All posts in “Mobile”

Time alerts put the brakes on Facebook consumption, are rolling out now

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Facebook

Facebook will now let you know just how long you spend on the network. After announcing new time management tools in August, the option to track or limit time spent on Facebook is now rolling out to users, days after the tool launched for Instagram. The tools monitor time on the networks, control notifications, and enable users to set a daily time limit.

Many social media users are aware of how easy it is to open the app to check notifications only to end up spending 20 minutes scrolling through memes, blog posts, and what your second cousin ate for lunch. The new set of tools are just one of the updates the network has launched since CEO Mark Zuckerberg shared that his 2018 goal was to make time on the networks time well-spent, reducing passive consumption and increasing engagement on the networks.

The tools will be available in the settings menu on both Facebook and Instagram — on Facebook, the option is called “Your Time on Facebook” while Instagram users can find similar tools by tapping on “Your Activity” from the settings menu. On both networks, the new feature will display the time you spend on the network as a daily average, with a chart breaking down activity by weekday.

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Facebook

The new daily reminder tool allows users to receive an alert when they’ve reached a set amount of time spent on the network. Facebook isn’t going to kick you off, but it will send you a pop-up notification if you’ve lost track of time scrolling through the newsfeed. The new section of settings also includes the option to temporarily mute push notifications.

“We developed these tools based on collaboration and inspiration from leading mental health experts and organizations, academics, our own extensive research and feedback from our community,” Instagram’s Ameet Ranadive and Facebook’s David Ginsberg wrote in a blog post. “We want the time people spend on Facebook and Instagram to be intentional, positive and inspiring. Our hope is that these tools give people more control over the time they spend on our platforms and also foster conversations between parents and teens about the online habits that are right for them.”

The new features, which leaked early in June, join a list of changes designed to further Zuckerberg’s goal of creating less passive consumption and more interaction, including a snooze button and Instagram’s new notice that “You’re all caught up.” As predicted, the changes are negatively impacting Facebook’s user metrics, but the company says the conversation about time spent online is an important one to have.

Updated on November 20, 2018: Added the rollout of the new feature.

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LinkedIn launches its own Snapchat Stories: “Student Voices”

The social media singularity continues with the arrival of Snapchat Stories-style slideshows on LinkedIn as the app grasps for relevance with a younger audience. LinkedIn confirms to TechCrunch that it plans to build Stories for more sets of users, but first it’s launching “Student Voices” just for university students in the US. The feature appears atop the LinkedIn home screen and lets students post short videos to their Campus Playlist. The videos (no photos allowed) disappear from the playlist after a week while staying permanently visible on a user’s own profile in the Recent Activity section. Students can tap through their school’s own slideshow and watch the Campus Playlists of nearby universities.

LinkedIn now confirms the feature is in testing, with product manager Isha Patel telling TechCrunch “Campus playlists are a new video feature that we’re currently rolling out to college students in the US. As we know, students love to use video to capture moments so we’ve created this new product to help them connect with one another around shared experiences on campus to help create a sense of community.” Student Voices was first spotted by social consultant Carlos Gil, and tipped by Socially Contented’s Cathy Wassell to Matt Navarra.

A LinkedIn spokesperson tells us the motive behind the feature is to get students sharing their academic experiences like internships, career fairs, and class projects that they’d want to show off to recruiters as part of their personal brand. “It’s a great way for students to build out their profile and have this authentic content that shows who they are and what their academic and professional experiences have been. Having these videos live on their profile can help students grow their network, prepare for life after graduation, and help potential employers learn more about them” Patel says.

But unfortunately that ignores the fact that Stories were originally invented for broadcasting off-the-cuff moments that disappear so you DON’T have to worry about their impact on your reputation. That dissonance might confuse users, discourage them from posting to Student Voices, or lead them to assume their clips will disappear from their profile too — which could leave embarrassing content exposed to hirers. “Authenticity” might not necessarily paint users in the best light to recruiters, so it seems more likely that students would post polished clips promoting their achievements…if they use it at all.

LinkedIn seems to be desperate to appeal to the next generation. Social app investigator and TechCrunch’s favorite tipster Jane Manchun Wong today spotted 10 minor new features LinkedIn is prototyping that include youth-centric options like GIF comments, location sharing in messages, and Facebook Reactions-style buttons beyond “Like” such as “Clap”, “Insightful”, “Hmm”, and “Support”.

