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Main article: Social

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Chirp debuts a faster, feature-filled Twitter app for Apple Watch

21:33 | 5 December

Chirp, a Twitter client preferred by hundreds of thousands of Apple Watch users, is getting its biggest upgrade since its arrival last year. Now redesigned for watchOS 6, the new version of Chirp includes a rebuilt timeline feature that allows you to endlessly scroll through tweets much more quickly than before, along with other enhancements like support for iOS 13’s dark mode and a way to add colors to your Twitter username.

The app was first introduced to fill the void created when Twitter pulled its own Apple Watch app back in 2017 in favor of using Apple Watch’s notifications platform instead.

Chirp, meanwhile, lets users access a real Twitter client from their Watch’s small screen, which included a way to view your Home Timeline, Twitter Trends, @ Mentions, Direct Messages, and more. Some features — like the ability to Direct Message or compose tweets from your Apple Watch — are only available to Chirp Pro paying users, though.

Chirp Pro is a user-friendly “pay what you want” feature that lets you chip in at either $4.99, $5.99 or $7.99 to upgrade the app and doesn’t require a subscription. To date, Chirp has 294,000 downloads and only around 5% conversions.

The new version, Chirp 2.0, hopes to encourage more upgrades as it enhances the Twitter-on-your-wrist experience with a redesigned timeline that endlessly scrolls faster and more reliably than before, and includes an improved video player, image grids, and more.

“The inspiration for rewriting the timeline came from when I was fortunate enough to attend WWDC 2019 as a scholar,” explains Chirp developer Will Bishop. “During the keynote, Apple announced SwiftUI, a new framework that allowed developers to develop their user interfaces much faster than ever before. However, not only did it increase the speed, it opened up a whole new way to create apps for the Apple Watch,” he explains.

“Prior to SwiftUI, all user interface on Apple Watch was drag-and-drop which, while convenient, has some major drawbacks. So feeling inspired from this announcement, I left the keynote hall and immediately began working on reimplementing the timeline with SwiftUI,” he says.

[gallery ids="1920687,1920686,1920682,1920680,1920684"]

Direct messages were updated, too, and now include images and tweets that were shared through the private messaging feature.

Chrip 2.0 also introduces support for live complications on Apple Watch. That means you can see recent tweets right on the watch face, and tap on them to be redirected back to the Chirp app to reply, like or retweet. This feature is also available only to Pro users.

Another enhancement lets you add a little flair to your Twitter username by making it colorful — a feature that was inspired by a user’s request. Included as a one-off in-app purchase, it’s $1 for Pro users or $2 for non-Pro users to take advantage of this option. Bishop attributes the pricing decision to the backend work required to implement the feature on his part. It also makes for an additional revenue stream, by being available to those who don’t want to pay for the pro version of the app.

However, Bishop notes that the option will be available for free during Pride month (June) so everyone can make their username rainbow-colored, if they choose.

In addition, Chirp 2.0 is now available in a number of languages, besides English, including Chinese (simplified), Danish, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish (Latin America.)

The app itself is a free download from the iOS or Apple Watch App Store. 

 


0

Google Photos adds a chat feature to its app

20:00 | 3 December

An argument could be made that Google has over-indulged in its creation of way too many messaging apps in years past. But today’s launch of a new messaging service — this time within the confines of Google Photos — is an integration that actually makes sense.

The company is rolling out a way to directly message photos and chat with another user or users within the Google Photos app. The addition will allow users to quickly and easily share those one-off photos or videos with another person, instead of taking additional steps to build a shared album.

The feature itself is simple to use. After selecting a photo and tapping share, you can now choose a new option “Send in Google Photos.” You can then tap on the icon of your most frequent contacts or search for a user by name, phone number of email.

The recipient will need a Google account to receive the photos, however, because they’ll need to sign-in to view the conversation. That may limit the feature to some extent, as not everyone is a Google user. But with now a billion some Google Photos users out there, it’s likely that more of the people you want to share will have an account, rather than not.

You can also use this feature to start a group chat by selecting “New group,” then adding recipients.

