March 2017

GSMA
Sometimes it's interesting to compare wildly different business empires who employ similar business strategies, in this case, Facebook and Coca-Cola. During the great depression, cinemas started closing down, so they began to rethink their approach to profit, placing concession stands at front and centre. Since salty and sweet foods were already commonplace at cinemas by this time, Coke started encouraging cinemas to stock their products as well, and now, nearly a century later, Coke in cinemas is so commonplace that nobody questions it.

As the internet has evolved, websites requiring registration became more and more common, but registering used to be laborious, and less than trustworthy. Around this time, Facebook figured out that it was in their best interest to offer business a 'login gateway' tool which would allow users to sign up for online accounts using the credentials on their Facebook accounts, and then login at the push of a button. Now, Facebook Login is so commonplace that nobody questions it.

Being the first brand to get your name on what eventually becomes an invaluable resource is a hugely beneficial business strategy for those who are quick enough to read the signs, but even if you are the first ones to implement a good idea, there's always a danger that someone will find a way to take your idea and expand it into something better. In Facebook's case, that somebody could well be the minds behind Mobile Connect.

Services in India have began chirping about it this month, including companies as influential at Vodafone and Idea. With Mobile Connect, you don't need a Facebook account, or any kind of online details, you just need a phone number. That might sound flimsy, but the mobile carrier has to verify your identity each time you log in with it, so you have to be using your phone. If you do it on a computer, you receive an authentication code which you then have to use.

Simplicity is certainly guaranteed there, and it means that someone trying to access your accounts even from your computer won't be able to get in, as they would with Facebook Login. If someone actually has your phone, however, that's another matter. Mobile Connect accounts for this too, though, as in the launch nation of India it's compatible with AadHaar, their national biometric system.

One assumes that as the service spreads to other countries, biometrics will also be integrated, meaning that even if someone does have your phone, they won't be able to get on to any of your accounts. With every growing concerns about account security, this could end up being the next big thing.

The other concern people often have with Facebook Login is that they don't like sharing their Facebook info with third parties. Even they're only using it for login security, people keep a lot of information on Facebook and they have no way of actually knowing how much gets used, beyond what they're told. With Mobile Connect, it's just their phone number, they don't need access to anything else.

Facebook have never been ones to shy away from a challenge, but it depends on how much value they actually stake in Facebook Login. They might be content to let it die off, rather than wasting money and time fighting back against something which is more convenient. Equally though, if Mobile Connect can't gain ground fast enough, it might never break out of the Asian quadrant of the market it currently resides in.

BBC
When your career starts with founding one of the most popular social media platforms of all time, it can be hard to know where to go next. It would be fair to assume that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has his hands tied at the moment, considering the seemingly endless stream of user-generated controversy, site bugs and financial woes to contend with, but somehow, despite all this, he's found time to start a whole other business.

Said business is called Square, and it has absolutely nothing to do with Twitter. Square is setting out to make sure that you never again have to leave your driving license at a hairdressers as collateral while you run outside to find a cash machine. It does this by offering businesses card readers which can interface with phones and tablets, readers which only cost £39 each, and only take a 1.75% transaction fee.

Square isn't exactly the first business to do this, the Swedish iZettle was the first company to popularise the method, but Square takes a full 1% less off the top and all the profits from their transactions are promised to arrive in the bank account the very next day. With other readers it can take weeks.

This, coupled with the simple interface that doesn't require buying a new till, makes Square an attractive options which small, independent businesses will probably find a lot of appeal in. Square also has the advantage of $6.5 billion market cap, which is leagues ahead of iZettle or any of its other competitors. Dorsey's influence as one of the world's foremost CEOs probably did a lot to help this financial potency.

The question still remains though - why did Dorsey, of all people, decide to do this? Well, when he started Square, he had just relinquished his role as Twitter CEO to Evan Williams. Square actually launched in the US in 2010, before branching out to launch in Australia and Japan. By the time Dorsey retook his position as CEO in 2015, Square had filed for an IPO and already been valuing in the billions for 3 years.

That in mind, it's hardly surprising that he decided to juggle the two companies, and it seems like he's handling the divided time very well, but if Square continues to gain success, will he stay at Twitter? Short answer, yes, but if Twitter really falls on hard times, it's likely that Dorsey will view Square as something of an escape rope, or even something to focus his attention on while he lets others deal with Twitter's myriad of ongoing issues.

Global Dating Insights
If we've learned anything from Transformers, McGyver and the rise of the term 'life-hack', it's that stuff can be two things. Cars can be alien robots, various household objects can be repurposed as makeshift weaponry, worn out shoes can be really stupid looking flower pots and apps can also be online magazines.

Tech platforms branching into digital content is becoming something of a trend. LinkedIn did it, Snapchat did it and now Grindr are doing it. In their case, they've launched 'Into', an online magazine featuring news, opinion and lifestyle tips for the LGBTQ community. Some of the content will come from established writers and photographers, while the rest will be user generated.

This might seem like a perplexing leap to those who are only familiar with Grindr as an app, but the name has been evolving into a broader brand for a while now. There's a Grindr fashion line, an emoji keyboard and they've involved themselves in a series of outreach projects, including several about sexual health awareness and one which helped gay Syrian refugees find shelter.

Into is the latest venture down the road to helping Grindr rise above and beyond a mere dating app, which is probably just as well considering the rep its predominantly-heterosexual cousin Tinder has been shoring up over the past few years.

That being said, the Grindr app weathers plenty of its own criticism, with one of the main gripes being that it's far too glitchy and isn't updated often enough. Some users would apparently rather that the Grindr team invest more time and money in making the app work properly than in branching out, but you can't please everyone.

If you ask me, it's a positive step. Grindr's advantage over other LGBTQ dating apps is that it got there first, it has the largest user base. That's a very responsible position to be in, so seeing them make an effort to find new ways to connect the community is very encouraging.

Having user produced content is probably the most significant thing to come out of Into. Having a digital magazine which published a few op-eds and listicles about LGBTQ lifestyle would be one thing, but allowing the community to voice their views and express themselves through it is quite another. Into is still very much in the baby stage at the moment, with most of the content targeted at gay men, but keep an eye on it, it's going to start growing rapidly. 


CNN
The most recent update to the Facebook mobile app mainly just infected it with the same Snapchat yellow fever that Messenger came down with recently, but there was something else as well. On the nav bar, right next to the News Feed icon, some users have reported the appearance of a new one - a rocket.

