All posts in “Software”

Citymapper is shutting down its efforts to reinvent the bus

City navigation and public transit app Citymapper is ending the program it called “Citymapper Ride,” which has gone through a number of incarnations since its introduction back in 2017.

Since then, the company has gone from running one bus route in London designed to supplement a need for customers that wasn’t currently well-addressed by existing transit options, to operating shared cab rides, and the program has been renamed from Smarbus to Smartride to finally Citymapper Ride.

In a Medium post detailing the decision to end the program, Citymapper noted a number of reasons why it’s shutting down the program and this line of product development. These include a mismatch with its mission in the evolution of the product from bus operation to shared cabs; a desire to focus on Pass, its subscription service that provides access to mobility services including public transit, bicycles and cabs for one fee; a desire to give its partners more emphasis rather than competing with them; economics that don’t make sense without focus specifically on making them work; and regulations that hampered some of its efforts, including operating bus lines.

In the end, Citymapper running buses and acting as a kind of Uber junior was always a bit of a weird distraction from its core mission, and it always felt experimental. The mobility market overall seems to be undergoing a maturation in recent years, so it makes sense for tech companies to be applying the learnings resulting from some of their more ambitious larks.

The Slack origin story

Let’s rewind a decade.

It’s 2009. Vancouver, Canada.

Stewart Butterfield, known already for his part in building Flickr, a photo-sharing service acquired by Yahoo in 2005, decided to try his hand — again — at building a game. Flickr had been a failed attempt at a game called Game Neverending followed by a big pivot. This time, Butterfield would make it work.

To make his dreams a reality, he joined forces with Flickr’s original chief software architect Cal Henderson, as well as former Flickr employees Eric Costello and Serguei Mourachov, who like himself, had served some time at Yahoo after the acquisition. Together, they would build Tiny Speck, the company behind an artful, non-combat massively multiplayer online game.

Years later, Butterfield would pull off a pivot more massive than his last. Slack, born from the ashes of his fantastical game, would lead a shift toward online productivity tools that fundamentally change the way people work.

Glitch is born

In mid-2009, former TechCrunch reporter-turned-venture-capitalist M.G. Siegler wrote one of the first stories on Butterfield’s mysterious startup plans.

“So what is Tiny Speck all about?” Siegler wrote. “That is still not entirely clear. The word on the street has been that it’s some kind of new social gaming endeavor, but all they’ll say on the site is ‘we are working on something huge and fun and we need help.’”

Siegler would go on to invest in Slack as a general partner at GV, the venture capital arm of Alphabet .

“Clearly this is a creative project,” Siegler added. “It almost sounds like they’re making an animated movie. As awesome as that would be, with people like Henderson on board, you can bet there’s impressive engineering going on to turn this all into a game of some sort (if that is in fact what this is all about).”

After months of speculation, Tiny Speck unveiled its project: Glitch, an online game set inside the brains of 11 giants. It would be free with in-game purchases available and eventually, a paid subscription for power users.

Facebook releases community standards enforcement report

Facebook has just released its latest community standards enforcement report and the verdict is in: people are awful, and happy to share how awful they are with the world.

The latest effort at transparency from Facebook on how it enforces its community standards contains several interesting nuggets. While the company’s algorithms and internal moderators have become exceedingly good at tracking myriad violations before they’re reported to the company, hate speech, online bullying, harassment and the nuances of interpersonal awfulness still have the company flummoxed.

In most instances, Facebook is able to enforce its own standards and catches between 90% and over 99% of community standards violations itself. But those numbers are far lower for bullying, where Facebook only caught 14% of the 2.6 million instances of harassment reported; and hate speech, where the company internally flagged 65.4% of the 4.0 million moments of hate speech users reported.

By far the most common violation of community standards — and the one that’s potentially most worrying heading into the 2020 election — is the creation of fake accounts. In the first quarter of the year, Facebook found and removed 2.19 billion fake accounts. That’s a spike of 1 billion fake accounts created in the first quarter of the year.

Spammers also keep trying to leverage Facebook’s social network — and the company took down nearly 1.76 billion instances of spammy content in the first quarter.

For a real window into the true awfulness that people can achieve, there are the company’s self-reported statistics around removing child pornography and graphic violence. The company said it had to remove 5.4 million pieces of content depicting child nudity or sexual exploitation and that there were 33.6 million takedowns of violent or graphic content.

Interestingly, the areas where Facebook is the weakest on internal moderation are also the places where the company is least likely to reverse a decision on content removal. Although posts containing hate speech are among the most appealed types of content, they’re the least likely to be restored. Facebook reversed itself 152,000 times out of the 1.1 million appeals it heard related to hate speech. Other areas where the company seemed immune to argument was with posts related to the sale of regulated goods like guns and drugs.

