All posts in “Social”

Happn takes on Tinder Places with an interactive map of missed connections

Dating app Happn, whose “missed connections” type of dating experience connects people who have crossed paths in real life, is fighting back at Tinder. Seemingly inspired by Happn’s location-based features, Tinder recently began piloting something called Tinder Places – a feature that tracks your location to match you with those people who visit your same haunts – like a favorite bar, bookshop, gym, restaurant, and more.

Of course Tinder’s move into location-based dating should worry Happn, which had built its entire dating app around the idea of matching up people who could have met in real life, but just missed doing so.

Now, Happn is challenging Tinder Places with a new feature of its own. It’s debuting an interactive map where users can discover those people they’ve crossed paths with over the past seven days.

Happn founder, French entrepreneur Didier Rappaport, dismisses the Tinder threat.

“We don’t see it as a threat at all but as a good thing,” he tells TechCrunch. “Find the people you’ve crossed paths with has always been in Happn’s DNA since the beginning….We are very flattered that Tinder wants to include the same feature in its product. However, we will never use the swipe in our product,” he says.

Rappaport believes swiping is wrong because it makes you think of the other person as a product, and that’s not Happn’s philosophy.

“We want to [give our users a chance] to interact or not with a person, to take their time to decide, to be able to move back in their timeline if suddenly they change their mind and want to have a second chance,” he notes.

To use Happn’s map, you’ll tap on a specific location you’ve visited, and are then presented with potential matches who have been there too, or within 250 meters of that spot. The map will use the same geolocation data that Happn already uses to create its timeline, but just displays it in another form.

For those who aren’t comfortable sharing their location all the time with a dating app (um, everyone?), Happn also offers an “invisibility” mode that lets people hide their location during particular parts of the day – for example, while they’re at work.

While Happn’s new feature is a nice upgrade for regular users, Tinder’s location-based features – we’re sorry to report – are more elegantly designed.

Today, Happn’s invisibility mode has to be turned on when you want to use it, or you have to pay for a subscription to schedule to come on automatically at certain times. That means it requires more effort to use on a day-to-day basis.

Meanwhile, Tinder Places lets you block a regular place you visit – like, say, the gym – from ever being recorded as a place you want to show up for matches. It also automatically removes places that would be inappropriate, including your home and work addresses, and alerts you when it’s adding a new one – so you can quickly take action to remove it, if you choose. Tinder Places is also free. (It’s just not rolled out worldwide at this time).

Happn, however, does offer a way to hide your profile information and other details from select users, and never shows your current location in real time, also like Tinder.

Happn, which launched back in 2014, now claims nearly 50 million users worldwide, across 50 major cities and 40 countries. It claims to have 6.5 million monthly users – but that’s much smaller, compared with Tinder’s estimated 50 million actives.

And with Tinder parent Match Group snatching up Hinge, suing Bumble, and effectively copying the idea of using “missed connections,” one has to wonder how much life rival dating apps, especially those of Happn’s size, have left.

The app is a free download on the App Store, Play Store and Windows Store.

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Fb Messenger auto-translation chips at US/Mexico language wall

Facebook’s been criticized for tearing America apart, but now it will try to help us forge bonds with our neighbors to the south. Facebook Messenger will now offer optional auto-translation of English to Spanish and vice-versa for all users in the United States and Mexico.

The feature could facilitate cross-border and cross-language friendships, business, and discussion that might show people in the two countries that deep down we’re all just human. It could be especially powerful for US companies looking to use Messenger for conversational commerce without having to self-translate everything.

Facebook tells me “we were pleased with the results” following a test using AI to translate the language pair in Messenger for US Facebook Marketplace users in April.

Now when users receive a message that is different from their default language, Messenger’s AI assistant M will ask if they want it translated. All future messages will in that thead will be auto-translated unless a user turns it off. Facebook plans to bring the feature to more language pairs and countries soon.

A Facebook spokesperson tells me “The goal with this launch is really to enable people to communicate with people they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise, in a way that is natural and seamless.”

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Starting in 2011, Facebook began offering translation technology for News Feed posts and comments. For years it relied on Microsoft Bing’s translation technology, but Facebook switched to its own stack in mid-2016. By then it was translating 2 billion pieces of text a day for 800 million users.

