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Korean AI startup Skelter Labs lands strategic investment to expand to Southeast Asia

Korean AI startup Skelter Labs is expanding to Southeast Asia after it pulled in undisclosed funding from Singapore-based VC firm Golden Gate Ventures.

Skelter Labs was founded in 2015 by founded by Ted Cho, the former engineering site director at Google Korea. It started out developing apps and services that made use of AI but then it pivoted to focus fully on AI tech, which it licenses out to companies and corporations that it works with. Now it is eying opportunities in  Japan and parts of Southeast Asia — which has a cumulative population of over 600 million — with Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia specifically mentioned.

The startup raised a $9 million seed round earlier this year, and Golden Gate has added an additional check to that round which came from KakaoBrain — the AI unit of Korean messaging giant Kakao — Kakao’s K-Cute venture arm, Stonebridge Ventures and Lotte Homeshopping, the TV and internet shopping business owned by multi-billion dollar retail giant Lotte.

More specifically, Seoul-based Skelter Labs works on AI in the context of vision and speech, conversation, and context recognition, while it goes after customers in areas that include manufacturing, customer operations, device interaction, and consumer marketing.

The startup doesn’t disclose customers, but it previously told TechCrunch that its vision is to bring its machine learning technology to daily life and schedules. Possible examples of that might be could include “intelligent virtual assistant technology that can be widely applied to various areas including smart speakers, smartphones, home appliances, automobiles and wearable devices.”

Golden Gate is one of Southeast Asia’s longest running tech VC firms. This deal is part of its recently announced third fund, which is $100 million in size.

In a statement, Skelter Labs CEO Cho paid tribute to the VC’s strong footprint in Southeast Asia that he said could open doors for the company. Startups in Golden Gate’s portfolio that might be of particular interest could include mobile listings startup Carousell, auto portal Carro, fashion commerce site Grana and online furnishings seller Hipvan.

Note: The original version of this article has been corrected. Skelter Labs has announced an extension to its previous round not a new round. Apologies for any confusion caused.

Brex has partnered with WeWork, AWS and more for its new rewards program

Brex, the corporate card built for startups, unveiled its new rewards program today.

The billion-dollar company, which announced its $125 million Series C three weeks ago, has partnered with Amazon Web Services, WeWork, Instacart, Google Ads, SendGrid, Salesforce Essentials, Twilio, Zendesk, Caviar, HubSpot, Orrick, Snap, Clerky and DoorDash to give entrepreneurs the ability to accrue and spend points on services and products they use regularly.

Brex is lead by a pair of 22-year-old serial entrepreneurs who are well aware of the costs associated with building a startup. They’ve been carefully crafting Brex’s list of partners over the last year and say their cardholders will earn roughly 20 percent more rewards on Brex than from any competitor program.

“We didn’t want it to be something that everyone else was doing so we thought, what’s different about startups compared to traditional small businesses?” Brex co-founder and chief executive officer Henrique Dubugras told TechCrunch. “The biggest difference is where they spend money. Most credit card reward systems are designed for personal spend but startups spend a lot more on business.”

Companies that use Brex exclusively will receive 7x points on rideshare, 3x on restaurants, 3x on travel, 2x on recurring software and 1x on all other expenses with no cap on points earned. Brex carriers still using other corporate cards will receive just 1x points on all expenses.

Most corporate cards offer similar benefits for travel and restaurant expenses, but Brex is in a league of its own with the rideshare benefits its offering and especially with the recurring software (SalesForce, HubSpot, etc.) benefits.

San Francisco-based Brex has raised about $200 million to date from investors including Greenoaks Capital, DST Global and IVP.  At the time of its fundraise, the company told TechCrunch it planned to use its latest capital infusion to build out its rewards program, hire engineers and figure out how to grow the business’s client base beyond only tech startups.

“This is going to allow us to compete even more with Amex, Chase and the big banks,” Dubugras said.

Google will not bid for the Pentagon’s $10B cloud computing contract, citing its “AI Principles”

Google has dropped out of the running for JEDI, the massive Defense Department cloud computing contract potentially worth $10 billion. In a statement to Bloomberg, Google said that it decided not to participate in the bidding process, which ends this week, because the contract may not align with the company’s principles for how artificial intelligence should be used.

In statement to Bloomberg, Google spokesperson said “We are not bidding on the JEDI contract because first, we couldn’t be assured that it would align with our AI Principles. And second, we determined that there were portions of the contract that were out of scope with our current government certifications,” adding that Google is still “working to support the U.S. government with our cloud in many ways.”

Officially called Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, bidding for the initiative’s contract began two months ago and closes this week. JEDI’s lead contender is widely considered to be Amazon, because it set up the CIA’s private cloud, but Oracle, Microsoft, and IBM are also expected to be in the running.

The winner of the contract, which could last for up to 10 years, is expected to be announced by the end of the year. The project is meant to accelerate the Defense Department’s adoption of cloud computing and services. Only one provider will be chosen, a controversial decision that the Pentagon defended by telling Congress that the pace of handling task orders in a multiple-award contract “could prevent DOD from rapidly delivering new capabilities and improved effectiveness to the warfighter that enterprise-level cloud computing can enable.”

Google also addressed the controversy over a single provider, telling Bloomberg that “had the JEDI contract been open to multiple vendors, we would have submitted a compelling solution for portions of it. Google Cloud believes that a multi-cloud approach is in the best interest of government agencies, because it allows them to choose the right cloud for the right workload.”

Google’s decision no to bid for JEDI comes four months after it reportedly decided not to renew its contract with the Pentagon for Project Maven, which involved working with the military to analyze drone footage, including images taken in conflict zones. Thousands of Google employees signed a petition against its work on Project Maven because they said it meant the company was directly involved in warfare. Afterward, Google came up with its “AI Principles,” a set of guidelines for how it will use its AI technology.

It is worth noting, however, that Google is still under employee fire because it is reportedly building a search engine for China that will comply with the government’s censorship laws, eight years after exiting the country for reasons including its limits on free speech.

Images of Google’s new Pixel tablet leak before its October event

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At this point, the biggest question about Google’s annual hardware event is not what new products the company will show off, but if there’s anything left we haven’t seen yet.

The latest: images of Google’s new Pixel-branded tablet, which have surfaced thanks to My Smart Price. The leaks kicked into high gear a while ago, but even those have ramped up considerably in the last few days.

As with all leaks, some skepticism is warranted, but the new images line up with previous rumors and they appear to be the real deal.

The tablet, reportedly called the Pixel Slate, is meant to be Google’s answer to the iPad Pro or Microsoft Surface. It’s a standard-looking tablet with a detachable keyboard cover and stylus. Read more…

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Here are all of Google’s 20th anniversary Easter eggs

Twenty years ago this month, a pair of Stanford PhD students founded a search engine company based in their friend Susan’s Menlo Park garage. Initially named “BackRub,” Larry Page and Sergey Brin eventually thought better of it and opted for a misspelling of the term googol, denoting the number one followed by 100 zeros.

To mark its 20th anniversary, Google’s peppering its properties with some fun Easter eggs, in addition to the above doodle. Starting today, a number of circa 1998-style queries will prompt the suggestion “It’s 2018! Did you mean?

There are 17 such queries. So, spoilers, here’s the list:

mp3 file

stream music

watch a dvd

streaming subscription

googol

Google

gettin’ jiggy wit it

floss dance

page me

New phone, who dis?

butterfly clip styles

top knot

soccer world champions 1998

soccer world champions 2018

chat room

text the group

how to tell someone you like them

swipe right

low-rider pants

how to style high-waisted pants

digital pet

fidget spinner

baby

bae

143

ILYSM

what is Y2K?

how does cryptocurrency work?

screen name

social handle

clip art

GIF

The Google Street View feature is even more fun. The aforementioned Susan (who now runs a little video site) has kindly offered up an inside glimpse of the space where it all started. The garage has been restored to its old glory, with the old-school Google homepage on an equally old-school monitor. There’s also the bedroom that serviced as the company’s “Worldwide Headquarters.”

It’s a history littered with school jackets, empty pizza boxes and a stray Koosh ball or two.

Google will match up to $1M in donations for Hurricane Florence relief

As cities in Hurricane Florence’s path deal with its aftermath, Google will match up to $1 million in donations to help with relief efforts.

