A Real-Life Alternative to the Metaverse
With limited commentary on Elon Musk + Twitter.
Welcome to Edition No. 12 of my weekly digital strategy newsletter, providing practical analysis of the latest in the world of content creation.
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I. News: Elon Musk’s Plans for Twitter
II. Analysis: Snapchat Continues To Go Its Own Way
III. Tip: Google Analytics 4: Landing Page Report
ELON MUSK AND ‘FREE SPEECH’
Elon Musk and Twitter have reached an agreement for the Tesla CEO to buy the company.
On March 26, he posted this criticism of Twitter:
Elon Musk @elonmuskFree speech is essential to a functioning democracy. Do you believe Twitter rigorously adheres to this principle?
He replied to himself with the question, “Is a new platform needed?”
Apparently the answer is no, given that he’s bought an existing social network instead of creating a new one. And while the deal still has to be approved, one of Musks’ biggest gripes has been that Twitter doesn’t truly allow “free speech.”
“By ‘free speech’, I simply mean that which matches the law,” Musk tweeted Tuesday. “I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law.”
(It’s interesting that he specified “far beyond the law” and not just “beyond the law.”)
The issue many raised against Musk’s takeover is the fear that President Donald Trump (and others who have been banned) could be allowed back on the platform, as well as more flexibility overall as to what’s permitted in tweets.
In other words, many of the protections Twitter put in place to prevent personal attacks under the guise of free speech may return. And that would be especially bad for journalists, who are some of the most avid users of the platform.
If you would like more coverage on this tiresome topic, search “Elon Musk Twitter” on Google.
SNAPCHAT ‘DIRECTOR MODE’
Director Mode is a new set of camera and editing tools within Snapchat that make it easy to create polished content, or enhance every day moments captured with our camera that grab the viewer’s attention.
No stranger to having its features copied (see Analysis section), Snap is taking a page from BeReal, adding front-and-back “Dual Camera” capabilities.
We're also making it easier to seamlessly transform the background of your videos on Snapchat with Green Screen mode, and our Quick Edit feature lets you take and edit together multiple Snaps with ease.
🛠 Why does this matter? Snap must keep up with its competitors who continue catering to the creator economy. These tools will make it easer for users to make premium-level content directly on the app instead of, say, uploading a TikTok to Snapchat, or leaving their best content on other platforms altogether.
Reels make up for more than 20 percent of time spent by Instagram users, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg shared on Wednesday’s Q1 earnings call. But the company still makes more money from Feeds and Stories.
🛠 Why does this matter? Meta continues to push users to create Reels – it’s primary weapon against TikTok, which it copied from TikTok – but has yet to see a proportional impact on its bottom line. Keep an eye out for how they could further facilitate the prominence of this product on their platforms, especially Instagram.
PROFILE PINNING ON INSTAGRAM
Twitter and TikTok already have similar features.
🛠 Why does this matter? Once someone follows you, it’s a small percentage that come back to your profile page again. That is, they usually see your content in their Feed and interact with it there.
I have always thought that the No. 1 benefit of pinning posts is that if someone comes to your profile for the first time, and is deciding whether to follow you, it’s a great way to put your “best” work front and center. (Think of channel intro videos on YouTube.)
For creators running contests, promotions or collaborations, it’s also a great way to give your most valuable post more prominence during a particular campaign.
SUPER THANKS FOR EVERYONE
Super Thanks (formerly known as Viewer applause) lets creators earn a different source of revenue and connect with viewers who want to show extra gratitude for their content.
This can be setup by going to studio.youtube.com and clicking on the Monetization tab.
🛠 Why does this matter? If you’re part of the YPP*, this is another potential income source, in addition to shared advertising revenue.
*To apply, you need 1,000+ followers and 4,000+ watch hours on currently public videos
Don’t Sleep on Snapchat
I remember when Instagram added Stories – its biggest previous copycat feature before Reels – in 2016.
Reels have been ripped from TikTok, while Stories, of course, were the trademark feature of Snapchat. And when founder Evan Spiegel rebuffed Mark Zuckerberg’s $3 billion offer nearly 10 years ago, Facebook tried to kill the yellow competitor that was suddenly stealing millions of next-generation users, much like TikTok is doing now.
With the advent of Insta Stories, I was one of many users who let the Snapchat app collect dust on my home screen while opting for the more “mainstream” and still hip Instagram. Millions of others didn’t follow suit.
To wit, the platform has more than 300 million daily active users – a 20 percent year-over-year increase – as of Q4 2021.
From a 2017 CNBC article:
“The death knell for Snapchat was Instagram Stories,” said David Pierpont, vice president of performance media for Ansira, a digital ad agency with more than 100 clients, referring to a video-sharing feature launched last August.
(According to LinkedIn, Pierpont no longer works for Ansira.)
