May 2017

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Pinterest's Lens has been described as a kind of 'Shazam for objects'. If you're unsure of the make or identity of an item, take a photo, and Pinterest will conduct a reverse image search to find out what it is. That's already impressive, but now they've extended the feature to make it capable of something downright mind-blowing. You can now use it to search for the ingredients and recipes in meals.

Let me give you a real world example: you're in a restaurant, eating a meal you're really enjoying and you'd like to find out how to make it yourself, so you snap a picture of the meal, resist the urge to load up Instagram and stick it on Pinterest instead. The Lens search will then bring up a list of various recipes for that dish from different sources.

While it's not exactly difficult to just look at the menu again and Google it when you get home, the impressiveness of this feature doesn't step from it being convenient, it's more the fact that from a single photo of a plate, it can recognise what you're eating and immediately show you how to make it yourself.

It was already possible to point the camera at specific ingredients to find recipe suggestions, but this takes that notion even further. To bolster this, Pinterest have also improved their search filters for recipe searching, so when you're actively looking for dishes featuring a particular combination of ingredients, you can be a lot more specific, including parameters like cooking time and dietary needs.

Pinterest is fast becoming one of the most useful culinary tools online, which is a big statement, and a strong indication of how rapidly the platform is transforming. Because Lens Camera is based on a deep learning system, and because Pinterest are also working to help it recognise even low res images, this is just the beginning.


Snapchat's parent company looks set to take to the skies, judging by new reports that they've acquired Ctrl Me Robotics. The LA-based drone manufacturers were on the way out when Snap swooped in with a deal that cost them less than one million dollars. It's an important move for a firm whose greatest success derives from an app focused on photographic content.

The deal in question is more of an acquihire, with Ctrl Me founder Simon Saito Nielsen reported to have been added to Snap's payroll, alongside the procurement of some company assets and equipment. While Ctrl Me have never actually manufactured their own drones, instead acting as a specialised retailer that customised other company's products and software, their union with Snap could still mean big things for the social media giant. Having Nielsen's experience and knowledge at their disposal would give them the opportunity to develop their own drone, or to design software and attachments for others to use. Either way, it would get their foot in the door.

Although Snap have yet to comment on these new reports, their acquisition of Ctrl Me doesn't come as a surprise. Their previous interest in now-defunct Lily Robotics last year shows that their interest in this branch of hardware is genuine. With drone photography already a popular presence on social media, they'd be wise to get involved with it given their branding as a "camera company".

This wouldn't be the first time that Snap moved into the production of hardware. Last year, they announced their new Spectacles, a pair of smartglasses that allow wearers to film videos and upload them to Snapchat. The venture wasn't hugely successful and failed to generate much in the way of revenue, leaving them back at square one with their hardware manufacturing.

The increasing popularity of drones certainly gives more hope to Snap's chances of success with this project, especially because Snapchat can't always be relied on to generate a consistent profit. Their advertising presence is constantly in competition against bigger companies like Facebook and Google, meaning a second source of revenue would prove beneficial.

Of course, they may have some work to do when it comes to attracting sales to their future endeavours. The main demographic for their mobile app is millenials, whereas the average drone customer is generally found in an older age bracket. They would have an opportunity to bridge the gap between the two, but while Snapchat excels in maintaining a younger clientele thanks to it's convenience and ease of use, drones are designed more for precision photography than on-the-go selfies.

Where Snap hopes to find its unique selling point by acquiring access to drones is yet to be seen, but given the continued success of Snapchat, the potential available to them is far-reaching. In a few years time, they might have reinvented what it means to take a #selfie.

Digital Trends
While Facebook field complaints about fake news and inappropriate content here in the West, they're dealing with a plethora of other comparable issues elsewhere in the world. Every national government seems to have their own idea of what constitutes inappropriate content, and many of them are putting Facebook under ever greater pressure to dance to their tune. One particular nation is giving them a great deal of trouble at the moment: Myanmar.

Since the regime change, internet usage in the recently renamed nation has been blossoming, and Facebook has reaped the benefits - there are now more than 10 million users in Myanmar. With that growth has come a huge influx of new content for them to govern, and that's where things have been difficult.

In particular, they've found that many Burmese posts have contained derogatory complaints and statements about the Rohingya. The Rohingya are a native, largely Muslim group who have languished under ever-increasing persecution. In 2015, thousands of them fled to neighbouring nations but those who remained have been subjected to a military crackdown so brutal that some are beginning to refer to it as genocide.

This hatred has been fuelled by racist propaganda, some of which has been spreading on Facebook. The company have been trying to pinpoint and blacklist certain terms in order to combat this, but in so doing they've also blocked posts with words which even vaguely relate to the blacklisted ones. As a result, a great deal of perfectly innocent content has been taken down.

One of the most significant criticisms against Facebook has been that it's given a platform to extremists. Fake news is one thing, but hate speech can be used as a recruitment tool, and places like Myanmar which are already so rife with mass violence are particularly susceptible. Facebook moved into Myanmar very quickly in a bid to secure an emerging market, but they did so without considering the damage that a large scale social media platform could do during times of conflict, it would seem.

Meanwhile, in the Philippines, Facebook have been employing young people as content moderators on a massive scale, and at very low wages. This not only undercuts their apparent faith in using machine learning to deal with the issue, but demonstrates a lack of concern for fair pay. This juxtaposition of corner cutting and wavering control is beginning to seriously compromise Facebook's integrity.

Klood Digital
Instagram Direct has always been a bit of a spartan messaging service. Messaging certainly wasn't a core feature of Instagram in the past, and it kind of became one by accident, as the platform gradually morphed from a photo journal to an all-encompassing social network, complete with bloggers, trolls and a whole new lexicon of weird millennial nomenclature.

Direct messaging has become something of an art unto itself, not dissimilar to the messaging service you get on Twitter, but it's always been somewhat limited. Photos always carried over in the same default aspect ratio, regardless of what the original one might have been, but more importantly, it didn't allow users to post hyperlinks to external web pages.

Instagram have now rectified both of these issues - photos will now appear in their original aspect ratio and external links will appear in messages just like they do in other services like Messenger - the recipient will be able to see a little page preview before hitting the link. Currently both these updates are coming available on iOS on a rolling basis, with an Android release not far behind.

