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Nextdoor and Walmart partner on a new neighborly assistance program – TechCrunch

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Neighborhood social network Nextdoor and Walmart are teaming up today to launch a new “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” program that will make it easier for vulnerable community members to get assistance from neighbors who are already planning a trip to Walmart. The new in-app feature will allow Nextdoor users to post to groups associated with their local Walmart store to request shopping assistance.

To find the new option, Nextdoor users can either use the Nextdoor website or mobile app.

From there, users will click on the “Groups” tab where they’ll see local Walmart stores pinned to the top of the page. Members can then post a message to the group feed where they can ask for help or offer to help others.

Members who connect in the feed can then work out the details on the message board or through direct message, where they can share more private details like their address and what they need from the store.

The feature is designed to help elderly, high-risk or other vulnerable members find someone who will pick up groceries, medications, or other essentials when they’re planning a trip to the store.

This could also offer a low-cost alternative to using online grocery delivery services, which require tipping. In the case of a neighbor helping a neighbor, the assistance is offered on a volunteer basis, not as someone’s job. That could be potentially life-saving for low-income community members who can’t risk shopping in a store during the coronavirus pandemic, but who also struggle to afford alternatives like online grocery.

Walmart isn’t moderating or managing these Nextdoor groups, to be clear, but worked with Nextdoor to make the feature available.

For the retailer, the addition isn’t just beneficial in terms of directing customers to Walmart to shop, it’s also seen as a way to reduce the number of people who come to the store in-person.

“I’ve seen first-hand the countless ways our Walmart team is working together during this challenging time, leading with humanity, compassion and understanding to serve our customers,” said Janey Whiteside, Walmart’s Chief Customer Officer, in a statement about the feature’s launch. “We’re continuing to do that through our new program with Nextdoor. We’re connecting neighbors to each other so that more members of our communities have access to essential items, while limiting contact and the number of people shopping in our stores,” she added.

Nextdoor has launched several new features in response to the coronavirus pandemic in recent weeks.

Its new “Help Maps” allowed members to post and offer help in their neighborhood, for example. But this feature had been buried on the “More” menu in the app and was being underutilized as a result. A dedicated place within Nextdoor Groups for these sorts of requests is more visible, making it easier to offer assistance or to ask for help.

Over the past few weeks, Nextdoor says it’s seen a 7x increase in people joining groups to help one another, a not surprising figure given its recent exit from beta.

Nextdoor will also make the Walmart groups easy to find by pinning them to the top of the Groups tab, it says.

Meanwhile, Walmart store locations and hours where “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” is available can be found on Nextdoor’s “Help Map.”

“We’re inspired everyday by the kindness of people around the world who are stepping up and helping out. In recent weeks, we’ve been blown away by the number of members who have raised their hand to run an errand, go to the grocery store, or pick up a prescription for a neighbor,” said Sarah Friar, Nextdoor CEO, about the feature. “We’re grateful for Walmart’s partnership to make this important connection between neighbors around vital services, and we’re proud to come together to ensure everyone has a neighborhood to rely on,” she said.

The new initiative is launching nationwide starting today, but may not be immediately available in the app as the rollout could take time to complete.

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Mozilla acquires Active Replica to build on its metaverse vision • TechCrunch

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An automated status updater for Slack isn’t the only thing Mozilla acquired this week. On Wednesday, the company announced that it snatched up Active Replica, a Vancouver-based startup developing a “web-based metaverse.”

According to Mozilla SVP Imo Udom, Active Replica will support Mozilla’s ongoing work with Hubs, the latter’s VR chatroom service and open source project. Specifically, he sees the Active Replica team working on personalized subscription tiers, improving the onboarding experience and introducing new interaction capabilities in Hubs.

“Together, we see this as a key opportunity  to bring even more innovation and creativity to Hubs than we could alone,” Udom said in a blog post. “We will benefit from their unique experience and ability to create amazing experiences that help organizations use virtual spaces to drive impact. They will benefit from our scale, our talent, and our ability to help bring their innovations to the market faster.”

Active Replica was founded in 2020 by Jacob Ervin and Valerian Denis. Ervin is a software engineer by trade, having held roles at AR/VR startups Metaio, Liminal AR and Occipital. Denis has a history in project management — he worked for VR firms including BackLight, which specializes in location-based and immersive VR experiences for brands.

