Facebook’s Move to Dial Back News Ratchets Up Drama

Facebook once again has found itself at the center of a media storm, following Mark Zuckerberg’s recent announcement of plans to shift its focus away from promoting news and business content and more toward emphasizing interactions from friends and family.

The shift follows more than a year of heavy criticism directed against Facebook. It has been blamed for failing to combat fake news on its website during the 2016 presidential election. In addition, concerns have been growing over mental health issues linked to spending too much time on social media, especially for children and young adults.

Further, publishers have complained that Facebook and Google have been hijacking their content and advertising dollars to the point that many digital media site valuations have nearly evaporated.

However, the change Facebook just announced represents a further blow to publishers, according to Rick Edmonds, media business analyst at Poynter.

The network will lose some short term users, but fall short of addressing some of the core concerns, he maintained.

“My own view is that the move is more of a copout than a solution on hate speech and truly fake news,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “Facebook couldn’t find a way to differentiate that from quality journalism and tossed the baby out with the bath water.”

Facebook represents a huge market for content companies, with 1.37 billion daily active users as of September 2017, and 2.07 billion monthly active users.

About 67 percent of U.S. adults who participated in a Pew Research Study at the time said they got at least some of their news from Facebook.

For the first time ever, more than half of adults 50 and older reported getting most of their news from social media, the study found. That represented an increase of 10 percent over 2016 figures, when 45 percent of adults in that age group got their news from social media.

Zuckerberg announced the new direction for Facebook last week, in a post that touched on recent concerns that Facebook might cause addictive behavior and result in isolation, particularly among younger people.

“We feel a responsibility to make sure our services aren’t just fun to use, but also good for people’s well being,” Zuckerberg wrote.

Like Minds

Among the concerns voiced by critics — including former President Barack Obama — is that many social media users have tended to gravitate toward a single political viewpoint, boxing out those who don’t share the same ideas.

In the future, posts that are more likely to spark conversations with friends and family will be emphasized, said Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s head of news feed.

As a result, reach, watch time and referral traffic may decrease, he noted.

The changes will make it more difficult for content brands and businesses to break through to Facebook users, said Tania Yuki, CEO of Shareablee.

“Brands and media content companies are still welcome in this more intimate space, provided that their content enhances the time spent on Facebook and adds value to the experience of the average user,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

“The onus is now on creators to think with that lens, rather than with the lens of purely driving business value for themselves,” Yuki added.

Think Outside the Box

The impact of Facebook’s latest move could be positive in the long term, suggested Jamie Spencer, senior vice president of Magid, “if it convinces publishers to reallocate resources currently creating and posting Facebook content towards initiatives that deliver high-quality, monetizable content.”

The amount of money invested in Facebook content now brings a questionable return, he told the E-Commerce Times, whereas if resources were reallocated toward premium video content for over-the-top or other distribution channels, consumers would get better content and publishers would see a stronger return.

Facebook’s shift comes about six weeks after Snap announced plans to separate news content from personal posts by friends and family.

Snap late last year said it would create side-by-side feeds with Stories featuring original news and creative content on the right and Stories from friends on the left.


David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain’s New York Business and The New York Times.

Watch ‘Maze Runner’ for cheap with the T-Mobile Tuesdays app

You don’t have to tell your date that you won’t be breaking the bank to take him or her to both dinner and the movies. In fact, with all the money T-Mobile will help you save, you might even encourage that order of dessert or extra popcorn. Thanks to the Uncarrier’s exclusive partnership with Twentieth Century Fox Film, T-Mobile customers will soon be able to score $4 tickets to five of the most highly anticipated films of the year. Beginning Tuesday, January 23, subscribers to the mobile service provider will be able to get cheap tickets to the opening of Maze Runner: The Death Cure. And then throughout the rest of the year, you’ll be able to look forward to more $4 tickets to Red Sparrow, Deadpool 2, Alita: Battle Angel, and X-Men: Dark Phoenix.

