Pinstagram? Instagram code reveals Public Collections feature

Instagram is threatening to attack Pinterest just as it files to go public the same way the Facebook-owned app did to Snapchat. Code buried in Instagram for Android shows the company has prototyped an option to create public “Collections” to which multiple users can contribute. Instagram launched private Collections two years ago to let you Save and organize your favorite feed posts. But by allowing users to make Collections public, Instagram would become a direct competitor to Pinterest.

Instagram public Collections could spark a new medium of content curation. People could use the feature to bundle together their favorite memes, travel destinations, fashion items or art. That could cut down on unconsented content stealing that’s caused backlash against meme “curators” like F*ckJerry by giving an alternative to screenshotting and reposting other people’s stuff. Instead of just representing yourself with your own content, you could express your identity through the things you love — even if you didn’t photograph them yourself. And if that sounds familiar, you’ll understand why this could be problematic for Pinterest’s upcoming $12 billion IPO.

The “Make Collection Public” option was discovered by frequent TechCrunch tipster and reverse engineering specialist Jane Manchun Wong. It’s not available to the public, but from the Instagram for Android code, she was able to generate a screenshot of the prototype. It shows the ability to toggle on public visibility for a Collection, and tag contributors who can also add to the Collection. Previously, Collections was always a private, solo feature for organizing your bookmarks gathered through the Instagram Save feature Instagram launched in late 2016.

Instagram told TechCrunch “we’re not testing this,” which is its standard response to press inquiries about products that aren’t available to public users, but that are in internal development. It could be a while until Instagram does start experimenting publicly with the feature and longer before a launch, and the company could always scrap the option. But it’s a sensible way to give users more to do and share on Instagram, and the prototype gives insight into the app’s strategy. Facebook launched its own Pinterest -style shareable Sets in 2017 and launched sharable Collections in December.

Currently there’s nothing in the Instagram code about users being able to follow each other’s Collections, but that would seem like a logical and powerful next step. Instagrammers can already follow hashtags to see new posts with them routed to their feed. Offering a similar way to follow Collections could turn people into star curators rather than star creators without the need to rip off anyone’s content. Speaking of infuencers, Wong also spotted Instagram prototyping IGTV picture-in-picture, so you could keep watching a long-form video after closing the app and navigating the rest of your phone.

Instagram lets users Save posts, which can then be organized into Collections

Public Collections could fuel Instagram’s commerce strategy that Mark Zuckerberg recently said would be a big part of the road map. Instagram already has a personalized Shopping feed in Explore, and The Verge’s Casey Newton reported last year that Instagram was working on a dedicated shopping app. It’s easy to imagine fashionistas, magazines and brands sharing Collections of their favorite buyable items.

It’s worth remembering that Instagram launched its copycat of Snapchat Stories just six months before Snap went public. As we predicted, that reduced Snapchat’s growth rate by 88 percent. Two years later, Snapchat isn’t growing at all, and its share price is at just a third of its peak. With more than 1 billion monthly and 500 million daily users, Instagram is four times the size of Pinterest. Instagram loyalists might find it’s easier to use the “good enough” public Collections feature where they already have a social graph than try to build a following from scratch on Pinterest.

Showfields raises $9M for a more flexible approach to brick-and-mortar retail

Showfields, which helps online brands move into offline, brick-and-mortar retail, is announcing that it has raised $9 million in seed funding.

“Our thesis was simple: Make the process of becoming physical as easy as becoming digital,” co-founder and CEO Tal Zvi Nathanel told me.

I’ve written about other companies, like Bulletin, promising a more flexible approach to real-world retail. But one of the things that’s impressive about Showfields is the sheer size of its flagship space — Nathanel said the company has signed a lease for 14,000 square feet in New York City’s NoHo neighborhood.

When I visited the Showfields store last week, only the first floor was open, but it’s already home to a number of brands, ranging from mattress company Boll & Branch, to fitness company Cityrow, to toothbrush company Quip.

Each brand gets their own separate, dedicated space. For example, in the Cityrow space, I got to sit down and try out the rowing machine, while the Quip area had a mock-up bathroom sink to display the toothbrushes.

“This space is about [the brand], not about Showfields,” Nathanel said. “We really look at ourselves as a stage.”

Quip in Showfields

He added that brands can sign-up online to create a pop-up store, providing input while Showfields designs and builds the space. The brand also decides which goods to sell in the store, and which ones to highlight via a touchscreen display. And they can choose whether to have a dedicated staff member, or to share staff with neighboring brands.

Nathanel said the spaces can be designed around different goals — one brand might focus on driving sales, while another might simply want to grow consumer awareness. In each case, Showfields will also provide data so they can see how the space is performing.

The brands pay Showfields a monthly fee, with a minimum four-month commitment. Nathanel emphasized that Showfields doesn’t make any money on the product sales, which he said allows the company to offer a more “curated” and “customer-centric experience.”

Ultimately, Nathanel said the Showfields approach can also result in a more varied and dynamic retail environment (after all, Showfields bills itself as “the most interesting store in the world”). And naturally, he’s hoping to bring this to additional cities, though he declined to offer specifics, beyond saying, “Before the end of the year, we’re hoping to have more Showfields.”

Showfields

The seed funding was led by Hanaco Ventures, with participation from SWaN & Legend Venture Partners, Rainfall Ventures, Communitas Capital and IMAX CEO Richard Gelfond.

In a statement, Hanaco general partner Lior Prosor predicted the rise of “experiential retail,” which will be “focused on doing everything that e-commerce cannot do well – enabling discovery, trial, and the use of all five senses to come to a purchasing decision.”

“We truly believe that by being consumer-centric at their core, [Showfields’] founding team and product will make them a category leader in this space,” Prosor said.

Circle raises $20M Series B to help even more parents limit screen time

Circle makes a fantastic screen time management tool and today the company announced a round of funding to help fuel its growth. The $20 million Series B included participation from Netgear and T-Mobile, along with Third Kind Venture Capital and follow-on investments from Relay Ventures and other Series A participants.

With this round of funding, Circle has raised more than $30 million to date, including a Series A from 2017.

According to the company, Circle intends to use the funds to expand its product offering and form new partnerships with hardware makers and mobile carriers.

The timing is perfect. Parents are increasingly looking at ways to make sure children and teenagers do not become addicted to screens.

Circle works different from other solutions attempting to limit screen time. It’s hardware based and sits plugged into a home’s network. It allows an administrator, like a parent, to easily restrict the amount of time a device, such as an iPhone owned by a child, is able to access the local network. It’s easy and that’s the point.

Circle sits in a small, but growing field of services attempting to give parents the ability to limit their child’s screen time. Some of these solutions, like Apple’s, sit in the cloud. And though Apple’s works well, it is limited to iOS and Mac OS devices. Others, like those on Netgear’s Orbi products, offer a similar network-wide net, but are much harder to use than Circle.

In my household we use tools like Circle. The lure of the screen is just too great and these solutions, when used in combination with traditional parenting, ensure my children stare into the real world — at least for a few minutes a day.