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Loop Team wants to give remote workers an in-office feel – TechCrunch

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As we’ve moved to work from home during the pandemic, it’s been challenging for remote workers to feel connected. Loop Team, a new entrant into the enterprise communications space, thinks the way we are communicating needs improvement. That’s why the startup is releasing Loop Team today, a tool that is trying to use software to reproduce the in-office experience.

Company founder and CEO Raj Singh says that he learned about the problems of feeling disconnected first-hand at a previous remote-first company, but in spite of his best attempts to use technology to produce that in-office feel, he said he continued to feel out of the loop (so to speak). That’s when he decided to build the solution he wanted.

“We’ve looked at a lot of the interactions that happen when you’re physically in an office — the visual communication, the background conversations, the hallway chatter, the serendipitous bumping, things like that. And we built an experience that effectively is a virtual office. And so it tries to represent the best parts of what a physical office experience might be like, but in a virtual form,” Singh explained to me.

While he created this company prior to COVID, the pandemic has highlighted the need for a tool like this. Before he created the software, he interviewed hundreds of people who worked from home to understand their issues working outside of the office and he heard a lot of common complaints.

“There was an office and they didn’t necessarily know what was going on. They didn’t know who was available. They didn’t know who was around. It was difficult to connect. Everything was scheduled through calendar. They were missing some of that presence — and they were feeling lonely or out of touch or out of the loop,” he said.

His company’s solution tries to reproduce the office experience using AI, good, old-fashioned presence awareness and other tech to let team members know what you’re doing and if you’re available to chat. So just as you would wander down the hall and see your colleague on the phone or deeply involved with work on the laptop, and know to leave them be, you could get that same feel with Loop.

Loop Team Highlights

Image Credits: Loop Team

It gives the current status of the person, and you can know from looking at the list of people on your team, who’s available to talk and who’s busy. As you go into virtual discussions, the team can see who’s having meetings and individuals can pop in too, just as you might do in the office.

What’s more, you can set up rooms (like in Slack), but these are designed to give you a more personal connection using video and audio for actual discussion. You can work on projects via screen share and people who miss these meetings because of other obligations or time zone differences, can always review what they missed.

While you can do all of these things in Slack and Zoom, or in some combination of similar tools, Loop’s layout and presentation is designed to help you see the conversations in a clear way and expose what you want to see, while hiding parts of the day that don’t interest you.

The product is available for free starting today, but Singh wants to introduce a pricing model sometime next year based on team size. He expects there will always be a freemium version for teams under 10 people.

The company was founded in 2018 and nurtured at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI). It has raised $4.75 million so far. Today it starts on its journey as a startup with its first product, and it’s one that comes with good timing as more teams find themselves working remotely than every before.

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TikTok’s new Q&A feature lets creators respond to fan questions using text or video – TechCrunch

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TikTok is testing a new video Q&A feature that allows creators to more directly respond to their audience’s questions with either text or video answers, the company confirmed to TechCrunch. The feature works across both video and livestreams (TikTok LIVE), but is currently only available to select creators who have opted into the test, we understand.

Q&A’s have become a top way creators engage fans on social media, and have proven to be particularly popular in places like Instagram Stories and in other social apps like Snapchat-integrated YOLO, or even in smaller startups.

On TikTok, however, Q&A’s are now a big part of the commenting experience, as many creators respond to individual comments by publishing a new video that explains their answer in more detail than a short, text comment could. Sometimes these answers are meant to clarify or add context, while other times creators will take on their bullies and trolls with their video responses. As a result, the TikTok comment section has grown to play a larger role in shaping TikTok trends and culture.

Q&A’s are also a key means for creators to engage with fans when live streaming. But it can be difficult for creators to keep up with a flood of questions and comments through the current live chat interface.

Seeing how creators were already using Q&A’s with their fans is how the idea for the new feature came about. Much like the existing “reply to comments with video” feature, the Q&A option lets creators directly respond to their audience questions. Where available, users will be able to designate their comments as questions by tapping the Q&A button in a video’s comment field, or they can submit questions directly through the Q&A link on the creator’s profile page.

For creators, the feature simplifies the process of responding to questions, as it lets them view all their fans’ questions in one place.

There’s no limit to the number of questions that a creator can receive, though they don’t have to reply to each one.

The feature was first spotted by social media consultant Matt Navarra, who posted screenshots of what the feature looks like in action, including how it appears on users’ profiles.

During the test, the new Q&A feature is only being made available to creators with public Creator Accounts that have over 10,000 followers and who have opted into the feature within their Settings, TikTok confirmed to TechCrunch. Participants in the test today include some safelisted creators from TikTok’s Creative Learning Fund program, announced last year, among others.

TikTok says the Q&A feature is currently in testing globally, and it aims to roll out it to more users with Creator Accounts in the weeks ahead.

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Facebook and Instagram’s AI-generated image captions now offer far more details – TechCrunch

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Every picture posted to Facebook and Instagram gets a caption generated by an image analysis AI, and that AI just got a lot smarter. The improved system should be a treat for visually impaired users, and may help you find your photos faster in the future.

