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MediaLab acquires messaging app Kik, expanding its app portfolio

Popular messaging app Kik is, indeed, “here to stay” following an acquisition by the Los Angeles-based multimedia holding company, MediaLab.

It echoes the same message from Kik’s chief executive Tim Livingston last week when he rebuffed earlier reports that the company would shut down amid an ongoing battle with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Livingston had tweeted that Kik had signed a letter-of-intent with a “great company,” but that it was “not a done deal.”

Now we know the the company: MediaLab. In a post on Kik’s blog on Friday the MediaLab said that it has “finalized an agreement” to acquire Kik Messenger.

Kik is one of those amazing places that brings us back to those early aspirations,” the blog post read. “Whether it be a passion for an obscure manga or your favorite football team, Kik has shown an incredible ability to provide a platform for new friendships to be forged through your mobile phone.”

MediaLab is a holding company that owns several other mobile properties, including anonymous social network Whisper and mixtape app DatPiff. In acquiring Kik, the holding company is expanding its mobile app portfolio.

MediaLab said it has “some ideas” for developing Kik going forwards, including making the app faster and reducing the amount of unwanted messages and spam bots. The company said it will introduce ads “over the coming weeks” in order to “cover our expenses” of running the platform.

Buying the Kik messaging platform adds another social media weapon to the arsenal for MediaLab and its chief executive, Michael Heyward .

Heyward was an early star of the budding Los Angeles startup community with the launch of the anonymous messaging service, Whisper nearly 8 years ago. At the time, the company was one of a clutch of anonymous apps — including Secret and YikYak — that raised tens of millions of dollars to offer online iterations of the confessional journal, the burn book, and the bathroom wall (respectively).

In 2017, TechCrunch reported that Whisper underwent significant layoffs to stave off collapse and put the company on a path to profitability.

At the time Whisper had roughly 20 million monthly active users across its app and website, which the company was looking to monetize through programmatic advertising, rather than brand-sponsored campaigns that had provided some of the company’s revenue in the past. Through widgets, the company had an additional 10 million viewers of its content per-month using various widgets and a reach of around 250 million through Facebook and other social networks on which it published posts.

People familiar with the company said at the time that it was seeing gross revenues of roughly $1 million and was going to hit $12.5 million in revenue for that calendar year. By 2018 that revenue was expected to top $30 million, according to sources at the time.

The flagship Whisper app let people post short bits of anonymous text and images that other folks could like or comment about. Heyward intended it to be a way for people to share more personal and intimate details —  to be a social network for confessions and support rather than harassment.

The idea caught on with investors and Whisper managed to raise $61 million from investors including Sequoia, Lightspeed Venture Partners, and Shasta Ventures . Whisper’s last round was a $36 million Series C back in 2014.

Fast forward to 2018 when Secret had been shut down for three years while YikYak also went bust — selling off its engineering team to Square for around $1 million. Whisper, meanwhile, seemingly set up MediaLab as a holding company for its app and additional assets that Heyward would look to roll up. The company filed registration documents in California in June 2018.

According to the filings, Susan Stone, a partner with the investment firm Sierra Wasatch Capital, is listed as a director for the company.

Heyward did not respond to a request for comment.

Zack Whittaker contributed reporting for this article. 

Chat app Line is adding Snap-style disappearing stories

Facebook cloning Snap to death may be old news, but others are only just following suit. Line, the Japanese messaging app that’s popular in Asia, just became the latest to clone Snap’s ephemeral story concept.

The company announced today that it is adding stories that disappear after 24-hours to its timeline feature, a social network like feed that sits in its app, and user profiles. The update is rolling out to users now and the concept is very much identical to Snap, Instagram and others that have embraced time-limited content.

“As posts vanish after 24 hours, there is no need to worry about overposting or having posts remain in the feed,” Line, which is listed in the U.S. and Japan, wrote in an update. “Stories allows friends to discover real-time information on Timeline that is available only for that moment.”

Snap pioneered self-destructed content in its app, and the concept has now become present across most of the most popular internet services in the world.

In particular, Facebook added stories to across the board: to its core app, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp, the world’s most popular chat app with over 1.5 billion monthly users. Indeed, Facebook claims that WhatsApp stories are used by 500 million people, while the company has built Instagram into a service that has long had more users than Snap — currently over one billion.

The approach doesn’t always work, though — Facebook is shuttering its most brazen Snap copy, a camera app built around Instagram direct messages.

China’s top chat app WeChat added its own version earlier this year, and while it said in its earnings this week that users upload “hundreds of millions of videos each day” to its social platforms, it didn’t give numbers on its Snap-inspired feature.

Line doesn’t have anything like the reach of Facebook’s constellation of social apps or WeChat, but it is Japan’s dominant messaging platform and is popular in Thailand, Taiwan and Indonesia.

The Japanese company doesn’t give out global user numbers but it reported 164 million monthly users in its four key markets as of Q1 2019, that’s down one million year-on-year. Japan accounts for 80 million of that figure, ahead of Thailand (44 million), Taiwan (21 million) and Indonesia (19 million.)

While user growth has stagnated, Line has been able to extract increase revenue. In addition to a foray into services — in Japan its range covers ride-hailing, food delivery, music streaming and payments — it has increased advertising in the app’s timeline tab, and that is likely a big reason for the release of stories. The new feature may help timeline get more eyeballs, while the company could follow the lead of Snap and Instagram to monetize stories by allowing businesses in.

In Line’s case, that could work reasonably well — for advertising — since users can opt to follow business accounts already. It would make sense, then, to let companies push stories to users that opted in follow their account. But that’s a long way in the future and it will depend on how the new feature is received by users.

Douyu, China’s Twitch backed by Tencent, files for a $500M U.S. IPO

Douyu, a Chinese live streaming service focused on video games, has filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as it prepares to raise up to $500 million on the NYSE less than a year after its archrival floated on the same stock market.

Wuhan-based Douyu, whose name translates as “fighting fish”, is the second Twitch -like service backed by Tencent to go public in the United States. Its direct competitor Huya, who has a similarly fierce name “tiger’s teeth” and also counts Tencent as a major investor, raised $180 million from its NYSE listing last May.

It’s not surprising for Tencent to hedge its bets in esports streaming, given the giant relies heavily on video games to make money. For example, Tencent can use some of its portfolio companies’ ad slots to get the word out about its new releases. Indeed, Douyu’s filing shows it received a hefty 27.48 million yuan ($4.09 million) in advertising fees from Tencent last year.

As Douyu warns in its prospectus, its alliance with Tencent can be tenuous.

“Tencent may devote resources or attention to the other companies it has an interest in, including our direct or indirect competitors. As a result, we may not fully realize the benefits we expect from the strategic cooperation with Tencent. Failure to realize the intended benefits from the strategic cooperation with Tencent, or potential restrictions on our collaboration with other parties, could materially and adversely affect our business and results of operations.”

But there are nuances in the giant’s ties to China’s top two live streaming services that could mean more affinity between Tencent and Douyu. The social media and gaming behemoth is currently Douyu’s largest shareholder with a 40.1 percent stake owned through its wholly-owned subsidiary Nectarine. Over at Huya, Tencent is the second-largest stakeholder behind YY, the pioneer in China’s live streaming sector that had spun off Huya.

When it comes to the financial terms, the rivaling pair is in a head-on race. In 2018, Douyu doubled its net revenues to $531.5 million. Huya held an edge as it earned $678.3 million in the same period, also doubling the amount from a year ago.

Huya may have learned a few things about monetizing live streaming from 14-year-old YY as it managed to pull in more revenues despite owning a smaller user base. While Douyu claimed 153.5 million monthly active users in the fourth quarter, Huya had 116.6 million.

How the two make money also diverge slightly. In the fourth quarter, 86 percent of Douyu’s revenues originated from virtual items that users tipped to their favorite streaming hosts, with the remaining earnings derived from advertising and more. By contrast, Huya relied almost exclusively on live streaming gifts, which made up 95.3 percent of total revenues.