The disaster’s death toll is currently 35 people and about 343,000 people in North Carolina are without electricity. The hurricane caused widespread flooding and property damage throughout North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

 

Google drew attention to its Hurricane Florence donation campaign with a banner that appeared on top of Gmail for some users. Google has matched donations for other disasters before, including Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey last year. It’s also raised money for humanitarian efforts crises, like a 2015 matching program for up to $5.5 million in donations to provide aid to refugees in Europe. For that campaign, it temporarily added a “Donate” button to its search homepage.

The company is partnering with non-profit Network for God to collect and distribute funds. All donations will be directed to the American Red Cross, which Google said it chose to work with “because of their strong track record and existing response in the region.”

Other tech companies helping with Hurricane Florence relief include Amazon, which enabled Alexa users to make donations by saying “Alexa, donate to Hurricane Florence disaster relief” and sent trucks with food and donated items to affected areas, and Apple, which donated $1 million to the American Red Cross. Airbnb also offered free rooms to people fleeing the hurricane.

 

Golden Gate Ventures closes new $100M fund for Southeast Asia

Singapore’s Golden Gate Ventures has announced the close of its newest (and third) fund for Southeast Asia at a total of $100 million.

The fund hit a first close in the summer, as TechCrunch reported at the time, and now it has reached full capacity. Seven-year-old Golden Gate said its LPs include existing backers Singapore sovereign fund Temasek, Korea’s Hanwha, Naver — the owner of messaging app Line — and EE Capital. Investors backing the firm for the first time through this fund include Mistletoe — the fund from Taizo Son, brother of SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son — Mitsui Fudosan, IDO Investments, CTBC Group, Korea Venture Investment Corporation (KVIC), and Ion Pacific.

Golden Gate was founded by former Silicon Valley-based trio Vinnie Lauria, Jeffrey Paine and Paul Bragiel . It has investments across five markets in Southeast Asia — with a particular focus on Indonesia and Singapore — and that portfolio includes Singapore’s Carousell, automotive marketplace Carro, P2P lending startup Funding Societies, payment enabler Omise and health tech startup AlodokterGolden Gate’s previous fund was $60 million and it closed in 2016.

Some of the firm’s exits so far include the sale of Redmart to Lazada (although not a blockbuster), Priceline’s acquisition of WoomooLine’s acquisition of Temanjalan and the sale of Mapan (formerly Ruma) to Go-Jek. It claims that its first two funds have had distributions of cash (DPI) of 1.56x and 0.13x, and IRRs of 48 percent and 29 percent, respectively.

“When I compare the tech ecosystem of Southeast Asia (SEA) to other markets, it’s really hit an inflection point — annual investment is now measured in the billions. That puts SEA on a global stage with the US, China, and India. Yet there is a youthfulness that reminds me of Silicon Valley circa 2005, shortly before social media and the iPhone took off,” Lauria said in a statement.

A report from Google and Temasek forecasts that Southeast Asia’s digital economy will grow from $50 billion in 2017 to over $200 billion by 2025 as internet penetration continues to grow across the region thanks to increased ownership of smartphones. That opportunity to reach a cumulative population of over 600 million consumers — more of whom are online today than the entire U.S. population — is feeding optimism around startups and tech companies.

Golden Gate isn’t alone in developing a fund to explore those possibilities, there’s plenty of VC activity in the region.

Some of those include Openspace, which was formerly known as NSI Ventures and just closed a $135 million fund, Qualgro, which is raising a $100 million vehicle and Golden Equator, which paired up with Korea Investment Partners on a joint $88 million fund. Temasek-affiliated Vertex closed a $210 million fund last year and that remains a record for Southeast Asia.

Golden Gate also has a dedicated crypto fund, LuneX, which is in the process of raising $10 million.

Google denies Trump’s claim that it did not promote his State of the Union address

Google is pushing back against a claim by Donald Trump that the search engine stopped promoting State of the Union livestreams on its homepage after his presidency began. Trump’s claim came in the from of a tweeted video, which was still pinned to the top of his profile when this post was published at 9:30 PM PST, Aug. 29, 2018, after Google’s refutation and multiple media reports of its inaccuracy.

Hashtagged #stopthebias, the video appears to show that Google did not display links to livestreams of Trump’s first public speech to a joint session of Congress on February 28, 2017 or his first State of the Union on January 30, 2018, despite promoting Obama’s State of the Union addresses in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

#StopTheBias pic.twitter.com/xqz599iQZw

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 29, 2018

Google, however, says it did indeed highlight Trump’s first State of the Union in 2018, but that it usually does not include links on its homepage to a president’s first public address to Congress, so neither Obama nor Trump’s were featured. In a statement sent to BuzzFeed News, the company said “On January 30, 2018, we highlighted the livestream of President Trump’s State of the Union on the google.com homepage. We have historically not promoted the first address to Congress by a new President, which is technically not a State of the Union address. As a result, we didn’t include a promotion on google.com for this address in either 2009 or 2017.”

Google statement to @JohnPaczkowski on Trump’s tweet pic.twitter.com/1w82mQqApg

— Jon Passantino (@passantino) August 29, 2018

The video shared by Trump does not make a distinction between a president’s first public speech to a joint session of Congress and his first State of the Union address.

A discrepancy in Google’s logo also suggests that at least one of the screenshots, which appear to have been taken from the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, was doctored. A Gizmodo commenter notes that one of the screenshots in the video Trump tweeted, from January 12, 2016, shows a version with the previous Google logo, not the sans-serif version introduced in September 2015, which can be seen in a Wayback Archive’s screen capture from January 10, 2016 and other days from that month when a Google Doodle wasn’t featured.

Capture from the video tweeted from President Trump’s account

One of Wayback Machine’s captures on January 10, 2016

Furthermore, while a link to Trump’s State of the Union does not appear on archived versions of Google’s homepage from January 30, 2018, it does show up on a capture from 1AM on January 31, as Twitter user @WrockBro notes. That may be because the Wayback Machine uses Greenwich Mean Time time stamps.

Not only that, but also this: https://t.co/RfJIKpYGJX

🅱en🛸JPL (@WrockBro) August 30, 2018

The Wayback Machine capture linked by Twitter user @WrockBro

Trump’s tweet is the part of his current onslaught against Google, other tech companies and mainstream media, which he accuses of having a liberal bias and burying news about his administration. It is worth pointing out, however, that Trump’s 2017 first speech to Congress was widely praised as “presidential” by journalists across the political spectrum, even liberal publications. In turn, they were ridiculed by critics for being awed by a president acting presidential.

Google lets you create a sticker version of yourself with selfies

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With tools like Apple’s Memoji and Snapchat’s Bitmoji, you’re missing out if you don’t have an animated version of yourself on your phone.

Google is making that process easier on its iOS and Android keyboard extension, Gboard, with the addition of “Minis.” The feature will let you convert your selfies into stickers that are based on your likeness.

As per Engadget, the feature uses a combination of machine learning, neural networks, and artist illustrations to come up with cartoon emoji. 

Meet Minis! Easy to create and share right from #Gboard, these AI-powered personal stickers are made with just a snap of a selfie → https://t.co/d5BBLdt8As pic.twitter.com/39l4vZNjIS

— Google (@Google) August 27, 2018 Read more…

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Walmart co-leads $500M investment in Chinese online grocery service Dada-JD Daojia

Walmart sold its China-based e-commerce business in 2016, but the U.S. retail giant is very much involved in the Chinese internet market through a partnership with e-commerce firm JD.com. Alibaba’s most serious rival, JD scooped up Walmart’s Yihaodian business and offered its own online retail platform to help enable Walmart to products in China, both on and offline.

Now that relationship is developing further after Walmart and JD jointly invested $500 million into Dada-JD Daojia, an online-to-offline grocery business which is part owned by JD, according to a CNBC report.

Unlike most grocery delivery services, though, Dada-JD Daojia stands apart because it includes a crowdsourced element.

The business was formed following a merger between JD Daojia, JD’s platform for order from supermarkets online which has 20 million monthly users, and Daojia, which uses crowdsourcing to fulfill deliveries and counts 10 million daily deliveries. JD Daojia claims over 100,000 retail stores and its signature is one-hour deliveries for a range of products, which include fruit, vegetables and groceries.

Walmart is already part of the service — it has 200 stores across 30 Chinese cities on the Dada-JD Daojia service; as well as five online stores on the core JD.com platform — and now it is getting into the business itself via this investment.