It's somewhat surprising that Instagram have taken this long to implement hyperlinks, since the DM service has been increasing in popularity rapidly. At present, it's one of the most popular messaging services on the planet, sporting 375 million monthly active users.

A big part of its popularity is due to the fact that Instagram users interact with different people on Instagram than they do on Facebook. While friends will follow and message each other, inner circles of like-minded individuals spring up on the platform all the time, making the need for an intuitive messaging service all the more understandable. Also worth considering is the fact that direct messaging has been a part of the Snapchat framework from the get-go.

In fact, the last time Instagram revamped their DM service, it was to add ephemeral photo and video content to messages. Better aspect ratios and hyperlink compatibility are both more sensible additions that this, but make no mistake, the DM service was introduced to help Instagram strengthen its lead against Snapchat, and that prerogative hasn't changed.

Instagram Blog
By now we're all familiar with Instagram's Story feature, and how it awkwardly beat Snapchat at it's own game, and as expected, both apps are bringing updates to set themselves apart from each other. Instagram stories are where you add photos, videos or artsy Boomerangs to your own personal reel, available to view for 24 hours, with a pen tool, location and time tags as well as fun stickers. They've now expanded the Story feature to introduce Hashtag and Location Stories through Story Search, announced last week.

The whole idea of hashtag and location Stories is to "help you find stories related to your interests." as Instagram's blog says in a post announcing the new features. For example if you want to know what's going on in the rest if your city, search for your location on Explore and view the story. Or for hashtag Stories, search for a hashtag of interest and you'll find other's posts who've also used that hashtag; find fellow #foodies for cooking or baking inspiration etc. etc.

As well as viewing location or hashtag stories, you can of course add select to them by putting location or hashtag stickers onto your photo, video or Boomerang. Instagram's blog post continues in explaining that "If your story is added, you’ll see a line at the top of your stories viewer list showing how many people saw it in the larger story." making you feel a little famous if thousands of people view it, pretty cool huh?

Privacy options are obviously added too; you can opt out too if you'd rather keep your Story for your followers only, you can click the X next to the relevant story on your Story viewer list, as shown below.

Instagram Blog

While Hashtag Stories seems pretty unique, Location stories is comparable to Snapchat's Geotag filters, Live Stories and Our Stories; curated Stories by a number of users showcasing current events around the world or in certain locations, depending what kind of thing is featured.

This is raising thoughts of the on-going copy-cat nature of the platforms, recognizing the tweaked replica's of features - it leads me to think all apps will be the same soon, and social media users will end up using just one of them - the last standing; kind of like the Hunger Games...

Location Stories are available now on iOS and Android on the 10.22 version of Instagram, and Hashtag Stories are said to roll out onto the platform in the coming weeks. What are your thoughts on the new feature?

Facebook
Remember Instant Articles? With other recent developments taken into account, Facebook's push to create a neat, tidy journalistic sub-platform seems like a distant memory, but they still have faith in it. One of the biggest issues Instant Articles has faced is that both Google AMP and Apple News get vastly superior exposure. In the former case, this is thanks to Google's prevalence as a search engine and in the latter, Apple's ability to govern which news sources appear first on iOS formats.

Facebook have decided to deal with this by making Instant Articles compatible with both of these competitors. Essentially, if you put content on Instant Articles, Facebook's SDK will automatically reformat the style so that it can be shared on Google AMP and Apple News instantly. Once you've done this once, it will work in the same way every time.

It's an interesting move, since on the one hand it demonstrates Facebook's awareness that they're losing this particular fight, but on the other, they're actually moving to undermine the success of Google and Apple by making Instant Articles the most malleable style editor available. If publishers are only using Google AMP and Apple News as an extension of Instant Articles, Facebook win.

The biggest issue Instant Articles has faced in trying to compete with Apple and Google is that its appeal has come at odds with the way Facebook itself has been developing. Post boosting has been lambasted as a con, video content has superseded written content and the structure of their trending algorithms has changed like the seasons. For these reasons, many publishers have opted to abandon Instant Articles entirely.

Facebook are hoping that this metamorphosis will bring publishers back and allow them to claw back some territory in the fierce battle for content control. In reality, it will probably only allow Instant Articles to hobble on, still living but unable to overtake either of its gargantuan rivals. If Facebook ever hope to really stand against other platforms in written content dominance, they'll have to reconsider their obsession with video.

Imzy
On the face of it, creating a social network built around kindness was a laudable concept. Certainly, when Imzy was first launched a little under a year ago, there was a swell of interest. It was set up by a small group of former Reddit staffers who were fed up with the culture of abuse that continues to bubble beneath social media culture. To counteract it, they built a platform with a set of rules which essentially made it near-impossible to be abusive.

Seemingly, it had been doing rather well, sporting tens of thousands of users split across thousands of separate communities, but those figures didn't translate into financial growth, it would seem, and now the young platform is shutting down for good. Seems like there just weren't enough people interested in a social network built around kindness.

Imzy had largely been financed by a crowd-funding campaign which raised an impressive $11 million, and apparently there's still a substantial amount left, but founders Dan McComas and Jessica Moreno wanted to shut the platform down while they were still in the black. That suggests that they're working on something new - putting the remaining funding to practical use. That, or they're keeping the money for themselves, but given that they set out to make a social network where people could be nice to each other, I doubt that massive online theft is really their bag.

Everyone who signed up to use the service, some of whom have been with it since the beginning, can at least rest easy knowing that their data has been protected. In his closing statement, McComas included a link that users can use to request their personal data. Additionally, the community board has stayed open, allowing the grieving user base to console each other and eulogise the service properly.

It's a real shame, the principle of a social network acting as a refuge against trolls holds a lot of water, and Imzy was always meant to be a small-scale community, but they just didn't have the capital to support that structure. Hopefully whatever McComas and Moreno are working on next will carry on Imzy's spirit, but for now, rest in peace, we hardly knew ye.

iPhoneHacker
A new battalion is about to be added to the ever-growing emoji army. The Unicode 10.0 release is coming within the next month or two, and it will bring with it 239 brand new emoji, including 56 never before seen characters. All of these new micro-faces are already freely available on Twitter.