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Screenshot of a Douyu live streaming session 

As Douyu grows its coffers to spend on content as well as technologies following the impending IPO, competition in China’s live streaming landscape is set to heat up. Just earlier this month, Huya raised $327 million in a secondary offering to invest in content and R&D. Like many other businesses anchored in content, Huya and Douyu depend tremendously on quality creators to keep users loyal. Both have offered sizable checks to live streaming hosts, promising to grow the internet celebrities into bigger stars.

And they’ve extended the battlefield outside China as emerging media forms, most exemplified by short video services Douyin (TikTok’s China version) and Kuaishou, threaten to steal people’s eyeball time away. Both bite-size video apps now enjoy a much bigger user base than their live streaming counterparts.

“We intend to further explore overseas markets to expand our user base through both organic expansion and selective investments,” noted Douyu in its IPO filing.

In a similar move, Huya’s overseas expansion is also well underway. “In addition to our vigorous domestic growth, we have successfully leveraged our unique business model to enter new overseas markets. We believe we are delivering long-term value through strategic investments in overseas markets in 2019 and beyond,” said Huya chief executive Rongjie Dong in the company’s Q4 earnings report.

New Facebook tool answers the question “Why am I seeing this post?”

Facebook announced today that it is adding a feature called “Why am I seeing this post?” to News Feeds. Similar to “Why am I seeing this ad?,” which has appeared next to advertisements since 2014, the new tool has a dropdown menu that gives users information about why that post appeared in their News Feed, along with links to personalization controls.

Meant to give users more transparency into how Facebook’s News Feed algorithm works, the update comes as the company copes with several major events that have highlighted the platform’s shortcomings, including potentially harmful ones. These include its role in enabling the dissemination of a video taken during the shooting attacks on New Zealand mosques two weeks ago, which were originally broadcast using Facebook Live; a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that accuses Facebook’s ad-targeting tool of violating the Fair Housing Act and its role in spreading misinformation and propaganda (after years of complaints and criticism, Facebook recently announced plans to downrank anti-vaccination posts and ban white nationalist content.

Facebook’s announcement says this is the first time its “built information on how ranking works directly into the app.” Users will be able to access “Why am I seeing this post?” as a dropdown menu in the right hand corner of posts from friends, Pages and Groups in their News Feed that displays information about how its algorithm decided to rank the post, including:

  • Why you’re seeing a certain post in your News Feed — for example, if the post is from a friend you made, a Group you joined, or a Page you followed.
  • What information generally has the largest influence over the order of posts, including: (a) how often you interact with posts from people, Pages or Groups; (b) how often you interact with a specific type of post, for example, videos, photos or links; and (c) the popularity of the posts shared by the people, Pages and Groups you follow.

The same menu will also include links to personalization options, including See First, Unfollow, News Feed Preferences and Privacy Shortcuts. The company’s blog post said that “during our research on ‘Why am I seeing this post?,’ people told us that transparency into News Feed algorithms wasn’t enough without corresponding controls.”

“Why am I seeing this ad,” a similar feature that launched in 2014, will be updated with to include more information. For example, it will tell users if an ad appeared in their News Feed because a company uploaded their contact lists, like emails or phone numbers, or if they worked with a marketing partner to place the ad.

PicsArt hits 130 million MAUs as Chinese flock to its photo editing app

If you’re like me, who isn’t big on social media, you’d think that the image filters that come inside most apps will do the job. But for many others, especially the younger crowd, making their photos stand out is a huge deal.

The demand is big enough that PicsArt, a rival to filtering companies VSCO and Snapseed, recently hit 130 million monthly active users worldwide, roughly a year after it amassed 100 million MAUs. Like VSCO, PicsArt now offers video overlays though images are still its focus.

Nearly 80 percent of PicsArt’s users are under the age of 35 and those under 18 are driving most of its growth. The “Gen Z” (the generation after millennials) users aren’t obsessed with the next big, big thing. Rather, they pride themselves on having niche interests, be it K-pop, celebrities, anime, sci-fi or space science, topics that come in the form of filters, effects, stickers and GIFs in PicsArt’s content library.

“PicsArt is helping to drive a trend I call visual storytelling. There’s a generation of young people who communicate through memes, short-form videos, images and stickers, and they rarely use words,” Tammy Nam, who joined PicsArt as its chief operating officer in July, told TechCrunch in an interview.

PicsArt has so far raised $45 million, according to data collected by Crunchbase. It picked up $20 million from a Series B round in 2016 to grow its Asia focus and told TechCrunch that it’s “actively considering fundraising to fuel [its] rapid growth even more.”

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PicsArt wants to help users stand out on social media, for instance, by virtually applying this rainbow makeup look on them. / Image: PicsArt via Weibo

The app doubles as a social platform, although the use case is much smaller compared to the size of Instagram, Facebook and other mainstream social media products. About 40 percent of PicsArt’s users post on the app, putting it in a unique position where it competes with the social media juggernauts on one hand, and serving as a platform-agnostic app to facilitate content creation for its rivals on the other.

What separates PicsArt from the giants, according to Nam, is that people who do share there tend to be content creators rather than passive consumers.

“On TikTok and Instagram, the majority of the people there are consumers. Almost 100 percent of the people on PicsArt are creating or editing something. For many users, coming on PicsArt is a built-in habit. They come in every week, and find the editing process Zen-like and peaceful.”

Trending in China

Most of PicsArt’s users live in the United States, but the app owes much of its recent success to China, its fastest growing market with more than 15 million MAUs. The regional growth, which has been 10-30 percent month-over-month recently, appears more remarkable when factoring in PicsArt’s zero user acquisition expense in a crowded market where pay-to-play is a norm for emerging startups.

“Many larger companies [in China] are spending a lot of money on advertising to gain market share. PicsArt has done zero paid marketing in China,” noted Nam.

Screenshot: TikTok-related stickers from PicsArt’s library

When people catch sight of an impressive image filtering effect online, many will inquire about the toolset behind it. Chinese users find out about the Armenian startup from photos and videos hashtagged #PicsArt, not different from how VSCO gets discovered from #vscocam on Instagram. It’s through such word of mouth that PicsArt broke into China, where users flocked to its Avengers-inspired disappearing superhero effect last May when the film was screening. China is now the company’s second largest market by revenue after the U.S.

Screenshot: PicsArts lets users easily apply the Avengers dispersion effect to their own photos

A hurdle that all media apps see in China is the country’s opaque guidelines on digital content. Companies in the business of disseminating information, from WeChat to TikTok, hire armies of content moderators to root out what the government deems inappropriate or illegal. PicsArt says it uses artificial intelligence to sterilize content and keeps a global moderator team that also keeps an eye on its China content.

Despite being headquartered in Silicon Valley, PicsArt has placed its research and development center in Armenia, home to founder Hovhannes Avoyan. This gives the startup access to much cheaper engineering talents in the country and neighboring Russia compared to what it can hire in the U.S. To date, 70 percent of the company’s 360 employees are working in engineering and product development (50 percent of whom are female), an investment it believes helps keep its creative tools up to date.

Most of PicsArt’s features are free to use, but the firm has also looked into getting paid. It rolled out a premium program last March that gives users more sophisticated functions and exclusive content. This segment has already leapfrogged advertising to be PicsArt’s largest revenue source, although in China, its budding market, paid subscriptions have been slow to come.

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PicsArt lets users do all sorts of creative work, including virtually posing with their idol. / Image: PicsArt via Weibo

“In China, people don’t want to pay because they don’t believe in the products. But if they understand your value, they are willing to pay, for example, they pay a lot for mobile games,” said Jennifer Liu, PicsArt China’s country manager.

And Nam is positive that Chinese users will come to appreciate the app’s value. “In order for this new generation to create really differentiated content, become influencers, or be more relevant on social media, they have to do edit their content. It’s just a natural way for them to do that.”

