All posts in “Social”

Facebook adds a travel-planning feature called ‘City Guides’


Facebook has been busy with the app updates, as of late. In recent months, it has added new sections for finding nearby Wi-Fi, meeting new people, checking the weather, and more. Now, it’s rolling out yet another addition to the “More” menu inside the Facebook app: City Guides. A potential challenger to Foursquare, Facebook’s guides will show you a list of cities and which of your friends visited, along with various recommendations of places to go and things to do.

When you click into an individual city, you’ll see a row of rounded profile icons of your friends who have visited there. Tap on each one, and a list of the places they’ve been – like hotels, restaurants, attractions, and other businesses – will appear. This data is presumably being extracted from users’ check-ins and Facebook posts.

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Facebook has long allowed users to check-in via their status updates, but it hadn’t done much with that data, in terms of offering a consumer-facing feature to rival Foursquare. That’s been fairly surprising, given that asking friends for ideas of what to do in a new city seems like a perfect feature for a social network like Facebook.

City Guides seems to correct that problem, or at least it’s trying to. The feature itself, however, is more useful if you have a lot of well-traveled friends. But also included in each city’s guide is a list of “Places the Locals Go,” which pulls in popular, highly rated spots. Here, Facebook uses technology to summarize what people are saying about the suggested place.

For example, a restaurant’s summary might read: “People talk about delicious tacos, friendly atmosphere, and brews on tap.” 

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Each item has a bookmark icon to the right, which lets you save the place to a list of favorites. These bookmarked items are available in a “Saved” section at the top of the city’s page. You can also save the city itself, to make a sort of bucket list of places you want to go.

Meanwhile, if you scroll down further in the guide, you’ll see a list of Upcoming Events, which you can swipe through horizontally. Beneath this, is a list of Popular Attractions, which includes things like famous landmarks, tourist attractions, and scenic places. All these can be bookmarked, as well.

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Social travel planning apps (often using Facebook data) was an area where a number of startups competed years ago, including Gtrot, Zetrip, Roam7TrippyJetpacGogobot and others. But the market later fizzled out.

Belatedly, Facebook has stepped in.

Its city guides feature feels like a socially infused version of a traditional travel planning app, but they’re also augmented with the public data available on Facebook, which makes them more useful.

Unfortunately, City Guides seems to only focus on major international cities, and not the small, out-of-way locales that are also popular destinations, like beachy islands, quaint resort towns, remote small towns, and more. It would be great to see this city guides feature expanded in the future so you could pull up any city in the world, no matter its size, and see what your friends did while there.

The City Guides feature was seen in testing last year, noted 9to5Mac, which also spotted this launch, but it now appears to be rolling out more broadly on mobile.

Facebook confirmed the new feature, but noted it’s still in limited availability.

“We’re testing a redesigned surface on city Pages that showcases information about your city, a spokesperson said. “This content already exists on Facebook, and during this test we’ll be centralizing it in a way that is more personalized and relevant to you. So, this new feature can help people get a better sense of their city, or a city they’re visiting through their friends’ eyes.”

Snapchat stock finishes up 44% on first day


Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, had a great day in its debut on the New York Stock Exchange. After pricing the IPO at $17 per share yesterday, the stock opened at $24. It then closed the day at $24.51, a 44 percent premium to the people who bought it yesterday.

But like with all IPOs, not everybody got to access Snap’s IPO price. This is usually reserved for a smaller group of institutional investors and high-net worth individuals who are on good terms with the banks. Most investors didn’t have a chance to buy until today, so the gains for them are much smaller.

The debut draws more similarities to Twitter’s, which went public in 2013. The company saw a solid first day of trading, but then saw a lot of volatility in the following months. Facebook, on the other hand, had a rough first day as a public company, with the share price closing exactly where it opened (companies normally try to price it so it goes up about 20 percent on the first day). But then the company flourished on the stock market over time.

Snapchat went public at what was an interesting point in the company’s history. Unlike many companies, like Uber and Airbnb with sky-high valuations, Snapchat decided to go public earlier in its monetization, probably because it’s better to go public before the market considers the company overvalued.

Yet Snapchat is entering the markets at a time when growth has slowed, possibly due to Instagram copying its “stories” feature. And while revenue is quickly growing, they are also significantly unprofitable.

Hemant Taneja, an early investor in Snapchat and managing director at General Catalyst, said he was excited about Snapchat early on because of the “richness of innovation.” He saw that founder Evan Spiegel was “determined to make technology work for us, rather than change behaviors necessarily — like with ephemeral nature of communications.”

