Facebook Graph Search finally going public today?

08.07.2013, 11:13

Facebook’s Graph Search service – you know, the one Mark Zuckerberg announced way back in January – looks set to finally begin its public roll-out, starting today.

The enhanced search has been available to a very small number of people so far, but Facebook is now said to be unleashing the service onto several hundreds of millions of US users this week.

What does Facebook Graph Search do, you ask? Well, we promise that it’s a little more exciting than it sounds. A little.

The tool is designed to let you search through your connections for very specific information on people.

For example, you could search for “my friends who like Snow Patrol” and it should then return with a list of all the people you need to unfriend immediately. You can get as specific as you like.

  • Check out our first impressions of Facebook Graph Search here

You’re having a graph!

For the time being, only those using ‘US English’ Facebook will be able to access the service, which may mean that UK users can also get involved if they don’t mind sacrificing a few “u”s to do so. After six months of testing the water, Facebook will then send it global.

Probably just as well though. The New York Times claims that the feature is still a little buggy right now, struggling to get its head around synonymous phrases, for example.

All is meant to come clear in a blog post that Facebook is reported to be posting today, and we’ll update with more the moment that the prophesied announcement happens.

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Facebook Facebot to filter controversial feeds

02.07.2013, 9:43

Facebook is a constantly evolving platform, with personal accounts and company pages to fan pages and profiles for pets being generated and updated every day.

But for all that, Facebook has been plagued by issues relating to hate speech, crude, violent, graphic and sexist content. It’s received many letters and complaints from individuals and organisations, such as from Women, Action and The Media.

With all this offending content and complaints, numerous attempts at updating its policies and terms and conditions of use have been made by the social media giant. They have even hired people to look over content, flagging and deleting anything deemed questionable.

But it all came to a head when advertisers began pulling ads from Facebook earlier this year because of complaints from users who found company ads next to pages that had abusive, graphic or controversial content.

It’s not what it looks like…

In response to companies pulling their ads, Facebook has introduced a “New Review Policy for Pages and Groups”.

Starting from this week, Facebook will: “… implement a new review process for determining which Pages and Groups should feature ads alongside their content.”

“Prior to this change, a Page selling adult products was eligible to have ads appear on its right-hand side; now there will not be ads displayed next to this type of content,” the company said in its announcement.

While at first pages will be monitored by humans, we can’t imagine this to be worthwhile job that many will be jumping for – well, for most.

The FaceBot

The company has put together a filter of sorts that will be implemented in the coming weeks, looking out for controversial and questionable pages or groups.

Facebook has said that it “… will build a more scalable, automated way to prevent and/or remove ads appearing next to controversial content.”

This kind of technology isn’t new to the company, which already uses filters for spam, etc., but this new automated system/filter/robot will be on the lookout specifically for pages and groups that show explicit, abusive and offensive content.

It will be targeting “any violent, graphic or sexual content (content that does not violate our community standards).”

Using an algorithm to identify pornographic or graphic photographs is nothing new, but Facebook’s new automated system won’t be problem proof.

Robots for porn and violence?

Last year, there was some controversy over the wrongful removal of pictures of women breastfeeding, although Facebook said that these images were removed after users had reported it.

This will be a judgement call that Facebook’s automated system will have to take in to account. It will need to be able to decide on “violent, graphic or sexual content” based upon its context, and it may in many instances wrongfully conclude that a page or group is particularly “controversial”.

It should also be noted that this review process will only affect pages that already comply with “content that does not violate our community standards”. If anyone sees content on Facebook that they find offensive, they should contact Facebook directly.

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Flipboard folds in Instagram videos, but Vine left hanging

01.07.2013, 10:29

The socially-themed digital magazine app Flipboard has issued users with an update that enables Instagram’s new video feature.

The update to the iOS and Android versions of the app doesn’t mention the Instagram update specifically, but videos are now playing within the relevant sections of the app.

Flipboard is yet to integrate Twitter’s Vine as a standalone app, although those six-second clips do appear within the Twitter section of the app as tweets.

