As Facebook prepares to launch its new cryptocurrency Libra in 2020, it’s putting the pieces in place to help it run. In one of the latest developments, it has acquired Servicefriend, a startup that built bots — chat clients for messaging apps based on artificial intelligence — to help customer service teams, TechCrunch has confirmed.
The news was first reported in Israel, where Servicefriend is based, after one of its investors, Roberto Singler, alerted local publication The Marker about the deal. We reached out to Ido Arad, one of the co-founders of the company, who referred our questions to a team at Facebook. Facebook then confirmed the acquisition with an Apple-like non-specific statement:
“We acquire smaller tech companies from time to time. We don’t always discuss our plans,” a Facebook spokesperson said.
Several people, including Arad, his co-founder Shahar Ben Ami, and at least one other indicate that they now work at Facebook within the Calibra digital wallet group on their LinkedIn profiles. Their jobs at the social network started this month, meaning this acquisition closed in recent weeks. (Several others indicate that they are still at Servicefriend, meaning they too may have likely made the move as well.)
Although Facebook isn’t specifying what they will be working on, the most obvious area will be in building a bot — or more likely, a network of bots — for the customer service layer for the Calibra digital wallet that Facebook is developing.
Facebook’s plan is to build a range of financial services for people to use Calibra to pay out and receive Libra — for example, to send money to contacts, pay bills, top up their phones, buy things and more.
It remains to be seen just how much people will trust Facebook as a provider of all these. So that is where having “human” and accessible customer service experience will be essential.
“We are here for you,” Calibra notes on its welcome page, where it promises 24-7 support in WhatsApp and Messenger for its users.
Servicefriend has worked on Facebook’s platform in the past: specifically it built “hybrid” bots for Messenger for companies to use to complement teams of humans, to better scale their services on messaging platforms. In one Messenger bot that Servicefriend built for Globe Telecom in the Philippines, it noted that the hybrid bot was able to bring the “agent hours” down to under 20 hours for each 1,000 customer interactions.
Bots have been a relatively problematic area for Facebook. The company launched a personal assistant called M in 2015, and then bots that let users talk to businesses in 2016 on Messenger, with quite some fanfare, although the reality was that nothing really worked as well as promised, and in some cases worked significantly worse than whatever services they aimed to replace.
While AI-based assistants such as Alexa have become synonymous with how a computer can carry on a conversation and provide information to humans, the consensus around bots these days is that the most workable way forward is to build services that complement, rather than completely replace, teams.
For Facebook, getting its customer service on Calibra right can help it build and expand its credibility (note: another area where Servicefriend has build services is in using customer service as a marketing channel). Getting it wrong could mean issues not just with customers, but with partners and possibly regulators.
Twitter’s ongoing, and possibly Sisyphean, effort of policing and removing nefarious content disseminated on its platform is taking another step forward today. The company’s safety team has disclosed the removal of another 10,112 accounts across six countries that were found to be actively spreading misinformation and encouraging unrest in politically sensitive climates.
The accounts noted today follow the same fault lines of unrest that you will find in the news at the moment: they include more than 4,000 each in United Arab Emirates and China, over 1,000 in Equador, and 259 in Spain. The full trove is being posted for researchers and others to parse and you can find it, and the wider archive — now numbering in the millions of Tweets and with one terabyte of media — here.
Today’s removals mark nearly one year of Twitter’s efforts to identify and remove accounts that are spreading political misinformation for the purposes of changing public sentiment — something that has wide-ranging impact beyond simply being annoyed on social media, including not least democratic processes like voting in elections or referendums. Today’s list is on par with some of the other notable disclosures Twitter has made every few months in the last year, such as its first removals process last October covering some 4,500 accounts out of Russia; but they are a far cry from its biggest removal effort to date, identifying and suspending some 200,000 accounts in China aimed at sowing discord in Hong Kong this past August.
Given that, if anything, Twitter is trying to make it easier, not harder, to open accounts and start using the service, one could argue that trying to police the bad guys is a never-ending, and possibly impossible effort, since like the universe itself, Twitter just keeps expanding.
But on the other hand, it’s a necessary process, one that can help us learn about how social media is being misused (Twitter says that ‘thousands’ of researchers have accessed the data to date).