Facebook won’t let you opt-out of its phone number ‘look up’ setting

Users are complaining that the phone number Facebook hassled them to use to secure their account with two-factor authentication has also been associated with their user profile — which anyone can use to “look up” their profile.

Worse, Facebook doesn’t give you an option to opt-out.

Last year, Facebook was forced to admit that after months of pestering its users to switch on two-factor by signing up their phone number, it was also using those phone numbers to target users with ads. But some users are finding out just now that Facebook’s default setting allows everyone — with or without an account — to look up a user profile based off the same phone number previously added to their account.

The recent hubbub began today after a tweet by Jeremy Burge blew up, criticizing Facebook’s collection and use of phone numbers, which he likened to “a unique ID that is used to link your identity across every platform on the internet.”

For years Facebook claimed the adding a phone number for 2FA was only for security. Now it can be searched and there’s no way to disable that. pic.twitter.com/zpYhuwADMS

— Jeremy Burge 🐥🧿 (@jeremyburge) March 1, 2019

Although users can hide their phone number on their profile so nobody can see it, it’s still possible to “look up” user profiles in other ways, such as “when someone uploads your contact info to Facebook from their mobile phone,” according to a Facebook help article. It’s a more restricted way than allowing users to search for user profiles using a person’s phone number, which Facebook restricted last year after admitting “most” users had their information scraped.

Facebook gives users the option of allowing users to “look up” their profile using their phone number to “everyone” by default, or to “friends of friends” or just the user’s “friends.”

But there’s no way to hide it completely.

Security expert and academic Zeynep Tufekci said in a tweet: “Using security to further weaken privacy is a lousy move — especially since phone numbers can be hijacked to weaken security,” referring to SIM swapping, where scammers impersonate cell customers to steal phone numbers and break into other accounts.

See thread! Using security to further weaken privacy is a lousy move—especially since phone numbers can be hijacked to weaken security. Putting people at risk. What say you @facebook? https://t.co/9qKtTodkRD

— zeynep tufekci (@zeynep) March 2, 2019

Tufekci’s argued that users can “no longer keep keep private the phone number that [they] provided only for security to Facebook.”

Facebook spokesperson Jay Nancarrow told TechCrunch that the settings “are not new,” adding that, “the setting applies to any phone numbers you added to your profile and isn’t specific to any feature.”

Gizmodo reported last year that when a user gives Facebook a phone number for two-factor, it “became targetable by an advertiser within a couple of weeks.”

If a user doesn’t like it, they can set up two-factor without using a phone number — which hasn’t been mandatory for additional login security since May 2018.

But even if users haven’t set up two-factor, there are well documented cases of users having their phone numbers collected by Facebook, whether the user expressly permitted it or not.

In 2017, one reporter for The Telegraph described her alarm at the “look up” feature, given she had “not given Facebook my number, was unaware that it had found it from other sources, and did not know it could be used to look me up.”

WhatsApp, the messaging app also owned by Facebook (alongside Messenger and Instagram), uses your phone number as the primary way to create your account and connect you to its service. Facebook has long had a strategy to further integrate the two services, although it has run into some bumps along the way.

To the specific concerns by users, Facebook said: “We appreciate the feedback we’ve received about these settings and will take it into account.”

Concerned users should switch their “look up” settings to “Friends” to mitigate as much of the privacy risk as possible.

When asked specifically if Facebook will allow users to users to opt-out of the setting, Facebook said it won’t comment on future plans. And, asked why it was set to “everyone” by default, Facebook said the feature makes it easier to find people you know but aren’t yet friends with.

Others criticized Facebook’s move to expose phone numbers to “look ups,” calling it “unconscionable.”

Alex Stamos, former chief security officer and now adjunct professor at Stanford University, also called out the practice in a tweet. “Facebook can’t credibly require two-factor for high-risk accounts without segmenting that from search and ads,” he said.

Since Stamos left Facebook in August, Facebook has not hired a replacement chief security officer.

So it’s come to this: An unborn baby ‘kidfluencer’ has 112,000 Instagram followers

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This is just getting ridiculous. 

As regular social media influencers vie for the title of most annoying, a new breed has emerged to expose the whole enterprise as a goofy charade. Or perhaps we should say not emerged, because, as exemplified by one so-called Instagram “kidfluencer” featured in a recent New York Times article, they’re not even born yet. 

That’s right, there’s literally an in-utero baby with a March due date that has more Instagram followers than you. One hundred and twelve thousand, to be exact. 

Say hello to Halston Blake Fisher, the soon-to-be scion of an influencer family that includes 2-year-old identical twins with more than 2 million followers on Instagram. Kyler Fisher, the twins’ father, told the Times that sponsored posts on his kids’ page cost between $10,000 and $20,000.  Read more…

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Instagram seems to be testing direct messaging on web

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There’s no dearth of messaging platforms on the web, but Instagram DMs have likely become a big part of your online life.

A prototype, spotted by software engineer Jane Manchun Wong, shows the platform making moves toward making its direct messaging service, Direct, accessible via your browser.

Given how many of our interactions happen on Instagram these days, it makes sense to make Direct available outside of the app. If it turns out to be a thing, Direct appears to be available for both desktop and mobile. Read more…

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Hulu teams up with that world record Instagram egg to raise awareness of mental health

Remember that egg that became Instagram’s most-liked post? It used its recently-acquired fame to shed light on mental health and the pressures of social media.

The account now has 10 million followers — its record photo has over 52 million likes — and it put that audience to use with a 30-second video that aired on Hulu around the Super Bowl. The account had teased a major revealed in recent weeks, and it proved to be the short spot with Hulu that promotes mental health awareness, particularly around the context of using social media.

“Recently I’ve started to crack… the pressure of social media is getting to me,” the video reads as the egg’s shell begins to crack before breaking into pieces.

“If you’re struggling too, talk to someone,” the egg says before it is resurrected with a full shell once again.

The video closes with a link to the Mental Health America website.

Hulu’s Egg reveal is a mental health PSA which I love 🥰pic.twitter.com/Mb46prevKR

— Alexandra Able (@AlexandraAble) February 4, 2019

The video received praise from Mental Health America and many others on Twitter, but plenty of its Instagram followers expected more or don’t have a Hulu account, according to comments.

We’d like to thank #TalkingEgg for shining a limelight on #mentalhealth tonight with an important message. Not everyone chooses to #fightintheopen for mental health, but you did for the 1 in 5 Americans living with a mental health condition. Thank you, #EggGang! 💚🥚pic.twitter.com/9KPlXG5re4

— Mental Health America (@MentalHealthAm) February 4, 2019

At the same time, the creators of the account — three advertising executives in South London — revealed background on the project, the egg is called “Eugene,” in an interview with the New York Times.

The trio — Chris Godfrey, Alissa Khan-Whelan and C.J. Brown — explained that they had been approached by Hulu, which had paid to develop the video which aims to take advantage of the hype and online chatter around the Super Bowl to raise its message. Given that the account is followed by a large number of children, as its creators acknowledged in the interview, a positive message like this rather than a commercial sell-out is a pleasant surprise, particularly when it is estimated that brand deals could fetch $10 million.

Hulu is the first to get a crack at the egg, but it remains to be seen if its appeal to brands will endure and whether its future messaging and partners will also be health-related.

Indonesia unblocks Tumblr following its ban on adult content

Indonesia, the world’s fourth largest country by population, has unblocked Tumblr nine months after it blocked the social networking site over pornographic content.

Tumblr — which, disclaimer, is owned by Oath Verizon Media Group just like TechCrunch — announced earlier this month that it would remove all “adult content” from its platform. That decision, which angered many in the adult entertainment industry who valued the platform as an increasingly rare outlet that supported erotica, was a response to Apple removing Tumblr’s app from the iOS Store after child pornography was found within the service.

This impact of this new policy has made its way to Indonesia where KrAsia reports that the service was unblocked earlier this week. The service had been blocked in March after falling foul of the country’s anti-pornography laws.

“Tumblr sent an official statement regarding the commitment to clean the platform from pornographic content,” Ferdinandus Setu, Acting Head of the Ministry of Communication and Informatics Bureau, is reported to have said in a press statement.

