Why Facebook’s most ‘meaningful’ Groups show us where the social network is headed

Image: Paul Sakuma/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Facebook’s newest priority isn’t a shiny new technology or a funky new predictive algorithm. It’s Groups, one of the earliest features on TheFacebook.com.

These aren’t your sophomore year of college Groups though. Facebook is pointing to a series of highly-engaged collectives that highlight why they believe that Groups will play an important part in the future of Facebookand fulfill CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s goal to “bring the world closer together.”

It comes down to a particular word: “meaningful.”

Facebook’s representatives keep coming back to this word when discussing Groups. Maybe that’s because the feature initially lent it self to jokes like “Bring Back The Jello Bears,” which I championed back in 2007.

This all happened somewhat off of Facebook’s radar. Groups like Pantsuit Nation amassed hundreds of thousands of engaged members. Many Groups have developed important use cases which even top Facebook executives were unaware of until they began traveling the world and interviewing users about why they use the site.

“A lot of Groups came and went,”said Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox earlier this year in an interview. “If you just looked at the average Facebook Group you maybe wouldn’t find it something that’s deeply meaningful. But if you go and study, just asking people all around the world what the most meaningful experience you have with Facebook, you started discovering these Groups.”

But just what Groups are “meaningful” on Facebook? We can gleam some insight from the list of peopleall administrators of Facebook Groupthe company invited to its first-ever Facebook Communities Summit in June.

A Facebook representative shared with Mashable a list of seven different Groups:

  • FIN (Female IN): a private, women-only group described as a no-judgment support group for women” and includes personal stories from women of African culture around marriage, sex, health issues, beauty tips, parenting, domestic violence, mental health, work challenges, and loss

  • Black Fathers: a private men-only group described as dads doing our thing” and includes men asking each other questions about raising teen girls and custody disputes

  • Keep Austin Fishing!: an open group described as a “fishing family” where people in the area are invited to chat about fishing

  • Lady Bikers of California: an open group for women who ride motorcycles, with meet-ups in real life and planning of group rides

  • Affected by Addiction Support Group: a private group for people recovering from addiction and their friends and family to offer support and share stories

  • Moms of Beverly: an open group for moms in Beverly, Illinois to meet up and ask for advice

  • Bethel Original Free Will Baptist Church: an open group for members of the Bethel Church in Decatur, Georgia, includes announcements about events, meetings time and also uses Facebook Live to share sermons

These Facebook Groups are all over America and include people of all different demographics. What they have in common is being deeply personal but not necessarily inclusive of people already within a Facebook’ user’s social network. They bring real world interests and activities online, connecting users to people who they may have never met in real life.

It’s a goal that has drawn comparisons to Reddit, which has subgroups that serve a similar use case by connecting people over topics of discussion. But unlike Reddit, Facebook is not anonymized. The social network prides itself on a real name policy, where even drag queens and sexual assault survivors who wish to use different names are forced to oblige with the rules.

Facebook’s Groups are meant to be safe spaces, where trolling is more difficult in an online environment that does not allow users to hide behind a made-up username like on Reddit, Tumblr, or Twitter.

Facebook also has a bit of overlap between Groups and Pages. While the former is focused on interest-based communities, the latter can be dedicated to a person or an organization. For example, Mashable has a Facebook Page where we share our stories. But now, as part of this new Groups push, Page owners can promote Groups. For example, The New Yorker has a Facebook Group for its Movie Club.

This new emphasis on meaningful communities can be a good service for people, as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg emphasized in his 6,000-word manifesto titled “Building Global Community” earlier this year.

It’s also a smart business strategy. Facebook is trying to address its other big problemdeclining engagement among its users. Facebook makes money when people spend time on its platform, so it needs people putting up stuff and liking/commenting on that stuff.

Groups, it seems, is key to creating a better world through Facebook, which inevitably means spending more time on Facebook. More people spending more time means more money for Facebook.

Facebook follows the money, just like any successful business. How does a social network make money? Advertising.

To capture ad budgets, you need engagement. Facebook has 2 billion monthly active users, and yet, advertisers still say “Snapchat” when you ask where to find a younger audience. There’s the fear that Facebook is becoming “old news” combined with the bad public image of being a distributor of “fake news.”

But people will always have passions and if Facebook can provide the best place to dive deep into those passions, they have your attention, and therefore, they have money.

Whether Groups are good or bad isn’t really the question. They’re engaging, or “meaningful,” in Facebook parlance.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/07/20/facebook-groups-meaningful/

Vizio files $100M lawsuit against LeEco

Last summer LeEco announced it intended to purchase the U.S.-based TV maker Vizio for $2 billion. The deal fell through in Marchamid myriad problems surrounding LeEco,including a major cash crunch. Allegedly the deal included a $100 million buyer-termination fee and now Vizio has filed suit in a California court to collect payment.

Vizio claims that in lieu of paying Vizio the fee, the Chinese company offered to set up a joint distribution deal, which would have included paying Vizio $40 million up front, $10 million after the new deal closed with the remaining $50 million turned into a capital contribution for the joint venture. Yet Vizio alleges that LeEco never intended to pay the entire $100 million and purposed the deal in an effort to reduce its liability by 60 percent.

And Vizio sounds like its onto something. The deal sounds shady from the start.

The lawsuit alleges that LeEcos CEO, SVP of Finance and a director of LeEcos holding company mislead Vizio executives on the health of LeEcos holding company the entity actually trying to purchase Vizio. It goes on to say that these executives, in person, over the phone and through email, mischaracterized the companys financials, saying that LeEco needed to complete this merger to either obtain the instant financial stability, credibility and resources.

