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Meet M, Facebook’s New Personal Assistant

Picture 8-28-2015Last month, I spoke about a personal assistant that Facebook had been working on, at the time codenamed Moneypenny. It seems that the personal assistant’s final name is a different James Bond reference, however, as Facebook announced the launch of M this week. There are a number of ways that M will differ from other personal assistant services like Siri and Cortana. Primarily, M will work as a fusion between artificial intelligence and human input. Effectively, this means that your requests to M, as supervised by a team of people, will be able to complete tasks on your behalf.

Though M is still in its early stages, Facebook believes that they will be able to create the ultimate personal digital assistant with its unique build. M will be able to purchase items for you, deliver gifts, book restaurants, make appointments and travel arrangements, and so much more. Another way that M is differentiating itself is by avoiding the voice-activation that can sometimes be a nuisance with services like Siri and Cortana. Instead, you’ll ask questions via text and a real person, an AI, or some combination of the two depending on the task at hand, will respond to you.

M will be built into Messenger, so that you can easily communicate with your digital assistant without issue. There are many potential ways that M could be used that are getting people excited. With the combination of human and AI input, the possibilities are endless. There are likely to be plenty of business applications and ways that Facebook will be able to monetize M as well. Though M has not been fully rolled out yet, it has begun open testing with a select number of users in the Bay Area.

More Competition in the World of Live-Streaming

Picture 8-6-2015Live-streaming is something that I have discussed before. Applications like Periscope and Meerkat, which allow users to live-stream video on Twitter, are more popular than ever. Thus, it shouldn’t be incredibly surprising that there are other groups that are interested in getting in on the live-streaming magic. A number of other applications and updates are being released that will allow live-streaming to become available to an even broader audience, with a variety of different nuances and options that make them stand out from their potential competitors.

It’s probably least surprising that Facebook has decided to jump into the business of live-streaming, although they are handling it quite a bit differently than the options that have been available on Twitter. Facebook has added live-streaming as a feature called ‘Live’ to Facebook Mentions, which is the app that allows celebrities to connect with their fans. Thus, the live-streaming function is not available to all Facebook users and is instead only offered to those who have Facebook Mentions accounts. Anyone following these celebrities on Facebook is able to like, comment on, or share these live-streaming videos. The ‘Live’ product manager has stated that this feature may be rolled out to other users in the future, once the company has received feedback from public figures and viewers.

Another type of live-streaming has appeared that’s more accessible for the average person. With Blab, a new app currently in beta, users sign in with their Twitter information and can join a live-streaming video chat of up to four people. Effectively, the app manages to operate as Meerkat or Periscope, only for groups of people. Users can watch the video chat and can mute any of the windows at their leisure. Blab is expected to make waves, in that it could be used for interviews, debates, and other purposes.

Twitter Cracking Down on Joke Thievery

Picture 7-30-2015With its 140-character limit and far-reaching user base, it’s no surprise that many comedians have utilized Twitter to share jokes, quips, and puns with their followers, helping to develop their brand, bring in new fans, and make people laugh. However, there are plenty of people out there who aren’t particularly funny but still want to share jokes through Twitter, which is why uncredited joke thievery has become such a major problem on Twitter. It seems that finally Twitter is taking a stand against joke thieves.

Based on Twitter’s copyright rules, the social network is now allowing users to report tweets as stolen. When this occurs, the company will treat the report just like any other copyright infringement requests (which were previously mostly limited to images and videos). After determining if the tweet has indeed been stolen, the tweet will be removed from the thief’s page and marked as ‘withheld in response to a report from the copyright holder’.

This seems to all be part of Twitter’s recent decision to take a tougher stance against spam, abuse, and other problematic speech being shared on Twitter. Many of the joke thieves are spambots that simply repost things that are found on Twitter without credit. Of course, now that Twitter’s stance on this is out in the open, there are many people testing the waters of Twitter’s limits by tweeting out en masse the specific joke that was first recognized as an example of copyright infringement. It remains to be seen what will be done about things like this.

In the Future of Facebook: A Look Forward

Picture 7-23-2015As I’ve said many times before, it’s necessary and expected for social media to always be changing. That simply fits with the average attention span of the millennial generation and the overall user base of social media apps, who are always on the lookout for the next big thing. As the biggest social media platform, it’s always going to be important for Facebook to keep up with the times in order to stay relevant in a realm that’s always going to be introducing new types of competition from different angles. Currently, Facebook is working on a number of different major changes and ideas.

