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Facebook Focuses On Camera Shots With Latest Smartphone App Update

March 29, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

Facebook Inc is giving the camera the spotlight on its smartphone app for the first time, urging users to take more pictures and edit them with digital stickers that show the influence of camera-friendly rival Snapchat.

With an update scheduled to take effect today, Facebook will allow users to get to the app’s camera with one swipe of their finger and then add visual details like a rainbow or a beard of glitter.

Users will be able to share a picture privately with a friend, rather than to the user’s entire list of friends, and add a picture to a gallery known as a “story,” similar to a feature on the Snapchat app.

Snapchat, owned by Snap Inc, popularized the sharing of digitally decorated photographs on social media, especially among teenagers, and exposed a weakness of Facebook as the companies battle for eyeballs and leisure time.

Snap, which went public this month, has recently emphasized its ambitions to build gadgets and has called itself a camera company rather than a social media firm.

Facebook, the world’s largest social network with some 1.86 billion users, denies it took its camera ideas from Snapchat and says it got them from Facebook users.

“Our goal here is to give people more to do on Facebook and that’s really been the main inspiration,” Connor Hayes, a Facebook product manager, said in a briefing with reporters.

In a glimpse of how the features could tie in with other businesses, one of the first camera effects will be the ability to morph someone in a photograph into a yellow, cartoon “Minion.” The latest Minion movie, “Despicable Me 3,” is due out in a few months from Comcast Corp’s NBC Universal.

Facebook has deals to license content from six film studios, as well as from two artists, said Kristen Spilman, design director at Facebook.

Another visual effect that can be added to pictures allows someone in a picture to “become a laser cat with super powers,” Spilman said.

The effects will vary by location. Spilman said that when Facebook tested the ability to add the phrase “LOL” – the acronym for “laugh out loud” – to a picture, users in Ireland were confused by what it meant.

Twitter Mulls Subscription Based Model

March 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Twitter Inc is weighing whether to build a premium version of its popular Tweetdeck interface aimed at professionals, the company has announced, raising the possibility that it could charge subscription fees for some users for the first time.

Like most other social media companies, Twitter since its founding 11 years ago has focused on building a huge user base for a free service supported by advertising. Last month it reported it had 319 million users worldwide.

But unlike the much-larger Facebook Inc, Twitter has failed to attract enough in advertising revenue to turn a profit even as its popularity with U.S. President Donald Trump and other celebrities makes the network a constant center of attention.

Subscription fees could come from a version of Tweetdeck, an existing interface that helps users navigate Twitter.

Twitter is conducting a survey “to assess the interest in a new, more enhanced version of Tweetdeck,” spokeswoman Brielle Villablanca has said in a statement.

She went on: “We regularly conduct user research to gather feedback about people’s Twitter experience and to better inform our product investment decisions, and we’re exploring several ways to make Tweetdeck even more valuable for professionals.”

There was no indication that Twitter was considering charging fees from all its users.

Word of the survey had earlier leaked on Twitter, where a journalist affiliated with the New York Times posted screenshots of what a premium version of Tweetdeck could look like.

That version could include “more powerful tools to help marketers, journalists, professionals, and others in our community find out what is happening in the world quicker,” according to one of the screenshots posted on the account @andrewtavani.

The experience could be ad-free, the description said.

Other social media firms, such as Microsoft Corp’s LinkedIn unit, already have tiered memberships, with subscription versions that offer greater access and data.

In the fourth quarter of 2016, Twitter posted the slowest revenue growth since it went public four years earlier, and revenue from advertising fell year-over-year. The company also said that advertising revenue growth would continue to lag user growth during 2017.

Apple Acquires DeskConnect, Makers Of Workflow Automation App

March 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Apple has purchased the Workflow automation app, which gives iOS users the ability to trigger a sequence of tasks across apps with a single act.

A spokesman for Apple confirmed that the company acquired DeskConnect, the developer of the app, and the Workflow app, but did not provide further details.