JD.com said the deal is part of its ‘Borderless Retail’ strategy, which includes staff-less stores and retail outlets that mix e-commerce with physical sales.

“The future of global retail is boundaryless. There will be no separation between online and offline shopping, only greater convenience, quality and selection to consumers. JD was an early investor in Dada-JD Daojia, and continues its support, because we believe that its innovations will be an important part of realizing that vision,” said Jianwen Liao, Chief Strategy Officer of JD.com, in a statement.

Alibaba, of course, has a similar hybrid strategy with its Hema stores and food delivery service Ele.me, all of which links up with its Taobao and T-Mall online shopping platforms. The company recently scored a major coup when it landed a tie-in with Starbucks, which is looking to rediscover growth in China through an alliance that will see Ele.me deliver coffee to customers and make use of Hema stores.

Away from the new retail experience, JD.com has been doing more to expand its overseas presence lately.

The company landed a $550 million investment from Google this summer which will see the duo team up to offer JD.com products for sale on the Google Shopping platform across the world. Separately, JD.com has voiced intention to expand into Europe, starting in Germany, and that’s where the Google deal and a relationship with Walmart could be hugely helpful.

Another strategic JD investor is Tencent, and that relationship has helped the e-commerce firm sell direct to customers through Tencent’s WeChat app, which is China’s most popular messaging service. Tencent and JD have co-invested in a range of companies in China, such as discount marketplace Vipshop and retail group Better Life. Their collaboration has also extended to Southeast Asia, where they are both investors in ride-hailing unicorn Go-Jek, which is aiming to rival Grab, the startup that bought out Uber’s local business.

Apple has removed Infowars podcasts from iTunes

Apple has followed the lead of Google and Facebook after it removed Infowars, the conspiracy theorist organization helmed by Alex Jones, from its iTunes and podcasts apps.

Unlike Google and Facebook, which removed four Infowars videos on the basis that the content violated its policies, Apple’s action is wider-reaching. The company has withdrawn all episodes of five of Infowars’ six podcasts from its directory of content, leaving just one left, a show called ‘Real News With David Knight.’

The removals were first spotted on Twitter. Later, Apple confirmed it took action on account of the use of hate speech which violates its content guidelines.

“Apple does not tolerate hate speech, and we have clear guidelines that creators and developers must follow to ensure we provide a safe environment for all of our users. Podcasts that violate these guidelines are removed from our directory making them no longer searchable or available for download or streaming. We believe in representing a wide range of views, so long as people are respectful to those with differing opinions,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Apple’s action comes after fellow streaming services Spotify and Stitcher removed Infowars on account of its use of hate speech.

Jones has used Infowars, and by association the platforms of these media companies, to broadcast a range of conspiracy theories which have included claims 9/11 was an inside job and alternate theories to the San Bernardino shootings. In the case of another U.S. mass shooting, Sandy Hook, Jones and Infowars’ peddling of false information and hoax theories was so severe that some of the families of the deceased, who have been harassed online and faced death threats, have been forced to move multiple times. A group is suing Jones via a defamation suit.

How to send spam calls straight to voicemail with Google’s phone app

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Google just gave us another good reason to use its phone app: better protection from spam callers. 

The company’s phone app for Android has a new setting that can automatically detect spam calls and send them straight to voicemail so your phone never even rings.

The app now has a “filter suspected spam call” option in its settings. When enabled, suspected spam calls will be routed straight to your phone’s voicemail. Your phone won’t ring, and you won’t get a missed call notification.

If the caller does leave a voicemail, you also won’t get a notification, though you’ll have the ability to view missed calls and voicemails that have been “filtered.” Read more…

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Apple’s Shortcuts will flip the switch on Siri’s potential

Matthew Cassinelli
Contributor

Matthew Cassinelli is a former member of the Workflow team and works as an independent writer and consultant. He previously worked as a data analyst for VaynerMedia.

At WWDC, Apple pitched Shortcuts as a way to ”take advantage of the power of apps” and ”expose quick actions to Siri.” These will be suggested by the OS, can be given unique voice commands, and will even be customizable with a dedicated Shortcuts app.

But since this new feature won’t let Siri interpret everything, many have been lamenting that Siri didn’t get much better — and is still lacking compared to Google Assistant or Amazon Echo.

But to ignore Shortcuts would be missing out on the bigger picture. Apple’s strengths have always been the device ecosystem and the apps that run on them.

With Shortcuts, both play a major role in how Siri will prove to be a truly useful assistant and not just a digital voice to talk to.

Your Apple devices just got better

For many, voice assistants are a nice-to-have, but not a need-to-have.

It’s undeniably convenient to get facts by speaking to the air, turning on the lights without lifting a finger, or triggering a timer or text message – but so far, studies have shown people don’t use much more than these on a regular basis.

People don’t often do more than that because the assistants aren’t really ready for complex tasks yet, and when your assistant is limited to tasks inside your home or commands spoken inton your phone, the drawbacks prevent you from going deep.

If you prefer Alexa, you get more devices, better reliability, and a breadth of skills, but there’s not a great phone or tablet experience you can use alongside your Echo. If you prefer to have Google’s Assistant everywhere, you must be all in on the Android and Home ecosystem to get the full experience too.

Plus, with either option, there are privacy concerns baked into how both work on a fundamental level – over the web.

In Apple’s ecosystem, you have Siri on iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, AirPods, HomePod, CarPlay, and any Mac. Add in Shortcuts on each of those devices (except Mac, but they still have Automator) and suddenly you have a plethora of places to execute these all your commands entirely by voice.

Each accessory that Apple users own will get upgraded, giving Siri new ways to fulfill the 10 billion and counting requests people make each month (according to Craig Federighi’s statement on-stage at WWDC).

But even more important than all the places where you can use your assistant is how – with Shortcuts, Siri gets even better with each new app that people download. There’s the other key difference: the App Store.

Actions are the most important part of your apps

iOS has always had a vibrant community of developers who create powerful, top-notch applications that push the system to its limits and take advantage of the ever-increasing power these mobile devices have.

Shortcuts opens up those capabilities to Siri – every action you take in an app can be shared out with Siri, letting people interact right there inline or using only their voice, with the app running everything smoothly in the background.

Plus, the functional approach that Apple is taking with Siri creates new opportunities for developers provide utility to people instead of requiring their attention. The suggestions feature of Shortcuts rewards “acceleration”, showing the apps that provide the most time savings and use for the user more often.

This opens the door to more specialized types of apps that don’t necessarily have to grow a huge audience and serve them ads – if you can make something that helps people, Shortcuts can help them use your app more than ever before (and without as much effort). Developers can make a great experience for when people visit the app, but also focus on actually doing something useful too.

This isn’t a virtual assistant that lives in the cloud, but a digital helper that can pair up with the apps uniquely taking advantage of Apple’s hardware and software capabilities to truly improve your use of the device.

In the most groan-inducing way possible, “there’s an app for that” is back and more important than ever. Not only are apps the centerpiece of the Siri experience, but it’s their capabilities that extend Siri’s – the better the apps you have, the better Siri can be.

Control is at your fingertips

Importantly, Siri gets all of this Shortcuts power while keeping the control in each person’s hands.

All of the information provided to the system is securely passed along by individual apps – if something doesn’t look right, you can just delete the corresponding app and the information is gone.

Siri will make recommendations based on activities deemed relevant by the apps themselves as well, so over-active suggestions shouldn’t be common (unless you’re way too active in some apps, in which case they added Screen Time for you too).

Each of the voice commands is custom per user as well, so people can ignore their apps suggestions and set up the phrases to their own liking. This means nothing is already “taken” because somebody signed up for the skill first (unless you’ve already used it yourself, of course).

Also, Shortcuts don’t require the web to work – the voice triggers might not work, but the suggestions and Shortcuts app give you a place to use your assistant voicelessly. And importantly, Shortcuts can use the full power of the web when they need to.

This user-centric approach paired with the technical aspects of how Shortcuts works gives Apple’s assistant a leg up for any consumers who find privacy important. Essentially, Apple devices are only listening for “Hey Siri”, then the available Siri domains + your own custom trigger phrases.

Without exposing your information to the world or teaching a robot to understand everything, Apple gave Siri a slew of capabilities that in many ways can’t be matched. With Shortcuts, it’s the apps, the operating system, and the variety of hardware that will make Siri uniquely qualified come this fall.

