Equifax launches its credit locking app and extends free credit freezes through June



Today was supposed to be the deadline for Equifax’s free credit freeze offering, but the company has decided to extend the service to consumers for another five months. Now, Equifax customers can request a credit freeze through June 30.

Still, January 31 is the last day to cash in on free credit monitoring through Equifax’s TrustedID Premier program, assuming you still trust the company that failed to protect the personal data of 143 million users enough to rely on it.

Equifax decided to offer these user services after a massive outcry from consumers and intense criticism from Congress last September.

Users who freeze their credit report through Equifax should also look into doing so at Experian and TransUnion, the other two major credit bureaus. Choosing to freeze your credit reports is a useful if imperfect tool for anyone concerned that their accounts or identifying information (social security numbers, birth dates, etc.) might be compromised, but it can prevent would-be identity thieves from opening a line of credit or a loan in your name.

Equifax is also introducing a new credit locking service called Lock & Alert, made available today (and free for life) in app form. It may sound redundant, but a lock and a freeze are two different services. As the company explained to CNN Money, a credit freeze can only be lifted with a pin number, while a credit lock uses “modern authentication techniques, such as username and passwords and one time passcodes for better user experience.” The Lock & Alert app is available now through the App Store and through Google Play.

Featured Image: REUTERS/Brendan McDermid



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Pandora is laying off about 5 percent of workforce



Streaming music service Pandora is laying off about five percent of its employee base and taking “other cost-saving measures” in an attempt to save about $45 million annually. According to Pandora’s 8-K filing, employees were notified today of the plan and the company expects the staff reduction to be complete by the end of Q1 2018.

This is all part of an ‘organizational restructuring’ that will shift some resources to ad-tech and audience development. Pandora also announced plans to expand its presence and workforce to Atlanta.

With the expected $45 million in savings, Pandora plans to reinvest that money into ad-tech, non-music content, device integration and marketing technology. While Pandora has laid off some people, it will also hire for new roles.

“As I shared last quarter, we know where and how to invest in order to grow,” Pandora CEO Roger Lynch said in a press release. “We have an aggressive plan in place that includes strategic investments in our priorities: ad-tech, product, content, partnerships and marketing. I am confident these changes will enable us to drive revenue and listener growth.”



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PayPal sees 24% revenue growth in its latest quarter



PayPal impressed Wall Street when it reported fourth-quarter earnings after the bell on Wednesday. The global payments giant beat analyst expectations for both sales and profit.

PayPal reported $3.71 billion in revenue on a foreign-exchange neutral basis, or 24% growth from the same period last year. Analysts were expecting $3.63 billion in revenue for the quarter.

Adjusted earnings per share were 55 cents, compared to the 52 cents that Wall Street forecast.

The company processed $131 in total payments volume for the fourth quarter, showcasing 32% growth.

PayPal separated from eBay in 2015 and is currently the larger of the two companies, with a market cap of $103 billion. eBay is valued at $42 billion.

The two companies agreed to extend their partnership through July 2023, making PayPal the default payment option for eBay.

 



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Supermedium launches its virtual reality web browser backed by Y Combinator



Virtual reality’s content problem has been so frustrating for users because the medium’s promise has been that it can take users anywhere. As developers continue to build up these worlds, Supermedium is launching out of Y Combinator’s winter batch with a browser that it hopes can show people the promises of virtual reality content that lives across the web.

While Oculus and Samsung have already experimented with and shipped VR browsers, the focus of those products has seemed to initially be centered heavily on giving users access to information housed on 2D websites. In a large part, that’s because the Gear VR and Rift already have the a content discovery platform by way of a dedicated app store.

The team at Supermedium wants to build a VR browser that fully lives up to the promises they see in WebVR, a platform that can take you from a link to a fully immersive world in seconds. They’re more focused on creating a ground-up solution that is built to accommodate 3D content first with the eventual goal of creating a web where you can hop in between 3D experiences without ever leaving them.