Flipboard does offer access to the likes of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, SoundCloud, Flickr, Tumblr, LinkedIn and Google+, so it is surprising that it hasn’t taken the opportunity to add Vine to the equation.

Craze over already?

One thing we noticed when breezing through the Instagram section within Flipboard was it took us a while to actually find a video to test out.

The amount of videos posted seems to have decreased quite steadily since the feature launched on June 21. Are you bored of the feature? Does it annoy you seeing the videos within your feed?

Let us know in the comments sections below. In the meantime check out our first impressions of Video on Instagram.

  • Earlier this week it was revealed that Flipboard would soon be coming to Windows 8 along with an official Facebook app.

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Week in Tech: Face off: shadowy data theft, and Ellen Page wants her ID back

28.06.2013, 15:09

It’s been a shadowy old week, with tech rumours, security concerns and pointy fingers emerging from all sorts of quarters.

First up, Canadian actress Ellen Page accused PS3 horror game The Last of Us of stealing her face: “I guess I should be flattered that they ripped off my likeness,” Page told Reddit at the weekend. “But I am actually acting in a video game called Beyond: Two Souls, so it was not appreciated.”

Some of us think that Ellie, the character in question, looks more like Ashley Johnson – the actress who provides her voice. But we appreciate that having what looks like your face constantly eaten off by the fungus-horned infected might be uncomfortable viewing.

Don’t cut the lifeline

Elsewhere, patron saint of the internet and dread king of the world wide web Sir Tim Berners-Lee advised against complacency in the face of government and corporate “online spying”, warning that ignoring Prism-style data secrecy breaches could compromise the internet’s value as a vital lifeline.

Week in tech
Facebook probably isn’t listening to Sir Tim Berners-Lee

“Information on the web can be really important in people’s survival,” he said, while receiving the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering. “Teenagers who are unsure about their sexuality who need to contact others, or people being abused trying to find helplines … There are things that happen on the net that are very intimate, which people are going to be loath to do if they feel there’s somebody looking over their shoulder.”

Speaking of digital eavesdroppers, Facebook has found yet another way to get all up in our business – through our friends. You’re not even safe if your profile is a blank page, or if your last activity was defenestrating a colleague in 2005 – because it turns out Facebook can still “shadow profile” you.

This involves nabbing your contact details from a friend’s address book if they upload it, or recording employer or university-specific searches of your name. Facebook’s behaviour is legally murky and pretty terrifying – especially since we would be none the wiser if it hadn’t been for a well-timed Facebook security breach.

Not quite a phone, not yet a tablet (also a watch)

Happily, in among all this depressing news, there are also shiny new gadgets. We took a hands-on look at the Sony Xperia Z Ultra, Sony’s new tiny-tablet-massive-phone mash-up, and we liked it for the most part, massive-screened oddness and all.

Sure, with a giant 6.44-inch screen it’s not for the small-handed, but the HD is impressive and the apps are super-fast thanks to its Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chip and 2.2GHz quad-core processor. However, the camera renders grainy images and the screen quality could be improved. All in all, though, we approve of this phone-tablet. Phablet? Tablone?

Week in tech
All you need is time, and a hand as big as a spade

Sony has also unveiled the SmartWatch 2 for Android, which has an additional water-resistent screen, and packs NFC for improved synching ability..

Finally, just in case you weren’t cheered up enough, it looks like a viable alternative to the soon-to-be-late Google Reader is on the cards – from Digg. Digg assures us its new reader will look clean work fast and be launched in time for us to migrate all our feeds over from Google Reader. And if that doesn’t do the trick, keep an eye on TR this weekend for our round-up of the best Google Reader alternatives.

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Facebook could open the floor to all with new Host Chat feature

28.06.2013, 10:31

Facebook has reportedly confirmed it is testing a new messaging feature, which would allow users to host a chat room friends could join with requiring an invitation.

The feature, which TechCrunch reports is being trialled among a very small percentage of users, offers them an opportunity to set-up the room and give it a name, which is helpful for discussing certain topics.

The new event then appears in the news feed of the host’s friends, who can click to join the room.

Any of the host’s friends can join the room, meaning people who don’t necessarily know each other could converse with new people, and perhaps strike up a friendship through the mutual friend.