When users post to Student Stories, they’ll have their university’s logo overlaid as a sticker they can move around. LinkedIn will generate this plus a set of suggested hashtags like #OnCampus based on a user’s profile including what school they say they attend, though users can also overlay their own text captions. Typically, users in the test phase were sharing videos of around 30 to 45 seconds. “Students are taking us to their school hackathons, showing us their group projects, sharing their student group activities and teaching us about causes they care about” Patel explains. You can see an example video here, and watch a sizzle reel about the feature below.

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For now, LinkedIn tells me it has no plans to insert ads between clips in Student Voices. But if the Stories content assists with discovering and vetting job candidates, it could make LinkedIn more unique and indispensable to recruiters who do pay for premium access. And if these Stories get a ton of views simply by being emblazoned atop the LinkedIn feed, users might return to the app more frequently to share them. As we’ve seen with the steady increase in popularity of Facebook Stories, if you give people a stage for narcissism, they will fill it.

LinkedIn’s start as a dry web tool for seeking jobs has made for a rocky transition as it tries to become a daily habit for users. Some tactical advice in its feed can be helpful, but much of LinkedIn’s content feels blatantly self-promotional, boring, or transactional. Meanwhile, it’s encountering new competition as Facebook integrates career listings and job applications for blue-collar work into its social network that already sees over a billion people visit each day. It’s understandable why LinkedIn would try to latch on to the visual communication trend, as Facebook estimates Stories sharing will surpass feed sharing across all apps in 2019. But Student Voices nonetheless feels unabashedly “how do you do, fellow kids?”

Google replaces its classic Search page with Discover on mobile devices

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As part of its 20th anniversary, Google unveiled its plans to improve Search, starting with its Google Feed. Now known as Discover, the update brings along a redesign complete with features to help you find content that aligns with your interests.

Now, the new feature is finally starting to replace the basic Google Search box on mobile devices. So, instead of the simple search box showing up when you head to Google.com, you’ll also be presented with all the features you would find in Google Feed, including news stories and other information Google thinks you might be interested in. Discover is rolling out to Google.com on both iOS and Android.

With Discover, Google aims to help you uncover content that is not only, timely but that also aligns with your interests. While scrolling through, you will see topic headers that provide an explanation for why you’re seeing a specific card in Discover. Next to the topic name is a Discover icon, which you’ll also start seeing in Search. If there is a topic that interests you, tapping on the icon will bring you to more content along with the ability to tap “Follow” it, which will add it to your feed.

While the new feature sets out on bringing you fresh content, Discover also provides you with evergreen content that is relevant to you even if the article isn’t new. If you’re planning a road trip across the country or taking some time off in Europe, Discover might show you an article with the best restaurants in that area or suggested places to visit.

Google also recently introduced Topic Layer, which analyzes content on the web for a specific topic and develops subtopics around it. Using this new tool, Discover will be able to pinpoint the level of expertise someone has on a specific topic and then provide content around it. For example, if you’re learning to play the piano, Discover might show you content for beginners. If you have been playing the piano for years, you’ll see more advanced content appear.

Customizability is still alive and well even with the new update. Now, you can tap on the control icon in Discover to indicate whether you want to see more or less content on a specific topic. As for news, Google says that it will use the same technology used in its redesigned News app known as Full Coverage, which paints a complete picture of a story from a variety of different perspectives.

Google also announced that it’s beginning to use artificial intelligence to put together AMP stories (an open source library that makes it easy for anyone to create a story on the web) that will surface in Search. The new feature will start with celebrities and athletes, providing facts and important moments form their lives in a visual format that then allows you to tap into articles for more information.

Search will also be incorporating featured videos, depending on what it is you look up. Google uses computer vision to understand the content of a video and then quickly help you find information that’s useful. For example, if you look up Paris, you might see a video for each attraction like the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre. Similar to the way Topic Layer works, featured videos take your understanding of a specific topic and show videos that are related to that subtopic.

Updated on November 20, 2018: Google is now replacing the search page with Discover.

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You can now make Skype calls on Amazon Echo devices

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Just in time for the holiday season, Microsoft and Amazon announced that you can now ask Alexa to make Skype voice and video calls on Echo devices.

In all, 34 countries will soon be Alexa and Skype-enabled. Skype support for the Alexa platform is available now in the U.S., U.K., Ireland, Canada, India, Australia, and New Zealand. Support for other countries will be coming soon, according to Microsoft.

You can use Alexa-enabled devices such as the Echo Plus or Dot to make hands-free Skype voice calls.