When you jump into Supermedium, experiences don’t take minutes to download, they take seconds to open. It offers a great place for users to quickly find bite-sized VR experiences that aren’t only very cool, but also showcase that WebVR’s potential is pretty endless.

Currently, the broadest deal of VR content is housed in Steam, a store built for PC gamers. The site has grown to accommodate content that would’ve generally fallen outside its purview but it still holds standards that don’t make it an ideal place for tinkerers to show off their latest idea.

Supermedium wants to become the home for VR memes, small games, stores and VR web pages in a way that becomes a sort of Yahoo Directory for the new medium.

The team’s co-founders (Diego Marcos, Kevin Ngo and Diego Goberna) were all part of the Mozilla  team behind A-Frame, an open-source web framework for building VR that has been pretty influential among early WebVR developers. As may be expected, the team has more features in store for Supermedium that move beyond content discovery as they focus on building up a browser that attracts interest from VR developers as well as users. As the augmented reality space grows, the team hopes to add focus there as well.

“We witnessed first-hand how slow the Web was to react to the rise of smartphones and app store ecosystems. We’re not going to let that happen again with VR,” the team wrote in a launch blog post.

The team acknowledged that the industry is in a bit of a “VR winter,” but that by staying lean they will be able to continue to build up their WebVR expertise while avoiding the pitfalls of other VR startups that sought to grow too fast in a consumer space that still has a long road ahead of it.

While Oculus and Google have their eyes firmly set on building out growth on their mobile platforms, Supermedium wants to focus on an experience that you can control with your hands and is limiting the browser to high-end VR platforms as a result. At the moment this means the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, soon the team hopes to add Microsoft MR support.

You can download SuperMedium here.



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Polymail looks to unify business email tools into a single web app



If you’re more of a Gmail power user (or even semi-power user) and other email services geared toward work, you’ve probably installed plenty of plugins like Rapportive to make your job a little bit easier.

And while it’s all fine to try to pull together a suite of plugins to make that a little bit easier, a startup called Polymail is hoping to rope that all into a single hub that will suit the needs of marketers and other businesses without having to piece together all of the bits from external tools. Polymail, which was previously a Mac app, said it’s launching a web version today as it looks to enter some kind of parity with those services and move beyond just a niche application that might have some use cases.

“The first iteration was as an email client, which we knew had to be a native desktop experience,” co-founder Brandon Foo said. “Our long-term vision for Polymail has always been to extend the inbox into a business and team communication platform, and so to achieve that we had become cross-platform for both Windows and Mac users. By far the biggest driver was the demand we’ve seen from Windows and PC users since we launched Polymail for Mac. There was also the need for users to access Polymail from any device without having to install a desktop app.”

Polymail started off as a Mac app, but by expanding to being a web app, it sets it up for a wider audience accustomed to typical email services like GMail and other email marketing tools. The service brings together the kinds of products you have come to expect as a marketer or salesperson at a company, like tracking engagement with email and calendar functions. While born as a native app, most email users — whether that’s for typical email use cases or actual marketing tools — are probably used to working through a web interface so they can flip between platforms whenever they need, which seemed like it would initially hamper Polymail’s potential growth.

“We’ve seen quite a few email-related tools over the past few years, but we believe the market is still highly fragmented,” Foo said. “Businesses still have to rely on multiple point solutions from several different vendors to solve the problem they need, and in many cases, they don’t integrate well and end up costing a lot. With Polymail, companies can unify their entire email and sales communication workflow with one platform.”

There’s still something to be said about focusing on simplicity, which has led to the success of plenty of Silicon Valley darlings like Slack. Instead of putting together a patchwork service loaded up with multiple tools, some businesses may find it easier to just go to a single service that picks all the best and most useful ones and bundles them into a clean interface. That’s kind of the promise of Slack — which adds new features in a drip-drip-drip way as it at times hesitates to try to move away from the core simple experience.