Messaging apps WhatsApp and Line are among the other services that have been forced to comply with the government’s ban on ‘unsuitable’ content in order to keep their services open in the country. Telegram, meanwhile, removed suspected terrorist content last year after its service was partially blocked.

While perhaps not widely acknowledged in the West, Indonesia is a huge market with a population of over 260 million people. The world’s largest Muslim country, it is the largest economy in Southeast Asia and its growth is tipped to help tripled the region’s digital economy to $240 billion by 2025.

In other words, Indonesia is a huge market for internet companies.

The country’s anti-porn laws have been used to block as many as 800,000 websites as of 2017so potentially over a million by now — but they have also been used to take aim at gay dating apps, some of which have been removed from the Google Play Store. As Vice notes, “while homosexuality is not illegal in Indonesia, it’s no secret that the country has become a hostile place for the LGBTQ community.”

Instagram says it’s not testing or building a reposting feature

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Instagram is reportedly testing new features that could dramatically change what your feed looks like.

As first reported by The Verge, the company is looking to introduce native reposting, which will allow users to share posts from other accounts to your own feed.

An Instagram spokesperson, however, told Mashable that it is not a feature the company is currently building or testing.

According to The Verge, who viewed two screenshots of the feature, the “seamless sharing” feature will introduce a “share to feed” button when you open the “…” menu in the top right corner of a post. Currently, users need to use a third-party app to repost. Read more…

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Twitter tests suggestions on people to unfollow for when your timeline is too much

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You’re likely familiar with Twitter’s suggestions on who to follow. Now, the company is asking some users if they want to unfollow people. 

As first pointed out by Slate, the social media platform is testing unfollow suggestions.

“We know that people want a relevant Twitter timeline. One way to do this is by unfollowing people they don’t engage with regularly. We ran an incredibly limited test to surface accounts that people were not engaging with to check if they’d like to unfollow them,” a Twitter spokesperson told the publication.

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Twitter suspends more accounts for “engaging in coordinated manipulation”

Following last week’s suspension of 284 accounts for “engaging in coordinated manipulation,” Twitter announced today that it’s kicked an additional 486 accounts off the platform for the same reason, bringing the total to 770 accounts.

While many of the accounts removed last week appeared to originate from Iran, Twitter said this time that about 100 of the latest batch to be suspended claimed to be in the United States. Many of these were less than a year old and shared “divisive commentary.” These 100 accounts tweeted a total of 867 times and had 1,268 followers between them.

Since our initial suspensions last Tuesday, we have continued our investigation, further building our understanding of these networks. In addition, we suspended an additional 486 accounts for violating the policies outlined last week. This brings the total suspended to 770.

— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) August 27, 2018

As examples of the “divisive commentary” tweeted, Twitter shared screenshots from several suspended accounts that showed anti-Trump rhetoric, counter to the conservative narrative that the platform unfairly targets Republican accounts.

Fewer than 100 of the 770 suspended accounts claimed to be located in the U.S. and many of these were sharing divisive social commentary. On average, these 100 Tweeted 867 times, were followed by 1, 268 accounts, and were less than a year old. Examples below. pic.twitter.com/LQhbvFjxSo

— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) August 27, 2018

Twitter also said that the suspended accounts included one advertiser that spent $30 on Twitter ads last year, but added those ads did not target the U.S. and that the billing address was outside of Iran.

“As with prior investigations, we are committed to engaging with other companies and relevant law enforcement entities. Our goal is to assist investigations into these activities and where possible, we will provide the public with transparency and context on our efforts,” Twitter said on its Safety account.

After years of accusations that it doesn’t enforce its own policies about bullying, bots and other abuses, Twitter has taken a much harder line on problematic accounts in the past few months. Despite stalling user growth, especially in the United States, Twitter has been aggressively suspending accounts, including ones that were created by users to evade prior suspensions.

Twitter announced a drop of one million monthly users in the second quarter, causing investors to panic even though it posted a $100 million profit. In its earnings call, Twitter said that its efforts don’t impact user numbers because many of the “tens of millions” of removed accounts were too new or had been inactive for more than a month and were therefore not counted in active user numbers. The company did admit, however, that it’s anti-spam measures had caused it to lose three million monthly active users.

Whatever its impact on user numbers, Twitter’s anti-abuse measures may help it save face during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on September 5. Executives from Twitter, Facebook and Google are expected to be grilled by Sen. Mark Warner and other politicians about the use of their platforms by other countries to influence U.S. politics.

Best Twitter account, dril, has released a book

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Twitter mostly sucks, but one of the few accounts which isn’t terrible is @dril.

Even if you don’t spend much of your time on the platform, you’ve likely come across his bizarre, nonsensical jokes that we wish we knew how to come up with.

Seemingly the ramblings of a cranky old man with poor grasp of the keyboard, @dril has been on the internet since 2008, and was also infamously doxxed last year. Now, he has a book.

Titled Dril Official “Mr. Ten Years” Anniversary Collection, the book is suitably an anthology of the mysterious writer’s tweets and sketches. Read more…

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LinkedIn’s China rival Maimai raises $200M ahead of planned US IPO

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on TechNode, an editorial partner of TechCrunch based in China.

Maimai, China’s biggest rival to LinkedIn, has revealed today that it received a $200 million D Series investment back in April in what the company claims to be the largest investment in the professional networking market. That’s surprising but correct: LinkedIn went public in 2011 and was bought by Microsoft for $26 million in 2016, but it raised just over $150 million from investors as a private company.

Global venture capital DST led the round for Maimai which include participation from existing investors of IDG, Morningside Venture Capital, and DCM.

The new capital takes Maimai to $300 million raised from investors, according to CrunchbaseCaixin reports that the valuation of the company is more than $1 billion which would see the firm enter the global unicorn club.

Beyond the fundraising, the firm said it plans to invest RMB 1 billion (around $150 million) over the next three years in a career planning program that it launched in partnership with over 1,000 companies. Those partners include global top-500 firm Cisco and Chinese companies such as Fashion Group and Focus Media.

This investment could be the last time Maimai taps the private market for cash. That’s because the company is gearing up for a U.S. IPO and overseas expansion in the second half of 2019, according to the company founder and CEO Lin Fan.

Launched in the fall of 2013, Maimai aims particularly at business people as a platform to connect professional workers and offer employment opportunities. The service now claims over 50 million users. As a Chinese counterpart of LinkedIn, Maimai has competed head-on with Chinese arm of the U.S. professional networking giant since its establishment and gradually gained an upper hand with features tailored to local tastes.

maimai

It can be hard to gauge the population of social networks, but Chinese market research firm iResearch ranked Maimai ahead of LinkedIn for the first time in the rankings of China’s most popular social networking apps in April last year. The firm further gained ground this year as its user penetration rate reaching 83.8 percent in June, far higher than LinkedIn China’s 11.8 percent, according to data from research institute Analysys.

As a China-born company, Maimai gained momentum over the past two years with localized features, such as anonymous chat, mobile-first design, real-name registration, and partnerships with Chinese corporations. But like all Chinese tech services, it is subject to the state’s tight online regulation. The government watchdog has ordered Maimai to remove the anonymous posting section on its platform last month. The same issue applies to LinkedIn, which has been criticized for allowing its Chinese censorship to spill over and impact global users.

With assistance from Jon Russell

Why a $95 million bill to study tech’s effects on kids might actually pass this time

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Congress wants to spend $95 million to study how gadgets and social media affects children. 

The proposal for the Children and Media Research Advancement Act, or CAMRA Act, was introduced Thursday in the U.S. Senate. A bipartisan group is behind the bill, so it might actually have a chance of passing. 