Like all of T-Mobile’s freebies, these tickets can be claimed through the T-Mobile Tuesdays app, and then redeemed using the Atom Tickets app. This isn’t the first time these companies have joined forces. In 2017, T-Mobile also teamed up with both Twentieth Century Fox Film and Atom Tickets to give customers discounted entry to War for the Planet of the Apes in theaters. This offer proved to be such a success among T-Mobile Tuesdays fans that the Uncarrier is expanding its partnership with both the film studio and the ticket service. Indeed, T-Mobile noted, movies are the most popular deals on its giveaway app.

“In 2017, we served up over 63 million awesome freebies and deals to Un-carrier customers through T-Mobile Tuesdays,” John Legere, president and CEO at T-Mobile, said in a statement. “Now, we are bringing this year’s biggest blockbuster movies from Twentieth Century Fox Film just to say, ‘Thank you for being a customer.’”

To claim your discounted ticket, you need to grab it first from the T-Mobile Tuesdays app on January 23, then redeem it through the Atom Tickets app by January 28. You’ll be able to watch the actual Maze Runner: The Death Cure film when it debuts on January 26. Plus, throughout the year, T-Mobile will be offering lucky customers trips to attend premieres and other VIP experiences (though those will be in much shorter supply than $4 tickets).

Editors’ Recommendations

AT&T and Verizon’s speeds start to recover after launch of unlimited data

The mobile world is going unlimited, and that’s largely seen as a very good thing for consumers as we continue to stream videos from Netflix and connect to more and more smart devices. It’s a bit tough on carriers though. According to a report from OpenSignal, which monitors and reports on networks, the likes of AT&T and Verizon have been feeling the pain of their unlimited data plans, which were launched almost a year ago.

The report notes that unlimited plans do come with a performance hit, and in August OpenSignal’s State of Mobile Networks report mentioned that Verizon had seen an average drop of 2Mbps in LTE download speeds. AT&T’s average speed was down by 1Mbps. Now, however, it seems like things have changed a little — and for the better.

After six months of measuring decreases in LTE speeds, OpenSignal now says that both Verizon’s and AT&T’s speeds have leveled out — and Verizon’s speeds have even started going back up. Of course, that doesn’t mean they’ve fully recovered — on the contrary, the speeds were still far lower in November than they were in February.

But what about Sprint and T-Mobile? They’ve been doing great. T-Mobile‘s average speed was around 3Mbps faster than Verizon’s in November making it the fastest network out there, and while Sprint’s speed is still much lower than anyone else’s, it has been closing the gap significantly.

All this to say — now that Verizon and AT&T have stopped the plummetting of their data speeds, it will be interesting to see if that can make a comeback.

There are a few reasons why unlimited data plans affect overall data speeds. With more customers on unlimited plans, more data is being used — and greater demand on a cell tower causes the network to slow down. It’s kind of like a highway — the more cars there are, the slower the traffic goes.

What carriers need to do in the future is basically increase the bandwidth on their networks, and that’s very likely to happen given the rise of 5G networks and the fact that more and more people are getting plans with more data allowances. All the major networks are in the process of deploying their first 5G networks, with AT&T recently touting that it will be among the first to bring the new tech to consumers.

Editors’ Recommendations

Bitcoin’s value crashes and it’s taking other currencies with it

Bitcoin’s meteoric rise in 2017 has faced its biggest downturn in quite some time. Just over a month on from hitting its lifetime value peak of more than $19,000, it has now fallen to less than $10,000. Those who diversified their cryptocurrency portfolio aren’t safe from the crash though, as bitcoin’s downturn has been felt by all the major alternative coins.

Although cryptocurrencies have traditionally had rather volatile values, bitcoin’s has been near unprecedented over the past few months. It went from being worth $1,000 at the start of 2017, to $5,000 in November, to close to $20,000 just over a month later. It’s since fallen and has fluctuated between $12,000 and $16,000 in the weeks that followed, but today’s dip is the largest we’ve seen in some time.

At the time of writing, a single bitcoin is worth around $9,900, representing a fall of nearly $3,000 in the last 24 hours alone. The start of this latest crash took place on Monday, January 15, where it began to tumble from just under $14,000. It’s bounced up and down since then but slowly trended down to the low point of $9,430, according to Coindesk.

