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Domio just raised $12 million in Series A funding to build “apart hotels” across the U.S.

Hotels can be pricey, and and travelers are often forced to leave their rooms for basic things, like food that doesn’t come from the minibar. Yet Airbnb accommodations, which have become the go-to alternative for travelers, can be highly inconsistent.

Domio, a two-year-old, New York-based outfit, thinks there’s a third way: apartment hotels, or “apart hotels,” as the company is calling them.

The idea is to build a brand that travelers recognize as upscale yet affordable, more tech friendly than boutique hotels, and features plenty of square footage, which it expects will appeal to both families as well as companies that send teams of employees to cities and want to do it more economically.

Domio has a host of competitors, if you’ll forgive the pun. Marriott International earlier this year introduced a branded home-sharing business called Tribute Portfolio Homes wherein it says it vets, outfits and maintains homes of its choosing to hotel standards. And Marriott is among a growing number of hotels to recognize that customers who stay in a hotel for a business trip or a family vacation might prefer a multi-bedroom apartment with hotel-like amenities.

Property management companies have been raising funding left and right for the same reason. Among them: Sonder, a four-year-old, San Francisco-based startup offering “spaces built for travel and life” that, according to Crunchbase, has raised $135 million from investors, much of it this year; TurnKey, a six-year-old, Austin, Tex.-based home rental management company that has raised $72 million from investors, including via a Series D round that closed back in March; and Vacasa, a nine-year-old, Portland, Ore.-based vacation rental management company that manages more than 10,000 properties and which just this week closed on $64 million in fresh financing that brings its total funding to $207.5 million.

That’s saying nothing of Airbnb itself, which has begun opening hotel-like branded apartment complexes that lease units to both long-term renters and short-term visitors in partnership with development partner Niido.

Whether Domio can stand out from competitors remains to be seen, but investors are happy to provide give it the financing to try. The company is today announcing that it has raised $12 million in Series A equity funding led by Tribeca Venture Partners, with participation from SoftBank Capital NY and Loric Ventures. The round comes on the heels of Domio announcing a $50 million joint venture last month with the private equity firm Upper 90 to exclusively fund the leasing and operations of as many as 25 apartment-style hotels for group travelers.

Indeed, Domio thinks one advantage it may have over other home-share companies is that rather than manage the far-flung properties of different owners, it can shave costs and improve the quality of its offerings by entering five- to 10-year leases with developers and then branding, furnishing and operating entire “apart hotel” properties. (It even has partners in China making its furniture.)

As CEO and former real estate banker Jay Roberts told us earlier this week, the plan is to open up 25 of these buildings across the U.S. over the next couple of years. The units will average 1,500 square feet and feature three bedrooms and if all goes as planned, they’ll cost 10 to 25 percent below hotel prices, too.

And if the go-go property management market turns? Roberts insists that Domio can “slow down growth if necessary.” He also notes that “Airbnb was founded out of the recession, supported by people who were interested in saving money. We’re starting to see companies that want to be more cost-effective, too.”

Domio had earlier raised $5 million in equity and convertible debt from angel investors in the real estate industry; altogether it has now amassed funding of $67 million.

Facebook launches “Hunt For False News” debunk blog as fakery drops 50%

Facebook hopes detailing concrete examples of fake news it’s caught — or missed — could improve news literacy or at least prove it’s attacking the misinformation problem. Today Facebook launched “The Hunt For False News”, in which it examines viral B.S., relays the decisions of its third-party fact checkers, and explains how the story was tracked down. The first edition reveals cases where false captions were put on old videos, people were wrongfully identified as perpetrators of crimes, or real facts were massively exaggerated.

The blog’s launch comes after three recent studies showed the volume of misinformation on Facebook has dropped by half since the 2016 election, while Twitter’s volume hasn’t declined as drastically. Unfortunately, the remaining 50 percent still threatens elections, civil discourse, dissident safety, and political unity across the globe.

In one of The Hunt’s first examples, it debunks that a man who posed for a photo with one of Brazil’s senators had stabbed the presidential candidate. Facebook explains that its machine learning models identified the photo, it was proven false by Brazilian fact-checker Aos Fatos, and Facebook now automatically detects and demotes uploads of the image. In a case where it missed the mark, a false story touting NASA would pay you $100,000 to study you staying in bed for 60 days “racked up millions of views on Facebook” before fact checkers found NASA had paid out $10,000 to $17,000 in limited instances for studies in the past.

While the educational “Hunt” series is useful, it merely cherry picks random false news stories from over a wide time period. What’s more urgent, and would be more useful, would be for Facebook to apply this method to currently circulating misinformation about the most important news stories. The New York Times’ Kevin Roose recently began using Facebook’s CrowdTangle tool to highlight the top 10 recent stories by engagement about topics like the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.

If Facebook wanted to be more transparent about its successes and failures around fake news, it’s publish lists of the false stories with the highest circulation each month and then apply the Hunt’s format more explaining how they were debunked. This could help to dispel myths in societies understanding that may be propagated by the mere abundance of fake news headlines, even if users don’t click through the read them.

The red line represents the decline of Facebook engagement with “unreliable or dubious” sites

But at least all of Facebook’s efforts around information security including doubling its security staff from 10,000 to 20,000 workers, fact checks, and using News Feed algorithm changes to demote suspicious content are paying off.