Unlike Facebook, Snapchat’s images disappear by default, a feature that baffled many people initially. But it proved to be popular and today’s debut on the stock market is a pivotal moment in technology history.

Featured Image: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

As Messenger’s bots lose steam, Facebook pushes menus over chat


Facebook’s Messenger bots may not be having the impact the social network desired. Just yesterday, online retailer Everlane, one of the launch partners for the bot platform, announced it was ditching Messenger for customer notifications and returning to email. Following this, Facebook today announced an upgraded Messenger Platform, which introduces a new way for users to interact with bots: via simple persistent menus, including those without the option to chat with the bot at all.

One of the problems with Facebook’s bots is that it’s often unclear how to get started. The directory of bots in Messenger wasn’t initially available and now only reveals itself when you start a search in the app. And it hasn’t always been obvious how to get a bot talking, once added, or how to navigate back and forth through a bot’s many sections.

The Messenger platform update today tackles this latter problem, by offering an alternative to the more limited – and sometimes confusing – systems that were previously available.

Instead of forcing users to talk with a bot, developers can choose to create a persistent menu that allows for multiple, nested items as a better way of displaying all the bots’ capabilities in a simple interface.

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The new persistent menus are limited to three items at the top-level, and its sub-menus are now limited to five. Before, if users wanted to engage with a menu like this, they often had to engage in conversations with the bot to discover the various sections and items.

Now, Facebook suggests to developers that they “consider stripping such exchanges down and cutting to the chase by putting the most important features in your menu.

For example, a retailer’s bot might offer menu options that let you “go shopping,” “ask questions,” or “send messages.” If you clicked into the shopping section, the menu could update with a list of items to drill down into, like tops, bottoms, shoes and accessories.

Along with webviews – like, the product page for the shirt you want to buy, for example – the new experience feels more like navigating a mobile website within Messenger, instead of using a bot.

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Also new is that developers can now choose to hide the composer screen, and forgo allowing customers to have a conversational experience in the bot entirely.

I guess we can’t call them chatbots anymore?

The question this leads to, of course, is whether or not any of this is necessary. If Facebook’s bots become more like mobile sites, what’s the point of using them in Messenger at all?

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It feels like Facebook is going the wrong direction here. Messenger seems poised to be the company’s breakout platform for voice-based computing and voice-powered virtual assistants, but the company hasn’t put much focus on those emerging technologies.

While it acquired voice and natural language startup Wit.ai in 2015, it hasn’t done much publicly with voice computing, beyond testing having Facebook turn voice clips into text during chat sessions.

Today, you can’t connect the dots between Messenger and its many bots just by speaking. That is, it seems like you should be able to say to Messenger, “what’s the latest from CNN?” or “will it rain today?,” then have the appropriate bot respond. But this is not the case.

Meanwhile, Facebook also toyed around with “M,” a virtual assistant inside Messenger, but this has yet to launch to more than a handful of testers.

None of today’s other Messenger platform updates focus on these technologies, either.

Instead, the larger update to version 1.4 includes things like expanded sharing capabilities that could help bots gain more exposure; tools to better match businesses’ customer lists to Messenger’s user base; a handful of new APIs; improved analytics; and other tweaks and features catering to specific developers’ needs.

Facebook, meanwhile, is quickly becoming one of the largest tech companies without a clear path to the voice computing-powered future, where others like Apple, Google, Amazon, and Samsung are today intensely competing. But with over a billion active Messenger users, Facebook has the luxury of taking the time to figure things out.

Featured Image: Kārlis Dambrāns/Flickr UNDER A CC BY 2.0 LICENSE

Kristen Stewart says text messages are kinda ghosts and who are we to argue?

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Not a ghost

Image: nicholas hunt/getty

In a way, Kristen Stewart texts you every single day just to see how you’re doing. And in another, actually real way, your relationship with Kristen Stewart is completely in your head but still yours to keep. 

The actress, who is promoting her new film about a girl haunted by her brother’s ghost, Personal Shopper, thinks text messages and social media are pretty much just that — your projections. And that’s fine. 

“When you speak to someone on the phone, that is a decipherable, understandable exchange,” she explains to V Magazine. “But with text and social media, it’s essentially a dialogue with yourself and your interpretation of a shadow. It’s not invalid; it’s a new language.”

Stewart herself is not on social media and cautions others to avoid its trappings.

“But you also become addicted to that hit by yourself and with yourself, every seven minutes or so, and you end up wasting so much time just validating something very superficial in yourself. It has definitely changed us.”

This is good news, because it means KStew is not reading my glowing tweets about her blazers.