Some of the symbols being added to the already extensive roster include an exploding head, a merperson, a vampire, a woman breastfeeding, a fortune cookie, a t-rex, a zebra and even, bizarrely, 'Person in Steamy Room'. It's safe to say that people are going to have plenty more reasons never to speak to each other using actual words ever again.

Many of these new additions lend themselves almost perfectly to Twitter, especially the exploding head, the shushing face and the face with symbols - which is meant to denote an angry person swearing. I speak only for myself, but I think Twitter could benefit from a bit more levity and bit less swearing, and this is coming from a lifelong fan of swearing.

Perhaps most notably, the 'woman with headscarf' emoji is in amongst the new people symbols being added to the list. Said emoji was originally requested by a girl from Saudi Arabia, and its addition was considered something of a watershed moment for online culture, so it's nice to see that it's out there in the world even before the 10.0 release, and what better place to promote equality than Twitter.

For some reason a pretty substantial chunk of the update is populated by fantasy characters like witches, wizards and vampires. If this is also a bid to improve equality then either somebody at Unicode has been playing too much WoW or they know something that we don't. Besides this, several pre-existing emoji have also had minor aesthetic tweaks.

After Twitter, Facebook will be the next platform to receive the emoji, and after that they're set to appear in Google's next Android update, but the fact that Twitter got them first is encouraging, and likely gave their active user figures a boost. Emoji are likely on the forefront of many people's minds at the moment with the movie coming out soon. If this is your first time hearing about the existence of an emoji movie, I am deeply sorry.

As the various major social media platforms continue to push the merits of chatbots to businesses and end-users alike, albeit largely unconvincingly, additional tools are beginning to emerge designed to facilitate the sharing of such bots. This is the case with Twitter's latest addition of 'Direct Message Cards' - fully customisable cards created specifically for the promotion of chatbots within direct messages.


Img: TechCrunch
The cards can be customised using either an image or a video, with up to four call-to-action buttons below. These buttons direct the user into an interaction with the bot contained within the direct messaging feature. However unlike the vast majority of bots, those used on Twitter's platform aren't aimed at providing customer service or encouraging the user to make a purchase; the messaging experience offered by these bots is designed to encourage interaction in a way that provides fun rather than expense.

Following the conclusion of the interaction, users can then be prompted to re-share the bot at the press of a button, further enhancing their reach.

However, given the decidedly-frosty early reception to the vast majority of bots to be released to date, it still remains to be seen whether the addition of dedicated cards will actually encourage further use of the service. When Facebook first began its foray into the world of bots, the vast majority of users found them more annoying than useful, and they soon fell out of favour. With Twitter's focus falling more on the entertainment side of things rather than promotional, they may be better received, but the negative association many already have in regards to chatbots may deter them still.

It could nonetheless be an important move for Twitter, who have famously struggled to bring in advertising revenue for quite a while now. If they can encourage businesses to pay for the promotion of these cards in order to foster a less formal relationship with their customers, it may just be their saving grace.

The new 'Direct Message Cards' are currently in the beta stage, and at the time of writing are only available to advertisers.

Tubefilter
Facebook are making their first big push towards outfitting their service with TV-like content. Several companies have inked deals with them to produce long and short form serial content which will be broadcast through the platform. The two biggest names are Vox and BuzzFeed, but ATTN, Group Nine Media and several others have reportedly also come to terms.

Apparently, the shows will be split between 20-30 minute scripted shows and 5-10 minute unscripted shows. Facebook will own the former, but not the latter. Presumably that means that the regulations surrounding the shorter content are different, but all the details revealed so far have come from an anonymous source, so everything is purely speculative.

What we do know is that Facebook will be paying up to $250,000 per episode for longer shows and $35,000 per episode for shorter ones, which means that we can expect fairly unspectacular, low budget content, at least at first. Most high-end TV costs at least $1 million per episode, with the most expensive show currently running being Game of Thrones, which runs at upwards of $10 million per episode.

It would be ridiculous for Facebook to shoot for such lofty heights straight out of the gate, but at those kinds of costs there are a number of things you can almost guarantee you won't be seeing - recognisable actors, lots of locations, special effects or anything particularly action-packed. Most of these shows will probably be largely dialogue driven, and shot in a small set of locations, possibly studio sets. Sitcom logic, essentially.

Since Facebook are approaching BuzzFeed, Vox, Group Nine and other more journalistic firms, the odds are that the shows being made will be topical, and likely have a lot of roots in internet culture. BuzzFeed already have a very active YouTube channel, which they use to give their writers the chance to put their faces on something. Most of their content is sketches and parodies.

The motivation behind all this is ad revenue. Now that Facebook can place ad interrupts in their videos (even ones which run at under 2 minutes), they're finding ways to get as much video content on the platform as they can. Will any of it be worth watching? Probably not, but if even one show gets some traction, they might start courting bigger studios and offering more funding. Just don't expect any dragons to show up for a while.

Wired
News bias is still one of the biggest issues Facebook are contending with. For a while, it seemed like they were content to leave the issue unaddressed and carry on waving the 'tailored content' flag, but in recent months they've taken steps to try and break out of that cycle. They recently tested out the rocket icon to allow users to look at content from pages they don't follow, and now Trending Topics is getting a new coat of paint.

On the desktop, you will now be able to see a range of different articles by different publishers on each topic, rather than just one. On mobile, the three top trending topics will appear perpetually at the top of the News Feed, rather than only showing up when you search for something. This will mean that mobile users are always aware of the top trending stories, rather than having to actively seek them out.

Facebook

Once you select a trending topic, the different articles will be presented to you in a carousel, rather than a drop down list, making the whole experience a bit more active and intuitive than just a list of hyperlinks to different publications. A second carousel of relevant videos also appears at the bottom, and the background of the page is directly related to the topic.

Facebook have said that the carousels aren't personalised in any way, everyone gets the same list of publications. This opens up a certain risk of users seeing more contrary content than they normally would have, depending on the subject, but some might argue that that's actually a good thing, since it increases the chance of users engaging with content that they don't actually agree with.

Of course, there's contrary and then there's biased content, and Facebook haven't put any information forward about how exactly the top sources are selected. In some circumstances, this could lead to biased, misleading, sensationalist or, dare I say it, fake stories making it onto the carousel. Facebook have been very carefully refitting their algorithms to deal with this kind of thing, but it might not be enough.