The bill is not new. Back in 2004, then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman wanted to study the effects of electronic media on the youth. It fizzled out. The same thing happened when a version of the bill was introduced again in 2007 — just a few months before Steve Jobs introduced the iPhoneRead more…

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It’s OK to leave Facebook

The slow-motion privacy train wreck that is Facebook has many users, perhaps you, thinking about leaving or at least changing the way you use the social network. Fortunately for everyone but Mark Zuckerberg, it’s not nearly has hard to leave as it once was. The main thing to remember is that social media is for you to use, and not vice versa.

Social media has now become such an ordinary part of modern life that, rather than have it define our interactions, we can choose how we engage with it. That’s great! It means that everyone is free to design their own experience, taking from it what they need instead of participating to an extent dictated by social norms or the progress of technology.

Here’s why now is a better time than ever to take control of your social media experience. I’m going to focus on Facebook, but much of this is applicable to Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other networks as well.

Stalled innovation means a stable product

The Facebooks of 2005, 2010, and 2015 were very different things and existed in very different environments. Among other things over that eventful ten-year period, mobile and fixed broadband exploded in capabilities and popularity; the modern world of web-native platforms matured and became secure and reliable; phones went from dumb to smart to, for many, their primary computer; and internet-based companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon graduated from niche players to embrace and dominate the world at large.

It’s been a transformative period for lots of reasons and in lots of ways. And products and services that have been there the whole time have been transformed almost continuously. You’d probably be surprised at what they looked like and how limited they were not long ago. Many things we take for granted today online were invented and popularized just in the last decade.

But the last few years have seen drastically diminished returns. Where Facebook used to add features regularly that made you rely on it more and more, now it is desperately working to find ways to keep people online. Why is that?

Well, we just sort of reached the limit of what a platform like Facebook can or should do, that’s all! Nothing wrong with that.

It’s like improving a car — no matter how many features you add or engines you swap in, it’ll always be a car. Cars are useful things, and so is Facebook. But a car isn’t a truck, or a bike, or an apple, and Facebook isn’t (for example) a broadcast medium, a place for building strong connections, or a VR platform (as hard as they’re trying).

The things that Facebook does well and that we have all found so useful — sharing news and photos with friends, organizing events, getting and staying in contact with people — haven’t changed considerably in a long time. And as the novelty has worn off those things, we naturally engage in them less frequently and in ways that make more sense to us.

Facebook has become the platform it was intended to be all along, with its own strengths and weaknesses, and its failure to advance beyond that isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I think stability is a good thing. Once you know what something is and will be, you can make an informed choice about it.

The downsides have become obvious

Every technology has its naysayers, and social media was no exception — I was and to some extent remain one myself. But over the years of changes these platforms have gone through, some fears were shown to be unfounded or old-fashioned.

The idea that people would cease interacting in the “real world” and live in their devices has played out differently from how we expected, surely; trying to instruct the next generation on the proper way to communicate with each other has never worked out well for the olds. And if you told someone in 2007 that foreign election interference would be as much a worry for Facebook as oversharing and privacy problems, you might be met with incredulous looks.

Other downsides were for the most part unforeseen. The development of the bubble or echo chamber, for instance, would have been difficult to predict when our social media systems weren’t also our news-gathering systems. And the phenomenon of seeing only the highlights of others’ lives posted online, leading to self esteem issues in those who view them with envy, is an interesting but sad development.

Whether some risk inherent to social media was predicted or not, or proven or not, people now take such risks seriously. The ideas that one can spend too much time on social networks, or suffer deleterious effects from them, or feel real pain or turmoil because of interactions on them are accepted (though sadly not always without question).

Taking the downsides of something as seriously as the upsides is another indicator of the maturity of that thing, at least in terms of how society interacts with it. When the hype cycle winds down, realistic judgment takes its place and the full complexities of a relationship like the one between people and social media can be examined without interference.

Between the stability of social media’s capabilities and the realism with which those capabilities are now being considered, choice is no longer arbitrary or absolute. Your engagement is not being determined by them any more.

Social media has become a rich set of personal choices

Your experience may differ from mine here, but I feel that in those days of innovation among social networks your participation was more of a binary. You were either on or you were off.

The way they were advancing and changing defined how you engaged with them by adding and opting you into features, or changing layouts and algorithms. It was hard to really choose how to engage in any meaningful way when the sands were shifting under your feet (or rather, fingertips). Every few months brought new features and toys and apps, and you sort of had to be there, using them as proscribed, or risk being left behind. So people either kept up or voluntarily stayed off.

Now all that has changed. The ground rules are set, and have been for long enough that there is no risk that if you left for a few months and come back, things would be drastically different.

As social networks have become stable tools used by billions, any combination or style of engagement with them has become inherently valid.

Your choice to engage with Facebook or Instagram does not boil down to simply whether you are on it or not any more, and the acceptance of social media as a platform for expression and creation as well as socializing means that however you use it or present on it is natural and no longer (for the most part) subject to judgment.

That extends from choosing to make it an indispensable tool in your everyday life to quitting and not engaging at all. There’s no longer an expectation that the former is how a person must use social media, and there is no longer a stigma to the latter of disconnectedness or Luddism.

You and I are different people. We live in different places, read different books, enjoy different music. We drive different cars, prefer different restaurants, like different drinks. Why should we be the same in anything as complex as how we use and present ourselves on social media?

It’s analogous, again, to a car: you can own one and use it every day for a commute, or use it rarely, or not have one at all — who would judge you? It has nothing to do with what cars are or aren’t, and everything to do with what a person wants or needs in the circumstances of their own life.

For instance, I made the choice to remove Facebook from my phone over a year ago. I’m happier and less distracted, and engage with it deliberately, on my terms, rather than it reaching out and engaging me. But I have friends who maintain and derive great value from their loose network of scattered acquaintances, and enjoy the immediacy of knowing and interacting with them on the scale of minutes or seconds. And I have friends who have never been drawn to the platform in the first place, content to select from the myriad other ways to stay in touch.

These are all perfectly good ways to use Facebook! Yet only a few years ago the zeitgeist around social media and its exaggerated role in everyday life — resulting from novelty for the most part — meant that to engage only sporadically would be more difficult, and to disengage entirely would be to miss out on a great deal (or fear that enough that quitting became fraught with anxiety). People would be surprised that you weren’t on Facebook and wonder how you got by.

Try it and be delighted

Social networks are here to improve your life the same way that cars, keyboards, search engines, cameras, coffee makers, and everything else are: by giving you the power to do something. But those networks and the companies behind them were also exerting power over you and over society in general, the way (for example) cars and car makers exerted power over society in the ’50s and ’60s, favoring highways over public transportation.

Some people and some places, more than others, are still subject to the influence of car makers — ever try getting around L.A. without one? And the same goes for social media — ever try planning a birthday party without it? But the last few years have helped weaken that influence and allow us to make meaningful choices for ourselves.

The networks aren’t going anywhere, so you can leave and come back. Social media doesn’t control your presence.

It isn’t all or nothing, so you can engage at 100 percent, or zero, or anywhere in between. Social media doesn’t decide how you use it.

You won’t miss anything important, because you decide what is important to you. Social media doesn’t share your priorities.

Your friends won’t mind, because they know different people need different things. Social media doesn’t care about you.

Give it a shot. Pick up your phone right now and delete Facebook. Why not? The absolute worst that will happen is you download it again tomorrow and you’re back where you started. But it could also be, as it was for me and has been for many people I’ve known, like shrugging off a weight you didn’t even realize you were bearing. Try it.

Twitter is testing secret, encrypted direct messaging

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With the proliferation of secure messaging apps out there, Twitter is set to join in on the action.

The company is seemingly testing end-to-end encrypted direct messaging in the Android version of its app, as spotted by computer science student Jane Manchun Wong on Twitter.

The feature, dubbed “Secret conversation,” will apparently be available in the conversation info section of the app, when direct messaging. Users can also view encryption keys of themselves and a recipient.

End-to-end encryption ensures that messages can only be read between the sender and the recipient, and not by the company whose platform you’re using, or anyone who may try and intercept the message. Read more…

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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.”

Facebook’s facial recognition feature could help find missing persons

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Facebook’s new facial recognition features makes some people uneasy, but the tool could help find missing people.

