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September 20, 2018
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Facebook plans voter drive, partners with Democratic/Republican Institutes

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Facebook will push users to register to vote through a partnership with TurboVote, has partnered with the International Republican Institute and International Democratic Institute non-profits to monitor foreign election interference, and will publish a weekly report of trends and issues emerging from its new political ads archive. Facebook has also confirmed that its election integrity war room is up and running and the team is now ‘red teaming’ how it would react to problem scenarios such as a spike in voter suppression content.

These were the major announcements from today’s briefing call between Facebook’s election integrity team and reporters.

Facebook’s voter registration drive will also partner with TurboVote, which Instagram announced yesterday will assist it with a similar initiative

Much of the call reviewed Facebook’s past efforts, but also took time to focus on the upcoming Brazilian election. There, Facebook has engaged with over 1000 prosecutors, judges, and clerks to establish a dialog with election authorities. It’s partnered with three fact-checkers in the country and worked with them on Messenger bots like “Fátima” and “Projeto Lupe” that can help people spot fake news.

The voter registration drive mirrors Instagram’s plan announced yesterday to work with TurboVote to push users to registration info via ads. Facebook says it will also remind people to vote on election day and let them share with friends that “I voted”. One concern is that voter registration and voting efforts by Facebook could unevenly advantage one political party, for instance those with a base of middle-aged constituents who might be young enough to use Facebook but not so young that they’ve abandoned it for YouTube and Snapchat. If Facebook can’t prove the efforts are fair, the drive could turn into a talking point for congressional members eager to paint the social network as biased against their party.

The partnerships with the Institutes that don’t operate domestically are designed “to understand what they’re seeing on the ground in elections” around the world so Facebook can move faster to safeguard its systems, says Facebook’s Director of Global Politics and Government Outreach Team Katie Harbath. Here, Facebook is admitting this problem is too big to tackle on its own. Beyond working with independent fact checkers and government election commissions, it’s tasking non-profits to help be its eyes and ears on the ground.

The war room isn’t finished yet, according to a story from the New York Times published in the middle of the press call. Still under construction in a central hallway between two of Facebook’s Menlo Park HQ buildings, it will fit about 20 of Facebook’s 300 staffers working on election integrity. It will feature screens showing dashboards about information flowing through Facebook to help the team quickly identify and respond to surges in false news or fake accounts.

Overall, Facebook is trying to do its homework so it’s ready for a “heat of the moment, last day before the election scenario” and won’t get caught flat-footed, says Facebook director of product management for News Feed Greg Marra. He says Facebook is “being a lot more proactive and building systems to look for problems so they don’t become big problems on our platform.” Facebook’s director of product management for Elections and Civic Engagement Samidh Chakrabarti noted, this is “One of the biggest cross-team efforts we’ve seen.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Startups are giving writers and filmmakers more ways to make it in Hollywood

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On May 11 Netflix released the teen dramedy “The Kissing Booth” just as the school year was wrapping up for teens across the country.

By June, the company had a smash hit among the tweenage set, and Wattpad, the company which owned the rights to the The Kissing Booth, had its first true breakout vehicle. The story, written on Wattpad’s publishing platform by Beth Reekles, was a proof point for the company’s thesis pitching a new twist on the old model of discovering stories and creative talent for the entertainment industry.

Behind the success of the film is a nascent movement among startup companies that are trying to open the doors of Hollywood’s dream factory to a broader group of creative professionals by riding the wave of fan fiction and user generated content all the way to the Paramount lot (or the Disney lot, or Sony Studios).  

“In this obvious period of disruption in the entertainment industry how we’re finding stories is evolving,” said Wattpad Studios chief Aron Levitz.

YouTube, the short-lived Vine app, and Instagram have all created new platforms for discovering potential on-camera talent, and Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Instagram (again), Netflix, and YouTube (again) have smashed the distribution system for television and movies. But these platforms and the traditional studios they’d like to supplant have a voracious appetite for stories to tell and (many) are reluctant to risk millions of dollars behind something unproven.

Hollywood has always borrowed (or stolen) from other media to entertain the masses, but it seems like the fields it’s foraging in for new stories have narrowed to a few serialized playgrounds (comic books, old television shows and movies, and wildly successful young adult genre fiction).

While there are thousands of flowers to be found there, new tech-enabled companies are suggesting there might be other patches where new talent can be discovered, harvested and leveraged for corporate gain and viewer delight.

Startups like Wattpad and Tongal (for directors and cinematographers), and new financing platforms like Legion M (for producing features) are aiming to elevate new talent and provide what the companies hope will be built-in audiences for successful new programming on platforms like Netflix, Apple, and others — and the hundreds of networks that are vying for attention in an increasingly fragmented media landscape.

