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Facebook’s Workplace, now with 5M paying users, adds drop-in video Rooms and more

May 23, 2020 No Comments

One of the biggest technology takeaways of the last couple of months has been that organizations need confident, wide-ranging digital strategies to stay afloat, and Facebook — in its wider bid to build products to serve businesses — is taking note. In the same week that the social network doubled down on business tools for small and medium enterprises with Shops, it is also sharpening its focus on larger enterprises and how they might use its platform.

Today, Facebook announced a number of new products coming to Workplace, its enterprise-focused chat and video platform, including Workplace versions of Rooms (its Houseparty video drop-in clone), Work Groups (a feature it launched on Facebook itself last October to create informal Groups for co-workers), more tools to make video conversations more interactive and enhanced tools for its Portal video hardware.

Alongside all that, Facebook also announced the general availability of Oculus for Business, an enterprise-focused version of its virtual reality headset and platform that plays on how spatial computing is starting to get adopted in a business setting, particularly in training and collaboration projects. It said that there are now more than 400 independent software vendors contributing products to the effort.

The new products are coming at a time when Facebook is focusing how its platform can be a natural tool for consumers who are already using it, to migrate to use it more for work purposes too.

This is something that Mark Zuckerberg has also been teasing out, with his own announcements and discussion today about moving more of Facebook’s staff to remote work. “This is all about a feeling of presence,” he said during his Live video, aimed at staff but broadcast publicly. “As we use these tools for work as well and eat our own dog food, we’ll advance the technology.”

Facebook is also responding to what is going on in the wider working world. Video conferencing and other communications services for remote teams are booming, a direct result of people having to work from home to fall in line with current COVID-19 social distancing measures.

That shift has led to a huge surge of usage and interest in communications tools like Zoom, Teams and Skype (from Microsoft) and Hangouts and Meet (Google’s video offerings).

Facebook itself has been no stranger to that trend: Workplace now has 5 million paying users (and millions more using it for free) — up by 2 million to the end of March. (For some, but not direct, comparison, Slack says it has 12 million daily users and more than 119,000 paying customers, which include many more individual users; Microsoft’s Teams most recent numbers from March are 44 million daily users, but it doesn’t break out which of those are paying.)

Interestingly, that number doesn’t include April or the first part of May, arguably the peak of measures for people to shelter in place in countries outside of Asia (where many put in measures earlier).

“We will see the impact of COVID-19 a few weeks from now,” Julien Codorniou, VP for Workplace, said in an interview. He added that he doesn’t think that the softened economy, and subsequent layoffs for some large employers, will have had an impact on growth, despite Facebook’s customer list including big players from the hospitality and retail sectors (Walmart, Virgin Atlantic and Booking.com are among its many customers in those sectors).

“Usage has stayed the same,” he said. “They know they will have to go back to work at some point and they have to keep their [employee] community engaged. Workplace became mission-critical overnight.”

The new features getting launched today are interesting in part because they are not necessarily so much about expanding the Workplace ecosystem with more links to outside apps — that was one strategy that Workplace has chased in previous iterations to keep up with Slack and enhance its toolset — as it is about enhancing the Facebook-native set of features that it would like people to use. It might speak to Facebook accepting that its strongest play is to accentuate its social features rather than try to position itself as an all-in-one productivity platform (which might come naturally as a result; or might not).

Work Groups — basically smaller groups you could create on Facebook to chat directly to your colleagues outside of your wider circle of friends — was an odd one to launch outside of Workplace, but Codorniou said it was very intentional: the idea was to give a wider set of Facebook users a taste of how they might use Facebook in a work context, and to hopefully drive more usage of Facebook as a result.

The fact that the Rooms feature is now coming to Workplace itself will be one way to entice more of those users — there are now 20 million (yes, that’s right: the power of Facebook scale) — to migrate their usage to Workplace to take up other tools on offer there. For those on Workplace already, it’s another way to boost engagement on the platform.

Rooms are also an import from the consumer side of the business. Rooms was Facebook’s informal attempt to bring in a bit of the spontaneity of other apps like Houseparty (which is a part of Epic Games), but tapping into the social graph that you already have on Facebook. It’s a relatively new feature, only getting launched at the end of April, so it’s interesting to see it making such a quick appearance on Workplace. (Live took significantly longer to get imported.)

The key element of Rooms that will stand out for Workplace users is that those who are on Workplace already can use it to create links that others can use to drop in, even if they’re not a part of the user’s Workplace group or on Facebook itself. Like Zoom or the others, essentially it’s a URL link that will let anyone with a camera, a microphone, a browser and a connection link in.

The tools that Facebook is adding to enhance how Workplace users are able to work with video, meanwhile, will also potentially improve engagement on the platform, but also more simply, give it needed parity with the other tools that have proven popular — necessary if Facebook hopes to get more traction with its native tools, even as it continues to offer integrations with the likes of Zoom.