But at the same time, there is definitely a graveyard of startups that have tried to re-invent the experience of email. While you’ve probably heard more about them on the consumer side, like Sparrow or Mailbox, the point is that it’s hard to rip users away from an experience they are very familiar with. That’s obviously a big challenge for Foo and Polymail, but the startup has focused on a business-first model from day one and that’s what will help it potentially survive that early hump of getting users.

“All of the email apps that were acquired and shut down were consumer-focused and never developed a strong business model,” he said. “Polymail is a software-as-a-service company first — our vision is to make Polymail the platform for external business communication, just as how Slack has become the platform for internal business communication. Email is the most relevant form of external business communication today, so that’s the starting point for us, but our platform will continue to expand to serve the needs of our customers.”

Polymail came out of Y Combinator’s summer 2016 batch. The company says it has 2,800 customers since launching in December 2016, including professionals and teams at Uber.

Featured Image: focusphotoart



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So, what’s up with Amazon’s Alexa Super Bowl ad?



Ah, the Super Bowl. That magical time of year we gather around the T.V. set and pay just as much attention to the ads that run between plays. Increasingly, though, you can get much of that precious advertising viewing experience out of the way before the big game even starts.

After offering a brief online tease for its upcoming ad, Amazon’s gone ahead and posted all 90 seconds of “Alexa Loses Her Voice.” It’s a goofy, star-studded affair, featuring some Oscar caliber acting from a concerned Jeff Bezos and a cross-discipline collection folks including Gordon Ramsay, Cardi B, Rebel Wilson and Anthony Hopkins stepping in for Amazon’s voice assistant.

Things don’t go great, and hilarity, naturally, ensues.

But is there deeper meaning behind the spot? After all, with prices reportedly running north of $5 million per 30 seconds, is Amazon hinting at something bigger, or simply finding a way to get the Echo Spot in front of a lot more American eyeballs, with help from Hannibal Lecter?

Is there anything to those glowing blue Echo headset supported by the cast? After all, Amazon has filed patents for Alexa-enabled headphones. The company also recently announced a mobile accessory development kit back at CES, aimed at bringing the tech to wearables like headphones and smartwatches.

The company already shot that theory down. Turns out those are just a fun prop. What about customizable voices for the smart assistant? Wouldn’t that be cool? The end of the spot appears to put an end to that theory, with Alexa promising to “take it from here.”

Alexa’s been getting a lot more regional accents of late, as the Echo has entered new markets. But the smart assistant’s U.S. voice does seem due for an upgrade akin to the one Siri got late last year as part of iOS 11.

Or maybe it’s just a goofy commercial and we’ve been thinking entirely too much about the whole thing.



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Actress Maisie Williams to launch Daisie, a social app for talent discovery and collaboration



Actress Maisie Williams, best known for her role as Arya Stark on Game of Thrones, is the latest celeb to venture into tech entrepreneurship, with the launch of a new company aimed at connecting creatives, called Daisie. Available later this summer as a mobile app, Daisie will offer a platform where creators can network, like, share and collaborate on projects within a social networking setting.

The overall goal is to help newcomers gain exposure for their work while connecting them with others who can provide guidance as they continue their careers.

Williams, who advocates for women’s rights, also sees Daisie as something that could give women in the creative community the ability to promote their own work and be discovered in a more appropriate way than is often the case today.

This speaks to the sea change underway in the creative industry, where people are rapidly dismantling the old ways of doing things; and where the abusers who took advantage of the old system are being called out for things like sexual harassment and abuse, and losing their jobs.

In that light, the launch of an alternative network for talent discovery and collaboration seems especially relevant.

“I couldn’t be happier about the change we are currently seeing in creative industries and the movement towards women becoming truly valued,” said Maisie Williams, in a statement about the app’s development.