Those who are able can try to figure out ways to fix it, and we the public become smarter about spotting and passing over the bad stuff. Plus, in a climate where social networks are now getting increasingly scrutinised by governments for their role in aiding and abetting the bad actors, it also helps Twitter (and others that also identify and remove accounts, like Facebook) demonstrate that it is self-policing, making an effort and producing results, before states step in and do the policing for them. (Related sidenote: Just yesterday, Colin Crowell, Twitter’s VP of public policy for the last eight years, who had a big role in interfacing with the powers that be by overseeing lobbying efforts, announced yesterday that he would be stepping down.)
More details on the list announced today:
United Arab Emirates & Egypt: Twitter said it removed 267 accounts originating in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt. “These accounts were interconnected in their goals and tactics: a multi-faceted information operation primarily targeting Qatar, and other countries such as Iran. It also amplified messaging supportive of the Saudi government,” Twitter notes. Additionally, it identified that all these accounts came from one tech company called DotDev, which has also been permanently suspended (along with other accounts associated with it).
A separate group of 4,258 accounts operating from the UAE, mainly directed at Qatar and Yemen, were also removed. “These accounts were often employing false personae and tweeting about regional issues, such as the Yemeni Civil War and the Houthi Movement.”
Saudi Arabia: Just six accounts linked to Saudi Arabia’s state-run media apparatus were found to be “engaged in coordinated efforts to amplify messaging that was beneficial to the Saudi government.” The accounts presented themselves as journalists and media outlets.
Twitter also singled out the account of Saud al-Qahtani, a former media advisor to the King, for violations of its platform manipulation policies. (The account is not included in the archives disclosed today.)
Spain: Partido Popular — the Spanish political party founded by a former Franco minister that has been tied up in corruption scandals — was identified as operating some 259 accounts that were falsely boosting public sentiment online in Spain. The accounts were active for only a short time, Twitter notes.
Ecuador: There were 1,019 accounts removed this summer affiliated with the PAIS Alliance political party. The network of primarily fake accounts “was primarily engaged in spreading content about President Moreno’s administration, focusing on issues concerning Ecuadorian laws on freedom of speech, government censorship, and technology.”
China (PRC)/Hong Kong: It’s not 200,000 accounts as in August but still, another 4,302 accounts have been identified in helping to “sow discord about the protest movement in Hong Kong.”
As with previous datasets that Twitter has disclosed, the company notes that this is an ongoing effort that will see further announcements in the months ahead as more accounts are identified. But the question you have to ask is whether the company has been trying to figure out if there is a way of preventing these accounts from coming on to the platform in the first place.
The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.
The Portal TV lets you hang out with friends using your home’s biggest screen. It’s part of a new line of Portal devices that bring the platform’s auto-zooming AI camera, in-house voice assistant speaker, Messenger video chat and end-to-end encrypted WhatsApp video calls to smaller form factors.
Facebook says it also will provide a lot more clarity around privacy — although human review of voice recordings is still turned on by default.
The Apple Watch Series 5 doesn’t include any hardware additions quite as flashy as the LTE functionality and ECG monitor it introduced with previous updates. But taken as a whole, the new features maintain the device’s spot at the top of the smartwatch heap.
For the longest time, Google Fi didn’t play the unlimited calls, text and data game. That’s changing this week.
With 1.92 million YouTube subscribers, Giertz is best known for her “shitty” robotic creations, including arms that serve soup and breakfast, draw holiday cards and apply lipstick — to hilariously uneven results.
Documents reviewed by TechCrunch offer new insight into the scope and scale of the Russian surveillance system known as SORM, and how Russian authorities gain access to the calls, messages and data of customers of the country’s largest phone provider.
Previously, you had to pay a one-time fee of $ 3.99 to access the Android or iOS apps, but CEO Owen Grover said this approach seemed increasingly at odds with Pocket Casts’ goals, and with the vision of the public radio organizations that acquired it last year.
For a brand, is it worth the effort to incorporate UGC into their marketing strategy? And if so, how can they do it within the rules — and more importantly, in adherence with the expectations of consumers? (Extra Crunch membership required.)