This new icon has appeared with no warning and no fanfare, so what exactly is it? Well, according to users who have taken an immense leap of faith and actually tapped it, it's a news feed. That doesn't so much answer the question as raise further questions. Why do we need two different news feeds? How is this one different? Why a rocket? Where did I leave my car keys?

As it turns out, this appears to be another venture into the realm of alternative news feeds, and this one has a rather neat USP: the rocket feed (or launchpad or whatever they end up calling it) only shows you content from pages which you don't follow. The idea is to help you discover new content you wouldn't have seen otherwise, guiding you towards a more interesting Facebook experience.

Twitter

The content you see is chosen based on your activity, it's all stuff that Facebook thinks you might like. In that sense, it's basically a more condensed, dedicated version of those 'recommended' posts you'll see appearing sporadically on your regular news feed.

It's hard to know whether or not this is a positive step. On the one hand it's nice to see a place where the content you see isn't based on your likes and comments, or those of your friends, but on the other hand if all the content your seeing was selected based on, well, liking and commenting, then it's really just the same thing with a different label. Encouraging users to explore new things is all well and good, but interest measurement only gets you so far.

If they're putting serious effort into making the feature as sophisticated as it can be, then it could end up being every bit the haven it has the potential to be - a well curated feed of content which isn't influenced or muddied by the activity of other people on your friends list. The great paradox of Facebook has always been that it's only as interesting as the people you're connected with, so it will only be a viable source of content if you have a broad range of people on your friends list.

All Facebook have really said about the rocket feed is that it's a response to people's expressed desire to explore new content. It's obviously still being road tested, but it may end up getting more attention than any of Facebook's other recent additions, and that in turn could significantly influence the way the platform evolves. 


Guardian
Location marking is becoming an increasingly sought-after feature in the tech world. Facebook flirted with it with their check-in feature and now they've brought Messenger into the mix. On Monday, they added a feature which enables you to share you location live for up to an hour.

Judging from what Facebook's reps have been saying about it, the main aim is to allow people to indicate how far away they are from a meeting place, indicate that a meeting place has changed or anything else along those lines. You have to choose which friends you share your location with, and once that's done they can track you for the full 60 minutes.

This comes only a week after Google announced that they were adding a similar feature to Maps. Apple also have a similar service tied to their in-house messaging app. Facebook won't be able to edge out either of them as far as the location technology is concerned, but on the messaging side, they're miles ahead.

Being able to share your location with basically everyone you've ever met (and some people you haven't) could have a myriad of different uses beyond just making sure you're both going to the right pub. Say, for example, a friend messages you to say that they're in a dangerous situation and need you to come and help, if they can share their exact location for an hour, it could make all the difference.

Sharing your location is easy, all you have to do is select the location icon. On the mobile app, it's in the 'More' menu, which is indicated by a '...' icon. That will show you where you are on a map, and then you can press a button on the bottom of the screen to share, and again to stop sharing. A little countdown clock icon indicates how much time you have left. You may have to go into the app settings and turn location services on.

You can also share a static location, but that feature has been available for some time now. You can activate it from the same page, simply by pressing the 'send' button on the top corner of the screen. The Live Location update is officially out, but depending on where you are in the world, it might be a few days yet before it becomes available. 


Venture Beat
At this point it's just a given that Facebook are going to keep on stealing ideas from Snapchat, but you have to stop and ask yourself, why are they doing it so often? It's not just because Snapchat have more innovative ideas (although they do), but also because Facebook are trying to stop stem their ever-increasing growth in popularity.

Photo and video messaging are the two most significant formats in social media at the moment and Snapchat has them both locked. Rather than exploring other avenues, Facebook have been doing everything they can to interfere with Snapchat's success, up to and including rehashing every new idea they come out with and painting it blue.

The latest is the most bare-faced of them all. It's called Facebook Stories and it's Snapchat Stories with the name changed. It's being added to the top of the news feed on the mobile app alongside two new features: Facebook Camera and Facebook Direct. The first is an update to the way the in-app camera works (making it more like the Snapchat one), and the second is a direct messaging service that allows users to exchange the images and videos they take, just like on Snapchat.

If you're not following, the upshot is that shortly following their bid to turn Messenger into a Snapchat clone, and also the recent efforts to add Snapchat features to WhatsApp, Facebook have now turned their mobile app into a Snapchat clone. Oh and they did the same thing with Instagram too. We have connect four.

Here's the thing though, they aren't denying the fact that they're copying Snapchat. They would probably rather we used phrases like 'inspired by', but they aren't concerned about accusations of plagiarism negatively affecting their credibility. They want to edge Snapchat out of the market and they want to keep their users interested. The kind of people who would be riled by this behaviour aren't the people they're trying to appeal to.

Instagram Stories was successful, and continues to be. Messenger Day, despite annoying a small subset of users, is also going strong. Odds are, it'll be the same here. Whether or not Facebook can actually muscle Snapchat out of their own game remains to be seen, but given the direction Snap Inc are currently heading in, and the dedicated nature of social media users, it's unlikely they will.

That doesn't really matter though. Ultimately what Facebook really want to do is remain relevant. They've outlasted every other social media platform in history because they've managed to stay on the right side of innovation. What was MySpace doing while all its users were flocking to Facebook? Trying to turn itself into a music label. If Facebook need to steal ideas to keep up with the new upstarts, that's what they'll do.

Tumblr
It seems like Google always have a host of Schrodinger's apps on the go, most of which turned out to be dead when the box finally gets opened, but it's still interesting to examine them while they're in development, especially the ones which have a bit more of a social media leaning.

Google have a poor history with social media. Basically every platform they've ever released under their own name has gone belly up, usually within the first year or two, and many of the social media-esque bells and whistles they've added to more established services like Gmail have been left to gather dust. YouTube is still the best social media enterprise they have going and all they did with that was sign a morbidly obese cheque while the getting was still good.

Their latest venture is an as yet unnamed social photo editing app. If that phrase is unfamiliar/just a confusing mass of buzzwords, allow me to clarify: a social photo editing app allows people to add photos to mutually shared albums, edit them and and arrange them. It's kind of a mixture of Snapchat, Instagram and 'Path', the increasingly popular service which lets you share content in private circles.