“I want Daisie to give other creatives the opportunities that I was lucky enough to receive at the beginning of my career. Daisie will break down the archaic gap between youth and creative jobs; offering new opportunities for individuals to collaborate, learn and create – establishing a new way for talented individuals to be discovered and employed,” she said.

The company, which is co-founded by film producer Dom Santry, also aims to address the issues of trying to use existing social media sites, like Facebook, for self-promotion purposes.

“Social media can be a very lonely place, and somewhere that doesn’t necessarily inspire collaboration or foster meaningful connections,” explained Santry. “It’s very easy for creative voices to get lost in platforms riddled with ads and unimportant content; we’re hoping to eradicate these, providing a focused, industry specific platform.”

The app’s development is still in its early stages, the company tells us.

The technology team, led by U.K.-based Tim Novis, is only 4 months into a 10-month build, to give you an idea of its progress. The expectation is that Daisie will be ready to launch in the App Store and online by August, 2018.

The company is also working with WME to put together a talent roster who will be participating in Daisie at launch. Some of those people will be confirmed by March. (Daisie’s team is actually flying to L.A. in February to lock in names, we understand).

In addition to building a social network for talent discovery and collaboration, Daisie aims to generate revenue in almost Tinder-like fashion.

The app will offer a “Plus” program that opens up locked areas of its site and allow the use of additional features, like the ability to toggle on or off a “looking for work” setting, for example.

But neither the website nor app will display advertising.

The app has another advantage for Williams and Santry, too.

It may be a potential source of new talent for their U.K. production company Daisy Chain Productions, which was founded along with Bill Milner. The company has a similar goal to Daisie, in fact: projects with a focus on youth and talent development, as ScreenDaily reported last fall.

Santry will lead Daisie as CEO, managing its day-to-day operations.

However, the company will give the network time to grow before tapping into Daisie’s creator community for its own ends. For the first six months, there will be “no visible synergies” between Daisie and Daisy Chain Productions, the company told TechCrunch.

Afterwards, the two will come together to create content by selecting the most talented individuals on the site.

Given that Daisie is not yet available, the website is currently accepting email sign-ups to be alerted about its launch.



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Ex-Apple execs take on Twitch with launch of new social broadcasting platform Caffeine



A team of ex-Apple engineers and execs is taking on Amazon-owned Twitch and Google’s YouTube Gaming with today’s official launch of a new social broadcasting platform, Caffeine. Backed by $46 million from Andreessen Horowitz and Greylock Partners, Caffeine was co-founded by former Product Design Lead for Apple TV and Chomp co-founder Ben Keighran, along with Senior User Experience Designer at Apple, Sam Roberts.

Keighran joined Apple when he sold his search startup Chomp to the company back in 2012, where it became the basis for an App Store redesign. He later spent several years working on the look-and-feel for the Apple TV, before leaving Apple in 2016 to start his own company.

Roberts, meanwhile, spent six years leading user interface and user experience design on photo, video and TV products at Apple, before leaving to build Caffeine.

Of course, it’s no small matter to take on incumbents like Twitch and YouTube, and to a lesser extent, Twitter’s Periscope, Facebook Live, and Microsoft’s Mixer. You can’t simply build yet another live streaming service and hope for the best – you have to create something original and differentiated.

For Caffeine, that’s a suite of technology products and new experiences that existing rivals don’t have.

For starters, Caffeine has developed its own publication tool, in the form of a free 10 MB download, that makes getting started with streaming easier for the casual gamer.

“There’s about 800 million gamers out there, but there’s roughly 2 million content creators a month on Twitch. We think a lot of people would like to create a broadcast of their video game, but it’s a bit of a pain to do right now,” explains Keighran. “You’ve got to download third-party software; you have to set bitrates, IP addresses, stream keys. You have to have an elaborate set-up with potentially multiple screens,” he says.

With the Caffeine software, gamers can start streaming from their Windows PC with a single click.

In addition to the PC software, users can also live stream their vlog-type content from their web browser or their iPhone.