In today’s brand landscape, consumers are rejecting traditional advertising in favor of transparent, personalized and most importantly, authentic communications. In fact, 86% of consumers say that authenticity is important when deciding which brands they support. Driven by this growing emphasis on brand sincerity, marketers are increasingly leveraging user-generated content (UGC) in their marketing and e-commerce strategies.
Correlated with the rise in the use of UGC is an increase in privacy-focused regulation such as the European Union’s industry-defining General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the along with others that will go into effect in the coming years, like the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA), and several other state-specific laws. Quite naturally, brands are asking themselves two questions:
- Is it worth the effort to incorporate UGC into our marketing strategy?
- And if so, how do we do it within the rules, and more importantly, in adherence with the expectations of consumers?
Consumers seek to be active participants in their favorite companies’ brand identity journey, rather than passive recipients of brand-created messages. Consumers trust images by other consumers on social media seven times more than advertising.
Additionally, 56% are more likely to buy a product after seeing it featured in a positive or relatable user-generated image. The research and results clearly show that the average consumer perceives content from a peer to be more trustworthy than brand-driven content.
With that in mind, we must help brands leverage UGC with approaches that comply with privacy regulations while also engaging customers in an authentic way.
Influencer vs user: Navigating privacy considerations in an online world
When Medal.tv first launched on the scene, the company was an upstart trying to be the social network for the gaming generation.
Since its debut in February, the clipping and messaging service for gamers has amassed 5 million total users with hundreds of thousands of daily active users. And now it has a $ 9 million new investment from firms, led by Horizons Ventures, the venture capital fund established by Hong Kong multi-billionaire Li Ka-shing.
“We’re seeing sharing of short-form video emerge as a means of self-expression and entertainment for the current generation. We believe Medal’s platform will be a foundation for interactive social experiences beyond what you can find in a game,” says Jonathan Tam, an investor with Horizons Ventures .
Medal sees potential both in its social network and in the ability for game developers to use the platform as a marketing and discovery tool for the gaming audience.
“Friends are the main driver of game discovery, and game developers benefit from shareable games as a result. Medal.tv is trying to enable that without the complexity of streaming,” says Matteo Vallone, the former head of Google Play games in Europe and an angel investor in Medal.
It’s a platform that saw investors willing to fork over as much as $ 20 million for the company, according to chief executive Pim de Witte. “There are still too many risks involved to take capital like that,” de Witte says.
Instead, the $ 9 million from Horizons, and previous investors like Makers Fund, will be used to steadily grow the business.
“At Medal, we believe the next big social platform will emerge in gaming, perhaps built on top of short-form content, partially as a result of gaming publishers trying to build their own isolated gaming stores and systems,” said de Witte, in a statement. “That drives social fragmentation in the market and brings out the need for platforms such as Medal and Discord, which unite gamers across games and platforms in a meaningful way.”
As digital gaming becomes the social medium of choice for a generation, new tools that allow consumers to share their virtual experiences will become increasingly common. This phenomenon will only accelerate as more events like the Marshmello concert in Fortnite become the norm.
“Medal has the exciting potential to enable a seamless social exchange of virtual experiences,” says Ryann Lai, an investor from Makers Fund.
Gone are the days when a single tweak in the content or the title tag was able to get your site to the top of the search results.
Google algorithm is now much harder to crack than before. Besides, 75 percent of online users do not scroll past the first page of the search engine results.
As you can imagine, this makes the SEO space highly competitive right now and companies can no longer rely on basic techniques.
However, you can always make sure that the odds are in your favor by using data science.
What is data science?
A combination of various tools, algorithms, and machine learning principles designed to unveil hidden patterns using the raw data is referred to as data science.
Data science is creating its impression across every domain. As cited by Maryville University, around 1.7 megabytes of data will be generated every second for everyone on the planet by the end of 2020.
Why do you need it?
Data science provides valuable insights about a website’s performance and these insights can help you improve your SEO campaigns.
Data science is used to make predictions about upcoming trends and customer behavior using analytics and machine learning. For example, Netflix uses insight from data science to produce its original series that drives user interest.