The lawsuit goes on to state Vizio believes LeEco was going to use [the] publicly announced intended merger with VIZIO to gain or try to obtain access to VIZIOs large corporate customers and key decision makers thereat for their own purposes and by means of confidential customer information that had been developed and provide LeEco with access to VIZIOs confidential customer information, including contact information, account history, purchasing needs or requirements, contract terms, and the like.

This comes days after a Shanghai court froze $180 million in assets belong to the LeEco founder and former CEO, his wife and three LeEco affiliates. Yesterday Faraday Future, which lists LeEco as a major financial backer, announced it was not going to build a factory in the Nevada desert that would have cost $1 billion. News also broke earlier today that LeEco would not be paying some of its workers in China until August 10th.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/07/11/vizio-files-100m-lawsuit-against-leeco/

Here are some of the weirder and more creative ad blockers on the market

Image: Shutterstock / underverse

A host of niche ad blockers are helping web surfers trade annoying ads for cats, art, and inspiration.

The tools are part of a burgeoning cottage industry of blocking software birthed by a popular frustration with disruptive digital ads in recent years.

But where most of their ilk simply scrub pop-ups and promos from your screen, a handful of developers have tried to set their services apart by taking it a step further: They want to turn the lemons of online ads into lemonade.

These ad blockers replace aggressive web advertising with a more pleasant alternative, whether that be images of goofy cats, vintage billboards, fine art, inspirational memes take your pick.

Like many one-note browser extensions, most of them are novelty gags and open-source hobbyist projects. Their gimmicks may be fun at first, but at some point the clutter of cats on every page might get old.

A small segment of startups, however, are more serious about their missions. Companies like Intently a Pinterest-like ad replacer are actually hoping to create viable rivals to industry heavyweights like Eyeo’s AdBlockPlus and AdBlock (two confusingly named, yet separate companies).

There is a potentially enticing moneymaking opportunity hidden in this deceptively simple model. The secret to ad blockers is that, despite the contradictory name and intra-industry antagonism, they aren’t much different than the ad networks they block. Ad blocking startups also make their money by selling the screen space in front of you to advertisers.

For most of the popular ad blocking services, that means charging certain high-traffic platforms like Google and Microsoft for the privilege of being whitelisted a practice trade groups have likened to extortion.

But the prospect of slipping ads in among aspirational memes or social content could make for a more sustainable and less shady model provided there’s actually an appetite among web users for content in place of ads.

Judging by the number of projects that have already stumbled on this path, that demand is by no means guaranteed. But it doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy morphing ads into anything under the sun.

Vintage social ads

Image: kindai

What would your Facebook feed look like in ’80s get-up?

French ad agency Kindai answered that question this week with a new tool that papers over sponsored posts with classic ads from the decade.

The browser extension will transport you back to a world of Atari’s Pong, Sony Walkmans, and Apple II’s. There’s a tribute to a partnership between Pizza Hut and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and other retro cultural signifiers galore.

The program is also a reminder of how easy it remains to block Facebook ads nearly a year after the company’s supposed crackdown on the practice.

Image: screenshot

CatBlock

Image: screenshot

Developers at AdBlock originally intended for CatBlock to be an April Fool’s joke in 2012. But they apparently underestimated the force of feline fanaticism on the internet.

The service a temporary code tweak that rendered blocked ads as “Lolcat” memes or Flickr images got such an overwhelming reception that AdBlock decided to spin it into part of a monthly subscription package.

Two years later, however, AdBlock turned the project over to open-source developers who now maintain it as a free browser extension. Last year, it became the first ad blocker to run on Microsoft’s Edge browser.

Intently

Image: screenshot

Image: screenshot

Intently replaces aspiration-mongering and health-shaming in service of consumerism with… aspiration-mongering and health-shaming as an end unto itself.

To be clear, the latter is definitely preferable. The service first lets you customize your interests and life goals by selecting from a few preset choices. You’ll then start to see peppy positive mantras like “start by believing that things can change” and “7 days without fruits and vegetables makes one ‘weak'” where you’d otherwise see ads.

The company’s eventual goal is to become a sort of Pinterest-like platform that operates in the space vacated by blocked ads.

Image: screenshot

Addendum

Image: screenshot

Image: screenshot

Probably the most intriguing project on this list, Addendum lets you replace ads with one of several “essays,” or sets of similarly themed art, curated by the influential Kadist art organization.

The collections are all compiled from archives uncovered by Kadist’s various research projects, according to Addendum’s site, but you can also upload your own galleries and share them with friends.

It’s not the fastest or most reliable blocker at this point, and it’s currently only available on Firefox though Chrome and Safari versions are in the works.

The developers are also among the few to directly confront the ethical underpinnings of ad blocking.

“You downloaded the page, and you own it,” the developers write in their justification of the practice. “Its yours and you can do whatever you want to it. Just like if you get a free newspaper, you can read it, or cut it up, or burn it. Its your life and you have no legal obligation to look at every ad presented to you.”

Image: screenshot

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/07/08/ad-blockers-replacers/

Challenges to Silicon Valley wont just come from Brussels

Fine of 2.4bn levied on Google is a sign of the continued erosion of US tech firms domination of the internet

The whopping 2.4bn fine levied by the European commission on Google for abusing its dominance as a search engine has taken Silicon Valley aback. It has also reignited American paranoia about the motives of European regulators, whom many Valley types seem to regard as stooges of Mathias Dpfner, the chief executive of German media group Axel Springer, president of the Federation of German Newspaper Publishers and a fierce critic of Google.