Plus, the Shortcuts app will provide a deeper experience for those who want to chain together actions and customize their own shortcuts.

There’s lots more under the hood to experiment with, but this will allow anyone to tweak & prod their Siri commands until they have a small army of custom assistant tasks at the ready.

Hey Siri, let’s get started

Siri doesn’t know all, Can’t perform any task you bestow upon it, and won’t make somewhat uncanny phone calls on your behalf.

But instead of spending time conversing with a somewhat faked “artificial intelligence”, Shortcuts will help people use Siri as an actual digital assistant – a computer to help them get things done better than they might’ve otherwise.

With Siri’s new skills extendeding to each of your Apple products (except for Apple TV and the Mac, but maybe one day?), every new device you get and every new app you download can reveal another way to take advantage of what this technology can offer.

This broadening of Siri may take some time to get used to – it will be about finding the right place for it in your life.

As you go about your apps, you’ll start seeing and using suggestions. You’ll set up a few voice commands, then you’ll do something like kick off a truly useful shortcut from your Apple Watch without your phone connected and you’ll realize the potential.

This is a real digital assistant, your apps know how to work with it, and it’s already on many of your Apple devices. Now, it’s time to actually make use of it.

Big tech companies are looking at Hollywood as the next stage in their play for the cloud

This week, both Microsoft and Google made moves to woo Hollywood to their cloud computing platforms in the latest act of the unfolding drama over who will win the multi-billion dollar business of the entertainment industry as it moves to the cloud.

Google raised the curtain with a splashy announcement that they’d be setting up their fifth cloud region in the U.S. in Los Angeles. Keeping the focus squarely on tools for artists and designers the company talked up its tools like Zync Render, which Google acquired back in 2014, and Anvato, a video streaming and monetization platform it acquired in 2016.

While Google just launched its LA hub, Microsoft has operated a cloud region in Southern California for a while, and started wooing Hollywood last year at the National Association of Broadcasters conference, according to Tad Brockway, a general manager for Azure’s storage and media business.

Now Microsoft has responded with a play of its own, partnering with the provider of a suite of hosted graphic design and animation software tools called Nimble Collective.

Founded by a former Pixar and DreamWorks animator, Rex Grignon, Nimble launched in 2014 and has raised just under $10 million from investors including the UCLA VC Fund and New Enterprise Associates, according to Crunchbase.

“Microsoft is committed to helping content creators achieve more using the cloud with a partner-focused approach to this industries transformation,” said Tad Brockway, General Manager, Azure Storage, Media and Edge at Microsoft, in a statement. “We’re excited to work with innovators like Nimble Collective to help them transform how animated content is produced, managed and delivered.”

There’s a lot at stake for Microsoft, Google and Amazon as entertainment companies look to migrate to managed computing services. Tech firms like IBM have been pitching the advantages of cloud computing for Hollywood since 2010, but it’s only recently that companies have begun courting the entertainment industry in earnest.

While leaders like Netflix migrated to cloud services in 2012 and 21st Century Fox worked with HP to get its infrastructure on cloud computing, other companies have lagged. Now companies like Microsoft, Google, and Amazon are competing for their business as more companies wake up to the pressures and demands for more flexible technology architectures.

As broadcasters face more demanding consumers, fragmented audiences, and greater time pressures to produce and distribute more content more quickly, cloud architectures for technology infrastructure can provide a solution, tech vendors argue.

Stepping into the breach, cloud computing and technology service providers like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft are trying to buy up startups servicing the entertainment market specifically, or lock in vendors like Nimble through exclusive partnerships that they can leverage to win new customers. For instance, Microsoft bought Avere Systems in January, and Google picked up Anvato in 2016 to woo entertainment companies.

The result should be lower cost tools for a broader swath of the market, and promote more cross-pollination across different geographies, according to Grignon, Nimble’s chief executive.

“That worldwide reach is very important,” Grignon said. “In media and entertainment there are lots of isolated studios around the world. We afford this pathway between the studio in LA and the studio in Bangalore. We open these doorways.”

There are other, more obvious advantages as well. Streaming — exemplified by the relationship between Amazon and Netflix is well understood — but the possibility to bring costs down by moving to cloud architectures holds several other distribution advantages as well as simplifying processes across pre- and post-production, insiders said.

 

Google rebrands its ad lineup, with AdWords becoming Google Ads

Google’s complex lineup of ad products is getting rebranded.

Sridhar Ramaswamy, the senior vice president who leads Google’s ad efforts, explained the rebrand at a press event this morning, where he said the company has been getting “consistent feedback” over the past few years that the plethora of ad products and brands — assembled largely through acquisitions — could make it be confusing for advertisers.

“This is a primarily a name change, but it is indicative of where we have been directing the product” for the past few years, Ramaswamy said. He also said the rebrand points to “where we want the product to go.”

Moving forward, Google’s ad products will be divided up into three major brands. First, what’s now known as AdWords will become Google Ads, which Ramaswamy said will serve as “the front door for advertisers to buy on all Google surfaces,” whether that’s search, display ads, YouTube videos, app ads in Google Play, location listings in Google Maps or elsewhere.

In this case, it’s not just a name change. Google is also launching something it calls Smart Campaigns, which will become the default mode for advertisers. It allows those advertisers to identify the actions (whether it’s phone calls, store visits or purchases) that they’re prioritizing, then Google Ads will use machine learning to optimize the images, text and targeting to drive more of those actions.

The second brand is the Google Marketing Platform, which combines DoubleClick Digital Marketing and Google Analytics 360, the company’s analytics tools for marketers. Under that umbrella, Google is also announcing a new product called Display & Video 360, which combines features from DoubleClick Bid Manager, Campaign Manager, Studio and Audience Center.

Managing Director for Platforms Dan Taylor said the Google Marketing Platform is responding to a growing need for collaboration — for example, he said Adidas used the platform to bring its brand and performance marketing teams together with the measurement team.

Google Marketing Platform

The Marketing Platform includes a new Integrations Center where marketers can view all the ways they can different ways they can connect their Google tools. (And while the focus here is on integration within Google’s platform, Taylor said the company remains committed to interoperability with outside ad exchanges and measurement providers.)

The third brand is Google Ad Manager, a platform that combines Google’s monetization tools for publishers, namely DoubleClick Ad Exchange and DoubleClick for Publishers. In this case, Jonathan Bellack, director of product management for publisher platforms, said there’s already been a “three-year journey” of merging the two products as the programmatic ad-buying becomes used across more types of advertising.

“These categories have just been breaking down for a while — all of our publishers already log into one user interface,” Bellack said. So the only thing that’s really changing is “the logo.”

One result of all this consolidation, and one that Ramaswamy described as “bittersweet,” is that the DoubleClick brand is going away. On the other hand, while they weren’t the focus of today’s announcement, the AdSense and Admob brands will continue.

The rebrand is expected to start rolling out in July. Ramaswamy and Taylor both emphasized that no product migration or training will be required.

“The look and feel is going to change a little bit, but the core functionality is not changing,” Taylor said.

Google makes $550M strategic investment in Chinese e-commerce firm JD.com

Google has been increasing its presence in China in recent times, and today it has continued that push by agreeing to a strategic partnership with e-commerce firm JD.com which will see Google purchase $550 million of shares in the Chinese firm.

Google has made investments in China, released products there and opened up offices that include an AI hub, but now it is working with JD.com largely outside of China. In a joint release, the companies said they would “collaborate on a range of strategic initiatives, including joint development of retail solutions” in Europe, the U.S. and Southeast Asia.

The goal here is to merge JD.com’s experience and technology in supply chain and logistics — in China, it has opened warehouses that use robots rather than workers — with Google’s customer reach, data and marketing to produce new kinds of online retail.

Initially, that will see the duo team up to offer JD.com products for sale on the Google Shopping platform across the word, but it seems clear that the companies have other collaborations in mind for the future.

JD.com is valued at around $60 billion, based on its NASDAQ share price, and the company has partnerships with the likes of Walmart and it has invested heavily in automated warehouse technology, drones and other ‘next-generation’ retail and logisitics.

The move for a distribution platform like Google to back a service provider like JD.com is interesting since the company, through search and advertising, has relationships with a range of e-commerce firms including JD.com’s arch rival Alibaba.

