

Indeed, a virtual Gucci bag sold for $4,000 on Roblox last year, and it’s this next-level push that platforms and brands are eyeing as a major opportunity, enabling them to not only promote real world items via digital depictions, but to also create a whole new marketplace of entirely digital goods.

Gucci bag in Roblox

That may seem like an odd concept to many. Why would people pay for a bag that can only be displayed in a digital world – you can’t even open it or put anything in it?

That may be true, but we’re already witnessing an emerging marketplace for such items, in the rise of NFTs, which has died down somewhat more recently, but serves as an initial signal of the next stage of digital commerce, where people will pay to own something that’s not physical, but can be attached to their online persona.

Most NFT projects, however, are useless. The NFT market has quickly been flooded by scammers looking to make a quick buck, as opposed to providing a new opportunity for artists to make money from their work, and every swindle and controversy further erodes confidence in the space, which has turned many ‘investors’ away.

I say ‘investors’ as that’s what many NFT enthusiasts seem themselves as – suddenly every tech bro and Gary Vee acolyte has become an art critic that sees future value in these unique works, which they believe will appreciate over time.

But they won’t. The true value of NFTs, as a concept, is in facilitating the purchase of virtual items that can then be linked to your identity, with, ideally, the capability to then take your virtual items with you across VR realms and spaces – like wearing your Roblox character skin to a work meeting via Zoom.

In this sense, NFTs have value as a framework, of sorts, for purchasing useable, displayable virtual items. Random profile pictures of monkeys don’t have that value – and hand-drawn pictures by Gary Vee definitely won’t hold unique interest beyond his legion of fans.

In essence, current NFT collectors are only right on one thing – that they’re early, getting in on the ground floor on a trend that will become more significant over time. The problem is that the ‘investments’ that they’re making now won’t hold any real value in the next stage – which is why every NFT project is now trying to add in value via community benefits and access, which won’t be worth much in future.

NFTs as an infrastructure for purchasing virtual clothing, however, now that has potential, and it may well be that owning a virtual Gucci bag that can be attached to your identity will have real, appreciating value as the use of these avatars, and the adoption of virtual worlds expands.

But people won’t be visiting virtual art galleries and bidding on first edition Bored Apes. Actually, maybe Bored Apes will hold some value as a sign of the times, while works by Beeple, for example, also have a cultural value that could see them retain some significance. But the vast majority of profile picture NFT projects will be a fad, a marker of the next stage, but not, in themselves, a valuable artifact for the next generation.

But no one wants to miss the boat. Many investors dismissed Facebook early on, and missed out on buying in, the same with Twitter and many other significant tech shifts. That’s why people are jumping into NFTs, hoping to latch onto the next stage – and while they are indeed early in this sense, they’re likely too early to be going all in.

But the next level is coming, and digital products will be a thing. Meta’s looking to find more ways to fuel this shift. And eventually, that will work, one way or another.

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Twitter Expands Access to Twitter Blue, Announces New Incentives for Signing Up

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Twitter Expands Access to Twitter Blue, Announces New Incentives for Signing Up

Twitter is making its next big push on Twitter Blue subscriptions, as Elon Musk and Co. look to build Twitter Blue into a more significant revenue driver for the app.

First off, Twitter has now expanded Twitter Blue access to Saudi Arabia, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain, which will enable millions more Twitter users to potentially sign-up for a verification tick.

I mean, most probably won’t, going on what we’ve seen thus far, but it will likely swell Twitter Blue sign-ups by another few thousand, adding more cash to Twitter’s coffers.

Twitter’s also looking to further incentivize Blue sign-up by offering revenue share for ads shown in reply threads.

The idea here is that if users write interesting tweets, they would get compensated for the discussion they generate – but you need to be signed up to Twitter Blue to get it.

Elon hasn’t shared any further info on potential revenue split or process at this stage.

Twitter’s also looking to bring back an improved Spaces/podcast experience, as a Twitter Blue exclusive, while Musk has also hinted at allowing some users to avoid having to pay for basic API access, when it becomes unavailable next week, if they sign-up.

Oh, and Twitter’s gold checkmarks for business? Yeah, they’re likely going to be expensive if you want them.

Can’t imagine many brands are going to fork out $12,000 a year for a profile badge, along with $50 per staff member you want to add.

But maybe, Elon and Co. have some more tricks up their sleeve here, and they’ll eventually offer more incentives for businesses to sign-up.