US paranoia is expressed in various registers. They range from President Obamas observation in 2015 that all the Silicon Valley companies that are doing business there [Europe] find themselves challenged, in some cases not completely sincerely. Because some of those countries have their own companies who want to displace ours, to the furious off-the-record outbursts from senior tech executives after some EU agency or other has dared to challenge the supremacy of a US-based tech giant.

The overall tenor of these rants (based on personal experience of being on the receiving end) runs as follows. First, you Europeans dont get tech; second, you dont like or understand innovation; and third, youre maddened by envy because none of you schmucks has been able to come up with a world-beating tech company.

The charge sheet underpinning American paranoia says that the EU has always had it in for US companies. Microsoft, for example, has been done over no fewer than three times for various infringements of competition rules: 500m in 2004, 600m in 2008 and 561m in 2013. Intel was fined 1.6bn in 2009. Now Google has been socked for 2.4bn; and Facebook has already been fined 110m for providing the European commission with misleading information about its acquisition of WhatsApp. And then of course there is the commissions insistence that Apple should repay the 13bn in back taxes that it owes the Irish government because of overgenerous tax breaks provided to the company. (Ireland is vigorously contesting that ruling, making it the first government in history to turn down a windfall that would fund its health service for an entire year.)

This allegedly biased record needs to be seen in a wider context, however. Its hardly surprising that the tech companies in the frame are American given that all the global tech giants are US-based. But in fact the European commission has also come down hard on local infringers of competition rules. In July 2016, for example, European truck manufacturers were fined 2.93bn for colluding on prices for 14 years. In 2008 several European car glass manufacturers were fined 1.35bn for illegal market sharing and exchanging commercially sensitive information. In 2007 the Spanish telco Telefnica was fined 151m for setting unfair prices in its domestic broadband market. And so on, so that if you include all years since 1990, the total amount of fines imposed by the European commissions competition regulator comes to 26.75bn.

Given that record, you could say that the commission is actually a rather good regulator. But its also clear that there are significant differences between the European and American approach to competition law and antitrust. Some years ago, for example, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the US investigated Google for the same behaviour that has landed it with the current huge fine. But in the end the FTC decided not to press charges. The European commission, provided with much the same evidence, reached the opposite conclusion.

An
An Amazon warehouse in Germany. Photograph: Christoph Schmidt/EPA

How come? Basically there is a different regulatory culture in the US. There, the prevailing concern is with consumer welfare which, in the end, is about prices. As long as industrial power doesnt lead to increased prices, then its deemed OK which is why Amazon has thrived despite becoming a colossus. The European commission, in contrast, is focused on competition: monopolistic behaviour is considered illegal if it restricts competitors.

As the commissions statement explains: Market dominance is, as such, not illegal under EU antitrust rules. However, dominant companies have a special responsibility not to abuse their powerful market position by restricting competition, either in the market where they are dominant or in separate markets. Otherwise, there would be a risk that a company once dominant in one market (even if this resulted from competition on the merits) would be able to use this market power to cement/further expand its dominance, or leverage it into separate markets.

Google was found to have abused its dominance as a search engine by giving illegal advantage to its own comparison shopping service. Way back in 2002, the company had launched a price-comparison service called Froogle, later renamed Google Shopping. In 2008 it changed how it worked by systematically giving prominence to its own shopping-comparison results (for which it received payment from advertisers) and thereby in effect downgrading other shopping-comparison sites that might otherwise have figured highly in search results. This the commission deemed illegal.

And so it is. But to lay observers theres something quaint about the actual nub of the dispute shopping-comparison sites. I mean to say, theyre soooo yesterday. Nowadays, half of all shopping-related queries begin not on Google, but on Amazon. So the complaints about anti-competitive behaviour that resulted in last weeks ruling started in 2008 nine years (about 63 internet years) ago. What this episode highlights is the growing time lag between the detection of illegal behaviour on the part of tech companies and its eventual punishment a lag determined by the inevitably slow pace of detailed legal investigation (often slowed further by intensive political lobbying) and the pace of tech-industry change. If societies are to be able to bring companies such as Google under effective democratic control, then we have to speed up this regulatory process. Otherwise we will continually be locking the door long after the horse has bolted.

Which of course is exactly the way Silicon Valley likes it. This is a culture, remember, whose motto is move fast and break things (the Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerbergs original exhortation to his developers, withdrawn only when he discovered that one of the things that might get broken is democracy). In the tech industry, corporate leaders are hooked on the virtues of disruption, creative destruction and the belief that it is easier to beg forgiveness than to ask for permission. Most of them subscribe to the famous dictum of Scott McNealy, made when he was chief executive of Sun Microsystems: You have zero privacy get over it.

Given that mindset, its not surprising that the industry is not just irritated but baffled by European scepticism and regulatory pushback. Although most Silicon Valley moguls see themselves as progressives they dont seem to understand cultural differences. (They dont understand politics, either.) Witness the Facebook bosss touching belief that the worlds problems could be solved if everyone were part of the Facebook community. Or the view of Googles former executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, that the presence of communication technologies will chip away at most autocratic governments, since the odds against a restrictive, information-shy regime dealing with an empowered citizenry armed with personal fact-checking devices get progressively worse with each embarrassing incident. When he tried that on Cambridge students a few years ago, some of them wondered what he had been smoking.

Eric
Eric Schmidt, Googles former executive chairman. Photograph: Getty

Silicon Valley is a reality distortion field whose inhabitants think of it as the Florence of Renaissance 2.0. (Rapidly acquired wealth has powerful hallucinatory effects on people.) In a strange way, they share the former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfelds view of our continent as old Europe, a civilisation whose time has come and gone. So when German citizens object vigorously to having their homes photographed by Google Street View, or the Bundestag considers a law that would impose swingeing fines on social media companies that do not promptly remove hate speech from their services, or the European commission imposes a fine equivalent to 3% of Googles global revenue, they fume into their almond-coconut Frappuccinos and vow revenge.