Live Producer lets the host of a video live event start polls, share their screens and see “health” metrics to gauge responses to what they are saying. Q&A follows the same idea, a Slide-like system to queue, triage and select questions without the questions being necessarily visible to everyone watching. Lastly, the addition of captions will be especially welcome in international teams when you might not always be speaking to people fluent in whatever language you’re using. It’s starting first with live captions in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian and German.


Social – TechCrunch


Stripe adds card issuing, localized card networks and expanded approvals tool

April 25, 2020 No Comments

At a time when more transactions than ever are happening online, payments behemoth Stripe is announcing three new features to continue expanding its reach.

The company today announced that it will now offer card issuing services directly to businesses to let them in turn make credit cards for customers tailored to specific purposes. Alongside that, it’s going to expand the number of accepted local, large card networks to cut down some of the steps it takes to make transactions in international markets. And finally, it’s launching a “revenue optimization” feature that essentially will use Stripe’s AI algorithms to reassess and approve more flagged transactions that might have otherwise been rejected in the past.

Together the three features underscore how Stripe is continuing to scale up with more services around its core payment processing APIs, a significant step in the wake of last week announcing its biggest fundraise to date: $ 600 million at a $ 36 billion valuation.

The rollouts of the new products are specifically coming at a time when Stripe has seen a big boost in usage among some (but not all) of its customers, said John Collison, Stripe’s co-founder and president, in an interview. Instacart, which is providing grocery delivery at a time when many are living under stay-at-home orders, has seen transactions up by 300% in recent weeks. Another newer customer, Zoom, is also seeing business boom. Amazon, Stripe’s behemoth customer that Collison would not discuss in any specific terms except to confirm it’s a close partner, is also seeing extremely heavy usage.

But other Stripe users — for example, many of its sea of small business users — are seeing huge pressures, while still others, faced with no physical business, are just starting to approach e-commerce in earnest for the first time. Stripe’s idea is that the launches today can help it address all of these scenarios.

“What we’re seeing in the COVID-19 world is that the impact is not minor,” said Collison. “Online has always been steadily taking a share from offline, but now many [projected] years of that migration are happening in the space of a few weeks.”

Stripe is among those companies that have been very mum about when they might go public — a state of affairs that only become more set in recent times, given how the IPO market has all but dried up in the midst of a health pandemic and economic slump. That has meant very little transparency about how Stripe is run, whether it’s profitable and how much revenues it makes.

But Stripe did note last week that it had some $ 2 billion in cash and cash reserves, which at least speaks to a level of financial stability. And another hint of efficiency might be gleaned from today’s product news.

While these three new services don’t necessarily sound like they are connected to each other, what they have underpinning them is that they are all building on top of tech and services that Stripe has previously rolled out. This speaks to how, even as the company now handles some 250 million API requests daily, it’s keeping some lean practices in place in terms of how it invests and maximises engineering and business development resources.

The card issuing service, for example, is built on a card service that Stripe launched last year. Originally aimed at businesses to provide their employees with credit cards — for example to better manage their own work-related expenses, or to make transactions on behalf of the business — now businesses can use the card issuing platform to build out aspects of its customer-facing services.

For example, Stripe noted that the first customer, Zipcar, will now be placing credit cards in each of its vehicles, which drivers can use to fuel up the vehicles (that is, the cards can only be used to buy gas). Another example Collison gave for how these could be implemented would be in a food delivery service, for example for a Postmates delivery person to use the card to pay for the meal that a customer has already paid Postmates to pick up and deliver to them.

Collison noted that while other startups like Marqeta have built big businesses around innovative card issuing services, “this is the first time it’s being issued on a self-serving basis,” meaning companies that want to use these cards can now set this up more quickly as a “programmatic card” experience, akin to self-serve, programmatic ads online.

It seems also to be good news for investors. “Stripe Issuing is a big step forward,” said Alex Rampell, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, in a statement. “Not just for the millions of businesses running on Stripe, but for credit cards as a fundamental technology. Businesses can now use an API to create and issue cards exactly when and where they need them, and they can do it in a few clicks, not a few months. As investors, we’re excited by all the potential new companies and business models that will emerge as a result.”

Meanwhile, the revenue “optimization” engine that Stripe is rolling out is built on the same machine learning algorithms that it originally built for Radar, its fraud prevention tool that originally launched in 2016 and was extended to larger enterprises in 2018. This makes a lot of sense, since oftentimes the reason transactions get rejected is because of the suspicion of fraud. Why it’s taken four years to extend that to improve how transactions are approved or rejected is not entirely clear, but Stripe estimates that it could enable a further $ 2.5 billion in transactions annually.

One reason why the revenue optimization may have taken some time to roll out was because while Stripe offers a very seamless, simple API for users, it’s doing a lot of complex work behind the scenes knitting together a lot of very fragmented payment flows between card issuers, banks, businesses, customers and more in order to make transactions possible.

The third product announcement speaks to how Stripe is simplifying a bit more of that. Now, it’s able to provide direct links into six big card networks — Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover, JCB and China Union Pay, which effectively covers the major card networks in North and Latin America, Southeast Asia and Europe. Previously, Stripe would have had to work with third parties to integrate acceptance of all of these networks in different regions, which would have cut into Stripe’s own margins and also given it less flexibility in terms of how it could handle the transaction data.