But it is a sign of the times for Google, which has already developed relationships with JD.com and its biggest backer Tencent, the $500 billion Chinese internet giant. All three companies have backed Go-Jek, the ride-hailing challenger in Southeast Asia, while Tencent and Google previously inked a patent sharing partnership and have co-invested in startups such as Chinese AI startup XtalPi.

Google brings its ARCore technology to China in partnership with Xiaomi

Google is ramping up its efforts to return to China. Earlier this year, the search giant detailed plans to bring its ARCore technology — which enables augmented reality and virtual reality — to phones in China and this week that effort went live with its first partner, Xiaomi.

Initially the technology will be available for Xiaomi’s Mix 2S devices via an app in the Xiaomi App Store, but Google has plans to add more partners in Mainland China over time. Huawei and Samsung are two confirmed names that have signed up to distribute ARCore apps on Chinese soil, Google said previously.

Starting today, #ARCore apps are available on Mix 2S devices from the Xiaomi App Store in China. More partners coming soon → https://t.co/16QoOTgqve pic.twitter.com/lT4TYXrzwF

— Google AR & VR (@GoogleARVR) May 28, 2018

Google’s core services remain blocked in China but ARCore apps are able to work there because the technology itself works on device without the cloud, which means that once apps are downloaded to a phone there’s nothing that China’s internet censors can do to disrupt them.

Rather than software, the main challenge is distribution. The Google Play Store is restricted in China, and in its place China has a fragmented landscape that consists of more than a dozen major third-party Android app stores. That explains why Google has struck deals with the likes of Xiaomi and Huawei, which operate their own app stores which — pre-loaded on their devices — can help Google reach consumers.

ARCore in action

The ARCore strategy for China, while subtle, is part of a sustained push to grow Google’s presence in China. While that hasn’t meant reviving the Google Play Store — despite plenty of speculation in the media — Google has ramped up in other areas.

In recent months, the company has struck a partnership with Tencent, agreed to invest in a number of China-based startups — including biotech-focused XtalPi and live-streaming service Chushou — and announced an AI lab in Beijing. Added to that, Google gained a large tech presence in Taiwan via the completion of its acquisition of a chunk of HTC, and it opened a presence in Shenzhen, the Chinese city known as ‘the Silicon Valley of hardware.’

Finally, it is also hosting its first ‘Demo Day’ program for startups in Asia with an event planned for Shanghai, China, this coming September. Applications to take part in the initiative opened last week.

Google removes ‘Don’t Be Evil’ motto from its Code of Conduct

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To be evil or not to be evil — that is the question, Google.

It seems after years of the tech company’s commitment to its low-key creepy-sounding mantra, “Don’t Be Evil,” Google has removed the phrase from its Code of Conduct.

So I guess that means evil is totally chill now?? Cool. Very cool and not at all concerning, right?

On Friday, Gizmodo noted that “Don’t Be Evil,” which has been part of Google’s Code of Conduct since 2000, was recently removed in either April or May, as shown by the Wayback Machine. 

Digging into the Wayback Machine’s April 21, 2018 archive shows the three-word phrase still present in an earlier Code of Conduct: Read more…

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The new AI-powered Google News app is now available for iOS

Google teased a new version of its News app with AI smarts at its I/O event last week, and today that revamped app landed for iOS and Android devices in 127 countries. The redesigned app replaces the previous Google Play Newsstand app.

The idea is to make finding and consuming news easier than ever, whilst providing an experience that’s customized to each reader and supportive of media publications. The AI element is designed to learn from what you read to help serve you a better selection of content over time, while the app is presented with a clear and clean layout.

Opening the app brings up the tailored ‘For You’ tab which acts as a quick briefing, serving up the top five stories “of the moment” and a tailored selection of opinion articles and longer reads below it.

The next section — ‘Headlines’ — dives more deeply into the latest news, covering global, U.S., business, technology, entertainment, sports, science and health segments. Clicking a story pulls up ‘Full Coverage’ mode, which surfaces a range of content around a topic including editorial and opinion pieces, tweets, videos and a timeline of events.

 

Favorites is a tab that allows customization set by the user — without AI. It works as you’d imagine, letting you mark out preferred topics, news sources and locations to filter your reads. There’s also an option for saved searches and stories which can be quickly summoned.

The final section is ‘Newsstand’ which, as the name suggests aggregates media. Google said last week that it plans to offer over 1,0000 magazine titles you can follow by tapping a star icon or subscribing to. It currently looks a little sparse without specific magazine titles, but we expect that’ll come soon.

As part of that, another feature coming soon is “Subscribe with Google, which lets publications offer subscription-based content. The process of subscribing will use a user’s Google account, and the payment information they already have on file. Then, the paid content becomes available across Google platforms, including Google News, Google Search and publishers’ own websites.

How did Thumbtack win the on-demand services market?

Earlier today, the services marketplace Thumbtack held a small conference for 300 of its best gig economy workers at an event space in San Francisco.

For the nearly ten-year-old company the event was designed to introduce some new features and a redesign of its brand that had softly launched earlier in the week. On hand, in addition to the services professionals who’d paid their way from locations across the U.S. were the company’s top executives.

It’s the latest step in the long journey that Thumbtack took to become one of the last companies standing with a consumer facing marketplace for services.

Back in 2008, as the global financial crisis was only just beginning to tear at the fabric of the U.S. economy, entrepreneurs at companies like Thumbtack andTaskRabbit were already hard at work on potential patches.

This was the beginning of what’s now known as the gig economy. In addition to Thumbtack and TaskRabbit, young companies like Handy, Zaarly, and several others — all began by trying to build better marketplaces for buyers and sellers of services. Their timing, it turns out, was prescient.

In snowy Boston during the winter of 2008, Kevin Busque and his wife Leah were building RunMyErrand, the marketplace service that would become TaskRabbit, as a way to avoid schlepping through snow to pick up dog food .

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Marco Zappacosta, a young entrepreneur whose parents were the founders of Logitech, and a crew of co-founders including were building Thumbtack, a professional services marketplace from a home office they shared.

As these entrepreneurs built their businesses in northern California (amid the early years of a technology renaissance fostered by patrons made rich from returns on investments in companies like Google and Salesforce.com), the rest of America was stumbling.

In the two years between 2008 and 2010 the unemployment rate in America doubled, rising from 5% to 10%. Professional services workers were hit especially hard as banks, insurance companies, realtors, contractors, developers and retailers all retrenched — laying off staff as the economy collapsed under the weight of terrible loans and a speculative real estate market.

Things weren’t easy for Thumbtack’s founders at the outset in the days before its $1.3 billion valuation and last hundred plus million dollar round of funding. “One of the things that really struck us about the team, was just how lean they were. At the time they were operating out of a house, they were still cooking meals together,” said Cyan Banister, one of the company’s earliest investors and a partner at the multi-billion dollar venture firm, Founders Fund.

“The only thing they really ever spent money on, was food… It was one of these things where they weren’t extravagant, they were extremely purposeful about every dollar that they spent,” Banister said. “They basically slept at work, and were your typical startup story of being under the couch. Every time I met with them, the story was, in the very early stages was about the same for the first couple years, which was, we’re scraping Craigslist, we’re starting to get some traction.”

The idea of powering a Craigslist replacement with more of a marketplace model was something that appealed to Thumbtack’s earliest investor and champion, the serial entrepreneur and angel investor Jason Calcanis.

Thumbtack chief executive Marco Zappacosta

“I remember like it was yesterday when Marco showed me Thumbtack and I looked at this and I said, ‘So, why are you building this?’ And he said, ‘Well, if you go on Craigslist, you know, it’s like a crap shoot. You post, you don’t know. You read a post… you know… you don’t know how good the person is. There’re no reviews.’” Calcanis said. “He had made a directory. It wasn’t the current workflow you see in the app — that came in year three I think. But for the first three years, he built a directory. And he showed me the directory pages where he had a photo of the person, the services provided, the bio.”

The first three years were spent developing a list of vendors that the company had verified with a mailing address, a license, and a certificate of insurance for people who needed some kind of service. Those three features were all Calcanis needed to validate the deal and pull the trigger on an initial investment.

“That’s when I figured out my personal thesis of angel investing,” Calcanis said.