What’s more, they don’t need a multi-monitor setup because of how Caffeine incorporates viewers’ comments into the experience.

Caffeine has developed custom technology that can detect when a game launches on the PC (by watching the system’s processes), then is able to use the Windows DLL file to inject viewers’ comments as an overlay onto the game itself.

That means your game and your viewers’ comments are all in the same window on your screen.

Finally, and perhaps most notably, is what’s under the hood of Caffeine.

The company built out its own real-time distribution video network that leverages WebRTC – the same technology that powers things like Google Hangouts and other peer-to-peer communications. That means everything on Caffeine is taking place in real-time with zero delays.

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Hard-core game streamers may not actually want real-time streams, though, because of the threat of screen sniping. (That’s when someone watches your live stream in order to kill you or taunt you.) But for now, at least, Caffeine isn’t focusing on those top game streamers – it wants to build a service for everyone else.

That said, being able to delay the stream is something Caffeine could add in the future, when it launches the monetization tools that may attract more serious players. That’s not expected until sometime later this year, we’re told.

Beyond all the tools and technology, Caffeine’s user experience is different from what you’d find on other game streaming sites.

“Unlike Twitch and YouTube, we have a people-centric model where we’re more like a social network,” says Keighran. On Caffeine, users follow other people, like friends from Facebook or Twitter or other streamers they like, he explains. “This creates a much more personal experience,” Keighran notes.

In the main feed, you’re then shown live videos from those you follow alongside other human-curated suggestions.

The social elements come into play when you watching a stream, too.

For example, comments from your friends are prioritized in your view, as are those that are “endorsed” (basically, upvoted) by the community.

This ability to filter out the better comments helps streamers too – even if the numbers of viewers gets really big, they’ll be able to see those comments worth answering more easily.

The comments themselves aren’t displayed in a traditional chat-like interface, either, but load in customizable bubbles beneath the chat. You can choose the comment bubble’s background, color scheme, pattern and shape to give it a unique look. (Unfortunately, the option to add a GIF is getting pulled, as a means of protecting streamers against harassment. Apparently, GIFs can be used for evil, too.)

Building a more friendly community is part of Caffeine’s larger focus, as it aims to take on the existing game streaming sites.

“There’s sometimes a toxic community that comes from the fact that if you put everybody in a stream on Twitch – and there are 2,000 people all just anonymously talking over top of each other, says Keighran.

“There’s no surprise that chaos is going to reign, The best experience needs to be simple, friendly, and welcome to a diverse audience,” he adds.

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To this end, Caffeine brought on former Valve and Oculus executive, Anna Sweet, to head its business, content and strategy efforts. Other members on its team of over 20 (and under 50…the company wouldn’t say exactly) hail from Apple, Netflix, Amazon and Oracle.

Caffeine has been quietly live for some time, but is only officially announcing its plans and fundraising today. The first round closed in 2016 and was led by Greylock; Andreessen Horowitz led the round that closed in February 2017. Ben Horowitz from Andreessen Horowitz and John Lilly from Greylock Partners are on Caffeine’s board of directors as a result.

 



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Google Flights will now predict airline delays – before the airlines do



Google is rolling out a few new features to its Google Flights search engine to help travelers tackle some of the more frustrating aspects of air travel – delays and the complexities of the cheaper, Basic Economy fares. With the regard to delays, Google Flights won’t just be pulling in information from the airlines directly, however – it will take advantage of its understanding of historical data and its machine learning algorithms to predict delays that haven’t yet been flagged by airlines themselves.

Explains Google, the combination of data and A.I. technologies means it can predict some delays in advance of any sort of official confirmation. Google says that it won’t actually flag these in the app until it’s at least 80 percent confident in the prediction, though. (Of course, you should still get to the airport on time, but at least you’ll know what you’re about to face once there.)

It will also provide reasons for the delays, like weather or an aircraft arriving late.