Businesses have been able to thrive with successful Facebook pages and Facebook’s next hope is that their users will be able to buy things directly from a business’s Facebook page, without even having to be redirected somewhere else. Facebook has been allowing users to connect their debit and credit cards to their accounts to make payments to other users for some time now. Apparently, the next step will be including a ‘Buy’ button for a number of retailers, which is something that they are currently working on testing. Another feature currently being tested is a ‘Watch Later’ button, which will allow users to save videos they find potentially interesting for later.

One of the most interesting recent developments is that Facebook is working on a personal assistant service that will be able to compete with Siri and Cortana. However, what separates their service – known as Moneypenny – from the others is that it won’t be a virtual assistant. Instead of being powered by computers, the intention is that Moneypenny will have a real human on the other end at all times. Unlike the other things that Facebook is testing, it is likely that Moneypenny may be quite a bit further away from completion, but it’s yet another interesting way that Facebook is trying to stay competitive.

Facebook Users Gain More Control over Their News Feeds

Picture 7-9-2015The newest way that Facebook has changed to provide users with a better experience is by making it easier to control what shows up in the News Feed. The updated version of the News Feed allows users to pick out which of their friends and acquaintances they’d like to see appear more in the News Feed. This feature will allow users to see all of the posts made by certain users. A Facebook user can select any number of their friends and no one but the initial user can see which friends have been chosen.

For a long time, Facebook’s News Feed has mostly been presented as part of an ‘algorithm’ that determines which posts you wanted to see more of based on your likes and interactions on Facebook. However, the people behind Facebook have recognized that this algorithm is far from perfect, which is why giving users a bit more direct control over what appears in their News Feed was a positive step forward for making Facebook more appealing to its users.

The News Feed changes are accessible from the ‘News Feed Preferences’ section of the Facebook app. This section now allows users to prioritize who they see first, unfollow other users to hide their posts, reconnect with those that have been unfollowed, and discover new pages. Though the new features are currently only available on the iOS platform, they are expected to be rolled out to the desktop and Android versions of Facebook in the coming weeks.

How Pinterest Has Improved Over the Last Year

Picture 7-2-2015When social networks are discussed, it’s usually Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat that are at the forefront of discussion, while other social media apps trail behind. However, Pinterest is still #37 on the Alexa web traffic rankings, showing that it’s really not as far behind the other social networks as people might think (Facebook is #2 and Twitter is #8, comparatively). One study in 2013 determined that Pinterest had more than 70 million users worldwide. Like any other social network, Pinterest has maintained their success by continuing to change and improve.

One of the larger changes for Pinterest happened when they launched their Guided Search and Place Search features, which effectively made it easier for users to search for things and places that are interesting to them. The new search engine updates also made it easier for Pinterest users to map Pins to a Place Board.  More recently, Pinterest announced that it was launching a set of intuitive tools that would make Pinterest connect much easier with Squarespace, a popular website builder and hosting service.

Earlier this week, Pinterest announced a major update for its users, which is a step in the direction towards making Pinterest a more monetized social network. They have launched a Buyable Pins feature, which effectively adds a ‘Buy’ button that lets users purchase products directly from Pinterest. Though this feature is only available on iOS platforms right now, it is expected to roll out to Android in the near future.

Twitter Searches for CEO, Begins to Make Changes

ieplexus blog 1-18-16Earlier this month, Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, announced that he would be resigning as CEO at the beginning of July, at which time he will be replaced by another CEO, chosen by Twitter’s board of directors. Having split his time between Twitter and Square, a platform for accepting debit and credit card payments, it is likely that he will be aiming to focus primarily on Square. Twitter’s board of directors has said in response that they are hoping to ensure that Dorsey’s replacement is focused entirely on Twitter. They want someone “in a position to make a full-time commitment.”

A shift behind the scenes isn’t the only thing changing for Twitter. There have been some major changes in the past weeks since Dorsey announced that he was stepping down. Last week, for instance, they announced that product pages would be creatable on Twitter, featuring tweets, supplementary information about certain products, as well as the ability for users to easily purchase that product through Twitter. Additionally, users will be able to view ‘top tweets’ about a product, effectively allowing Twitter to operate as a reviewing service.

