Arbtr wants to create an anti-feed where users can only share one thing at a time

Arbtr wants to create an anti-feed where users can only share one thing at a time

At a time when the models of traditional social networks are being questioned, it’s more important than ever to experiment with alternatives. Arbtr is a proposed social network that limits users to sharing a single thing at any given time, encouraging “ruthless self-editing” and avoiding “nasty things” like endless feeds filled with trivial garbage.

It’s seeking funds on Kickstarter and could use a buck or two. I plan to.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Why would I give money to maybe join a social network eventually that might not have any of my friends on it on it? That is, if it ever even exists?” Great question.

The answer is: how else do you think we’re going to replace Facebook? Someone with a smart, different idea has to come along and we have to support them. If we won’t spare the cost of a cup of coffee for a purpose like that, then we deserve the social networks we’ve got. (And if I’m honest, I’ve had very similar ideas over the last few years and I’m eager to see how they might play out in reality.)

The fundamental feature is, of course, the single-sharing thing. You can only show off one item at a time, and when you post a new one, the old one (and any discussion, likes, etc) will be deleted. There will be options to keep logs of these things, and maybe premium features to access them (or perhaps metrics), but the basic proposal is, I think, quite sound — at the very least, worth trying.

Some design ideas for the app. I like the text one but it does need thumbnails.

If you’re sharing less, as Arbtr insists you will, then presumably you’ll put more love behind those things you do share. Wouldn’t that be nice?

We’re in this mess because we bought wholesale the idea that the more you share, the more connected you are. Now that we’ve found that isn’t the case – and in fact we were in effect being fattened for a perpetual slaughter — I don’t see why we shouldn’t try something else.

Will it be Arbtr? I don’t know. Probably not, but we’ve got a lot to gain by giving ideas like this a shot.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Knitting machines power up with computer-generated patterns for 3D shapes

Knitting machines power up with computer-generated patterns for 3D shapes
At last, a use for that industrial knitting machine you bought at a yard sale! Carnegie Mellon researchers have created a method that generates knitting patterns for arbitrary 3D shapes, opening the possibility of “on-demand knitting.” Think 3D printing, but softer.
The idea is actually quite compelling for those of us who are picky about their knitwear. How often have we picked up a knit cap, glove, or scarf only to find it too long, too short, too tight, too loose, etc?
If you fed your sartorial requirements (a 3D mesh) into this system from James McCann and students at CMU’s Textiles Lab, it could quickly spit out a pattern that a knitting machine could follow easily yet is perfectly suited for your purposes.
This has to be done carefully — the machines aren’t the same as human knitters, obviously, and a poorly configured pattern might lead to yarn breaking or jamming the machine. But it’s a lot better than having to build that pattern purl by purl.
With a little more work, “Knitting machines could become as easy to use as 3D printers,” McCann said in a CMU news release.
Of course, it’s unlikely you’ll have one of your own. But maker spaces and designer ateliers (I believe that’s the term) will be more likely to if it’s this easy to create new and perfectly sized garments with them.
McCann and his team will be presenting their research at SIGGRAPH this summer.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Chinese police foil drone-flying phone smugglers at Hong Kong border

