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Monthly Archives: June 2018

Leena AI builds HR chatbots to answer policy questions automatically

June 30, 2018 No Comments

Say you have a job with a large company and you want to know how much vacation time you have left, or how to add your new baby to your healthcare. This usually involves emailing or calling HR and waiting for an answer, or it could even involve crossing multiple systems to get what you need.

Leena AI, a member of the Y Combinator Summer 2018 class, wants to change that by building HR bots to answer questions for employees instantly.

The bots can be integrated into Slack or Workplace by Facebook and they are built and trained using information in policy documents and by pulling data from various back-end systems like Oracle and SAP.

Adit Jain, co-founder at Leena AI, says the company has its roots in another startup called Chatteron, which the founders started after they got out of college in India in 2015. That product helped people build their own chatbots. Jain says along the way, they discovered while doing their market research a particularly strong need in HR. They started Leena AI last year to address that specific requirement.

Jain says when building bots, the team learned through its experience with Chatteron that it’s better to concentrate on a single subject because the underlying machine learning model gets better the more it’s used. “Once you create a bot, for it to really add value and be [extremely] accurate, and for it to really go deep, it takes a lot of time and effort and that can only happen through verticalization,” Jain explained.

Photo: Leena AI

What’s more, as the founders have become more knowledgeable about the needs of HR, they have learned that 80 percent of the questions cover similar topics, like vacation, sick time and expense reporting. They have also seen companies using similar back-end systems, so they can now build standard integrators for common applications like SAP, Oracle and NetSuite.

Of course, even though people may ask similar questions, the company may have unique terminology or people may ask the question in an unusual way. Jain says that’s where the natural language processing (NLP) comes in. The system can learn these variations over time as they build a larger database of possible queries.

The company just launched in 2017 and already has a dozen paying customers. They hope to double that number in just 60 days. Jain believes being part of Y Combinator should help in that regard. The partners are helping the team refine its pitch and making introductions to companies that could make use of this tool.

Their ultimate goal is nothing less than to be ubiquitous, to help bridge multiple legacy systems to provide answers seamlessly for employees to all their questions. If they can achieve that, they should be a successful company.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Most common, yet troubling WordPress errors and their solutions

June 30, 2018 No Comments

Running a WordPress website or a blog is exciting. The thrill of being able to share your content with your audience at ease is the driving factor in why WordPress powers over 30% of all the websites. A people’s platform, WordPress is a popular Content Management System (CMS) for new and experienced users alike.

WordPress however, does offer its fair share of issues that trouble its users. Some of these issues are generic and can be addressed with small amendments. Other complications with the system demand a technical learning curve to solve. This article highlights the common issues and how to solve them.

Issues with themes and plugins

Themes and plugins are essentially the structures that support WordPress’ framework. Users often have to deal with issues related to them.

Theme issues:

  • Theme installation failed
  • Missing stylesheet
  • Sample data import errors
  • HomePage not similar to the demo etc.

The root cause of such theme related issues could be that something is missing in the zip folder or you could have simply missed uploading the root theme folder.

For sample data import errors, you can try any of these solutions:

  • Once you have activated the theme, make a check and ensure that your theme includes custom post types and taxonomies
  • If you fail to import media, you can open the sample data in a text editor and try and locate one of those files and test the link in your browser
  • Alternatively, you can get in touch with the theme developer and share your issues if you are unable to address them successfully.

Plugin issues:

Regularly updating and ensuring that you download plugins from reliable sources can reduce risk. However, some errors still creep in which can be dealt with in the following manner.

  • Some plugin updates go along with the latest update of your WordPress version. Make sure you don’t miss them.
  • Plugins can be complex to set up and require careful configuration. Make sure that you are meticulous with the plugin documentation and follow instructions.
  • Always upload your plugins to the right folder: wp-content/plugins
  • If everything else fails, get in touch with the Plugin developer to seek your answers.

Lost WordPress admin password

Losing your WordPress site’s login password can cause real issues.

If you can successfully retrieve it through the emailed link request – you are one of the lucky ones. A lot of WordPress admins never receive these emails in their inbox.

You can try resetting the email and password through the phpMyAdmin option. To do so, you will have to login to your cpanel, locate the phpMyAdmin and select the database option of your WordPress website.

  • Click on the wp_users table to enter a new username and password
  • Move to ‘Functions’ and click the MD5 option as it highly recommended
  • Save the changes and you will be able to access your site’s admin dashboard.

Another way around this is to edit your theme’s functions.php file. Make the following additions and save the file to upload it. You can login to the dashboard and remove the code from the file after yet another upload.

wp_set_password(‘DesiredNewPassword’,1);

A hacked WordPress site

A hacked WordPress website is unfortunately a common issue. It can only be dealt with by the implementation of a robust website monitoring security system and with a WordPress security plugin in place. You can also try hiding your site’s login page or integrate 2-factor authentication to make sure that you have ample time to act before your website is attacked.

The white screen of death

The most common WordPress error is the ‘white screen of death’. To make sure that things get back to the normal, you can try checking if your existing theme or the installed plugins are facing some compatibility issues. This method however could result in a lengthy process and requires you to deactivate all the plugins and reactivate them one by one to figure out the one that has been causing the trouble.

If you have been locked out of your dashboard, you can go the FTP way.