It wasn’t always this way. When Tongal was created, roughly a decade ago. the entertainment industry looked much, much differently than it does now.

Ten years ago that Netflix announced it would let its DVD subscribers watch streaming video as well — mostly old movies and syndicated shows that had already made their millions for the big networks and studios. That was the starting gun of what would become a race to roll up talent and gain audience in a creative landscape that was becoming increasingly competitive. With new entrants joining at every new lap.

At the time, Tongal was a discovery mechanism for new talent and a way for brands to pay for user generated content they liked. The company raised $15 million from Insight Venture Partners to harness the growing popularity of social media reach to create potentially viral videos for brands.

Tongal is still working under the thesis of user generated content, but the difference now is the millions of dollars these videos and their creators can bring in — and the ability o energize and inspire a fan base to connect more directly and engage more frequently with new titles. All the while Tongal gives studios a window into a wider world of talent.

One creator on the platform, Tucker Barrie, has gone from making short videos for social media for IAMS to a career as an animator on projects like Isle of Dogs. “Tongal is a good spot for people who don’t have a lot of experience to gain a lot of experience and make a name for themselves,” Barrie said.

In the past year the company has inked a deal with National Geographic to produce a series called WILD After Dark. The first late-night series from National Geographic WILD, the new episodes will feature shorts from members of the Tongal platform on animal-related subjects. It launched with an open call for submissions in February.

More recently Tongal has linked up with Wattpad to call on its network of creators to pitch a treatment for Wattpad’s wildly successful science fiction thriller Expiration Date. In July, Tongal issued its call to filmmakers for submissions from which the partners will pick three finalists. Those finalists will receive funding to produce a “proof-of-concept” series trailer.

Then, Wattpad, Tongal and their distribution partner SYFY will award a grand prize winner additional funding to create a digital pilot episode with the potential to go on to develop the entire series for SYFY.com as part of its fan creators program.

“The partnership between Tongal and Wattpad flips the script on Hollywood by changing the how and who of content creation through our open platforms for talent,” said James DeJulio, Tongal’s co-founder and President, in a statement at the time. “These new global communities are made up of diverse and passionate creators, and now they’re actually developing the shows they want to watch. I’m thrilled that SYFY.com has opened the door for this innovative, by the fans, for the fans shift.”

This marks the second collaboration between Tongal and Wattpad on project development for a network. The two companies, which have a natural affinity as creative platforms focused on the visual and storytelling elements of a production (respectively), had worked on a similar competition for the CW Seed, and its production of Cupid’s Match, another popular Wattpad story (spoiler: it’s not very good).

“It’s one of those great proof points for Wattpad and Wattpad studios,” said Levitz, the head of Wattpad Studios in a February interview. “I think it’s the first public one that we’re talking about in a strong way.”

On Wattpad, Cupid’s Match had 32 million reads, and it was that kind of viral popularity that piqued the interest of the CW Network. “We can use the strength of an audience and get someone like CW interested in the output,” Levitz said. “We have 400 million stories on the platform. We’re able to look at the data we have the audience we have and the story we have and use data to choose the right stories for the right partner.”

Partners are lining up. Sony Pictures Television bought the rights to the Wattpad story “Death is my BFF,” and Hulu signed off on an order for “Light as a Feather”. Studios and networks including TurnerUniversal Cable Productions (a division of NBCUniversal), eOne and Paramount Pictures, have also signed on to work with the startup.

Like Tongal, Wattpad also took a circuitous path to becoming a player in Hollywoodland. The company initially started as an e-book community operator sharing fan fiction and classic works. Over time, the fan fiction side of the content marketplace won out and the Toronto-based company went from raising capital from a consortium of angel investors to raising $51 million from a consortium of investors including the Chinese internet giant, Tencent, earlier this year. It’s likely that Tencent (and the studios it’s partnering with) were drawn to Wattpad’s 60 million monthly users.

The foundation for the belief that fan fiction could be leveraged into hundreds of millions for the movie industry was laid by the success of the Fifty Shades franchise. The best-selling books, derived from Twilight fan fiction, were optioned into a series of three films and made for a cool $150 million.

By the time the last movie in the series debuted, the films were on their way to making over $1 billion at the box office.

For the past decade Hollywood has been relying on big franchises and fan-driven stories to create big numbers at the box office or online, said DeJulio.

“Fans are the lifeblood of these franchises,” DeJulio said. “We’re in this weird time right now… where marketing is very expensive and it is in a lot of ways hamstringing entertainment.”

DeJulio sees Tongal as a platform where one can influence and support the other.

“The studios, once they do get a hit… They realize that through fan communities and engaging them they can not only market it but they can actually get the work done too [of creating new content],” DeJulio said.