This latest drop has also pulled down some of the other most successful cryptocurrencies. Ethereum, arguably the No. 2 cryptocurrency in the world, lost more than 20 percent of its value in the last 24 hours, dipping to $870 per ether at the time of writing. Ripple has followed suit, with a near 25 percent correction and litecoin is at its lowest rate in months.

Some of this downturn has lead to some sad stories appearing on social media. Those who spent more than they could afford to lose during the December peak are now watching their investments dwindle and disappear. We would always recommend you do your reading before investing anything in something as volatile as cryptocurrencies, and only invest what you can afford to lose.

That said, not everyone has lost hope. If you look at segments of the web like the bitcoin subreddit, most simply see this as a great time to invest. Graph comparisons of bitcoin’s rise and fall over the past few years have shown that historic peaks are usually followed by seemingly catastrophic drops in return, only to gradually increase to new heights again in the following months.

Considering bitcoin hit a peak of $10,000 at the start of December, few long-term investors are concerned about a return to that still heady value.

Editors’ Recommendations

Siri’s podcast-promoting ‘Give me the News’ feature is now out of beta


A few weeks back, Apple added “Give me the news” to Siri’s repertoire of tricks in the latest beta version of iOS. The feature comes as the company is readying its smart assistant for the imminent arrival of the HomePod, the company’s first smart assistant-driven device.

The feature is now out of beta here in the States and the U.K. Asking Siri for the news will default to NPR in the U.S. and the BBC in the U.K. If you’re so inclined, you can also switch to Fox News, CNN, and The Washington Post or Sky News and LBC, respectively — because where you get your information is a particularly hot button top in the age of the Fake News Awards.

The functionality depends on how you invoke it. Talking to Siri directly though the phone will bring up print articles. Triggering it through a non-visual interface like AirPods, on the other hand, will bring of a podcast news briefing — similar to the sort of flash briefings currently available on Google Home and Amazon Echo.

Those news briefings are really cornerstones of their respective smart speaker experience. Having tested them both at some length, the ability to get a quick news update first thing in the morning is arguable one of the strongest selling points for introducing them into your daily routine.

Like Google Assistant, Apple’s clearly aiming to make Siri the most well-rounded assistant for a given task. Given the fact that the first version of the HomePod is lacking a touchscreen interface, this kind of feature certainly makes sense.

But while the feature is beating HomePod to market (the exact ETA of the smart speaker is still TBD), it’s potentially useful in other scenarios, like the car, where a quick audio news briefing hits the spot. HomePod will arrive to a crowded market when it finally does drop, following a CES that was utterly dominated by assistant-powered devices.

2018 camera tech trends and predictions

New year, new gear — so, what does camera technology have in store for us in 2018? Features like 4K video, wireless connectivity, and high megapixel counts are now the norm, while traditional point-and-shoots have differentiated into just three categories — superzoom, large-sensor compact, or waterproof — with smartphones accounting for the larger part of the casual photography market. In truth, today’s cameras already offer a dizzying array of features and performance, so where do they go from here? After speaking with industry analysts and peers, scouring through update schedules, reviewing patents, and making educated guesses, we have created a list of the consumer camera tech trends to watch out for in 2018, as well as a wishlist of things we would like to see.

2018 Trends

Fewer launches, but better products

Last year, the number of new cameras introduced into the market fell by 39 percent compared to the year before, leaving just 35 new cameras hitting the market, according to data from Gap Intelligence. While the number of new cameras is falling, the focus is now on higher-end models. This is evidenced at the recent CES Show, which traditionally has been a venue for new point-and-shoot cameras; the traditional camera industry barely made a peep at the 2018 convention. A drop in low-cost point-and-shoot cameras is bringing the total number of new products down, but as several companies focus more on the higher-end market, that drop is balanced by more pro and enthusiast level options.

“I’ve seen a big reduction in launches to really focus on what matters.”

“The camera industry is more free than it has been because we don’t have to worry about the small point-and-shoot,” said Scott Peterson, a senior analyst at Gap Intelligence who covers the photography sector. “I’ve seen a big reduction in launches to really focus on what matters.”

While budget point-and-shoots have largely been replaced by smartphones, the category hasn’t gone away completely. Compact, fixed-lens cameras that offer big zoom ranges, larger sensors, and ruggedized builds still have their place, and we’ll continue to see them from camera makers.