Open the floor…

The TechCrunch report said Facebook hasn’t decided whether the feature will be rolled out to everyone yet, but easy to see where this could have real merit those who love a good debate

Say, for example, Apple has launched a new smartphone, a user could set up a room so friends could all voice their opinions on that subject, rather than simply commenting on statuses.

Users could also employ the Host Chat feature to discuss an ongoing TV show, sporting event, breaking news story and so on…

Facebook Home boosted

Meanwhile, another feature being rolled out today is an update to the Facebook Home Android suite.

As CNET reports, Facebook 3.4 for Android just landed with Beta testers bringing folders to the Facebook Home launcher, allowing users to organise like-minded apps and save space on the homescreen.

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Video on Instagram: first impressions

21.06.2013, 10:56

Instagram today unveiled a chic cure to capturing and sharing videos through its iOS and Android mobile apps, one that will no doubt give Twitter pause as to what it wants to do next with Vine.

Called Video on Instagram, the feature is more nuanced than its GIF-y counterpart. The Twitter-owned, 6-second video taking Vine has its merits, but Instagram’s take on video comes packing a few more features and lacking loops.

In videos lasting up to 15 seconds and no less than three, users can apply one of 13 filters, pick a cover photo and erase the last clip they take. Those extra nine seconds touch on what CEO and Co-Founder Kevin Systrom referred to as the Goldilocks moment: Not too short, not too long.

In a way, he’s right, but at the end of the day there’s only so much you can do with 15 seconds. On the flip side, there’s also too much you can do, so whether Instagram has really hit on the social cinema sweet spot will be subject to the test of time and users’ patience.

From start to finish

Available in version 4.0.0, Video on Instagram only captures video on devices running Jelly Bean 4.1 and up, though any device can view the videos. iOS 5 and higher is required to take videos with an Apple product. Videos are also viewable on desktop.

Recording jumps off from the same block as taking a picture. Users hit the Instagram icon on the bottom of their screen, heading into the camera. However, now to the right of the blue camera button is a video camera icon. Clicking on this will take you to video mode, and a red button replaces the sapphire of simple image capture.

Erasing a clip

From here, users need just hold down the red dot to start recording, lifting their finger off when they want to stop. You can do this as many times as you like to create a video made up of as many clips, of any length, that you want. Lines demarcate where one clip ends and another begins, something Vine doesn’t do.

Also unlike Vine, Instagram will let you erase the last clip you took. There’s an “X” icon to the left of the record button that, when pressed, will turn red. A trashcan replaces the “X” and a press deletes the part you want to chuck.

After recording, users click the green Next button to get to another Insta-only feature: filters.

You can switch between filters as your video plays, or view the entire roll through one lens. The filters range from Stinson to Moon to Maven, and while you may struggle to explain what is actually different between each and every one, some do add a heightened cinematic quality to what could be a very mundane video of you talking to your dog (not that we recorded such a thing).

Filters with Vine

Some photo-specific manipulations like flipping are gone, but we didn’t miss them as we recorded today. We have no doubt Instagram has more filters and effects planned as time goes on, but 13 filters is plenty to start.

After hitting another Next button, users can choose a cover frame, or a shot from the video they want posted as its public face. The process involves literally flipbooking through each shot until finding the best/most interesting/whatever image you want your followers to see. Put another way, you’re not stuck with a disorienting, out-of-context first frame plastered on your profile, news feed and social networks.

One final Next button will take you to the Share area, where you can add a caption choose a Photo Map, and pick to post on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or send via email. There’s also a Foursquare button, but it wasn’t functioning for us. We’ll look into it and provide an update when we know what its deal is.

Filtered car black and white

Once in the Instagram news feed, videos are marked with a video camera icon to show they’re not static images. You can press them to play, but if you linger over a video long enough (a matter of a second or two) the video will automatically start playing, just like in Vine. Scrolling away causes the video to stop.

As we mentioned earlier, Instagram videos don’t loop like Vines but instead stop completely until you press play again. It was actually felt like going from a tea party to a playground whenever we switched from Instagram to Vine.