Launching the revenue optimization by being able to apply machine learning to the transaction data is one example of where and how it might be able to apply more innovative processes from now on.

While Stripe is mainly focused today on how to serve its wider customer base and to just help business continue to keep running, Collison noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a measurable impact on Stripe beyond just boosts in business for some of its customers.

The whole company has been working remotely for weeks, including its development team, making for challenging times in building and rolling out services.

And Stripe, along with others, is also in the early stages of piloting how it will play a role in issuing small business loans as part of the CARES Act, he said.

In addition to that, he noted that there has been an emergence of more medical and telehealth services using Stripe for payments.

Before now, many of those use cases had been blocked by the banks, he said, for reasons of the industries themselves being strictly regulated in terms of what kind of data could get passed across networks and the sensitive nature of the businesses themselves. He said that a lot of that has started to get unblocked in the current climate, and “the growth of telemedicine has been off the charts.”


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Facebook adds new ‘care’ emoji reactions on its main app and in Messenger

April 17, 2020 No Comments

As a lot of us continue to stay indoors, Facebook has become a go-to platform for many people to check in with their friends, family and neighbors during the current coronavirus pandemic. Today, to give us another way of showing support and presence in its apps, the company said it would add a new reaction for “care” — in the forms of an emoji face hugging a heart, and a pulsing heart — that will appear alongside the “thumbs up” for like, the basic heart, and the laughing, shock, sadness, and anger emojis.

This makes “care” the first addition to the list of reactions since it was expanded from a simple “like” button back in 2015 to give people more empathetic, quick responses to posts.

Starting next week, the care emojis will start appearing on Facebook’s main app (the emoji face embracing the heart), while the new reaction will appear on Messenger (in the form of a pulsing heart) from today. You can see the new heart by pressing on an existing reaction to change it, or by creating a new reaction to a chat.

“We hope these reactions give people additional ways to show their support during the #COVID19 crisis,” a spokesperson noted about the new emojis earlier today. “We know this is an uncertain time, and we wanted people to be able to show their support in ways that let their friends and family know they are thinking of them.”

Ahead of today, it looks like Pedja Ristic, a product designer at Facebook, was testing the reaction on his own posts, another hint it was coming.

This is relatively speaking a pretty small gesture: offering up an emoji in response to a post is not putting food on the table (nor shopping for it, which has become a challenge in itself), giving someone a guarantee of income, making sure that a person is not being misinformed about the scope of the  novel coronavirus and how best to deal with that, nor indeed curing anyone who happens to get sick from this awful thing.

But in the scope of Facebook being a crucial part of many people’s support networks, ever more important as people live in isolation, it’s another way to make it more useful and more tuned to the kind of empathy we all need right now.

Facebook has been working on a number of levels to do something useful in the current health crisis. Its work has ranged from making stronger efforts to ferret out and remove misinformation, provide grants to those in media that are working to report the news well, separate grants to small businesses, supporting public health initiatives to get more important messages out, and like many others also donating masks to those in need.


Social – TechCrunch


Instagram adds Boomerang effects as TikTok looms

January 12, 2020 No Comments

TikTok has spawned countless memes formats from its creative effects, challenging Instagram for the filtered video crown. Now nearly five years after launching Boomerang, Instagram’s back-and-forth video loop maker is finally getting a big update to its own editing options. Users around the globe can now add SlowMo, “Echo” blurring, and “Duo” rapid rewind special effects to their Boomerangs, as well as trim their length. This is the biggest upgrade yet for one of mobile’s most popular video creation tools.

The effects could help keep Instagram interesting. After so many years of Boomerangs, many viewers simply skip past them in Stories after the first loop since they’re so consistent. The extra visual flare of the new effects could keep people’s attention for a few more seconds and unlock new forms of comedy. That’s critical as Instagram tries to compete with TikTok, which has tons of special effects that have spawned their own meme formats.

Starting today, people on Instagram will be able to share new SloMo, Echo and Duo Boomerang modes on Instagram” a Facebook company spokesperson tells TechCrunch. “Your Instagram camera gives you ways to express yourself and easily share what you’re doing, thinking or feeling with your friends. Boomerang is one of the most beloved camera formats and we’re excited to expand the creative ways that you can use Boomerang to turn everyday moments into something fun and unexpected.”

The new Boomerang tools can be found by swiping right on Instagram to open the Stories composer, and then swiping left at the bottom of the screen’s shutter selector. After shooting a Boomerang, an infinity symbol button atop the screen reveals the alternate effects and video trimmer. Mobile researcher Jane Manchun Wong spotted Instagram prototyping new Boomerang filters and the trimmer last year.

