Twitter is testing threaded replies and status indicators

Sara Haider, Twitter’s director of product management, tweeted a couple screenshots today showing off changes the platform is considering to make things more “conversational.”

Their solution? Threaded conversations and status indicators. They make the app look a lot more like Facebook comment threads.

The threading seems fine and like it could make following a conversation easier, just like threading within a user’s own tweets did when that feature launched back in December of last year. The status updates, however, don’t seem great. Imagine knowing President Donald Trump is online!

But actually, because of Twitter’s harassment issues, a status update might not be a smart idea when you consider how trolls could use it to ensure their replies are being seen. Haider doesn’t mention a timeline for these updates, so it’s entirely possible they’ll never roll out. You can reply to her with your own thoughts on the changes, if you so choose.

Slack quietly adds auto-expiring statuses

Workplace chat and collaboration company Slack has quietly updated its status feature to include an expiration date, so you can set certain statuses like commuting, meetings, and vacation to expire after a distinct amount of time. Restarting Slack on mobile or desktop should pull up the new feature for all users, and it looks like the company updated its help center page for statuses yesterday to include information about the new change.

Now, when you pull up the status screen, you’ll get the same default statuses with pre-filled expiration times, including one hour for “in a meeting,” 30 minutes for “commuting,” and an unspecified length of time for “vacationing,” which is a nice touch. If you’d like more granular control, you can write in your own status or click one of the default ones and click the downward-facing arrow to pull up greater lengths of time, including “today” and “this week,” and a custom one for picking your own date and time for the status to clear.


It’s a subtle change, but a welcome one. It makes Slack statuses, which first arrived back in April of last year, even more useful for communicating your whereabouts and daily activities to your coworkers without having to clog up channels with unnecessary and manually written notices. Now, when you’re working remotely for a few days, heading to an appointment, or in an irregularly long meeting, you can let Slack do more of the work for you without having to obsess over clearing it yourself. And for those who worry about accidentally leaving up a “out to lunch” status for three hours, this feature should help keep you in check.

Twitter tested a list of suggested people to unfollow

Twitter tested a feature that suggests users to unfollow, as first spotted by TheNextWeb’s Matt Navarra earlier today. The test lasted for only a few days, and it has since concluded. “We know that people want a relevant Twitter timeline. One way to do this is by unfollowing people they don’t engage with regularly,” reads a Twitter statement given to The Verge. “We ran an incredibly limited test to surface accounts that people were not engaging with to check if they’d like to unfollow them.”

While seemingly innocuous at first glance, Twitter is currently embroiled alongside other social networks and technology companies in a controversy over perceived liberal bias. President Donald Trump and other right-leaning figures claim the platform unfairly persecutes conservative voices and news outlets through practices like shadow banning, verification removal and bans, and algorithmic de-ranking. (The claims have been wildly overstated, using thin evidence and skewed definitions of terms like shadow banning.)

This week, Trump has heightened his attacks on tech companies, suggesting yesterday that Google search results are biased against conservatives, kicking off a flurry of confused inquiries to members of the White House and Congress on whether a proper investigation into Silicon Valley liberal bias will ever actually occur. Later on that day, Trump lumped Facebook and Twitter together with Google, said the companies “are on troubled territory,” and “better be careful,” lest the US government regulate them presumably. But as past incidences have shown, while Trump enjoys doling out threats to perceived rivals, he does little to follow through.

Still, Twitter testing an unfollow suggestion list could give more ammunition to its critics. The moment a prominent conservative appears on the list, it’s likely the feature would be used as a weapon to bolster claims of liberal bias in Silicon Valley. Helping people follow fewer accounts that they don’t like could help them enjoy more. But Twitter’s timing, coupled with its lack of disclosure around the initial test, aren’t helping its case.

Twitter posts on Facebook temporarily disappeared

Update August 29th, 2:21AM ET: Cross-posted Tweets on Facebook have been been restored. “A Twitter admin requested their app be deleted, which resulted in content that people had cross-posted from Twitter to Facebook also being temporarily removed from people’s profiles,” Facebook said in a statement to Axios. “However, we have since restored the past content and it’s now live on people’s profiles.” The headline of this article has been updated, but the original article appears below unchanged.

Facebook appears to have scrubbed all timeline posts that were cross-published from Twitter from its users’ profiles following privacy-minded API restrictions imposed on third-party developers, according to TechCrunch.

These restrictions were put in place in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal, which involved the packaging and selling of more than 87 million users’ personal information to a data-mining company, that roiled the company starting back in March. As a result of those changes, with the pertinent one regarding Facebook Lpgin having been announced back on April 4th, some services, Twitter included, can no longer take direct actions on a user’s profile, including posting to the timeline on his or her behalf.