If thats how they see things, then its time they recalibrated. They are all children of a hegemony thats begun to erode. The era when Europeans and their governments quailed before American corporate power may be ending. The French were always a bit resistant to it (but then, being French, they would be, wouldnt they?) but now even the Germans have concluded that Europe can no longer rely on the US (or the UK) and must fight for its own destiny. In a way, the US-based digital giants should thank their lucky stars that Europe, for the most part, still consists of societies where the rule of law counts for something. Even when the companies dont like the outcome of our legal processes, they should be grateful that at least we follow them.

The same cannot be said for other parts of the world that Google & co hope to dominate. China and Russia do things their own way, for example, and are entirely untroubled by legal niceties. As far as China is concerned, in 2010 Google was given the choice of obeying government demands or shutting down its Chinese search engine; it chose the latter option and is having to agree to government controls if it is to be allowed back. In Russia, Google reached a settlement with the local regulator to loosen restrictions on search engines built into its Android mobile operating system, to allow Russian competitors a share of the pie. Similar concessions will be required to operate in Iran and other Middle Eastern states. These regimes are the real enemies that US paranoids should fear. So while the 2.4bn fine may be unpalatable (though easily affordable) for Google, it should thank its lucky stars. At least it got a hearing.

John Naughton is professor of the public understanding of technology at the Open University. He writes a weekly column in The New Review.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jul/01/google-fine-challenges-to-silicon-valley

There’s a good reason governments aren’t startups

Jeb Bush wearing a hoodie in a video message to Mark Zuckerberg.
Image: shutterstock/jeb!/mashable composite

The hot new name in tech is France, a centuries-old startup that provides security, healthcare, and education in exchange for taxes.

Newly elected French president Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday that the country needs to “think and move more like a startup” and, presumably, less like a stodgy social democracy.

“When an entrepreneur has too much success, he gets stigmatized and, in general, he gets taxed. This is over!” Macron told a crowd of techies in Paris, according to Reuters. “We will drive through these [sic] transformation without delay.”

That transformation involves cutting corporate taxes, peeling back France’s stringent labor laws, and deregulating small businesses.

“To put it in one word: Entrepreneur is the new France,” the ex-investment banker said.

Macron isn’t the first world leader to try to spin public service as ripe for Silicon Valley-style disruption the notion that sprawling bureaucracy might be molded into a nimble, high-tech enterprise seems to allure politicians on both sides of the aisle, particularly in America.

The Obama administration imitated tech-business culture with chief technology and performance officers, hackathons, and a core group of technologists referred to as a “startup within the White House” (Obama has been clear about the fundamental differences between leading a government and a private business, though.)

Hillary Clinton promised to entrench and expand Obama’s Silicon Valley partnership programs that enlisted tech professionals to streamline services and boost “customer service metrics” with a “Yelp for government”

Then there’s the business fetishist who currently occupies the Oval Office. One of Donald Trump’s first moves as president was to tap his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as head of a newly created innovation office with the vague goal of reshaping Washington’s red tape in the image of the private sector.

Trump caught flak for the overblown tone of the rollout, but Obama, Hillary Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush have all proposed similar management teams at one point or another.

“The government should be run like a great American company,” Kushner told the Washington Post. “Our hope is that we can achieve successes and efficiencies for our customers, who are the citizens.”

The government-as-a-business clich has existed since at least the 1930s, and it’s easy to see its durable appeal. Why wouldn’t we want to whittle away institutional glut to make the government more responsive to public demand?

Silicon Valley’s innovation worship and “making the world a better place” PR mantra add a new sheen to the idea. And there’s no question government services are in dire need of a tech overhaul.

But doing so with a startup mindset misses the whole point of a government.

Businesses are efficient and responsive for one reason. Like trees that bend towards the sunlight, they’re organized entirely in service of maximizing profit. Absent market forces, C-suite titles, motivational acronyms, and MBAs don’t necessarily count for much on their own.

Markets aren’t perfect, and profit doesn’t necessarily equal public good. The government does many of the things it does because they don’t make business sense food stamps, public transit, senior healthcare. It’s able to borrow heavily and fund projects at a scale that businesses can’t or won’t match. No one would be incentivized to offer many of these services if the state didn’t. We know this because there are places where it doesn’t, and no one does.

Obama alluded to some of the added difficulties of government projects in a mocking second-hand rebuke to some tech CEOs who had apparently tried to lecture him about leadership.

“If all I was doing was making a widget or producing an app, and I didnt have to worry about whether poor people could afford the widget, or I didnt have to worry about whether the app had some unintended consequences setting aside my Syria and Yemen portfolio then I think those suggestions are terrific,” Obama said at a conference in Pittsburgh last year.

Unchecked capitalism also doesn’t have a great track record at, say, preventing climate change, keeping machinery from killing workers, or not causing cataclysmic global financial shocks. One major role of government has been to blunt these sharp edges, and that’s not especially efficient in a strict profit sense.

The government even absorbs some of the negative impact caused by corporations themselves. When McDonald’s or Walmart won’t pay a living wage or provide benefits, for instance, workers often have turn to food stamps or Medicaid. There’s an argument to be made that taxpayers are effectively subsidizing these massive companies.

Tech companies, in particular, challenge this notion. To many of the industry’s true believers, market failures exist because some bold innovator hasn’t yet invented or assembled technology that would enable a solution.