Mount Lee, Hollywood Hills, Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, USA.

If Wattpad and Tongal are using their network of users to find and promote talent, Legion M is hoping to use the network of fans for genre content to finance new productions.

The startup production studio has raised $3 million in equity crowdfunding over two rounds and has managed to grab a stake in well reviewed indie-projects like Colossal (starring Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis) and Mandy a new Nicolas Cage vehicle already being touted as cult-classic gold. What that means as far as returns go for the shareholders that back the company’s funding campaigns is unclear, especially since the company’s Bad Samaritan project (starring David Tenant, everyone’s favorite of the new Dr. Who) was critically panned.

Founded by two serial internet entrepreneurs Paul Scanlan and Jeff Annison, and backed by partnerships with folks like the Austin-based theater chain Alamo Drafthouse, LegionM’s goal is to bring in 1 million fans as investors to back projects.

The idea is to harness fan support for sales and marketing help and to surface projects that have enough of a built-in audience to generate profits for the company.

“We believe an entertainment company owned by fans is better than one owned by Wall Street,” said Paul Scanlan, Legion M’s cofounder and CEO, in a statement announcing the company’s new crowd funding campaign.

Some of the projects Legion M affiliated itself with are based more around fan engagement than an actual dollar investment. In fact, the company isn’t a producer of the marquee Colossal film, and instead came on to provide marketing support through its network of fans, according to an interview with the director.

Scanlan and Annison launched MobiTV, which was an early developer of technology to stream digital media on mobile devices. The two went on to launch New York Rock Exchange, a company that allows fans to buy illiquid shares in songs they love. It’s like a coin offering, without the upside, and without any legal ramifications because there’s actually nothing of value that acquirers are buying.

Unlike the Rock Exchange, average investors are buying real shares in the crowd funding offerings the two co-founders are selling via the Securities and Exchange Commission’s new crowdfunding regulations. And they’re tapping into the thesis that fans and consumers are driving the creation of commercially viable content now more than ever.

Wattpad, Tongal, and Legion M aren’t alone in their efforts. Companies like Seed&Spark, Coverfly, and The Black List, are also doing their best to uncover new artists and creators for the entertainment industry to develop. While on the financing side, new cryptocurrencies like MovieCoin (which just launched a pre-sale of its tokenized financing offering for producing new movies) and TaTaTu are angling to give the moviegoing public another (ideally more transparent) way to finance movies.

“Hollywood is a notoriously difficult place to traverse in the entertainment business. What we find in content creation, and the investment process as well, is that every project is seeking an audience,” Annison said in an interview with The Niner Times (the local university paper for the University of North Carolina, Charlotte). “Among Hollywood, which is such a massive world to step into, there are limitations along with those huge companies. In essence, it’s a ‘hit-driven’ enterprise, where the lines are drawn between the artistic side of filmmaking and the business side of entertainment. That can be a complicated street to walk down.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Mobile social network Path, once a challenger to Facebook, is closing down

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It’s that time again, folks, time to say goodbye to a social media service from days past.

Following the shuttering of Klout earlier this year, now Path, the one-time rival to Facebook, is closing its doors, according to an announcement made today.

The eight-year-old service will close down in one month — October 18 — but it will be removed from the App Store and Google Play on October 1. Any remaining users have until October 18 to download a copy of their data, which can be done here.

Path was founded by former Facebook product manager Dave Morin, and ex-Napster duo Dustin Mierau and Shawn Fanning . The company burst onto the scene in 2010 with a mobile social networking app that was visually pleasing and — importantly — limited to just 50 friends per user. That positioned it as a private alternative to Facebook with some additional design bells and whistles, although the friend restriction was later lifted and then removed altogether.

At its peak, the service had around 15 million users and it was once raising money at a valuation of $500 million. Indeed, Google tried to buy it for $100 million when it was just months old. All in all, the startup raised $55 million from investors that included top Silicon Valley names Index, Kleiner Perkins and Redpoint.

Facebook ultimately defeated Path, but it stole a number of features from its smaller rival

But looks fade, and social media is a tough place when you’re not Facebook, which today has over 1.5 billion active users and aggressively ‘borrowed’ elements from Path’s design back in the day.

Path’s road took a turn for the worse and the much-hyped startup lost staff, users and momentum (and user data). The company tried to launch a separate app to connected businesses and users — Path Talk — but that didn’t work and ultimately it was sold to Korea’s Kakao — a messaging and internet giant — in an undisclosed deal in 2015. Kakao bought the app because it was popular in Indonesia, the world’s fourth-largest population where Path had four million users, and the Korean firm was making a major play for that market, which is Southeast Asia’s largest economy and a growing market for internet users.

