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Tag: Launches

Media software maker Plex launches new subscriber-only apps for music and server management

April 17, 2020 No Comments

Media software maker Plex has released two new projects today from its internal R&D group, Plex Labs. One is an updated take on the classic Winamp player it calls Plexamp, and another is a dedicated app for Plex server administration. The projects are meant to appeal largely to Plex power users who take full advantage of Plex’s software suite, which has grown over time from being only a home media solution to a one-stop shop for everything from live TV to streaming audio.

The first of the new apps, Plexamp, is actually a revamp of the first Plex Labs project released. In December 2017, Plex introduced its own music player, whose name Plexamp was a nod to the Winamp player it aimed to replace. The project, like others from Plex Labs, was built by Plex employees in their spare time.

The goal with the original Plexamp was to offer a small desktop player that could handle any music format. The app let you use media keys for playing, pausing and skipping tracks and it worked offline when the Plex server ran on your laptop. It also offered visualizations to accompany your music that pulled from the album art.

While the original app ran on Mac or Windows, the new release works across five platforms, now including iOS, Android and Linux.

The app itself has been completely redone, as well — rewritten from scratch, in fact. And it’s tied to Plex’s subscription service, Plex Pass — meaning you’ll need to be a paying customer to use it.

The company explains the original version of Plexamp had issues around portability and licensing; it didn’t have an easy way to add functionality; and it was built with React, which tied it to the web.

To create the new Plexamp (version 3.0), Plex built an audio player library called TREBLE on top of a low-level commercial audio engine. TREBLE has been shipping in Plex’s commercial applications, but this release brings it to Plexamp. The addition helped make the app portable across almost all desktop and mobile platforms, as was it being rewritten in React Native.

The new app provides features Plex Pass music listeners want, like gapless playback, high-quality resampling, Sweet Fades (Plex’s “smart” alternative to crossfades) soft transitions and pre-caching. Plex also added a few more effects, including one for voice boosting spoken word audio and another for silence compression.

But the app really sells itself to longtime Plex users, as Plexamp lets you go back to see your own “top personal charts” for what you’ve listened to the most in years past. (Sort of like a Plex version of Apple Music’s Replay playlists).

Plexamp 3.0 also introduces a feature that lets you build your own mixes by picking a set of artists. Plus it offers a more expansive list of stations, supports offline listening and improves its search functionality.

The new Recent Searches area, for example, will save your search results from across servers, as well as TIDAL and podcasts. And a new Recent Plays feature shows you the music you consciously chose to play, again including across all servers and TIDAL.

There are some little touches, too, that show the personal care that went into the app’s design — like the way Plexamp uses album art and a process called “UltraBlur” to give each artist and alum page its own look. Or how there are options for light and dark — and lighter and darker — themes.

The other big new release from Plex Labs is the new Plex Dash app.

This mobile and tablet app lets you keep a close eye on your personal media server, including a way to see all playbacks even across multiple servers, plus other administrative features.

With Plex Dash, you can edit your artwork, scan for new media, fix incorrect matches, check on server resource usage, tweak library settings and view server logs live.

Plex suggests you it run on the iPad you have mounted in the wall — like in your fancy media room, I guess — but for us poorer folks, it runs on your smartphone, too.

It’s a power user tool, but one that will be welcomed for those fully immersed in a Plex-run home media setup. (And also a good way to respond to criticism that Plex is too focused today on its streaming and TV options, and not its core home media software customer base.)

Like Plexamp, the new Plex Dash requires a Plex Pass subscription and runs on iOS and Android.

The apps launched today are notable as they’re the first to arrive from Plex Labs since the original release of Plexamp in 2017 and because they require a subscription in order to work.

Plex at the end of 2019 said it had 15 million registered households using its service. Though the service is profitable, only a small percentage are paid subscribers. New apps with extra features, then, could convince more Plex users to upgrade.

Mobile – TechCrunch


Spectro Cloud launches with $7.5M investment to help developers build Kubernetes clusters their way

March 17, 2020 No Comments

By now we know that Kubernetes is a wildly popular container management platform, but if you want to use it, you pretty much have to choose between having someone manage it for you or building it yourself. Spectro Cloud emerged from stealth today with a $ 7.5 million investment to give you a third choice that falls somewhere in the middle.

The funding was led by Sierra Ventures with participation from Boldstart Ventures.

Ed Sim, founder at Boldstart, says he liked the team and the tech. “Spectro Cloud is solving a massive pain that every large enterprise is struggling with: how to roll your own Kubernetes service on a managed platform without being beholden to any large vendor,” Sim told TechCrunch.

Spectro co-founder and CEO Tenry Fu says an enterprise should not have to compromise between control and ease of use. “We want to be the first company that brings an easy-to-use managed Kubernetes experience to the enterprise, but also gives them the flexibility to define their own Kubernetes infrastructure stacks at scale,” Fu explained.

Fu says that the stack, in this instance, consists of the base operating system to the Kubernetes version to the storage, networking and other layers like security, logging, monitoring, load balancing or anything that’s infrastructure related around Kubernetes.