Apart from identifying opportunities, data science also handles high voluminous data and helps in making better decisions. Businesses can easily gauge the effectiveness of a marketing campaign with the help of data science.
How does data science help SEO?
Data science helps you make concrete decisions by letting you:
- Visualize which combinations have the potential to make the biggest impact
- Create marketing campaigns aligned with the needs of their audience
- Understand buyer’s preferences and identify pain points
- Identify referral sources of converting traffic
- Verify loading time, indexing, bounce rate, response errors, and redirects
- Verify the most and least crawled URLs
- Identify pages that crawlers aren’t supposed to index
- Identify sources of unusual traffic
How do you apply data science to your SEO data?
Follow the below ways to apply data science to your SEO campaigns:
1. Select your data sources
Understand that the quality of your data sources directly impacts your data insights. You need the right tools to track important metrics more precisely. The top four tools that can help you gather the right data and make better decisions are Google Analytics, SEMrush, and Ahrefs.
2. Think “ecosystem” instead of “data” and “tools”
Do not rely on one solution if your SEO is complex and integrates with various other digital marketing areas like content marketing, CX management, CRO, and sales. The “data science” approach to SEO is about integrating methods, tools, and practices in a way that draws deep and accurate insights from the cumulative data mix. Consider the SEMRush console we discussed above. The traffic stats it presents work on the assumption that all traffic is genuine. What if there are bad bots at play here? It makes a lot of sense to bring in a traffic quality checking tool into the mix, something like what Finteza does.
It offers you advanced bot detection tech, along with a whole suite of conversion funnel optimization modules, to help you not only make more sense of your data but also to put the insight into action, to drive business KPI scores.
3. Align SEO with marketing initiatives
Backing your SEO with other marketing initiatives makes it stronger. Collaborate with sales, developers, UX designers, and customer support teams to optimize for all search ranking factors.
Use data science to determine a universal set of SEO best practices each team can follow to achieve your goal. Try tracking the evolving relationships between independent and dependent variables to get a better idea of what actions are important to your business. To fully understand how your SEO affects other channels, capture and analyze data from:
- Top conversion paths
- Conversions and assisted conversions
Gain a clear understanding of your customers’ journeys to establish a stronger alignment between various marketing activities and attribute the outcomes to separate campaigns easily.
4. Visualize with data science
Find it hard to digest numbers piled onto a spreadsheet? Taking a hierarchical approach to your data can cause you to miss out on important hidden between the lines. On the other hand, draw different benefits from data visualizations like:
- Compare and contrast
- Process large data volumes at scale
- Accelerate knowledge discovery
- Reveal hidden questions
- Spot common patterns and trends
Test it out yourself. Leverage data science during an SEO technical audit and receive insights about your site’s health and performance. Use that data to know more about your page authority, rankings, number of outbound/inbound links per page, and other factors. However, you won’t find a proper answer about why some pages perform better in the search results, while the others lag behind. Visualizing the site’s internal link structure and figuring out the domain authority of individual pages on a scale of one to ten (like Google) allows you to see the areas for improvement and adopt proactive measures.
On-page SEO optimization is just a single example of how SEO experts combine visualizations with data science to provide better results to clients. Make your SEO data more actionable with visualizations.
5. Take help of A/B testing
LinkedIn carried out an experiment using the XNLT platform. The experiment was focused on the redesign of the “Premium Subscription” payment flow. The LinkedIn UX team reduced the number of payment checkout pages and added a FAQ. The results were impressive with an increase in the number of annual bookings which was worth millions of dollars, a 30% reduction in refund orders and a 10% increase in free trial subscriptions.
Data science focuses on eliminating guesswork from SEO. Rather than presuming what works and how a specific action affects your goals, use data science to know what’s bringing you the desired results and how you’re able to quantify your success. Brands like Airbnb are already doing it and so can you.
When performing a search on Google these days you will often find it contains a local result. In most cases that means results in a map powered by Google My Business results.
In fact, during quarterly earnings call Google’s CEO said,
“I wouldn’t underestimate the focus we have on local. Just to give you a sense, local mobile searches are growing faster than just mobile searches overall, and have increased by almost 50% in the last year.”