“Some people are market based; some people want to invest in certain demographics or psychographics; immigrant kids or Stanford kids, whatever. Mine is just, ‘Can you make a really interesting product and are your decisions about that product considered?’ And when we discuss those decisions, do I feel like you’re the person who should build this product for the world And it’s just like there’s a big sign above Marco’s head that just says ‘Winner! Winner! Winner!’”

Indeed, it looks like Zappacosta and his company are now running what may be their victory lap in their tenth year as a private company. Thumbtack will be profitable by 2019 and has rolled out a host of new products in the last six months.

Their thesis, which flew in the face of the conventional wisdom of the day, was to build a product which offered listings of any service a potential customer could want in any geography across the U.S. Other companies like Handy and TaskRabbit focused on the home, but on Thumbtack (like any good community message board) users could see postings for anything from repairman to reiki lessons and magicians to musicians alongside the home repair services that now make up the bulk of its listings.

“It’s funny, we had business plans and documents that we wrote and if you look back, the vision that we outlined then, is very similar to the vision we have today. We honestly looked around and we said, ‘We want to solve a problem that impacts a huge number of people. The local services base is super inefficient. It’s really difficult for customers to find trustworthy, reliable people who are available for the right price,’” said Sander Daniels, a co-founder at the company. 

“For pros, their number one concern is, ‘Where do I put money in my pocket next? How do I put food on the table for my family next?’ We said, ‘There is a real human problem here. If we can connect these people to technology and then, look around, there are these global marketplace for products: Amazon, Ebay, Alibaba, why can’t there be a global marketplace for services?’ It sounded crazy to say it at the time and it still sounds crazy to say, but that is what the dream was.”

Daniels acknowledges that the company changed the direction of its product, the ways it makes money, and pivoted to address issues as they arose, but the vision remained constant. 

Meanwhile, other startups in the market have shifted their focus. Indeed as Handy has shifted to more of a professional services model rather than working directly with consumers and TaskRabbit has been acquired by Ikea, Thumbtack has doubled down on its independence and upgrading its marketplace with automation tools to make matching service providers with customers that much easier.

Late last year the company launched an automated tool serving up job requests to its customers — the service providers that pay the company a fee for leads generated by people searching for services on the company’s app or website.

Thumbtack processes about $1 billion a year in business for its service providers in roughly 1,000 professional categories.

Now, the matching feature is getting an upgrade on the consumer side. Earlier this month the company unveiled Instant Results — a new look for its website and mobile app — that uses all of the data from its 200,000 services professionals to match with the 30 professionals that best correspond to a request for services. It’s among the highest number of professionals listed on any site, according to Zappacosta. The next largest competitor, Yelp, has around 115,000 listings a year. Thumbtack’s professionals are active in a 90 day period.

Filtering by price, location, tools and schedule, anyone in the U.S. can find a service professional for their needs. It’s the culmination of work processing nine years and 25 million requests for services from all of its different categories of jobs.

It’s a long way from the first version of Thumbtack, which had a “buy” tab and a “sell” tab; with the “buy” side to hire local services and the “sell” to offer them.

“From the very early days… the design was to iterate beyond the traditional model of business listing directors. In that, for the consumer to tell us what they were looking for and we would, then, find the right people to connect them to,” said Daniels. “That functionality, the request for quote functionality, was built in from v.1 of the product. If you tried to use it then, it wouldn’t work. There were no businesses on the platform to connect you with. I’m sure there were a million bugs, the UI and UX were a disaster, of course. That was the original version, what I remember of it at least.”

It may have been a disaster, but it was compelling enough to get the company its $1.2 million angel round — enough to barely develop the product. That million dollar investment had to last the company through the nuclear winter of America’s recession years, when venture capital — along with every other investment class — pulled back.

“We were pounding the pavement trying to find somebody to give us money for a Series A round,” Daniels said. “That was a very hard period of the company’s life when we almost went out of business, because nobody would give us money.”

That was a pre-revenue period for the company, which experimented with four revenue streams before settling on the one that worked the best. In the beginning the service was free, and it slowly transitioned to a commission model. Then, eventually, the company moved to a subscription model where service providers would pay the company a certain amount for leads generated off of Thumbtack.

“We weren’t able to close the loop,” Daniels said. “To make commissions work, you have to know who does the job, when, for how much. There are a few possible ways to collect all that information, but the best one, I think, is probably by hosting payments through your platform. We actually built payments into the platform in 2011 or 2012. We had significant transaction volume going through it, but we then decided to rip it out 18 months later, 24 months later, because, I think we had kind of abandoned the hope of making commissions work at that time.”

While Thumbtack was struggling to make its bones, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest were raking in cash. The founders thought that they could also access markets in the same way, but investors weren’t interested in a consumer facing business that required transactions — not advertising — to work. User generated content and social media were the rage, but aside from Uber and Lyft the jury was still out on the marketplace model.

“For our company that was not a Facebook or a Twitter or Pinterest, at that time, at least, that we needed revenue to show that we’re going to be able to monetize this,” Daniels said. “We had figured out a way to sign up pros at enormous scale and consumers were coming online, too. That was showing real promise. We said, ‘Man, we’re a hot ticket, we’re going to be able to raise real money.’ Then, for many reasons, our inexperience, our lack of revenue model, probably a bunch of stuff, people were reluctant to give us money.”

The company didn’t focus on revenue models until the fall of 2011, according to Daniels. Then after receiving rejection after rejection the company’s founders began to worry. “We’re like, ‘Oh, shit.’ November of 2009 we start running these tests, to start making money, because we might not be able to raise money here. We need to figure out how to raise cash to pay the bills, soon,” Daniels recalled. 

The experience of almost running into the wall put the fear of god into the company. They managed to scrape out an investment from Javelin, but the founders were convinced that they needed to find the right revenue number to make the business work with or without a capital infusion. After a bunch of deliberations, they finally settled on $350,000 as the magic number to remain a going concern.

“That was the metric that we were shooting towards,” said Daniels. “It was during that period that we iterated aggressively through these revenue models, and, ultimately, landed on a paper quote. At the end of that period then Sequoia invested, and suddenly, pros supply and consumer demand and revenue model all came together and like, ‘Oh shit.’”

Finding the right business model was one thing that saved the company from withering on the vine, but another choice was the one that seemed the least logical — the idea that the company should focus on more than just home repairs and services.

The company’s home category had lots of competition with companies who had mastered the art of listing for services on Google and getting results. According to Daniels, the company couldn’t compete at all in the home categories initially.

“It turned out, randomly … we had no idea about this … there was not a similarly well developed or mature events industry,” Daniels said. “We outperformed in events. It was this strategic decision, too, that, on all these 1,000 categories, but it was random, that over the last five years we are the, if not the, certainly one of the leading events service providers in the country. It just happened to be that we … I don’t want to say stumbled into it … but we found these pockets that were less competitive and we could compete in and build a business on.”

The focus on geographical and services breadth — rather than looking at building a business in a single category or in a single geography meant that Zappacosta and company took longer to get their legs under them, but that they had a much wider stance and a much bigger base to tap as they began to grow.

“Because of naivete and this dreamy ambition that we’re going to do it all. It was really nothing more strategic or complicated than that,” said Daniels. “When we chose to go broad, we were wandering the wilderness. We had never done anything like this before.”

From the company’s perspective, there were two things that the outside world (and potential investors) didn’t grasp about its approach. The first was that a perfect product may have been more competitive in a single category, but a good enough product was better than the terrible user experiences that were then on the market. “You can build a big company on this good enough product, which you can then refine over the course of time to be greater and greater,” said Daniels.

The second misunderstanding is that the breadth of the company let it scale the product that being in one category would have never allowed Thumbtack to do. Cross selling and upselling from carpet cleaners to moving services to house cleaners to bounce house rentals for parties — allowed for more repeat use.

More repeat use meant more jobs for services employees at a time when unemployment was still running historically high. Even in 2011, unemployment remained stubbornly high. It wasn’t until 2013 that the jobless numbers began their steady decline.

There’s a question about whether these gig economy jobs can keep up with the changing times. Now, as unemployment has returned to its pre-recession levels, will people want to continue working in roles that don’t offer health insurance or retirement benefits? The answer seems to be “yes” as the Thumbtack platform continues to grow and Uber and Lyft show no signs of slowing down.

