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Google tries social again by finding the best places to go or whatever

(TECH NEWS) Google has tried and failed social networking for years; their newest attempt is by following guides to the best sites, food, and businesses

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Google, as Google does, is once again trying to be all things to all people. Its latest move is to combine the follow feature of social networks like Facebook and Instagram, reviews of businesses and restaurants like you’d see on Yelp, and maps.

Apparently, Google already has a program called Local Guides, launched in 2015, in which users can earn status and perks for contributing a lot of detailed reviews and photos to business listings in Maps. It’s Google’s answer to Yelp Elites. Local Guides are a bit like critics, a bit like influencers, a bit like tour guides, and a bit like that local friend you call because they always know the best place to get a bite to eat, which stores are having a sale, or which venue is hosting a great show. Local Guides make it a little easier to get to know a town, whether you just moved in, are just visiting, or are looking for new places to check out in your own hometown.

There are about 120 million Local Guides in 24,000 locations. In exchange for beefing up Google’s content, Local Guides get rewarded with freebies, discounts, access to exclusive features, coupons, and invitations to in-person meetups.

It was at such a meetup, the annual Connect Live Local Guides summit, that Google recently announced its pilot program for a feature wherein a user can “follow” their favorite Local Guides by hitting a follow button on the guide’s profile page. After following a local guide, you can search Google Maps and that guide’s content will appear along with your search results. A photo collage from the guide’s review will pop up first, and by clicking on the photos you can access the text of the review.

Google is trying out the feature in the U.S. in New York and San Francisco, and internationally in Bangkok, Delhi, London, Mexico City, Osaka, Tokyo, and São Paulo.

The new feature seems to part of Google’s attempt to take on Facebook as the primary place to find out about local businesses, events, sales, and other goings on. A year ago, Google started allowing users to follow local businesses’ listings in Maps, much as you would a business’s Facebook page. And this past summer, Google rolled out more features for businesses to flesh out their profiles on Google Maps with photos and updates, and to connect with customers.

I must admit that as a frequent user of Google Maps, I’ve never even noticed the Local Guides feature. So I’m a bit skeptical as to whether or not this concept will take off. After all, Google’s past attempts to crack into social networking with Google Plus have been more or less a bust.

Nonetheless, there does seem to be a certain logic to adding more informational and connective features to the Maps app. After all, if you’re looking for a seafood restaurant or consignment store near you, you’re not going to go to Facebook and browse through a bunch businesses’ pages, hoping to find one nearby. Unless you already know the name of business, Facebook isn’t going to help you much. You’re going to open Maps, because it will find the businesses that are closest to your location. Yelp is great because of the quality of the reviews, but if you could find those reviews without leaving the Maps app, why would you?

While I don’t see Local Guides becoming a bustling social network, I don’t see why you shouldn’t follow a Local Guide whose opinion you’ve come to trust. Whereas social networks like Instagram and Facebook are designed to keep your eyes on the screen and your thumbs scrolling, using Maps to find business locations is all about getting you out and about in the world. By borrowing features from social networking, Google can make it a little easier for users to find out exactly where they want to go – so that they can put down the phone and start dining, drinking, shopping, and enjoying themselves.

Ellen Vessels, a Staff Writer at The American Genius, is respected for their wide range of work, with a focus on generational marketing and business trends. Ellen is also a performance artist when not writing, and has a passion for sustainability, social justice, and the arts.

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Instagram helps pass social isolation with co-watching

(TECH NEWS) As social distancing become commonplace, Instagram responds with co-watching. The Newest way to look at and watch content with friends.

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Instagram co-watching

Deep into the second week of quarantine, third or fourth week for some of us, the isolation is starting to become quite real. Thanks to modern technology we can reach out to our friends and family without leaving the house, but it pales in comparison to the social lives many of us once enjoyed together. While you can certainly FaceTime or video call your friends, it’s still difficult to watch things together, mimicking the in-person experience. Many people have begun searching for apps that allow you to watch televisions shows and trending news together, so you can all see the same thing, at roughly the same time (thanks, lagging) and comment accordingly.

In a timely release, Instagram just launched a new feature called “Co-Watching.” This takes Instagram from a solo experience to a shared experience for up to six people. Co-Watching gives users the ability to video chat and browse through Instagram’s content together, thus making it more of a social gathering. The only downside to this feature, in my opinion, is that you cannot Co-Watch IGTV. Oftentimes, IG posts that are over the time limit are shifted to IGTV and you won’t be able to watch the full post with Co-Watching, but all other feeds and content on Instagram will be able through the new Co-Watching feature (except private posts, of course).

