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Facebook starts testing News, its new section for journalism – TechCrunch

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Facebook’s news section, which was previously reported to be imminent, is here: The company is rolling out Facebook News in a limited test in the U.S. as a home screen tab and bookmark in the main Facebook app.

In a blog post, Facebook’s Campbell Brown (vice president of global news partnerships) and Mona Sarantakos (product manager, news) said that news articles will continue to appear in the main News Feed. However, they said that creating a specific tab focused on journalism “gives people more control over the stories they see, and the ability to explore a wider range of their news interests, directly within the Facebook app.”

Brown and Sarantakos added that the News tab was developed in consultation with publishers, and also based on feedback from a survey of more than 100,000 Facebook users in the United States earlier this year.

It sounds like Facebook News will use both human editors and algorithms to determine which stories you see — an unusual move for a company that’s been hesitant to police the content posted by users and advertisers. Specifically, there will be a section called Today’s Stories, curated by a team of journalists to highlight the biggest national news stories of the day.

At the same time, Facebook will also provide algorithmic story suggestions based on your interests and activity. You’ll be able to hide articles, topics and publishers that you don’t want to see, and to browse sections devoted to business, entertainment, health, science and technology, and sports — topics where Facebook users apparently felt underserved.

“Regarding personalization, publishers worry that machine learning has limits and they’re right,” Brown and Sarantakos wrote. “We have progress to make before we can rely on technology alone to provide a quality news destination.”

Nonetheless, they suggested that algorithms will be “driving the majority of Facebook News,” and that they’ll be working to ensure that those algorithms are also surfacing “new forms of journalism in the digital age, including individual, independent journalism.”

Also included: a section where users who have linked their news subscriptions to their Facebook accounts can browse content from those subscriptions.

Facebook News

Which publishers will be included? Brown and Sarantakos said they must be part of Facebook’s News Page Index, and also by abide by the company’s Publisher Guidelines, which includes prohibitions against misinformation (as flagged by third-party fact checkers) and hate speech.

Facebook did not provide a list of participating publishers, but screenshots of the News section include stories from The Wall Street Journal, Time, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed News, Bloomberg, Fox Business, Business Insider, NPR and others; spokespeople for The Post, BuzzFeed and the LA Times confirmed their participation.

So even if publishers have been burned by relying too much on the social network in the past, it sounds like they’re not going to give up on working with Facebook.

It probably helps that the company is paying some of these publishers millions of dollars a year, according to Recode. (A Facebook spokesperson told me, “To ensure we’re including a range of topic areas, we’ll start by paying a subset of publishers who can provide a steady volume of fact-based and original content.”)

BuzzFeed News Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith told me via email that BuzzFeed is “glad to participate” and that “Facebook is taking the lead in recognizing the value news provides to these platforms in a tangible way.”

And Hillary Manning, The Los Angeles Times’ vice president of communications, said (also via email), “We anticipate that we’ll reach new readers through Facebook News and, as we reach more readers, we expect to see more growth in our digital subscriber base.”

Facebook says News will be available to a limited group of users in the U.S., starting today.



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Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner software fix promised in the coming weeks

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The company behind the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaners, iRobot, has announced that the software updates it issued have been causing problems for some of its robotic vacuum cleaners. Models specifically impacted by the software issue are Roomba i7 and s9 robots. The company states that it is currently working on a software upgrade to fix issues owners have complained about.

The issue for owners of the impacted robotic vacuum cleaners is that the update will be rolled out over the next several weeks. Owners of impacted Roomba vacuums say that the recent 3.12.8 firmware has caused navigation issues with the vacuum cleaners. After applying that software update, one user says their Roomba acted “drunk,” spinning around and bumping into furniture.

The owners also said the vacuum cleaned in strange patterns and would get stuck in an empty area along with not being able to return home to its dock. Other users have reported that the updates wiped out environmental maps made by the Roomba vacuums essential to their cleaning function. Impacts from the bad software update have caused a variety of issues, with some taking longer to clean than usual. Units unable to make it back to their docking station are unable to charge, leaving them unusable.

iRobot has been working with users impacted to roll back the update, but even after the update is rolled back some report they still have issues. Some users who were promised help rolling back the software update say they have waited weeks and still haven’t received help. These robotic vacuum cleaners are typically quite expensive, and a software update leaving them unusable understandably angers owners.

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Joby Aviation unveils its eVTOL air taxi flight video for the first time

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Joby Aviation certainly isn’t a household name today, but that could change the future. Joby is one of the companies trying to bring affordable and efficient air travel to the masses for short distances. Joby has spent more than a decade developing piloted, all-electric vertical takeoff and landing passenger aircraft and has conducted more than 1000 test flights so far.

The goal is to operate a clean, quiet, and affordable air taxi service starting in 2024. One notable thing about Joby Aviation is that it was the first company to get a certification basis for an eVTOL aircraft with the FAA. It has also been granted airworthiness approval for an eVTOL aircraft by the U.S. Air Force. The merger with Reinvent Technology Partners values Jobi Aviation at $6.6 billion and is expected to generate about $1.6 billion in gross proceeds.

The deal includes $910 million in fully committed funding, including an $835 million fully committed PIPE. The investment was anchored by strategic partners and institutional investors, including Uber Technologies and more. The agreement has up to a five-year lock-up and price-based vesting on certain sponsor shares. Some of the shares don’t vest until the company reaches a $30 billion market capitalization.

Proceeds from the deal will fund Joby Aviation through the start of passenger service, including the aircraft’s certification and development of manufacturing facilities. The company’s goal is to change how people move by unlocking the possibility to fly sustainably over gridlock and traffic via piloted, four-passenger, emissions-free aircraft.

The aircraft the company is developing can travel up to 150 miles at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. It’s unclear at this time how much passengers might pay to use the air taxi service when it launches.

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Telegram improves self-destructing chats, expiring invite links

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WhatsApp’s Facebook-friendly privacy changes have caused many users to flock to other secure messaging services. Those services, in turn, have rapidly pushed out changes to improve their features as well as prepare their servers for the sudden influx of new users. For its latest set of updates, Telegram is adding a touch of transience to some of its features, such as public chats as well as invite links, while also making sure that refugees from other messaging platforms will feel at home as well.

Telegram has had support for chats that delete themselves after a period of time for quite a while now but those were limited to Secret Chats. With the latest version of Telegram, any and all chats can automatically delete themselves for all participants in 24 hours 7 days after sending. Sadly, it doesn’t seem that users will have fine-grained control over those.

New users will probably want to invite their friends to their groups or channels and Telegram is making that both easier and safer. You can now use QR Codes instead of obscure links and you can even set those invite links to expire after a certain period of time, number of users, or even both. Together with the ability for Broadcast Groups to have unlimited members, Telegram is making the platform both personal and massively social at the same time.

With a massive influx of new users, there will undoubtedly be some people who might not want to play by the rules, both Telegram’s as well as your social circles. Telegram is updating its reporting system to both make complaints and reports clearer, like allowing comments to be added for an explanation, and make it less likely for others to abuse the system.

The latest Telegram update also improves home screen widgets on both iOS and Android, like adding a Chat Widget that shows the most recent messages. Because of the usual platform differences, however, only Android will always show the latest messages with iOS’ widget will only be updated at intervals.

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