Being able to pick out exactly who sees your content is a growing trend in social media, which is kind of ironic given that back in the days of MySpace and Bebo, that's more or less how it worked by default. Mutual photo albums are also pretty hot property right now, something Facebook have already picked up on.

According to reports, Google are planning on applying their impressive image recognition and categorising technology to the concept, as well as their muscular photo uploading tool. If they do throw their weight behind this mystery app (timing suggests that they're planning to announce it proper at I/O next month), they'll be in direct competition with not only Path, but also Apple.

Apple have been working on a similar concept for a while now - an app called Clips - which is actually due to launch in April. Clips is more about being able to edit images and share them across multiple platforms, but it demonstrates that Apple are veering that direction too.

Google's biggest problem with social media platforms in the past has always been a lack of innovation. Even when their past ventures have had USPs, they haven't been distinct or interesting enough to prompt users to migrate over from elsewhere. Basing it around image searching, uploading and recognition is a smart play, a play to one of their biggest strengths.

Utah People's Post
The GIF library in Messenger is probably the best thing Facebook have introduced in the last 5 years. I do not exaggerate, tailored content, daily nostalgia blasts and 360 live video streams are all well and good, but being able to react to shocking news with a GIF of Arnold Schwarzenegger freaking out in Total Recall is nothing short of majestic.

It's been theorised that GIFs are set to overtake emojis in usage, and it's understandable, they offer a far broader spectrum of emotions that a library of yellow, earless faces. Facebook are clearly aware of that, as evidence now suggests that they will soon be allowing users to use the GIF library in comments as well.

On Friday, Facebook confirmed that they will be tested out the feature from this week onwards. It's not clear whether this means that they're testing the feature out in an enclosed environment, or letting a small subset of the users play around with. What they have said is that this is more of a 'see if it works' test than a 'see if people like it' test, so it's far from a dead certainty that the feature will be introduced in full.

If it is, the system will likely be more or less identical to the one in Messenger - a library of GIFs sourced from Giphy and beyond, probably the exact some one. That's far from a bad thing, said library wasn't exactly limited when it was first introduced but it's vast almost beyond comprehension now. I've found some GIFs from astoundingly obscure sources in the past, and finding the right keywords is an art unto itself.

If I were a gambling man, I'd put money on this feature seeing the light of day. Facebook probably announced the test partly to see what the public response was like once the news started circulating. It's only been a few days since the announcement but people are already pretty hyped, so provided the tests go well, keep an eye out for further developments.

iMore
For many journalists, brands, promoters and other people with social media reliant jobs, TweetDeck is an invaluable resource. The app has been around for 6 years, and its popularity has remained consistent all that time, but Twitter rarely do anything to change it, or even address the fact that it actually exists.

Now, Twitter have not only acknowledged that it does indeed exist, but that there might be room in the world for a beefier version of it. Some professional (or 'power') users reported that they'd been sent a survey asking them what they would like to see in a subscription based 'premium' version of the app, and shortly thereafter, some leaked images showed a kind of prototype for this new gold standard version.

Twitter haven't officially said anything about it yet, beyond that the fact that they're gathering data, and they haven't actually started building anything in earnest yet, but now that it's out, they'll probably look to kick things into higher gear. Given that TweetDeck is primarily used by companies, rather than individual people, it's kind of surprising that it's taken them six years to even consider doing this. It's a whole new revenue stream just waiting to be exploited.

So what exactly would a premium version of TweetDeck bring to bear? Well, details are purely speculative at this point, but it's been suggested that the premium version could include trend and activity analysis tools, a more sophisticated, custom dashboard and the removal of ads. All pretty standard stuff, but for users who are trying to get the most extensive experience out of TweetDeck that it's possible to get, all of these factors combined could make a big difference.

Generally, TweetDeck is used to keep an eye on trends and news data, manage activity across multiple accounts, keep track of follower engagement data and so forth. It wouldn't be a stretch to imagine that Twitter could extend that experience, allowing users to dive deeper into the data, and do more with it. With Twitter's revenue experiencing a bit of a downturn at the moment, this could make a big difference.

Stuff.co.nz
Normally if you hear 'Instagram' and 'censorship' in the same sentence it also contains the word 'mishandled', but refreshingly this time it's not a story about them taking down a photo of Michelangelo's David, or getting punked by legions of photoshop savvy women. No no, this time the images aren't being taken down, they're being blurred.

Any images or videos deemed 'sensitive' will now appear as a big blur until the user taps the post, indicating that they are indeed interested in whatever salacious content might be lurking on the other side. That makes sense, and it's certainly less controversial than removing the content entirely, but while the method may have changed, the fundamental issue remains the same: what counts as sensitive content?

You can roll off a few of the more obvious ones - nudity, drug use, nudity, violence, nudity, potentially disturbing or upsetting images, and nudity - but the issue has never been which types of images and videos are sensitive, but the ones within those categories that fall into a grey area. A photo of a naked man versus a statue of a naked man, for example.

It seems like what Instagram are really doing here is admitting to the fact that their systems will mistakenly flag content as inappropriate from time to time, but now it won't be taken down. It's them compromising. You can follow the logic; this is a far easier solution than taking their entire system of censorship back to the drawing board, but here's the kicker - content doesn't necessarily have to flout community guidelines to get blurred.

Instagram

This new system works as much through user flagging as anything else. If somebody sees something which they deem to be sensitive, it gets turned over to an evaluation team, and they decide where or not it gets the sensitive stamp. Obviously if content really brazenly defies the community guidelines, it'll get removed, but anything shy of that will just get blurred out.

It's a smart move on Instagram's part, and it might well spare them a lot of future criticism for repeating old mistakes, but you never really know how a feature like this is going to play to the crowd until it's out and it's had a few months to settle. Loopholes are common, and exploitation of them often follows. Some users could find that all their images and videos are being flagged because the system is too loose, and one of their followers has decided to make life difficult for them, for example. We'll just have to wait and see.

HowStuffWorks
YouTube are having a time of it at the moment. Mere days after being accused of having homophobic censorship policies, their parent company is being boycotted, and in a big way. It's one thing when you're the subject of a public boycott, but what about when it's Verizon, Johnson & Johnson, Enterprise, AT&T and GlaxoSmithKline?

All five of these major firms and several others have pulled their advertising from YouTube after a report by The Times revealed that, alongside several other companies, their ads had appeared in videos containing extremist content and hate speech. One way of looking at this is that, for a while, these companies were profiting from terrorism.