However, Path hasn’t kicked on in the last three years and now Kakao is discarding it altogether.

“It is with deep regret that we announce that we will stop providing our beloved service, Path. We started Path in 2010 as a small team of passionate and experienced designers and engineers. Over the years we have tried to lay out our mission: through technology and design we aim to be a source of happiness, meaning, and connection to our users,” the company said in a statement.

Hat tip Aulia

News Source = techcrunch.com

Three years later, Let’s Encrypt now secures 75% of the web

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Bon anniversaire, Let’s Encrypt!

The free-to-use non-profit founded in 2014 in part by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and is backed by Akamai, Google, Facebook, Mozilla and more. Three years ago Friday, it issued its first certificate.

Since then, the numbers have exploded. To date, more than 380 million certificates have been issued on 129 million unique domains. Let’s Encrypt now secures 75 percent of the web, according to public Firefox data. That’s a massive increase from when it was founded, where only 38 percent of website page loads were served over an HTTPS encrypted connection.

That also makes it the largest certificate issuer in the world by far.

“Change at that speed and scale is incredible,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Let’s Encrypt isn’t solely responsible for this change, but we certainly catalyzed it.”

HTTPS is what keeps the pipes of the web secure. Every time your browser lights up in green or flashes a padlock, it’s a TLS certificate encrypting the connection between your computer and the website, ensuring nobody can intercept and steal your data or modify the website.

But for years, the certificate market was broken, expensive, and difficult to navigate. In an effort to “encrypt the web,” the EFF and others banded together to bring free TLS certificates to the masses.

That means bloggers, single-page websites, and startups alike can get an easy-to-install certificate for free — even news sites like TechCrunch rely on Let’s Encrypt for a secure connection. Security experts and encryption advocates Scott Helme and Troy Hunt last month found that more than half of the top million websites by traffic are on HTTPS.

And as it’s grown, the certificate issuer has become trusted by the major players — including Apple, Google, Microsoft, Oracle, and more.

A fully encrypted web is still a way off. But with close to a million Let’s Encrypt certificates issued each day, it looks more within reach than ever.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Facebook unveils ‘SapFix’ AI auto-debugger and AI chip partners like Intel

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Facebook has quietly built and deployed an artificial intelligence programming tool called SapFix that scans code, automatically identifies bugs, tests different patches and suggests the best ones that engineers can choose to implement. Revealed today at Facebook’s @Scale engineering conference, SapFix is already running on Facebook’s massive code base and the company plans to eventually share it with the developer community.

“To our knowledge, this marks the first time that a machine-generated fix — with automated end-to-end testing and repair — has been deployed into a codebase of Facebook’s scale,” writes Facebook’s developer tool team. “It’s an important milestone for AI hybrids and offers further evidence that search-based software engineering can reduce friction in software development.” SapFix can run with or without Sapienz, Facebook’s previous automated bug spotter. It uses it in conjunction with SapFix, suggesting solutions to problems Sapienz discovers.

These types of tools could allow smaller teams to build more powerful products, or let big corporations save a ton on wasted engineering time. That’s critical for Facebook as it has so many other problems to worry about.

Glow AI hardware partners

Meanwhile, Facebook is pressing forward with its strategy of reorienting the computing hardware ecosystem around its own machine learning software. Today it announced that its Glow compiler for machine learning hardware acceleration has signed up the top silicon manufacturers, like Cadence, Esperanto, Intel, Marvell, and Qualcomm, to support Glow. The plan mirrors Facebook’s Open Compute Project for open sourcing server designs and Telecom Infra Project for connectivity technology.

Glow works with a wide array of machine learning frameworks and hardware accelerators to speed up how they perform deep learning processes. It was open sourced earlier this year at Facebook’s F8 conference.

“Hardware accelerators are specialized to solve the task of machine learning execution. They typically contain a large number of execution units, on-chip memory banks, and application-specific circuits that make the execution of ML workloads very efficient,” Facebook’s team writes. “To execute machine learning programs on specialized hardware, compilers are used to orchestrate the different parts and make them work together . . . Hardware partners that use Glow can reduce the time it takes to bring their product to market.”

Essentially, Facebook needs help in the silicon department. Instead of isolating itself and building its own chips like Apple and Google, it’s effectively outsourcing the hardware development to the experts. That means it might forego a competitive advantage from this infrastructure, but it also allows it to save money and focus on its core strengths.

The technologies aside, the Scale conference was evidence that Facebook will keep hacking, policy scandals be damned. There was nary a mention of Cambridge Analytica or election interference as a packed room of engineers chuckled to nerdy jokes during keynotes packed with enough coding jargon to make the unindoctrinated assume it was in another language. If Facebook is burning, you couldn’t tell from here.

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

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