Handheld camcorders have also experienced a drop and will continue to do so, but the category has been rescued by the rise of the still-nascent 360 category. Of the 74 new camcorder models announced in 2017 (just three more than in 2016), 360-degree cameras accounted for 22 percent. The number of new action cameras have also increased.

Better video through software

While some brands are shifting their focus to the higher-margin enthusiast and professional markets with better sensors and faster processors, others are steering innovation in the direction of software. If 4K is available, why not allow for 1080p crops that mimic professional video motion effects? If 360-degree cameras can capture an immersive view, why not let users crop to a standard fixed-perspective while following the action as if the camera were mounted on a motorized gimbal?

Rylo

In creating the Rylo, its developers took a software-first approach before designing the hardware. (Photo: Daven Mathies/Digital Trends)

In fact, both features already exist. The new Panasonic Lumix GH5S can add motion to a 1080p crop of 4K video, and GoPro’s official launch of OverCapture for the Fusion 360 camera adds powerful tools for crafting a cinematic masterpiece from spherical video. Building a software-first camera was also the approach taken by Rylo, the startup behind the consumser-focused 360 video camera of the same name that offers OverCapture-like editing to an even friendlier price point. Hardware limitations be damned.

Speed

Some of the biggest camera launches in 2017 boasted big speed improvements — a trend we expect to continue into 2018. Last year, the Sony A9 showcased how mirrorless cameras can now offer speed advantages for sports and wildlife photography, shooting up to 20 frames per second with no viewfinder blackout. The Nikon D850 and Sony A7R III combined high resolution and fast shooting speeds, responding to one of the few complaints about their predecessors.

Camera speed is about more than just frames per second, however. For video, the electronic rolling shutter on today’s CMOS cameras can distort the image when there’s too much motion, either on the part of the camera or the subject. Global shutters prevent blur from fast moving subjects but have been cost prohibitive to implement in the consumer market. Fortunately, new research and development may lead to a cost effective solution to this problem. Canon published research on new global shutters in 2016, which could eliminate the phenomenon from DSLRs with CMOS sensors. Sony, meanwhile, introduced four new compact sensors with global shutters last year; while they are for industrial applications, we could see them trickle over to the consumer front.

Enhanced image quality — but not necessarily in the megapixels

Megapixels were once the defining metric of a digital camera, but consumers are realizing that there’s more to image quality than just packing as many photoreceptors as possible onto a sensor. In fact, the first major camera launch of the year, the Panasonic GH5S, cuts the megapixels in half in order to enhance low-light video performance. Nikon made a similar move with the D7500, dropping form 24 to 20MP to improve high ISO performance and increase speed, simultaneously.

Panasonic-Lumix-GH5S

Panasonic Lumix GH5S (Photo: Daven Mathies/Digital Trends)

Sony’s stacked sensor technology, once reserved for smaller 1-inch-type sensors in advanced point-and-shoots, made its way to full-frame cameras last year. Back-illuminated sensors, which offer improved low-light performance, also gained new ground in the professional market with the Nikon D850. Panasonic has previously published research into sensors capable of capturing a wide dynamic range, for example, which is one of the few areas where the smaller Micro Four Thirds format still lags behind its APS-C and full-frame peers. Technology like organic sensors has now been in the research pool for several years, and while there’s no sure sign 2018 will bring a consumer version, we wouldn’t be particularly surprised to see them surface, considering the first organic sensor was made five years ago.

Company builder Entrepreneur First is expanding to Berlin


Entrepreneur First (EF), the London-headquartered company builder that invests in individuals “pre-team, pre-idea” to help create new technology startups, is continuing to expand internationally. Following adding an outpost and program in Singapore, in addition to London, the so-called talent-first investor is setting up shop in Berlin, kicking off its first German program this April.

That perhaps shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, given Germany’s reputation for technical education and the city’s growing tech company ecosystem, the two pillars of EF’s recruitment funnel as it seeks out the founders of tomorrow. It also follows EF’s most recent funding round that saw $12.4 million invested in the company builder, with the primary aim to scale EF, including running more programs in European cities and elsewhere.