Naturally, they weren't happy about this, and now companies are pulling their ads from not only YouTube, but Google as a whole. To quell the storm, Google have apologised, and updated brand tools so that advertisers have more control over where their ads appear, but neither action seems to have done much to stem the ire.

This is a huge hit for Google, as Verizon and AT&T are 2 of the most prominent advertisers in the US, and since the report originally came from a UK paper, more and more British-based companies are pulling out. This is causing a domino effect of epic proportions which could seriously harm Google's ad revenue. I can only imagine what the scene must look like at their California headquarters at the moment. People are probably swearing a bit more than they usually do.

Pretty much every company has released a statement explaining they're all more or less the same, simply stating that the company doesn't want to be in any way affiliated with that kind of content, and that they'll only start advertising on YouTube again once the issue has been resolved.

This is actually a big ask. If YouTube are struggling to find and flag extremist and hateful content, it's not going to be any easier to make sure that advertising doesn't appear on it. The best approach will probably be to place heavier restrictions on where ads can appear in general, but this could have the adverse effect of limiting the reach of advertising to the point where other companies get annoyed with them. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Given the options though, tightening restrictions on which videos can host ads is probably the better bet. If they make their content restrictions too severe, they'll run into the same issue Facebook has been tangling with - banning perfectly acceptable content because the algorithms have flagged something by accident. YouTube is about the publishers, first and foremost, and it's more important to keep them happy than the advertisers, but make no mistake, YouTube will probably never be the same again after this.

Flickr
It's that time of the year again - Twitter have released their most recent transparency report, covering activity from July 1st to December 31st of last year. Perhaps the most striking revelation is that, in that short time, they have shut down 376,890 accounts owing to "violations related to promotion of terrorism".

That means that more than 636,000 accounts have been closed on the grounds of terrorist suspicion since August 2015. Figuring out the exact percent margins is somewhat beyond my mathematical ability, but if you figure that they closed around 260,000 accounts between August 2015 and July 2016, and then 377,000 in the subsequent 6 months, you can see what an epic increase that is.

As impressive as that is, it still leads you to wonder just how many more terrorist accounts are lurking on the platform, and whether Twitter have even really made a dent. In order to get even this far with it, they have had to develop a host of new identification tools, and dedicate a whole team of investigators to the task.

The good news is that the more accounts they flag, the better Twitter get at finding them. Every shuttered account undergoes a kind of autopsy, picking out characteristics which are then added to the evidence list given to the AI watchdogs. The longer that list gets, the easier it becomes to identify terrorist promotion.

Any further detail on how these AI systems work is shrouded in mystery. For reasons which should be fairly obvious, Twitter don't like to talk about it, nor about how they stop the accounts they shutter from rejoining under new credentials.

This is becoming an ever more serious issue. Earlier this week, the self-proclaimed 'Islamic State' took credit for yet another act - the attack in Westminster. Several officials have cited social media recruitment as a key cause for the recent increase in terrorist attacks. Last year, Twitter, Facebook, Google and others all attended a summit where they met representatives from the US and France to discuss how to better deal with this issue. It seems like Twitter are currently getting the most done.

Kurt Eichenwald (via The Daily Kos)
No, you're not misreading that. On December 16th, the Wikipedia page for Vanity Fair journalist Kurt Eichenwald was altered to state that he had died on that date. One day previously, Eichenwald had been sent a DM on Twitter which contained a GIF of a flashing strobe lighting effect. Echenwald suffers from epilepsy, and the GIF was sent with the intent of causing a fatal seizure.

You can rub your eyes all you want, you're still not misreading it. The perpetrator, a man named John Rayne Rivello, was found to have sent several tweets and DMs which expressed his desire to kill Eichenwald. One in particular read "Spammed this at [Eichenwald] let's see if he dies."

Eichenwald did indeed suffer a seizure when he opened the message, and he could well have died from it. So, why try to kill someone using a GIF? Donald Trump, obviously.

Even before he started gunning for a seat in the Oval office, Eichenwald was writing about Donald Trump, and most of it was a far cry from praise. In December, Vanity Fair published an extremely scathing article about Trump Grill, prompting the man himself to declare the magazine 'dead'. Eichenwald didn't write the article, but he still weathered a barrage of online criticism for it, leading ultimately to this bizarre, haphazard assassination attempt.

Whether or not Rivello actually expected the GIF to harm or kill Eichenwald, the Texas Grand Jury have now ruled the use of the GIF as deadly force. He might have gotten away with it if he hadn't repeatedly stated that he not only wanted his target to seize, but even hoped that he would die from it.


This raises some worrying observations. Rivello clearly has a few screws loose. Sorry, I'm being too lenient, Rivello is a moron, but if someone were to enact the same thing without blatantly admitting that they were doing so, it could amount to getting away with murder. Epilepsy is one of a very few serious conditions which is triggered by visual stimuli, but it's far from uncommon. Internet abuse is getting more creative, and this is not only not the first time this has happened; it's not even the first time it's happened to Eichenwald.

Last October somebody tried the same thing on him, but luckily he dropped his iPad before the flashing image could take effect. Eichenwald probably now holds the record for 'most murder attempts by GIF', but this is the first one to develop into such a large, complex court case. Depending on how things go, this case could bring about a whole new series of regulations for posting GIFs which may cause seizures. Some time in the future they could even be banned outright on some platforms.

LinkedIn Blog
It's hard to regard the social media race as, well, a race. Companies will try and best each other on different fronts, but as a whole, each one has a very different set of goals, to the point where none of them are directly competing. For LinkedIn at the moment, it's mainly about ensuring that their almost half-billion users stay interested.

While LinkedIn is the only viable job-hunting social media platform on the market, they have historically struggled to maintain a solid core of active users. For many people, it makes more sense to just completely disconnect job hunting and networking from the social media experience, and LinkedIn doesn't seem to offer much of a reason to rethink that ethos.

One of LinkedIn's earliest ploys to keep people on the platform was the in-house content - articles written and shared on LinkedIn and nowhere else, but now the allure of that is wearing off, and they've introduced something else - Trending Storylines. These are essentially clouds of related news stories, sourced both from outside and inside of LinkedIn. It's launching first in the US only, with just three categories to choose from - tech, finance and healthcare.