Conversational translation is a lot tougher than social media posts, though. When we chat with friends, it’s more colloquial and full of slang. We’re also usually typing in more a hurry and can be less accurate. But if Facebook can reliably figure out what we’re saying, Messenger could become the modern day Babel Fish.

Facebook expands fact-checking program, adopts new technology for fighting fake news

Facebook this morning announced an expansion of its fact-checking program and other actions it’s taking to combat the scourge of fake news on its social network. The company, which was found to be compromised by Russian trolls whose disinformation campaigns around the November 2016 presidential election reached 150 million Americans, has been increasing its efforts at fact-checking news through a combination of technology and human review in the months since.

The company began fact-checking news on its site last spring, with help from independent third-party fact-checkers certified through the non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network.

These fact checkers rate the accuracy of the story, allowing Facebook to take action on those rated false by lowering them in the News Feed, and reduced the distribution of those Pages that are repeat offenders.

Today, Facebook says it has expanded this program to 14 countries around the world, and plans to roll it out to more countries by year-end. It also claims the impact of fact-checking reduced the distribution of fake news by an average of 80 percent.

The company additionally announced the expansion of its program for fact-checking photos and video to four countries.

First unveiled this spring, Facebook has been working to fact-check things like manipulated videos or misused photos where images are taken out of context in order to push a political agenda. This is a huge issue, because memes have become a popular way of rallying people around a cause on the internet, but they often do so by completely misrepresenting the facts by using images from different events, places, and times.

One current example of this is the photo used by Drudge Report showing young boys holding guns in a story about the U.S.-Mexico border battle. The photo was actually taken nowhere near the border, but rather was snapped in Syria in 2012 and was captioned by the photographer: “Four young Syrian boys with toy guns are posing in front of my camera during my visit to Azaz, Syria. Most people I met were giving the peace sign. This little city was taken by the Free Syrian Army in the summer of 2012 during the Battle of Azaz.”

Using fake or misleading images to stoke fear, disgust, or hatred of another group of people is a common way photos and videos are misused online, and they deserve fact-checking as well.

Facebook also says it’s now taking advantage of new machine learning technology to help it find duplicates of already debunked stories. And it will work with fact-checking partners to use Schema.org‘s Claim Review, an open-source framework that will allow fact-checkers to share ratings with Facebook so the company can act more quickly, especially in times of crisis.

The company is also expanding its efforts in downranking fake news by using machine learning to demote foreign Pages that are spreading financially-motivated hoaxes to people in other countries.

In the weeks ahead, an elections research commission working in partnership with Facebook to measure the volume and effect of misinformation on the social network will launch its website and its first request for proposals.

The company had already announced its plans to further investigate the role social media plans in elections and in democracy. This commission will receive access to privacy-protected data sets with a sample of links that people engaged with on Facebook, which will allow it to understand what sort of content is being shared, says Facebook. The company claim the research will “help keep us accountable and track our progress.”

We’ll see!

Twitter acquires anti-abuse technology provider Smyte

Twitter this morning announced it has agreed to buy San Francisco-based technology company Smyte, which describes itself as “trust and safety as a service.” Founded in 2014 by former Google and Instagram engineers, Smyte offers tools to stop online abuse, harassment, and spam, and protect user accounts.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but this is Twitter’s first acquisition since buying consumer mobile startup Yes, Inc. back in December 2016

Online harassment has been of particular concern to Twitter in recent months, as the level of online discourse across the web has become increasingly hate-filled and abusive. The company has attempted to combat this problem with new policies focused on the reduction of hate speech, violent threats, and harassment on its platform, but it’s fair to say that problem is nowhere near solved.

As anyone who uses Twitter will tell you, the site continues to be filled with trolls, abusers, bots, and scams – and especially crypto scams, as of late.

This is where Smyte’s technology – and its team – could help.

The company was founded by engineers with backgrounds in spam, fraud and security.

Smyte CEO Pete Hunt previously led Instagram’s web team, built Instagram’s business analytics products, and helped to open source Facebook’s React.js; co-founder Julian Tempelsman worked on Gmail’s spam and abuse team, and before that Google Wallet’s anti-fraud team and the Google Drive anti-abuse team; and co-founder Josh Yudaken was a member of Instagram’s core infrastructure team.

The startup launched out of Y Combinator in 2015, with a focus on preventing online fraud.

Today, its solutions are capable of stopping all sorts of unwanted online behavior, including phishing, spam, fake accounts, cyberbullying, hate speech and trolling, the company’s website claims.