Typically, Boomerang captures one second of silent video which is then played forward and then in reverse three times to create a six second loop that can be shared or downloaded as a video. Here are the new effects you can add plus how Instagram described them to me in a statement:

  • SlowMo – Reduces Boomerangs to half-speed so they play for two seconds in each direction instead of one second. “Slows down your Boomerang to capture each detail”
  • Echo – Adds a motion blur effect so a translucent trail appears behind anything moving, almost like you’re drunk or tripping. “Creates a double vision effect.”
  • Duo – Rapidly rewinds the clip to the beginning with a glitchy, digitized look. “Both speeds up and slows down your Boomerang, adding a texturized effect.”
  • Trimming – Shorten your Boomerang with similar controls to iPhone’s camera roll or the Instagram feed video composer. “Edit the length of your Boomerang, and when it starts or ends.”

The effects aren’t entirely original. Snapchat has offered slow-motion and fast-foward video effects since just days after the original launch of Boomerang back in 2015. TikTok meanwhile provides several motion blur filters and pixelated transitions. But since these are all available with traditional video, unlike on Instagram where they’re confined to Boomerangs, there’s more creative flexibility to use the effects to hide cuts between takes or play with people’s voices.

That’s won TikTok a plethora of ingenius memes that rely on these tools. Users high-five themselves using an Echo-esque feature, highlight action-packed moments or loud sounds with Duo-style glitch cuts, and conjure an army of doppelgangers behind them with infinity clones effect. Instagram Stories has instead focused on augmented reality face filters and classier tools like layout.

TikTok Screenshots

Hopefully we’ll see Instagram’s new editing features brought over to its main Stories and video composers. Video trimming would be especially helpful since a boring start to a Story can quickly lead viewers to skip it.

Instagram has had years of domination in the social video space. But with Snapchat finally growing again and TikTok becoming a global phenomenon, Instagram must once again fight to maintain its superiority. Now approaching 10 years old, it’s at risk of becoming stale if it can’t keep giving people ways to make hastily shot phone content compelling.


Social – TechCrunch


Instagram adds Boomerang effects as TikTok looms

January 11, 2020 No Comments

TikTok has spawned countless memes formats from its creative effects, challenging Instagram for the filtered video crown. Now nearly five years after launching Boomerang, Instagram’s back-and-forth video loop maker is finally getting a big update to its own editing options. Users around the globe can now add SlowMo, “Echo” blurring, and “Duo” rapid rewind special effects to their Boomerangs, as well as trim their length. This is the biggest upgrade yet for one of mobile’s most popular video creation tools.

The effects could help keep Instagram interesting. After so many years of Boomerangs, many viewers simply skip past them in Stories after the first loop since they’re so consistent. The extra visual flare of the new effects could keep people’s attention for a few more seconds and unlock new forms of comedy. That’s critical as Instagram tries to compete with TikTok, which has tons of special effects that have spawned their own meme formats.

Starting today, people on Instagram will be able to share new SloMo, Echo and Duo Boomerang modes on Instagram” a Facebook company spokesperson tells TechCrunch. “Your Instagram camera gives you ways to express yourself and easily share what you’re doing, thinking or feeling with your friends. Boomerang is one of the most beloved camera formats and we’re excited to expand the creative ways that you can use Boomerang to turn everyday moments into something fun and unexpected.”

The new Boomerang tools can be found by swiping right on Instagram to open the Stories composer, and then swiping left at the bottom of the screen’s shutter selector. After shooting a Boomerang, an infinity symbol button atop the screen reveals the alternate effects and video trimmer. Mobile researcher Jane Manchun Wong spotted Instagram prototyping new Boomerang filters and the trimmer last year.

Typically, Boomerang captures one second of silent video which is then played forward and then in reverse three times to create a six second loop that can be shared or downloaded as a video. Here are the new effects you can add plus how Instagram described them to me in a statement:

  • SlowMo – Reduces Boomerangs to half-speed so they play for two seconds in each direction instead of one second. “Slows down your Boomerang to capture each detail”
  • Echo – Adds a motion blur effect so a translucent trail appears behind anything moving, almost like you’re drunk or tripping. “Creates a double vision effect.”
  • Duo – Rapidly rewinds the clip to the beginning with a glitchy, digitized look. “Both speeds up and slows down your Boomerang, adding a texturized effect.”
  • Trimming – Shorten your Boomerang with similar controls to iPhone’s camera roll or the Instagram feed video composer. “Edit the length of your Boomerang, and when it starts or ends.”

The effects aren’t entirely original. Snapchat has offered slow-motion and fast-foward video effects since just days after the original launch of Boomerang back in 2015. TikTok meanwhile provides several motion blur filters and pixelated transitions. But since these are all available with traditional video, unlike on Instagram where they’re confined to Boomerangs, there’s more creative flexibility to use the effects to hide cuts between takes or play with people’s voices.

That’s won TikTok a plethora of ingenius memes that rely on these tools. Users high-five themselves using an Echo-esque feature, highlight action-packed moments or loud sounds with Duo-style glitch cuts, and conjure an army of doppelgangers behind them with infinity clones effect. Instagram Stories has instead focused on augmented reality face filters and classier tools like layout.