Rather than being arranged by algorithm, Trending Storylines will be curated by 24 living, breathing people. Machine learning gets involved after that, but only for rearranging the clusters depending on which users are viewing them - so basically no two people viewing the same cluster will necessarily see the same thing, it will depend on what they like, post and comment on in their daily activity.

LinkedIn have been trying to make content more personalised since they picked up the Pulse app back in 2013, and recently they completely revamped their desktop website, so this was likely in the works even before that, intended to follow shortly after the new coat of paint.

As well as lumping relevant topics together, new hashtags allow you to bounce between the different Storylines depending on which aspect of them you're most interested in. This bunny-hopping effect could make LinkedIn a far more viable platform for news browsing, which addresses their most significant problem - the amount of time people actually spend on there.

WeRSM
Of all the social media platforms, Instagram is arguably the biggest popularity contests. The most prominent celebrities all love it, and even casual users sometimes treat it like a ladder, littering every post with all the hottest hashtags to make sure it reaches the broadest audience it can.

As a result, a lot of the platform's original charm has been siphoned away, as striking, interesting photography has yielded to half-heartedly polished snaps of brunch plates and overexposed hiking photos which have stupid things like #lustforlife sitting underneath them. Now there's a whole new phase to this popularity arms race - 'pods'.

Pods are groups of like-minded Instagram users who all agree to like each other's posts in a bid to boost engagement. For instance, a group of travel-minded users might set up a pod and then start liking each other's pictures. There's a term I think very accurately describes this but it's a tad rude, so I'll just say it relates to a particular two-dimensional shape and a traditional Jamaican method of meat preparation.

This seems to have happened in the wake of Instagram ditching their old, chronological feed in favour of an algorithmically-based one. Since that change came into effect, many users have complained that they aren't seeing the same numbers on their posts anymore. By creating pods, it seems that they're hoping to push their content further up the feed. It would be an admirable feat of co-operation if it wasn't for such a pointless goal.

Interestingly, each pod seems to have its own rulebook, which dictates what people should say in the comments, when to share the posts, which hashtags to use, which users to tag and so forth. It's still too early to say how effective all this will actually be, but given how seriously users seem to be taking it, and how Instagram's algorithms function, the smart money says it's going to be very effective indeed.

Well, effective for users, but brands will likely be none too happy if pods really take off. Instagram promotion relies on solid data and genuine engagement, rather than boosting. The likes gained from pods are only meant to give posts that first leg up, granted, but the moment that happens, the stats aren't trustworthy anymore.

Overthinking It
Next month, Facebook are reveal four brand new products at a public event next month, and one of them is something called a 'brain computer interface'. Now, it's hard to say exactly what that means beyond the most literal interpretation (don't all computers interface with brains, really?) but previous statements made by Mark Zuckerberg about the prospect of computer-aided telepathy suggest that this may be some kind of mind-reading machine.

Now, we don't know anything for sure, but the description, twinned with all the talk about Facebook's developmental projects suggests that, at the very least, this will be some kind of rudimentary demonstration of thought control. Medical technology is already capable of detecting and categorising various changes in thought patterns, so it isn't a stretch in terms of plausibility, what's hard to understand is how Facebook have been able to turn that technology into a consumer product.

Of course, it's somewhat redundant to speculate about that until we actually get a look at the Brain Computer Interface. Alongside this, three other products are going to be unveiled - a drone, some kind of augmented reality interface and something medical. All we know about the latter product is that prominent cardiologist has been working on it. I don't even want to hazard a guess as what that could be. Maybe measures how your heart rate changes while you're waiting for a reply on Messenger.

Facebook have been interested in hardware development for years, but unless you count the Oculus Rift, there isn't any Facebook product on the market yet, as such. The fact that Snap Inc. have come out with the Spectacles and are now reportedly building a drone of their own may have something to do with it.

Still, tech rivalries aside, it's an exciting notion. If Facebook have been incubating some kind of mind-reading device, this could be a massive leap forward, but given that they're normally about as leaky as a sieve that's been involved in a drive-by shooting, I feel like we would have heard something by now. Whatever it turns out to be, it'll be interesting to see what the first wave of Facebook hardware actually looks like. Roll on April.

Al Jazeera
Who is most directly to blame for hate speech? Well, the people saying it, obviously, but many would argue that it's the platforms on which such speech is spread that should take the most responsibility. Edmund Burke once said "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing". It would be somewhat extreme to class hate speech and fake news as evil, and Facebook and Twitter certainly aren't doing nothing, but they aren't doing anywhere near enough in the eyes of many.

The German government certainly seem to hold that stance. They're currently hammering out a law which could see both platforms being hit with fines of up to 50 million euros if they don't remove hateful or deceitful content within 24 hours. While there's certainly no guarantee that this bill will end up getting approved, the very fact that it's in the works sends a strong message.

Hate speech is illegal almost everywhere in the world, as is libel, but recognising it and policing it aren't easy on platforms which are being used by such vast numbers of people. Both Facebook and Twitter rely on algorithms to help them do this, and time and time again these algorithms have proven to be ineffectual.

The other side of the argument is that Facebook and Twitter are just information hubs, and they aren't directly responsible for examining the quality of everything which gets posted. The fundamental flaw with that argument is that both platforms are designed to allow content to reach as far as it possibly can. If you stand in the middle of a town square with a box of megaphones, and then somebody takes one and starts screeching racist slurs through it, you can't really stand there and pretend it isn't at least a little bit your fault.

This proposal will probably upset people. Neither Facebook nor Twitter will have much nice to say about it, even they even bother making public statements, and brace yourself for the term 'free speech' to start flying around like dung in a chimpanzee enclosure. This is what happens when the primary sources of media don't take direct responsibility for the content which they broadcast. Newspapers might have an abhorrent amount of bias in their history, but at least you actually had to be a journalist to write in one.

Of course, any standardised system of moderation simply won't work, there are just too many people, but since automated systems aren't working either, what's the solution? It's a tough one, but at the moment the best answer seems to be making the current system more sophisticated. Fake news is probably the easier of the two to deal with, mainly because there's less of it, but also because fabricated articles are easier to discredit than somebody going on a massive homophobic tirade in a comment section.

With developments in AI, significant progress and still be made, and who knows, with the looming threat of a fat bill every time hate speech goes unaddressed, that development could be fast tracked. Even if it is, though, more stringent moderation is probably just a stopgap on the way towards a real solution.