Australian organisation Missing Persons Action Network (MPAN) has launched a campaign called Invisible Friends, asking people to add the profiles of missing people as friends on the social media platform.

Facebook’s new facial recognition tools will automatically tag people in photos, even if they’re in the background. Users will be notified, and asked if they want to be tagged in the photos. 

These profiles of missing people, like Zac Barnes who disappeared in 2016, are actually run by MPAN. That means the organisation will receive a notification if the person is tagged by Facebook’s facial recognition feature.  Read more…

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The makers of the virtual influencer, Lil Miquela, snag real money from Silicon Valley

Brud, the actual company behind one of Instagram’s most popular virtual influencers (it’s a thing), has raised millions of dollars from Silicon Valley investors because this is 2018 and everything is awful.

Last week, the Los Angeles-based startup led by Trevor McFedries, outed itself as the collective consciousness behind the virtual celebrity Lil Miquela and her less well known contemporaries Blawko22 and BermudaisBae in a choreographed melodrama worthy of Los Angeles’ best reality television.

i am deeply invested in the drama surrounding lil miquela and now you all have to be too. sorry!!! https://t.co/ta1T4rDFGz

— maya kosoff (@mekosoff) April 19, 2018

The subject of numerous glowing profiles in online and print fashion and lifestyle magazines (including, most recently, in High Snobiety), Lil Miquela’s stardom (and her fellow avatars) fascinated because the characters’ creators coyly toed the line around “her” self-awareness and their own. In the process, they created a sensation that’s become well-known worldwide.

It’s less well-known that the company is backed by some of the biggest names in venture capital investment — firms like Sequoia Capital. Our sources put the company’s funding somewhere around $6 million in its recent funding round.

There are other notable investors from Silicon Valley and New York rumored to be in the round — like New York’s BoxGroup and the Bay Area’s SV Angel. Sequoia declined to comment for this article and Box Group’s David Tisch did not respond to a request for comment.

All of the virtual drama with Miquela started late last week when news outlets (including TechCrunch) reported that Miquela’s Instagram account (or that of her handlers) was hacked by operators of a social media account belonging to another virtual personality known as “Bermudaisbae” (a more right wing social media persona with fewer followers).

McFedries, brud‘s founder and chief executive, confirmed that the Miquela account had been hacked in a text exchange with me, writing, “some redditor idiots hacked the page we think.”

That was a lie.

The account “hack” was architected by brud as part of an ongoing virtual reality drama playing out on Instagram and other social media platforms between avatars it had developed, all designed to attract media attention, according to people with knowledge of brud and its plans. It worked. 

McFedries has not responded to further requests for comment after confirming that the Miquela account was “good”.

One Los Angeles investor familiar with the company said brud was “using conflict to introduce new characters… same as the Kardashians always have.”

The investor added that two years into the development of the Miquela persona, brud‘s founders knew that the fad could lose some of its luster as the is-she-or-Isn’t-she-real tension dissipates under the weight of continuously thwarted expectations — like a post-modern twist on the will-or-won’t-they dramatic tension defining most sitcoms since Cheers.

“People aren’t going to buy that she’s human so they make it seem as if she’s had an existential crisis and now she is the first in a breed of conscious AR characters that they will build a world around,” this investor wrote. “[Manufacturing] social influence.”

Blawko22 and Lil Miquela imposed over a gas station exterior simulating a pit stop on the road to Coachella

For his part, the 33-yar-old McFedries had been manufacturing social influence in Los Angeles through his talents as a dj, producer and director before entering the startup world.

First under the name of DJ Skeet Skeet and then as DJ Skeeter, and, finally, Yung Skeeter, McFedries has worked or performed with a number of the world’s best selling recording artists including Chris Brown, Ke$ha, and Katy Perry (and — interestingly — more obscure acts like Bonde do Role).  

Working as an an “artist advocate” for Spotify, a DJ for a radio show on iHeartRadio, and as a spokesman for VitaminWater sustained McFedries along with managing the career of BANKS and executive producing her first album and a single on Azealia Banks’ 2014 record “Broke with Expensive Taste” — at least according to a Wikipedia page on Yung Skeeter. 

Around this time McFedries also began investing in companies, according to AngelList.

Roughly two years after the Banks record release, Lil Miquela made her first appearance on Instagram. And the rest is history as written in Internet archives and memes. Ephemeral, but infinite.

The project that brud seems to be pursuing — turning celebrity into a virtual commodity; commenting on the unreality of the “real” entertainment industry by literally creating an unreal celebrity — is fascinating.

There’s certainly a valid criticism to be made about the ways in which celebrity operates, the ways in which our “social” media has corroded society, and the unbridled power of these platforms to transform messengers and their messages into movements.

Perhaps brud wants to make these critiques through its very existence — or at least use its low-brow as high-brow (or is it vice versa?) intellectual appeal as a veneer over the more crass (but potentially honest) mission of selling more shit more effectively through the use of spokespeople whose views only change when their creators want them to (it worked for Hollywood’s star system). That at least gets sponsors and advertisers out of the potentially messy situations that can come from working with spokespeople whose actions can’t be controlled by software — or an ingenious marketing team.

In the High Snobiety profile-as-honors-senior-English-thesis on Lil Miquela published yesterday, the avatar’s own spokesperson was quoted as saying:

“The internet is endlessly powerful, and that power has been wielded in many ways. It feels like we’re not going to put the genie back in the bottle, so we’ve got to learn how to leverage these tools in positive ways. I’ve used my platform to raise real money for important organizations throughout LA and I’ve seen lives changed as a result. I think the only chance we’ve got is to collectively teach our loved ones how to think critically and how to spot misinformation. I know that we can manifest the change we want to see, and the internet can be a part of that.”

It’s a lofty goal backed by a number of inarguably good works. However, lying to reporters may not be the best way to continue trying to achieve it.

Facebook gets even shadier, limits EU privacy law reach

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Facebook is quietly looking to limit the number of users that will be protected by Europe’s tough new data law, according to Reuters.

Outside of the U.S. and Canada, Facebook’s users agree to terms and conditions that are tied with the social media company’s operation in Ireland. 

So, as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is set to come into force on May 25, even non-EU users would have had their data protected by the law on Facebook.

But now, Facebook is reportedly looking to ensure that GDPR only applies to European users next month, affecting 1.5 billion users in Australia, Africa, the Middle East and in Asia. Read more…

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Minds aims to decentralize the social network

Decentralization is the buzzword du jour. Everything – from our currencies to our databases – are supposed to exist, immutably, in this strange new world. And Bill Ottman wants to add our social media to the mix.

Ottman, an intense young man with a passion to fix the world, is the founder of Minds.com, a New York-based startup that has been receiving waves of new users as zealots and the the not-so-zealous have been leaving other networks. In fact, Zuckerberg’s bad news is music to Ottman’s ears.

Ottman started Minds in 2011 “with the goal of bringing a free, open source and sustainable social network to the world,” he said. He and his CTO, Mark Harding, have worked in various non-profits including Code To Inspire, a group that teaches Afghani women to code. He said his vision is to get us out from under social media’s thumb.

“We started Minds in my basement after being disillusioned by user abuse on Facebook and other big tech services. We saw spying, data mining, algorithm manipulation, and no revenue sharing,” he said. “To us, it’s inevitable that an open source social network becomes dominant, as was the case with Wikipedia and proprietary encyclopedias.”

His efforts have paid off. The team now has over 1 million registered users and over 105,000 monthly active users. They are working on a number of initiatives, including an ICO, and the site makes money through “boosting” – essentially the ability to pay to have a piece of content float higher in the feed.

The company raised $350K in 2013 and then a little over a million dollars in a Reg CF Equity Crowdfunding raise.

Unlike Facebook, Minds is built on almost radical transparency. The code is entirely open source and it includes encrypted messenger services and optional anonymity for users. The goal, ultimately, is to have the data be decentralized and any user should be able to remove his or her data. It’s also non-partisan, a fact that Ottman emphasized.