This is the second time Facebook have shifted the spotlight away from singular publishers and towards topics. Last month they introduced the ability to follow topics, opening up a range of content from different publishers about the same kinds of stories. Mark Zuckerberg and others have repeatedly argued that Facebook doesn't actually have an 'echo chamber' issue, but updates like these certainly don't support that claim. In either case, expect more 'topic-driven' features to appear on Facebook soon enough.


Social media has a long and complex history with ugly concepts such as hate speech and online abuse. There are some dark depths to the World Wide Web, and platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have a knack for shining a light on them. Twitter has long struggled to find an effective method of tackling the spread of such content, while Facebook's algorithm-led approach seems to garner nothing but criticism. Well, it seems the EU has finally had enough, as ministers of the European Union approved on Tuesday proposals which would force social media companies to take a more hands-on approach to combating the presence of such negative themes in video content.

The proposals still need to be agreed on by the European Parliament before becoming official law, but EU lawmakers have been pushing for stricter regulation of such platforms for some time now, so I doubt they'll provide much of a roadblock. If given the final nod, the proposal will require social media companies to take measures to block videos containing hate speech, incitement to hatred, or content justifying terrorism.

The proposals do take into account the value that video content provides to news reports and the like, which many people source through social media platforms, but argue that tougher regulations are needed in regards to the exact content of said videos. One measure includes requiring the establishment of mechanisms which allow users to flag offending content, which many of the larger companies already do, albeit in a not-entirely-effective manner.

“We need to take into account new ways of watching videos, and find the right balance to encourage innovative services, promote European films, protect children and tackle hate speech in a better way,” said Andrus Ansip, EU Commission Vice-President for the digital single market.

To proposals however only cover videos which are stored in the platform's archives, and do not extend to live-streaming services such as Facebook Live. This is likely due to the fact that authorities frankly seem to have no idea as to how to effectively screen such content. This is somewhat worrying in itself, given the number of high-profile controversies to appear on Facebook Live since its launch.

As part of the plans, member states can also require video-sharing platforms to make financial contributions to the production of European works in the country in which they were established or their target audience resides.

Refinery 29
Pinterest are taking their initiative to break away from the social networking flock very seriously. Every recent update has placed them further away from counterparts like Facebook and further into the realm of the search engine, with the endgame being that Pinterest becomes the deepest image search engine on the internet. A lofty goal, to be sure, but not impossible.

Now they've made the leap into the paid marketing world by hiring a media agency - Giant Spoon - to help promote them as such. Previously, Giant Spoon have worked with HP, Google, Lego, NBC and a number of other different companies on media initiatives, but this new Pinterest deal is seemingly unlike anything they've ever done before. They're helping to drive business growth, which is certainly their bailiwick, but they're also helping a company transition from an established guise to a whole new one.

Pinterest have been working round the clock to help move this along, adding and removing features with the aim of keeping the soul the same whilst reshaping the skeleton. The 'like' button is gone, and recently they added in the ability to photograph an object and then search the platform for similar looking items. With the impressive (and ever growing) depth of their photographic archive, supplied by more than 175 million users, features like this are only going to continue emerging.

As well as drafting their first media partner, Pinterest are also growing their video advertising arm. Video ads are going to start appearing on the home screen soon, as well as the user search result page. Pinterest have only been selling video ad space since last August but that side of the company's advertising is growing rapidly. In this sense, especially given the introduction of autoplay, they're still very much comparable to Facebook and Twitter, but since they're locking down a completely different market, it's an understandable trend to mimic.

What's all this leading up to? An IPO release, by the looks of things. Pinterest staffers have said as much, and the company are aiming for an internal revenue total in excess of $500 million this year, so even with all these big, encouraging steps, they have their work cut out. Before they can even think about an IPO, they will have to have shown prospective investors (and basically the whole world) that they're not a social media platform anymore.

Medium
For some, the hunt for likes, comments and re-grams is the heart and soul of Instagram, so much so that a post which gets no attention ends up getting erased. What if happens though if you decide shortly thereafter that you actually wanted to keep the offending image? Up until recently, it wasn't an option, and if you didn't have the original image stored in your photo library, it was gone for good.

To deal with this, Instagram have introduced a new 'archive' feature, allowing users to hide their images from the public. While archived, they can be privately viewed and/or republished at any time. They can be accessed via a clock icon on the top right of the home screen. The actual archiving is done using a small '...' icon under the post in question.

There are a number of benefits to this feature. Aside from curtailing the impulse deleting issue, it also enables you to store images you might want to post later on Instagram without having to keep the original on your phone/tablet, which saves data. From Instagram's point of view, it means that users have stronger ties to the service - if you have as yet unpublished content stored on their service, you'll be less likely to abandon ship.

Being able to hide posts will also hopefully alter the way people approach the service. Instagram want their users to post more content more often, and the security of knowing that posts can be hidden and tweaked at any given moment could well yield that result. It will also mean that if users get jaded with the whole Instagram experience, they can effectively take a sabbatical from it and return later with all their content intact.

As you might expect, this feature does indeed bear more than a passing resemblance to one of Snapchat's. In Snapchat, the Memories function enables you to view your photos and videos privately, rather than uploading them publicly. It's somewhat different but the guiding principle is similar. In any case, even if Instagram aren't directly ripping off Snapchat with this, it certainly won't hurt their goal of reaching and ultimately eclipsing their audience.

Facebook
Few things about sex and Facebook go hand in hand, unless you have some fairly outlandish fetishes. Certainly most people wouldn't turn to the blue behemoth if they were in search of ways to get better at it, declaring such a need in a status update would be entirely unhelpful and extremely unwise if you're even remotely sensitive to being made fun of. Just about the only way Facebook could be used to solicit advice on sex would be privately, via Messenger, but who to speak to?

Of all the things people ask their friends for advice about, sex doesn't tend to be one of them, but what if Messenger had its very own sex therapist? Well now it does, but there's a catch - it's a chatbot. Lovely Bot was developed by a tech startup previously for a performance tracking sex toy called Lovely. Lovely Bot, meanwhile, was developed with the help of sex therapist Dr. Agate Loewe, and it's here to answer all those difficult, perhaps embarrassing questions.