The other way of fixing your site’s white screen of death error is by increasing the PHP memory limit via FTP where you will be prompted to edit your wp-config.php. All you need to do is add the following code snippet at the bottom of the wp-config.php file

define( ‘WP_MEMORY_LIMIT’, ‘256M’ );

Dealing with spam

Spam is a recurrent issue faced by many new WordPress site owners.

The only way to deal with spam is by downloading and installing anti-spam plugins such as the Akismet plugin. You should also make sure that you cut out user-generated spam on your site’s group or forums to keep the situation under control. Eliminating spam is generally a great way to speed up your WordPress site.

Error 404

One of the most irritating WordPress errors is where the site posts return a 404 Error when your website is unable to locate a page that you are trying to access. To fix WordPress posts returning 404 error, you can generate a new .htaccess file by navigating to Settings > Permalinks. Just remember to  click on save changes.

Error establishing a database connection

If your website has been hacked or if there is an issue with your site’s web host provider, your website might run a message mentioning an error establishing a database connection.

To fix the issue, you can check your wp-config.php file to see if any of the information such as the username, database name, password, and host are all correct and not missing.

If the error continues, you can try repairing the error by adding the following line to initiate the repair of the database. Just be sure that this code is removed from the wp-config file to avoid public access.

define (‘WP_ALLOW_REPAIR’, true);.”

However, if everything is intact and the error prevails, you can seek assistance from your host provider regarding the error as it might be taking place due to issues at their end.

Conclusion

There are unfortunately another hundred WordPress errors that demand a space in this article, but we have captured the most common ones that can be dealt with easy tweaks. These errors occur to make sure that all your website elements are in their right places before it’s too late to make a change and your website might go missing, entirely.

 

Pawan Sahu is a digital marketer and passionate blogger at MarkupTrend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Search Engine Watch


Tinder bolsters its security to ward off hacks and blackmail

June 29, 2018 No Comments

This week, Tinder responded to a letter from Oregon Senator Ron Wyden calling for the company to seal up security loopholes in its app that could lead to blackmail and other privacy incursions.

In a letter to Sen. Wyden, Match Group General Counsel Jared Sine describes recent changes to the app, noting that as of June 19, “swipe data has been padded such that all actions are now the same size.” Sine added that images on the mobile app are fully encrypted as of February 6, while images on the web version of Tinder were already encrypted.

The Tinder issues were first called out in a report by a research team at Checkmarx describing the app’s “disturbing vulnerabilities” and their propensity for blackmail:

The vulnerabilities, found in both the app’s Android and iOS versions, allow an attacker using the same network as the user to monitor the user’s every move on the app. It is also possible for an attacker to take control over the profile pictures the user sees, swapping them for inappropriate content, rogue advertising or other type of malicious content (as demonstrated in the research).

While no credential theft and no immediate financial impact are involved in this process, an attacker targeting a vulnerable user can blackmail the victim, threatening to expose highly private information from the user’s Tinder profile and actions in the app.

In February, Wyden called for Tinder to address the vulnerability by encrypting all data that moves between its servers and the app and by padding data to obscure it from hackers. In a statement to TechCrunch at the time, Tinder indicated that it heard Sen. Wyden’s concerns and had recently implemented encryption for profile photos in the interest of moving toward deepening its privacy practices.

“Like every technology company, we are constantly working to improve our defenses in the battle against malicious hackers and cyber criminals,” Sine said in the letter. “… Our goal is to have protocols and systems that not only meet, but exceed industry best practices.”


Social – TechCrunch


Apple is rebuilding Maps from the ground up

June 29, 2018 No Comments

I’m not sure if you’re aware, but the launch of Apple Maps went poorly. After a rough first impression, an apology from the CEO, several years of patching holes with data partnerships and some glimmers of light with long-awaited transit directions and improvements in business, parking and place data, Apple Maps is still not where it needs to be to be considered a world-class service.

Maps needs fixing.

Apple, it turns out, is aware of this, so it’s re-building the maps part of Maps.

It’s doing this by using first-party data gathered by iPhones with a privacy-first methodology and its own fleet of cars packed with sensors and cameras. The new product will launch in San Francisco and the Bay Area with the next iOS 12 beta and will cover Northern California by fall.

Every version of iOS will get the updated maps eventually, and they will be more responsive to changes in roadways and construction, more visually rich depending on the specific context they’re viewed in and feature more detailed ground cover, foliage, pools, pedestrian pathways and more.

This is nothing less than a full re-set of Maps and it’s been four years in the making, which is when Apple began to develop its new data-gathering systems. Eventually, Apple will no longer rely on third-party data to provide the basis for its maps, which has been one of its major pitfalls from the beginning.

“Since we introduced this six years ago — we won’t rehash all the issues we’ve had when we introduced it — we’ve done a huge investment in getting the map up to par,” says Apple SVP Eddy Cue, who now owns Maps, in an interview last week. “When we launched, a lot of it was all about directions and getting to a certain place. Finding the place and getting directions to that place. We’ve done a huge investment of making millions of changes, adding millions of locations, updating the map and changing the map more frequently. All of those things over the past six years.”

But, Cue says, Apple has room to improve on the quality of Maps, something that most users would agree on, even with recent advancements.

“We wanted to take this to the next level,” says Cue. “We have been working on trying to create what we hope is going to be the best map app in the world, taking it to the next step. That is building all of our own map data from the ground up.”

In addition to Cue, I spoke to Apple VP Patrice Gautier and more than a dozen Apple Maps team members at its mapping headquarters in California this week about its efforts to re-build Maps, and to do it in a way that aligned with Apple’s very public stance on user privacy.