With Active Replica, Ervin and Denis sought to built a platform for virtual events and meetings built on top of Mozilla’s Hubs project. Active Replica sold virtual event packages that included venue design, event planning, live entertainment and tech support.

Prior to the acquisition, Active Replica hadn’t publicly announced outside funding. Ervin and Denis have assumed new jobs at Mozilla within the past several weeks, now working as senior engineering manager and product lead, respectively.

“Mozilla has long advocated for a healthier internet and has been an inspiration to us in its dedication and contributions to the open web. By joining forces with the Mozilla Hubs team, we’re able to further expand on our mission and inspire a new generation of creators, connectors, and builders,” Ervin and Denis said in a statement. “Active Replica will continue to work with our existing customers, partners and community.”

Mozilla launched Hubs in 2018, which it pitched at the time as an “experiment” in “immersive social experiences.” Hubs provides the dev tools and infrastructure necessary to allow users to visit a portal through any browser and collaborate with others in a VR environment. Adhering to web standards, Hubs supports all the usual headsets and goggles (e.g. Oculus Rift, HTC Vive) while remaining open to those without specialized VR hardware on desktops and smartphones.

Hubs recently expanded with the launch of a $20-per-month service that did away with the previously-free service but introduced account management tools, privacy and security features. According to Mozilla, the plan is to roll out additional tiers and reintroduce a free version in the future, along with kits to create custom spaces, avatar and identity options and integrations with existing collaboration tools.

Mozilla’s forays into the metaverse have had been met with mixed results. While Hubs is alive and kicking as evidenced by the Active Replica acquisition, Meta shuttered Firefox Reality, its attempt to create a full-featured browser for AR and VR headsets, in February 2022. In explaining why it decided to close up Firefox Reality, Mozilla said that while it does help develop new technologies, like WebVR and WebAR, it doesn’t always continue to host and incubate those technologies long-term.

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‘The Mandalorian’ Season 3 will premiere on March 1 • TechCrunch

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Disney announced today The Mandalorian’s long-awaited third season will debut on March 1st on Disney+. The company had previously said that the third season would debut in February, so fans will have to wait a little longer than expected to see the upcoming season.

The third season will take place following the events of “The Book of Boba Fett,” in which Din Djarin reunited with Grogu. A teaser for the upcoming season shows Mando fighting armed warriors on Mandalore.

The second season “The Mandalorian” premiered back in October 2020, so fans have had to wait quite some time to see their favorites together again. Carl Weathers, Giancarlo Esposito and Katee Sackhoff will all be returning in the third season of the show.

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YouTube launches its first-ever official trends podcast, ‘Like & Describe,’ with content creator MatPat • TechCrunch

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YouTube launched its first-ever official trends podcast today, the company announced. Hosted by popular content creator MatPat and produced by YouTube’s Culture & Trends team, the “Like & Describe” podcast will tackle lesser-known stories behind the biggest YouTube trends.

Episodes will release monthly on YouTube’s main channel for viewers to watch as well as all on major podcast platforms for listeners, including Spotify, Apple, Amazon and Google. Episode one debuted on December 1 with a second episode set to premiere on January 1.

The announcement comes a few months after YouTube introduced a dedicated podcast homepage. It’s likely the company launched “Like & Describe” to further cash in on the ever-growing podcast industry. Plus, MatPat could draw in millions of listeners since the creator has over 34 million subscribers in total across his four channels–The Game Theorists, The Film Theorists, The Food Theorists and his gaming channel, GTLive.

In the first episode, titled “The Rise of the VTubers,” MatPat explores Virtual YouTubers (aka VTubers), animated characters voiced by humans that garner a collective total of 1.5 billion views every month, according to YouTube.

MatPat meets with VTubers like Gawr Gura, a 9,000-year-old half shark/half girl, and Mori Calliope, a Grim reaper that raps in motion-capture music videos, among others. He also speaks with Earnest Pettie, Trends & Insights Lead of YouTube’s Culture & Trends team, content creator Dave Cherry and other experts.

Unlike most video podcasts where hosts sit in front of a camera and speak into a mic, “Like & Describe” has viewers follow along with graphics as MatPat narrates—similar to his video style for his YouTube channels.

The second episode will have MatPat meet with more special guests from the Culture & Trends team as they provide commentary on the biggest videos and creators of 2022.

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