Pinterest rolls out its own version of QR codes


If you are walking around a retailer, you might have seen a sign or something along those lines posted to check out its Pinterest account for additional content or products – but there was not really a seamless way to get to that account without a lot of tapping around.

Taking a cue from some of the prevalence of QR codes around the world, like China, Pinterest said today that it is rolling out its own variation of QR codes for retailers and brands. They behave like you’d expect for a QR code, where users can open the Pinterest app and use the code to quickly jump to a board without having to search or tap several times to get there. It’s another way of reducing friction to getting to the content from those brands or retailers on Pinterest, as a huge amount of the content on the service comes from brands or marketers.

“In China it works because when they see a QR code they open the app and scan it,” visual search product lead Jeff Harris said. “You don’t really know how you’re supposed to process it in the US. Pincodes are a really good use case. You open up Pinterest and tap the camera icon. We had so many partners asking for it. They had all this online content already and said hey can you use the camera.”

Pinterest users just open up the camera app, which the company seems to be increasingly using to close the distance between the real world and Pinterest as it looks to get the right content in front of its users. Collapsing that distance, and shaving off even a small number of seconds to the experience of getting to a product, can be critical to getting a user on the service and keeping them engaged. It can then do its work of getting interesting content in front of them that they might not have realized they wanted to see in the first place.

By doing that, it offers brands and marketers an opportunity to get their products in front of users when they already have a ton of baked in intent in terms of interest in a brand’s products. They might go to a shoe rack, and not see a pair of shoes they like, but the retailer can direct them to a home with a much wider array of shoes that the company has available. And when they go to those pages, they have a Google-like intent of looking for products for potential purchase, which they can then start saving for later or continue down the road of eventually purchasing those products.

So it may seem like a little addition — and somewhat late to the game given how popular the tactic is abroad — but it’s a behavior that hasn’t quite stuck in the U.S. just yet. By making the process more seamless and tapping an already existing psychology, Pinterest gives its users a way to quickly access more products and give marketers a way to get more products in front of those users, which means it can continue to convince marketers it’s getting products in front of users in ways that Facebook or Google might not be able.

Dropbox partners with Autodesk to help users collaborate on large design files


Dropbox announced a couple of products today to make it easier for Autodesk users to access and share large design files. The products include an integrated desktop app for opening and saving Autodesk files stored in Dropbox and an app for viewing design files without the need for owning Autodesk.

These products are long overdue given that Dropbox’s Ross Piper, who is head of ecosystem and developer platforms, says they have 1.5 billion (with a B) Autodesk files stored in Dropbox with 85 million being added every month, an astonishing number considering the size and complexity of these files. But it is precisely because they are large and complex that a cloud storage solution is a compelling idea.

The companies decided to partner to help make working with these files an easier and more streamlined undertaking.

The Dropbox desktop app, which will be available starting today, enables Autodesk users to open and save .dwg design files in the cloud directly from the AutoCad application. Users simply open these files directly in AutoCad, and they are pulled from Dropbox, and open as normal. When users are finished working on the files, they are saved back to Dropbox automatically.

Dropbox integration directly in AutoDesk application. Photo: Dropbox

In addition, Dropbox also announced a native viewer app, which is coming soon, which will enable Autodesk users to share design files with users who don’t own the Autodesk software. What’s more, these users will be able to comment on the files, making it easier for architects and project managers to share changes even when contractors, customers and other interested parties don’t own the core product.

For instance, you can look at an architect’s drawing and select a room or area, then comment specifically about that area.

Photo: Dropbox

Users can download these new tools from Autodesk’s AutoCad App Store, install them and they are good to go.

This announcement is part of a broader play by Dropbox to have third-party partners like Autodesk integrate the Dropbox product more directly into business applications where people are doing work, rather than having to open Dropbox explicitly to grab these files.

It’s worth noting that Box has had a similar partnership with Autodesk in place for a couple of years.

YouTube partners with Ticketmaster to sell concert tickets on artists’ video pages


YouTube today announced a partnership with Ticketmaster that will see the Google-owned video network connecting fans with concert tickets and tour information directly on artists’ YouTube video pages. Starting today, YouTube will begin featuring hundreds of artists’ upcoming U.S. tour dates on their YouTube videos beneath the video’s description.