“Within an organization in the enterprise you can serve the needs of your various groups, down to pretty granular level with respect to what’s in your infrastructure stack, and then you don’t have to worry about lifecycle management,” he explained. That’s because Spectro Cloud handles that for you, while still giving you that control.

That gives enterprise developers greater deployment flexibility and the ability to move between cloud infrastructure providers more easily, something that is top of mind today as companies don’t want to be locked into a single vendor.

“There’s an infrastructure control continuum that forces enterprises into trade-offs against these needs. At one extreme, the managed offerings offer a kind of nirvana around ease of use, but it’s at the expense of control over things like the cloud that you’re on or when you adopt new ecosystem options like updated versions of Kubernetes.”

Fu and his co-founders have a deep background in this, having previously been part of CliQr, a company that helped customers manage applications across hybrid cloud environments. They sold that company to Cisco in 2016 and began developing Spectro Cloud last spring.

It’s early days, but the company has been working with 16 beta customers.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Pandora launches interactive voice ads

December 13, 2019 No Comments

Pandora has begun to test a new type of advertising format that allows listeners to respond to the ad by speaking aloud. In the new ads, listeners are prompted to say “yes” after the ad asks a question and a tone plays. The ads will then offer more information about the product or brand in question.

Debut advertisers testing the new format include Doritos, Ashley HomeStores, Unilever, Wendy’s, Turner Broadcasting, Comcast and Nestlé.

The ads begin by explaining what they are and how they’ll work. They then play a short and simple message followed by a question to which listeners are supposed to respond.

For example, the Wendy’s ad asks listeners if they’re hungry, and if they say “yes” the ad continues by offering a recommendation about what to eat. The DiGiorno’s pizza ad asks listeners to say “yes” to hear the punchline of a pizza-themed joke. The Ashley HomeStores ad engages listeners by offering tips on getting a better night’s sleep. And so on.

The new format capitalizes on Pandora’s underlying voice technology, which also powers the app’s smart voice assistant, Voice Mode, launched earlier this year. While Voice Mode lets Pandora users control their music hands-free, the voice ads aim to get users to engage with the advertiser’s content hands-free, as opposed to tapping on the screen or visiting a link to get more information.

The company believes these types of ads will be more meaningful as they force listeners to pay attention. For the brand advertisers, voice ads offer a way to more directly measure how many people an ad reached — something that’s not possible with traditional audio ads, which by their nature aren’t clickable.

Pandora announced its plans to test interactive voice ads back in April of this year, initially with San Francisco-based adtech company, Instreamatic. At the time, it said it would launch the new format into beta testing by Q4, as it now has.

The ad format arrives at a time when consumers have become more comfortable talking to digital voice assistants, like Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant. There’s also an increased expectation that services we interact with will support voice commands — like when we’re speaking to Fire TV or Apple TV to find something to watch or asking Pandora or Spotify to play our favorite music.

But consumers’ appetite for interactive voice advertisements is still largely untested. Even Amazon limited voice ads on its Alexa platform for fear of alienating users who would find them disruptive to the core experience. Spotify also ran a limited test of voice ads this year.

In Pandora’s case, users don’t have to play along. The company says if the user doesn’t respond within a couple of seconds or if they say no, the music resumes playback.

Pandora says the ads will begin running today for a small subset of listeners using its app.

Mobile – TechCrunch


In a first, Amazon launches a battery-powered portable Echo speaker in India

December 9, 2019 No Comments

After launching nearly a dozen Echo speaker models in India in two years, Amazon said on Wednesday it is adding a new variant to the mix that addresses one of the most requested features from customers in the nation: portability.

The e-commerce giant today unveiled the Echo Input Portable Smart Speaker Edition, a new variant in the lineup that includes a built-in battery. The 4,800 mAh enclosed battery will offer up to 10 hours of continuous music playing or up to 11 hours of stand-by life, the company said.

“Portability has been one of the most requested features in India,” said Miriam Daniel, VP of Alexa Devices. “You want to be able to carry Alexa with you from room to room within your homes. So we have designed something just for you.”

The company said the Echo Input Portable Smart Speaker Edition (which remains a mouthful) shares the same “hardware architecture” as the Echo Input, a device it launched last year that does not feature a speaker.

The battery-powered Echo model, designed exclusively for India, is priced at 5,999 Indian rupees ($ 84). Users can currently purchase it at an introductory price of 4,999 Indian rupees ($ 70) and the device will begin shipping on December 18.

Other than the built-in battery pack, the new speaker model offers an identical set of features — access to some 30,000 Alexa skills, compatibility with a range of home devices and, of course, support for Alexa voice assistant — as other Echo variants. (The new model additionally carries an array of four LEDs that light up when a user taps the power button, to show battery level.)

Amazon has never disclosed how many Echo speakers it has sold in India, but it has noted that the country is one of its most important markets. At a conference in September, Rohit Prasad, VP and head scientist of Alexa AI at Amazon, said the “adoption of Alexa in India has been phenomenal.”

Over the years, a number of companies, including LG, Motorola and Sony, have added support for Alexa to their headphones and smartphones.

The e-commerce giant, which has invested north of $ 5 billion in India, is among many international firms that are currently betting to turn the nation of 1.3 billion people into one of its biggest markets. Winning that market means customizing many of their products and services to align with local conditions in the nation. In September, Amazon announced Alexa was adding support for Hindi language to broaden its appeal in the nation.