When a statement like this is made it indicates two things to me:
1. Consumers are expecting more and more local results
2. Google My Business is really important to capture traffic.
With this trend clearly in sight, I wanted to dig into some data to look into a key factor in consumers decision making, ratings, and reviews. I was curious as to how much having a strong rating impacts consumes selecting a business. We already know ratings and reviews are important from numerous studies in the industry.
For example, Brightlocal found that 57% of consumers will only buy from businesses with a four-plus star rating. So I took a look at some data that included over 10 million Google My Business data points to try to understand the impact of increasing a business rating had on their conversion rates. I think what I found will seem very obvious, but certainly, validate the importance of good reviews.
Ratings really matter for non-branded searches
I thought I might start with something that is the most logical. When a consumer isn’t familiar with your brand and performs a generic, aka non-branded, search they are influenced greatly by a business’s rating. In the data set that I used businesses were found via non-branded searches 70% of the time vs. 30% of the time via a branded search. Meaning >2X the traffic is coming from consumers who aren’t yet sure what business they are going to choose.
Once they see the results, consumers took action on business that had a higher rating regardless of the type of search as ratings improved (duh), but they were more impacted by businesses with higher ratings when they performed a non-branded search. Conversion rates for consumers who took action (phone call, click, or got directions) on a Google My Business result were 68% higher vs. 63% higher for non-branded searches for companies with a <=2 rating vs. a 5 rating. Each star rating improvement directly leads to an increased conversion rate.
Source: Google My Business Insights
In our data set we had 70% of businesses with a rating between 2 & 4, with just 17% of businesses >4. For that 17 % of businesses who have received the highest reviews, they are receiving almost 30 more actions per 1,000 impressions than business with a <=2 rating. Think about how much this adds up over time? It’s massive.
While the fact that having a higher rating directly relates to having a higher conversion rate might seem obvious, I thought I’d add a data point that wasn’t as obvious, but potentially just as valuable. Our data shows that as your rating goes up consumers are more likely to click “get directions” vs. calling. While this doesn’t necessarily directly equal higher conversions, to me it indicates that consumers are more comfortable to trust the listing and head directly there vs. calling to get a sense of comfort prior to making any decisions. Also, they might call to validate the listing since the rating is so low. This introduces a potential barrier to conversion, maybe that call isn’t answered, or is requiring a customer service call since the rating is so low.
Source: Google My Business Insights
The simple takeaway from this data is that ratings drive action and business. The action to be taken is twofold;
- Google My Business is important. Ensuring that your name, address, phone number, website, hours, etc… are accurate and well aligned across the web. Often using a location data management platform can help improve quality and results.
- Soliciting and responding to ratings and reviews will help your business improve your ability to convert consumers. There are also software packages available to help improve ratings and reviews for your business. You don’t necessarily need one of these platforms, but similar to location data management they can help scale your marketing prowess.
We know from Google’s data and CEO that location is important. Hopefully, these data points can provide some additional firepower for your business to take these listing seriously. Improving your listings in Google My Business and other location data providers will have a positive impact on your business.
Jason Tabeling is EVP, Product at Brandmuscle. He can be found on Twitter @jtabeling.
You need to up your YouTube optimization game when you’ve got awesome video content but poor traffic.
In case you haven’t heard, video marketing has been experiencing a near-meteoric rise over the last few years. Online video has now overtaken television as the preferred medium for watching videos, while around five billion videos are watched on YouTube each day.
It’s important to note that simply having great content isn’t enough. To make sure your videos are seen by more people and easy to discover, you have to optimize them.
This is where SEO comes in. The good news is that YouTube is already the second biggest search engine in the world, which means you can be sure that your audience will find you if you do the right things.
In this article, we’re going to give you some of our tried and tested tips on how to optimize your video marketing strategy on YouTube.
Title your video with keywords
Your title is essentially what makes people want to click your video. It has to be brief, direct, compelling and it has to let your viewers know exactly what the video is all about.
For example: “How To Create Affirmations” as seen in the video below.
To fully optimize your video so that both your audience and the YouTube SEO algorithm knows what it’s all about, you need to add keywords.