At the time of EF’s funding announcement, Reid Hoffman, who led the round on behalf of Silicon Valley’s Greylock Partners, told me he could see “a universe in which there’s 20 or 30 or 40 cities, maybe even 50, where Entrepreneur First is integral to creating a set of interesting tech companies in those areas”. Furthermore, he argued that EF can reach scale if it gets the formula right, pointing to how Silicon Valley’s Y Combinator has grown in the last decade.

To that end, EF says that its Berlin program will only be three months long per cohort, not the six months seen by London and Singapore. That, explained EF co-founder Matt Clifford, is a realisation — or, perhaps, hypothesis — that for the company builder to scale globally without becoming an ever sprawling organisation and in turn too large to manage, it needs to focus locally on the part most unique to EF.

That is, attracting talented individuals into entrepreneurship and matching them with a complementary co-founder so that they can form a startup that might otherwise never exist.

The second three months of EF’s program in London and Singapore sees it support these newly formed co-founder teams to develop their business plan and be ready to pitch for and receive investment at Demo Day. In Berlin that won’t happen through a formal and locally run program but teams formed at EF Berlin will still be eligible to participate in its London demo day and receive investment from the existing EF investment fund and take advantage of EF’s investor network.

Clifford also makes the point that while “talent is local, venture capital is global,” and London VCs are as likely to invest in Berlin as in their home city and vice versa. It’s a “more modular” form of EF, he says, and should this model work as well as the longer London and Singapore programs it will pave the way for EF to scale up quicker across Europe in future.

Aside from its strong academia and technical industries, including a growing number of scale-ups, I asked Clifford what else made Berlin a good choice over, say, Paris or other European cities that have burgeoning startup scenes. Quite candidly, he says that Berlin, especially compared to London, which has grown up a lot over the last few years, has more left-field ideas and founders. “Berlin is a place where we see a little bit more contrarian thinking, a little bit more weirdness. And I mean that in a really positive way,” he says.

Google will make page speed a factor in mobile search ranking starting in July


Google today announced a significant change in how it ranks websites for mobile searches: it will now take page speed into consideration as one of its signals, the company says. The change, which Google is referring to as the “Speed Update,” will go into effect in July 2018, and will downrank very slow websites under certain conditions.

Though speed will become more of a factor in determining the order of search results, the change is not so drastic as to make it the only factor. There will be times that slow pages still rank highly – like when they have the most relevant content related to the search query at hand, for example.

Google says the update will only affect pages that “deliver the slowest experience to users” and it will only affect a small percentage of queries.

The search giant has been increasingly prioritizing page speed for some time.

In February 2016, it began to highlight AMP sites (pages using its Accelerated Mobile Page technology to speed up mobile rendering) in search results, and then in April 2016 gave AMP pages a more prominent position in Google News.

More recently, it began rolling out its new, mobile-first search index to a handful of sites to make good on its promise to shift its overall search index to favor the mobile version of the website over the desktop version. That change, in particular, is focused on forcing web publishers to ensure their mobile site has the same information as their desktop site – something that’s not always the case today.

This Speed Update, however, is unrelated to whether the site contains the same info as desktop, nor is it related to any requirements surrounding AMP usage.

Instead, it’s about the page performance in general, with the goal of offering mobile users a better overall experience when searching via mobile.

Google is not offering a standalone tool for web publishers to help them get ready for this shift, but did point to a number of resources that can provide general insights about site performance.

This includes the Chrome User Experience Report, which offers user experience metrics for popular web destinations; Lighthouse, an automated tool for auditing site performance and other web quality metrics; and PageSpeed Insights, which shows how well a page performs on the Chrome UX Report and makes suggestions about how performance can be improved.

This is not the first time that page speed has been used as a signal on Google, to be clear – that’s been the case for some time on desktop searches, the company notes. It’s just never been explicitly taken into consideration for those same searches on mobile.

These sorts of mobile-focused changes to Google search are critical for the company, given that the majority of Google users today search the web via mobile devices, like smartphones.