Gadgets – TechCrunch


CircleCI launches improved AWS support

December 3, 2019 No Comments

For about a year now, continuous integration and delivery service CircleCI has offered Orbs, a way to easily reuse commands and integrations with third-party services. Unsurprisingly, some of the most popular Orbs focus on AWS, as that’s where most of the company’s developers are either testing their code or deploying it. Today, right in time for AWS’s annual re:Invent developer conference in Las Vegas, the company announced that it has now added Orb support for the AWS Serverless Application Model (SAM), which makes setting up automated CI/CD platforms for testing and deploying to AWS Lambda significantly easier.

In total, the company says, more than 11,000 organizations started using Orbs since it launched a year ago. Among the AWS-centric Orbs are those for building and updating images for the Amazon Elastic Container Services and the Elastic Container Service for Kubernetes (EKS), for example, as well as AWS CodeDeploy support, an Orb for installing and configuring the AWS command line interface, an Orb for working with the S3 storage service and more.

“We’re just seeing a momentum of more and more companies being ready to adopt [managed services like Lambda, ECS and EKS], so this became really the ideal time to do most of the work with the product team at AWS that manages their serverless ecosystem and to add in this capability to leverage that serverless application model and really have this out of the box CI/CD flow ready for users who wanted to start adding these into to Lambda,” CircleCI VP of business development Tom Trahan told me. “I think when Lambda was in its earlier days, a lot of people would use it and they would use it and not necessarily follow the same software patterns and delivery flow that they might have with their traditional software. As they put more and more into Lambda and are really putting a lot more what I would call ‘production quality code’ out there to leverage. They realize they do want to have that same software delivery capability and discipline for Lambda as well.”

Trahan stressed that he’s still talking about early adopters and companies that started out as cloud-native companies, but these days, this group includes a lot of traditional companies, as well, that are now rapidly going through their own digital transformations.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Twitter launches a way to report abusive use of its Lists feature

November 19, 2019 No Comments

Like many things found on today’s social media platforms, Twitter’s Lists feature was introduced without thinking about the impact it could have on marginalized groups, or how it could otherwise be used for abuse or surveillance if put in the hands of bad actors. Today, Twitter is taking a step to address that problem with the launch of a new reporting feature that specifically addresses the abusive use of Twitter Lists.

The feature is launching first on iOS today, and will come soon to Android and the web, Twitter says.

Similar to reporting an abusive tweet, Twitter users will tap on the three-dot icon next to the List in question, and then choose “Report.” From the next screen, you’ll select “It’s abusive or harmful.” Twitter will also ask for additional information at that point and will send an email confirming receipt of the report, along with other recommendations as to how to manage your Twitter experience.

Twitter Lists have been abused for years, as they became another way to target and harass people — particularly women and other minority groups. They were particularly useful as a way to avoid being banned for abusive tweets, as Twitter took no notice of Lists.

Twitter has been aware of the problem for years, noted CNBC in an exposé that ran over the summer.

Back in 2017, Twitter said it would no longer notify users when they’ve been added to a list — an attempt to cut back on what were very often upsetting notifications. It then reversed the decision after people argued that notifications were how they learned what sort of harmful lists they had been added to in the first place.

Despite Twitter’s understanding of how Lists were abused, there have not been any good tools for getting an abusive list removed from Twitter itself — users could only block the list’s creator.

Twitter has admitted that despite the availability of its reporting tools and the increasing speed with which it handles abuse reports, there’s still too much pressure on people to flag abuse for themselves. The company says it wants to figure out how to be more proactive — today, the majority is not flagged by technology (only 38% is), but by reports from users.

This problem and all the many like it have to do with who has built our social media tools in the first place.

Twitter, like other tech companies, has struggled with a lack of diversity, which means there’s a large lack of understanding about how features could be twisted to be used in ways no one intended. Though Twitter’s diversity metrics have been improving, Twitter as of this spring was 40.2% female, but just 4.5% black, and 3.9% Latinx.

The other issue with Twitter — and social media in general — is that there’s some distance between the abuser and the victim of harassment. The latter is often not seen as a real person, but rather a placeholder meant to absorb someone’s malcontent, outrage or hatred. And thanks to the platform’s anonymity, there are no real-world consequences for bad behavior on Twitter the way there would be if those same hateful things were said in a public place — like in a community setting such as your local church or social group, or in your workplace.

Finally, Twitter’s trend toward pithiness has led to it becoming a place to be sarcastic, cynical and witty-at-others’-expense — a trend that’s driven by a prolific but small crowd of Twitter users. The goal has very much been to “perform” on Twitter, and accumulate likes and retweets along the way.

Twitter says the new feature is rolling out now to iOS.

 


Social – TechCrunch


Daily Crunch: Facebook launches its News section

October 28, 2019 No Comments

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.

1. Facebook starts testing News, its new section for journalism

Facebook’s news section, which was previously reported to be imminent, is here: The company is rolling out Facebook News in a limited test in the U.S. as a home screen tab and bookmark in the main Facebook app.