Chinese police foil drone-flying phone smugglers at Hong Kong border
Dozens of high-tech phone smugglers have been apprehended by Chinese police, who twigged to the scheme to send refurbished iPhones into the country from Hong Kong via drone — but not the way you might think.
China’s Legal Daily reported the news (and Reuters noted shortly after) following a police press conference; it’s apparently the first cross-border drone-based smuggling case, so likely of considerable interest.
Although the methods used by the smugglers aren’t described, a picture emerges from the details. Critically, in addition to the drones themselves, which look like DJI models with dark coverings, police collected some long wires — more than 600 feet long.
Small packages of 10 or so phones were sent one at a time, and it only took “seconds” to get them over the border. That pretty much rules out flying the drone up and over the border repeatedly — leaving aside that landing a drone in pitch darkness on the other side of a border fence (or across a body of water) would be difficult to do once or twice, let alone dozens of times, the method is also inefficient and risky.
But really, the phones only need to clear the border obstacle. So here’s what you do:
Send the drone over once with all cable attached. Confederates on the other side attach the cable to a fixed point, say 10 or 15 feet off the ground. Drone flies back unraveling the cable, and lands some distance onto the Hong Kong side. Smugglers attach a package of 10 phones to the cable with a carabiner, and the drone flies straight up. When the cable reaches a certain tension, the package slides down the cable, clearing the fence. The drone descends, and you repeat.
I’ve created a highly professional diagram to illustrate this technique (feel free to reuse):
It’s not 100 percent to scale. The far side might have to be high enough that the cable doesn’t rest on the fence, if there is one, or not to drag in the water if that’s the case. Not sure about that part.
Anyway, it’s quite smart. You get horizontal transport basically for free, and the drone only has to do what it does best: go straight up. Two wires were found, and the police said up to 15,000 phones might be sent across in a night. Assuming 10 phones per trip, and say 20 seconds per flight, that works out to 1,800 phones per hour per drone, which sounds about right. Probably this kind of thing is underway at more than a few places around the world.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

The real threat to Facebook is the Kool-Aid turning sour

The real threat to Facebook is the Kool-Aid turning sour

These kinds of leaks didn’t happen when I started reporting on Facebook eight years ago. It was a tight-knit cult convinced of its mission to connect everyone, but with the discipline of a military unit where everyone knew loose lips sink ships. Motivational posters with bold corporate slogans dotted its offices, rallying the troops. Employees were happy to be evangelists.

But then came the fake news, News Feed addiction, violence on Facebook Live, cyberbullying, abusive ad targeting, election interference and, most recently, the Cambridge Analytica app data privacy scandals. All the while, Facebook either willfully believed the worst case scenarios could never come true, was naive to their existence or calculated the benefits and growth outweighed the risks. And when finally confronted, Facebook often dragged its feet before admitting the extent of the issues.

Inside the social network’s offices, the bonds began to fray. An ethics problem metastisized into a morale problem. Slogans took on sinister second meanings. The Kool-Aid tasted different.

Some hoped they could right the ship but couldn’t. Some craved the influence and intellectual thrill of running one of humanity’s most popular inventions, but now question if that influence and their work is positive. Others surely just wanted to collect salaries, stock and resumé highlights, but lost the stomach for it.

Now the convergence of scandals has come to a head in the form of constant leaks.

The trouble tipping point

The more benign leaks merely cost Facebook a bit of competitive advantage. We’ve learned it’s building a smart speaker, a standalone VR headset and a Houseparty split-screen video chat clone.

Yet policy-focused leaks have exacerbated the backlash against Facebook, putting more pressure on the conscience of employees. As blame fell to Facebook for Trump’s election, word of Facebook prototyping a censorship tool for operating in China escaped, triggering questions about its respect for human rights and free speech. Facebook’s content rulebook got out alongside disturbing tales of the filth the company’s contracted moderators have to sift through. Its ad targeting was revealed to be able to pinpoint emotionally vulnerable teens.

In recent weeks, the leaks have accelerated to a maddening pace in the wake of Facebook’s soggy apologies regarding the Cambridge Analytica debacle. Its weak policy enforcement left the door open to exploitation of data users gave third-party apps, deepening the perception that Facebook doesn’t care about privacy.

Image courtesy of Buzzfeed

And it all culminated with BuzzFeed publishing a leaked “growth at all costs” internal post from Facebook VP Andrew “Boz” Bosworth that substantiated people’s worst fears about the company’s disregard for user safety in pursuit of world domination. Even the ensuing internal discussion about the damage caused by leaks and how to prevent them…leaked.

But the leaks are not the disease, just the symptom. Sunken morale is the cause, and it’s dragging down the company. Former Facebook employee and Wired writer Antonio Garcia Martinez sums it up, saying this kind of vindictive, intentionally destructive leak fills Facebook’s leadership with “horror”:

And that sentiment was confirmed by Facebook’s VP of News Feed Adam Mosseri, who tweeted that leaks “create strong incentives to be less transparent internally and they certainly slow us down,” and will make it tougher to deal with the big problems.