Workflow, developed for the iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch, allows users to drag and drop combinations of actions to create workflows that interact with the apps and content on the device. It won an Apple design award in 2015 at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference.

Some of the examples of tasks for which Workflow can be used are making animated GIFs, adding a home screen icon to call a loved one and tweeting a song the user has been listening to, according to a description of the app.

Apple is keeping the app alive on its App Store and it has been made free, according to TechCrunch, which first reported the acquisition.

The company, which typically comments on its acquisitions with the standard line that “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans,” went on to comment about the benefits of the app.

The app was selected for the Apple design award “because of its outstanding use of iOS accessibility features, in particular an outstanding implementation for VoiceOver with clearly labeled items, thoughtful hints, and drag/drop announcements, making the app usable and quickly accessible to those who are blind or low-vision,” Apple told TechCrunch.

It isn’t clear at this point how the app will be integrated with Apple’s offerings. Besides offering a standalone Workflow app, Apple may possibly look at integrating the technology into iOS with Siri being the key interface for many users, particularly for disabled people.

Apple’s New Video App Clips Challenges Facebook, Snapchat

March 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

With the release of a new video app called Clips, Apple Inc continues its move towards fully engaging in the messaging world, where its huge base of iPhone users could help it compete with Snap Inc’s Snapchat and Facebook Inc’s Messenger.

Clips, which will hit Apple’s App Store in April, lets customers take videos and add animated captions and titles, complete with colorful emoji symbols. The app also makes it possible to stitch together multiple video clips and add speech bubbles and filters.

The functions closely resemble those that drive Snap’s wildly popular Stories feature. With Stories, Snap users string together photos and videos, embellish them and then post them to their feeds.

Apple’s new Clips lets users post their video to Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo and more. But if users post them to Apple’s own Messages app, Apple will recommend whom to share it with based on which friends are in the videos and whom the user frequently contacts – the kind of predictive social features Facebook excels at.

Apple has a huge number of users for Messages, the flagship app for short notes that is built into the iPhone’s iOS 10 software. Apple does not say how many people use the app, but it does say that there more than 1 billion iOS devices on the market and that 79 percent of them run iOS 10.

Apple also says that Messages is the most commonly used app on iOS devices, giving the company potentially up to 800 million users for its latest messaging platform. Snap, by contrast, has 161 million daily active users. While Apple’s Clips competitor will technically be a separate app from Messages, it will be tied closely to it for the ability share Clips videos with other Apple users.

Facebook has more than 1 billion users for both Messenger, which was split off from the main Facebook service in 2014, and for WhatsApp, which it acquired for $19 billion the same year.

Apple has been steadily matching the features of Facebook’s Messenger. But Apple is also walking a fine line with other messaging players, cooperating with them often as it competes with them. For example, it has opened up the iPhone’s dialer app, long closed off to developers, so that iPhone users could place and receive Skype and WhatsApp calls through the device’s native interface.

Alphabet Inc’s Google and Microsoft Corp have been scrambling to get into the game, too. Google has more than a half dozen messaging apps, including Allo, its latest. Microsoft has tried to integrate chat into its Skype app, and Microsoft-owned LinkedIn is a popular tool for business notes.

But tech giants obsess over messaging because it is where users are headed, according to analyst firm Gartner. Between 2015 and 2016, the percentage of U.S. and UK smartphone owners who used social media apps dropped from 85 percent to 83 percent while messaging apps jumped from 68 percent to 71 percent, a trend Gartner expects will continue.

EU Gives Social Media Companies A Month To Make User Agreements Compliant

March 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook, Twitter and Google have been given a month to update their user agreements in the European Union or face “enforcement action.”

European consumer authorities put the social media services on notice last November that their terms of service did not comply with EU law, asked them to make changes and to address the problem of scams that misled users of the services.

The authorities and the European Commission met with the companies on Thursday to discuss their proposed changes, and gave them a month to make their final proposals, the European Commission said Friday. If those proposals don’t satisfy the authorities, then they could take enforcement action, the Commission said.