TikTok Screenshots

Hopefully we’ll see Instagram’s new editing features brought over to its main Stories and video composers. Video trimming would be especially helpful since a boring start to a Story can quickly lead viewers to skip it.

Instagram has had years of domination in the social video space. But with Snapchat finally growing again and TikTok becoming a global phenomenon, Instagram must once again fight to maintain its superiority. Now approaching 10 years old, it’s at risk of becoming stale if it can’t keep giving people ways to make hastily shot phone content compelling.

Mobile – TechCrunch


TikTok adds Giphy integration to import Stickers and export TikTok memes to the rest of the world

August 1, 2019 No Comments

TikTok is the breakout hit in social media apps at the moment — it’s currently ranked first in entertainment, and 12th overall in terms of download popularity on iOS, and 8th on Android in the US — and today it’s starting a partnership that should give it an even wider profile, with the added benefit of bring another key tool in for creators on the platform to use: the app is now working with Giphy, the GIF platform, to make it possible to import Giphy GIFs, specifically its animated Stickers, into TikTok posts, and at the same time, to be able to create new GIFs for Giphy based on what you are doing in TikTok .

file 2TikTok tells me that this is not a commercial deal: there’s no money exchanging hands, a spokesperson said in an email. “We’re excited to continue enhancing our creative tools with this integration,” she continued, “as well as share some of TikTok’s most iconic memes with GIPHY keyboards everywhere!”

The spokesperson said that this is the first partnership for TikTok — owned by China’s Bytedance — to integrate a third-party GIF/Sticker content into its platform. On the side of Giphy, though, this is the latest of a string of integrations that it’s used over the years to expand its reach. You can call up Giphy GIFs in Twitch, enterprise apps like Slack and Quip, and (after ironing out a little controversy with how well GIFs were being vetted) on Snapchat and Instagram, among others.

(Note: TikTok does have deals with other kinds of third parties, though, for example music labels and publishers, who are apparently in the process of rethinking those agreements, in light of just how huge TikTok has become, and its role as the primary place where music is being played, heard and appropriated.)

TikTok will be putting the Giphy integration front and center into the app, with creators able to add a sticker to a post by hitting a Giphy button to call up a directory. It sounds like an algorithm will surface a pared-down selection for users: TikTok said that it worked with Giphy Studios to create stickers that reflect some of the more popular memes and hashtags on TikTok (eg #oddlysatisfying or a dog sticker). You can also search on #getGiphy to find more.

At the same time, TikTok’s using the integration to give creators on its platform a little more amplification: the most popular stickers based on TikTok memes will also get surfaced now on Giphy itself, and wherever it is integrated. You find these by searching on #TikTok in the Giphy libarary search bar. At a time when there is a lot of heated competition to bring the most popular creators to do their best original work on a specific platform, this potentially could be one way to help woo them to TikTok over others.

But that’s not to say that anyone’s Giphy stickers will appear anywhere that Giphy is.

file 1“Giphy users can create and upload their own Stickers to the platform. However, their content won’t be indexed in Giphy’s search and will not show up in third party apps like TikTok unless they are a verified channel on Giphy,” a spokesperson told us. “Giphy Studios has worked with a wide array of brands and partners, such as TikTok, to create custom content, which they do on a case by case basis. TikTok worked with the creators and the Giphy Studios team to turn popular TikTok memes into GIFs. To create this content, we invited a group of creative, funny, and diverse creators, @DreaKnowBest, @Gabe, @BenoftheWeek who are excited to immortalize TikTok memes in GIF form.”

Doubtless if this takes off, there will be more added to that mix.

TikTok doesn’t share how many users it currently has on its platform, but the app — and before that, its predecessor Musically — has proven to be a massively popular channel for sharing fun and occasionally sentimental short videos set to music. But even that loose remit, which has attracted so many users, has its limitations. If you browse enough TikTok, a lot of the posts start to meld together. Adding in a sticker option gives a little extra nudge of differentiation.

There is a longer-term option that this brings to the platform, too: While TikTok has yet to turn the advertising taps on to full volume, stickers can become an obvious way of bringing in more #brands and messaging in a way that keeps the fun ethos of the platform intact.


Social – TechCrunch


WhatsApp adds a tip-line for checking fakes in India ahead of elections

April 2, 2019 No Comments

Facebook -owned messaging platform WhatsApp has launched a fact-checking tipline for users in India ahead of elections in the country.

The fact-checking service consists of a phone number (+91-9643-000-888) where users can send dubious messages if they think they might not be true or otherwise want them verified.

The messaging giant is working with a local media skilling startup, Proto, to run the fact-checking service — in conjunction with digital strategy consultancy Dig Deeper Media and San Francisco-based Meedan, which builds tools for journalists, to provide the platform for verifying submitted content, per TNW.

We’ve reached out to Proto and WhatsApp with questions.

The Economic Times of India reports that the startup intends to use the submitted messages to build a database to help study misinformation during elections for a research project commissioned and supported by WhatsApp.

