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Twitter gives the Australian marriage equality campaign its own emoji

The "Yes" campaign gets a Twitter boost.
The “Yes” campaign gets a Twitter boost.

Image: SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images

After a campaign that has felt like aaaages, Australia’s same-sex marriage postal survey is entering its final days. 

Twitter, one of a large handful of major companies that have publicly pledged support for the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Australia, is giving the “Yes” vote one final push. On Tuesday, they unveiled a special emoji for the marriage equality campaign.

The emoji features the “Yes” logo which has been the cornerstone of the pro-marriage equality campaign, when users tweet any of these hashtags: #EqualityCampaign, #MarriageEquality, #VoteYes, #PostYourYes, #PostYes, and #YesForEquality. 

Here’s how the logo appears on Twitter — it however won’t display outside the platform.

Image: twitter

As of last week, two-thirds of Australians have sent back their postal survey forms, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. It’s a non-binding, non-compulsory postal “vote” asking the question, “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”

However, the pro-marriage equality campaign is concerned about complacency, especially from young voters who are more likely to vote “Yes” for allowing same-sex couples to marry.

According to polling by Newspoll, 66 percent of those between the ages 18-34 support same-sex marriage, but only 57 percent of them had posted their voting form. That’s in contrast to 74 percent of over-65s who’ve sent in their vote, where the “No” vote is stronger. A shiny new Twitter emoji could sure do the trick spreading the word to this younger target demographic.

The due date for sending postal votes is Oct. 27, so if you’re Australian and haven’t sent yours in already, time is really ticking.

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Facebook downplays test banishing all Pages to buried Explore Feed


Facebook has caused a 60% to 80% drop in referral traffic to news outlets in six countries due to a test that removed Page posts from the News Feed and relocated them to a separate, hard-to-find Explore Feed. But now Facebook’s VP of News Feed Adam Mosseri writes that “We currently have no plans to roll this test out further.” But that doesn’t mean Facebook won’t move forward with implementing a similar change more widely if users prefer their News Feed just be post from friends.

Facebook recently launched its Explore Feed that shows posts from Pages you don’t follow, as well as other content like Events, Groups, Moments, and Saved items. It’s only accessible from the More tab for most users, making it relatively hidden. But Pages you do follow still had their best posts appear in your main News Feed.

But over the past week, Facebook tested a different version of the Explore Feed in Sri Lanka, Bolivia, Slovakia, Serbia, Guatemala, and Cambodia. It took all non-ad Page posts out of the News Feed and put them in the much less visble Explore Feed. This led to some Pages receiving 4X less engagement than before. A selection of the top Facebook Pages in Slovakia lost 2/3s to 3/4s of their reach — the amount of users who see their posts, according to Facebook-owned analytics tool CrowdTangle says The Guardian.

Interactions on 60 biggest Slovak media Facebook pages. Facebook is testing Explore Feed since Thursday. Data via CrowdTangle, published by Dennik N’s Filip Struharik

As for how long the test will last, Mosseri tweeted “Likely months as it can take that long for people to adapt, but we’ll be looking to improve the experience in the meantime.”

Those months of Facebook drought could be ruinous for some publishers who’ve grown to rely on the social network for referral traffic, and that have hired staff to produce content funded by the ad views driven by Facebook referrals. Publishers trying to follow the trend of increased video watching on Facebook could also have problems if a News Feed change massively decreases the viewership of videos that are expensive to produce.

Mosseri writes:

“The goal of this test is to understand if people prefer to have separate places for personal and public content. We will hear what people say about the experience to understand if it’s an idea worth pursuing any further. . . As with all tests we run, we may learn new things that lead to additional tests in the coming months so we can better understand what works best for people and publishers.”

The situation highlights the massive influence Facebook has on the publishing world, the widespread impact its product tests and changes can have, and how publishers have left themselves vulnerable by becoming dependent on a platform that has clearly stated that it puts users first. As long as the users are happy, they keep coming, and Facebook keeps advertising. What makes those users happy — be it friends’ status updates, re-shared videos, or news directly from publishers — is interchangeable and inconsequential to Facebook as long as it keeps increasing engagement with the app as a whole.

This same situation has played out a half dozen times on Facebook, all to the detriment of third-party developers and publishers. Facebook saw users didn’t like viral game spam, so it turned off game virality and developers like Zynga imploded. Apps like BandPage let musicians stream music from the landing tab of their Facebook Pages, until Facebook banned landing tabs and BandPage lost 90% of its traffic in 3 months. It saw its Open Graph social reader apps were clogging the feed, so it removed most of their visibility and the apps plummetted. The desktop sidebar Ticker showed what friends were doing in third-party apps and was filled with Spotify listening activity, until Facebook muted the channel and eventually all-but-deleted it.