Should publishers trust Facebook? Well, Josh Constine argues that none of them have learned the right lessons from the last 10 years.

2. Pixelbook Go review: a Chromebook in search of meaning

The Go is clearly Google’s attempt to lead the way for manufacturers looking to explore Chromebook life outside the classroom. It has some nice hardware perks, but it’s not the revolution or revelation ChromeOS needs.

3. SpaceX wants to land Starship on the Moon before 2022, then do cargo runs for 2024 human landing

SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell shed a little more light on her company’s current thinking with regards to the mission timelines for its forthcoming Starship spacefaring vehicle.

4. After its first earnings miss in two years, Amazon shares get walloped in after-hours trading

Amazon shares fell by nearly 7% in after-hours trading on Thursday after the company reported its first earnings miss in two years.

5. Lawmakers ask US intelligence chief to investigate if TikTok is a national security threat

In a letter by Sens. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Tom Cotton (R-AR), the lawmakers asked the acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire if the app maker could be compelled to turn Americans’ data over to Chinese authorities.

6. The SaaS gold rush will become the ‘Hunger Games’

Enterprise software investor Rory O’Driscoll says that while the cloud is obviously here to stay, the next five years in cloud investing will neither be the same nor as easy as the last 10. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

7. Learn how to raise your first euros at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin

Startup funding experts — including Forward Partners managing partner Nic Brisbourne, Target Global partner Malin Holmberg and DocSend co-founder and chief executive officer Russ Heddleston — will sit down together on the Extra Crunch Stage at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin.


Social – TechCrunch


Instagram launches Create mode with On This Day throwbacks

October 9, 2019 No Comments

Instagram has finally turned Throwback Thursday into an official feature. It’s part of the new Instagram “Create” mode that launches today in Stories, bringing the app beyond the camera. Create makes Instagram a more omni-purpose social network with the flexibility to adapt to a broader range of content formats.

For now, the highlight of Create is the “On This Day” option that shows a random feed post you shared on the same calendar date in the past. Tap the dice button to view a different On This Day post, and once you find one you prefer, you can share it to Stories as an embedded post people can open.

The launch could make it easy for users to convert their old impermanent content into fresh ephemeral content. That could be especially helpful because not everyone does something Stories-worthy every day. And given how many #TBT throwbacks get shared already, there’s clearly demand for sharing nostalgia with new commentary.

Instagram Create On This Day

When asked about Create mode, an Instagram spokesperson told me, “this new mode helps you combine interactive stickers, drawings and text without needing a photo or video to share . . . On This Day suggests memories and lets you share them via Direct and Stories.” It’d sure be nice if embedded On This Day video posts played inside of Stories, but for now you have to tap to open them on their own page.

Instagram actually launched a different way to share throwbacks, called “Memories,” early this year. But most users didn’t know about it because it was tucked in the Profile -> Three-Line ‘Hamburger’ Sidebar -> Archive option used to for Highlighting or Restoring expired Stories or post you’d hidden.

Instagram Archive Memories

Now On This Day is much more accessible as part of the new Create Mode inside the Stories composer, which replaces Type mode with more options for sharing without your camera than just posting text. You can access it by swiping right at the bottom of the screen from the Stories camera, instead of left to other options like Boomerang. Create lets you use features otherwise added as Stickers atop photos and videos, but on their own with new suggestions of what to share:

-Countdown timer with suggestions for “The Weekend,” “Quittin’ Time,” and “School’s Out”

Instagram Create Countdown

-Quiz with suggestions including “What’s my biggest fear?” and “Only one of these is true” (The Quiz sticker already had suggestions)

Instagram Create Quiz

-Poll with suggestions including “Sweet or savory?” and “Better first date: dinner or movie?”

Instagram Create Poll

-Question with suggestions including “If you had 3 wishes…” and “Any hidden talents?”

Instagram Create Questions

Instagram is also offering a new version of its Giphy -powered GIFs feature inside Create. It lets you search for a GIF and see it tiled three times vertically as the background of your Create post, rather than laid on top.

Instagram Create GIFs

Through all these features, Create lets people generate new things to share even if they’re laying in bed or stuck somewhere. As Instagram grows internationally to more users with lower-quality phones, and replaces Facebook for many people, the ability to share text and other stuff without having to use their camera could increase people’s posting. Between the Camera shutter modes and room for more sharing styles in Create, Instagram can encompass most any content.

As of today, Instagram is about more than photos and videos. It’s stepping up as a multi-faceted social app just as Facebook’s battered brand becomes desperate to turn Instagram into its reputation and business lifeboat.


Social – TechCrunch


Social chat app Capture launches to take a shot at less viral success

July 17, 2019 No Comments

At first glance launching a new social app may seem as sensible a startup idea as plunging headfirst into shark-infested waters. But with even infamous curtain-ripper Facebook now making grand claims about a ‘pivot to privacy’ it’s clear something is shifting in the commercial shipping channels that contain our digital chatter.

Whisper it: Feeds are tiring. Follows are tedious. Attention is expiring. There’s also, of course, the damage that personal digital baggage left out in the open can wreak long after the fact of a blown fuse or fleeting snap.