If, like me, you’re wondering whether Apple thought of building its own maps from scratch before it launched Maps, the answer is yes. At the time, there was a choice to be made about whether or not it wanted to be in the business of maps at all. Given that the future of mobile devices was becoming very clear, it knew that mapping would be at the core of nearly every aspect of its devices, from photos to directions to location services provided to apps. Decision made, Apple plowed ahead, building a product that relied on a patchwork of data from partners like TomTom, OpenStreetMap and other geo data brokers. The result was underwhelming.

Almost immediately after Apple launched Maps, it realized that it was going to need help and it signed on a bunch of additional data providers to fill the gaps in location, base map, point-of-interest and business data.

It wasn’t enough.

“We decided to do this just over four years ago. We said, ‘Where do we want to take Maps? What are the things that we want to do in Maps?’ We realized that, given what we wanted to do and where we wanted to take it, we needed to do this ourselves,” says Cue.

Because Maps are so core to so many functions, success wasn’t tied to just one function. Maps needed to be great at transit, driving and walking — but also as a utility used by apps for location services and other functions.

Cue says that Apple needed to own all of the data that goes into making a map, and to control it from a quality as well as a privacy perspective.

There’s also the matter of corrections, updates and changes entering a long loop of submission to validation to update when you’re dealing with external partners. The Maps team would have to be able to correct roads, pathways and other updating features in days or less, not months. Not to mention the potential competitive advantages it could gain from building and updating traffic data from hundreds of millions of iPhones, rather than relying on partner data.

Cue points to the proliferation of devices running iOS, now over a billion, as a deciding factor to shift its process.

“We felt like because the shift to devices had happened — building a map today in the way that we were traditionally doing it, the way that it was being done — we could improve things significantly, and improve them in different ways,” he says. “One is more accuracy. Two is being able to update the map faster based on the data and the things that we’re seeing, as opposed to driving again or getting the information where the customer’s proactively telling us. What if we could actually see it before all of those things?”

I query him on the rapidity of Maps updates, and whether this new map philosophy means faster changes for users.

“The truth is that Maps needs to be [updated more], and even are today,” says Cue. “We’ll be doing this even more with our new maps, [with] the ability to change the map in real time and often. We do that every day today. This is expanding us to allow us to do it across everything in the map. Today, there’s certain things that take longer to change.

“For example, a road network is something that takes a much longer time to change currently. In the new map infrastructure, we can change that relatively quickly. If a new road opens up, immediately we can see that and make that change very, very quickly around it. It’s much, much more rapid to do changes in the new map environment.”

So a new effort was created to begin generating its own base maps, the very lowest building block of any really good mapping system. After that, Apple would begin layering on living location data, high-resolution satellite imagery and brand new intensely high-resolution image data gathered from its ground cars until it had what it felt was a “best in class” mapping product.

There is only really one big company on earth that owns an entire map stack from the ground up: Google .

Apple knew it needed to be the other one. Enter the vans.

Apple vans spotted

Though the overall project started earlier, the first glimpse most folks had of Apple’s renewed efforts to build the best Maps product was the vans that started appearing on the roads in 2015 with “Apple Maps” signs on the side. Capped with sensors and cameras, these vans popped up in various cities and sparked rampant discussion and speculation.

The new Apple Maps will be the first time the data collected by these vans is actually used to construct and inform its maps. This is their coming out party.

Some people have commented that Apple’s rigs look more robust than the simple GPS + Camera arrangements on other mapping vehicles — going so far as to say they look more along the lines of something that could be used in autonomous vehicle training.

Apple isn’t commenting on autonomous vehicles, but there’s a reason the arrays look more advanced: they are.

Earlier this week I took a ride in one of the vans as it ran a sample route to gather the kind of data that would go into building the new maps. Here’s what’s inside.

In addition to a beefed-up GPS rig on the roof, four LiDAR arrays mounted at the corners and eight cameras shooting overlapping high-resolution images, there’s also the standard physical measuring tool attached to a rear wheel that allows for precise tracking of distance and image capture. In the rear there is a surprising lack of bulky equipment. Instead, it’s a straightforward Mac Pro bolted to the floor, attached to an array of solid state drives for storage. A single USB cable routes up to the dashboard where the actual mapping-capture software runs on an iPad.

While mapping, a driver…drives, while an operator takes care of the route, ensuring that a coverage area that has been assigned is fully driven, as well as monitoring image capture. Each drive captures thousands of images as well as a full point cloud (a 3D map of space defined by dots that represent surfaces) and GPS data. I later got to view the raw data presented in 3D and it absolutely looks like the quality of data you would need to begin training autonomous vehicles.

More on why Apple needs this level of data detail later.

When the images and data are captured, they are then encrypted on the fly and recorded on to the SSDs. Once full, the SSDs are pulled out, replaced and packed into a case, which is delivered to Apple’s data center, where a suite of software eliminates from the images private information like faces, license plates and other info. From the moment of capture to the moment they’re sanitized, they are encrypted with one key in the van and the other key in the data center. Technicians and software that are part of its mapping efforts down the pipeline from there never see unsanitized data.

This is just one element of Apple’s focus on the privacy of the data it is utilizing in New Maps.

Probe data and privacy

Throughout every conversation I have with any member of the team throughout the day, privacy is brought up, emphasized. This is obviously by design, as Apple wants to impress upon me as a journalist that it’s taking this very seriously indeed, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s evidently built in from the ground up and I could not find a false note in any of the technical claims or the conversations I had.