“We are not pushing a political agenda, but are more concerned with transparency, Internet freedom and giving control back to the user,” he said. “It’s a sad state of affairs when every network that cares about free speech gets lumped in with extremists.”

He was disappointed, for example, when people read that Reddit’s choice to shut down toxic sub-Reddits was a success. It wasn’t, he said. Instead, those users just flocked to other, more permissive sites. However, he doesn’t think those sites have be cesspools of hate.

“We are a community-owned social network dedicated to transparency, privacy and rewarding people for their contributions. We are called Minds because it’s meant to be a representation of the network itself,” he said. “Our mission is Internet freedom with privacy, transparency, free speech within the law and user control. Additionally, we want to provide our users with revenue opportunity and the ability to truly expand their reach and earn rewards for their contributions to the network.”

Shooting suspect slammed YouTube for ‘discriminating’ against her

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The suspected shooter at YouTube’s California headquarters on Tuesday has been identified as Nasim Najafi Aghdam, San Bruno Police confirmed.

A San Diego resident, Aghdam died by a self-inflicted gunshot wound after shooting three people, one of whom is in critical condition. A fourth victim injured their ankle while fleeing the scene at the San Bruno office. 

The suspected shooter in today’s YouTube incident has been identified. Please see press release for details – https://t.co/Xvr2l9bB9s pic.twitter.com/NEBoX3WWK5

— San Bruno Police (@SanBrunoPolice) April 4, 2018

On her website, Aghdam accused YouTube of “filtering” her videos to prevent them from getting views and embedded a video from prominent YouTube star Casey Neistat complaining about YouTube’s demonetization policy, known as the adpocalypse. Read more…

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Scientist at centre of Facebook scandal didn’t think data would be used to target voters

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The man who helped gather Facebook users’ information for Cambridge Analytica claims that he didn’t think it’d be used to target voters.

Data scientist Aleksandr Kogan, who also goes by the surname of Spectre, told CNN‘s Anderson Cooper on Tuesday that he was “heavily siloed” from knowing about the UK data firm’s clients and funders, who are linked to the 2016 Trump election campaign.

“I found out about Donald Trump just like everybody else, through the news,” Kogan told the program. 

Exclusive: Aleksandr Kogan, the data scientist who worked with Cambridge Analytica to harvest data, tells @AndersonCooper he didn’t know they would use the data to target voters. Full interview, tonight on 9p ET, on @CNN https://t.co/9L3itGMW79 pic.twitter.com/z4ny9vytCp

— Anderson Cooper 360° (@AC360) March 21, 2018 Read more…

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UN officials blast Facebook over spread of Rohingya hate speech

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Facebook has long been criticised for its role in the Rohingya crisis, an assessment now underscored by comments by United Nations investigators.

Marzuki Darusman, chairman of the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission in Myanmar told reporters that social media had a “determining role” in spreading hate speech in the country, according to Reuters.

“It has … substantively contributed to the level of acrimony and dissension and conflict, if you will, within the public. Hate speech is certainly of course a part of that. As far as the Myanmar situation is concerned, social media is Facebook, and Facebook is social media,” Darusman said. Read more…

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Reddit found this dude’s stolen car in a matter of hours

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Getting your car stolen is one of the worst things, but finding it can be MUCH easier than it was a decade ago.

Over Thanksgiving week, Sebastiaan de With, a freelance designer and photographer, got his Land Rover Defender stolen in the San Francisco Bay Area, after just having purchased it a little over a year ago.

Desperate to find any help in locating his car, de With decided to post about it on Twitter and Reddit, asking people to contact him if they happen to see it.

“I thought it’d be pointless to post it, but on the other hand, I really wanted to find my car,” de With told the SF Gate. “They’re extremely hard cars to find in the U.S., and I was waiting on an appraiser to come around to get full coverage, full-value insurance. So it being gone meant I had absolutely nothing, not even a claim payout.” Read more…

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Selfie tourism is killing these incredibly cute creatures

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Warning: this article contains images of animal abuse which some may find distressing.

A small furry creature huddles close to a tree branch on the edge of the forest. Its large, globular eyes are shut (it’s daytime, and so now it sleeps); its strong hands and arms hold firm even as it slumbers.

In a deep sleep, the creature doesn’t hear the rustling of approaching predators. Before it knows what’s happening, it’s plucked from the tree and bundled into a bag. When it is finally taken out into the blinding light of day, metal pliers are forced into its mouth to clip its teeth. Then it is shoved into a wire cage, alone and in pain. Read more…

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Trump says he doesn't 'do Twitter storms' – uh huh, ok, sure

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President Donald Trump, who can both make the world cower in fear and belly laugh in response to his very well-known tweetstorms, wants you to know a very important fact: He doesn’t ‘do Twitter storms.’

“Do you notice when I go on and I’ll put out like a tweet or a couple of tweets, ‘He’s in a Twitter storm again,'” he said at a Phoenix rally Tuesday night. “I don’t do Twitter storms.”

OK, um, but what about the tweetstorm when ex-FBI Director James Comey got fired or the one about his failed Muslim travel ban or that time he tweetstormed the hell out of his Obama wiretapping accusations, oh and don’t forget the tweetstorms about the “illegal leaks,” Democrats, and the “fake media?” Read more…

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Yes, there's now an app with the sole purpose of showing you dank memes

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If you enjoy wasting time on the internet, you’re probably going to love Memeois, the new iOS app made solely to deliver you the hottest new memes.

The app was made by 17-year-old Anushk Mittal and is free for download on iOS. Just be warned that the only way to enter the app is by signing in through a Facebook account. We don’t see any reason to be alarmed up front, but it’s something you might want to consider before joining.

The app apparently uses machine learning to crawl your Facebook activity to determine what memes it thinks you want to see. It also surfaces different trends based on your activity within the app. Read more…

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Sean Hannity is desperate for your retweets

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For a moment, it seemed like the Sean Hannity conspiracy train had come to a halt. 

The Fox News host announced on his show Tuesday night that he would stop talking about the debunked claim that murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich had leaked thousands of emails to WikiLeaks “out of respect for the family’s wishes.”

Apparently, not discussing the matter means immediately going on Twitter and hitting Kim Dotcom with an OMG. 

Then he posted a tweet with lots of caps, so you know to take it seriously. 

Ok TO BE CLEAR, I am closer to the TRUTH than ever. Not only am I not stopping, I am working harder. Updates when available. Stay tuned!

— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) May 24, 2017 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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People are quitting LiveJournal in droves after Russian owners ban political, LGBTQ talk

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Venerable blog platform LiveJournal is now saying goodbye to some of its biggest users, after announcing it’s taking steps to comply with Russian law.

The platform, which moved its servers to Russia in December last year, updated its terms of service last week, Gizmodo reports.

Under the terms, content deemed as “political solicitation,” or that “contradictory to the laws of the Russian Federation” will be banned.

Russian law gives censors sweeping powers to ban political and pro-LGBTQ content under the guise of national security. But critics say the law has been used as an excuse to discriminate against the LGBTQ community. Read more…

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Social media firms facing fresh political pressure after London terror attack

 Yesterday UK government ministers once again called for social media companies to do more to combat terrorism. “There should be no place for terrorists to hide,” said Home Secretary Amber Rudd, speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr program. Read More

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People are incensed that an elitist dating app is promoting itself with racist slurs

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An elitist, racist dating app is making waves in Singapore — and its founder is defending it vehemently.

Herbert Eng is calling his app HighBlood. It promises to filter people based on “accountant-verified information” covering income, profession, and university education.

A week ago, it made a Facebook post advertising itself. In the text, it says the app promises “quality”, and specifies that it will exclude “banglas”, “maids”, and “uglies.”

The post was spotted by journalist Kirsten Han, who tweeted: “I have no words”: Read more…

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Twitter is now marking entire profiles as 'sensitive'

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Twitter is trying to take on its troll problem in 2017, but the campaign is not without problems.