Society mostly views innovation as an unqualified good, and Silicon Valley giants use this fact to play down their bald corporate side. Their offices are “campuses,” their moguls are “visionaries,” their emerging market business plays are about “changing the world.”

New technology has helped open markets and serve needs that weren’t being met. But it has plenty of blindspots of its own. Just look at the glaring lack of broadband in rural areas (where are Mark Zuckerberg’s drones?) or skyrocketing healthcare costs that startups like Theranos were supposed to help alleviate.

The view also ignores that the world’s most prolific and least efficient incubator isn’t in Palo Alto or San Francisco. It’s our massive defense complex. Most of the technology that powers an iPhone the internet, GPS, touch screen came from public research labs, according to economist Mariana Mazzucato, author of The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Private vs. Public Sector Myths.

In fact, R&D Magazine claims that 90 of the 100 most important innovations between 1971 and 2006 depended heavily on public funding.

That’s not to detract from Steve Jobs’ legacy, but it does beg the question of whether these technologies would exist if researchers weren’t afforded the federal government’s patience and resources to make things that weren’t intuitively marketable. Could a startup government have invented the internet? For all of Silicon Valley’s fast-moving things-breaking and willingness to burn ungodly amounts of cash, probably not.

One would hope a government without a bloated military industrial complex, byzantine institutions, and crumbling infrastructure could as well, though. But Uber-for-governing won’t necessarily fix that.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/06/17/governments-shouldnt-be-startups/

The top 5 most over-the-top employee benefits from tech companies

Image: Shutterstock / Rawpixel.com

Ive seen my fair share of company benefits after 10+ years recruiting for tech companies.Tech Startups in San Francisco are known for having extensive benefits from daily lunchesto paid gym memberships or free monthly massages. Before I share some of the coolest benefits Ive come across, I have a word of advice for new companies

Before offering

Ive learned from experience working withsmall startupsand fromfounding Bettsthat benefits can become a tricky subject.

When you are deciding which benefits to offer, keep in mind that as a company scales, the cost of benefits will increase too.Covering the cost of gym memberships for10 employees becomes a drastically different cost when your team grows to 100.

Also, be sure to think through the benefits you are offering. Asfun as Summer Fridays sound, theycan set your team up for a rough wake-up call come fall.

Looking for some benefit inspiration? These tech companies go above and beyond.

1.Elevated benefits

Weve heard of companies paying for their gym membership. Weve seen Instagrams of a friends team working at a food bank for an annualvolunteering day. But having a $100 Wellness Credit to spend on whicheverself-care tacticfeels most personally effective? Now thats interesting.

SalesforceIQ knows that people have different ways of relaxing, whether its a round of golf, a Zumba class at the gym, or hiking in the National Parks.SalesforceIQtakes a similar approach to their volunteering program, and letsemployees pick the cause theyd like to spend their time on.

They offer6 paid volunteering days annually, and a monthly $100 stipend for wellness. Though Idobelievethat spending a day volunteeringor running a 5kcan be a great team building activity, being able to choose the specifics within a broader benefitis a great way to ensureindividual satisfaction.

2.Need a day? Take a day.

Have you heard of unlimited PTO?Its atrend in benefitsthatsbecoming increasingly popular in the benefits suiteoffered bytech companies.

Atlassians versionis calledVacay Your Way.Instead of watching your hours painstakingly accrue, unlimited PTO plans allow employees take time off when they need it.The theory behind thisis that life happens, and usually not at the exact time you have accrued the perfect amount of PTO.

If you need to take time off to care for family, recover from an injury, or just plain need a mental health day, these plans allow for that. The expectation is that work will be handled appropriately before taking an extended vacation, but it truly is the kind of benefit that treats employees as the responsible adults they are ( or should be!).

3.Health, handled

Though insurance may notseem like the most exciting benefit, having extensive coverage can be a literal lifesaver.

Indeed offers emergency insurance that sendsanairambulance anywhere in the world.While its not something you would necessarily plan for, having a speedy pick-up afterfalling on a hike in the Australian Outback couldabsolutelybe a lifesaver.

Want to have children, but not quite ready yet?Google, LinkedIn, Intel, Spotify, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon and Wayfair areall reportedto offer fully paid coverage for IVF and egg freezing.The initial process can cost upwards of $10k, withan annual storage fee of $800.

While the ideasounds great to empower womens choices about having children, a scrappy start up may want to think twice before offering this as it would be extremely costly to scale.

4.The list goes on and on!

Imagine working in an office with a Zen room for meditating and receiving complimentary massages. What if I told you that same company would also send you to one conference of your choice annually, and keep your bookshelf stocked with the help of Amazon book gift cards?Not to mention the onsite OctoDojo gymGithubs benefit suitetruly does goabove and beyond.

5.Beach house

Perhaps one of the more creative benefits Ive seen,YMediarecentlyannounced thatit rented ahomein Hawaiiindefinitelyforallemployees to use.

With 10 bedrooms, and similar homes going for $10k a week on Airbnb, this beach house seems like a luxurious getaway. Every employee, no matter their title or length of tenure at Y Media, can book a week vacation there.Talk about vacation envy!

Having major FOMO?

Glamorous trips and company Zen gardens aside,not all benefits have to be encrusted in gold to feel plentiful.

Some of the best perks turn out to be relatively inexpensive. Recently at Betts Recruiting, we had a beer pong tournament to celebratethe team crushingtheir quotasatthe end of the quarter.The officeended up hustlingmore foraBP tournament thanforaSpiff with awesome seats at aChance the Rapper concert!

Having random partners and a bracketon a whiteboardturned out to be the perfectway for people to get to know each other better, and definitely raised some healthy competition.