The lesson should be clear despite no one wanting to learn it. Facebook can be an incredible source of referral traffic and growth, but there’s no guarantee it will last. Publishers and developers are not Facebook’s priority. Users are.

Ruthlessly prioritizing the Facebook experience is what’s kept the News Feed at the center of the Internet despite changes from desktop to mobile, from text to photos to video. Only by putting users first does Facebook still have users. But everyone else needs to understand that Facebook’s favor is fickle.

Snapchat dangles referral traffic with link sharing from other apps


Snapchat is embracing links beyond its native content and will now allow you to briefly disappear from its Snap Map. In an update to Snapchat’s iOS app today it added two important new features. You can now share links from other apps via the iOS share sheet, allowing you to send a private message with the link to one or several people. And rather than just turning live location sharing on or off permanently, you can now opt to hide in “Ghost Mode” for 3 or 24 hours.

Snapchat is also making it easier to watch people’s Stories by letting you tap and hold on their name anywhere in the app.

External link sharing could make Snap into a legitimate source of referral traffic for news and ecommerce sites. That’s especially important to publishers as Facebook recently began testing burying all non-ad Page posts in a separate Explore Feed instead of the standard News Feed, reducing referral traffic by over 50% to publishers where the test is running in five countries including Serbia and Cambodia.

Brands and businesses seeking to go viral with teens could benefit from easier link sharing using the standard procedure instead of forcing users to copy and paste URLs. Snapchat recently began allowing links to be attached to private Snaps and Stories, spurring an unofficial developer platform that apps like Sarahah and Polly are piggybacking upon with anonymous messaging and polls.

Temporary Ghost Mode could make sure that if users want to turn off their location briefly, they don’t forget and leave it off permanently. This feature is crucial because Snapchat already hides Snap Map behind the camera, making it accessible with a pinch motion some users might not even know about. It’s easy to forget whether your location sharing is on or off. Now if they’re going somewhere sensitive like a secret party or a romantic partner’s place, they can drop into Ghost Mode and automatically reappear later.

GitHub’s scandalized ex-CEO returns with Chatterbug

Translation earbuds might eliminate some utilitarian reasons to know a language, but if you want to understand jokes, read poetry, or fall in love in a foreign tongue, you’ll have to actually learn it. Unfortunately, products like Rosetta Stone leave people feeling burned after claiming the process should be easy while never helping you practice talking with a real native speaker. You know, the skill you actually want. Just memorizing vocabulary doesn’t make you fluent.

So after teaching millions of people to code better, a team of former GitHub co-founders and executives this week launched Chatterbug to combine the best of online and face-to-face foreign language learning. Starting with German, Chatterbug uses a homegrown video chat alternative to Skype that lets you simultaneously talk, type, read, and screenshare your way to becoming conversational.

But one of the co-founders’ past may cast a shadow over Chatterbug. Tom Preston-Werner resigned from his role as CEO and co-founder of GitHub following an investigation into allegations of harassment and intimidation of a female employee by he and his wife Theresa Preston-Werner.

GitHub employee Julie Horvath told TechCrunch that Theresa had bullied her about not writing negatively about the company, said she could read employees’ private chats and had spies at the startup, and verbally bullied her.

While an independent investigation claimed to have found no evidence of illegal behavior or gender-based harassment on Tom’s part, it did conclude that the former CEO showed “mistakes and errors of judgment” and “insensitivity to the impact of his spouse’s presence in the workplace and failure to enforce an agreement that his spouse should not work in the office.”

Ex-GitHub CEO and Chatterbug co-founder Tom Preston-Werner

We asked Tom how he’s building Chatterbug differently this time around. “With some hindsight, the organic management structures at GitHub were a double edged sword. It unleashed a lot of creativity, but was fragile in handling conflict” says Preston-Werner. “From the very beginning of Chatterbug I’ve had serious conversations with the other founders on how to use those experiences to create a more robust channel of communications.”

Former GitHub head of comms and Chatterbug co-founder Liz Clinkenbeard tells TechCrunch “In retrospect, I think one of the major challenges at GitHub back then was that the company’s fairly flat structure sometimes made it difficult to know who to talk to about problems, and how to resolve them before they escalated.” With Chatterbug, she says the team has “been very open and deliberate about wanting to foster a safe and supportive work environment.”

It’s possible that Tom’s inclusion on the team could make it tougher for Chatterbug to hire talent, especially women. Though at least it seems the company is taking office demeanor and harassment issues seriously as it grows.