Once a chat has been started, you can return to it at any time from the “Sharing” tab in Google Photos. Here, you’ll be able to see the photos and videos you each shared, comments, text chats and likes. You can also save the photos you want to your phone or tap on the “All Photos” option to see just the photos themselves without the conversations surrounding them.

Explains Google, the idea with the new direct sharing option is not to replace users’ preferred messaging apps — a strategy that differs from Google’s investments in apps like Hangouts and Allo in previous years. Instead, the feature wants to relocate some of the photo-sharing activity that takes place in messaging apps to Google Photos.

Google had tried a similar idea with direct video sharing and messaging from the YouTube app. But the company later shut down that feature ahead of YouTube’s announcement of the $170M FTC fine for violating U.S. children’s privacy laws, COPPA. Likely, the chat feature there would have complicated YouTube’s product, now under increased regulatory scrutiny, because many kids were using direct messaging as a way to work around parental controls and other blocks on traditional messaging apps.

Google Photos makes more sense as a place to directly message friends and family, though, and the Google account requirement means users will have to be 13 or older to gain access. (Unless parents created a Google account for their child).

Direct messaging was previously announced as “coming soon” alongside Google Photos’ big fall update that also included the launch of Stories and other features.

The new feature is launching today but the rollout will take place over the next week. It will be supported across platforms, including iOS, Android and web.

 


0

Facebook launches a photo portability tool, starting in Ireland

14:14 | 2 December

It’s not friend portability, but Facebook has announced the launch today of a photo transfer tool to enable users of its social network to port their photos directly to Google’s photo storage service, via encrypted transfer.

The photo portability feature is initially being offered to Facebook users in Ireland, where the company’s international HQ is based. Facebook says it is still testing and tweaking the feature based on feedback but slates “worldwide availability” as coming in the first half of 2020.

It also suggests porting to other photo storage services will be supported in the future, in addition to Google Photos — which specifying which services it may seek to add.

Facebook says the tool is based on code developed via its participation in the Data Transfer Project — a collaborative effort started last year that’s currently backed by five tech giants (Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter) who have committed to build “a common framework with open-source code that can connect any two online service providers, enabling a seamless, direct, user initiated portability of data between the two platforms”.

Facebook also points to a white paper it published in September — where it advocates for “clear rules” to govern the types of data that should be portable and “who is responsible for protecting that data as it moves to different providers”.

Behind all these moves is of course the looming threat of antitrust regulation, with legislators and agencies on both sides of the Atlantic now closely eyeing platforms’ grip on markets, eyeballs and data.

Hence Facebook’s white paper couching portability tools as “helping keep competition vibrant among online services”. (Albeit, if the ‘choice’ being offered is to pick another tech giant to get your data that’s not exactly going to reboot the competitive landscape.)

It’s certainly true that portability of user uploaded data can be helpful in encouraging people to feel they can move from a dominant service.

However it is also something of a smokescreen — especially when A) the platform in question is a social network like Facebook (because it’s people who keep other people stuck to these types of services); and B) the value derived from the data is retained by the platform regardless of whether the photos themselves travel elsewhere.

Facebook processes user uploaded data such as photos to gain personal insights to profile users for ad targeting purposes. So even if you send your photos elsewhere that doesn’t diminish what Facebook has already learned about you, having processed your selfies, groupies, baby photos, pet shots and so on. (It has also designed the portability tool to send a copy of the data; ergo, Facebook still retains your photos unless you take additional action — such as deleting your account.)

The company does not offer users any controls (portability tools or access rights) over the inferences it makes based on personal data such as photos.

Or indeed control over insights it services from its analysis of usage of its platform or wider browsing of the Internet (Facebook tracks both users and non users across the web via tools like social plug-ins and tracking pixels).

Given its targeted ads business is powered by a vast outgrowth of tracking (aka personal data processing), there’s little risk to Facebook to offer a portability feature buried in a sub-menu somewhere that lets a few in-the-know users click to send a copy of their photos to another tech giant.

Indeed, it may hope to benefit from similar incoming ports from other platforms in future.