Indeed, from the data security folks to the people whose job it is to actually make the maps work well, the constant refrain is that Apple does not feel that it is being held back in any way by not hoovering every piece of customer-rich data it can, storing and parsing it.

The consistent message is that the team feels it can deliver a high-quality navigation, location and mapping product without the directly personal data used by other platforms.

“We specifically don’t collect data, even from point A to point B,” notes Cue. “We collect data — when we do it — in an anonymous fashion, in subsections of the whole, so we couldn’t even say that there is a person that went from point A to point B. We’re collecting the segments of it. As you can imagine, that’s always been a key part of doing this. Honestly, we don’t think it buys us anything [to collect more]. We’re not losing any features or capabilities by doing this.”

The segments that he is referring to are sliced out of any given person’s navigation session. Neither the beginning or the end of any trip is ever transmitted to Apple. Rotating identifiers, not personal information, are assigned to any data or requests sent to Apple and it augments the “ground truth” data provided by its own mapping vehicles with this “probe data” sent back from iPhones.

Because only random segments of any person’s drive is ever sent and that data is completely anonymized, there is never a way to tell if any trip was ever a single individual. The local system signs the IDs and only it knows to whom that ID refers. Apple is working very hard here to not know anything about its users. This kind of privacy can’t be added on at the end, it has to be woven in at the ground level.

Because Apple’s business model does not rely on it serving to you, say, an ad for a Chevron on your route, it doesn’t need to even tie advertising identifiers to users.

Any personalization or Siri requests are all handled on-board by the iOS device’s processor. So if you get a drive notification that tells you it’s time to leave for your commute, that’s learned, remembered and delivered locally, not from Apple’s servers.

That’s not new, but it’s important to note given the new thing to take away here: Apple is flipping on the power of having millions of iPhones passively and actively improving their mapping data in real time.

In short: Traffic, real-time road conditions, road systems, new construction and changes in pedestrian walkways are about to get a lot better in Apple Maps.

The secret sauce here is what Apple calls probe data. Essentially little slices of vector data that represent direction and speed transmitted back to Apple completely anonymized with no way to tie it to a specific user or even any given trip. It’s reaching in and sipping a tiny amount of data from millions of users instead, giving it a holistic, real-time picture without compromising user privacy.

If you’re driving, walking or cycling, your iPhone can already tell this. Now if it knows you’re driving, it also can send relevant traffic and routing data in these anonymous slivers to improve the entire service. This only happens if your Maps app has been active, say you check the map, look for directions, etc. If you’re actively using your GPS for walking or driving, then the updates are more precise and can help with walking improvements like charting new pedestrian paths through parks — building out the map’s overall quality.

All of this, of course, is governed by whether you opted into location services, and can be toggled off using the maps location toggle in the Privacy section of settings.

Apple says that this will have a near zero effect on battery life or data usage, because you’re already using the ‘maps’ features when any probe data is shared and it’s a fraction of what power is being drawn by those activities.

From the point cloud on up

But maps cannot live on ground truth and mobile data alone. Apple is also gathering new high-resolution satellite data to combine with its ground truth data for a solid base map. It’s then layering satellite imagery on top of that to better determine foliage, pathways, sports facilities, building shapes and pathways.

After the downstream data has been cleaned up of license plates and faces, it gets run through a bunch of computer vision programming to pull out addresses, street signs and other points of interest. These are cross referenced to publicly available data like addresses held by the city and new construction of neighborhoods or roadways that comes from city planning departments.

But one of the special sauce bits that Apple is adding to the mix of mapping tools is a full-on point cloud that maps in 3D the world around the mapping van. This allows them all kinds of opportunities to better understand what items are street signs (retro-reflective rectangular object about 15 feet off the ground? Probably a street sign) or stop signs or speed limit signs.

It seems like it also could enable positioning of navigation arrows in 3D space for AR navigation, but Apple declined to comment on “any future plans” for such things.

Apple also uses semantic segmentation and Deep Lambertian Networks to analyze the point cloud coupled with the image data captured by the car and from high-resolution satellites in sync. This allows 3D identification of objects, signs, lanes of traffic and buildings and separation into categories that can be highlighted for easy discovery.

The coupling of high-resolution image data from car and satellite, plus a 3D point cloud, results in Apple now being able to produce full orthogonal reconstructions of city streets with textures in place. This is massively higher-resolution and easier to see, visually. And it’s synchronized with the “panoramic” images from the car, the satellite view and the raw data. These techniques are used in self-driving applications because they provide a really holistic view of what’s going on around the car. But the ortho view can do even more for human viewers of the data by allowing them to “see” through brush or tree cover that would normally obscure roads, buildings and addresses.

This is hugely important when it comes to the next step in Apple’s battle for supremely accurate and useful Maps: human editors.

Apple has had a team of tool builders working specifically on a toolkit that can be used by human editors to vet and parse data, street by street. The editor’s suite includes tools that allow human editors to assign specific geometries to flyover buildings (think Salesforce tower’s unique ridged dome) that allow them to be instantly recognizable. It lets editors look at real images of street signs shot by the car right next to 3D reconstructions of the scene and computer vision detection of the same signs, instantly recognizing them as accurate or not.