But right now, that’s pretty steep.

And also, ‘legacy’ checkmarks will apparently be gone within the next few months.

All of these elements combined could juice Twitter Blue take-up, though it’s still hard to see it becoming the major contributor to Twitter’s revenue as Elon envisions.

At present, based on third-party tracking, the new Twitter Blue program looks to have around 300,000 subscribers, bringing in an extra $2.4 million per month, and $7.2 million per quarter.

Which is pretty good – but again, it’s still a long way from where Twitter wants subscription revenue to be.

When initially outlining his Twitter 2.0 reformation plans, Musk said that he wants to make subscription revenue around 50% of Twitter’s overall intake. That would serve two purposes – if the majority of users sign-up, Twitter can then use Twitter Blue as a form of ‘payment verification’, meaning that those accounts that don’t have a blue tick are increasingly likely to be bots. It would also reduce Twitter’s reliance on ads, which would give Musk more freedom to make moderation decisions as he likes, without considering potential ad placement concerns.

But in order to do this, Twitter needs a lot more users to sign up.

Twitter’s revenue in Q2 2022, the last time it publicly reported its numbers, was $1.18 billion, meaning that Twitter Blue would need to be bringing in around $590 million per quarter to meet that 50% goal.

Which is about 81x what Twitter Blue is currently bringing in, while at 300k sign-ups, that’s also only 0.12% of Twitter’s active user base that’s currently paying for a blue tick.

That’s likely why Twitter is making a new push on the program, in a bid to jack those numbers up, and maybe, in combination with businesses that do end up forking over $1k per month, it could become a more significant element in Twitter’s revenue make-up.

But 50% of revenue still seems like a lofty goal.

It’s also still confusing as to why anyone would pay, because as soon as you do, you’re devaluing the whole point of the verification checkmark in the first place.

The initial blue ticks were designed to delineate noteworthy users and organizations, which Twitter didn’t always get right, but for the most part, you knew that a blue tick account was likely someone who had relevant, authoritative things to say.   

Now, it’s just anyone who can afford it, and with Twitter looking to increase the reach of tweets from Blue accounts, that also means that the app is increasingly becoming more ‘pay to play’ for regular users, with the blue ticks becoming increasingly meaningless from a functional perspective.

And the logic behind them becomes more diluted with every person who signs up. Eventually, all the blue checkmark will mean is that this person can afford to pay – and who cares? Why do they need a blue tick, from a user perspective, to show that they have enough money to spend?

It sort of feels like the NFT trend of 2021, but worse, because it’s replacing an existing system that did serve a purpose.

In any event, Twitter’s not backing away from its Blue subscription plan, and its hopes of maximizing revenue intake, in any way it can, to keep the company afloat.

Which, given the extra debt it’s been saddled with in the Elon deal, is even tougher than ever – but maybe, in combination with everything else, subscriptions will form enough of an extra income stream to meaningfully contribute to its plans.



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Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer: Born or made great?

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The Big 3 have won a total of 56 Grand Slams in their career.

Ecogastronomy, puppet arts, viticulture and enology, influencer marketing, or bakery science. In 2022, you can become anything you want and there are even specialized undergraduate degrees to help you gain all the relevant skills at university. Essentially, you can now be academically trained in any subject and learn practically everything you need to excel at your job.

In the context of sports, and particularly tennis, this is no different. There are plenty of degrees you can pursue to complement your career as an athlete, physiotherapist, or coach with useful knowledge about the human body, anatomy, and health.

This basically means that professional tennis players of the 21st century can complement their extraordinary talent and training routine with a relevant education and an elite team of professional and eminent physiotherapists, coaches, PR, and strategists. Ultimately, players have countless tools that can help them win matches, stay healthy, and be well-liked by the press and the fans.

You can find these ‘A teams’ all around the tour nowadays: players of the former next gen have taken advantage of their early success to incorporate experts on every specialty into their team and others like Carlos Alcaraz or Holger Rune have come directly in the tour alongside first-class teams headed by former World No. 1 and Slam champion Juan Carlos Ferrero and respected coach Patrick Mouratoglou respectively.

Understandably, tennis legends who have been on tour for almost two decades have progressively adapted to the quest for perfection too. You must remember Novak Djokovic’s radical diet change mid-career or Rafael Nadal’s loyal sports doctor for most of his injury-prone career.