Finding the right keywords for your video is pretty easy. Begin by typing a title you have in mind, for example, “How to design a logo” – into the search bar, before taking advantage of the auto-complete feature. Basically, YouTube suggests results that are the most popular search queries based on your keyword. Use the keywords that the search bar brings up and incorporate them into your title – without overloading the title.
Nail the description
While it’s totally okay to add keywords to your description, Backlinko actually did some research on this and found that there is no correlation between keyword-rich descriptions and the rankings for that particular term.
This is interesting stuff, but you still need to optimize your description for SEO purposes regardless. Add your main keywords to your description and try to get them in as early and as much as reasonably possible.
Because YouTube caps your text at 1,000 characters, you don’t want to be too wordy. Remember, folks are here to watch videos and not read a story. Keep your description concise, clear and compelling enough so that it encourages users to press play.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that only the first three lines are displayed before someone has to click “see more” to see the rest of the text. As such, it’s good practice to get your key info into the first two to three lines, such as links to your product pages, landing page, your “subscribe” link, or even your CTA.
This is what Brave Wilderness do all the time:
Optimize your tags
Tags help to make your video more discoverable to people. With tags, you’re informing your viewers what your video is about, and you’re also giving stronger clues to YouTube. Essentially, tags help YouTube understand both the context and content of a video so that it becomes associated with similar videos. This increases your reach.
To that end, take your time picking the right tags. While you might think it’s a good idea to choose popular tags that will land you more views, you might get reported for spam if you keep picking irrelevant tags. And once you’ve been reported for spam a few times, Google will probably penalize you.
Keep your tags relevant, use keywords and find as many as you can that work, keeping in mind that these keywords will pull in the right audience.
Add your keyword to your video file
When we upload our videos to YouTube, it’s very easy to overlook the name of the video file itself. Usually, a video file has an impersonal name, such as mov002.avi. That doesn’t even give us the slightest clue as to what the video is about!
To help the YouTube algorithm out a little, rename your video file to your main keyword.
Remember that YouTube’s algorithm can’t take a peek inside your video to find out what it’s all about. An optimized video file gives it a bigger clue and will help you to rank better.
Choose a category
Picking a category for your video sounds simple enough, but unless you take the time to do this properly you might end up picking a category that just doesn’t help you rank at all.
There are a few factors you need to bear in mind when choosing a category:
Who’s creating the best content in this category and what does it look like?
Do the audiences for popular channels in this category match yours?
What is the general format, length and overall production value of the best videos in this category?
For example, if you choose a category that’s related to your niche, but which is filled with content that’s got different production values to yours, you’ll lose out. Find a category that really suits your style, content, and audience, and do some thorough research before settling on one.
Add an eye-catching thumbnail
Bland thumbnails that literally discourage us from watching a video will kill your SEO efforts. It’s the same if a thumbnail appears to be unrelated to the content.
A killer thumbnail needs to be so eye-catching that a user can’t do anything else but click the video.
The best videos have customized thumbnails.
If you take a look at a selection of Brave Wilderness’ thumbnails below, you can see that each one has been customized. They’ve added their logo to the top right of each thumbnail, and they’ve added funky speech bubbles and colorful graphics to jazz their thumbnails up.
If you think this type of thing is beyond you, there are plenty of tools to help you out. Design Wizard, for example, helps you to redesign – and crucially resize – your images, while Pik Wizard is stuffed with lots of professional images that will ensure your thumbnails stand out.
All in all, YouTube SEO isn’t rocket science and there’s no need to let it take away from your enjoyment of making videos. As long as you produce great video content and follow our guidelines in this article, there’s every chance that your video marketing campaign will start working its magic for you.
The post How to optimize your video marketing strategy on YouTube appeared first on Search Engine Watch.
Skype is best known for being a video calling app and, to some extent, that’s because its messaging feature set has been a bit underdeveloped. Today, the company is working to change that image with a series of improvements to Skype’s chatting features aimed at further differentiating it from rival apps.
One of the most useful of the new features is support for Message Drafts.
Similar to email, any message you type up in Skype but don’t yet send is saved within the conversation with a “draft” tag attached. That way you can return to the message to finish it and send it later.
It’s a feature that would be great to see other messaging clients adopt, as well, given how much of modern business and personal communication takes place outside of email.