The European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Věra Jourová, said it was unacceptable that European consumers had to take their disputes with the companies to courts in California, and that they were deprived of their rights under EU law to withdraw from online purchases.

She called on the social media companies to take more responsibility for dealing with scams and fraud conducted via their platforms.

For the social media companies to bring their terms of service into compliance with EU law, the regulators say they must allow consumers to raise disputes in the courts of their country of residence, and not force them to waive their mandatory rights. These rights include being able to withdraw from online purchases. The companies should not be able to grant themselves the right to remove content or change contract terms without notice.

The regulators identified a number of fraudulent practices that exploit the social media companies’ networks, including scams taking payment from consumers, sale of counterfeit products, or “subscription traps” in which consumers believe they are registering for a free trial but end up agreeing to make ongoing payments.

They want the social media companies to remove such scams from their websites on demand, and to provide national consumer protection authorities with a single point of contact to highlight such illegal content and arrange for it to be taken down.

Google Drive Gets Update, Allows Users To Stream From The Cloud

March 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Google Drive users will be able to view all the files they have stored in the company’s cloud service on their desktop without downloading them, thanks to a new feature the company has announced.

The Drive File Stream offering will — as the name implies — show placeholder files on a user’s desktop, then download them only when a user needs to look at them. It’s similar to Dropbox’s Smart Sync feature, which recently entered beta.

Google also made a pair of its key enterprise-focused Drive features generally available last Thursday. Team Drives is a feature that lets administrators create shared folders for groups inside their organizations. Vault for Drive lets companies manage data retention and legal hold policies for content stored in the service.

To help enterprises move to Drive, Google acquired AppBridge , a partner that has helped enterprises migrate to the service. The company offers migration services from sources like SharePoint, Exchange and on-premises file storage.

These moves are aimed at making Google Drive more appealing to customers who might consider another competing enterprise file sync and share service like Dropbox or Microsoft’s OneDrive for Business.

Team Drives are important for enterprises, since they give administrators the ability to create shared storage spaces for groups without having one particular user own that space or the files shared within it. That way, if someone on the team leaves, all of their contributions stay with the other people who need them.

The news is part of the company’s suite of project announcements at its Google Cloud Next conference in San Francisco. Google also announced major changes to its Hangouts services and cloud price cuts.

FCC Says It Will Investigate AT&T Mobile’s 911 Call Issue

March 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

AT&T’s mobile subscribers in some states were not able to place 911 emergency calls late Wednesday, leading to complaints from police departments and emergency agencies in various parts of the country.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai wrote on Twitter that his agency was receiving reports of widespread AT&T 911 call outages and its public safety staff was investigating.

Pai tweeted about an hour later that AT&T had reported to him that 911 service was restored. “The @FCC will investigate the root cause of the outage and its impact,” he added.

AT&T tweeted that an issue that affected some calls to 911 from wireless customers had been resolved.

Mobile users in at least 14 states and Washington, D.C., were unable to call 911 for a few hours on Wednesday night, The New York Times reported.

The FCC has previously fined service providers for outages. In July 2015, the agency reached a $17.5 million settlement with T-Mobile USA, resolving an investigation into two separate but related 911 service outages that occurred on the company’s national network in 2014 and together lasted nearly three hours.

The outage on Wednesday will likely give momentum to plans to upgrade the current 911 system to a next generation system that would allow people to send text, images and video when reporting an emergency.

The National Emergency Number Association said Wednesday that the outage highlights the immediate need to transition 911 centers in the U.S. to the next-generation NG9-1-1 technology that can “intelligently route around outages, redirect calls to other regions, or use backup facilities in ways that legacy E9-1-1 systems cannot.”

U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida, and Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, have released draft legislation to quicken the national transition to next generation 911 systems that will take advantage of new broadband and voice technologies.

Facebook Testing A ‘Dislike’ Emoji

March 8, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook executives have been mulling over the idea to introduce a dislike button, or something similar to it, for years.

Now it seems the social network is taking a big step in possibly giving users something similar to the dislike button they’ve been asking for.