Those thoughts weigh heavy on Facebook’s team. A source close to several Facebook executives tells us they feel “embarrassed to work there” and are increasingly open to other job opportunities. One current employee told us to assume anything certain execs tell the media is “100% false.”

If Facebook can’t internally discuss the problems it faces without being exposed, how can it solve them?

Implosion

The consequences of Facebook’s failures are typically pegged as external hazards.

You might assume the government will finally step in and regulate Facebook. But the Honest Ads Act and other rules about ads transparency and data privacy could end up protecting Facebook by being simply a paperwork speed bump for it while making it tough for competitors to build a rival database of personal info. In our corporation-loving society, it seems unlikely that the administration would go so far as to split up Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp — one of the few feasible ways to limit the company’s power.

Users have watched Facebook make misstep after misstep over the years, but can’t help but stay glued to its feed. Even those who don’t scroll rely on it as a fundamental utility for messaging and login on other sites. Privacy and transparency are too abstract for most people to care about. Hence, first-time Facebook downloads held steady and its App Store rank actually rose in the week after the Cambridge Analytica fiasco broke. In regards to the #DeleteFacebook movement, Mark Zuckerberg himself said “I don’t think we’ve seen a meaningful number of people act on that.” And as long as they’re browsing, advertisers will keep paying Facebook to reach them.

That’s why the greatest threat of the scandal convergence comes from inside. The leaks are the canary in the noxious blue coal mine.

Can Facebook survive slowing down?

If employees wake up each day unsure whether Facebook’s mission is actually harming the world, they won’t stay. Facebook doesn’t have the same internal work culture problems as some giants like Uber. But there are plenty of other tech companies with less questionable impacts. Some are still private and offer the chance to win big on an IPO or acquisition. At the very least, those in the Bay could find somewhere to work without a spending hours a day on the traffic-snarled 101 freeway.

If they do stay, they won’t work as hard. It’s tough to build if you think you’re building a weapon. Especially if you thought you were going to be making helpful tools. The melancholy and malaise set in. People go into rest-and-vest mode, living out their days at Facebook as a sentence not an opportunity. The next killer product Facebook needs a year or two from now might never coalesce.

And if they do work hard, a culture of anxiety and paralysis will work against them. No one wants to code with their hands tied, and some would prefer a less scrutinized environment. Every decision will require endless philosophizing and risk-reduction. Product changes will be reduced to the lowest common denominator, designed not to offend or appear too tyrannical.

Source: Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency + David Ramos/Getty Images

In fact, that’s partly how Facebook got into this whole mess. A leak by an anonymous former contractor led Gizmodo to report Facebook was suppressing conservative news in its Trending section. Terrified of appearing liberally biased, Facebook reportedly hesitated to take decisive action against fake news. That hands-off approach led to the post-election criticism that degraded morale and pushed the growing snowball of leaks down the mountain.

It’s still rolling.

How to stop morale’s downward momentum will be one of Facebook’s greatest tests of leadership. This isn’t a bug to be squashed. It can’t just roll back a feature update. And an apology won’t suffice. It will have to expel or reeducate the leakers and those disloyal without instilling a witch hunt’s sense of dread. Compensation may have to jump upwards to keep talent aboard like Twitter did when it was floundering. Its top brass will need to show candor and accountability without fueling more indiscretion. And it may need to make a shocking, landmark act of contrition to convince employees its capable of change.

When asked how Facebook could address the morale problem, Mosseri told me “it starts with owning our mistakes and being very clear about what we’re doing now” and noted that “it took a while to get into this place and I think it’ll take a while to work our way out . . . Trust is lost quickly, and takes a long time to rebuild.”

This isn’t about whether Facebook will disappear tomorrow, but whether it will remain unconquerable for the forseeable future.

Growth has been the driving mantra for Facebook since its inception. No matter how employees are evaluated, it’s still the underlying ethos. Facebook has poised itself as a mission-driven company. The implication was always that connecting people is good so connecting more people is better. The only question was how to grow faster.