In a further attempt to bolster its credibility and transparency, the company also released a summary of findings from an independent panel designed to give feedback on Facebook’s reporting and community guidelines themselves.

Facebook summarized the findings from the 44-page report by saying the commission validated Facebook’s approach to content moderation was appropriate and its audits well-designed “if executed as described.”

The group also recommended that Facebook develop more transparent processes and greater input for users into community guidelines policy development.

Recommendations also called for Facebook to incorporate more of the reporting metrics used by law enforcement when tracking crime.

“Law enforcement looks at how many people were the victims of crime — but they also look at how many criminal events law enforcement became aware of, how many crimes may have been committed without law enforcement knowing and how many people committed crimes,” according to a blog post from Facebook’s Radha Iyengar Plumb, head of Product Policy Research. “The group recommends that we provide additional metrics like these, while still noting that our current measurements and methodology are sound.”

Finally the report recommended a number of steps for Facebook to improve, which the company summarized below:

  • Additional metrics we could provide that show our efforts to enforce our polices such as the accuracy of our enforcement and how often people disagree with our decisions
  • Further break-downs of the metrics we already provide, such as the prevalence of certain types of violations in particular areas of the world, or how much content we removed versus apply a warning screen to when we include it in our content actioned metric
  • Ways to make it easier for people who use Facebook to stay updated on changes we make to our policies and to have a greater voice in what content violates our policies and what doesn’t

Meanwhile, examples of what regulation might look like to ensure that Facebook is taking the right steps in a way that is accountable to the countries in which it operates are beginning to proliferate.

It’s hard to moderate a social network that’s larger than the world’s most populous countries, but accountability and transparency are critical to preventing the problems that exist on those networks from putting down permanent, physical roots in the countries where Facebook operates.

Meet Projector, collaborative design software for the Instagram age

Mark Suster of Upfront Ventures bonded with Trevor O’Brien in prison. The pair, Suster was quick to clarify, were on site at a correctional facility in 2016 to teach inmates about entrepreneurship as part of a workshop hosted by Defy Ventures, a nonprofit organization focused on addressing the issue of mass incarceration.

They hit it off, sharing perspectives on life and work, Suster recounted to TechCrunch. So when O’Brien, a former director of product management at Twitter, mentioned he was in the early days of building a startup, Suster listened.

Three years later, O’Brien is ready to talk about the idea that captured the attention of the Bird, FabFitFun and Ring investor. It’s called Projector.

It’s the brainchild of a product veteran (O’Brien) and a gaming industry engineer turned Twitter’s vice president of engineering (Projector co-founder Jeremy Gordan), a combination that has given way to an experiential and well-designed platform. Projector is browser-based, real-time collaborative design software tailored for creative teams that feels and looks like a mix of PowerPoint, Google Docs and Instagram . Though it’s still months away from a full-scale public launch, the team recently began inviting potential users to test the product for bugs.

We want to reimagine visual communication in the workplace by building these easier to use tools and giving creative powers to the non-designers who have great stories to tell and who want to make a difference,” O’Brien told TechCrunch. “They want change to happen and they need to be empowered with the right kinds of tools.”

Today, Projector is a lean team of 13 employees based in downtown San Francisco. They’ve kept quiet since late 2016 despite closing two rounds of venture capital funding. The first, a $4 million seed round, was led by Upfront’s Suster, as you may have guessed. The second, a $9 million Series A, was led by Mayfield in 2018. Hunter Walk of Homebrew, Jess Verrilli of #Angels and Nancy Duarte of Duarte, Inc. are also investors in the business, among others.

O’Brien leads Projector as chief executive officer alongside co-founder and chief technology officer Gordon. Years ago, O’Brien was pursuing a PhD in computer graphics and information visualization at Brown University when he was recruited to Google’s competitive associate product manager program. He dropped out of Brown and began a career in tech that would include stints at YouTube, Twitter, Coda and, finally, his very own business.

O’Brien and Gordan crossed paths at Twitter in 2013 and quickly realized a shared history in the gaming industry. O’Brien had spent one year as an engineer at a games startup called Mad Doc Software, while Gordon had served as the chief technology officer at Sega Studios. Gordan left Twitter in 2014 and joined Redpoint Ventures as an entrepreneur-in-residence before O’Brien pitched him on an idea that would become Projector.