In addition to a range of tools aimed at filtering abusive tweets, the platform now appears to be quietly marking entire accounts as sensitive. 

On Thursday, a Mashable reporter clicked on the profile of technology analyst Justin Warren. Instead of showing his image or his tweets, the account blocked his profile image and included a caution: “This profile may include potentially sensitive content.” 

The reporter could still ultimately view the account, but only by clicking that he agreed to continue despite the possibility of seeing “sensitive images or language.” Read more…

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Gobi raises $500K to take on Snapchat

 Norwegian startup Gobi raised $500,000 at a $15 million valuation to take on Snapchat with its “Stories” communication tool. The platform enables users to create public and private groups where users can share photos and videos that stay around for three days before vanishing into digital pixel-dust. Read More

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Trump still refuses to wear his tie correctly and tapes it down instead

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Donald Trump is a man of quick fixes — a big wall to deal with immigration, random rallies to build popularity, or “alternative facts” to blur away undesirable truths.

So it’s no wonder he has quite the fix for keeping his tie in place — clear office tape.

Months ago, Trump was spotted sticking a piece of tape on the back of his tie, and as learned on Monday, he’s still doing it now he’s president.

There it is again, the taped tiepic.twitter.com/n1C9OuHqGt

— Jim Dao (@jimdao) March 6, 2017

For a man weirdly obsessed with appearances, Trump is pretty loose with that tie. It’s a small quirk that actually tells you a lot about the life philosophy of the reality star-businessman who was recently elected president — at least if Twitter jokes have anything to say about it. Read more…

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Chelsea Clinton and Kellyanne Conway just had a friendly Twitter moment. Seriously.

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Chelsea Clinton did possibly the most unlikely thing ever and came to the defense of Kellyanne Conway on Twitter on Friday.

It all happened after Conway was at the center of lewd remarks by Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana. Richmond’s words drew outrage on Twitter and from politicians such as his own state’s governor, John Bel Edwards, who said “without question” Richmond should apologize. 

The controversial, some would say sexually suggestive language came during a fundraiser dinner with the Washington Press Club Foundation, during which Richmond attempted some sort of joke. Read more…

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Kristen Stewart says text messages are kinda ghosts and who are we to argue?

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In a way, Kristen Stewart texts you every single day just to see how you’re doing. And in another, actually real way, your relationship with Kristen Stewart is completely in your head but still yours to keep. 

The actress, who is promoting her new film about a girl haunted by her brother’s ghost, Personal Shopper, thinks text messages and social media are pretty much just that — your projections. And that’s fine. 

“When you speak to someone on the phone, that is a decipherable, understandable exchange,” she explains to V Magazine. “But with text and social media, it’s essentially a dialogue with yourself and your interpretation of a shadow. It’s not invalid; it’s a new language.” Read more…

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Kristen Stewart says text messages are kinda ghosts and who are we to argue?

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In a way, Kristen Stewart texts you every single day just to see how you’re doing. And in another, actually real way, your relationship with Kristen Stewart is completely in your head but still yours to keep. 

The actress, who is promoting her new film about a girl haunted by her brother’s ghost, Personal Shopper, thinks text messages and social media are pretty much just that — your projections. And that’s fine. 

“When you speak to someone on the phone, that is a decipherable, understandable exchange,” she explains to V Magazine. “But with text and social media, it’s essentially a dialogue with yourself and your interpretation of a shadow. It’s not invalid; it’s a new language.” Read more…

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Octane AI boldly bets that Convos are the future of content

maroon-5-facebook-post-to-octane-ai-convo-in-situ One billion people use Facebook Messenger every month. And no matter how bad the current perceptions of the bot scene are, that number is hard to ignore. Octane AI is counting on celebrity content creators to build conversational experiences that people actually want to have. With its public launch and the rollout of its content creation platform Convos, the Octane team is taking a gamble on… Read More

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One more gaffe for India's national airline and people can't stop rubbing it in

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Fault in the stars? Or perhaps in the skies? 

Because nothing seems to be going right for India’s national airline, Air India. First, it was pilloried for choosing to reserve seats for women. Then, a London hotel shamed its cabin crew for taking away buffet food in lunchboxes. And now, this. 

Two of Air India’s engineers forgot a basic step thus forcing an aircraft to make an emergency landing, the Press Trust of India reported

A Delhi-Cochin flight which took off from Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport early Monday morning had to be grounded forcibly within 40 minutes because the engineers had “forgotten” to remove pins from the landing gear, thus making it impossible for the pilot to retract the aircraft’s wheels.   Read more…

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Loaded dude crowdsources his Valentine's date, takes out 'best five girls' for lavish dinner

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You can call it bizarre, funny, silly or simply sensational. 

A man from Gurgaon in India crowdsourced his Valentine dates via Facebook by showing off his wealth, his Audi car and a promise to gift an iPhone 7. 

Surprisingly, he was greeted with an overwhelming response from over 2,000 applicants, which he sifted through to arrive at the “best five”, whom he then took out in his car for a romantic dinner at a plush hotel and gifted them an iPhone 7 each.

Pause a moment to soak that in.

Shakul Gupta, who claims to be the “CEO and Founder at Softoku.com” (which incidentally Google couldn’t trace) put out a Facebook post on Feb.11. “Who want to be my Valentine?” (sic) it said. It included promises of “memorable moments” for the potential dates. Read more…

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The US wants to check Chinese visitors' social media profiles

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The U.S. border control is seeking to check Chinese visitors’ social media profiles.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) plans to publish a proposal asking travellers from China to disclose what social media platforms they use, and what their handles are, according to Politico.

Holders of business and visitor visas will be affected by the move — amounting to almost 3.6 million applicants per year, the proposal estimates.

However, travellers can choose not to disclose the information, and will still have their requests processed “without a negative interpretation or inference.” Read more…

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Blin.gy puts you inside your favorite music video

screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-11-31-52-am A green-screen effect, or chroma keying, is nothing new. But it’s not really consumer technology — mainly because of the need for an actual green screen, a static camera and studio-quality lighting. But being able to have a live video background behind you is cool. Meet Blin.gy, a new app that’s figured out how to achieve a “mobile green-screen effect.” Read More

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Live-streaming is no longer for foreigners in China

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Live streaming is taking off in China, but foreigners won’t be able to join in the fun.

Foreigners are reporting having their accounts suspended on big streaming platforms, where popular users are raking in big bucks through virtual gifts and other microdonations.

Users on both Yizhibo, which is backed by Chinese social media giant Weibo, and Blued, China’s most popular gay social networking app, have received vague suspension notices, Sixth Tone reports.

Anton, a Ukrainian national living in China, said he was suddenly cut off during a broadcast session on Jan. 12. Read more…

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China is censoring social media less now—but it's not freedom

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China appears to be loosening its well-known vice-like grip on what can and cannot be said on Weibo (its version of Twitter), but don’t be fooled — it’s not easing up on censorship.

A team of researchers from Hong Kong, Sweden and the U.S. have found that the Communist Party seems to be deleting far fewer posts that it used to find objectionable.

Weibo is by far China’s most popular microblogging platform, and has some 297 million monthly active users.

The researchers published a paper detailing their analysis of 13.2 billion blog posts on Weibo over a five year period, from 2009 to 2013. Read more…

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Writer-turned-politician amuses a nation in his quest to coin the world's shortest pangram

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Shashi Tharoor has a way with words. Be it the Oxford Union debate or his non-fiction prose, the former UN official and member of India’s parliament can certainly stimulate and provoke with words.

On Sunday afternoon, Tharoor chose a new playground: Facebook.

He took on the age-old pangram ‘The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog‘ (32 letters) and challenged it with a new, shorter one.  A pangram is a sentence that contains all 26 alphabets of the English language. 

Tharoor mentioned ‘Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs’, containing 31 letters, and ‘How quickly daft jumping zebras vex’, having 30 letters, oblivious to the fact that further shorter ones exist too.  Read more…

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