Another tool corrects addresses, letting an editor quickly move an address to the center of a building, determine whether they’re misplaced and shift them around. It also allows for access points to be set, making Apple Maps smarter about the “last 50 feet” of your journey. You’ve made it to the building, but what street is the entrance actually on? And how do you get into the driveway? With a couple of clicks, an editor can make that permanently visible.

“When we take you to a business and that business exists, we think the precision of where we’re taking you to, from being in the right building,” says Cue. “When you look at places like San Francisco or big cities from that standpoint, you have addresses where the address name is a certain street, but really, the entrance in the building is on another street. They’ve done that because they want the better street name. Those are the kinds of things that our new Maps really is going to shine on. We’re going to make sure that we’re taking you to exactly the right place, not a place that might be really close by.”

Water, swimming pools (new to Maps entirely), sporting areas and vegetation are now more prominent and fleshed out thanks to new computer vision and satellite imagery applications. So Apple had to build editing tools for those, as well.

Many hundreds of editors will be using these tools, in addition to the thousands of employees Apple already has working on maps, but the tools had to be built first, now that Apple is no longer relying on third parties to vet and correct issues.

And the team also had to build computer vision and machine learning tools that allow it to determine whether there are issues to be found at all.

Anonymous probe data from iPhones, visualized, looks like thousands of dots, ebbing and flowing across a web of streets and walkways, like a luminescent web of color. At first, chaos. Then, patterns emerge. A street opens for business, and nearby vessels pump orange blood into the new artery. A flag is triggered and an editor looks to see if a new road needs a name assigned.

A new intersection is added to the web and an editor is flagged to make sure that the left turn lanes connect correctly across the overlapping layers of directional traffic. This has the added benefit of massively improved lane guidance in the new Apple Maps.

Apple is counting on this combination of human and AI flagging to allow editors to first craft base maps and then also maintain them as the ever-changing biomass wreaks havoc on roadways, addresses and the occasional park.

Here there be Helvetica

Apple’s new Maps, like many other digital maps, display vastly differently depending on scale. If you’re zoomed out, you get less detail. If you zoom in, you get more. But Apple has a team of cartographers on staff that work on more cultural, regional and artistic levels to ensure that its Maps are readable, recognizable and useful.

These teams have goals that are at once concrete and a bit out there — in the best traditions of Apple pursuits that intersect the technical with the artistic.

The maps need to be usable, but they also need to fulfill cognitive goals on cultural levels that go beyond what any given user might know they need. For instance, in the U.S., it is very common to have maps that have a relatively low level of detail even at a medium zoom. In Japan, however, the maps are absolutely packed with details at the same zoom, because that increased information density is what is expected by users.

This is the department of details. They’ve reconstructed replicas of hundreds of actual road signs to make sure that the shield on your navigation screen matches the one you’re seeing on the highway road sign. When it comes to public transport, Apple licensed all of the type faces that you see on your favorite subway systems, like Helvetica for NYC. And the line numbers are in the exact same order that you’re going to see them on the platform signs.

It’s all about reducing the cognitive load that it takes to translate the physical world you have to navigate into the digital world represented by Maps.

Bottom line

The new version of Apple Maps will be in preview next week with just the Bay Area of California going live. It will be stitched seamlessly into the “current” version of Maps, but the difference in quality level should be immediately visible based on what I’ve seen so far.

Better road networks, more pedestrian information, sports areas like baseball diamonds and basketball courts, more land cover, including grass and trees, represented on the map, as well as buildings, building shapes and sizes that are more accurate. A map that feels more like the real world you’re actually traveling through.

Search is also being revamped to make sure that you get more relevant results (on the correct continents) than ever before. Navigation, especially pedestrian guidance, also gets a big boost. Parking areas and building details to get you the last few feet to your destination are included, as well.

What you won’t see, for now, is a full visual redesign.

“You’re not going to see huge design changes on the maps,” says Cue. “We don’t want to combine those two things at the same time because it would cause a lot of confusion.”

Apple Maps is getting the long-awaited attention it really deserves. By taking ownership of the project fully, Apple is committing itself to actually creating the map that users expected of it from the beginning. It’s been a lingering shadow on iPhones, especially, where alternatives like Google Maps have offered more robust feature sets that are so easy to compare against the native app but impossible to access at the deep system level.

The argument has been made ad nauseam, but it’s worth saying again that if Apple thinks that mapping is important enough to own, it should own it. And that’s what it’s trying to do now.

“We don’t think there’s anybody doing this level of work that we’re doing,” adds Cue. “We haven’t announced this. We haven’t told anybody about this. It’s one of those things that we’ve been able to keep pretty much a secret. Nobody really knows about it. We’re excited to get it out there. Over the next year, we’ll be rolling it out, section by section in the U.S.”

Mobile – TechCrunch


AdWords is Dead, Long Live Google Ads: Google Simplifies its Marketing Brands

June 29, 2018 No Comments

Google announced on June 27, 2018 that it is rebranding its advertising suite of products, consolidating some services and revising others.

Read more at PPCHero.com
PPC Hero


Instagram Lite quietly launches to find a billion more users abroad

June 28, 2018 No Comments

Instagram’s future growth depends on the developing world, so it’s built a version of its app just for them. “Instagram Lite” for Android appeared today in the Google Play App Store without any announcement from the company. “The Instagram Lite app is small, allowing you to save space on your phone and download it quickly” the description reads.

At just 573 kilobytes, Instagram Lite is 1/55th the size of Instagram’s 32 megabyte main app. It lets you filter and post photos to the feed or Stories, watch Stories, and browse the Explore page, but currently lacks the options to share videos or Direct message friends.