Tubefilter
Unbeknownst to many users, YouTube actually has a 'restricted mode'. It's a version of the YouTube experience which filters out content that might be inappropriate under some circumstances. Typically it's used by parents, schools and anyone else who might want to keep children from seeing anything which may upset/disturb/corrupt them.

Last Thursday, a vlogger named Rowan Ellis posted a video which pointed out that pretty much all of her videos which even remotely mention LGBT issues aren't visible when viewing YouTube in restricted mode, and that several other publishers had reported the same issue. The issue she highlights is that LGBT content relating to relationships is guarded from children whereas the same kind of content relating to straight people is fine.


In the wake of this, a few different hashtags started trending on Twitter over the weekend, and before long a dark cloud was hovering over YouTube, threatening to burst. More and more publishers began to notice the same issue, but no link could be found between the flagging of the content and any kind of explicit or inappropriate material. The only constant was that they all mentioned the LGBT community in some way.

YouTube have since come forward with a statement. It states that LGBT content is perfectly allowed within restricted mode, but videos which discuss sensitive issues may still be flagged. Now, 'sensitive issues' is a fairly broad umbrella term, and the system YouTube uses relies on user flagging, age limits and few other parameters.

It would be alarmist to suggest that YouTube has some kind of homophobic agenda, but even when you take the most plausible line of enquiry - that this is just a terrible mistake - you have to wonder how it was ever allowed to happen. The most likely explanation is that one or several key words were linked with inappropriate content, and that then bled over into all the other LGBT content.

In the video, Ellis points out that it's difficult enough for LGBT kids to find support as it is, but if huge swathes of videos which may help are being locked off by YouTube, it'll be that much harder. Even if YouTube never fully explain how this happened, it's an issue which desperately needs to be rectified. For many, YouTube can provide a great deal of support, it can be an advice centre for how to deal with all manner of personal issues. This is just as important for kids as it is for everyone else.

Everyday Interaction
In a somewhat late bid to pick up some momentum in the live-streaming race, Twitter have made an interesting move - they've opened their API up so that publishers can stream live video on Twitter whenever they want, just like on Facebook. Formerly, publishers had to make a partnership deal with Twitter if they wanted to do this.

The real question is, if live streaming directly through Twitter is about to become a thing, what's going to happen to Periscope? After all the fighting and Meerkat stomping Twitter did to get it off the ground, it does seem like something of a waste to render it obsolete like this, but if the removal of Vine proved anything, it's that they aren't exactly sentimental about their old ventures.

Facebook Live has demonstrated that it's far better to keep all your services on brand than treating them as individual microcosms. Those in the know will be able to recognise the connection between Twitter and Periscope, but others may not.

Even if Twitter do manage to create a serviceable live streaming component, they're running a race which is already half-finished. Facebook are very much leading the charge, while YouTube have carved out their own niche in the market, and dedicated live streaming services like Twitch continue to expand into other avenues. It's hard to know exactly what would attract users to streaming on Twitter over any of those other options.

News reports will probably find the most value in it, as Twitter is already such a popular source for breaking news. That may not be enough purely by itself, but given that Facebook are looking away from media outlets and more towards actual TV style content, the tidal shift may actually end up helping Twitter out. If they set their trajectory more towards newscasting and user generated content, they may find a niche of their own - the one Facebook dropped like shed weight so they could chase after Snapchat.

Homing in on more live events, like they have with the Oscars and Super Bowl in the past, would also be a wise move. The main thing they need to do is make sure that their streaming service is functional, intuitive and fun to use. If they get that down, the late entry might not put them at such a disadvantage.

The London Economic
If I say the words 'Russian Diplomatic Online Club' to you, where does your mind go? Somewhere pretty nefarious, right? Well in truth it's a system wherein users give the Russian Embassy in London access to their Twitter accounts, so they can use them to further broadcast the ambassador's most important tweets.

It's not an uncommon practice - posting the same content across multiple Twitter accounts to boost the signal - businesses do it all the time - but when it starts getting rolled out for political influence things start to get murky. Boosting a tweet is one thing, creating the illusion of widespread support is quite another.

Participants (or club members, if you like) are given incentives like a regular news letter and entry into prize draws, as well as entry to "a special reception at the Ambassador's London residence". I wonder if your access to the hors d'oeuvres increases depending on how many followers your have...

The Russian government are known to be keen on using Twitter bots to bolster their social media presence, so in that sense a move like this isn't all that surprising. According to reports, a lot of the accounts in the 'club' were bots anyway, with nothing else showing on their accounts apart from the ambassador's tweets.

Real life users still get to use their twitter as normal, it just means that every now and again the Embassy's social media team will log in and tweet for them. While it's risky enough giving anyone else access to your social media accounts, it's particularly risky now, as many higher profile Twitter accounts have been hacked even in the last few months, and hackers will often target sources who have the login details for multiple accounts. There are also likely plenty of hackers out there with a vested interest in making the Russian government look bad.

Russia have already been involved in one bizarre incident in UK politics this year, when some of their bots suddenly started attacking UKIP. If the Russian ambassador suddenly decides he has some strong opinions about the British government, it will raise some very interesting questions.

NDTV Gadgets
It seems like Facebook have finally reached the limit of their Snapchat plagiarism streak. After stealing ideas from the photo sharing app on more than a dozen separate occasions, they have revised one of their most recent WhatsApp features following a storm of criticism.

The most recent update to WhatsApp status updates turned them into Snapchat Stories in everything but name. Every Snapchat-lifted idea Facebook have brought in has been met with criticism but this one weathered a particularly vehement backlash. The backlash didn't just come from the Snapchat similarity though, users just flat out didn't like the new feature.

They're not getting rid of the option to post image-based statuses, but you can now set your availability status in the 'About Me' section of the app, as before. It seems that users were in fact far more interested in practicality than they were in current trends. Funny, that.

While all this has been going on, the equally Snapchat-esque 'Messenger Day' has been taking even more flack. The one saving grace of WhatsApp's Stories clone is that it's easy to avoid, and now with the backtrack the one feature it got in the way of has been restored. Messenger Day has been jammed right into the middle of the app's functionality. Hell, it's only been out for a matter of days and I've already accidentally gone into camera mode more times than I can count.