A spokesperson for Facebook’s Messenger app confirmed to Computerworld today that they are running a small test of something akin to a dislike option.

“We’re always testing ways to make Messenger more fun and engaging,” she said. “This is a small test where we enable people to share an emoji that best represents their feelings on a message.”

The test is centered around what basically are thumbs up or a thumbs down emojis being added to the list of Facebook’s other emoji reaction options, like love, laughter, wow, sad and angry.

The new emoji options could be used if a group of friends is deciding on whether to order a pizza or to meet at a particular restaurant or park.

There’s no sign yet that Facebook executives are considering testing out the new like and dislike options on the Facebook website or app.

If the emotion options are pushed through, it would be the first additions since Facebook moved beyond just the “like” button in February 2016. That’s when the world’s largest social network added the haha, wow, sad, love and angry reactions.

If a dislike option is added, it would be a departure from what Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said about it in the past.

In a September 2015 town hall forum, Zuckerberg said they were working on adding to the single like option at the time but he was hesitant to give users a dislike option.

“It took us a while to get here because we didn’t want to just build a dislike button because we don’t want to turn Facebook into a forum where people are voting up or down on people’s posts,” he said at the time. “That doesn’t seem like the kind of community we want to create.”

And in 2014, at another town hall event, Zuckerberg also voiced concern about the toxicity that a dislike button could spread on the social network.

Now it seems that the company is hoping people will use the thumbs up and down emojis as more of a way to vote on something, rather than to show their displeasure with someone’s post. Of course, there’s no stopping people from using the thumbs down or dislike button for any reason they choose.

Oculus Slashes Price Of Virtual Reality Rift Hardware

March 3, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Facebook Inc’s virtual reality unit Oculus slashed $200 from the total price of its flagship hardware set, looking to expand the system’s base of video game players.

The virtual reality headset Rift and the motion controllers Touch will together retail for $598, Jason Rubin, Oculus’ vice president of content, said in a statement.

Facebook paid $2 billion for Oculus in 2014, believing it to be the next major computing platform. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has said that Oculus would spend $500 million to fund virtual reality content development.

Oculus and other virtual reality makers are struggling to make their products competitive with other gaming systems that sell for much less.

Oculus believes the lower entry price will attract consumers to virtual reality for personal computers at a faster pace, Rubin said. “This price drop was as inevitable as it is beneficial. This is how the technology business works,” he said.

A larger user base would lead to easier player matching, better communities and the ability to invest more in gaming titles, he said, calling those results “a virtuous cycle.”

Rift used to retail for $599 on its own, while Touch sold for $199.

Rival virtual reality company Vive, a unit of HTC Corp, said it would not match Oculus on price and would not change its “strategy of delivering the best and most comprehensive VR product.” Its system is listed at $799 on its website.

“We don’t feel the need to cut the price of Vive, as we’ve had incredible success, and continue to see great momentum in market,” Vive spokesman Patrick Seybold said in a statement.

Sony Corp joined the race for virtual reality dominance in October with a $399 headset, the PlayStation VR, which was the company’s first major product launch since it emerged from years of restructuring.

Facebook Releases ‘Prophet’ Forecasting Tool

March 2, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook has open-sourced its Prophet forecasting tool, designed “to make it easier for experts and non-experts to create high-quality forecasts,” according to a blog post by Sean J. Taylor and Ben Letham in the company’s research team. “Forecasts are customizable in ways that are intuitive to non-experts,” they wrote.

The code is available on GitHub in both Python and R.

Prophet is aimed specifically at business problems such as computer infrastructure capacity planning that have at least several months of data (preferably a year or more) and issues such as seasonality, “holidays” that can affect trends (such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday for retailers), and events that can have significant impacts (such as launching a new website when trying to forecast site traffic). Prophet can also handle some missing values and outliers, the blog post said.

Facebook suggests taking Prophet for a spin using page views from a Wikipedia page, data which is currently available on tools.wmflabs.org/pageviews.