“We hope this product can help advance conversations on the privacy questions we identified in our white paper,” Facebook writes. “We know we can’t do this alone, so we encourage other companies to join the Data Transfer Project to expand options for people and continue to push data portability innovation forward.”

Competition regulators looking to reboot digital markets will need to dig beneath the surface of such self-serving initiatives if they are to alight on a meaningful method of reining in platform power.

 


0

Facebook bowed to a Singapore government order to brand a news post as false

21:05 | 30 November

Facebook added a correction notice to a post by a fringe news site that Singapore’s government said contained false information. It’s the first time the government has tried to enforce a new law against ‘fake news’ outside its borders.

The post by fringe news site States Times Review (STR), contained “scurrilous accusations” according to the Singapore government.

The States Times Review post contained accusations about the arrest of an alleged whistleblower and election-rigging.

Singapore authorities had previously ordered STR editor Alex Tan to correct the post but the Australian citizen said he would “not comply with any order from a foreign government”.

Mr Tan, who was born in Singapore, said he was an Australian citizen living in Australia and was not subject to the law. In a follow-up post, he said he would “defy and resist every unjust law”. He also posted the article on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Docs and challenged the government to order corrections there as well.

On the note Facebook said it “is legally required to tell you that the Singapore government says this post has false information”. They then embedded the note at the bottom of the original post, which was not altered. Only social media users in Singapore could see the note.

In a statement Facebook said it had applied the label as required under the “fake news” law. The law, known as the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation bill, came into effect in October.

According to Facebook’s “transparency report” it often blocks content that governments allege violate local laws, with nearly 18,000 cases globally in the year to June.

Facebook — which has its Asia headquarters in Singapore — said it hoped assurances that the law would not impact on free expression “will lead to a measured and transparent approach to implementation”.

Anyone who breaks the law could be fined heavily and face a prison sentence of up to five years. The law also bans the use of fake accounts or bots to spread fake news, with penalties of up to S$1m (£563,000, $733,700) and a jail term of up to 10 years.

Critics say the law’s reach gives Singapore’s government could jeopardize freedom of expression both in the city-state and outside its borders.

 


0

European parliament’s NationBuilder contract under investigation by data regulator

19:28 | 28 November

Europe’s lead data regulator has issued its first ever sanction of an EU institution — taking enforcement action against the European parliament over its use of US-based digital campaign company, NationBuilder, to process citizens’ voter data ahead of the spring elections.

NationBuilder is a veteran of the digital campaign space — indeed, we first covered the company back in 2011— which has become nearly ubiquitous for digital campaigns in some markets.

But in recent years European privacy regulators have raised questions over whether all its data processing activities comply with regional data protection rules, responding to growing concern around election integrity and data-fuelled online manipulation of voters.

The European parliament had used NationBuilder as a data processor for a public engagement campaign to promote voting in the spring election, which was run via a website called thistimeimvoting.eu.

The website collected personal data from more than 329,000 people interested in the EU election campaign — data that was processed on behalf of the parliament by NationBuilder.

The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), which started an investigation in February 2019, acting on its own initiative — and “taking into account previous controversy surrounding this company” as its press release puts it — found the parliament had contravened regulations governing how EU institutions can use personal data related to the selection and approval of sub-processors used by NationBuilder.

The sub-processors in question are not named. (We’ve asked for more details.)

The parliament received a second reprimand from the EDPS after it failed to publish a compliant Privacy Policy for the thistimeimvoting website within the deadline set by the EDPS. Although the regulator says it acted in line with its recommendations in the case of both sanctions.

The EDPS also has an ongoing investigation into whether the Parliament’s use of the voter mobilization website, and related processing operations of personal data, were in accordance with rules applicable to EU institutions (as set out in Regulation (EU) 2018/1725).

The enforcement actions had not been made public until a hearing earlier this week — when assistant data protection supervisor, Wojciech Wiewiórowski, mentioned the matter during a Q&A session in front of MEPs.

He referred to the investigation as “one of the most important cases we did this year”, without naming the data processor. “Parliament was not able to create the real auditing actions at the processor,” he told MEPs. “Neither control the way the contract has been done.”