It's aimed squarely at people who are in relationships, and once you engage in a conversation with it, it will ask you a number of questions about how satisfied you are with the relationship, and when it picks up areas which need improvement, it will offer advice. You don't have to say much at first, most of the questions Lovely Bot poses have 'yes', 'no' and 'maybe' style answers, but it kind of works like a flow chart, eventually (hopefully) leading to some applicable help.

Of course, it's still a chatbot, it doesn't know you, per se. Something like this is no substitute for real, professional help, but it may steer you in the right direction. The couples likely to get the most out of it are probably those who haven't been together all that long and are just looking to improve their experience together, rather than long-term couples who've hit a roadblock.

That being said, Lovely Bot is still learning, and the developers are working towards allowing the app to link couples up with actual sex therapists, should it be necessary. They're also figuring out how to integrate it with the Lovely device, so that the tips it provides can take some basis from 'performance data'. Just to give you an idea of what that means, the Lovely is essentially a FitBit that you wear down below. Something tells me that most couples are going to draw the line at that.


Twitter are making a substantial push at present to secure their position as an industry leader in live video streaming. They've made various moves into the field with deals with the likes of the NFL, a deal which amusingly doesn't actually allow them to stream any games. Now, in an effort to better compete with the behemoths that are Facebook and YouTube, Twitter this week announced their hiring of the former global head of Video Distribution and Partnerships at Bloomberg, a man by the name of Todd Swidler, to head up their Live Business arm.

The announcement was made in a tweet from Twitter COO Anthony Noto on Monday evening.


Venturing into live video seems like a natural move for Twitter, famed as it is as a source of to-the-minute news and updates. Supplementing this with video will only enhance the user experience. Its wide use as an advertising platform also fits into this new strategy, a crucial point as far as Twitter is concerned as they strive to get more companies using such media for promotional means, thereby increasing their own revenue. However, for the push to be a real success, finding a way to successfully monetize the Live Business arm will be of utmost importance to the company; a facet of the business which they have very publicly struggled with in the past.

The task of monetizing Live Business, among others, will fall to Swidler, whose job it is to oversee the business side of the company's live video efforts. This will include working with the product, marketing, sales, and content partnerships schemes to find the best approach to success in their latest venture.

For now, we can only wait and see if Swidler's extensive experience proves valuable to Twitter's efforts to dominate the live video market.

ICIJ
Matthew Caruana Galizia is nothing if not an accomplished journalist and investigator. His previous accomplishments include helping to blow the lid off of the World Bank's attempt to evict poor Tanzanian residents from their land so it could be cultivated, and the revealing of the infamous 'Panama Papers', which placed a number of political and public figures in hot water over tax dodging and embezzlement.

More recently, he seems to have been looking into allegations of corruption in the Maltese government, paying particular attention to their current prime minister - Joseph Muscat. Earlier this month, Galizia published a series of posts on Facebook laying out the evidence for said corruption, and a few days after that, he suddenly found that he'd been locked out of his Facebook account.

Galizia posted the story on Facebook in the hopes of giving it a wider reach, as he hadn't seen anything about it reported in major papers. Not long after the posts were published, Muscat actually threatened to sue Galizia for libel, but there's nothing to suggest that he or the Maltese government had anything to do with his account being hacked. Regardless of why it happened, though, it's certainly unsettling.

The posts were never taken down, as such, and they've actually drummed up a huge audience response in the time that they've been up, but Galizia is still locked out of his account at time of writing. Facebook are characterising it as a mistake, which they're looking into. In the mean time, they've granted Galizia the means to carry on posting content until the issue is resolved.

Facebook have been fielding a lot of criticism for the way they handle content moderation, especially in the wake of The Guardian posting a list of some of their policies, and this probably won't help. The fact that Galizia's account was blocked shortly following these posts could be an unfortunate coincidence, or it could be the result of mass reporting on his account. It's hard to say at this stage, but it's another striking example of the holes in Facebook's security system.


We've previously looked at Facebook's features which allow food-ordering, like Domino's Messenger Ordering system, and they've now made it easier to order your favourite take-away. Ever scroll through you News Feed and come across one of those artsy food-making videos, making you instantly want to eat all of the things?

Now, it's easier than ever to feed your cravings for that triple-cheese pizza (or whatever mouthwater-watering concoction that video demonstrated) by ordering from local outlets within the Facebook app; imagine if Just-Eat and/or Deliveroo had a baby with Facebook...this new feature is kind of the result.

The new 'Order Food' buttons have started to appear on the platform - both on the app and website - as a convenient way to order food from nearby food outlets. Like other food ordering apps and websites, the feature lists your options, as well as giving you the option to filter outlets by price, type of cuisine and ratings from previous customers.

You select your restaurant, choose your food and pay all within Facebook; there's no redirecting which can be a nuisance and often cause apps to crash etc.

The feature, powered by Slice or Delivery.com, who both partnered with Facebook last year, shows an 'Order Food' button, with a blue burger icon on mobile and a multi-coloured one on desktop.

TechCrunch
Facebook has allowed users to order food on the app before, but only through the food retailer's official page, and this new feature brings convenience being right in-front of you when scrolling through your news feed. Facebook are hoping this new feature gets used more than the previous, slightly-more-effort version of it.


'Order Food' is currently only available to a 'select few users' in the U.S., as the Independent reports, however it may expand to other parts or countries depending on it's popularity. So, will you be deleting all of your other takeaway apps and just sticking to your favourite social network to do it all for you? 


RTE
Facebook's moderation and censorship policies have been the subject of much debate in recent months. Whether it's their failure to curtail the fake news behemoth, the spate of violent and disturbing content which has circulated via Facebook Live or the numerous instances in which they've taken down perfectly innocent, or even educational content, it's done their credibility absolutely no favours.

Past controversy pales in comparison to this latest development. Over the weekend, The Guardian obtained and published a list of guidelines Facebook use in the moderation handbook, as part of a wider investigation into the platform's ethics. You can read the full list here, but here are a few of the most worrying highlights:

"Remarks such as “Someone shoot Trump” should be deleted, because as a head of state he is in a protected category. But it can be permissible to say: “To snap a b***’s neck, make sure to apply all your pressure to the middle of her throat”, or “f*** off and die” because they are not regarded as credible threats."