Public feeds have become vehicles of self-promotion; carefully and heavily curated — which of course brings its own peer pressures to keep up with friends’ lux exploits and the influencer ‘gram aesthetic that pretends life looks like a magazine spread.

Yet for a brief time, in the gritty early years of social media, there was something akin to spontaneous, confessional reality on show online. People do like to share. That’s mostly been swapped for the polish of aspirational faking it on apps like Facebook-owned Instagram. While genuine friend chatter has moved behind the quasi-closed doors of group messaging apps, like Facebook-owned WhatsApp (or rival Telegram).

If you want to chat more freely online without being defined by your existing social graph the options are less mainstream friendly to say the least.

Twitter is genuinely great if you’re willing to put in the time and effort to find interesting strangers. But its user growth problem shows most consumers just aren’t willing (or able) to do that. Telegram groups also require time and effort to track down.

Also relevant in interest-based chat: Veteran forum Reddit, and game chat platform Discord — both pretty popular, though not in a way that really cuts across the mainstream, tending to cater to more niche and/or focused interests. Neither is designed for mobile first either.

This is why Capture’s founders are convinced there’s a timely opportunity for a new social app to slot in — one which leverages smartphone sensors and AI smarts to make chatting about anything as easy as pointing a camera to take a shot.

They’re not new to the social app game, either. As we reported last year, two of Capture’s founders were part of the team behind the style transfer app Prisma, which racked up tens of millions of downloads over a few viral months of 2016.

And with such a bright feather in their cap, a number of investors — led by General Catalyst — were unsurprisingly eager to chip into Capture’s $ 1M seed, setting them on the road to today’s launch.

Point and chat

“The main idea behind the app is during the day you’ve got different experiences — working, watching some TV series etc, you’re sitting in an arena watching some sports, or something like that. So we imagine that you should open the app during any type of experience you have during the day,” says Capture co-founder and CEO Alexey Moiseenkov fleshing out the overarching vision for the app.

“It’s not for your friends; it’s the moment when you should share something or just ask something or discuss something with other people. Like news, for example… I want to discuss news with the people who are relevant, who want to discuss it. And so on and on. So I imagine it is about small groups with the same goal, discussing the same experience, or something like that. It’s all about your everyday life.”

“Basically you can imagine our app as like real-time forum,” he adds. “Real-time social things like Reddit. So it’s more about live discussion, not postponing something.”

Chat(room) recommendations are based on contextual inferences that Capture can glean from the mobile hardware. Namely where you are (so the app needs access to your location) and even whether you’re on the move or lounging around (it also accesses the accelerometer so can tell the angle of the phone).

The primary sensory input comes from the camera of course. So like Snap it’s a camera-first app, opening straight into the rear lens’ live view.

By default chats in Capture are public so it also knows what topics users are discussing — which in turn further feeds and hones its recommendations for chats (and indeed matching users).

Co-founder and CMO Aram Hardy (also formerly at Prisma) gives the example of the free-flowing discussion you can see unrolling in YouTube comments when a movie trailer gets its first release — as the sort of energetic, expressive discussion Capture wants to channel inside its app.

“It’s exploding,” he says. “People are throwing those comments, discussing it on YouTube, on web, and that’s a real pain because there is no tool where you can simply discuss it with people, maybe with people around you, who are just interested in this particular trailer live on a mobile device — that’s a real pain.”

“Everything which is happening around the person should be taken into consideration to be suggested in Capture — that’s our simple vision,” he adds.

Everything will mean pop culture, news, local events and interest-based communities.

Though some of the relevant sources of pop/events content aren’t yet live in the app. But the plan is to keep bulking out the suggestive mix to expand what can be discovered via chat suggestions. (There’s also a discovery tab to surface public chats.)

Discovery 1

Hardy even envisages Capture being able to point users to an unfolding accident in their area — which could generate a spontaneous need for locals or passers by to share information.

The aim for the app — which is launching on iOS today (Android will come later; maybe by fall) — is to provide an ever ready, almost no-barrier-to-entry chat channel that offers mobile users no-strings-attached socializing free from the pressures (and limits) of existing social graphs/friend networks; as well as being a context-savvy aid for content and event discovery, which means helping people dive into relevant discussion communities based on shared interests and/or proximity.

Of course location-based chatting is hardly a new idea. (And messaging giant Telegram just added a location-based chats feature to its platform.)

But the team’s premise is that mobile users are now looking for smart ways to supplement their social graph — and it’s betting on a savvy interface unlocking and (re)channelling underserved demand.

“People are really tired of something really follower based,” argues Moiseenkov. “All this stuff with a following, liking and so on. I feel there is a huge opportunity for all the companies around the world to make something based on real-time communication. It’s more like you will be heard in this chat so you can’t miss a thing. And I think that’s a powerful shot.

“We want to create a smaller room for every community in the Internet… So you can always join any group and just start talking in a free way. So you never shared your real identity — or it’s under your control. You can share or not, it’s up to you. And I think we need that.

“It’s what we miss during this Facebook age where everybody is ‘real’. Imagine that it’s like a game. In a game you’re really free — you can express yourself what way you want. I think that’s a great idea.”