“At the time, and it still remains one of my biggest passions, I was interested in how software could create new meaningful ways of working,” said Banister of the Thumbtack deal. “That’s the criteria I was looking for, which is, does this shift how people find work? Because I do believe that we can create jobs and we can create new types of jobs that never existed before with the platforms that we have today.”

Looks like Google is changing Android’s gun emoji into a water gun

Back in 2016, Apple swapped out the graphic used for its gun emoji, replacing the realistically drawn handgun with a bright green water gun.

Just a few days ago, Twitter followed suit.

And now, it seems, so will Google . The gun emoji on Android will likely soon appear as a bright orange and yellow super soaker lookalike.

As first noted by Emojipedia, Google has just swapped the graphics in its open Noto Emoji library on GitHub. These are the Emoji that Android uses by default, so the same change will presumably start to roll out there before too long.

At this point, Google making this change seemed inevitable. It seemed likely to happen as soon Apple made the jump; once others started following suit (Twitter earlier this week, and Samsung with the release of the Galaxy S9) it became a certainty.

It’s a matter of clarity in communication. If a massive chunk of people (iOS users) can send a cartoony water toy in a message that another massive chunk of people (Android users) receive as a realistically drawn handgun, there’s room for all sorts of trouble and confusion. Apple wasn’t going to reverse course on this one — and now that others have made the change, Google would’ve been the odd one out.

Google attempts to get Android messaging right (again) with Chat

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As predicted, Android is stepping up its messaging game to be on the same page as Apple’s iMessage and Facebook Messenger.

Google’s launching a new messaging service simply called Chat, and it’s the latest, and hopefully best effort by the tech giant to simplify the messaging offering on Android.

As revealed by The Verge, Chat is a rich communication service (RCS) that Google has been pushing carriers and smartphone makers to adopt.

It’s not a new app, but rather an upgrade of the existing messaging experience on Android. It’ll add features like read receipts, being able to see other people typing, full-resolution images and video, and group texting. Read more…

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Google spruiks Assistant with Chrissy Teigen and John Legend

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Just like you, celebrities find the small things in life difficult.

It’s something that’s highlighted in a series of ads for Google Assistant, released during the Oscars on Monday.

The first of the ads features John Legend and Chrissy Teigen, trying to deal with the annoying task of searching for a show on TV, convincing that you should “make Google do it,” the ad’s tagline.

Legend actually sings in one of the ads too, albeit about the time it takes for Teigen to find a TV show.

Then here’s NBA star Kevin Durant forgetting to remember his grocery list. Read more…

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Finally, tech’s elite speak out against Silicon Valley’s unchecked power

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They helped create Facebook, Google, and other companies who claim to bring the world together. But on Monday evening, these people gathered to discuss how tech products are tearing us apart. 

“Facebook created a business model that essentially made people who believe [conspiracy theories] more valuable,” said Roger McNamee, an early advisor to Mark Zuckerberg, speaking at an event at The New School in New York City titled “The Dark Side of Design: A Conversation About Addictive Technology. “It was in [Facebook’s] interest to appeal to fear and anger.”

McNamee is one of the founders of the Center for Humane Technology, a new coalition of tech creators dedicated to studying the effects of technology. This week, the group announced a partnership with nonprofit media watchdog group Common Sense Media to launch an ad campaign on tech addiction.  Read more…

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Google confirms investment in Indonesia’s ride-hailing leader Go-Jek

 Google has confirmed its investment in Go-Jek, the hail-railing service that rivals Uber and Grab in Indonesia. TechCrunch reported the investment last week, which was made alongside China’s Meituan-Dianping and Singaporean sovereign fund Temasek. The trio were part of a final tranche of a $1.2 billion round that Go-Jek began negotiating on last April, with commitments from the likes… Read More

Crunch Report | MoviePass pulls out of 10 AMC theaters

Google experiments in local news, MoviePass pulls out of AMC theaters and the Kalanick-Benchmark lawsuit has officially been dismissed. All this on Crunch Report. Read More

US-China biotech startup XtalPi lands $15M from Google, Tencent and Sequoia

 Google continues to increase its presence in China after it joined Sequoia China and Tencent in a $15 million investment for XtalPi, a U.S.-China biotech firm that uses artificial intelligence and computing to accelerate the development of new drugs. The search giant remains blocked in China, but that hasn’t stopped it from making a series of moves in recent months. It is opening an… Read More

Google declares war against Alexa and Siri at CES 2018

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It’s an artificial intelligence showdown.

This year at CES, the world’s largest electronics trade show (running Jan. 9-12), thousands of companies will travel to Las Vegas to show off their newest products and build new partnerships. But this time around, one unusual exhibitor stands out from the rest: Google.

It’s the first time in many years that Google will have its own, large, standalone booth in the middle of the convention center. But the search giant has gone far beyond buying space on the showroom floor. It’s also commissioned several large advertisements around the city, including one you simply can’t miss. Read more…

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Google has planted its flag at CES

 Google’s here, and it’s planning something big. The company’s presence is impossible to miss as you drive down Paradise Road toward the Las Vegas Convention Center. Like much the rest of the show, the company’s parking lot booth is still under construction today, but the giant, black and white “Hey Google” sign is already hanging above it, visible from… Read More

Those huge CPU vulnerabilities, Meltdown and Spectre, explained

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By now you’ve probably heard. A large portion of the world’s computer processors are vulnerable to at least one of two exploits that render them susceptible to hackers. But what, exactly, is going on — and what can you do to protect yourself?

While the answer to the first question is complicated, thankfully the answer to the second isn’t. It turns out that companies like Google and Microsoft have been working behind the scenes to create patches for what the security community has named Meltdown and Spectre. 

But we’re not out of the woods yet, and, depending on your operating system, you still need to take some proactive measures to make sure your data is safe.  Read more…

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Crunch Report | Apple Apologizes for Slowing Down iPhones

Apple apologizes for slowing down iPhones, humans spent $200 million on apps this Christmas and Google retires the Pixel C tablet. All this on Crunch Report. Read More

Why Google’s new Doodle is dedicated to Marlene Dietrich

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One of Hollywood’s Golden Age legends has been glorified in a Google Doodle.

The Doodle depicts Marlene Dietrich, famous for her breakout 1930 role as cabaret singer Lola-Lola in Germany’s first talking picture, Der Blaue Engel, and who was born on this day in 1901 — that’s 116 years ago.

Illustrated by artist Sasha Steinberg (also known as drag queen Sasha Velour and winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9), the Doodle shows Dietrich performing in a gender-bending top hat and tuxedo, worn in her Hollywood debut role as nightclub dancer Amy Jolly in 1930’s Morocco. Read more…

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The keys to your house belong to startups

 Silicon Valley may be the techiest place on earth, but even here, the way people open the front door hasn’t changed much in a century. Most of us still get in by turning a flat metal key in a lock. Visitors ring doorbells, and we peep at them through peepholes. If we’re out, keyless guests are out of luck. If investors have their way, that status quo will look quite primitive in a… Read More

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Watch Google unveil the Pixel 2 live right here

 Google’s big event is today. And this time, it’s all about new devices — the company should unveil a handful of new hardware products. The event will start at 9 AM in San Francisco, 12 PM in New York, 5 PM in London, 6 PM in Paris. And we already know what to expect. The big elephant in the room is Google’s new flagship Android phone, the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. It… Read More

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Africa Roundup: eBay expands, Google CEO visits Lagos, Ghana enters space

 eBay opened up its U.S. platform to Africa through its partnership with MallforAfrica.com. Americans can now buy products on eBay from select vendors in six African countries, starting with merchandise categories of fashion, art, jewelry, and clothing.
For the new program, MallforAfrica selects the sellers and handles payments on its proprietary platform. DHL is the shipping partner. Online… Read More

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Crunch Report | China’s Central Bank Puts a Ban on ICOs

China’s central bank puts a ban on ICOs, the next generation of the Lily drone is here, WhatsApp for Business is launching and Alphabet creates a new holding company to complete 2015 corporate reorganization. All this on Crunch Report! Read More

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Google is using your entire search history to create a personalized news feed

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Google, perhaps more than any other tech giant, knows an astonishing amount about you. 

Your search history alone could be enough to paint a surprisingly vivid portrait of everything, from your current hobbies to your deepest darkest secrets . Not to mention everything you’ve ever done in Google’s many other services, like YouTube and Maps. 