"Some photos of non-sexual physical abuse and bullying of children do not have to be deleted or “actioned” unless there is a sadistic or celebratory element."

"Facebook will allow people to livestream attempts to self-harm because it “doesn’t want to censor or punish people in distress”."

Alongside the other information about Facebook's lenience towards animal cruelty and revenge porn, it paints a rather upsetting picture. Seemingly the platform has an almost zero tolerance attitude towards nudity (up to and including 'digital art') but is more than happy to let violent content circulate freely, with their only concession being to mark the worst stuff as 'disturbing'. As you might expect, these revelations are making people angry.

There were already calls going out for the platform to allow for independent regulation and they're even louder now. Facebook's only real response has been a reiteration of the fact that they're bringing on 3,000 more moderators over the coming months, and that they're still looking at ways to improve their machine learning technology to improve moderation. That response is a far cry from encouraging, given how many prior moderation issues have been down to the AI watchdogs either missing or mistakenly flagging content.

Now we know that Facebook have drawn grey areas in moderation categories that are pretty much black and white. It's hard to see any circumstance in which a video showing child abuse would be in any way admissible, but Facebook don't want to take that risk for fear of their global sharing figures taking a hit, it would seem.

The tepid response seems to suggest that Facebook have no plans to alter their policies, which makes the whole thing even more disturbing, as it demonstrates that Facebook are more concerned with protecting their own interests than recanting regulations which not only acknowledge that cruel and disturbing content is being shared on their platform, but actively allowing it to continue.

UX Planet
Do you find yourself irritated with the tedium of having to check each individual app for new notifications? Well, it seems that Facebook have headed your jaded groans, as they've started quietly rolling out an upgrade to their main app which allows users to view notifications from Facebook, Messenger and Instagram all at once.

With this feature in effect, you'll only have to open one app to check your notifications on all of them, saving you the trouble of switching back and forth between them when you have no intention of uploading or posting anything. It also means that if you're actively using the Facebook app and somebody comments on one of your Instagram photos, you'll be able to see that without having to stop what you were doing. What a time to be alive.

Here's how it works - the icon in the top corner shows your profile image, where before it linked you out to Messenger. The usual cathartic little red number bubble appears over the top of the icon when you have notifications, and tapping it will pull up a menu of all your profiles, showing how many notifications you have in each one. Tapping those will then link you out to your various different accounts.

Reports have suggested that the 'notification hub' has also popped up on Messenger and Instagram for some users, though it's turning up much more frequently on Facebook. It's kind of a no-brainer, Facebook, Messenger and Instagram serve very different purposes, but if you're checking one you're probably at least thinking about checking the other two. Synergising the whole experience not only makes this process easier, but it saves time.

Of course, there is one other platform which hasn't been included in this feature - WhatsApp - but given the way the messaging service functions, it will probably remain separate. Facebook are trying to blur the lines between their three main services to give people a kind of all-encompassing social media experience, which is interesting given that, even a few years ago, they were more than happy for Facebook and Instagram to behave as totally separate entities.

The rise of social media, for all the good it has done, has also brought with it its fair share of issues. In the age of oversharing, children and young adults are facing mounting pressures, struggling against the rise of anxiety, body image issues, and the cowardly act of cyber-bullying. In an effort to counteract this damaging trend, a new initiative designed to help children cope with the mounting pressures of growing up in the digital age officially launched in a ceremony held in Nottinghamshire this past Friday.

Freedom Factory, founded by Stacey Green and Laura Grant, aims to utilise music in the battle against the detrimental aspects of the social media generation. They idea arose after the pair became increasingly aware of just how much pressure social media sites can place on children.


Laura Grant & Stacey Green, co-founders of Freedom Factory   - Img: Nottingham Post
Co-founder Stacey Green, who currently runs Freedom Dance and Performance, said of the new initiative, “Between us we have three daughters and two sons, and we've seen what they face with the acceleration of social media and 'selfie' culture.

“Anxieties, disorders, bullying and depression are becoming the norm as they and their friends spent hours online on apps like Instagram and Snapchat.

“Social media is an influence unlike anything we've ever seen before. It's left youngsters concerned about body image, wanting to be accepted, yearning to be 'liked' and led to online bullying from sometimes faceless trolls.”

Then pair hope that the services offered by Freedom Factory will help those youngsters who attend to grow in confidence and appreciate their own talents and virtues, rather than desperately seeking validation online.

Laura Grant, the initiative's other co-founder who currently serves as head of fundraising at domestic abuse charity Equation, said of the initiative and its goals, “Any sort of art is a great environment for people to explore emotions and challenges through.

“I think, particularly with the impact of social media over the past few years, that we've seen children and young people questioning themselves, who they should be and how they should dress, constantly looking at themselves and comparing themselves.

“It was something we really felt could enable children to have a forum to challenge that and think it's okay to be different, you don't have to be like anyone else.”

Eleven schools have signed up to Freedom Factory at the time of writing. From September, Freedom Factory will run sessions at all registered schools, training children in all aspects of the music industry in the hope of granting them the confidence needed to rise above the negative potential of the social media age.

Marketing Land
Social media seems to be sitting in the same space cigarettes were occupying about 65 years ago. While Facebook obviously won't give you cancer, the mental health risks of frequent social media use, and the addictive nature of that use are becoming increasingly more apparent. Some have even claimed that social media is directly responsible for a rise in certain mental health disorders.

That's a difficult claim to qualify, but there are plenty of studies which show a direct link between the two, with more than enough evidence to, at the very least, advise caution. A new study conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health and the Youth Health Movement has revealed that Instagram and Snapchat may have the worst impact on mental health in young users.

Instagram and Snapchat are the two most popular platforms for younger audiences, so on some level the deck is stacked against them. If more young people are using those platforms, a larger spread of negative effects are going to appear, in the same way that labradors are statistically the most likely breed of dog to bite you - there are more of them around.

However, the nature of the study does show some interesting contrasts. 1,500 14-24 year-olds from across the UK were asked to rank social media platforms based on various issues relating to health and wellbeing. The most positively regarded platform was YouTube, followed by Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram in dead last. The categories by which the platforms were rated included anxiety, loneliness and depression.