Projector co-founders Jeremy Gordan (left), Twitter’s former vice president of engineering, and Trevor O’Brien, Twitter’s former director of product management

“We knew we wanted to create a creative platform but we didn’t want to create another creative platform for purely self-expression, we wanted to do something that was a bit more purposeful,” O’Brien said. “At the end of the day, we just wanted to see good ideas succeed. And with all of those good ideas, succeeding typically starts with them being presented well to their audience.”

Initially, Projector is targeting employees within creative organizations and marketing firms, who are frequently tasked with creating visually compelling presentations. The tool suite is free for now and will be until it’s been sufficiently tested for bugs and has fully found its footing. O’Brien says he’s not sure just yet how the team will monetize Projector, but predicts they’ll adopt Slack’s per user monthly subscription pricing model.

As original and user-friendly as it may be, Projector is up against great competition right out of the gate. In the startup landscape, it’s got Canva, a graphic design platform valued at $2.5 billion earlier this week with a $70 million financing. On the old-guard, it’s got Adobe, which sells a widely used suite of visual communication and graphic design tools. Not to mention Prezi, Figma and, of course, Microsoft’s PowerPoint, which is total crap but still used by millions of people.

There are many tools scratching at the surface, but there’s not one visual communications tool that wins them all,” Suster said of his investment in Projector.

Projector is still in its very early days. The company currently has just two integrations: Unsplash for free stock images and Giphy for GIFs. O’Brien would eventually like to incorporate iconography, typography and sound to liven up Projector’s visual presentation capabilities.

The ultimate goal, aside from generally improving workplace storytelling, is to make crafting presentations fun, because shouldn’t a corporate slideshow or even a startup’s pitch be as entertaining as scrolling through your Instagram feed?

“We wanted to try to create something that doesn’t feel like work,” O’Brien said.

Indonesia restricts WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram usage following deadly riots

Indonesia is the latest nation to hit the hammer on social media after the government restricted the use of WhatsApp and Instagram following deadly riots yesterday.

Numerous Indonesia-based users are today reporting difficulties sending multimedia messages via WhatsApp, which is one of the country’s most popular chat apps, and posting content to Facebook, while the hashtag #instagramdown is trending among the country’s Twitter users due to problems accessing the Facebook-owned photo app.

Wiranto, a coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, confirmed in a press conference that the government is limiting access to social media and “deactivating certain features” to maintain calm, according to a report from Coconuts.

Rudiantara, the communications minister of Indonesia and a critic of Facebook, explained that users “will experience lag on Whatsapp if you upload videos and photos.”

Facebook — which operates both WhatsApp and Instagram — didn’t explicitly confirm the blockages , but it did say it has been in communication with the Indonesian government.

“We are aware of the ongoing security situation in Jakarta and have been responsive to the Government of Indonesia. We are committed to maintaining all of our services for people who rely on them to communicate with their loved ones and access vital information,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch.

A number of Indonesia-based WhatsApp users confirmed to TechCrunch that they are unable to send photos, videos and voice messages through the service. Those restrictions are lifted when using Wi-Fi or mobile data services through a VPN, the people confirmed.

The restrictions come as Indonesia grapples with political tension following the release of the results of its presidential election on Tuesday. Defeated candidate Prabowo Subianto said he will challenge the result in the constitutional court.

Riots broke out in capital state Jakarta last night, killing at least six people and leaving more than 200 people injured. Following this, it is alleged that misleading information and hoaxes about the nature of riots and people who participated in them began to spread on social media services, according to local media reports.

Protesters hurl rocks during clash with police in Jakarta on May 22, 2019. – Indonesian police said on May 22 they were probing reports that at least one demonstrator was killed in clashes that broke out in the capital Jakarta overnight after a rally opposed to President Joko Widodo’s re-election. (Photo by ADEK BERRY / AFP)

For Facebook, seeing its services forcefully cut off in a region is no longer a rare incident. The company, which is grappling with the spread of false information in many markets, faced a similar restriction in Sri Lanka in April, when the service was completely banned for days amid terrorist strikes in the nation. India, which just this week concluded its general election, has expressed concerns over Facebook’s inability to contain the spread of false information on WhatsApp, which is its largest chat app with over 200 million monthly users.

Indonesia’s Rudiantara expressed a similar concern earlier this month.

“Facebook can tell you, ‘We are in compliance with the government’. I can tell you how much content we requested to be taken down and how much of it they took down. Facebook is the worst,” he told a House of Representatives Commission last week, according to the Jakarta Post.

Update 05/22 02:30 PDT: The original version of this post has been updated to reflect that usage of Facebook in Indonesia has also been impacted.