Smyte offer customers access to its technology via a REST API, or it can pull data directly from its customer’s app or data warehouse to analyze. Smyte would then import the existing rules, and use machine learning to create new rules and other machine learning models suited to the business’s specific needs.

The customers data scientists could also use Smyte to deploy (but not train) their own custom machine learning models, too.

Smyte’s system includes a dashboard where analysts can surface emerging trends in real-time, as well as conduct manual reviews of individual entities or clusters of related entities and take bulk actions.

Non-technical analysts could use Smyte to create custom rules tested on historical data, then roll them out to production and watch how they perform in real-time.

For Twitter, the use case for Smyte is obvious – its technology will be integrated with Twitter itself and its backend systems for monitoring and managing reports of abuse, while also taking aim at bots, scammers and a number of other threats today’s social networks typically face.

Of course, combatting abuse and bullying will remain Twitter’s most pressing area of concern – especially as it’s the place where President Trump tweets, and the daily news is reported and discussed (and angrily fought about).

But Twitter could use some help with its troll and bot problem, too. The company, along with Facebook, was home to Russian propaganda during the 2016 U.S presidential election. In January, Twitter notified at least 1.4 million users they saw content created by Russian trolls; it also was found  to have hosted roughly 50,000 Russian bots tweeting election-related content in November 2016.

Presumably, Smyte’s technology could help weed out some of these bad actors, if it works as well as described.

Twitter didn’t provide much detail as to how, specifically, it plans to put Smyte’s technology to use.

Instead, the company largely touted the team’s expertise and the “proactive” nature of Smyte’s anti-abuse systems, in today’s announcement:

From ensuring safety and security at some of the world’s largest companies to specialized domain expertise, Smyte’s years of experience with these issues brings valuable insight to our team. The Smyte team has dealt with many unique issues facing online safety and believes in the same proactive approach that we’re taking for Twitter: stopping abusive behavior before it impacts anyone’s experience. We can’t wait until they join our team to help us make changes that will further improve the health of the public conversation.

According to Smyte’s website, the company has a number of high-profile clients, including Indiegogo, GoFundMe, npm, Musical.ly, TaskRabbit, Meetup, OLX, ThredUp, YouNow, 99 Designs, Carousell, and Zendesk.

Twitter tells us that Smyte will wind down its operations with those customers – it didn’t acquire Smyte for its revenue-generation potential, but rather for its talent and IP.

LinkedIn reports there are only a couple dozen employees at Smyte today, including the founders. But Smtye’s own website lists just nineteen. Twitter wouldn’t confirm Smtye’s current headcount but says it’s working to find positions for all.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Smyte had raised $6.3 million in funding from Y Combinator, Baseline Ventures, Founder Collective, Upside Partnership, Avalon Ventures, and Harrison Metal, according to Crunchbase.

Instagram hits 1 billion monthly users, up from 800M in September

Instagram’s meteoric rise continues, dwarfing the stagnant growth rates of Snapchat and Facebook. Today Instagram announced that it has reached 1 billion monthly active users, after reaching 800 million in September 2017 with 500 million daily users.

That massive audience could be a powerful draw for IGTV, the longer-form video hub its launching for creators today. While IGTV monetization options are expected in the future, content makers may flock to it early just to get exposure and build their fan base.

While Snapchat’s daily user count grew just 2.13 percent in Q1 2018 to 191 million, and Facebook’s monthly count grew 3.14 percent to reach 2.196 billion, Instagram is growing closer to 5 percent per quarter.

Hitting the 1 billion user milestone could put more pressure on Instagram to carry its weight in the Facebook family and bring home more cash. Facebook doesn’t break out Instagram’s revenue and has never given any guidance about it. But eMarketer estimates that Instagram will generate $5.48 billion in US ad revenue in 2018, up 70 percent from last year. It reports that Instagram makes up 28.2 pecent of Facebook’s mobile ad revenue.

The Instagram brand increasingly looks like Facebook’s life raft. Sentiment towards Facebook, especially amongst teens, has been in decline, and its constantly rocked by privacy scandals. But many users don’t even realize Facebook owns Instagram, and still love the photo sharing app. With the 1 billion user badge, businesses and content creators may take the photo and video app even more seriously. Selling windows into your friends’ worlds is a lucrative business.