This added integration will include information about the nearest show as well as upcoming tour dates. Only the first few dates will show by default, but users can click to expand this list if they want to see dates further out in the future.

Next to all the listings is a “tickets” button that, when clicked, will redirect users to Ticketmaster’s website to make their purchase. The experience works on both web and mobile, though it looks slightly different, depending on the platform.

YouTube says it had been experimenting with a way to offer a ticketing experience on its site before landing on this Ticketmaster integration.

For now, it’s live only with artists who have Ticketmaster shows in North America, but the plan is to expand this globally going forward. The company also hints this is the first of other planned features focused on artist-to-fan connections, but it didn’t detail those plans.

The move comes at a time when Spotify is running away with the streaming market, and specifically has been working to improve its platform for artists with things like a data dashboard and native app for updating artists’ profiles, playlists, and checking their stats. Apple Music, meanwhile, tried and failed in artist-to-fan connections with Connect, a social feed for artist updates.

Meanwhile, one of YouTube’s bigger use cases is music discovery and streaming – so much so that it has its own dedicated mobile app, and offline video streaming is packaged as a part of a YouTube Red subscription. It also has a massive audience to market these tickets too – with 1.5 billion logged-in monthly users, this exposes Ticketmaster concerts to a huge number of online music fans.

Presumably, there’s some sort of revenue sharing agreement here for the ticket sales that are initiated via YouTube, but the company didn’t say. We reached out to YouTube for more information about the business deal, and will update if the company offers details.

iOS 11.2 is going to support faster 7.5W Qi wireless charging


The iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X all support wireless charging using the Qi standard. It means that iPhones are now compatible with hundreds of chargers out there. But iPhone Qi charging is currently limited to 5W, or the slowest wireless charging speed. Apple is currently working on iOS 11.2 — this update is going to support 7.5W charging.

Wireless charging is nice if you don’t want to plug your phone every time you want to charge it. But it’s not a groundbreaking feature as you still have to plug your charger to the wall. You also need to put your phone on the charger. So it’s not really wireless.

But if you tend to pick up your phone very often and the cable gets in the way, you might want a wireless charger for your desk or nightstand. When new iPhones came out, Apple said that they would only support 5W charging for now.

Apple is currently testing iOS 11.2 with beta testers, and this update unlocks wireless charging speed. 5W wireless charging is more or less as fast as using the charger accessory that comes with the iPhone.

MacRumors tested iOS 11.2 with a 7.5W charger and a 5W charger. After the update, wireless charging with a 7.5W charger was 43 percent faster.

This is encouraging and more useful than wireless charging in its current form. Apple currently sells a Mophie and a Belking charger in its stores. Both support 7.5W charging. Some chargers on Amazon also support 10W or even 15W. It won’t be any use for now, but maybe next year’s iPhone is going to get improved wireless charging.

And if you like cables, don’t forget that you can use a 10/12W iPad charger to charge your iPhone in no time. You’ll have to buy it separately, but it makes a big difference.

Twitter launches lower-cost subscription access to its data through new Premium APIs


Twitter tried to mend its relationship with developers earlier this year with the launch of a new API platform which focused on streamlining APIs and the promise of additional tiers of access. Twitter said it would offer free APIs for testing ideas, self-serve access, as well as paid access for increased functionality, in addition to its enterprise APIs. Today, Twitter is delivering on its plans to offer developers paid APIs that are a step down from the needs of enterprise-scale businesses.

The new products are called Twitter Premium APIs, and they’re designed to offer expanded access to Twitter data beyond what’s currently available in the free APIs. This includes things like more tweets per request, higher rate limits, and more complex queries.

The pricing for the premium APIs ranges from $149/month to $2499/month, based on the level of access needed.

The first premium offering, the Search Tweets API, is launching today into public beta.

This will give developers the ability to access the past 30 days of Twitter data. It will later include an additional endpoint that will enable access to the full history of Twitter data, back to the first tweet.

The new Search endpoints will offer a number of advantages over free access, including more tweets per request, higher rate limits, a counts endpoint that returns time-series counts of tweets
more complex queries, and metadata enrichments, like expanded URLs and improved profile geo information, says Twitter.

The Search Tweets API is the first of several premium APIs to launch, with others rolling out over the weeks and months ahead.

In addition, Twitter is launching a new self-serve developer portal designed to offer more transparent access to developers’ data usage. This will help developers better determine when they need to upgrade to increased levels of access or other premium functionality. They’ll also be able to manage their subscriptions and payments here.