Instagram Lite addresses many problems common amongst mobile users in the developing world who are often on older phones with less storage space, slower network connections, or who can’t afford big data packages. Users might not have to delete photos or other apps to install Instagram Lite, or wait a long time and pay more for it to download.

Screenshots of Instagram Lite

The release follows Instagram’s revamped mobile website that launched last month, also designed for the developing world. At the time I wrote, “The launch begs the question of whether Instagram will release an Instagram Lite version of its native app.” The answer is yes. Mobile analytics service Sensor Tower tipped TechCrunch off to the release.

When asked for comment, an Instagram spokesperson confirmed that Instagram Lite began testing in Mexico this week, and provided this statement: “We are testing a new version of Instagram for Android that takes up less space on your device, uses less data, and starts faster.” The company wouldn’t say whether ads would be included. Later this year the app will expand to more countries, and get messaging and video posting capabilities.

The “Lite” trend has picked up steam recently. Facebook launched Facebook Lite in 2015, and it had 200 million users by 2017. That paved the way for the launch of Messenger Lite in April 2018, and Uber glommed on to the strategy with the release of its own Lite app earlier this month. Users have clearly been craving Instagram Lite, since a fake/unofficial Facebook Page with that has racked up over 2000 Likes.

Instagram announced last week at the IGTV unveiling that it had hit 1 billion monthly active users. It’s been growing at roughly 100 million users every four months, with much of that coming from the developing world. Snapchat neglected international markets to focus on US teens, leaving the door open for Instagram and WhatsApp’s clones of Snapchat Stories to grab big user bases in countries like India and Brazil.

With this new growth tool in its belt, Instagram may see even swifter adoption in emerging markets. It could score potentially score evenue straight from Lite if ads are included, then as phones and networks improve, hope to shift users onto the full-fidelity version. Now, eyes will be on Snapchat to see if it builds its own Lite app. Otherwise it risks continuing to slip further behind the Instagram juggernaut.


Social – TechCrunch


ExceptionAlly helps parents navigate the special needs education labyrinth

June 28, 2018 No Comments

The challenges faced by parents of kids with special needs are always unique, but in one way they are surely much alike: making sure the kids are getting what they need from schools is way harder than it ought to be. ExceptionAlly is a new startup that aims to help parents understand, organize and communicate all the info they need to make sure their child is getting the help they require.

“There are millions of parents out there trying to navigate special education. And parents with special needs should have access to more information than what one school tells them,” said ExceptionAlly co-founder and CEO Rayford Davis. “Those with the means actually hire special education attorneys, but those are few and far between. We thought, how can we democratize this? So we’re trying to do what TurboTax did for CPAs: deliver a large percentage of the value for a small percentage of the cost.”

The company just emerged from Y Combinator and is pursuing full deployment ahead of this school year, with a visibility push during the usual back-to-school dates. It’s still early days, but Davis tells me they already have thousands of users who are taking advantage of the free and paid aspects of the service.

Just because a parent has a kid with dyslexia, or a hearing impairment, or a physical disability, doesn’t mean they suddenly become an expert in what resources are out there for those kids — what’s required by law, what a school offers voluntarily and so on. Achieving fluency in these complex issues is a big ask on top of all the usual parental duties — and on top of that, parents and schools are often put in adversarial positions.

There are resources out there for parents, certainly, but they’re scattered and often require a great deal of effort on the parents’ part. So the first goal of the service is to educate and structure the parents’ information on the systems they’re dealing with.

Based on information provided by the parent, such as their kid’s conditions or needs, and other information like school district, state and so on, the platform assists the parent in understanding both the condition itself, what they can expect from a school and what their rights are. It could be something as simple as moving a kid to the front row of a classroom to knowing how frequently the school is required to share reports on that kid’s progress.

Parents rarely know the range of accommodations a school can offer, Davis said, and even the schools themselves might not know or properly explain what they can or must provide if asked.

For instance, an IEP, or individual education plan, and yearly goals are required for every student with special needs, along with meetings and progress reports. These are often skipped or, if not, done in a rote way that isn’t personalized.

Davis said that by helping parents collaborate with the school and teacher on IEPs and other facets of the process, they accomplish several things. First, the parent feels more confident and involved in their kid’s education, having brought something to the table. Second, less pressure is put on overworked teachers to produce these things in addition to everything else they have to do. And third, it either allows or compels schools to provide all the resources they have available.

Naturally, this whole process produces reams of documents: evaluations, draft plans, lesson lists, observations, reports and so on. “If you talk to any parent of a child with special needs, they’ll tell you how they have file cabinets full of paperwork,” Davis said.

ExceptionAlly will let you scan or send it all these docs, which it helps you organize into the various categories and find again should you need them. A search feature based on OCR processing of the text is in development and should be in place for the latter half of the coming school year, which Davis pointed out is really when it starts being necessary.

That, he said, is when parents need to keep schools accountable. Being informed both on the kid’s progress and what the school is supposed to be doing lets the resulting process be collaborative rather than combative. But if the latter comes to pass, the platform has resources for parents to deploy to make sure the schools don’t dominate the power equation.

“If things progress that way, there’s a ‘take action toolkit’ to develop communications with the school,” Davis said. Ideally you don’t want to be the parent threatening legal action or calling the principal at home. A timely reminder of what was agreed upon and a nudge to keep things on track keeps it positive. “It’s sort of a reminder that we should all be on ‘team kid,’ if you will,” he added.