  • A Stanford and NYU study found that Facebook likes, comments, shares, and reactions to links to 570 fake news sites dropped by over half since the 2016 election while engagements through Twitter continued to rise, “with the ratio of Facebook engagements to Twitter shares falling by approximately 60 percent.”
  • A University Of Michigan study coined the metric “Iffy Quotient” to assess the how much content from certain fake news sites was distributed on Facebook and Twitter. When engagement was factored in, it found Facebook’s levels had dropped to early 2016 volume that’s now 50 percent les than Twitter.
  • French newspaper Le Monde looked at engagement with 630 French websites across Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Reddit. Facebook engagement with sites dubbed “unreliable or dubious” has dropped by half since 2015.

Of course, given Twitter’s seeming paralysis on addressing misinformation and trolling, they’re not a great benchmark for Facebook to judge by. While it’s useful that Facebook is outlining ways to spot fake news, the public will have to internalize these strategies for society to make progress. That may be difficult when the truth has become incompatible with many peoples’ and politicians’ staunchly-held beliefs.

In the past, Facebook has surfaced fake news spotting tips atop the News Feed and bought full-page newspaper ads trying to disseminate them. The Hunt For Fake News would surely benefit from being embedded where the social network’s users look everyday instead of buried in its corporate blog.

Researchers discover a new way to identify 3D printed guns

Researchers at the University at Buffalo have found that 3D printers have fingerprints, essentially slight differences in design that can be used to identify prints. This means investigators can examine the layers of a 3D printed object and pinpoint exactly which machine produced the parts.

“3D printing has many wonderful uses, but it’s also a counterfeiter’s dream. Even more concerning, it has the potential to make firearms more readily available to people who are not allowed to possess them,” said Wenyao Xu, lead author of the study.

The researchers found that tiny wrinkles in each layer of plastic can be used to identify a “printer’s model type, filament, nozzle size and other factors cause slight imperfections in the patterns.” They call their technology PrinTracker.

“Like a fingerprint to a person, these patterns are unique and repeatable. As a result, they can be traced back to the 3D printer,” wrote the researchers.

This process works primarily with FDM printers like the Makerbot which use long spools of filament to deposit layers of plastic onto a build plate. Because the printers used in 3D printed guns are usually more complex and more expensive there could be less variation in the individual layers and, more importantly, the layers might be harder to discern. However, for some simpler plastic parts could exhibit variations.

“3D printers are built to be the same. But there are slight variations in their hardware created during the manufacturing process that lead to unique, inevitable and unchangeable patterns in every object they print,” said Xu.

Virtual reality makes food taste better

In another example of VR bleeding into real life, Cornell University food scientists found that cheese eaten in pleasant VR surroundings tasted better than the same cheese eaten in a drab sensory booth.

About 50 panelists who used virtual reality headsets as they ate were given three identical samples of blue cheese. The study participants were virtually placed in a standard sensory booth, a pleasant park bench and the Cornell cow barn to see custom-recorded 360-degree videos.

The panelists were unaware that the cheese samples were identical, and rated the pungency of the blue cheese significantly higher in the cow barn setting than in the sensory booth or the virtual park bench.

That’s right: cheese tastes better on a virtual farm versus inside a blank, empty cyberia.

“When we eat, we perceive not only just the taste and aroma of foods, we get sensory input from our surroundings – our eyes, ears, even our memories about surroundings,” said researcher Robin Dando.

To be clear, this research wasn’t designed to confirm whether VR could make food taste better but whether or not VR could be used as a sort of taste testbed, allowing manufacturers to let people try foods in different places without, say, putting them on an airplane or inside a real cow barn. Because food tastes differently in different surroundings, the ability to simulate those surroundings in VR is very useful.

“This research validates that virtual reality can be used, as it provides an immersive environment for testing,” said Dando. “Visually, virtual reality imparts qualities of the environment itself to the food being consumed – making this kind of testing cost-efficient.”

Twilio shops, Uber and Lyft IPO scuttlebutt, and Instacart raises $600M

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week we had the Three Excellent Friends (Connie Loizos, Danny Chrichton, and Alex Wilhelm) on hand to kick things about with Scale Venture Partner’s own Rory O’Driscoll.

As I’ve written the last few weeks, what a pile of news we’ve had recently. And like the last few episodes, we had to pick and choose what to drill into. This week: Twilio-Sendgrid, Palantir, Uber, Lyft, and Tencent Music IPOs, Instacart, and Saudi Arabia.

In order, I think? First, we tackled the week’s biggest venture-themed M&A: Twilio buying SendGrid. Keep in mind that they are both recent IPOs; Twilio went out in 2016, and SendGrid in 2017.

The $2 billion-ish all-stock transaction is effectively Twilio using its rich market cap (rich in terms of its revenue and profit multiples) to snag an obvious (though intelligent) extension of API-powered communications toolset.

Next up we dug into the chance that Palantir is worth $41 billion. Spoiler: It isn’t. Then we chatted the two other recently-floated IPO valuations for Uber ($120 billion) and Lyft ($15 billion). They probably make more sense, depending a little on how you add and then divide.

All that and we also touched on the recent delay in the Tencent Music IPO, a profitable company.

Then we riffed through the Instacart round ($600 million more at a $7.6 billion valuation; wow), and re-touched on Silicon Valley’s currently least popular dinner party topic: how much Saudi money has recently gone to work powering tech startups.

A big thanks to you for not only sticking with Equity for so long, but also for making it quite literally as popular as it has ever been. It’s super fun to have the biggest crew with us every week that we’ve ever had.

You, yes you, are a delight.

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