The changes went into effect starting August 1st. But it now appears that not only did Facebook disable the ability to use cross-posting between Twitter and its own social network on that date, but it also forcibly removed all the posts users had made using that feature. For users that may have been deleting their tweets but keeping a repository of the information on Facebook, where it’s more easily kept hidden from the public, it would seem the posts are gone for good.

TechCrunch notes that only a small handful of Facebook’s more than 2 billion users appear to have been affected by the company shutting off cross-posting and removing old posts, with an even smaller group within that minority vocally complaining about it on Twitter. Granted, the feature was designed for less active Facebook users who’d rather just post to one social network rather than manage multiple accounts and deal with the nuances across platforms. So it makes sense that the change isn’t resulting in a more noticeable outcry.

Regardless, Facebook does not appear to have notified users that it would take action in this fashion, and there does not appear to be any public documentation of the company’s plans to remove old posts. We’ve reached out to Facebook for comment and will update this story when we hear back.

Facebook is testing a label that will highlight what you have in common with randos

Facebook wants to highlight the similarities between its users. The company confirmed to CNET today that it’s running a small test in the US of a feature called “things in common” that’ll call out the various things users might have in common with random strangers they come across on the platform.

You might see the label above someone’s name when browsing through a comments conversation, so it could highlight that you both went to the same school, for example, or that you’re from the same hometown. The company says it’ll only display publicly available information.

“Knowing shared things in common helps people connect,” a Facebook spokeswoman told CNET in a statement. “We’re testing adding a ‘things in common’ label that will appear above comments from people who you’re not friends with but you might have something in common with.”


Facebook

Of course it makes sense that Facebook would want to help people make connections. It already offers the “People You May Know” recommendations that are super creepy. Plus, its entire business is founded on the idea of building out a vast social graph of everyone in the world. Do I think knowing that someone else lives in New York City is going to make me add them as a friend? No. But Facebook knows we love a group mentality.

Instagram is testing college community groups

Instagram is testing out a feature that groups users into college community lists, according to a CNBC report. It’s a move following the beginnings of parent company Facebook, which started out as a college-exclusive social networking platform. The service is intended for students currently enrolled in university, excluding alumni.

Some users have been prompted to join their college community to connect with other students, which adds the user to a class-based list. Joining the group lets the user add their university and graduating year to their profile. Users can view the group members’ public Stories and direct message them from the community lists.


Screenshot from Instagram, via CNBC

It’s odd that verification doesn’t rely on an .edu email address or campus geolocation, but instead through “information people have publicly shared about their university, the accounts they follow and other connections they have,” according to CNBC. And it’s definitely not without its issues, as a reporter was able to join a college community group despite having graduated.

Instagram confirmed to The Verge that the feature is in the testing phase, and there are “tools to report inappropriate usage.” As more companies focus on catering to university students (including Tinder’s recent launch of its college-only service, Tinder U), it’s clear that they’ll have to take extra precautions to keep their platforms safe.

Fake Twitter ad campaign encourages users to be more skeptical on social media

A convincing and polished, yet entirely fake, advertising campaign under the slogan, “Don’t Believe Every Tweet,” made the rounds early this morning, fooling tech critics and reporters into thinking Twitter had launched a marketing effort centered on its own inability to police fake and misleading information. The company confirmed to The Verge that it has nothing to do with the campaign.

The project includes a Twitter account, a YouTube video featuring comedian Greg Barris, and a website, complete with fake quotes from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and a pledge asking people to “be skeptical of all claims and never assume something is true just because it appears to reinforce views I already hold.”

It’s not clear what aspect of Twitter is the primary target here. “Don’t Believe Every Tweet” could be skewering the company itself for its ongoing moderation problem, which has been exacerbated in recent weeks by Dorsey’s shifting position on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his Infowars network.

Jones’ personal Twitter account was suspended last week for seven days over an apparent incitement to violence, following broader removals of Infowars across tech platforms like Apple, Facebook, and Spotify. Dorsey has since issued various mea culpas in interviews and public statements, claiming to acknowledge the issue of fake information on Twitter and pledging to rethink the company’s core values as they pertain to the struggle to balance free speech with the harm of inaccurate information. Jones is currently being sued by the families of nine Sandy Hook shooting victims, after Jones routinely perpetuated the conspiracy theory that the shooting was staged to undermine the Second Amendment.

Of course, “Don’t Believe Every Tweet” could be more benign, focusing only on gullibility and tribalism on the internet and the increasing divisiveness of social media. Even just the idea of using a fake ad campaign to trick people into believing a message about false representation is clever in and of itself. The campaign did in fact fool some journalists, including even savvy reporters covering the alt-right and technology platform moderation:

Although if you examine the full fake statement from Dorsey more closely, it does tend to fall apart by the end:

Twitter is an amazing platform for communication that has literally changed the world. But in order for it to work right, people can’t get sucked into all the fake news and conspiracy theories so many of our users (especially Russian bots) post.