In another interesting move, Twitter has announced something called Project Lightning, which is a feature that will allow users to browse tweets based on live events, from music festivals to protests. These experiences will be curated by a team of editors, rather than automatically swept in via hashtag. Overall, Project Lightning sounds somewhat similar to Snapchat Stories and its approach to handling live events. Project Lightning is expected to be released later this year. In the meantime, Twitter’s search for a new CEO might lead them down other interesting avenues. It’s not impossible that they wind up picking Snoop Dogg, who has put himself into the running.

Facebook Launches Moments for Photo Sharing

Picture 6-18-2015With the amount of apps Facebook continues to launch, from Rooms to Messenger to Paper, it’s a surprise that we haven’t yet reached a point of Facebook app fatigue. Their most recent app is called Moments, which was launched earlier this week. The purpose of Moments is effectively to be able to easily share any photos that are stored in your phone, using facial recognition software to make private photo sharing even easier.

Moments operates by taking a look through the photos on your phone, checking to see if any of them have your friends’ faces in them. Using facial recognition allows you to easily send pictures of your friends to them without having to share those pictures publicly on your Facebook profile. Pictures can also be shared manually if the facial recognition software does not recognize someone. The primary focus of Moments is to be able to share photos with individuals or small groups of friends, as opposed to the entirety of your Facebook friend list.

There has already been some criticism targeted at Moments, however. Some don’t see why it is necessary to create yet another app to download, when it might be more useful to integrate these photo sharing features directly into Facebook. Others believe that it might be held back due to its unfamiliar sharing format and facial recognition software that leaves something to be desired. In any case, time will tell if Moments manages to flourish on its own or if the features will eventually get moved over to the main Facebook application.

Facebook Targeting Other Countries with Facebook Lite

Picture 6-11-2015After Facebook acquired WhatsApp at the beginning of last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave a speech at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain about how the acquisition of WhatsApp was going to be a step towards helping to connect people in the developing world, the same way that Facebook had been doing in more tech-savvy countries. He stated that his belief was that Facebook’s future would include reaching billions of mobile users and allowing them to connect with one another.

It appears that Facebook is now pushing forward in new ways to get other countries connected. Knowing that data plans are expensive and network connections are slow in many other countries, Facebook has decided to launch a low-resolution, stripped-down version of itself called Facebook Lite. It’s specifically designed to help the developing world get involved with social media. In regards to features, Facebook Lite only offers a bare-bones experience, but this allows the application to work better in other countries, allowing Facebook to tap into untapped markets for social media.

Facebook Lite launched in Asia last week, but the app is expected to eventually make its way to parts of Africa, Europe, and Latin America. The app has been created to take up a small amount of space on a phone, use as little data as possible, and load quickly even when being used on 2G mobile connections. Overall, the app appears like it will be a great way for users in other countries to get connected through Facebook.

Facebook Finally Comes Around to Animated GIF Support

Picture 6-4-2015In the early days of Facebook, people were able to post animated GIFs as they pleased. However, the ability to share these types of images was removed from the social network nearly a decade ago. It is likely that they were removed because they were either too distracting or their presence slowed the site down. In any case, most other social networks have allowed animated GIFs for quite some time now and Facebook is finally rejoining them by allowing these types of images to be shared once again.

People have been clearly interested in sharing animated GIFs on Facebook for a while now. A couple of years ago, a website called Giphy (which specializes in sharing enormous amounts of animated GIFs) created a workaround that would allow people to embed animated GIFs on Facebook. The effort was promptly shut down by Facebook in an effort to keep the site from being cluttered and chaotic, but it seems that Facebook has changed their mind.

There are a few guidelines that will have to be followed with Facebook’s new support of animated GIFs. Specifically, users will not be able to upload them directly onto their Facebook page. Instead, animated GIFs only work when they have been embedded so that they are linking to an outside source. The GIFs also have to end in ‘.gif’ rather than appearing in any other type of link. Currently, the feature works on the website and on the mobile app, though GIFs only work on personal profiles and not brand pages. Though the feature has not yet been rolled out to all users, it should be available to everyone over the coming days.