“The goal of this project is to study the misinformation phenomenon at scale. As more data flows in, we will be able to identify the most susceptible or affected issues, locations, languages, regions, and more,” said Proto’s co-founders Ritvvij Parrikh and Nasr ul Hadi in a statement quoted by Reuters.

WhatsApp also told the news agency: “The challenge of viral misinformation requires more collaborative efforts and cannot be solved by any one organisation alone.”

According to local press reports, suspicious messages can be shared to the WhatsApp tipline in four regional languages, with the fact-checking service covering videos and pictures, as well as text. The submitter is also to confirm they want a fact-check and, on doing so, will get a subsequent response indicating if the shared message is classified as true, false, misleading, disputed or out of scope.

Other related information may also be provided, the Economic Times reports.

WhatsApp has faced major issues with fakes being spread on its end-to-end encrypted platform — a robust security technology that makes the presence of bogus and/or maliciously misleading content harder to spot and harder to manage since the platform itself does not have access to it.

The spread of fakes has become a huge problem for social media platforms generally. One that’s arguably most acute in markets where literacy (and digital literacy) rates can vary substantially. And in India WhatsApp fakes have led to some truly tragic outcomes — with multiple reports in recent years detailing how fast-spreading digital rumors sparked or fuelled mob violence that’s led to death and injury.

India’s general election, which is due to take place in several phases starting later this month until mid next, presents a more clearly defined threat — with the risk of a democratic process and outcome being manipulated by weaponized political disinformation.

WhatsApp’s platform is squarely in the frame given the app’s popularity in India.

It has also been accused of fuelling damaging political fakes during elections in Brazil last year, with Reuters reporting that the platform was flooded with falsehoods and conspiracy theories.

An outsized presence on social media appears to have aided the election of right winger Jair Bolsonaro. While the leftwing candidate he beat in a presidential runoff later claimed businessmen backing Bolsonaro paid to flood WhatsApp with misleading propaganda.

In India local press reports that politicians across the spectrum are being accused of seeking to manipulate the forthcoming elections by seeding fakes on the popular encrypted messaging platform.

It’s clear that WhatsApp offers a conduit for spreading unregulated and unaccountable propaganda at scale with even limited resources. So whether a tipline can offer a robust check against weaponized political disinformation very much remains to be seen.

There certainly look to be limitations to this approach. Though it could also be developed and enhanced — such as if it gets more fully baked into the platform.

For now it looks like WhatsApp is testing the water and trying to gather more data to shape a more robust response.

The most obvious issue with the tipline is it requires a message recipient to request a check — an active step that means the person must know about the fact-check service, have the number available in their contacts, and trust the judgements of those running it.

Many WhatsApp users will fall outside those opt-in bounds.

It also doesn’t take much effort to imagine purveyors of malicious rumors spreading fresh fakes claiming the fact-checks/checkers are biased or manipulated to try to turn WhatsApp users against it.

This is likely why local grassroots political organizations are also being encouraged to submit any rumors they see circulating across the different regions during the election period. And why WhatsApp is talking about the need for collective action to combat the disinformation problem.

It will certainly need engagement across the political spectrum to counter any bias charges and plug gaps resulting from limited participation by WhatsApp users themselves.

How information on debunked fakes can be credibly and widely fed back to Indian voters in a way that broadly reaches the electorate is what’s really key though.

There’s no suggestion, here and now, that’s going to happen via WhatsApp itself — only those who request a check are set to get a response.

Although that could change in future. But, equally, the company may be wary of being seen to accept a role in  centralized distribution of (even fake) political propaganda. That way more accusations of bias likely lie.

In recent years Facebook has taken out adverts in traditional India media to warn about fakes. It has also experimented with other tactics to try to combat damaging WhatsApp rumors — such as using actors to role-plays fakes in public to warn against false messages.

So the company looks to be hoping to develop a multi-stakeholder, multi-format information network off of its own platform to help get the message out about fakes spreading on WhatsApp.

Albeit, that’s clearly going to take time and effort. It’s also still not clear whether it will be effective vs an app that’s always on hand and capable of feeding in fresh fakes. 

The tipline also, inevitably, looks slow and painstaking beside the wildfire spread of digital fakes. And it’s not clear how much of a check on spread and amplification it can offer in this form. Certainly initially — given the fact-checking process itself necessarily takes time.

While a startup, even one that’s being actively supported by WhatsApp, is unlikely to have the resources to speedily fact-check the volume of fakes that will be distributed across such a large market, fuelled by election interests. Yet timely intervention is critical to prevent fakes going viral.

So, again, this initiative looks unlikely to stop the majority of bogus WhatsApp messages from being swallowed and shared. But the data-set derived from the research project which underpins the tipline may help the company fashion a more responsive and proactive approach to contextualizing and debunking malicious rumors in future.

Proto says it plans to submit its learnings to the International Center for Journalists to help other organizations learn from its efforts.

The Economic Times also quotes Fergus Bell, founder and CEO of Dig Deeper Media, suggesting the research will help create “global benchmarks” for those wishing to tackle misinformation in their own markets.

In the meantime, though, the votes go on.