Prophet was built using Stan, a probability programming language that connects with several popular analytics platforms such as MATLAB and Stata in addition to Python and R.

Is The Xbox Game Pass A Good Move For Microsoft?

March 2, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Microsoft has just made the Xbox One console a bit more interesting by announcing a new subscription service called the Xbox Game Pass, which will give access to over 100 games for US $9.99 a month, when it launches later this spring.

The Microsoft Xbox Game Pass will include over 100 games, like Halo 5: Guardians, Payday 2, NBA 2K16, and SoulCalibur 2. Unlike other similar subscription based services, Xbox Game Pass will allow users to download available games and buy them with a 20 percent discount if they decide to keep the game. This also means that users won’t have to worry about streaming, bandwidth or other connectivity problems.

Add-ons for those games will be available for purchase with the same exclusive discount for Xbox Game Pass members as well.

While it was initially announced as a service that will only be available on Xbox One and Windows 10 devices, the Windows 10 part was later removed from the official Xbox Game Pass site, but it is still possible that it will be coming to the PC later this spring.

Microsoft announced that some big game publishers have already signed on including 2K, 505 Games, Bandai Namco Entertainment, Capcom, Codemasters, Deep Silver, Focus Home Interactive, Sega, SNK Corporation, THQ Nordic GmbH, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and Microsoft Studios.

Currently, the Xbox Game Pass is available in an alpha preview stage with a limited number of games so we are certainly looking forward to what it will look like when it launches this spring.

Courtesy-Fud

SoundCloud Seeks New Subscribers With New Budget Plan

March 1, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Music-streaming service SoundCloud rolled out a new budget subscription package on Tuesday, seeking to lure more listeners into paying subscribers and undercutting rivals Apple and Spotify.

The $4.99 per-month offer will give subscribers access to 120 million music tracks without having to listen to ads. Its $9.99 premium subscription, rebranded as SoundCloud Go+, offers 150 million tracks, with new features to be announced this year.

“Users have even more freedom to choose the features and content they want, at the price that fits their budget,” said Alex Ljung, chief executive of Berlin-based SoundCloud.

The new service is immediately available in the United States, Britain, Ireland, France, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Germany.

SoundCloud, which was launched in 2008, has about 175 million listeners but has never said how many are paying subscribers. It raised $100 million last June from a group of investors including Twitter, valuing the company at roughly $700 million, according to Re/code.

Apple, which charges $9.99 a month for its music-streaming service, has about 20 million subscribers, and Spotify has over 40 million.

SoundCloud is popular among music artists but has been less successful than its rivals at striking licensing deals on favorable terms. It lost two senior executives this month and is seeking to raise new funding.

Facebook VR Ambitions Threatened By Fight With ZeniMax Media

March 1, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook Inc’s big ambitions in the ever expanding virtual reality industry could be threatened by a court order that would prevent it from using critical software code another company is laying claims to, according to legal and industry experts.

Video game publisher ZeniMax Media Inc has requested that a Dallas federal judge issue an order barring Facebook unit Oculus from using or distributing the disputed code, part of the software development kit that Oculus provides to outside companies creating games for its Rift VR headset.

A decision is likely a few months away, but intellectual property lawyers said ZeniMax has a decent chance of getting the order, which would mean Facebook faces a tough choice between paying a possibly hefty settlement or fighting on at risk of jeopardizing its position in the sector.

For now, Facebook is fighting on. Oculus spokeswoman Tera Randall said last Thursday the company would challenge a $500 million jury verdict on Feb. 1 against Oculus and its co-founders Palmer Luckey and Brendan Iribe for infringing ZeniMax’s copyrighted code and violating a non-disclosure agreement.

Randall said Oculus would possibly file an appeal that would “allow us to put this litigation behind us.”

An injunction would require Oculus, which Facebook acquired for $3 billion in 2014, to stop distributing the code to developers or selling those games that use it.