Later, more functionality from the apps.twitter.com experience will arrive in the portal too.

The ability to pay for expanded access is something Twitter’s developer community has demanded for years, and seemed an obvious step for Twitter in terms of growing its revenue.

The lack of paid access in between the free and enterprise APIs had limited the ability for developers to grow a business on top of Twitter. That’s something developers may have wanted to do in the past, before Twitter pulled out the rug from under developers’ feet years ago and then shafted its own partners, as the company reconsidered how it wanted to work with the community of third-party developers.

Those bad vibes may still leave their mark on the potential for these new products, as developers may be uncertain about investing time and energy on building on the back of Twitter, given its capriciousness in the past.

But Twitter data remains valuable, which is why the company acquired Gnip, a longtime Twitter partner and social data provider, back in 2014. The paid APIs could also serve as a means for the company to generate additional revenue, given its ad revenue declined 8 percent year-over-year in its last earnings announcement, while data licensing revenue was up 22 percent.

Developers can stay tuned into this and other API news and information via Twitter’s public roadmapforum and  new developer resource center containing documentation and guidance.

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Facebook says Russia did try to meddle in Brexit vote


BuzzFeed has obtained a statement from Facebook in which the tech giant admits, for the first time, that some Russia-linked accounts may have used its platform to try to interfere in the UK’s European Union referendum vote in June 2016.

Which means Russian agents weren’t just using Facebook to meddle in the 2016 US presidential election, and in other recent elections in the West — such as those in France and Germany.

Elections are of course a huge deal but the result can at least be reversed at the ballot box in time. The in/out Brexit referendum in the UK was no such standard vote. And there is no standard process for reversing the result.

So if Kremlin agents also used Facebook to influence people in the UK to vote for Brexit that would be hugely significant — and further evidence that social media’s connective tissue can be used to drive and enflame societal divisions.

“To date, we have not observed that the known, coordinated clusters in Russia engaged in significant coordination of ad buys or political misinformation targeting the Brexit vote,” a Facebook spokesperson told BuzzFeed in a carefully worded statement.

Which begs the question how much Russian Facebook activity did target the Brexit vote?  We asked Facebook how many socially divisive Russian-backed ads ran before Brexit. Facebook declined to comment.

While its claim not to have found “significant coordination” of Russian activity ahead of the Brexit vote might sound like ‘case closed’ on the EU referendum front, the company has consistently sought to play down the impact of Facebook-distributed Russian misinformation — with CEO Mark Zuckerberg initially describing it as a “pretty crazy idea” that fake news could have influenced voters in the US election.

Nearly half a year later, after conducting an internal investigation, Facebook conceded there had been a Russian disinformation campaign during the US election — but claimed the reach of the operation was “statistically very small” in comparison with overall political activity and engagement.

Then in September another tidbit came out when it said it now believed potential pro-Kremlin entities could have spent up to $150,000 on its platform to buy 3,000 ads to between 2015 and 2017. It said the ads were tied to 470 accounts — some linked to a known Russian troll farm called the Internet Research Agency.

It also agreed to share the Russian backed US political ads with congressional investigators looking into US election-related disinformation. Though it rejected calls to make all the ads public.

Finally, at the end of last month, about a year after its CEO’s denial of the potency of political disinformation on his mega platform, Facebook admitted Russian-backed content could have reached as many as 126 million people in the US.

It now estimates the number of pieces of divisive content at 80,000, after being asked by congressional investigators to report not just direct Russian-bought ads but organic posts, images, events and more, which can also of course become viral vehicles of disinformation on Facebook’s algorithmically driven platform.

So there’s a reason to be cautious about accepting at face value the company’s claim now that Russian Brexit meddling existed on its platform but was not significant.

Giving a speech yesterday, the UK prime minister set out in no uncertain tones her conviction that Russia has been using social media platforms to try to interfere with Western democracies, directly accusing Vladimir Putin of seeking to sew social division by “weaponizing information” and planting fake stories.

Multiple Twitter accounts previously linked to Russia’s Internet Research Agency have also been identified as engaging in Brexit-related tweeting, according to the Times — linking Russian-backed election meddling troll activity to the UK’s EU referendum vote too.