One feature unique to iOS but that we were told “the team” is working to bring to Android is called Cinema, an image stabilization feature that’s supposed to eliminate excess movement in your videos.

From the way Systrom told it, Cinema is a highly-involved piece of technology that video scientists helped develop, yet while we noticed less instability in our videos, it’s not the all-in-one fix it Instagram talked it up to be. Shakiness is noticeably reduced when it’s on, to be sure, but not so much that we would completely miss it if it were off.

Cinema is automatically on, however, so you may never take an un-Cinematic iOS photo again. Oddly enough, the Cinema icon (basically a camera with lines to express movement) didn’t come up when we tested Video on Instagram at home.

We truly enjoyed using Video on Instagram. It was, simply put, fun.

Buffer on Vine

All the tools are there to make what amounts to a mini movie, especially with the ability to end a clip and jump to another scene, throwing a little more creativity in with the addition of a filter. Vine has the first part, but there’s a sense of more control in Instagram’s version.

We experienced no lag times with Video on Instagram, by the way, whereas it took 30 seconds or more for Vine to render a video. It may be a case of the hardware we were using, but our buffer times were almost non-existent on Instagram.

As Systrom put it, the company didn’t want to introduce a complex editing interface, and though it has more steps and more whistles than Vine, it really is as easy as photo editing tools come.

Vine is, at its root, elementary: record the video, caption the video, post the video. Though rudimentary, Vine has amassed 13 million users on iOS alone since launch, so it’s certainly striking a cord for people.

People are making some remarkably creative and charming videos in six seconds, and Vine has promised to unveil new features very soon. Whether they’ll rival what Instagram has brought forth, we’ll wait and see, but Vine has some serious competition for amateur videographers out there.

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Facebook photo comments just means more cat and meme replies

20.06.2013, 9:35

Adding a photo inside a Facebook comment has been a laborious task, but the social networking site is addressing this first-world with photos that can be uploaded directly inside replies.

“When I’m talking with a friend, sometimes showing a photo helps me tell a story much better than words alone,” explained Facebook engineer Bob Baldwin in a post.

“If we’re hanging out in person, I can show a photo from my phone, but on Facebook I’d have to post a link to a photo. Now, you’ll be able to attach a photo directly when posting a comment.”

Baldwin asked his friends to try out Facebook’s new photo-in-comments feature, to which 25 people replied – one with an obligatory cat meme.

Previously, to get a photo inside a Facebook comment, users had to insert a link to another destination like the popular photo uploading service imgur.com.

This created an awkward “link preview” along with the image, and kept the usually way-too-long hyperlink string intact.

Today’s change does away with the need for a “link preview” and distracting hyperlink, and simply puts just the photo out there for everyone to see.

This is the latest update to the Facebook, which recently added nested comments and a streamlined Timeline in advance of its mobile-friendly design rollout.

  • Check out Facebook’s new newsfeed, which is still rolling out to members.
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    Samsung distances itself from Facebook Phone links

    19.06.2013, 13:49

    We’re hearing that the world’s biggest social network is on the hunt for a new friend to help it with its mobile strategy, as it was apparently less than impressed with its HTC fling.

    Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has met with the head of Samsung in South Korea to discuss various partnerships between the two firms – which has led many to think it’s on the lookout for a manufacturer for the much-talked-about Facebook Phone.

    With a disappointing reception for the HTC First, Facebook is licking its wounds as its new Home software overlay for Android appears to be a flop, so turning to the world’s biggest smartphone manufacturer seems to make sense.

    According to Bloomberg, Zuckerberg discussed ways to generate ad revenue from mobile phones, as the social networking site finds more and more of its users logging in with their smartphones, and thus bypassing the majority of the ads you get on the desktop site.

    Meanwhile the Korea Herald is reporting that Zuckerberg was talking about a “Facebook-friendly” smartphone with the Samsung executives – although the South Korean firm has tried to distance itself from these reports.

    Separate sources claim Samsung doesn’t currently have any interest in developing a phone with Facebook – so it’s all a little confusing at the moment, although it’s worth remembering Zuckerberg himself has previously said Facebook doesn’t have any plans to develop a network branded handset.