21st-century professional tennis players have learned it all as far as tennis skills are concerned. In fact, objectively any top-100 player can produce Djokovesque cross-court backhands or Nadalese down-the-line forehands any time – we have seen rallies of the highest level in practices, Challengers and junior tournaments.

So, one must think that if every player on the tour can produce top-level tennis and is surrounded by the perfect team, what is stopping them from winning 20+ Grand Slam titles like Nadal, Roger Federer, and Djokovic?


Nadal, Federer and Djokovic — the Big 3

Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in discussion at the 2022 Laver Cup.
Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in discussion at the 2022 Laver Cup.

The Big 3 — Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic — are living proof that in life there are things you just can’t learn, despite our self-help books saying otherwise. Tennis is different from other mainstream sports in that it remains an individual and extremely mental sport.

These three players belong at a higher level than anyone else, and it is not only the 63 combined Slam titles that separate them from their opponents. It is clearly not their physical form either, quite the opposite currently. It is the ability to remain serene, focused, confident, and indifferent to the crowd, pressure, and expectations, to play one point at a time, whether it is a break or a championship point, and to extract it from the surrounding context.

Being the best of all time does, however, not imply being the better player in all matches. We don’t have to go far back to find an example of a time when Nadal and Djokovic were the clear underdogs in a match. For instance, in Wimbledon 2022 we saw Nadal win a match with an abdominal tear and an average 80-mph serve speed (on a grasscourt!) against Taylor Fritz, a top American player in his best-ever season.

In essence, the three GOATs have had the ability to know how to win even when they are the worst players on the court, and if that greatness is something we all could learn or train for, it would stop being called so and we would see it more often.

Whether it is the experience, intelligence or just intrinsic and unique talent that has led to Big 3’s unprecedented achievements we won’t ever exactly know and, I am afraid, they are giving no opportunity to the so-called Next Gen to even dream of replicating their record book and help us make sense of what it takes to become a tennis master.

In any case, we can only feel extremely fortunate to have lived on the same timeline as the greatest trivalry in sports history. All of us, but the Next Gen, can only hope Nadal and Djokovic do not follow Federer’s retirement path anytime soon. And one only needs to watch their last matches against each other to (rightfully) assume that might not happen anytime soon.

What is the foot injury that has troubled Rafael Nadal over the years? Check here

Poll : Who will end up with most Grand Slam titles?

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Meta Could be Exploring Paid Blue Checkmarks on Facebook and Instagram

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Meta Could be Exploring Paid Blue Checkmarks on Facebook and Instagram

It seems like Elon Musk’s chaotic management approach at Twitter is having some broader impacts, with more companies reportedly considering lay-offs in the wake of Musk culling 70% of Twitter staff (and keeping the app running), and Meta now apparently also considering charging for blue checkmarks in its apps.

Yes, the Twitter Blue approach to making people pay for verification, which hasn’t proven overly popular on Twitter itself, is now also seemingly in consideration at Meta as well.

According to a new finding by reverse engineering pro Alessandro Paluzzi, there’s a new mention in the codebase of both Facebook and Instagram of a ‘paid blue badge’.

Paluzzi also shared a screenshot of the code with TechCrunch:

That does appear to refer to a subscription service for both apps, which could well give you a blue verification badge as a result.

Mets has neither confirmed nor denied the project, but it does seem, at least on the surface, that it’s considering offering checkmarks as another paid option – which still seems strange, considering the original purpose of verification, which is to signify noteworthy people or profiles in the app.

If people can just buy that, then it’s no longer of any value, right?

Evidently, that’s not the case, and with Twitter already bringing in around $7 million per quarter from Twitter Blue subscriptions, maybe Meta’s looking for a means to supplement its own intake, and make up for lost ad dollars and/or rising costs of its metaverse development.

It seems counter-intuitive, but I guess, if people will pay, and the platforms aren’t concerned about there being confusion as to what the blue ticks actually mean.

I guess, more money is good?

Meta has, in the past, said that it won’t charge a subscription fee to access its apps. But this, of course, would be supplemental – users wouldn’t have to pay, but they could buy a blue checkmark if they wanted, and use the implied value of recognition for their own purposes.

Which seems wrong, but tough times, higher costs – maybe every app needs to start digging deeper.

Meta hasn’t provided any info or confirmation at this stage, but we’ll keep you updated on any progress.



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