Now Zuckerberg will have to figure out how to get Facebook to cautiously foresee the consequences of what it says and does while remaining an appealing place to work. “Move slow and think things through” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

If you’re a Facebook employee or anyone else that has information to share with TechCrunch, you can contact us at [email protected] or this article’s author Josh Constine’s DMs are open on Twitter. Here are some of our feature stories on Facebook’s recent issues:

 

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Clipisode launches a ‘talk show in a box’

Clipisode launches a ‘talk show in a box’

A company called Clipisode is today launching a new service that’s essentially a “talk show in a box,” as founder Brian Alvey describes it. Similar to how Anchor now allows anyone to build a professional podcast using simple mobile and web tools, Clipisode does this for video content. With Clipisode, you can record a video that can be shared across any platform – social media, the web, text messages – and collect video responses that can then be integrated into the “show” and overlaid with professional graphics.

The video responses feature is something more akin to a video voicemail-based call-in feature.

Here’s how it works. The content creator will first use Clipisode to record their video, and receive the link to share the video across social media, the web, or privately through email, text messaging, etc. When the viewer or guest clicks the link, they can respond to the question the show’s “host” posed.

For example, a reporter could ask for viewers’ thoughts on an issue or a creator could ask their fans what they want to see next.

How the video creator wants to use this functionality is really up to them, and specific to the type of video show they’re making.

To give you an idea, during a pre-launch period, the app has been tested by AXS TV to promote their upcoming Top Ten Revealed series by asking music industry experts “Who Is Your All-time Favorite Guitarist?

BBC Scotland asked their Twitter followers who they want to see hired as the new manager for the Scotland national football team.

A full-time Twitch gamer, Chris Melberger asked his subscribers what device they watch Twitch on.

The content creator can then receive all the video responses to these questions privately, choose which ones they want to include in their finished show, and drag those responses into the order they want. The creator can respond back to the clips, too, or just add another clip at the end of their video. Uploading pre-recorded clips from services like Dropbox or even your phone is supported as well.

Plus, content creators can use Clipisode to overlay professional-looking animations and graphics on top of the final video with the responses and replies. This makes it seem more like something made with help from a video editing team, not an app on your phone.

Because Clipisode invitations are web links, they don’t require the recipients to download an app.

“[People] don’t want to download an app for a one-time video reply,” explains Alvey. “But with this, people can reply.” And, he adds, what makes Clipisode interesting from a technical perspective, is that the web links users click to reply can work in any app in a way that feels seamless to the end user.

“That’s our biggest trick – making this work in other people’s apps, so there’s no new social network to join and nothing to download,” he says.

The app is free currently, but the plan is to generate revenue by later selling subscription access to the authoring suite where users can create the animated overlays and branding components that give the video the professional look-and-feel.

In an online CMS, creators can author, test and deploy animated themes that run on top of their videos.

The final video product can be shared back to social media, or downloaded as a video file to be published on video-sharing sites, social media, or as a video podcast.

Clipisode has been in development for some time, Alvey says. The company originally raised less than a million from investors including Mike Jones and Mark Cuban for a different product the founder describes as a Patreon competitor, before pivoting to Clipisode. Investors funded the new product with less than half a million.

The app itself took a couple of years to complete, something that Alvey says has to do with the animation studio it includes and the small team. (It’s just him and technical co-founder Max Schmeling.)

Clipisode is a free download on iOS and Android.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Google’s on-by-default ‘Articles for You’ leverage browser dominance for 2,100 percent growth

Google’s on-by-default ‘Articles for You’ leverage browser dominance for 2,100 percent growth

When you’ve got leverage, don’t be afraid to use it. That’s been Google’s modus operandi in the news and publishing world over the last year or so as it has pushed its AMP platform, funding various news-related ventures that may put it ahead, and nourished its personalized Chrome tabs on mobile. The latter, as Nieman Labs notes, grew 2,100 percent in 2017.

You may have noticed, since Chrome is a popular mobile browser and this setting is on by default, but the “Articles for You” appear automatically in every new tab, showing you a bunch of articles the company thinks you’d like. And it’s gone from driving 15 million article views to a staggering 341 million over the last year.