“The entry threshold [for Twitter] is enormous,” adds Hardy. “You can’t have an account on Twitter and get famous within a week if you’re not an influencer. If you’re a simple person who wants to discuss something it’s impossible. But you can just create a chat or enter any chat within Capture and instantly be heard.

“You can create a chat manually. We have an add button — you can add any chat. It will be automatically recognized and suggested to other users who are interested in these sort of things. So we want every user to be heard within Capture.”

How it works

Capture’s AI-powered chatroom recommendations are designed to work as an onboarding engine for meeting relevant strangers online — using neural networks and machine learning to do the legwork of surfacing relevant people and chats.

Here’s how the mobile app works: Open the app, point the camera at something you view as a conversational jumping off point — and watch as it processes the data using computer vision technology to figure out what you’re looking at and recommend related chats for you to join.

For example, you might point the camera around your front room and be suggested a chatroom for ‘interior design trends and ideas’ , or at a pot plant and get ‘gardeners’ chat, or at your cat and get ‘pet chat’ or ‘funny pets’.

Capture app

Point the camera at yourself and you might see suggestions like ‘Meet new friends’, ‘Hot or not?’, ‘Dating’, ‘Beautiful people’ — or be nudged to start a ‘Selfie chat’, which is where the app will randomly connect you with another Capture user for a one-to-one private chat.

Chat suggestions are based on an individual user’s inferred interests and local context (pulled via the phone) and also on matching users across the app based on respective usage of the app.

At the same time the user data being gathered is not used to pervasively profile uses, as is the case with ad-supported social networks. Rather Capture’s founders say personal data pulled from the phone — such as location — is only retained for a short time and used to power the next set of recommendations.

Capture users are also not required to provide any personal data (beyond creating a nickname) to start chatting. If they want to use Capture’s web platform they can provide an email to link their app and web accounts — but again that email address does not have to include anything linked to their real identity.

“The key tech we want to develop is a machine learning system that can suggest you the most relevant stuff and topics for you right now — based on data we have from your phone,” continues Moiseenkov. “This is like a magical moment. We do not know who you are — but we can suggest something relevant.

“This is like a smart system because we’ve got some half graph of connection between people. It’s not like the entire graph like your friends and family but it’s a graph on what chat you are in, so where are you discussing something. So we know this connection between people [based on the chats you’re participating in]… so we can use this information.

“Imagine this is somehow sort of a graph. That’s a really key part of our system. We know these intersections, we know the queries, and the intersection of queries from different people. And that’s the key here — the key machine learning system then want to match this between people and interests, between people and topics, and so on.

“On top of that we’ve got recognition stuff for images — like six or seven neural networks that are working to recognize the stuff, what are you seeing, how, what position and so on. We’ve got some quite slick computer vision filters that can do some magic and do not miss.

“Basically we want to perform like Google in terms of query we’ve got — it’s really big system, lots of tabs — to suggest relevant chats.”

Image recognition processing is all done locally on the user’s device so Capture is not accessing any actual image data from the camera view — just mathematical models of what the AI believes it’s seen (and again they claim they don’t hold that data for long).

“Mostly the real-time stuff comes from machine learning, analyzing the data we have from your phone — everybody has location. We do not store this location… we never store your data for a long time. We’re trying to move into more private world where we do not know who you are,” says Moiseenkov.

“When you log into our app you just enter the nickname. It’s not about your phone number, it’s not about your social networks. We sometimes — when you just want to log in from other device — we ask you an email. But that’s all. Email and nickname it’s nothing. We do not know nothing about you. About your person, like where you work, who’s your friends, so on and so on. We do not know anything.

“I think that’s the true way for now. That’s why gaming is so fast in terms of growing. People just really want to share, really want to log in and sign up [in a way] that’s easy. And there is no real barriers for that — I think that’s what we want to explore more.”

Chatroulette

Having tested Capture’s app prior to launch I can report that the first wave chat suggestions are pretty rudimentary and/or random.

Plus its image recognition often misfires (for instance my cat was identified as, among other things, a dog, hamster, mouse and even a polar bear (!) — as well as a cat — so clearly the AI’s eye isn’t flawless, and variable environmental conditions around the user can produce some odd and funny results).

 

Capture app

The promise from the founders is that recommendations will get better as the app ingests more data and the AI (and indeed Capture staff performing manual curation of chat suggestions) get a better handle on what people are clicking on and therefore wanting to talk with other users about.

They also say they’re intending to make better linkage leaps in chat suggestions — so rather than being offered a chatroom called ‘Pen’ (as I was),  if you point the Capture camera at a pen, the app might instead nudge you towards more interesting-sounding chats — like ‘office talk’ or ‘writing room’ and so on.

Equally, if a bunch of users point their Capture cameras at the same pen the app might in future be smart enough to infer that they all want to join the same chatroom — and suggest creating a private group chat just for them.

On that front you could imagine members of the same club, say, being able to hop into the same discussion channel — summoning it by scanning a mutual object or design they all own or have access to. And you could also imagine people being delighted by a scanner-based interface linked to custom stuff in their vicinity — as a lower friction entry point vs typing in their directions. (Though — to be clear — the app isn’t hitting those levels of savvy right now.)