Schools, unfortunately, have not shown themselves to be highly willing to collaborate.

“We spent about six months talking to over a hundred schools and districts. What we found was not a lot of energy to provide parents with any more information than what the school was already providing,” Davis explained.

The sad truth here is that many schools are already neck-deep in administrative woes, the teachers are overworked and have new responsibilities every year and the idea of volunteering for new ones doesn’t strike even the most well-intentioned schools as attractive. So instead, ExceptionAlly has focused on going directly to parents, who, confidently and well-armed, can take their case to the school on their own.

“Listen, we’re not getting ready to solve all of education today with our solution. We’re going to find that one mom who says, ‘I know there’s more out there, can someone help me find it?’ Yes, we’re going to help you do that,” he said. “Could that put pressure on the system? As long as it does it legally and lawfully, I am perfectly okay with advocating for a child and parents’ legal rights and putting pressure on the system to give them what they by law deserve.”

After the official launch ahead of this school year, the company plans to continue adding features. Rich text search is among them, and deeper understanding of the documents could both help automate storage and retrieval and also lead to new insights. At some point there will also be an optional program to submit a child’s information (anonymously, of course) to help create a database of what accommodations in which places and cases led to what outcomes — essentially aggregating information direct from the source.

ExceptionAlly has some free content to peruse if you’re curious whether it might be helpful for you or someone you know, and there are a variety of paid options should it seem like a good fit.


Startups – TechCrunch


Beginner’s Guide to Creating DoubleClick Campaigns

June 27, 2018 No Comments

Knowing how to advertise in a new platform can be intimidating. This guide will walk through a step-by-step process of how to create campaigns in DoubleClick.

Read more at PPCHero.com
PPC Hero


The ultimate guide to meta tags: why they matter and how to optimize them for impact

June 26, 2018 No Comments

Whether you work in an agency or in-house, SEO success has a lot to do with influencing other functions, for example, web development, site merchandising, content marketing, PR, etc. As SEO professionals, we do have our own secret sauce to cook with: meta tags.

Although meta tags are only used for search engines, they are still an essential part of Google’s core algorithm and must not be ignored. We will go through the most common meta tags and highlight their usefulness so you can easily check if you’re spending enough time where it counts.

Meta tags defined

Meta tags, or HTML elements, are codes of text that help search engines and website visitors better understand the content found on a website page. Meta tags are not the actual content that is featured on the page.

The purpose of meta tags is instead to describe the content. Therefore, these HTML elements are found in the <head> section of the HTML page, not within the <body> section. Since meta tags need to be written in the HTML code, you may or may not be the one implementing the tags, but knowing what’s most essential will set you up for success.

Why is it still important?

We know that SEO is evolving and the importance of keywords has changed, but let’s keep in mind the impact of the actual query that is being searched for. A search query is formulated in words, and search engine users are essentially scanning the SERPs for the words they entered into the search bar.

Search engines understand that their users are expecting to see results containing the exact words they entered. Let’s say I’m thinking of starting a business and run a search for the query “how to come up with a business name.” As I scan through the SERPs, my eye is looking for pages that contain the words “come up with business name.” While search engines may indulge in semantic search and latent semantic indexing, serving up results that contain the exact words of the search query will remain a strong asset.

Must have meta tags

Title tags and meta descriptions are the bread and butter of SEO. These are essential HTML elements that are needed for a page to rank well organically. As a refresher, let’s look more closely at them and why they are on the list of must haves.

Title tags

A title tag is an HTML element that describes the topic of a page. It is displayed at the top of the browser in the title bar and in the listing titles of a search engine results page. The presence of a search friendly term in the title tag is still a strong relevancy signal for search engines. Also, search engines will bold keywords from the user’s search in the title. This helps attract a higher click-through rate because internet users scan search results looking for their search term. If they don’t see it, then they are less likely to click on the listing, therefore, reducing CTRs.

Title tags must be relevant to the content on the page. The main keyword should be the first word in the page title, and the closer to the start of the title tag a keyword is, the more helpful it will be for ranking purposes.

Meta descriptions

A meta description is an HTML meta tag that provides a brief description of the page. Although it is not visible to users on the site, search engines often use meta descriptions as the brief snippet of text underneath a title tag in the search engine results. Well-written meta description tags, while not important to search engine rankings, are extremely important in promoting user click-through from search engine result pages.

Meta descriptions should be written using compelling copy. Since the meta description serves as advertising copy in search results, this is your chance to draw searchers in. Describe the page clearly and use a friendly marketing voice to create an appealing description that will attract a higher click-through rate.

Alt text for images

Alt text is an attribute added to an image tag in HTML to help search engines understand what an image is about. Although search engines cannot see the images we post on our websites, they can read what is featured in the alt attribute. While most searches are not image related, there is still a strong opportunity to acquire organic search engine visitors and boost brand recognition through impressions earned for images.

Alt text should be written clearly and contain text that describes the image. If your image is of an object, consider using adjectives like the color or the size of the object to provide more details on what exactly the image is displaying. Moreover, alt text is not for search engines only: they represent a necessary element to meet basic accessibility standards. Alt text provides a clear text alternative of the image for screen reader users.