“Fortunately nothing bad happened with the data but we had to make this contract terminated the data being erased,” he added.

When TechCrunch asked the EDPS for more details about this case on Tuesday a spokesperson told us the matter is “still ongoing” and “being finalized” and that it would communicate about it soon.

Today’s press release looks to be the upshot.

Provided canned commentary in the release Wiewiórowski writes:

The EU parliamentary elections came in the wake of a series of electoral controversies, both within the EU Member States and abroad, which centred on the the threat posed by online manipulation. Strong data protection rules are essential for democracy, especially in the digital age. They help to foster trust in our institutions and the democratic process, through promoting the responsible use of personal data and respect for individual rights. With this in mind, starting in February 2019, the EDPS acted proactively and decisively in the interest of all individuals in the EU to ensure that the European Parliament upholds the highest of standards when collecting and using personal data. It has been encouraging to see a good level of cooperation developing between the EDPS and the European Parliament over the course of this investigation.

One question that arises is why no firmer sanction has been issued to the European parliament — beyond a (now public) reprimand, some nine months after the investigation began.

Another question is why the matter was not more transparently communicated to EU citizens.

The EDPS’ PR emphasizes that its actions “are not limited to reprimands”, without explaining why the two enforcements thus far didn’t merit tougher action. (At the time of writing the EDPS had not responded to questions about why no fines have so far been issued.)

There may be more to come, though.

The regulator says it will “continue to check the parliament’s data protection processes” — revealing that the European Parliament has finished informing individuals of a revised intention to retain personal data collected by the thistimeimvoting website until 2024.

“The outcome of these checks could lead to additional findings,” it warns, adding that it intends to finalise the investigation by the end of this year.

Asked about the case, a spokeswoman for the European parliament told us that the thistimeimvoting campaign had been intended to motivate EU citizens to participate in the democratic process, and that it used a mix of digital tools and traditional campaigning techniques in order to try to reach as many potential voters as possible. 

She said NationBuilder had been used as a customer relations management platform to support staying in touch with potential voters — via an offer to interested citizens to sign up to receive information from the parliament about the elections (including events and general info).

Subscribers were also asked about their interests — which allowed the parliament to send personalized information to people who had signed up.

Some of the regulatory concerns around NationBuilder have centered on how it allows campaigns to match data held in their databases (from people who have signed up) with social media data that’s publicly available, such as an unlocked Twitter account or public Facebook profile.

In 2017 in France, after an intervention by the national data watchdog, NationBuilder suspended this data matching tool in the market.

The same feature has attracted attention from the UK’s Information Commissioner — which warned last year that political parties should be providing a privacy notice to individuals whose data is collected from public sources such as social media and matched. Yet aren’t.

“The ICO is concerned about political parties using this functionality without adequate information being provided to the people affected,” the ICO said in the report, while stopping short of ordering a ban on the use of the matching feature.

Its investigation confirmed that up to 200 political parties or campaign groups used NationBuilder during the 2017 UK general election.

 


0

Twitter tests new conversation features from twttr prototype, rollout planned for 2020

00:17 | 28 November

Twttr, the prototype app Twitter launched earlier this year, has been testing new ways to display conversations, including through the use of threaded replies and other visual cues. Now, those features have been

on Twitter.com, giving the service a message board-like feel where replies are connected to original tweeter and others in a thread by way of thin, gray lines.

As you may recall, the goal with twttr was to give Twitter a place outside of its main app to publicly experiment with more radical changes to the Twitter user interface, gain feedback, then iterate as needed, before the changes were rolled out to Twitter’s main user base. Since its arrival in March, the prototype twttr app has focused mainly on how threaded conversations would work, sometimes including different ways of labeling the posters in a thread, as well.

Currently, for example, twttr labels the original poster — meaning the person who started a conversation — with a little microphone icon, similar to Reddit. It’s also testing a way to view the tweet details in a card-style layout you can activate with a tap.

But its main focus continues to be on the display of the threads themselves.