It's a wise move on Facebook's part to reinsert the feature which people really want, and it would be lovely to think that they will now stop trying to lift aspects of Snapchat and insert them into their own platforms, but they won't. They may stop doing it for a little while, mostly because at this point there really isn't much left to steal, but they'll be back at it the moment they find another way to shoehorn advertising in some unfortunate nook where it really doesn't belong.

The Independant
So, it looks like I was had. Earlier this week I covered (and got pretty irate about) an upcoming app which claimed to let you find anyone's Facebook profile by taking their picture and doing a kind of reverse image search. I was far from the only person to be taken in by this hoax, and it turns out that the people behind it were trying to make the same point as all the critics.

Well, it might have been, or it might have been a marketing firm grasping for their 15 minutes. It was Mashable who managed to uncover the hoax. Following on from the leading story in the Telegraph, they tried to get in touch with Facezam's alleged CEO Jack Kenyon, but after they sent over a few basic legal queries, he vanished.

Not only that, but no Google searches could uncover any information about him, and the website and Twitter page for the company were both suspiciously sparse. Add to that the fact that Facebook said they'd never given any permissions of any kind to Facezam (something which I admittedly knew at the time of writing) and the picture starts to come together. Their domain name was even registered anonymously.

Eventually, Kenyon (or whatever his real name is) spilled the beans, revealing that they had planned to admit it was a hoax on the app's launch date (March 21st) but the reaction had been so disproportionately massive that they had put a rush on things. Facebook, and the wider world, can rest easy.

Of course, this kind of thing does happen for real. Google ran into some difficulty with it when NameTag tried to turn Google Glass into a stalker's paradise, and another app called FindFace still exists, although that one uses image data from VKonkakte - Russia's largest national social network.

Nobody in their right mind would ever disagree that 'ending anonymity' is a good idea, and thanks to the Facezam prank now a lot more people are thinking it. More to the point, Facebook, Microsoft, Google and others have all been developing far more accurate facial recognition software, and the more that technology develops, the easier it will be to do exactly what Facezam claimed to be doing. It's yet another demonstration of the fact that we need to show tech developers what we do and do not want, rather than letting them decide for us.

CNN
In what may well be a groundbreaking new approach to weather reporting, NBC have been using drones to keep track of the massive snow storm which has been blighting the east coast of the United States this week. The storm has led to hundreds of flights being cancelled and traffic in many areas being brought to a grinding halt.

To report it accurately (and by-the-minute), NBC have been sending in drones to shoot aerial footage of the storm, and feeding the footage back directly via Facebook Live. Said broadcasts have been twinned with live updates about traffic conditions, local weather warnings and more. Given that NBC have almost 1 million followers on Facebook, this is a very clever and responsible way to utilise live-streaming.

Their network weatherman has also reported from Central Park using Facebook Live to bring further updates on the storm situation. This could be an interesting example of what's to come for news reporting. There's no reason why live reporting shouldn't be able to transfer from TV to social media, and the cumulative amount of time spent on platforms like Facebook is rivalling TV in a big way.

More to the point, if something is being reported on your feed, you're far more likely to see it than if you're hopping between television channels, unless it's a breaking story, and even then it has to be something very serious to warrant an interruption of the regular schedule. Up-to-the-minute weather reporting is a perfect example of something which can only benefit from Facebook Live.

Using drones for it is kind of a no-brainer, they serve the same purpose as helicopters in this context but they're more cost effective, safer and easier to send somewhere in a short amount of time. The applications for this kind of video reporting stretch far beyond blizzards and traffic jams, but it's certainly a start. In a few years, news services may start making a mass migration towards live-streaming services, and early examples like this only add weight to that claim.

Wired
Some people make a point of staying in touch with their local governmental representatives, always knowing what's going on, which policies are being brought in, suggesting ideas for changes to the local area, all that jazz. Those people are like unicorns with phoenix blood, you'll meet perhaps 5 of them in your lifetime, if you're lucky. Really and truly, we should all have some level of involvement with our local governments, but it just doesn't happen.

One of the points Mark Zuckerberg made in his massive 6,000 word behemoth of an open letter was that we should all be more 'civically engaged', or at least that's where he hopes Facebook is headed. It makes sense; Facebook enables people to be more directly connected with everyone from local establishments to law enforcement to buskers, so why not local government? You could argue that an open line of communication with the people who represent you in congress/parliament is more important than any of those.

On some level, you can't skirt around the fact that Zuckerberg is accounting for the ongoing accusations that Facebook is basically ruining politics, but he has a point. A point which has now been put into practise in the form of 'Town Hall', the latest in a drip feed of shiny new Facebook features. It can be found in the 'More' menu on the mobile app, and it basically enables users to connect with government representatives locally, as well as in their home state and nationally.

I say 'home state' because it hasn't migrated beyond the US yet, but the system it uses could easily be applied to other countries: you put in your address, and Facebook generates a list of your reps, who you can then follow. The lists being given to US users are fairly comprehensive, running all the way from local councillors and senators to Trump himself, but it still relies on the people in question actually having a presence on Facebook. If your town mayor doesn't have a Facebook page, they won't appear on the list.

Beyond just following them, you can also contact them directly, although obviously the practicality of that wanes the further up the tree you go. It's one thing to have a direct line of communication with your nearest congressman, but sending a Facebook message to Mike Pence might be a bit of a fool's errand. It also depends on how much contact information the person actually displays on their Facebook page, of course.

The thing is though, now that this feature is active, government officials might be encouraged to start using Facebook more actively just to have a more consistent line of communication with the people. On the other side, when you go onto Town Hall you're actually shown which of your friends are already connecting with officials, so in a similar vein to the 'I voted' trope they rolled out a couple of years ago, the service might act as a kind of well-meaning peer pressure.

Finally, the service can also alert you to local elections in your area, if you want it to, a significant benefit which could end up being a big draw. Of all the new features Facebook has bolted on in recent weeks, this is the most promising. So much of Facebook activity is passive now, but encouraging people to actively engage with local governments could make a huge difference to the platform's relationship with political activity, which is currently on some pretty taught tenterhooks.

The Artifice
Happn is now one of the most popular dating apps on the market, mostly thanks to the premise - it pings whenever you walk past someone else who has it. Some may argue that it's a creepy premise, but in this day and age, it seems like we've all been culturally desensitised to the very concept of creepy. With Facebook becoming ever more invasive, that shouldn't come as much of a surprise, but even with that in mind, Facezam is crossing the line.