Social – TechCrunch


In a challenge to Twitch and YouTube, Facebook adds ‘Gaming’ to its main navigation

March 14, 2019 No Comments

Facebook’s gaming efforts and challenge to Twitch are taking another big leap today, as the social network begins the initial rollout of a dedicated Facebook Gaming tab in the main navigation of Facebook’s app. The goal with the new addition is to help people more easily find games, streamers and gaming groups they follow, as well as discover new content, based on their interests.

After clicking the new Gaming tab, there will be a feed of content that points you to instant games you can play with friends; videos to watch from top streamers, esports organizations, and game publishers; and updates from your various gaming groups, the company says.

The new Facebook Gaming tab builds on the gaming video destination the site launched last year as Fb.gg. That hub had offered a collection of all the video games streaming on Facebook, and a way to for gamers and fans to interact. As a top-level navigation item, Facebook’s new Gaming tab will now further extend the gaming hub’s reach.

While Twitch and YouTube are today dominating the gaming space, Facebook’s advantage – beyond its scale – are its promises of a reduced cut of transactions. On Fb.gg, gamers were able to attract new fans with the aid of Facebook’s personalized recommendations based on users’ activity, and then monetize those viewers through a virtual tipping mechanism.

Facebook’s cut of those tips ranges from 5 to 30 percent, with the cut getting smaller when users buy larger packs of the virtual currency. Meanwhile, Facebook’s fan subscriptions payments for streamers also see it taking a cut of up to 30 percent, the same as YouTube but smaller than Twitch’s roughly 50 percent.

That could potentially attract streamers who want to maximize their earnings and believe they can port their audience over to a new destination. Of course, some streamers may not trust Facebook to maintain those same percentages over time, nor believe it will ever offer the sorts of features and innovations that a more focused gaming destination like Twitch can.

Facebook also last year experimented with making its gaming hub mobile with the launch of Fb.gg as a standalone mobile app.

The app, like the web-based gaming hub, offered a way for gamers and fans to discover content, join communities, and even play instant games like Everwing, Words with Friends, Basketball FRVR, and others.

However, the strategy of keeping Facebook’s Gaming efforts more separated from Facebook’s main site may not have paid off – the Fb.gg Android app, for example, only has some 100,000+ installs according to Google Play.

Instead, much like YouTube recently decided – Facebook will now leverage the power of its platform to boost interest in its gaming content.

YouTube in September said it was giving its Gaming hub a new home right on the YouTube homepage, and would shut down its standalone Gaming app. (The latter doesn’t seem to have occurred, however). As YouTube noted, gaming was a popular category, but the majority of viewers weren’t looking for a separate app or experience – they were just visiting YouTube directly.

Similarly, Facebook today says that over 700 million people play games, watch gaming videos or engage in gaming groups on Facebook. That’s a far larger number than those who downloaded the Fb.gg app, and surely a much larger number than those who have been visiting the Fb.gg destination directly.

That said, Facebook is continuing its tests on mobile with a standalone (rebranded) Facebook Gaming app on Android, which will have more features that the Gaming tab.

Facebook says it will roll out the Gaming tab to a subset of the over 700 million Facebook game fans, and will expand it over time to more gaming enthusiasts across the network. If you don’t see the new tab in your main navigation bar, you can still find it by going to the Bookmarks menu on Facebook.

 

 


Social – TechCrunch


Google’s Cloud Spanner database adds new features and regions

January 1, 2019 No Comments

Cloud Spanner, Google’s globally distributed relational database service, is getting a bit more distributed today with the launch of a new region and new ways to set up multi-region configurations. The service is also getting a new feature that gives developers deeper insights into their most resource-consuming queries.

With this update, Google is adding to the Cloud Spanner lineup Hong Kong (asia-east2), its newest data center location. With this, Cloud Spanner is now available in 14 out of 18 Google Cloud Platform (GCP) regions, including seven the company added this year alone. The plan is to bring Cloud Spanner to every new GCP region as they come online.

The other new region-related news is the launch of two new configurations for multi-region coverage. One, called eur3, focuses on the European Union, and is obviously meant for users there who mostly serve a local customer base. The other is called nam6 and focuses on North America, with coverage across both costs and the middle of the country, using data centers in Oregon, Los Angeles, South Carolina and Iowa. Previously, the service only offered a North American configuration with three regions and a global configuration with three data centers spread across North America, Europe and Asia.

While Cloud Spanner is obviously meant for global deployments, these new configurations are great for users who only need to serve certain markets.

As far as the new query features are concerned, Cloud Spanner is now making it easier for developers to view, inspect and debug queries. The idea here is to give developers better visibility into their most frequent and expensive queries (and maybe make them less expensive in the process).

In addition to the Cloud Spanner news, Google Cloud today announced that its Cloud Dataproc Hadoop and Spark service now supports the R language, in addition to Python 3.7 support on App Engine.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Crew, a Workplace and Slack messaging rival for shift workers, raises $35M, adds enterprise version

December 25, 2018 No Comments

When it comes to shift workers communicating with each other in the workplace when they are not face-to-face, gone are the days of cork announcement boards. Now, the messaging app is the medium, and today one of the startups tackling that opportunity in a unique way has raised a round of funding to get to the next stage of growth.