People have wanted the ability to draft and schedule iMessage texts for years — so much so that clever developers invented app-based workarounds to meet consumers’ needs. Some people even type up their texts in Notepad, waiting for the right time to send them.
In another email-inspired addition, Skype is also introducing the ability to bookmark important messages. To access this option, you just have to long-press a message (on mobile) or right-click (on desktop), then tap or click “Add Bookmark.” This will add the message to your Bookmarks screen for easy retrieval.
You’ll also now be able to preview photos, videos and files before you send them through messages — a worthwhile improvement, but one that’s more about playing catch-up to other communication apps than being particularly innovative.
And if you’re sharing a bunch of photos or videos all at once, Skype will now organize them neatly. Instead of overwhelming recipients with a large set of photos, the photos are grouped in a way that’s more common to what you’d see on social media. That is, only a few are displayed while the rest hide behind a “+” button you have to click in order to see more.
Unrelated to the messaging improvements, Skype also rolled out split window support for all versions of Windows, Mac and Linux. (Windows 10 support was already available.)
As one of the older messaging apps still in use, Skype is no longer the largest or most popular, claiming only 300 million monthly active users compared to WhatsApp’s 1.5 billion, for example.
However, it’s good to see its team getting back to solving real consumer pain points rather than trying to clone Snapchat as it mistakenly tried to do not too long ago. (Thankfully, those changes were rolled back.) What Skype’s remaining users appreciate is the app’s ease-of-use and its productivity focus, and these changes are focused on that direction.
Outside of the expanded access to split view, noted above, all the other new features are rolling out across all Skype platforms, the company says.
The moderators who sift through the toxic detritus of social media have gained the spotlight recently, but they’ve been important for far longer — longer than internet giants would like you to know. In her new book “Behind the Screen,” UCLA’s Sarah Roberts illuminates the history of this scrupulously hidden workforce and the many forms the job takes.
It is after all people who look at every heinous image, racist diatribe and porn clip that gets uploaded to Facebook, YouTube and every other platform — people who are often paid like dirt, treated like parts, then disposed of like trash when worn out. And they’ve been doing it for a long time.
True to her academic roots, Roberts lays out the thesis of the book clearly in the introduction, explaining that although content moderators or the companies that employ them may occasionally surface in discussions, the job has been systematically obscured from sight:
The work they do, the conditions under which they do it, and for whose benefit are largely imperceptible to the users of the platforms who pay for and rely upon this labor. In fact, this invisibility is by design.
Roberts, an assistant professor of information studies at UCLA, has been looking into this industry for the better part of a decade, and this book is the culmination of her efforts to document it. While it is not the final word on the topic — no academic would suggest their work was — it is an eye-opening account, engagingly written and not at all the tour of horrors you may reasonably expect it to be.
After reading the book, I talked with Roberts about the process of researching and writing it. As an academic and tech outsider, she was not writing from personal experience or even commenting on the tech itself, but found that she had to essentially invent a new area of research from scratch spanning tech, global labor and sociocultural norms.
“Opacity, obfuscation, and general unwillingness”
“To take you back to 2010 when I started this work, there was literally no academic research on this topic,” Roberts said. “That’s unusual for a grad student, and actually something that made me feel insecure — like maybe this isn’t a thing, maybe no one cares.”
That turned out not to be the case, of course. But the practices we read about with horror, of low-wage workers grinding through endless queues of content from child abuse to terrorist attacks, while they’ve been in place for years and years, have been successfully moderated out of existence by the companies that employ them. But recent events have changed that.
“A number of factors are coalescing to make the public more receptive to this kind of work,” she explained. “Average social media users, just regular people, are becoming more sophisticated about their use, and questioning the integration of those kinds of tools and media in their everyday life. And certainly there were a few key political situations where social media was implicated. Those were a driving force behind the people asking, do I actually know what I’m using? Do I know whether or how I’m being manipulated? How do the things I see on my screen actually get there?”
A handful of reports over the years, like Casey Newton’s in the Verge recently, also pierced the curtain behind which tech firms carefully and repeatedly hid this unrewarding yet essential work. At some point the cat was simply out of the bag. But few people recognized it for what it was.
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