All posts in “Software”

Google partners with Howard University to launch program for black engineers

Howard University will soon have a campus at the Googleplex.
Howard University will soon have a campus at the Googleplex.

Image: Jeff Chiu/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Bonita Stewart, Google’s vice president of global partnerships, says the tech industry barely talked about diversity when she joined the company around 10 years ago. On Thursday, she announced a deal that takes a step toward permanently changing that culture.

The company just unveiled a new partnership with Howard University that will see black software engineers from “historically black colleges and universities,” better known as HBCUs, invited to study at a brand new program on the Google campus. They’re calling it “Howard West.”

“Howard happens to be my alma mater, so I am especially proud to share that our formal recruiting from the university has evolved into a residency for Black CS majors right here at the Googleplex,” Stewart said in a statement announcing the partnership with Howard, a historically black university. 

The program will open this summer, though at first it will only be open to Howard University students. Google hopes to bring in students from other schools soon. 

“Howard West will produce hundreds of industry-ready black computer science graduates.”

Rising juniors and seniors in the computer science program at Howard are eligible to apply. Those who get in will head to California for three-month stints, where they’ll learn from Google engineers as well as their own professors. 

“Howard West will produce hundreds of industry-ready black computer science graduates, future leaders with the power to transform the global technology space into a stronger, more accurate reflection of the world around us,” Howard University President Wayne Frederick said as part of the statement.

Frederick has high hopes for students at his university, but also hopes the program will get focus “the tech industry and other thought leaders around the importance of diversity in business and the communities they serve.”

Black employees make up 2% of Google’s overall workforce, according to figures released by the company. 59% are white, 32% Asian, 3% two or more races and 3% Hispanic.

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A new app lets you list and Shout

Shout is a sharing app. Think of it as a stripped-down Pinterest for those with no interest in messing with pretty photos of cookies and you get the general idea. And I think, with a little work, it could be a go-to collaboration tool for partners shopping for supplies, couples interested in not buying two boxes of beans at the grocery store, and a micro-blogging platform for the plugged in.

To use it you create lists and then add items to those lists. The lists can be collaborative and public so anyone can add items to the list. You can share lists with friends and share single items from lists. The virality is embedded in the process so the more lists you share the cooler your Shout app becomes.

The creator, Jeff Weisbein, started a blog in 2003 called BestTechie and most recently created a sharing service called KYA before creating Shout. “I want to provide an easier way to save, share, and curate content for yourself and/or with friends and followers,” he said.

Weisbein raised $450,000 from angels and they’re working on a Seed Round of $1.55 million. They just launched Shout so they don’t have many numbers yet but it looks like things are on an upward swing.

“Our mission with Shout is to make it incredibly easy to save, share, and curate content. One of the core features in Shout is the three types of ‘Lists’ (Private, Public, and Collaborative), the ability Shout content with your family and/or friends to a single list, and the fact you can easily follow a curated list with content that interests you curated by a human,” he said. “For example, my mom created a private, collaborative list called ‘Mom Links’ and Shouts content to it that she wants me to read/look at. I love tech, so I created a public ‘Tech News’ list where I Shout tech news stories I think are interesting, cool, and important.”

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While I agree that what the world needs now is another social media platform like I need a hole in the head, Shout is a bit different and a bit more interesting. I can see this as a next generation Tumblr wedded with a To-Do list, a perfect futuristic hybrid of utility and pleasure that will democratize media and all that jazz. It could also be a cool way to see who likes Grace Slick. We shall see.
Featured Image: Garry Knight/Flickr UNDER A CC BY 2.0 LICENSE

Instagram begins blurring some sensitive content, opens two-factor to all

Instagram is already doing a lot to spot and censor posts that violate its community guidelines, like outright porn, but now it’s also taking steps to block out potentially sensitive material that might not technically run afoul of its rules. The social network is adding a blurred screen with a “Sensitive Content” warning on top of posts that fit this description, which basically means posts that have been reported as offensive by users, but don’t merit takedowns per the posted Instagram guidelines.

This is an app feature that will add a step for users who aren’t worried about being scandalized by images posted on the network, since you’ll have to tap an acknowledgement in order to view the photo or video. The blurred view will show up both in list and grid display modes, and Instagram says it’ll prevent “surprising or unwanted experiences” in the app. It’s likely that Instagram is trying to find a balance between reducing community complaints and keeping its guidelines relatively open.

The second big update is the broad release of two-factor introduction to all users. Previously, this was available only to a limited set of members, despite the near-universal recommendation from security experts that they use two-factor wherever available. You can enable this feature using the gear icon in your profile page and enabling the option to “Require Security Code” under “Two-Factor Authentication.”