Crew, a chat app that specifically targets businesses that employ shift workers who do not typically sit at computers all day, has now raised $ 35 million in Series C funding from DAG Ventures, Tenaya Capital and previous backers Greylock Partners, Sequoia Capital, Harrison Metal Capital and Aspect Ventures. With the funding news, it’s also announcing the launch of a new feature called Crew Enterprise, which helps businesses better manage messaging across large groups of these workers.

The funding and new product come on the heels of the company hitting 25,000 organizations using its service — many of them multi-store retailers with an emphasis in the food industry; household names like Domino’s Pizza and Burger King — with some strong engagement. Its users are together sending some 25 million messages or responses to other messages each week, on average six times per day per user, with more than 55 percent of its whole user base logging in on an average day.

There are quite a lot of messaging apps out in the market today, but the majority of them are aimed at so-called knowledge workers, people who might be using a number of apps throughout their day, who often sit at desks and use computers alongside their phones and tablets. Crew takes a different approach in that it targets the vast swathe of other workers in the job market and their priorities.

As it turns out, co-founder and CEO Danny Leffel tells me that those priorities are focused around a few specific things that are not the same as those for the other employment sector. One is to get the latest shift schedules for work, especially when they are not at work; another is to be able to swap those shifts when they need to; and a third, largely coming from the management end, is to make sure that everything gets communicated to the staff even when they are not in for work to attend a staff meeting.

“Some of the older practices feel like versions of a Rube Goldberg machine,” he said. “The stories we hear are quite insane.” Shift schedules, he said, are an example. “Lots of workplaces have rules, where you can’t call in to check the schedule because it causes employees to come off the floor. One hotel manager told us he couldn’t hold staff meetings with everyone there because he runs a 24/7 workplace so some people would have to come in especially. One store GM from a supermarket chain told us that the whole store has only one email address, so when an announcement goes out, the GM prints that and hands it to everyone. And the problems just compound when you talk to them.”

Crew is by no means the only business internal messaging service that is aiming to provide a product specifically for shift workers. Workplace, Facebook’s own take on enterprise communications, has also positioned itself as a platform for “every worker,” and has snagged a clutch of huge clients such as Walmart (2.2 million employees globally) and Starbucks (254,000) to fill out that vision.

Leffel, however, paints a sightly different picture of how this is playing out, since in many cases even when a company has been “won” as a global customer that hasn’t translated to a global roll out.

“Starbucks is theoretically using Workplace, but it’s been deployed only to managers,” he said. “We have almost 1,000 Starbucks locations using Crew. We knew we had a huge presence there, and we were worried when Facebook won them, but we haven’t seen even a dent in our business so far.”

Leffel has had some previous experience of getting into the ring with Facebook — although it hasn’t ended with him the winner. His previous startup, Yardsellr, positioned itself as the “eBay of Facebook,” working as a layer on top of the big social network for people to sell items. It died in 2013, when Facebook took a less friendly turn to Yardsellr using Facebook’s social graph to grow its own business (it was a time when it was cutting off apps from Zynga for similar reasons). Today, Facebook itself owns the experience of selling on its platform via Marketplace.

Crew seems to have found a strong foothold among enterprises in terms of its usefulness, not just use, which is one sign of how it might have more staying power.

survey it conducted among 50,000 of its users found that 63 percent of leaders who use Crew report fewer missed shifts and 70 percent see increased motivation on their team. Crew worked out that among respondents, it is generating time savings of four or more hours per week for 93 percent of surveyed managers. And because of better communication, people are working faster when handing off things to each other on the front line — a Domino’s Pizza franchisee sped up delivery punctuality by 23 percent as one example. (The company offers services on three tiers, ranging from free for small teams, Pro at $ 10 per month per location and to Enterprise priced on negotiation.)

Crew’s new enterprise tier is aiming to take the company to the next step. Today, Leffel says that a lot of its customers are buying on a location-by-location basis. The idea with Crew Enterprise is that larger organizations will be able to provide a more unified experience across all of those locations (not to mention pay more for the functionality). Managers can use the service to message out details about promotions, and they have a better ability to manage conversations across the platform and also get more feedback from people who are directly interacting with customers. Meanwhile, admins also gain better ability to manage compliance.

If some of this sounds familiar, it’s not just because Workplace is the only one that is also targeting the same users. Dynamic Signal and Zinc (formerly Cotap) are two other startups that are also trying to provide better messaging-based communications to more than just white-collar knowledge workers. Crew will have its work cut out for it, but there is a lot of room for now for multiple players.

“We are seeing a shift in the marketplace, going from ‘absolutely don’t use your phone at work’ to ‘don’t use it when customers are present,’” Leffel said of the opportunity. “Some have started to change the rules to allow workers to use their own phones to perform price checks. We are solving for this evolving workflow.”


Enterprise – TechCrunch