On Friday, Wired detailed some of the Russian-backed Twitter accounts and 2016 Brexit-related tweets — including tweets apparently seeking to conflate Islam with terrorism, and others aiming to stir up anti-immigrant sentiment such as by spreading racial slurs.

We asked Twitter how many accounts it has linked to pro-Kremlin entities that were also tweeting about Brexit ahead of the referendum vote. At the time of writing the company had not responded.

Meanwhile Russia continues to amuse itself with a spot of public Twitter trolling of the UK PM…

A UK parliamentary committee which is investigating fake news has previously requested data from Twitter and Facebook on Russian accounts which posted about the EU referendum.

Commenting on the cache of Russian tweets now linked to Brexit, Damian Collins, the MP leading the inquiry, told Wired: “I think it shows that Russian-controlled accounts have been politically active in the UK as well as America. This could just be the tip of the iceberg because we’ve only really just started looking and doing a proper detailed study of what accounts linked to Russian organisations have been doing politically.”

The UK’s Brexit vote was both a shock result and a close one, with 51.9 per cent voting to leave the EU vs 48.1 per cent voting remain.

It caused huge immediate political upheaval — with the then UK Prime Minister resigning immediately. There was also major drop in the value of pound sterling. (The pound remains down around 11 per cent vs the dollar and 15 per cent vs the euro.)

While Brexit-based uncertainty continues to impact almost every aspect of day-to-day political activity in the UK, given the scale of the task facing ministers to try to unpick more than 40 years of EU agreements — clearly deflecting the government from being able to pursue a wider policy agenda as ministers’ fixed firefighting focus is on trying to enact Brexit without causing even greater disruption to UK businesses and citizens.

Scores of European ministers and civil servants are also having to expend further resources to manage Brexit vis-a-vis their own sets of priorities and to shape whatever comes after.

The incentive for Russia to have sought to run a disinformation campaign to encourage disunity in the European Union by encouraging a vote for Brexit is clear: Instability weakens your opponents.

Whether Putin’s agents were merely dabbling with Brexit disinformation as they geared up for a more major disinformation push focused on the US election remains to be seen. But given the closeness of the Brexit vote — and the long term disruption Brexit will undoubtedly cause — then any Russia-backed interference deserves to be quantified in full.

So we’re all looking at you, Facebook.

Featured Image: Evgeny Gromov/Getty Images

Firefox aims to win back Chrome users with its souped up Quantum browser


The last half-decade hasn’t been great for Firefox marketshare. Chrome first overtook Mozilla’s browser back in late-2011 and now hovers above 60-percent, according to StatCounter numbers. But after a fair amount of struggles, Mozilla’s been undergoing an interesting sort of renaissance of late, and is banking on its new Quantum browser to bring bygone users back into the Firefox fold.

After two months of beta testing, the 57th version of the browser drops today for public consumption, belying the slow moving condiment that shares its build number. According to the foundation’s numbers, the latest build users 30-percent less memory than the competition when running on a Windows System.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n6wiRyKkmKc?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent&w=640&h=390]

It’s also somewhere in the neighborhood of double the speed of the two-month-old Firefox 52 (aw, memories), according to benchmarks on a Surface Laptop. Mozilla’s team has also built a new engine here to make the experience of switching between tabs smoother than before. That’s paired with a new streamlined UI called Photon, which appears to take some minimalist cues from the mobile browsing experience.

There are other bells and whistles, too, including additional integration with the read-it-later service, Pocket, recommending stories based on the sites you frequent.

“We looked at real world hardware to make Firefox look great on any display, and we made sure that Firefox looks and works like Firefox regardless of the device you’re using,” SVP Mark Mayo explains in a post. “Our designers created a system that scales to more than just current hardware but lets us expand in the future.”

It all seems to be a step in the right direction — the first Firefox felt revolutionary back in 2004, but browsers like Chrome and Safari have taken great pains to strip excess baggage in order to make browsing as fast as possible. Meantime, Firefox’s marketshare has slipped substantially. 

Actually convincing users to switch back — or even try Firefox for the first time — is a different conversation altogether, of course. Change is tough with a daily driver like a browser. But interested parties can check it out now for Windows, Mac and Linux. A similarly designed version will follow soon for iOS and Android.

Featured Image: Johnathan Nightingale/Flickr UNDER A CC BY-SA 2.0 LICENSE