Following its launch, the work on twttr slowed as did the excitement over its exclusive, invite-only Twitter experience. Instead of being a continual testbed of new ideas, twttr mostly rolled out small tweaks to threads. And it never branched out beyond conversation redesigns to test entirely new features, like Twitter’s recently launched Topics, for example.

In August, Sara Haider, who had been heading up the design of Conversations on Twitter — a role that included running twttr —

she would be moving to a new team at the company. Meanwhile, Suzanne Xie, who had just joined Twitter by way of the Lightwell acquisition, stepped in to lead Conversations instead. She confirmed at the time that part of her role would be working with the twttr team to bring its best parts to the main Twitter app.

That work now appears to be underway.

Noted reverse engineer Jane Manchun Wong spotted a conversation tree layout being developed on Twitter.com, identical to the one found on twttr.

And just this week, the feature was tweaked a bit more to include the ability to focus on a specific tweet, even from a permalink — also similar to twttr’s card-style layout, which highlights tweets you tap within a thread in the same way.

Wong wasn’t opted into an A/B test on Twitter.com to view this feature but rather found it through her investigative techniques, we understand.

Twitter confirmed what she found is part of the company’s broader plan to bring twttr’s features to Twitter — a rollout that will take place next year, a spokesperson said.

In addition, the company is considering how to use the twttr app to experiment with other features going forward, it says.

 

 


0

Twitter to add a way to ‘memorialize’ accounts for deceased users before removing inactive ones

23:11 | 27 November

Twitter has changed its tune regarding inactive accounts after receiving a lot of user feedback: It will now be developing a way to “memorialize” user accounts for those who have passed away, before proceeding with a plan it confirmed this week to deactivate accounts that are inactive in order to “present more accurate, credible information” on the service. To the company’s credit, it reacted swiftly after receiving a significant amount of negative feedback on this move, and it seems like the case of deceased users simply wasn’t considered in the decision to proceed with terminating dormant accounts.

After Twitter confirmed the inactive account (those that haven’t tweeted in more than six months) cleanup on Tuesday, a number of users noted that this would also have the effect of erasing the content of accounts whose owners have passed away. TechCrunch alum Drew Olanoff wrote about this impact from a personal perspective, asking Twitter to reconsider their move in light of the human impact and potential emotional cost.

In a thread today detailing their new thinking around inactive accounts, Twitter explained that its current inactive account policy has actually always been in place, but that they haven’t been diligent about enforcing it. They’re going to begin doin so in the European Union partly in accordance with local privacy laws, citing GDPR specifically. But the company also says it will now not be removing any inactive accounts before first implementing a way for inactive accounts belonging to deceased users to be “memorialized,” which presumably means preserving their content.

Twitter went on to day that it might expand or refine its inactive account policy to ensure it works with global privacy regulations, but will be sure to communicate these changes broadly before they go into effect.

It’s not yet clear what Twitter will do to offer this ‘memorialization’ of accounts, but there is some precedent they can look to for cues: Facebook has a ‘memorialized accounts’ feature that it introduced for similar reasons.

 


0

Instagram founders join $30M raise for Loom work video messenger

19:39 | 26 November

Why are we all trapped in enterprise chat apps if we talk 6X faster than we type, and our brain processes visual info 60,000X faster than text? Thanks to Instagram, we’re not as camera-shy anymore. And everyone’s trying to remain in flow instead of being distracted by multi-tasking.

That’s why now is the time for Loom. It’s an enterprise collaboration video messaging service that lets you send quick clips of yourself so you can get your point across and get back to work. Talk through a problem, explain your solution, or narrate a screenshare. Some engineering hocus pocus sees videos start uploading before you finish recording so you can share instantly viewable links as soon as you’re done.

“What we felt was that more visual communication could be translated into the workplace and deliver disproportionate value” co-founder and CEO Joe Thomas tells me. He actually conducted our whole interview over Loom, responding to emailed questions with video clips.