Carolyn Betts Fleming is the Founder and CEO of Betts Recruiting, the leading global recruitment firm specializing in matching revenue-generating talent with the worlds most innovative companies.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/06/08/the-top-5-most-over-the-top-employee-benefits/

Apple continues to push into healthcare, this time with developers

Developers working on healthcare will be involved at WWDC this year.
Image: christian BRUNA/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

Working with Apple every day, as Apple sees it, could help keep the doctor awayor at least well informed.

Apple’s push into healthcare is readying its second gear, and this week’s Worldwide Developers Conference is just the start.

Apple started its push into healthcare when it introduced the Apple Watch in 2015. The wearable device made fitness, and then health software, and then medical research, more central to Apple’s mission.

Since then, Apple introduced ResearchKit in 2015 and CareKit in 2016. The two open-sourced platforms, both included under Apple’s HealthKit category, let nontraditional developers without total coding expertise build apps for both medical research and consumer health. Projects so far have included an app from Penn Medicine for the rare disease Sarcoidosis, an app from researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to study postpartum depression, and even end-to-end encryption tools available to health apps on the platform.

This year, more of them than ever could be developers working in healthcare, helping to build Apple’s toolsand its growing reputationas a platform for medical research, health management, and caregiving.

There could also be something big in store for this year’s WWDC. Last month, Apple CEO Tim Cook was spotted wearing a wearable device that tracked blood sugar a sign of Apple’s continued interested in the healthcare space.

Apple likes to talk up its developer community. The tech giant claimed last month that it had created 2 million jobs1.5 million of which were jobs in the “App Store ecosystem,” aka not exactly working for Apple. A few days ago, Apple touted that developers had earned $70 billion through the App Store.

Apple won’t provide those kinds of numbers just for its HealthKit apps just yet. The company says that “millions of people” have used “hundreds of ResearchKit apps.”

But moving into healthcare certainly has an upside for Apple. Wearables and health apps give the company a foothold on a $2.8 trillion industryand access to more data from millions of consumers. It also helps Apple sell more of Apple’s core products.

“Their participation in the market is still fringe. It’s mostly about trying to make devices more attractive to people,” said Andy Hargreaves, an Apple analyst at Pacific Crest Securities.

Penn Medicine’s Sarcoidosis app represents exactly how Apple hopes its platform will work. Dan O’Connor, a medical student at Penn at the time, developed the app in partnership with Misha Rosenbach, an assistant professor of dermatology at Penn Medicine. O’Connor had taught himself a few programming languages and developed apps in the healthcare space before using ResearchKit for this project.

The app has had about 900 downloads and drawn about 500 consented participants for a study. Those numbers might sound miniscule compared to the reach of Apple, but it’s already one of the largest studies ever for the rare disease, O’Connor said. Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory condition that affects the lungs, skin, eyes, heart, and brain, and is diagnosed in 11 to 36 of every 100,000 Americans each year.

Through the app, researchers are studying both whether a digital study of a rare disease with patients spread throughout the country and the worldcan even work, as well as the disease itself. The app provides its users information about Sarcoidosis that their local doctors might not be able to give them and then asks them to take surveys about their condition and general health.

“ResearchKit, compared to what we were envisioning initially, enabled us to do more than we ever imagined we could do,” O’Connor said (in what is probably Apple’s dream blurb for the ResearchKit website). “Our initial vision of the app was very simpleto do mostly mobile and web-type programming, simple pages with information and a survey or two. ResearchKit enabled us to tap into data.”

Apple hasn’t revealed any of its specific healthcare plans before WWDC starts on Monday. Most of the conference probably won’t focus on medical research… unless it convinces more people watching to buy a new Apple Watch.

“The data is important, but it’s not important in the way it would be to Google, Facebook, or Amazon,” Hargreaves said. “The Apple business is built around making devices and software.”

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/06/05/apple-healthcare-wwdc-apps/

DIY meal delivery service Blue Apron is going public

Meal delivery service and podcast advertising staple Blue Apron filed to go public on Thursday, marking the start of its journey to become a publicly traded company.

In doing so, the company officially revealed its finances for the first time. The subscription service pulled in nearly $800 million last year but lost around $55 million overall.

Despite the lack of profit, the company has been growing at a rapid clip overall; its revenue more than doubled in 2016 and grew fourfold the previous year. Even better, that rapid growth is outpacing its growth in losses.

The financials show other hopeful signs too. The company actually managed to turn a profit in the first quarter of last year, and, on the whole, the balance sheet has stayed relatively steady by the standards of money-burning tech startups.

At the same time, average order value and orders per customer haven’t grown much in the past two yearsand actually declined slightly in recent months.

The company also reports a slight dip in customers during the final months of last year before growth rebounds again perhaps thanks to a big ad push it launched around the same time.

Founded in 2012, Blue Apron tapped into the subscription delivery boom with weekly shipments of meal kits stocked with pre-apportioned ingredients.

It made a name for itself with heavy marketing spend, perhaps most memorably in the advertising breaks of major podcasts. Last year, the company spent $144 million on advertising nearly half of which on “online media.”

It most recently undertook its first global TV ad campaign earlier this year as rumors swirled about an IPO.

Deep in the obligatory legalese of the filing, Blue Apron also notes an litany of potential threats on the horizon that cover everything from natural disasters to taxes.

One is the prospect that its employees might decide to unionize.

“If a significant number of our employees were to become unionized and collective bargaining agreement terms were to deviate significantly from our current compensation and benefits structure,” the document reads, “our business, financial condition and operating results could be materially adversely affected.”