Instagram’s new blurred content filters are another step in its continued efforts to clean up its act relative to community abuse and spam. Other steps the social network has taken include disabling comments on individual posts, and offering reporting tools and support within the app for cases that involve potential self-harm.

Drivemode raises $6.5M from Panasonic and others for smartphone car tech

If you’re an Android device owner and also a driver, you may already be familiar with Drivemode: Available on Google Play, it’s one of the most popular apps for use in cars, with more than one million downloads and active users spread across 180 countries. The app is designed to reduce distractions for drivers via an eyes-free interface designed to access smartphone functions like navigation, messaging, calls and more, entirely via voice.

Drivemode just raised $6.5 million in a new Series A round, led by Panasonic, which, among its many talents, is also one of the largest automotive industry suppliers in the world. Panasonic is a strategic investor, and others included in the round include insurance provider Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance via its VC arm, as well as Innovative Venture Fund Investment and Miyako Capital. The nature and source of the funding suggests Drivemode has ambitions well beyond its existing consumer app. Founder and CEO Yo Koga confirms the company is focused on building out additional features for the app through its new partnership with Panasonic, but that it also has other ambitions in the works.

“Obviously, Panasonic wants to utilize our popularity as a driving app when working with automakers,” Koga explained. “So what we’re working on now is integrating their infotainment systems with our consumer app so that we can work with hardware products like display audio or basic audio, consumers have a lot more to users via the consumer app. At the same time, a lot of automakers are also interested in white label stuff as well, so that we’re working on separately, as well.”

Companies seem eager to partner with Drivemode; Koga says there’s a big backlog of deal pipeline it could pursue, but with a team of only eight people much of that has been on hold. What, then, is stopping other companies from stepping up and filling the demand either internally or via alternate partners? Google’s own Android Auto app on the Play Store enjoys worse reviews than Drivemode, for starters, which is a good indicator that Koga’s right when he points out how hard it is to make an app that does what Drivemode can do, and do it well.

“Drivemode is an extremely technical app,” he said. “A lot of automotive companies try to replicate what we’re doing, and a lot of hardware companies try to do this, too. Hardware companies, for example, can have fantastic hardware, but figuring out the hardware experience is the toughest part. Even simply answering incoming Facebook messages by voice is super technical, and not many can do it, at least with the right interface.”

Drivemode has been working on the problem with actual user feedback since the app first launched in beta in 2014, and continues to iterate on its voice-based interaction model. It’s also in regular contact with the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), and Koga says they see eye-to-eye with the federal body on where in-car use of devices and services are headed in terms of maximizing safety.

Meanwhile, he argues their value to potential automaker and supply-side partners will only grow, given the direction in which the industry is headed.

“What’s going on in the automotive industry is that software will be key from now on,” Koga explained. “The problem with that is that automakers and suppliers don’t have direct access to the users, which is why they’re trying to come up with new standards like SDL [SmartDeviceLink] and others to figure out ways to connect with users. Getting data, and then liberating the data, in the automotive industry will be the key concern for [automakers].”

Drivemode’s free, in-app purchase supported model means it already has one of the largest install bases of any third-party software for use on smartphones in cars, which is bound to interest carmakers. Its range of features mean it can also reveal a lot about user habits, providing much more insight about customer behavior than carmakers, other than tech-centric players like Tesla, can generally expect to receive.

Cubspot finds camps and classes for your wee ones

Cubspot: come for the “EdTech SaaS marketplace” but stay for the opportunity to find camps and classes for your kids this summer. Cubspot is the brainchild of Rachael Shayne, a former brand manager for Nestle, The North Face, and Oakley. Over a bottle of wine she and her friends talked about how hard it was to find classes for their kids in the summer.

“We talked about how ridiculous it is that our kids seem to be constantly out of school and the torture of finding the best, right, camps and classes to nurture them in a way that allows parents to work and excel professionally,” she said. “Realizing how fractured the marketplace was, we knew we could automate the process using software.”

The company has raised $500,000 in seed and is looking at some solid traction in early betas. The key, said Shayne, is the focus on the parents and not the providers. While the providers have plenty of wonky places to post their offerings, no one wants to use them. By focusing on the parents and offering them a quick and easy way to pick a class or camp they give everyone a more streamlined and pleasant experience. As it stands, booking a camp is a pain.

“Even building better vertical software for providers will also help parents who universally despise the camp and classes booking process. Also, we have automated the provider on-boarding process allowing us to scale faster. Sadly, 34 million parents currently waste 1 billion hours per year planning all of this for their 61 million kids. Informal learning is a $52 billion market and growing. Cubspot unifies the experience for both parents and providers becoming the personal assistant they both need.”

Give that literally anything is better than the current method of “search Google for camp near you, talk to unhelpful person on phone, send in a check, hope it’s a good camp” I think this “EdTech SaaS marketplace” has some legs.