That’s why we’re very excited to announce the launch of our new #dontbelieveeverytweet campaign. It’s a simple reminder to be skeptical of everything you see on Twitter because our users can put literally anything in a tweet.

We hope you’ll take the time to sign our pledge not to believe every tweet in your feed and share the #dontbelieveeverytweet commercials with your friends (on Twitter of course). We’re also going to start airing on FOX News in the next few days because duh.

If anything, hopefully the campaign is a gentle reminder that yes, people do lie on the internet, and yes, people do often amplify facts and opinions based on information or an eventual outcome that aligns with their beliefs. But “Don’t Believe Every Tweet” is also a good reminder that Twitter cannot absolve itself of responsibility to try to fix this problem, if only to make Twitter a safer and more productive place to communicate.

Weather app Dark Sky gets a major design update on iOS

Weather app Dark Sky has been updated for iOS today with the same visual-focused upgrade that came to Android users several months ago. The update brings a few new features, most prominently the merging of forecasts into a single page that you can scroll through, which lists current weather conditions over the next hour, day, and week. There’s also a general interface overhaul that changes the app’s signature black-and-white weather icons into colorful sun and clouds.

The app, which has been on iOS since 2012 and Android since 2016, is known for providing up-to-the-minute and location-specific forecasts with smart design. It costs $3.99 to download. Although Dark Sky says in its blog post that the update is coming to Android today, the new version has actually been out for a couple of months already, and it’s only new to iOS.


Image: Dark Sky

There’s now a precipitation map for the next hour’s weather as well as a feature on the main timeline that lets you toggle between wind speed, UV levels, and more granular information you might need. (For example, today is a very cloudy day in New York, with an expected 97 percent cloud cover at midnight.) You can also save locations to check the weather in multiple cities.

Custom notifications let you highlight features that you care about more. For instance, if you’re most concerned about UV ray levels or the chance of rain, you can toggle settings for that. The options include “umbrella reminder,” “sunscreen reminder,” and more custom settings like the “feels-like temperature,” humidity, and snow accumulation.

TechDen fights your kids’ tech addiction using… a box

Here’s one way to get kids off the phones they won’t put down: hide them in a high-tech box.

TechDen, which is currently being funded through a Kickstarter campaign, claims to ”help kids develop healthy screen habits,” by combining an app to manage your child’s screen time with a literal white box that stores and charges up to two phones or tablets. It can also recognize each device, and send parents notifications about which devices are charging and which are currently in use.

Parents can create designated “sessions” — routine windows of time where their kids can use their phone — and set up a maximum allowable screen time within each of these windows. For example, a session could be an hour before bedtime, and the maximum amount of screen time allowed could be 15 minutes. When the window opens, the charging box, known as The Den, will unlock to let the phone or tablet out.

While there’s no guarantee that children won’t rebel against having their devices locked away, the program is baked with some wiggle room meant to give kids some sense of choice. For example, a parent can designate the time limit and range of hours that screen time is allowed, but the kids can decide for themselves when they’d like to spend that time.

TechDen’s app will send a series of notifications to help children count down the amount of screen time that remains, and also notify parents if devices are returned on time. There’s a gamified feature that rewards kids for on-time returns back to the box, and allows them to check their progress within the app. Of course, all this doesn’t account for kids literally trying to break the box, but that’s obviously none of TechDen’s concern.

The TechDen appears to the company’s first product, and it is attempting to raise $50,000 by September 21st. (As of this writing, it’s more than halfway there.) The device is currently selling for $119, and it’s eventually supposed to retail for $199. TechDen says it’s aiming to get the product into backers’ mailboxes by the end of December, but as with all Kickstarter projects — particularly hardware from first-time companies — there’s no guarantee it’ll meet that timeline, so back at your own discretion.

T-Mobile is giving customers a free year of Pandora Plus

T-Mobile just announced a major overhaul to its customer service at its latest Uncarrier event, but — in true T-Mobile fashion — it’s also offering a few new perks to customers, Chief among them is a 12-month subscription to Pandora Plus, which will be available in the T-Mobile Tuesday app on August 21st.

Pandora Plus typically costs $4.99 per month, so it’s a nice deal, albeit perhaps not as useful as Verizon’s recently announced offer that gives its unlimited customers a free six months of Apple Music.


Additionally, T-Mobile’s announced a partnership with Live Nation that will offer exclusive tickets to T-Mobile customers (available 30 days before shows), $25 lawn tickets at various amphitheaters, fast-lane entry to shows, and other perks.