Alt text is a field in an image’s metadata that describes its contents: “A person standing in a field with a horse,” or “a dog on a boat.” This lets the image be understood by people who can’t see it.

These descriptions are often added manually by a photographer or publication, but people uploading photos to social media generally don’t bother, if they even have the option. So the relatively recent ability to automatically generate one — the technology has only just gotten good enough in the last couple years — has been extremely helpful in making social media more accessible in general.

Facebook created its Automatic Alt Text system in 2016, which is eons ago in the field of machine learning. The team has since cooked up many improvements to it, making it faster and more detailed, and the latest update adds an option to generate a more detailed description on demand.

The improved system recognizes 10 times more items and concepts than it did at the start, now around 1,200. And the descriptions include more detail. What was once “Two people by a building” may now be “A selfie of two people by the Eiffel Tower.” (The actual descriptions hedge with “may be…” and will avoid including wild guesses.)

But there’s more detail than that, even if it’s not always relevant. For instance, in this image the AI notes the relative positions of the people and objects:

Image Credits: Facebook

Obviously the people are above the drums, and the hats are above the people, none of which really needs to be said for someone to get the gist. But consider an image described as “A house and some trees and a mountain.” Is the house on the mountain or in front of it? Are the trees in front of or behind the house, or maybe on the mountain in the distance?

In order to adequately describe the image, these details should be filled in, even if the general idea can be gotten across with fewer words. If a sighted person wants more detail they can look closer or click the image for a bigger version — someone who can’t do that now has a similar option with this “generate detailed image description” command. (Activate it with a long press in the Android app or a custom action in iOS.)

Perhaps the new description would be something like “A house and some trees in front of a mountain with snow on it.” That paints a better picture, right? (To be clear, these examples are made up, but it’s the sort of improvement that’s expected.)

The new detailed description feature will come to Facebook first for testing, though the improved vocabulary will appear on Instagram soon. The descriptions are also kept simple so they can be easily translated to other languages already supported by the apps, though the feature may not roll out in other countries simultaneously.

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India asks WhatsApp to withdraw new privacy policy, expresses ‘grave concerns’ – TechCrunch

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India has asked WhatsApp to withdraw the planned change to its privacy policy, posing a new headache to Facebook-owned service that identifies the South Asian nation as its biggest market by users.

In an email to WhatsApp head Will Cathcart, the nation’s IT ministry said WhatsApp’s planned update to its data-sharing policy raised “grave concerns regarding the implications for the choice and autonomy of Indian citizens… Therefore, you are called upon to withdraw the proposed changes.”

The ministry also sought clarification from WhatsApp on its data-sharing agreement with Facebook and other commercial firms and has asked why users in the EU are exempt from the new privacy policy but their counterpoint in India have no choice but to comply.

“Such a differential treatment is prejudicial to the interests of Indian users and is viewed with serious concern by the government,” the ministry wrote in the email, a copy of which was obtained by TechCrunch. “The government of India owes a sovereign responsibility to its citizens to ensure that their interests are not compromised and therefore it calls upon WhatsApp to respond to concerns raised in this letter.”

Through an in-app alert earlier this month, WhatsApp had asked users to agree to new terms of conditions that granted the app the consent to share with Facebook some personal data about them, such as their phone number and location. Users were initially provided until February 8 to comply with the new policy if they wished to continue using the service.

“This ‘all-or-nothing’ approach takes away any meaninful choice from Indian users. This approach leverages the social significance of WhatsApp to force users into a bargain, which may infringe on their interests in relation to informational privacy and information security,” the ministry said in the email.

The notification from WhatsApp prompted a lot of confusion — and in some cases, anger and frustration — among its users, many of which have explored alternative messaging apps such as Telegram and Signal in recent weeks. WhatsApp, which Facebook bought for $19 billion in 2014, has been sharing some limited information about its users with the social giant since 2016 — and for a period allowed users to opt-out of this. Last week the Facebook-owned app, which serves more than 2 billion users worldwide, said it was deferring the enforcement of the planned policy to May 15.

An advertisement from WhatsApp is seen in a newspaper at a stall in New Delhi on January 13, 2021. (Photo by Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP) (Photo by SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images)

WhatsApp also ran front-page ads on several newspapers in India, where it has amassed over 450 million users, last week to explain the changes and debunk some rumors.

New Delhi also said that it was reviewing the Personal Data Protection Bill, a monumental privacy bill that is meant to oversee how data of users are shared with the world. “Since the Parliament is seized of the issue, making such a momentous change for Indian users at this time puts the cart before the horse. Since the Personal Data Protection Bill strongly follows the principle of ‘purpose limitation,’ these changes may lead to significant implementational challenges for WhatsApp should the Bill become an Act,” the letter said.

On Tuesday, India’s IT and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, “Be it WhatsApp, be it Facebook, be it any digital platform. You are free to do business in India but do it in a manner without impinging upon the rights of Indians who operate there.”

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