Now, Google is taking everything it’s learned about you (and everything it’s guessed about you) and is using it to create a personalized feed. The feed will appear alongside search on Google’s apps and, eventually, in your browser and other platforms.

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VCs determined to replace your job keep AI’s funding surge rolling in Q2

 These are good times for AI entrepreneurs. Venture, corporate and seed investors have put an estimated $3.6 billion into AI and machine learning companies this year, according to Crunchbase data. That’s more than they invested in all of 2016, marking the largest recorded sum ever put into the space in a comparable period. Read More

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Google Maps now lets users add wheelchair accessibility details for locations

 Back in December, Google finally added accessibility details to Maps. It was a long awaited addition, but an extremely welcome one for the more than three million people in the U.S. who require wheelchair accessibility. As we noted at the time, however, the available information still left a lot to be desired. Maps has currently collected accessibility data for almost seven million places,… Read More

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The Hidden Advantages Of Using Nofollow Links For Your SEO Strategy

What is the ultimate goal of your marketing strategy?

For most companies, it is to increase their brand presence. In digital marketing, it is all about getting in the first few ranks of Google search results. You should push your brand towards popularity to increase your ROI.

According to the leading SEO companies, it is all about getting the right kind of links. Getting outbound links and inbound links is the perfect way to encourage new customers. This improves search result ranks as well.

The ideal number of inbound links and outbound links is yet to be found. However, 1:1 seems to be the golden ratio for blogs right now.

Before we get into the details, let’s first talk about the kinds of links that matter.

Dofollow links are the most common type of links that SEOs use to usher in search engine crawlers for site indexing. We have always perceived Nofollow links as the less useful ones. However, a recent report from Kick Media SEO is about to change that.

What are Dofollow links?

If you are aware of SEO terms and practices, we are sure you are already on the edge of your seat waiting to correct us. Technically, there are NO dofollow links. All natural links without the nofollow tag are Dofollow or followed links. These are the literal opposite of the Nofollow links.

It is a link that search engine crawlers can follow to index the content. Dofollow links are the default. Unless you add a Nofollow link, all pages have a basic Dofollow link. This signal is organic and trusted by bots.

The more Dofollow links a website has, the more Google regards the site as authoritative. They are the positive signals no bots can disregard.

What are Nofollow links?

Nofollow links make sure that Google does not pass any “link juice” to your target page. Google does not transfer any PageRank across these sites either. SEOs have always overlooked them since they considered these links ineffective.

Apparently, these links do not have any direct impact on site SEO. Therefore, all efforts on a Nofollow link are useless.

However, Google states they do not follow these links “in general.” This leaves much room for assumptions. This is where a few SEO companies jumped in for new research.

What are the benefits of Nofollow links?

It is quite apparent that using Nofollow links will not boost your page rank. However, Google can use these links to increase your user engagement, particularly organic user engagement. They can boost your visibility and credibility. They can act as an introduction to your company, brands and products.

For Rob Toledo from Moz, using a nofollow link got him hundreds of visitors. It increased CTR and user engagement. Much like his experience, an upward trend is now an expected outcome of using nofollow links.

It is all about balancing the links. The ratio does not have to be 1:1. It is more about your brand’s requirements. Using 40 nofollow links against 60 dofollow links is a standard practice. This creates a more natural link profile that keeps the link ratios almost even.

How can you make the most of your nofollow links?

Nofollow links can bring you more organic engagement. Not all these links are equal and you cannot expect all of them to put in the same kind of traffic. Here are a few ways to optimize your nofollow links:

  • Make it interesting. Make sure the link leads to engaging content. People should feel intrigued by the product or service that is at the end of that link.
  • Develop compelling content. This is basic for any successful digital marketing strategy. If you want the best out of your SEO strategy, you need to work your content team. Get them to write compelling content that will entice human readers and will engage bots for easy indexing.
  • Blend your links. You cannot work with nofollow or dofollow links only. You also need to factor in outbound links that will lead users to authoritative sites. Conduct A/B tests to perfect the ratio according to the outcomes.
  • Include freebies. People love free gifts. The only challenge of working with Nofollow links is to lure people to follow the links. For example, if someone is advertising your products with nofollow links, make sure they link to some contest. This will encourage participation and boost your online presence.

Although Nofollow links have been around since 2005, we have started exploring them only recently. They are no longer response to spam comments and negative reviews. They are now instruments of organic SEO.

See Also: The Future of SEO – Predictions and Premonitions That Will Dominate 2017

 

The post The Hidden Advantages Of Using Nofollow Links For Your SEO Strategy appeared first on Dumb Little Man.

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Crunch Report | Google To Stop Scanning Inboxes

Crunch Report June 23 Today’s Stories  Google now has all the data it needs, will stop scanning Gmail inboxes for ad personalization Samsung’s Galaxy Note8 will reportedly be the company’s most expensive smartphone yet YouTube TV expands to 10 more U.S. markets, adds more YouTube Red series Tesla said to be in talks to create its own streaming music service Credits Written and Hosted by:… Read More

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After beating the world’s elite Go players, Google’s AlphaGo AI is retiring

 Google’s AlphaGo — the AI developed to tackle the world’s most demanding strategy game — is stepping down from competitive matches after defeating the world’s best talent. The latest to succumb is Go’s top-ranked player, Ke Jie, who lost 3-0 in a series hosted in China this week. The AI, developed by London-based DeepMind, which was acquired by Google… Read More

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Chinese authorities banned the broadcast of a match between top Go player and AlphaGo AI

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A Go match between the world’s top player, Ke Jie, and Google’s AlphaGo that took place this week was censored by authorities, reports Quartz.

The AI beat Ke Jie in yet another match today, securing a win in the three-part match.

Three journalists have reported receiving verbal directives barring their news organisations from broadcasting the match — as well as the Go and AI summit held in Wuzhen, east China. 

One journalist reported being barred from even mentioning Google’s name while reporting on the event, while another said that while they could mention Google, they were barred from writing about Google’s products. Read more…

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Google just made a very subtle change to its Play Store logo and icons

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Google’s Play Store is getting a brand new look … well, kind of.

In a continuing effort refine the Play brand, Google has quietly rolled out a new logo for the Play Store, Android Police noticed. The new logo drops the shopping bag, just leaving the colorful triangle as the new app icon.

New Logo

New Logo

Image: google

Old Logo

Old Logo

Image: google

While the new icon first appeared on Google’s new Pixel phone, the bagless design is now rolling out to other devices too.

Sure, it’s a very subtle change, but the redesign comes with a big branding message. As Google continues to tweak logo designs, it’s creating a cohesive visual identity tied to the clean, material design aesthetic that the company announced a few years ago.  Read more…

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Media Prima buys Rev Asia for $24M to create Malaysia’s largest digital media platform

 The U.S. isn’t the only market where media companies are consolidating to offer an advertising platform to rival Facebook and Google.
While AOL (which owns TechCrunch) is in the process of acquiring Yahoo, over in Malaysia a similar consolidation was announced this week — although not quite on the scale of AOL-Yahoo (Oath?!) and its $4.48 billion price tag. Media Prima, a… Read More

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Google's new AutoDraw wants to make drawing easier for everyone

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Your doodles are about to get a whole lot better.

Part of Google’s new A.I. Experiments collection, AutoDraw is like an AI-powered Microsoft Paint. The app combines conventional doodling with art from professionals to enhance your doodles and help create better art. 

The app works by trying to guess what you’re drawing and then offering alternatives for you to build on. 

Image: google

Google calls AutoDraw “a drawing tool for the rest of us;” that is, people who aren’t professional designers. What it really does is recognize what you’re trying to draw and replace that with a version drawn by an artist. The tool turned my terrible doodle of a cake that really could have been anything, and offered me this great cake instead.  Read more…

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So much for Equal Pay Day: Google accused of 'very significant' pay discrimination

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The Labor Department claimed Friday that Google has fostered an “extreme” gender pay gap across its entire workforce.

The bombshell accusation stems from an ongoing investigation into the search giant’s payroll practices, The Guardian first reported. It also comes three days after the company sang its own praises on Equal Pay Day.

A department official testified in a San Francisco courtroom this week that enough “compelling evidence” had already been found to make a case for systemic discrimination. The agency first filed suit against Google in January in a bid to force the company to turn over salary data in accordance with anti-discrimination laws. Read more…

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