You can track the status of your flight by searching for your flight number or the airline and flight route, notes Google. The delay information will then appear in the search results.

The other new feature added today aims to help travelers make sense of what Basic Economy fares include and exclude with their ticket price.

These low-cost fares are often the only option for travelers on a budget, but they have a number of restrictions that can vary by airline.

Google Flights will now display the restrictions associated with these fares – like restrictions on using overhead space or the ability to select a seat, as well as the fare’s additional baggage fees. It’s initially doing so for American, Delta and United flights worldwide.

These changes come only a month after Google Flights added price tracking and deals to Google Flights as well as hotel search features for web searchers.

The additions seem especially targeted toward today’s travel startups and businesses, like Hopper which had just added hotel search, and uses big data to analyze airline prices and other factors; or TripIt, a competitor of sorts to Google’s own travel app Google Trips, which most recently introduced security checkpoint wait times. (Given that Google already knows the busy times for area businesses by tracking people’s movement via Google Maps, it wouldn’t be surprising to see it implement security wait times next.)

The features are also a real-world demo of Google’s machine learning and big data capabilities, especially in the case of predicting flight delays. Since you can’t take action on the alerts until the airline makes an official announcement, they will largely just cause more anxiety on top of your already stressful travel experience.

 



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Google tweaks search snippets to try to stop serving wrong, stupid and biased answers



Spare a thought for Google. ‘Organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful’ isn’t exactly easy.

Even setting aside the sweating philosophical toil of algorithmically sifting for some kind of universal truth, were Mountain View to truly live up to its own mission statement it would entail massive philanthropic investments in global Internet infrastructure coupled with herculean language localization efforts.

After all — according to a Google search snippet — there are close to 7,000 languages globally…

Which means every piece of Google-organized information should also really be translated ~7,000 times — to enable the sought for universal access. Or at least until its Pixel Buds actually live up to the universal Babel Fish claims.

We’ll let Alphabet off also needing to invest in vast global educational programs to deliver universal worldwide literacy rates, being as they do also serve up video snippets and have engineered voice-based interfaces to disperse data orally, thereby expanding accessibility by not requiring users can read to use their products. (This makes snippets of increasing importance to Google’s search biz, of course, if it’s to successfully transition into the air, as voice interfaces that read you ten possible answers would get very tedious, very fast.)

Really, a more accurate Google mission statement would include the qualifier “some of” after the word “organize”. But hey, let’s not knock Googlers for dreaming impossibly big.

And while the company might not yet be anywhere close to meaningfully achieving its moonshot mission, it has just announced some tweaks to those aforementioned search snippets — to try to avoid creating problematic information hierarchies.

As its search results unfortunately have been.

Thing is, when a search engine makes like an oracle of truth — by using algorithms to select and privilege a single answer per user generated question — then, well, bad things can happen.

Like your oracle informing the world that women are evil. Or claiming president Obama is planning a coup. Or making all sorts of other wild and spurious claims.

Here’s a great thread to get you up to speed on some of the stupid stuff Google snippets have been suggestively passing off as ‘universal truth’ since they launched in January 2014…

“Last year, we took deserved criticism for featured snippets that said things like ‘women are evil’ or that former U.S. President Barack Obama was planning a coup,” Google writes now, adding that it’s “working hard” to “smooth out bumps” with snippets as the feature continues “to grow and evolve”.

Bumps! We guess what they mean to say is algorithmically exacerbated bias and very visible instances of major and alarming product failure.

“We failed in these cases because we didn’t weigh the authoritativeness of results strongly enough for such rare and fringe queries,” Google adds.

For “rare and fringe queries” you should also read: ‘People deliberately trying to game the algorithm’. Because that’s what humans do (and frequently why algorithms fail and/or suck or both).

Sadly Google does not specify what proportion of search queries are rare and fringe, nor offer a more detailed breakdown of how it defines those concepts. Instead it claims:

The vast majority of featured snippets work well, as we can tell from usage stats and from what our search quality raters report to us, people paid to evaluate the quality of our results. A third-party test last year by Stone Temple found a 97.4 percent accuracy rate for featured snippets and related formats like Knowledge Graph information.