It would be fair to assume that Twitter would rank as one of the worst, given their reputation for trolling, but it ended up being ranked as the second most positive. As it turns out, image focused social media is actually causing the most problems. While Twitter is a hotbed of verbal abuse, Instagram and Snapchat are both rife with body shaming issues, something which is often far more damaging to young users.

Instagram and Snapchat have both made internal steps to reach out to users with mental health issues, but those are more geared towards people who might have already had issues, rather than those who are just now developing them. According to the RSPH and YHF, what they really need to do is discourage people from overusing their services.

The biggest issue seems to surround the fact that social media is a sprawling mass of unconstrained information. Older people might be able to differentiate between what's honest and what isn't but young people aren't so well equipped. Issues about self-image, self-identity and even fear of missing out can become dangerously exaggerated when all you see every day are pictures of people seemingly enjoying excited, fulfilling lives.


Let's start this one with a little history. Twitter was first launched way back in 2006, the brainchild of co-founders Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams. Glass, given credit for the platform's name among other contributions, left the company later in 2006, but the others stayed decidedly longer.. Dorsey took on the role of CEO up until his departure in 2008, then again resumed the position in 2015. During that time the role was filled by fellow co-founder Evan Williams before he himself was replaced by Dick Costolo in 2010; Williams remained with the company, but turned his focus instead to product strategy. Stone was present at Twitter for six years before leaving to focus on other ventures, helping to grow the company into the behemoth it is today.

When Dorsey was announced to be returning to the role of CEO, it was seen as the company taking a positive step by going back to the roots of what made it great in the first place. For that reason, its easy to see why Biz Stone's recent announcement of his own return is generating some significant buzz.

Stone made his announcement in a Medium post on May 16, in which he stated, "There’s something about the personality of a company that comes from the folks who start it. There’s a special feeling they bring with them. Jack coming back was a big step forward. And now, it’s my turn—I’m returning to full time work at Twitter starting in a couple of weeks!"

Jack Dorsey & Biz Stone at Twitter HQ in 2006   - Img: Biz Stone/Medium
From that statement, it seems that the return of Dorsey was in fact a major influence in Stone's own decision to go back to the company. This was actually confirmed by the man himself as he recounted the tale of just how Dorsey managed to convince him.

Following the acquisition of his latest project, Jelly, by Pinterest, Stone was all set to take up a "really sweet gig" offered by one of his many business connections. This changed when Dorsey invited him along to a Friday afternoon 'Tea Time', apparently an old tradition at Twitter. Being back among the company he helped create seemed to motivate Stone, as he notes in his post:

"When I stood next to Jack addressing the crowd of employees, I felt the energy, and I was overcome with emotion. I realized in that moment that Twitter was the most important work of my life.
"While we were on stage, Jack asked me to come back to work at Twitter. People cheered. But I wasn’t really sure if he meant it. After Tea Time, we spoke privately and Jack told me that he really did — he wanted me to come back and work at Twitter. The company I co-founded, the service I co-invented. I was stunned, but I knew the answer."
That answer, of course, was a yes.
The next obvious question; what exactly will Stone's role be within the company?
Stone insists that his return will not see him replacing any current team members, rather he is there to fill the "Biz shaped hole" he left. Other than being himself (he mentions his own name a lot towards the close of the post), the details as to his actual job are unclear. As he puts it, he focus will be "to guide the company culture, that energy, that feeling." As to what that truly entails, at this point your guess is likely as good as ours.
Stone closed by saying, "The world needs Twitter, and it's here to stay. I'm so lucky that I get to step back in and help shape the future."
We will try to keep you updated as more details emerge.

The WOD Life Blog
With all the various back and forth about which social media platform will lay claim to the NFL, NBA, EPL and so forth, Facebook have quietly snapped up one of the more bizarrely popular sporting outliers (if you can even call it a sport). CrossFit have been a mainstay in various forms of high intensity exercise and gymnastics for some time now, but they're perhaps best known for their powerlifting competitions, and soon you'll be able to stream them on Facebook.

From today (May 19th) onwards, you'll be able to stream somewhere in the region of 40 different live shows through the rest of the year, covering everything from competitions to behind-the-scenes coverage to discussion panels. During the busier stretches this will mean that Facebook will be broadcasting eight hours of CrossFit content a day. One of the proposed shows is also called 'Frenemy Friday', I just felt like I should point that out.

This is less about Facebook branching out and more about CrossFit updating their broadcasting regimen, as some of the events will be available to stream on YouTube as well, but in any case it's a good example of how far live-streaming is reaching. The audience for powerlifting tournaments is, at best, niche, but it's far easier to lock in a niche audience online than it is on TV. What CrossFit are doing is taking advantage of some prime real estate, and they certainly won't be the last.

As far as Facebook are concerned, any audience expansion is advantageous - the more people they bring in, the broader the spread of sports fans they'll have on the platform, making it progressively easier to secure new contracts. Money isn't really an issue for Facebook, their main concern is proving that they can put up encouraging, consistent viewer numbers. A patchwork of small, dedicated audiences is the easiest way to do this.

Facebook actually paid CrossFit directly for the rights to this programming, and there's no word yet on exactly how they're going to be drawing revenue from it, so this may well indeed just be a carrot to draw other networks and promoters in. In any case, it's a canny move, and a significant step in widening Facebook's broadcasting appeal.

Simon Owens
Targeting advertising can be regarded as many things, depending on your perspective; a leap forward in technology, a necessary evil, an annoying side-effect of social media or a gross invasion of privacy. Whatever you think of it, it's hard to argue with the fact that it's not exactly fair on the users who are targeted.

Ever the exemplars of equality, Twitter have now taken steps to rectify that. In an upcoming update,  users will be given a new set of privacy settings which will allow them to see and alter the way that they are targeted by advertisers. Basically, you'll be able to see your demographic, interest areas and which advertisers have you placed in their tailored audience zone. You'll then be able to modify this by opting in and out of various categories, according to a blog post Twitter put out on Wednesday.

To find this feature (which is already being rolled out to users on a staggered basis), you have to go into the 'Your Twitter Data' tab under settings. Near the bottom lies the 'interests' section. It's split into two distinct categories - 'Interests from Twitter' and 'Interests from Partners'. The former shows you what Twitter thinks you want to see more of, based on your activity, and the latter shows you which companies are targeting you for personalised ads. It's here that you can switch all that off.