In fact, mobile searches surpassed desktop searches back in 2015, and mobile has continued to grow in the years since. Though Google hasn’t provided an update on what percentage of its searches are mobile, some third-party reports placed this number near 60 percent last year. Another resource, Statista, says that Google accounted for over 94.4 percent of mobile search market share in the U.S.

These figures mean that mobile has been more important than desktop for several years now, and it’s time for the search index itself to reflect that.

Google Project Fi will no longer charge you for more than 6GB of data

We’re heading into an age of unlimited data, and while most of the major carriers have adopted an unlimited plan of some kind, mobile virtual network operators, or carriers that use other carriers’ networks, haven’t really embraced the concept just yet. Google, however, seems to be making moves to change that with Project Fi. In fact, the company just announced its new “Bill Protection” program that will cap the amount you’ll pay each month for data.

To date, Google Project Fi has adopted a $10-per-1GB rate for data. You basically tell Google how much data you think you’ll use each month, and then either get reimbursed for data you didn’t use, or you pay a little extra if you go over that amount. Bill Protection changes that a little — you’ll still pay $10 per 1GB, but if you go over 6GB of data, your bill will be capped at $60. Combined with the $20-per-month base fee for Project Fi, that means you won’t ever pay more than $80 in one month unless you choose to.

Google also notes that those who use more than 15GB of data may see a decrease in their speed. Less than 1 percent of Project Fi users currently use more than 15GB of data, though that could very easily change with cheaper access to that much data. You can also opt out of the slow data speeds by simply continuing to pay $10 per 1GB — though obviously that will get a lot more expensive.

The plan is different than other unlimited data plans, and in a way that could make it a lot cheaper. Why? Because on months where you don’t need as much data, you won’t have to pay for it. If you use 1GB in a month on T-Mobile‘s unlimited data plan, you still have to pay $70 for your plan. If you use 1GB on Project Fi, you’ll only pay $30 ($10 for the data, $20 for the base fee).

Bill Protection is rolling out today, and if you’re a Project Fi subscriber, you’ll see it show up in your next billing cycle. New subscribers may want to think about joining — Google is offering up to $120 off some of the phones that work on Project Fi for a limited time.

Editors’ Recommendations

Natural home products startup Grove Collaborative bets niche wins over the Amazonization of everything


Who needs Amazon when you can make your own online distribution channel? At least, that’s the idea behind Grove Collaborative, a natural home care products company that ships natural cleaning brands like Method and Mrs. Meyer’s.

Co-founder Stuart Landesberg started the company in 2014 after working with retail brands during his time as an investor at TPG. He noticed how limited shelf space was for brands in brick-and-mortar stores and the idea came to him to launch a tech company that could help move products by prompting consumers to buy at the ideal time. The company pivoted to online retail products in 2016 and rebranded itself as Grove Collaborative.

But consumers have a lot of choices in this space and the brands offered through Grove could just as easily get to your door through same-day shipping on Amazon.

As unlikely as it seems a customer would turn to Grove when there’s the convenience of Target or Amazon, Landesberg tells TechCrunch the company has raked in “tens of millions of dollars” in revenue and that it has “hundreds of thousands” of active customers. He also says more than half of Grove’s customers have never shopped natural before.

Still, he admits there’s no special sauce here. The company is not trying to compete with lower prices and it offers similar prompts as Amazon to re-up supply when you’re likely to be out. But he says the difference is incumbents often prioritize profit over customers and environmental health.

Those numbers also look promising and VC’s have been eager to support Grove on its journey. The startup just pulled in $35 million in Series C funding led by Norwest Venture Partners. The funding comes right on the heels of a $15 million Series B, which quietly closed last March and was led by Mayfield VC.

The primary use of the funding will go toward marketing, which Landesberg told TechCrunch is mostly through influencers such as health bloggers and YouTube personalities with a following in the space.

The startup will also use some of that money to build out new offerings from the main Grove brand, which include items such as hand sanitizer, essential oils, moisturizers and natural sponges.

“Families want to make safe, sustainable, informed choices, and that’s how e-commerce can catalyze real progress,” Landesberg said. “This funding allows us to bring natural products to more homes, and help us build a brand that can serve our community unconstrained by the realities of offline sales.”