Apart from stealing the name of another app and reworking it with about as much imagination as Michael Bay's pet rock, it operates on a disturbing basis: the idea that people want to Facebook stalk complete strangers. Here's how it works - you take a photo of someone (presumably without them noticing), and then the app matches it up with photos on Facebook until the actual subject is found. If you're feeling the need to find a pillow to scream into now, that's fairly normal.

The founder of the app has claimed that it will end 'anonymous societies', as if anonymity was this awful thing that doesn't help anyone. I don't know about you but I don't mind not knowing who the vast majority of people in the world are, but do you know what I like even more? Not being photographed and having my Facebook profile dredged up by someone I was sitting opposite on the tube.

Telegraph
Supposedly the app has already been tested using 10,000 images and it achieved 70% accuracy, so if nothing else you can be certain that this isn't some kind of half-baked project. Or a social commentary. In any case, thanks to some policy tightening on Facebook's part, the app may not make the March 21st release date.

Any app which pulls user data can't be released without expressed permission from Facebook, and apparently Facezam doesn't have it yet. Given that it's only within a week of launch that this is coming up, something tells me that the Facezam team knew it was going to be a point of contention.

In fact, Facezam are claiming that their app doesn't violate Facebook's policies in any way, and moreover that the app could be useful as a countermeasure against crime. Because obviously if you're developing a crime fighting tool you're going to make it available to everyone and market it as an end to anonymity. Paging Mr. Orwell.

As if it wasn't obvious, the key issue here is that people aren't given the option to exclude themselves from this app. If you're on Facebook, it can probably find you, and you'll have no way of knowing if someone else has used it on you. At least until you get a friend request from someone with a clearly made-up name, a lazy eye, an penchant for trench-coats and an extensive collection of pictures of people's feet.

Comfortingly, other app developers have tried this kind of thing before and almost always failed to make it past the platform providing the actual database. In 2013, Google banned the use of facial recognition for Glass, largely as a response to the failed launch of NameTag, another face-scanning app, also blocked by Facebook. The real question is, how many developers will attempt this before one of them finds some sort of workaround? Put it this way, swapping out all my Facebook photos for pictures of various cacti is suddenly seeming a lot more attractive.

Eventbrite
Parties, protests, raves, concerts... Picking stuff up from Tesco's? Yup, the latest in a string of bizarre Facebook trends is to make up silly, arbitrary Facebook events and then sharing them to everyone, and I mean everyone in the Gary Oldman sense. In this case, it seems to have been sourced by the British teenaged crowd, who are either trying to make a point, or just killing time.

As well as creating deliberately pointless events, they're also marking themselves attending on small-scale events which they have no intention (or way) of attending. You could interpret this as a dig at anyone who forgot to make their event private, but now it's grown far beyond that, with the aim of the game seemingly being making events which sound as plausible as possible, 'Year 10 Parents Evening', for example.

This seems to have taken root in Norwich, but now everyone's getting in on it. In one amusing case, an event titled "Gonna jump down to tesco for cans. want anything?" has amassed over 7,000 attendants, with many of them actually taking the time to ask for things. Thus far the event's organiser has taken note of "1,560 bags of amber leaf, 603 packs of sweets, 460 Cornettos, 376 packs of skins, 147 gallons of Dutch Gold, 80 bottles of bleach, 28 packs of filters,18 packs of frozen chips, a tin of beans, pack of sausages, 2 tiger loaves, and a lighter"

Facebook
It takes advantage of Facebook's ridiculously bloated news sharing system, wherein basically any and all friend activity ends up your news feed. One friend checks 'attending' or even 'interested' on one of these events, hundreds more see it, and if even a fraction of those people do the same, well you get the idea. It's like a kind of wordless, bizarre and somewhat sarcastic Chinese whispers.

Interestingly, some of the events being earmarked by this teen crowd are legitimately interesting. In one case, a seminar on how to grow edible mushrooms picked up a few thousand. Jury's out on how this will actually affect the event's publicity.

You could argue that this is actually undermining proper events by making the organisation process more difficult. I mean, it's probably a great deal harder to co-ordinate the discussion board for a meet-and-greet for over 55s when there's a battalion of teenagers chirping about how 'lit' is definitely isn't going to be. Put that aside though, and it's still pretty funny. We'll just have to see if it annoys the Facebook populous enough to get them clamouring for a policy change for events.

iDownloadBlog
Video sharing is pretty much the Texas tea of the tech world at the moment. Facebook are busy copying Snapchat (to the point where Messenger has basically become a clone of it), Twitter spent most of last year attempting to consolidate the live-streaming race and platforms like Twitch are fast becoming major social media contenders above and beyond their original intended purposes.

Google have played around with a few different video sharing tools over the past few years, but none have really caught on. Uptime may well be the one to change that. Developed by some minds from Area 120, Google's 'start-up incubator', the app allows you to share videos with your friends.

Pretty standard fare, right? Well, there's more. While you're watching a video, a little profile icon at the top shows this, as well as anybody else who might be watching at the same time you are. While the video is playing, you can fire off emojis in real time, showing how you're 'reacting' to the video, in a very similar (read: identical) fashion to Facebook Live.

It goes further though, your comments will also appear in the same way, making the whole thing almost seem like a real time chatroom. At the moment, you can't actually create video content, you can only share YouTube clips, but presumably the capability for recording video (and live-streaming) is on the way. At present, it's also invite-only, and exclusively on iOS.

For this reason, you won't find many other people using it yet, and even those who are aren't easy to find. The 'Find Friends' function is just for inviting new people and there's no apparent way to seek out a specific user yet, you're left to rely on the suggested friends the app offers you.

Gaps like this are too gaping and too obvious to be functionality flaws, though. Since the app is available in such a limited capacity, this is probably tantamount to a beta test, and once Google have some meaningful data to play-around with, the app will be expanded and made more widely available.

Is Uptime's USP enough to make it stand out from the crowd, though? The easier answer is no, there's nothing here that's interesting enough to draw users away from Snapchat, but being able to link your Google account may be a key factor. If Google market this as a counterpart to YouTube, it could well enjoy a surprising amount of success, but if they neglect this link, I can see Uptime ending up as a fun distraction at best, and a failed experiment at worst.

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