And while the company formerly known as Facebook continues to throw its weight behind the metaverse, upon which its new name (Meta) is based, Snap is somewhat quietly going in a different direction.
Central to Snap Inc.’s future plans are two hardware products: Spectacles and Pixy.
The former has been around for years and had mixed success upon launch. (In fact, I waited in line – or on line, as they say there – in frigid Midtown Manhattan for more than nine hours to snag a pair in Dec. 2016.)
The latter, a pocket-sized drone, became available yesterday, April 28, for $229.99.
These products – particularly Spectacles – are designed to enhance a user’s augmented reality experience while using Snapchat. And the Metaverse? Don’t even bring it up.
But, Spiegel says, the word “metaverse” is never uttered in Snap’s offices.
“The reason why we don’t use that word is because it’s pretty ambiguous and hypothetical. Just ask a room of people how to define it, and everyone’s definition is totally different.
Let’s start with Pixy, in Spiegel’s own words:
“Everything you need to capture the spontaneity and fun of the moment from new perspectives is right in the palm of your hand,” Spiegel said. “There are no controllers. There’s no complex set-up. Simply select a flight path and let Pixy take it from there, floating above you as it captures photos and videos. And it knows when and where to return, landing gently in the palm of your hand.”
A few details that stood out to me from the Verge’s video review:
It’s very “approachable.” That is, it’s easy for anyone to use, even if it’s their first drone
It weighs 101g, which is not enough to withstand strong winds
The batteries only work for 5-10 “flights,” and you can purchase extras
The video quality is subpar, but that’s more noticeable on a computer, where you’re unlikely to view these videos, than on a phone
I can’t think of a scenario in which I would be willing to pay more $229.99 for this device. But there’s no reason to believe Snap is counting on this as a significant revenue source, either.
As for Spectacles:
Snap’s latest Spectacles have only shipped in prototype form to creators around the world: with a 15- to 30-minute battery life and a severely restricted display, they are intended to inspire creators with the possibility of future versions of the same hardware. But, Spiegel says, the next generation is already in development.
This bit, for me, makes it a more appealing product:
Another feature lets two users of the same AR lens interact with each other for the first time, occupying the same virtual spaces and playing the same games.
Spectacles allow you to connect with others in the real world. They also make it easier to blend in if you’re self-conscious about a yellow drone following you around. And there’s a lot lower chance of damaging some glasses on your head than a flimsy drone in the sky.
In the metaverse, there’s no real limit to how many others with whom you can interact, because you’re on a virtual network. In augmented reality, however, you can only interact with those who are in your immediate vicinity, since, as the name suggests, reality is merely augmented, not virtually replaced.
Some big downsides to a limitless virtual reality – none of them unfamiliar – have already surfaced:
I’m not so naïve as to argue that things can’t go wrong in a different way in augmented reality, but there are a lot more inherent protections.
VR enables people to do things they wouldn’t otherwise dare in the real world. AR, at its foundation, is the real world, imperfect but still self-contained.
This quotation best exhibits Spiegel’s confidence in the direction of his company, and his disdain for Menlo Park giant that once tried to buy it (emphasis mine):
“But one of the big overarching concepts people have is that a lot of those tools are designed to replace reality. Whereas when we talk about AR, we’re trying to augment the real world around you. So our fundamental bet is that people actually love the real world: they want to be together in person with their friends.
“And, of course, our vision is real today, with glasses that you can use today, and a platform that works at scale today. So we try to stay away from those hypotheticals, because we’re focused on what we’re building right now.”
In other words, Meta (and everyone else pursuing VR) doesn’t yet have 100 percent clarity on what they’re building, nor what they’re building it for. The metaverse is in fact hypothetical.
The real world, on the other hand, is a sure bet in the sense that it is what it is. What you see is what you get. Even if you’re seeing it from an, er, augmented perspective.
Will Snap’s augmented reality aspirations be enough to stay relevant amid the metaverse’s development? Let me know below in the comments.
Google Analytics 4: Landing Page Report
In Google Universal Analytics, there’s a handy default report called “Landing Pages” in the Behavior dashboard.
That report does not exist in Google Analytics 4. At least not by default. So this week, I’m going to show you how to do it.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term “landing page,” it’s basically the first page someone sees upon entering your website in a given session. So if they click an article link that someone tweeted, they will enter your website via that article, which will be the user’s landing page for that session.
Or if someone directly types yourwebsite.com and lands on your homepage, that would be their landing page.
So, how can we see this data in Google Analytics 4?
In the Explore section, select a session-based landing page segment. Then, set a page title dimension as your row and a sessions value as your column. That’s it. Now you have a landing page report.
For detailed screenshots and instructions: Google Analytics 4 Landing Page Report.
And here’s a more visual tutorial on Instagram:
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