In order to do that, you need untick everything under the 'Personalisation and data' banner, or at least untick the categories that you want to opt out of. Even after doing this though, you'll still be on advertisers' lists, and wriggling out of that is a bit more complicated. There's a link underneath the 'Tailored audiences' subheading which will give you a list of all the companies which have your Twitter name. With that, you can then set about asking each individual company to strike you off. I did say it was a bit more complicated.

Really and truly, there's no way to completely extricate yourself from ad tracking on social media, unless you, well, quit social media, but features like these ease the pain somewhat. More to the point, they allow users more choice in how their data is used, and more transparency. Regardless of how much it actually affects your experience on the platform, it's encouraging to see Twitter being so open with their user base.

Pinterest
Facebook might end up being the real-life Skynet, I'm just going to come right out and say it. I mean, imagine if they introduced some kind of AI overlord to manage all their data, only for it to become self-aware. Skynet launched nuclear missiles all over the world, but the Facebook rendition would know all your secrets, emotional hangups and deepest, darkest fears. Remember that scene from Mean Girls when Regina reveals the 'Burn Book' to the rest of the school? Imagine that on a global scale.

Hysteria aside, Facebook are noticeably fixated on AI, for better or for worse, and a great deal of their efforts seem to be focused on making it more 'convincing'. Voice commands have been around for a while and they're still a few shades shorts of convenient. Siri will save you a few seconds if you want to open an app or check your voicemail, and Alexa spares you the drudgery of walking around your house and turning things on/off, but it's hardly essential, and it's certainly not 'conversational'. All you're ever saying is a variation on the theme of 'do the thing;.

Facebook seem intent on changing that, and 'ParlAI' (get it?) is their latest milestone. Basically, they've given AI programmers a syllabus of sample dialogue and research results to teach chatbots to converse more convincingly. Amazon's Mechanical Turk marketplace is also directly linked, giving the programmers a direct line to living, breathing humans who can test and evaluate the bots as they are developed.

According to developers, the principle idea with ParlAI is to bridge the gap between chatbots which serve a practical purpose, like Siri, and those which just natter, like Microsoft's ill-fated Tay. As the name suggests, Facebook want people to have an engaging back-and-forth with ParlAI chatbots, not only being able to ask it to, say, check the weather, but also exchange ideas and just generally have a two-way conversation.

For instance, if you say to Siri "I need cheering up", it replies with "I'm sorry", but presumably ParlAI would be able to provide some suggestions for things which would cheer you up, or even ask you what's bothering you. That's a surface level example though, really and truly ParlAI is intended as a way to improve the process by which all AI is trained, rather than creating amusing little distractions.

Ultimately, the idea is that your house/phone/computer can be equipped with a digital assistant which handles everything from your morning schedule to asking how your day was when you get home, and actually know what you're talking about when you respond. In order to reach that level, first we have to be comfortable conversing with a machine.

Flickr
Artificial Intelligence (AI) Assistants are becoming increasingly - and perhaps scarily - popular, with Siri, Cortana, Alexa and Amazon Echo all here to make our lives easier (as if smartphones didn't do that already). The technology is pretty impressive being able to recognise requests and respond accordingly, always listening and mostly reliable.

On iPhones, Siri is built in, and has been popular for iOS users for a while. I tend to only occasionally use the feature if I'm too lazy to Google something useless like 'how old is Prince William?', or most of the time conversing with Siri is accidental; if I sit down and the embarrassing 'Sorry, I didn't quite catch that' is heard loud-and-proud coming from my back pocket in the middle of a conversation, it's not ideal.

I'm sure others put the feature to better use like organising their life, asking Siri to put emails into folders and checking their calendars etc. etc. However often you speak to our mate Siri, it's a pretty useful app and seems to rein supreme on iPhones and iOS devices.

Google is bringing Google Assistant to iPhones in the form of a free iOS app, in a bid to compete with favourite Siri. There are plans to roll out the app at the I/O conference this week in the U.S. first, with hopes to expand the feature to other countries further down the line.

The great thing about Google Assistant being on iPhones is that it will collaborate with, and have the ability to control other Google apps on your phone; it's likely you have YouTube, Gmail or Google Maps, and the new AI technology will work hand-in-hand with these, potentially better and more reliably than Siri does.

Alexa is already available as an iOS app, but is only compatible with the Amazon Shopping app or Echo to work with messaging and calling - the reach of the iOS Alexa app is small compared to Siri and what Google Assistant is said to be able to do.

No officials from Google have commented on the talks of this, but with I/O in full swing, I'm sure confirmation of the app will roll out soon enough. Watch your back, Siri.

Riot Games
Among the younger community, especially that of the United States, the rates of suicide and suicide attempts are significantly higher in the LGBTQ community, and it's far from a coincidence. In fact, data suggests that cases of depression and drug use among LGBTs actually spikes following the passing of discriminatory laws, or equality bills failing to go through. Take a moment and really think about that.

In 1994, a short film about a suicidal gay 13-year-old called Trevor took the Oscar for best short film, and that became the catalyst for director Peggy Rajski, writer James Lecesne and producer Randy Stone to found The Trevor Project. The Trevor Project is a non-profit which houses the only 24/7 hotline for depressed and suicidal LGBT youths. The value of their work cannot be understated, and now they've made a move beyond the telephone and into the world of social media, with the help of Facebook.

Suicide prevention tools have been available on Facebook, Messenger and Instagram for some time now, and they've partnered with a few different groups to make the outreach as all-inclusive as it can be. With The Trevor Project, they're going to bring in tools which will allow the project's helpline operators to connect directly with depressed or suicidal users through the chat function.

Social media has provided many unique opportunities to help combat suicide. According to certain statistics, suicide is the second highest cause of death among 10-24 year olds in the US, and social media is nothing if not youth oriented. It could be argued, then, that social media platforms don't just have an ideal vantage to help reach out to young people experiencing suicidal thoughts, they have a responsibility.

One-to-one discussion is often the best method, and that's exactly what the Trevor Project specialise in. Facebook is already an important hub for many members of the LGBTQ community to discuss their issues and struggles, as are YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr and a number of other platforms, so this is a logical step. Hopefully it will set a precedent for certain other platforms to expand their reach as well.

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