    See related stories from >techradar.com

    Google challenges FISA court’s gag order over Prism

    19.06.2013, 8:02

    Google is attempting to shed refracted light on its role in Prism today by asking the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to allow it to describe the information it is forced to give the U.S. government.

    “We have long pushed for transparency so users can better understand the extent to which governments request their data,” said the search engine giant in a statement posted to Google+.

    Google routinely publishes this criminal request data sought by governments worldwide.

    It was therefore the first of nine companies to release numbers for the recently exposed National Security Letters that demand companies turn over records in matters of national security.

    Facebook, Microsoft and Apple followed suit in an attempt to reassure users of their privacy, although all of this data is lumped together with criminal requests state, local and federal criminal requests.

    Google’s petition is intended to further break these numbers down, as is declared that “more transparency is needed.”

    “Today we have petitioned the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to allow us to publish aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures, separately.”

    “Lumping national security requests together with criminal requests—as some companies have been permitted to do—would be a backward step for our users.”

    While Google’s records may show that it was forced to give the U.S. government data only in court-ordered situations, that may not ease all users’ privacy fears.

    That’s because the 11 federal judges that make up the FISA court approved 1,789 government requests it received in 2012, according to The Washington Post.

    Just one – a single withdrawn request – was not approved.

    While privacy advocates call this a rubber stamp, the controversial Prism surveillance program does have its supports, especially after today.

    There have been more than 50 attacks foiled by the U.S. government with the help of Prism, according to testimony by National Security Agency director General Keith Alexander.

    With Google asserting its First Amendment right to the freedom of speech, we may learn more about Prism, or at least what information the government.

    • Read how the the U.K. government may be using Prism too

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    Gary Marshall: Why Facebook Hashtags should be called Cashtags

    13.06.2013, 13:53

    Imagine being friends with someone who worked at Facebook. You’d wear a cool T-shirt and they’d have the same one a few weeks later. You’d invite them into your home and they’d order exact replicas of your sofa and your TV. You’d use a feature on a rival social service and they’d quickly come up with their own version. Yep, Facebook’s getting hashtags.

    Facebook users already post hashtags, but until now those tags didn’t do anything: you couldn’t click on a hashtag about, say, Game of Thrones and see 1,000 people going OMG about the current episode. You can on Twitter, of course, and if there’s one thing Facebook can’t stand it’s the thought of people doing something on the internet that doesn’t involve Facebook.

    Cue hashtag support.

    Facebook wants to “surface” – a word only used to mean “highlight” or “identify” by utter, utter arses – “some of the interesting discussions people are having about public events, people and topics.” By “surface” – *spits* – they mean copy Twitter; trending topics are next on the horizon, followed by Sally Bercow being sued for libel *innocent face*.

    It’s all about the ads, of course. While hashtags won’t contain advertising to begin with, it’s too tempting an opportunity for Facebook to pass up – and it’s too tempting an opportunity for the spammers to pass up too. If you’re sharing your updates publicly, hashtags and trends will be hijacked by spammers and scammers just like they are on Twitter.

    Facebook hashtags
    Even Bill Murray is wearied by the whole thing

    Here’s Facebook’s pitch to marketers:

    “Like other Facebook marketing tools, hashtags allow you to join and drive the conversations happening about your business. We recommend that you search for and view real-time public conversations and test strategies to drive those conversations using hashtags…

    “Over time, our goal is to build out additional functionality for marketers, including trending hashtags and new insights, so that you can better understand how hashtags fit into your overall Facebook advertising strategies and drive your business objectives.”

    We’ve already got huge in-app ads with video ones on the horizon, news feeds full of people hitting Like to win a year’s supply of toilet roll and enormous blocks of sponsored content; now, we’re going to get even more exciting ways for marketers to drive their business objectives.

    What I’ve long suspected appears to be true: Facebook isn’t a social network but a sociological experiment. The goal? To discover just how annoying a service can become without its users buggering off.

    • And it doesn’t end there – Gary explains why Facebook Home is Android’s worst nightmare

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