Blue Apron’s food-related business model also comes with some extra challenges. The company must contend with fluctuating ingredient prices, heavy health regulation, and complex supply chains.

The possibility of a food-borne illness or contamination is also raised.

The company was most recently valued at $2 billion after a $135 million funding round in 2015.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/06/01/blue-apron-ipo/

How a Silicon Valley veteran created an app that 400 nonprofits use to help refugees

Image: Mashable Composite; RefAid / Trellyz

Shelley Taylor calls herself a Silicon Valley veteran. Veteran, she tells me, “means old.”

Raised in Palo Alto, Taylor has an extensive tech background. She isn’t an engineer, but she wrote the “bible of user interface” back in 1995 at the dawn of website creation, inventing a lot of the language still used to this day to describe websites and ecommerce. She’s launched a bevy of startups and advised companies like AOL, Cisco, Microsoft, and Yahoo in their early days.

“My approach to being a technology founder, which I pretty much have always been, is starting with the user experience and then using that to do product design development,” she says.

That’s exactly what she’s doing with her latest project, albeit with a more humanitarian twist. Taylor is behind the Refugee Aid app, or RefAid, which connects refugees with crucial services when and where they need them most. More than 400 of the largest aid organizations in the worldfrom the Red Cross to Save the Children to Doctors of the Worldall use it.

In many cases, they even rely on it.

Through a simple, easy-to-use interface, the free mobile app uses geolocation to show migrants, refugees, and aid workers a map of the closest services for food, shelter, health care, legal help, and more. Aid organizations can communicate with each otherand touch base with the refugees they’ve helpedthrough a web-based content management system, as well as update and keep track of the services they offer.

The app began as Taylor’s passion project in early 2016. It’s an offshoot of her company Trellyz, formerly known as Digital Fan Clubs, which launched four years ago to help people manage their brands and monetize their fans on Facebook. But about 18 months ago, Taylor, who has lived in Europe on and off for the last 25 years, felt compelled to do something a bit different.

“I was impacted by the horrible images, and just felt a sense of frustration. I just thought, ‘What can we do?'”

“I was struck, like many other people, by the refugee crisis,” she says. “In Europe, it’s much more prominent. Where I am in Italy, just looking out over the sea where I am, there are people who have been drowning trying to get to Europe, to safety. And so I was impacted by the horrible images, and just felt a sense of frustration. I just thought, ‘What can we do?'”

Since Digital Fan Clubs already created geolocation-based apps with real-time data, Taylor wondered how they could adapt that technology for refugees, who she knew were already using smartphones. So she asked a number of large organizations like the UNHCR and the British Red Cross if an app like RefAid would be helpful. They all had the same answer: “That would be great.”

Over the course of just one weekend, Taylor and her team created RefAid using the company’s app creation platform technology. It launched in February 2016, first in the UK and Italytwo countries where refugees can have very different needs. In the UK, many refugees have already reached their destination, and are focused more on integrating into a new society. Many refugees in Italy, meanwhile, are just arriving off boats after extremely harrowing, dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean.

Image: RefAid / Trellyz

Image: RefAid / Trellyz

Nel Vandevannet, director of Belgian projects at Doctors of the World, and Mark Forsyth, refugee support services coordinator at the British Red Cross, both say RefAid has proven extremely useful for their organizations. Spreading awareness of their services has been difficult, but the app has streamlined the entire process.

“I think the application is perfect for very vulnerable groups of people.”

In Belgium, where many refugees are quickly passing through to get to the UK and other parts of Europe, Vandevannet says the app has helped Doctors of the World explain to them their rights. And, in many cases, it helps point them in the direction of life-saving health care. It’s not always easy to translate this kind of vital information and convince refugees of what they need, but tapping into their smartphoneswhich Vandevannet calls “their compasses”has helped develop more trust between aid workers and refugees.

“I think the application is perfect for very vulnerable groups of people, who, because of bad experiences, repression, violence they had through their traveling … don’t really go to services,” she says. “The application is something they can control. If the police would give information, [refugees] would never go. Because they would think that it’s controlled by police, you would have to give your identity, and so on.”

The app protects refugees’ identities by only requiring an email address, not names or other personal information. There’s also a double-login function that protects their accounts, in case they ever lose their phones.

According to Forsyth, the British Red Cross has mainly used RefAid as a directory of relevant services across the country. It enables them to search for up-to-date information about services, such as locations and opening times.

“It’s not uncommon for refugees and asylum seekers to be moved all around the country,” he says. “So it’s really useful that RefAid covers the whole country, so we can contact services in other cities and refer people on.”

RefAid is now available in 14 countries: Greece, the UK, Ireland, Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Malta, Turkey, and the U.S.

They weren’t planning to launch the app in the U.S.at least not so soon. But as one of his first acts as president, Donald Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 27 to create a 90-day travel ban for citizens of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen, as well as a 120-day suspension of the U.S. refugee program. (The ban was ultimately blocked by lower courts, a ruling that a federal appeals court upheld just last week.)

“Because I’m an American, I was so upset by the Trump [travel] ban,” Taylor says. “I’m an expat living in Europe, and I’m so proud of our American history of welcoming immigrants. I thought about it all weekend, and I thought, ‘Well, we just have to do it.'”

She invited her team and a group of friends to her house on the following Monday, and they all got on their phones and called as many organizations with real-time legal services as they could. They wanted to make sure that people who were being detained had access to essential phone numbers. Even though the ACLU and others had set up free legal resources at international airports, many people couldn’t even get out of customs to reach them.

“I thought, if we could at least make this available to people so that they can make phone calls, that would be a great start for RefAid in the U.S.,” Taylor says.