“I’ve always tried my best to empower my teammates and create a work environment that every employee will love. I haven’t been perfect at that endeavor in the past” admits Preston-Werner. “But I’ve learned much from those experiences and intend to use that knowledge to ensure that Chatterbug is a safe, welcoming, and productive place to work for women and other folks traditionally underrepresented in the tech industry.”

Cutting Skype Out Of Language Learning

Scott Chacon discovered what was broken about the current crop of language learning tools when he tried to pick up French via Duolingo and Japanese through Skype chats before spending time in the two countries. “I realized there was a gap between the digital apps that are super flexible but aren’t very effective at teaching conversation with real people, and the tutoring systems or in-person schools that were inflexible and super difficult to do” Chacon tells TechCrunch.

So he started building his own tools that would blossom into Chatterbug. The former GitHub co-founder and CIO recruited GitHub’s Clinkenbeard, director of engineering Russell Belfer, and Preston-Werner over late 2015 and early 2016. They raised a $1.8 million seed round from SV Angel and Berlin’s Fly Ventures to have early-stage allies on both sides of the pond.

Setting goals in Chatterbug

Now after some private trials starting in March, Chatterbug just launched the public beta of its German learning program, with Spanish and French coming next. And right out of the gate, it’s trying to set reasonable expectations for how fast people can pick up a new tongue. “The most difficult part of being in the business is that Rosetta Stone and other companies try to sell the idea that language learning can be easy” Chacon says. “Learning a language is not easy. It’s like a marathon.”

That’s why one of the first things you do in Chatterbug is adjust a slider for when you want to be fluent by, and it tells you how frequently you’ll have to study and be tutored. The app then gives you a foundation of vocabulary using “spaced repetition”, a study method employed by medical students where questions you get wrong get shown more often while you’re displayed fewer questions like those you got right.

Chatterbug understands when you almost get an answer right

Then Chatterbug schedules you for one-on-one tutoring over its video chat system designed specifically for language learning. Rather than having to commit to a weekly session time, only learn when your particular tutor is available, or fall behind if you miss a group class, you just punch in when you want to practice. Chatterbug pairs you with whatever appropriate tutor is available, gets them up to speed on your progress, and provides a personalized curriculum of exercises to do together based on what you’ve been screwing up.

The heavy engineering background of the Chatterbug team allowed it to create a WebRTC-based video chat that lets you view files together with your tutor and see each other’s cursors as well as talk and type. That’s a huge improvement over trying to pass PDFs back and forth or figure out what exercise the teacher is discussing.

Chatterbug’s video chat lets you talk, type, view files, and see each other’s cursors

The pricing model flexes to accommodate your pace. You can get all the self-study features plus one live lesson a month for €15 or eight for €80 with extra sessions costing €12 each if you want to take a vacation next year. Or for €195 you get unlimited sessions and can learn a language in just a few months. Chatterbug is also going B2B, appealing to businesses trying to educate employees by offering discounts and easy expensing.

Turning Anyone Into A Teacher

Chatterbug co-founder Liz Clinkenbeard

The startup’s data-driven approach could make it quick to expand to more languages and identify what’s toughest to learn. Chatterbug gives you the option to have it store recordings of your video sessions, and even give it permission to use them for research. Clinkenbeard studied linguistics at Harvard, and is using her expertise to help the company determine what are the most common vocab and grammar mistakes to help you avoid them.

Long-term, turning native speakers into tutors could offer new employment options to those lacking other quantifiable skills. “After leaving GitHub, I wanted my next project to be something that would positively impact a lot of people. As a filter, I’d ask myself ‘could this idea lead to the creation of a million jobs?’” says Preston-Werner.

Chatterbug faces a wide range of competitors like Rosetta Stone, Duolingo, Busoo, Babbel, and HelloTalk — some with deep pockets and a penchant for downplaying the difficulty of reaching fluency. Being real with people doesn’t always make for great marketing, and people who failed with other products exhibit a “healthy amount of skepticism” says Clinkenbeard. Then there’s the looming threat of advancing translation technology, like the new Google auto-translating Pixel Buds headphones.

Still, “I don’t think it will destroy the need for language learning” says Chacon. “At some point, in-person translators will be obsolete. Not sure if that’s in 5 years or 45 years.” But even if we solve information translation, culture translation will still be in demand. “You don’t want to wear an ear bud while you’re getting married” he laughs. At a time when the world is increasingly polarized and xenophobic, understanding your fellow humans without a technological intermediary could generate some much-needed empathy.