“Internally we imagine that we’re like Google but without direct query typing,” Moiseenkov tells TechCrunch. “So basically you do the query — like scanning the world around you. Like you are in some location, like some venue, imagine all this data is like a query — so then step by step we know what people are clicking, then improving the results and this step by step, month by month, so after three month or four month we will be better. So we know what people are clicking, we know what people are discussing and that’s it.”

“It’s tricky stuff,” he adds. “It’s really really hard. So we need lots of machine learning, we need lots of like our hands working on this moderating stuff, replacing some stuff, renaming, suggest different things. But I think that’s the way — that’s the way for onboarding people.

“So when people will know that they will open the app in the arena and they will receive the right results the most relevant stuff for this arena — for the concert, for the match, or something like that, it will be the game. That’s what we want to achieve. So every time during the day you open the app you receive relevant community to join. That’s the key.”

Right now the founders say they’re experimenting with various chat forms and features so they can figure out how people want to use the app and ensure they adapt to meet demand.

Hence, for example, the chatroulette-style random ‘selfie chat’ feature. Which does what it says on the tin — connecting you to another random user for a one-to-one chat. (If selfie chats do end up getting struck out of the app I hope they’ll find somewhere else to house the cute slide-puzzle animation that’s displayed as the algorithms crunch data to connect you to a serendipitous interlocutor.)

They’re also not yet decided on whether public chat content in Capture will persist indefinitely — thereby potentially creating ongoing, topics-based resources — or be ephemeral by default, with a rolling delete which kicks in after a set time to wipe the chat slate clean.

“We actually do not know what will be in the next one to three months. We need to figure out — will it be consistent or ephemeral,” admits Moiseenkov. “We need to figure out certain areas, like usage patterns. We should watch how people behave in our app and then decide what will be the feed.”

Capture does support private group chats as well as public channels — so there’s certainly overlap with the messaging platform Telegram, which also supports both. Though one nuance between them is Capture Channels let everyone comment but only admins post vs Telegram channels being a pure one-way broadcast.

But it’s on interface and user experience where Capture’s approach really diverges from the more standard mobile messaging playbook.

If you imagine it as a mash-up of existing social apps Capture could be thought of as something like a Snap-style front end atop a Telegram-esque body yet altogether sleeker, with none of the usual social baggage and clutter. (Some of that may creep in of course, if users demand it, and they do have a reactions style feature linked up to add in so… )

“With our tool you can find people not from your graph,” says Moiseenkov. “That’s the key here. So with WhatsApp it’s really hard to invite people not from your graph — or like friends of friends. And that’s a really tough question — where I can find the relevant people whom I chat about football? So now we add the tool for you in our app to just find these people and invite them to your [chat].”

“It’s really really hard not to like your friend’s post on Instagram because it’s social capital,” he adds. “You are always liking these posts. And we are not in this space. We do not want to move in this direction of followers, likers, and all this stuff — scrolling and endless communication.

“Time is changing, my life is changing, my friends and family somehow is changing because life is changing… We’re mobile like your everyday life… the app is suggesting you something relevant for this life [now]. And you can just find people also doing the same things, studying, discussing the same things.”

Community building

Why include private chats at all in Capture? Given the main premise (and promise) of the app is its ability to combine strangers with similar interests in the same virtual spaces — thereby expanding interest communities and helping mobile users escape the bubbles of closed chat groups.

On that Moiseenkov says they envisage communities will still want to be able to create their own closed groups — to maintain “a persistent, consistent community”.

So Capture has been designed to contain backchannels as well as open multiple windows into worlds anyone can join. “It’s one of opportunities to make this and I think that we should add it because we do not know exact scenarios right from the launch,” he says of including private conduits alongside public chats.

Given the multiple chat channels in the first release Capture does risk being a bit confusing. And during our interview the founders joke about having created a “maximal viable product” rather than the usual MVP.

But they say they’re also armed to be able to respond quickly to usage patterns — with bits and pieces lined up in the background so they can move quickly to add/remove features based on the usage feedback they get. So, basically, watch this space.

All the feature creep and experimentation has delayed their launch a little though. The app had been slated to arrive in Q4 last year. Albeit, a later-than-expected launch is hardly an unusual story for a startup.

Capture also of course suffers from a lack of users for people to chat to at the point of release — aka, the classic network effect problem (which also makes testing it prior to launch pretty tricky; safe to say, it was a very minimalist messaging experience).

Not having many users also means Capture’s chat suggestions aren’t as intelligent and savvy as the founders imply they’ll be.

So again the MVP will need some time to mature before it’s safe to pass judgement on the underlying idea. It does feel a bit laggy right now — and chat suggestions definitely hit and miss but it will be interesting to see how that evolves as/if users pile in. capture app

Part of their plan is to encourage and nurture movie/TV/entertainment discussion communities specifically — with Hardy arguing there’s “no such tool” that easily supports that. So in future they want Capture users to be notified about new series coming up on Netflix, or Disney’s latest release. Then, as users watch that third party content, their idea is they’ll be encouraged to discuss it live on their mobiles via Capture.

But movie content is only partially launched at this stage. So again that’s all just a nice idea at this stage.

Testing pre-launch on various celebrity visages also drew a suggestive blank — and Hardy confirmed they’ve got more pop culture adds planned for the future.