With an Echo Show or Echo Spot, which both have video displays, you can also make Skype video calls to computers or mobile devices for face-to-face holiday greetings and check-ins. Amazon Fire tablets that support Show Mode, which means specifically the 2017 and 2018 Fire HD 8 and the 2017 Fire HD 10, also support Skype video calls.

According to Microsoft, you’ll need to update your Skype software to version 8.34 or later for the best Skype calling and video experience.

To link an Alexa device to your Skype account:

  • Go to Alexa.amazon.com or load the Alexa app on your mobile device.
  • Go to Menu > Settings > Communication
  • Select Skype.
  • Sign in to your Skype account (it’s the same as your Microsoft account ID and password).
  • Click “Get started” and begin making calls.

Once you link your Skype account to your Alexa device, you can say “Alexa, call Kim on Skype.” The service will attempt to reach Kim wherever she uses her Skype account.

Microsoft also announced that people using Alexa devices for Skype calls can call most international landlines and mobile numbers with Skype to Phone. As an initial promotion for new connections with Alexa devices, Skype is comping subscribers with 200 free Skype to Phone minutes for the 34 countries included in the rollout.

For more information on connecting and using Alexa devices for Skype calls, including details on compatible devices and which services they support, the 34 countries in the rollout, and the terms of Alexa and Skype promotion check out Skype’s feature page.

Amazon’s support page for Skype calling with Alexa has additional information on the processes.

To get ready for holiday calls with Skype and Alexa, you can take advantage of the Black Friday sales and pre-sales going on now for discounts on Amazon Alexa devices.

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Facebook is finally rolling out its “how long do I spend on Facebook” dashboard

15 weeks after Facebook announced its “Your Time On Facebook” tool that counts how many minutes you spend on the app, the feature is finally rolling out around the world. Designed to help you manage your social networking, the dashboard reveals how many minutes you’ve spent on Facebook’s app on that device each day for the past week and on average.

You can set a daily limit and receive a reminder to stop after that many minutes each day, plus access shortcuts to notification ,News Feed, and Friend Request settings. Those last two shortcuts are new, but otherwise the feature works the same as when it was previewed. You can access it by going to Facebook’s More tab -> Settings & Privacy -> Your Time On Facebook.

TechCrunch first broke the news that Facebook was working on the feature in June. Facebook gave some explanation for the delayed access to the feature, with spokespeople telling me “We typically rollout features slowly so we can catch bugs early and resolve them quickly. We slowed the rollout of the tools after launch so our teams could fix a few bugs before we expanded globally” and that “the tools will continue rolling out over the next few weeks.” Social consultant Matt Navarra had spotted the tool reaching more users today.

With the launches of similar tools as part of the latest versions of iOS and Android, plus the roll out of the similar Your Activity tab on Instagram last week, digital well-being features are becoming available to a wide swath of smart phone users. The question is whether simply burying these features in the Settings menus is enough to actually get people to shift towards healthier behavior.

Facebook and Instagram’s versions are particularly toothless. There are no options to force you to ease off your usage, just a quick daily limit notification to dismiss. iOS 12’s Screen Time at least delivery’s a weekly usage report by default so the feature finds you even if you don’t go looking for it. And Android’s new Digital Wellbeing dashboard is by far the most powerful, graying out app icons and requiring you to dig into your settings to unlock apps once you hit your daily limit. Facebook doesn’t necessarily need to force heavier restrictions on us, but it should at least provide more compelling optional tools to actually make us put our phones down and look up at the real world.

Facebook’s dashboard doesn’t integrate with Instagram’s, which would give people a more holistic sense of their activity on the social networks. You also won’t have your desktop Facebooking or time on secondary mobile devices like tablets tabulated here either.

But the biggest flaw remains that Your Time On Facebook treats all time the same. That seems to ignore the research Facebook itself has presented about digital well-being on social networks, as well as CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s comments on what constitutes healthy and unhealthy behavior. Zuckerberg said on the Q1 2018 earnings call “the well-being research that we’ve done . . . suggests that when people use the Internet for interacting with people and building relationships, that is correlated with all the positive measures of well-being that you’d expect — like longer term health and happiness, feeling more connected and less lonely – whereas just passively consuming content is not necessarily positive on those dimensions.”

Yet you can’t tell active and passive Facebooking apart from the dashboard. There’s no way to see a breakdown of how long you spend browsing the News Feed, watching Stories, or exploring photos on profiles versus creating posts or comments, messaging, or interacting in Groups. That segmentation would give users a much clearer view of where they’re spending or wasting hours, and what they could do to make their usage healthier. Hopefully with time, Facebook gives the dashboard more nuance so we can track not just time, but time well spent.