Social media: Facebook invades the office
“If you’re not already using Facebook regularly in the office, you might soon find your boss insisting upon it,” said Katie Collins in CNET.com. Last week, Facebook launched Workplace, a businessoriented version of its ubiquitous social network. Just like Facebook, there are groups, reactions, and a news feed, but instead of receiving updates from friends and family, users connect and chat with colleagues and clients. Workplace users can also video chat with remote employees and conduct conference calls. “The major strength of Workplace is how familiar users already are with Facebook,” said Joon Ian Wong in Qz.com. Because the format is basically identical to regular Facebook, companies won’t have to spend much time or money training employees how to use it. Starting at $3 per user per month, Workplace is also cheaper than rival Slack’s office chat app, which now boasts more than 3 million users.
“You can officially add Facebook to the list of software companies seeking to all but eliminate corporate email,” said Heather Clancy in Fortune.com. Workplace’s goal, like Slack’s, is to cut down on the number of redundant and time-consuming messages workers receive by relying instead on the conventions of social media. So instead of a mass email, employees can post articles, updates, and comments to their team’s news feed. Or a CEO can address the entire company via video, using Facebook Live. Workplace “represents a much larger shift toward business apps that behave more like consumer apps,” said Davey Alba in Wired.com. The success of apps like Slack, Box, and Evernote has shown that workers want productivity software that functions more like the apps they already use in their personal life. “Even Apple, which focused for so long on consumer services, is now offering this new breed of business software.”
“Facebook may be able to design tools that people want to use; what it needs to prove is that it can make them more productive by doing so,” said Steve Ranger in ZDNet.com. Before Slack took Silicon Valley by storm, there were corporate social networks like Chatter by Salesforce and Microsoft’s Yammer, none of which managed to kill off email. Maybe that’s because, just like personal social media, staffers quickly find themselves spending too much time updating their statuses and reading posts instead of “doing their actual jobs.” There’s something unsettling about using Facebook “to do business, rather than to be distracted from it,” said Anna Wiener in NewYorker.com. It’s yet another example of how technology is eroding the boundaries between our personal and professional lives. “Workplace software, no longer confined to the physical office, now lives in our pockets.”
Bytes: What’s new in tech
Buying with a nod
Alibaba hopes to bring shopping to virtual reality, said Sijia Jiang in Reuters.com. The Chinese e-commerce giant demonstrated new technology last week that will allow future shoppers who are browsing in virtual-reality malls to pay for real-world products “just by nodding their heads.” The service, dubbed VR Pay, means people using VR goggles will be able to make purchases without having to remove their headsets. The shopper’s identity and payment information would be verified by logging into their account in advance or possibly via voice-recognition technology. “It is very boring to have to take off your goggles for payment,” said Lin Feng, whose lab within Alibaba’s financial division developed VR Pay. “With this, you will never need to take out your phone.”
Better dating through AI
Artificial intelligence is poised to revolutionize online hookups, said Olivia Solon in Wired.com. Dating app Tinder last week introduced a new feature called Smart Photos, which employs machine-learning technology to help users select the profile picture most likely to draw interest from potential mates. The tool is part of an ever-growing movement toward “systems that can learn tasks by analyzing vast amounts of data.” Similar technology recognizes faces and photos in Facebook, for example. In preliminary testing, Tinder says Smart Photos led to a 12 percent uptick in matches. The company also says it’s using artificial intelligence to recognize patterns in user behavior to present better matches. That way, Tinder can reduce the chance a photo of you hugging your Labrador turns up in the feed “of someone with dog allergies.”
Mercedes’s moral dilemma
Mercedes has come up with an answer to a thorny ethical question involving driverless cars, said Charlie Sorrel in FastCompany.com. When a self-driving Mercedes crashes, the vehicle will be programmed to save the driver, and not the person who gets hit, according to Christop h von Hugo, the luxury automaker’s manager of driverless car safety. “If you know you can save at least one person, at least save that one. Save the one in the car,” von Hugo told Car and Driver recently. From an engineering perspective, it’s easier to guarantee the safety of whoever is inside the car, von Hugo explains, but ultimately such ethical questions will be outweighed by the fact that autonomous vehicles will be much safer overall.
Innovation of the week
“If you made a list of things that sucked about breaking your arm, the fiberglass cast to heal you would be close_to the top,” said Daniel Cooper in Engadget.com. You can’t shower with it or get at your increasingly itchy skin. But a pretzel-like sleeve designed by three University of Illinois students could make the experience of wearing a cast significantly more comfortable—and much less gross. Unlike a traditional cast, Cast21’s webbed design can get wet and leaves plenty of skin exposed, meaning patients can “scratch those itches when [they] need to.” The cast is made up of a series of hollow, interconnected silicon tubes, which a doctor injects with a mixture of liquids to harden the sleeve in place. Cast21’s makers are currently looking for investors to back the initial prototype and manufacturing stages, with the goal of launching patient trials by mid-2017.