Launched in 2016, Loom is finally hitting its growth spurt. It’s up from 1.1 million users and 18,000 companies in February to 1.8 million people at 50,000 businesses sharing 15 million minutes of Loom videos per month. Remote workers are especially keen on Loom since it gives them face-to-face time with colleagues without the annoyance of scheduling synchronous video calls. “80% of our professional power users had primarily said that they were communicating with people that they didn’t share office space with” Thomas notes.

A smart product, swift traction, and a shot at riding the consumerization of enterprise trend has secured Loom a $30 million Series B. The round that’s being announced later today was led by prestigious SAAS investor Sequoia and joined by Kleiner Perkins, Figma CEO Dylan Field, Front CEO Mathilde Collin, and Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger.

“At Instagram, one of the biggest things we did was focus on extreme performance and extreme ease of use and that meant optimizing every screen, doing really creative things about when we started uploading, optimizing everything from video codec to networking” Krieger says. “Since then I feel like some products have managed to try to capture some of that but few as much as Loom did. When I first used Loom I turned to Kevin who was my Instagram co-founder and said, ‘oh my god, how did they do that? This feels impossibly fast.'”

Systrom concurs about the similarities, saying “I’m most excited because I see how they’re tackling the problem of visual communication in the same way that we tried to tackle that at Instagram.” Loom is looking to double-down there, potentially adding the ability to Like and follow videos from your favorite productivity gurus or sharpest co-workers.

Loom is also prepping some of its most requested features. The startup is launching an iOS app next month with Android coming the first half of 2020, improving its video editor with blurring for hiding your bad hair day and stitching to connect multiple takes. New branding options will help external sales pitches and presentations look right. What I’m most excited for is transcription, which is also slated for the first half of next year through a partnership with another provider, so you can skim or search a Loom. Sometimes even watching at 2X speed is too slow.

But the point of raising a massive $30 million Series B just a year after Loom’s $11 million Kleiner-led Series A is to nail the enterprise product and sales process. To date, Loom has focused on a bottom-up distribution strategy similar to Dropbox. It tries to get so many individual employees to use Loom that it becomes a team’s default collaboration software. Now it needs to grow up so it can offer the security and permissions features IT managers demand. Loom for teams is rolling out in beta access this year before officially launching in early 2020.

Loom’s bid to become essential to the enterprise, though, is its team video library. This will let employees organize their Looms into folders of a knowledge base so they can explain something once on camera, and everyone else can watch whenever they need to learn that skill. No more redundant one-off messages begging for a team’s best employees to stop and re-teach something. The Loom dashboard offers analytics on who’s actually watching your videos. And integration directly into popular enterprise software suites will let recipients watch without stopping what they’re doing.

To build out these features Loom has already grown to a headcount of 45. It’s also hired away former head of growth at Dropbox Nicole Obst, head of design for Slack Joshua Goldenberg, and VP of commercial product strategy for Intercom Matt Hodges.

Still, the elephants in the room remain Slack and Microsoft Teams. Right now, they’re mainly focused on text messaging with some additional screensharing and video chat integrations. They’re not building Loom-style asynchronous video messaging…yet. “We want to be clear about the fact that we don’t think we’re in competition with Slack or Microsoft Teams at all. We are a complementary tool to chat” Thomas insists. But given the similar productivity and communication ethos, those incumbents could certainly opt to compete.

Loom co-founder and CEO Joe Thomas

Hodges, Loom’s head of marketing, tells me “I agree Slack and Microsoft could choose to get into this territory, but what’s the opportunity cost for them in doing so? It’s the classic build vs. buy vs. integrate argument.” Slack bought screensharing tool Screenhero, but partners with Zoom and Google for video chat. Loom will focus on being easily integratable so it can plug into would-be competitors. And Hodges notes that “Delivering asynchronous video recording and sharing at scale is non-trivial. Loom holds a patent on its streaming, transcoding, and storage technology, which has proven to provide a competitive advantage to this day.”

The tea leaves point to video invading more and more of our communication, so I expect rival startups and features to Loom will crop up. As long as it has the head start, it needs to move as fast as it can. “It’s really hard to maintain focus to deliver on the core product experience that we set out to deliver versus spreading ourselves too thin. And this is absolutely critical” Thomas tells me.