In just that one day, RefAid went live in 21 U.S. cities, focusing on legal services in areas with big international airports.

RefAid isn’t the only app on the market helping refugees and immigrants at various stages in their journeys. But it’s especially novel because of the unexpected problems it solves for nonprofits overall: managing their resources.

What Taylor and her team didn’t realize is that most of these organizations didn’t have centralized databases of the services they were offering. Information on the different categories of aid they provided and what satellite offices offered was all in aid workers’ heads, or on pieces of paper filed away in drawers.

“Because it’s on my phone, it’s available wherever, whenever, even if I’m not in the office.”

“The first organization that said they would love to use our system said, ‘We’ll get back to you when we’ve collected all of the services.’ I asked, ‘Well, how many are there?’ And they said, ‘We don’t really know,'” Taylor says.

That same organization, which Taylor didn’t name, had 60 offices in the UK. It took them two-and-a-half months to compile everything and give her an Excel spreadsheet with 300 lines of services.

Forsyth says it’s been a similar case for the British Red Cross.

“Services are changing all the time, especially these days, so paper and PDF directories are virtually obsolete from the second they are made,” he says. “RefAid is updated regularly, and because it’s on my phone, it’s available wherever, whenever, even if I’m not in the office.”

It was a revelation, and Taylor saw a market opportunity. She dropped everything else, changed the name of Digital Fan Clubs to Trellyz, and pivoted toward exclusively helping nonprofits manage their resources.

Now, the company is applying RefAid’s technology to a new app called LifeSpots, in which all nonprofits can compile their services by location, helping people find the assistance they need as well as local volunteer opportunities. It’s expected to launch within the next month. Trellyz also plans to do the same thing for cities, offering another app for local governments to list and manage the public services they offer.

RefAid is updated every few weeks or couple of months, as more nonprofits use it and provide feedback. Even governments are starting to hop on board Washington State uses the app to help distribute information about local services available to refugees, as well as the UK’s National Health Service and cities across Europe.

Doctors of the World is also working with Trellyz to integrate a “medical passport” into RefAid, allowing refugees to put their own medical histories in the app. It’s all secure, staying in the hands of users, and solves the problem of not being able to keep such important paperwork with them as they’re traveling.

Ultimately, it all comes down to what Taylor said about focusing on user experience understanding who’s using the app and then developing it to maximize the impact. And with RefAid, that human-centered approach is clear as soon as you register. You immediately get a short, two-sentence email sent to your inbox.

“Thanks for registering for the RefAid app,” the email reads. “We all hope that you find some support near you, and that you have a safe journey.”

With that attitude and the technology behind it to create real, positive change, RefAid is quickly becoming a must-have addition to any refugee’s phone.

WATCH: This is what refugees face when coming to America

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/05/29/refaid-refugee-aid-app-shelley-taylor/

This radical video by Shonda Rhimes and Dove is what unapologetic body positivity is all about

Fat girls dance.

That three word statement may seem simple and declarative. Yet, the assertion that fat girls do dance challenges a ton of assumptions and stigma around what plus-size people can and can’t do.

Cathleen Meredith, a self-proclaimed “fat girl,” knows the importance of dancing while people are watching. Meredith is the subject of the first video in an anticipated partnership between acclaimed producer Shonda Rhimes and Dove, called Dove Real Beauty Productions. The series spotlights real women redefining beauty and Meredith is no doubt doing just that through her brainchild Fat Girls Dance.

The video racked up over 1.5 million views in less than two days, exposing countless people across social media to Meredith’s story of self-acceptance. A shortened version of the video also appeared as an ad during the season finales of Rhime’s shows Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy on May 18.

Meredith started Fat Girls Dance in August 2016, pledging to post a video of fat girls dancing every single week for a year. Meredith calls the choreographed dance series a “radical act of fearlessness.” Her mission through Fat Girls Dance was to bring more visibility to the joy of plus-size women, and challenge ideas that fat women aren’t active, talented, or sexy.

“I had always loved myself and always thought that Cathleen was dope. But I didn’t think that Cathleen’s body was dope.”

Her story is one of resilience and radical body positivity, challenging a society rampant with fatphobia and bias to see the beauty in women like her.

“I think there is a negative connotation with the word fat,” Meredith says in the video. “But I never saw it as something negative, just something that I was. And I was not negative. I was awesome.”

But the year-long Fat Girls Dance campaign not only ended up challenging society’s views of fat bodies. Meredith says the watching herself dance on video began to challenge bias toward her body that she didn’t even known she had.

“When you’re dancing on a video and then you see it, you’re like, ‘Oh god, I am fat,'” she says in the Dove video. “And it’s very strange ’cause you knew you were fat. But you didn’t see it the way you see it on camera.”

Meredith says looking at herself over and over again in Fat Girls Dance videos helped her truly love her body, realizing its ability and power. Through that self-reflection and self-acceptance, she was able to truly embody a motto of Curvy. Confident. Conqueror.

“I didn’t know that it was a love affair I had been missing my entire life,” she says. “I had always loved myself and always thought that Cathleen was dope. But I didn’t think that Cathleen’s body was dope.”

That deep self-love is a lesson Cathleen wants to help spread to other plus-size women who are constantly told their bodies are not good enough. And she hopes to do that through Fat Girls Dance.

“If I could give that to every fat chick I ever met, then that would be worth it,” she says.

This thoughtful video on radical body positivity comes at a good time for Dove. The brand was recently criticized by some body positive activists for trivializing and capitalizing the movement by their body wash bottles reflect different body sizes for a campaign.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/05/20/dove-video-fat-girls-dance-shonda-rhimes/