Such gaps will likely translate into a low stickiness rate at first. But when the team’s ambition is to support a Google-esque level of content queries the scale of the routing and pattern matching task ahead of them is really both massive and unending.

To get usage off the ground they’re aiming to break the content recommendation problem down into more bite-size chunks — starting by seeding links to local events and news (sourced from parsing the public Internet); and also by focusing on serving specific communities (say around sports), and also linked to particular locations, such as cities — the latter two areas likely informed by in what and where the app gets traction.

They’ve also hired a content manager to help with content recommendations. This person is also in charge of “banning some bad things and all that stuff”, as they put it. (From the get go they’re running a filter to ban nudity; and don’t yet support video uploads/streams to reduce their moderation risk. Clearly they will need to be very ‘on it’ to avoid problem usage mushrooming into view and discouraging positive interactions and community growth within the app. But again they say they’re drawing on their Prisma experience.)

They also say they want this social app to be more a slow burn on the growth front — having seen the flip side of burn out viral success at Prisma — which, soon after flooding the social web with painterly selfies, had to watch as tech giants ruthlessly cloned the style transfer effect, reducing their novelty factor and pushing users to move on to their next selfie lens fix.

“As data-driven guys we’re mostly looking for some numbers,” says Moiseenkov when asked where they hope to be with Capture in 12 months’ time. “So I think achieving something like 1M or 2M MAU with a good retention and engagement loop by then is our goal.

“We want to keep this growth under control. So we could release the features step by step, more about engagement not more about viral growth. So our focus is doing something that can keep engagement loop, that can increase our spend time in the app, increase the usage and so on, not driving this into the peak and like acquiring all the trends.”

“Conclusions are drawn from Prisma!” adds Hardy with investor-winning levels of chutzpah.

While it’s of course super early to talk business model, the question is a valid one given Capture’s claims of zero user profiling. Free apps backed by VC will need to monetize the hoped for scale and usage at some point. So how does Capture plan to do that?

The founders say they envisage the app acting as a distribution tool. And for that use case their knowing (only) the timing, location and subject of chats is plenty enough data to carry out contextual targeting of whatever stuff they can get paid to distribute to their users.  

They are also toying with models in a Patreon style — such as users being able to donate to content authors who are in turn distributing stuff to them via Capture. But again plans aren’t fully formed at this nascent stage.

“Our focus right now is more like going into partnerships with different companies that have lots of content and lots of events going on,” says Hardy. “We also are going to ask for permission to get access to music apps like Spotify or Apple Music to be aware of those artists and songs a person is interested in and is listening to. So this will give us an opportunity to suggest relevant new albums, maybe music events, concerts and so on and so forth.

“For example if a band is coming to your city and we know we have access to Apple Music we know you’re listening to it we’ll suggest a concert — we’ll say ‘hey maybe you can win a free ticket’ if we can partner… with someone, so yeah we’re moving into this in the near future I think.”


Social – TechCrunch


Software development analytics platform Sourced launches an enterprise edition

July 2, 2019 No Comments

Sourced, or source{d}, as the company styles its name, provides developers and IT departments with deeper analytics into their software development lifecycle. It analyzes codebases, offers data about which APIs are being used and provides general information about developer productivity and other metrics. Today, Sourced is officially launching its Enterprise Edition, which gives IT departments and executives a number of advanced tools for managing their software portfolios and the processes they use to create them.

“Sourced enables large engineering organizations to better monitor, measure and manage their IT initiatives by providing a platform that empowers IT leaders with actionable data,” said the company’s CEO Eiso Kant. “The release of Sourced Enterprise is a major milestone towards proper engineering observability of the entire software development life cycle in enterprises.”

Engineering Effectiveness Efficiency

Since it’s one of the hallmarks of every good enterprise tools, it’s no surprise that Sourced Enterprise also offers features like role-based access control and other security features, as well as dedicated support and SLAs. IT departments can also run the service on-premise, or use it as a SaaS product.

The company also tells me that the enterprise version can handle larger codebases so that even complex queries over a large dataset only takes a few seconds (or minutes if it’s a really large codebase). To create these complex queries, the enterprise edition includes a number of add-ons to allow users to create these advanced queries. “These are available upon request and tailored to help enterprises overcome specific challenges that often rely on machine learning capabilities, such as identity matching or code duplication analysis,” the company says.

Cloud Migration

The service integrates with most commonly used project management and business intelligence tools, but it also ships with Apache Superset, an open-source business intelligence application that offers built-in data visualization capabilities.

These visualization capabilities are also now part of the Sourced Community Edition, which is now available in private beta.

“Sourced Enterprise gave us valuable insights into the Cloud Foundry codebase evolution, development patterns, trends, and dependencies, all presented in easy-to-digest dashboards,” said Chip Childers, the CTO of the open-source Cloud Foundry Foundation, which tested the Enterprise Edition ahead of its launch. “If you really want to understand what’s going on in your codebase and engineering department, Sourced is the way to go.”

To date, the company has raised $ 10 million from Frst VC, Heartcore Capital, Xavier Niel and others.

Talent Assessment Managment


Enterprise – TechCrunch