One thing that could set Loom apart? A commitment to financial fundamentals. “When you grow really fast, you can sometimes lose sight of what is the core reason for a business entity to exist, which is to become profitable. . . Even in a really bold market where cash can be cheap, we’re trying to keep profitability at the top of our minds.”

 


0

Hulu is down, and nobody’s sure why

19:45 | 24 November

Hulu is currently down.

We’re not sure why, and neither does Hulu. A stream of tweets complaining about the outage surfaced Sunday morning on the U.S. east coast. In response, Hulu’s Twitter support didn’t seem to know either, instead telling frustrated users that it’s looking into it.

Fantastic. Stay tuned for more. Or switch to Netflix instead.

 


0

Twitter rolls out its ‘Hide Replies’ feature to all users worldwide

19:00 | 21 November

Twitter’s radical “Hide Replies” feature, one of the biggest changes to how Twitter works since the invention of the Retweet, is now available to Twitter’s global user base. The company says the feature will roll out to all Twitter users across platforms by today, with only one slight tweak since earlier tests.

Designed to balance the conversation on Twitter by putting the original poster back in control of which replies to their tweets remain visible, Hide Replies has been one of Twitter’s more controversial features to date. While no replies are actually deleted from Twitter when a user chooses to hide them, they are placed behind an extra click. That means the trolling, irrelevant, insulting, or otherwise disagreeable comments don’t get to dominate the conversation.

Twitter’s thinking is that if people know that hateful remarks and inappropriate behavior could be hidden from view, it will encourage more online civility.

However, the flip side is that people could use the “Hide Replies” feature to silence their critics or stifle dissent, even when warranted — like someone offering a fact check, for example.

The feature was first tested in Canada in July, then in the U.S. and Japan this September, across both web and mobile platforms.

Since its launch, Twitter found that most people hide the replies they find irrelevant, off-topic, or annoying. It also found people were using this instead of harsher noise reduction controls, like block or mute. In Canada, 27% of surveyed users who had their tweets hidden said they would reconsider how they interacted with others in the future, which is a somewhat promising metric.

The feature is, however, getting a slight change with its global debut. Twitter says some people wanted to take further action after hiding a reply, so now it will check to see if they want to block the replier, too. It also heard from some users that they were afraid of retaliation because the icon remains visible. It’s not making a change on that front at this time, but is still considering how to address this.

Another concern that was often mentioned on Twitter as the new feature first rolled out was the large pop-up notification that appears when users encountered a tweet with hidden replies.

Some people found the notification was so large and disruptive that it actually encouraged people to pay more attention to the hidden replies than they would otherwise.

Twitter says this screen only displays the first time a Twitter user encounters a tweet with hidden replies, however. Afterward, an icon will show people replies are hidden — and those are hidden on another page, not below the tweet.

But even though that’s a one-time notification, the attention it demands from the user outweighs the information it’s trying to convey — essentially, that twitter has launched a new feature and here’s where to find it. And if someone is engaged in trolling, being told that this particular Twitter user is hiding replies could enrage them even more.

In addition to the global rollout, Twitter also says it will soon be launching a new hide replies endpoint in its API so developers can build additional conversation management tools.

And Twitter notes it will be testing other changes to conversations, including more options around who can reply or even see specific conversations, as well as engagement changes designed to encourage healthier conversations.

“Everyone should feel safe and comfortable while talking on Twitter,” writes Suzanne Xie, Twitter’s Director of Product Management, who recently joined by way of an acquisition. “To make this happen, we need to change how conversations work on our service,” she says.

Twitter’s development in this area is interesting because it’s actively experimenting with ways to encourage civility on a platform that’s known for hot takes, sarcasm, snark, and outrage. It’s willing to change and evolve its features over time as it learns what works and scrap changes that don’t. It’s even been running a beta product (twttr) in parallel with Twitter, to try new ideas. If Twitter is ever able to turn things around by way of its feature set, it would be a marvel of product management.

The option to hide replies is rolling out globally on iOS, Android, Twitter Lite, and twitter.com, starting today.

 

 


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