In late 2016, when Google announced the product, I described it as “polluting” the otherwise useful new tab page. I also don’t like the idea of being served news when I’m not actively looking for it — I understand that when I visit Google News (and I do) that my browser history (among other things) is being scoured to determine which categories and stories I’ll see. I also understand that everything I do on the site, as on every Google site, is being entered into its great data engine in order to improve its profile of me.

Like I said, when I visit a Google site, I expect that. But a browser is supposed to be a tool, not a private platform, and the idea that every tab I open is another data point and another opportunity for Google to foist its algorithms on me is rankling.

It has unsavory forebears. Remember Internet Explorer 6, which came with MSN.com as the default homepage? That incredible positioning drove so much traffic that, for years after (and indeed today), it drove disgusting amounts of traffic to anything it featured. But that traffic was tainted: you knew that firehose was in great part clicks from senior citizens who thought MSN was the entire internet.

Of course the generated pages for individual users aren’t the concentrated fire of a link on a major portal, but they are subject to Google approval and, of course, the requisite ranking bonus for AMP content. Can’t forget that!

But wherever you see the news first, that’s your news provider. And you can’t get much earlier than “as soon as you open a new tab.” That’s pretty much the ultimate positioning advantage.

Just how this amazing growth occurred is unclear. If there’s been any word of mouth, I missed it. “Have you tried scrolling down? The news is just right there!” It seems unlikely. My guess would be that the feature has been steadily rolling out in new regions, opting in new users who occasionally scroll down and see these stories.

And unlike many other news distribution platforms, there isn’t much for publishers or sites like this one to learn about it. How are stories qualified for inclusion? Is there overlap with Google News stuff? What’s shown if people aren’t signed in? I’ve asked Google for further info.

Do you, like me, dislike the idea that every time you open a tab — not just when you use its services — Google uses it as an opportunity to monetize you, however indirectly? Fortunately, and I may say consistent with Google’s user-friendliness in this type of thing, you can turn it off quite easily — on iOS, anyway.

Open the menu at the top right of any tab and hit settings. There should be a “Suggested articles” toggle — disable that and you’re done. While you’re at it, you might just head into Privacy and disable search and site suggestions and usage data.

On Android? You’ll have to dig into the app’s flags and toggle the hidden setting there. Not as user-friendly.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Huawei says it’s still committed to the U.S., in spite of, well, everything

Huawei says it’s still committed to the U.S., in spite of, well, everything

A funny thing happened the last couple of times I was briefed on a Huawei flagship product: news was breaking about some major roadblock for the company’s U.S. distribution plans. First it was AT&T backing out in the midst of CES and then it was Best Buy’s decision to drop the company just ahead of the big P20 launch (though a rep for the company told me the States were never part of its plans for that handset). 

It’s been one thing after another as the Chinese hardware maker has worked to establish a meaningful presence here in the States. In spite of all of this fallout from government pushback, however, the company insists that it’s not going anywhere.

In an email to CNET, the company’s consumer CEO reaffirmed that commitment. “We are committed to the U.S. market and to earning the trust of U.S. consumers by staying focused on delivering world-class products and innovation,” Yu writes. “We would never compromise that trust.”

The sentiment echoes statements Yu made on-stage at CES in the wake of the AT&T deal implosion — albeit much more measured this time around. Most of Yu’s followup reinforced his earlier assertions that, in spite of multiple warning from various US security departments, this whole thing is blow entirely out of proportion.

“The security risk concerns are based on groundless suspicions and are quite frankly unfair,” Yu adds. ”We welcome an open and transparent discussion if it is based on facts.”

Even if the company’s intentions are as stated, Huawei’s got an epic uphill climb if it’s going to make any sort of dent in the world’s third-largest mobile market. The company’s carrier play is non-existent in a country where most phones are purchased through telecoms. And abandonment by the biggest big box store in the States was insult to injury.

And if the company does manage to reverse those trends, it will still be a hard sell for U.S. consumers after several warnings from the country’s defense departments. 

Source: Mobile – Techcruch