Such a court order “would put a huge stumbling block in front” of Oculus, said Stephanie Llamas, an analyst with gaming market research firm SuperData. It would offer the company’s rivals in the new market, which include HTC, Sony Corp, Alphabet Inc and others an “important opportunity for them to become first movers.”

Sales of the Rift itself would not be barred, but Llamas, said a lack of available titles could hinder Facebook’s offering relative to HTC’s Vive headset and Sony’s Playstation VR.

That market is relatively small at the moment – sales of VR hardware and software totaled $2.7 billion in 2016 – and mainly limited to gaming. But Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has predicted the technology “will become a part of daily life for billions of people,” revolutionizing social media, entertainment and medicine.

SuperData says the VR market will be worth $37 billion by 2020. Likewise, investment firm Cantor Fitzgerald last year issued a report predicting VR would account for 10 percent of Facebook revenue in four years’ time.

Google’s Jigsaw Rolls Out Initiative To Combat Online Abuse

February 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Alphabet Inc’s Google and subsidiary Jigsaw rolled out a new technology to aid news organizations and online platforms  in identifying abusive comments on their websites.

The technology, called Perspective, will review comments and score them based on how similar they are to comments people said were “toxic” or likely to make them leave a conversation.

It has been tested on the New York Times and the companies hope to extend it to other news organizations such as The Guardian and The Economist as well as websites.

“News organizations want to encourage engagement and discussion around their content, but find that sorting through millions of comments to find those that are trolling or abusive takes a lot of money, labor, and time. As a result, many sites have shut down comments altogether,” Jared Cohen, President of Jigsaw, which is part of Alphabet, wrote in a blog post.

“But they tell us that isn’t the solution they want. We think technology can help.”

Perspective examined hundreds of thousands of comments that had been labeled as offensive by human reviewers to learn how to spot potentially abusive language.

CJ Adams, Jigsaw Product Manager, said the company was open to rolling out the technology to all platforms, including larger ones such as Facebook and Twitter  where trolling can be a major headache.

The technology could in the future be expanded to trying to identify personal attacks or off-topic comments too, Cohen said.

Perspective will not decide what to do with comments it finds are potentially abusive; rather publishers will be able to flag them to their moderators or develop tools to help comment understand the impact of what they are writing.

Cohen said a significant portion of abusive comments came from people who were “just having a bad day”.

The initiative against trolls follows efforts by Google and Facebook to combat fake news stories in France, Germany and the United States after they came under fire during the U.S. presidential vote when it became clear they had inadvertently fanned false news reports.

The debate surrounding fake news has led to calls from politicians for social networks to be held more liable for the content posted on their platforms.

The Perspective technology is still in its early stages and “far from perfect”, Cohen said, adding he hoped it could be rolled out for languages other than English too.

Facebook Pursuing Deal To Live Stream MLB Baseball Games

February 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook Inc is currently negotiating with Major League Baseball to live stream one game per week during the upcoming season, which could be a key win as the social media platform works to offer more live sports, according to two people familiar with the situation.

Facebook has pushed to sign deals with owners of sports rights to live stream their games, going after an audience that competitor Twitter Inc is also trying to capture, according to sports media consultants.

For social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, live streaming sports is key to attracting people since sports is one of the few types of content that people still watch live.

“Facebook is aggressively going after sports content and they are now one of a number of competitors to traditional media outlets that are going after sports programming,” said sports media consultant Lee Berke. “It makes perfect sense that they would be going after name brand properties like the MLB.”

The companies were in advanced talks, according to one source. It was unclear which games MLB would live stream on Facebook. A representative for Facebook and MLB declined to comment.

By partnering with Facebook, MLB would get access to a young audience at a massive scale, consultants said.

The size of Facebook’s reach was a big reason Univision Communications Inc decided to use Facebook Live to live stream Mexican soccer matches in English, said Tonia O’Connor, chief commercial officer and president of content distribution at Univision.

Under that deal, Facebook will live stream 46 matches by Mexican soccer league Liga MX in 2017. Terms were not disclosed.

Over the past few months, Facebook has live streamed global basketball and soccer matches and table tennis.

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