No follow tags

Google defines “nofollow” as a way for webmasters to tell search engines not to follow links on a specific page. The rel=”nofollow” attribute can be quite beneficial in ensuring that PageRank is not being transferred across links found on your site. Nofollow tags are essential if you are participating in any kind of paid sponsorship with the intent of earning links.

No index tags

The “noindex” tag is used to notify search engine crawlers not to include a particular page in it’s search results. These tags are essential if there is content on your website that you would like to keep out of the search results. Noindex tags can be implemented either as a meta tag or as an HTTP response header.

Nice to have meta tags

In a highly competitive organic search landscape, “nice to have” meta tags, while not as essential as those listed above, should not be overlooked.

Canonical links

The canonical link element is used when a page’s content is available through multiple URLs, creating duplicate URLs. In order to consolidate the duplicate entries and help the search engine select the best URL, we recommend using a canonical link to indicate which the indexable URL should be.

Simply identify a single preferred URL (generally the simplest one), and add the rel=”canonical” link element, using that preferred URL, to every variant of the page. When Google crawls the site, it will consolidate duplicates within it’s index to the preferred URL.

 

 

HTML heading tags (H1-H6)

HTML heading tags are a key component of semantic search, as they provide key contextual clues to the search engines and help them better understand both a page’s content and its overall structure. Search engine bots use the order of heading tags (<h1>, <h2>, etc.) to better understand the structure and relevance of a page’s content. Therefore, HTML heading tags should be ordered on the page by their importance (h1 is considered the highest, h6 is the lowest). In the absence of sectioning content tags, the presence of a heading tag will still be interpreted as the beginning of a new content section.

Meta robots attribute

The meta robots attribute is a piece of code used to instruct search engines on how to interact with a web page. Similar to a robots.txt file that informs search engines on how to crawl a web page, the meta robots attribute provides parameters to search engines on whether they should crawl or index a page’s content.

The “only if” meta tags

Meta keywords

Only necessary if you want to provide your competitors with a list of the keywords you are targeting. In the earlier days of SEO, the meta keyword tag was an element used to describe the keywords that the web page was focused on. Until 2002, the meta keywords tag was used by some search engines in calculating keyword relevance. It was abandoned because it was too difficult for many website owners to identify appropriate keywords to describe their content, and because unscrupulous marketers stuffed the tag with unrelated keywords in an attempt to attract more organic search traffic. All modern search engines ignore the meta keywords tag.

Social meta tags (open graph and Twitter cards)

Social meta tags are used when you want to control how the content of a page shows up when it is shared on social media sites. Open graph tags are a set of meta tags that can be added to any page of a website, and help define the content of the page, such as the title, description and image via social media.

Such information is expressed via two protocols: Open Graph (for Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest) and Twitter Cards (for…you can easily guess), and is used by the respective social media to present the snippet of the pages that users share. Through Social Meta Tags you can for instance make use of a title, description or image specifically targeted for social media audiences, in order to boost CTR from this channel.

Hreflang attribute (commonly referred to as Hreflang tag)

Only if…you have a global website with multiple countries and languages being featured. Google recommends using hreflang tags to specify language and regional variations of your pages (regardless of where they are hosted: subfolders, subdomains or separate domains).

The objective of having Hreflang tags on your site is to provide Google with the most accurate information on localized pages, so that the search engine can serve the relevant language version in search results. There are two ways you can implement the Hreflang tags: directly in the HTML document or in your sitemap.

As you’ll see, meta tags come in many forms and some are more critical than others. But they truly are easy wins that provide great ROI, simply as they require a low amount of resources and still have a high impact. We hope you’ll use this ultimate guide to meta tags as the foundation of your SEO strategy for continued success.

 

Johann Godey is SEO director at Vistaprint.

 

 

Search Engine Watch


Oh, the things I would do to get this cardboard-style Nintendo Switch

June 26, 2018 No Comments

Nintendo is building on its strange but wonderful cardboard Labo platform with some sweet Mario Kart integration and a truly fabulous limited edition Switch with a faux-cardboard finish. It really is just the greatest thing and I would do terrible things to have it. Unfortunately some smart kid will probably get it, because you have to win it by designing something cool with Labo.

So, first the Mario Kart stuff. If you have Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the Switch, and you really should because it’s excellent, you can now use the Toy-Con (buildable with the Labo Variety Kit) as a sort of real-world controller. You twist the right “handlebar” to accelerate and rotate the whole thing to turn.

This is the first game to get its own special Labo support, but the company says more are on the way. Splatoon 2, perhaps?

If you’re a creative type and you have a Labo set, you’re in luck. There are two new contests you can enter, and entry puts you in the running to win the amazing neutral-colored Switch shown up top. I really don’t know why I love it so much, but I do. And if you do too, you should enter. (If you’re in the U.S. or Canada. Sorry, world.)

The first challenge is to create a musical instrument with the Toy-Con pieces and “craft materials.” You’ll have to document its creation and show it working on video; it’ll be judged on “Quality, Creativity, Spirit, and Sound.” Caps Nintendo’s.

The second challenge is to create a game or game-like experience using Toy-Con Garage. Same judgment categories as before, minus Sound.

There will be one grand prize winner and four runners up per contest. Grand prize is that amazing Switch (approximate retail value $ 1,000?!), plus a cool (?) Labo jacket. Runners up get a pair of cardboard style Joy-Cons and a jacket. Respectable.

If you’ve been looking for a reason to pick up that Labo kit again or use some random pieces you never tried, this is surely that reason. Now get to work!

Gadgets – TechCrunch