But even ~2.6% of featured snippets and related formats being inaccurate translates into a staggering amount of potential servings of fake news given the size of Google’s search business. (A Google snippet tells me the company “now processes over 40,000 search queries every second on average… which translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide“.)

It also flags the launch last April of updated search quality rater guidelines for IDing “low-quality webpages” — claiming this has helped it combat the problem of snippets serving wrong, stupid and/or biased answers.

“This work has helped our systems better identify when results are prone to low-quality content. If detected, we may opt not to show a featured snippet,” it writes.

Though clearly, as Nicas’ Twitter thread illustrates, Google still had plenty of work to do on the stupid snippet front as of last fall.

In his thread Nicas also noted that a striking facet of the problem for Google is the tendency for the answers it packages as ‘truth snippets’ to actually reflect how a question is framed — thereby “confirming user biases”. Aka the filter bubble problem.

Google is now admitting as much, as it blogs about the reintroduced snippets, discussing how the answers it serves can end up contradicting each other depending on the query being asked.

“This happens because sometimes our systems favor content that’s strongly aligned with what was asked,” it writes. “A page arguing that reptiles are good pets seems the best match for people who search about them being good. Similarly, a page arguing that reptiles are bad pets seems the best match for people who search about them being bad. We’re exploring solutions to this challenge, including showing multiple responses.”

So instead of a single universal truth, Google is flirting with multiple choice relativism as a possible engineering solution to make its suggestive oracle a better fit for messy (human) reality (and bias).

“There are often legitimate diverse perspectives offered by publishers, and we want to provide users visibility and access into those perspectives from multiple sources,” writes Google, self-quoting its own engineer employee, Matthew Gray.

No shit Sherlock, as the kids used to say.

Gray leads the featured snippets team, and is thus presumably the techie tasked with finding a viable engineering workaround for humanity’s myriad shades of grey. We feel for him, we really do.

Another snippets tweak Google says it’s toying with — in this instance mostly to make itself look less dumb when its answers misfire in relation to the specific question being asked — is to make it clearer when it’s showing only a near match for a query, not an exact match.

“Our testing and experiments will guide what we ultimately do here,” it writes cautiously. “We might not expand use of the format, if our testing finds people often inherently understand a near-match is being presented without the need for an explicit label.”

Google also notes that it recently launched another feature that lets users interact with snippets by providing a nugget more input to select the correct one to be served.

It gives the example of a question asking ‘how to set up call forwarding’ — which of course varies by carrier (and, er, country, and maybe also device being used… ). Google’s solution? To show a bunch of carriers as labels people can click on to pick the answer that fits.

 

 

Another tweak Google slates as coming soon — and “designed to help people better locate information” — will show more than one featured snippet related to what was originally being searched for.

Albeit, on mobile this will apparently work by stacking snippets on top of one another, so one is still going to come out on top…

“Showing more than one featured snippet may also eventually help in cases where you can get contradictory information when asking about the same thing but in different ways,” it adds, suggesting Google’s plan to burst filter bubbles is to actively promote counter speech and elevate alternative viewpoints.

If so, it may need to tread carefully to avoid bubbling up radically hateful points of view, as it agrees its recommendation engines on YouTube currently can, for example (Google also has problems with its algorithms cribbing dubious views off of Twitter and parachuting them into the top of its general search results).

“Featured snippets will never be absolutely perfect, just as search results overall will never be absolutely perfect,” it concludes. “On a typical day, 15 percent of the queries we process have never been asked before. That’s just one of the challenges along with sifting through trillions of pages of information across the web to try and help people make sense of the world.”

So it’s not yet quite ’50 shades of snippets’ being served up in Google search — but that one universal truth is clearly beginning to fray.



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