Ready to Co-Watch? Getting started is pretty easy, if you’re somewhat familiar with Instagram. To start, initiate a video call with whomever you want, up to six, in your Co-Watching party, by tapping on the arrow icon in the upper-right corner and select the video camera icon. You’ll see the video chat interface pop up and from there you’ll want to look to the lower right-hand corner for a “media” button, which looks like a mountain photo icon. Tap on that icon and you’ll see all the posts you’ve liked. Select a post or video from your favorites, or from Instagram’s recommended feed and whatever you tap will be shared to all your partygoers. If you’re watching a video, it will continue to loop until you or one of your friends select something new.

There are several other group chat/watching options currently available if Instagram isn’t your jam. Netflix can be used with the Party app. Netflix Party is available on Chrome browsers (on desktops or laptops) and allows you to synch your favorite videos with group chat. There is also the Squad app. It allows you to screen share anything on your phone with your friends. This works with texts, IG, Snapchat, Spotify, YouTube, Amazon, TikTok, and more. Start a group video chat with your selected friends, then broadcast your screen and start chatting. Squad is available in the App Store and Google Play.

While Instagram’s new feature is fun, the inability to share while watching IGTV makes it fall a bit flat for me. Have you tried, or will you try Instagram’s Co-Watching feature?

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Tech News

Broadband internet can save rural lives, especially now

(TECH NEWS) Will this bill finally put broadband internet access into the communities that need it most? Rural communities are quickly falling behind.

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Lack of information kills.

As in straight up will put you in the ground, kills.

Example: Did you know they sell apricot kernels by the bag as a superfood? Did you know that their seeds, as well as those of most stone fruits like nectarines, plums, and peaches contain a chemical called amygdalin? Did you know that amygdalin converts to cyanide in the human body, and will take your Whole Foods shopping behind out like a bag full of used N95 masks on trash day?

If you didn’t know, you know now, and if you knew before, either you’re a botanist, scientist, or some other positive -ist, OR you found out like I did. On the internet.

Y’all, my height, weight, and the calendar say the same thing: it’s not 1995 anymore.

There’s no ‘pounding the pavement’ to get a job, it’s on the internet. There’s no ‘Just call and find out’, you get put on hold and a robo voice tells you to get on the internet. PS, that last weird thing you saw your doctor about? They went to school, and they can authorize the tests, but they Googled that mess too, I guarantee you.

The web is an everyday utility in every country with steady lights and running water for more than 5% of the populace. So why are my folks in the wide open spaces being left out on this? Simply put, it’s a matter of companies not bothering to put the broadband infrastructure in place coupled with increasing charges in paying for the services in the first place. A new bill is looking to change that, and I am THUH-RILLED.

RJ Karney Director of Congressional Relations at the American Farm Bureau spearheaded putting Bill S.1822, AKA Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act, AKA the DATA Act (nice one), in front of President Trump, and the payoff will payoff thusly if signed into law:

Rural communities will have better access to remote healthcare–physical AND mental, highly important to anyone for whom a doctor’s visit is a literal day trip.

Broadband usage will be tracked more accurately, allowing companies to get a glimpse into where reinforcements are needed most.

Those trackings will be used to decide where government funds will be allocated in order to facilitate internet implementation (say that 10 times fast).

20 Million Americans with no access to broadband, and the standard of life that comes with it will be granted the access they need.

Lovely, right?

And for everyone who likes the taste of leather out there, this isn’t a matter of the free market deciding not to provide a service because it isn’t profitable. No, dear reader, these companies have actively TURNED DOWN government funding to roll out faster internet in less populated areas, citing ‘We don’t wanna’ (my paraphrase) and ‘We know better than they do, and they don’t NEED this’ (also my paraphrase).

Even a city gal like me knows manure when she sees it.

I had a similar situation going on here in Austin. Once I moved out of the crappy apartments that just HAPPENED to be on the tail edge of a rich zip code, and into the crappy apartments by the GOOD taco places, my internet didn’t work right. Because the area had too many “poors” for -company name redacted, although it rhymes with Air BnB- to have put up the structures for working internet there. Despite the fact that my bill was not any lower.

It’s not okay.

Look obviously country folk aren’t stupid. I defy you to be as sharp as someone who has to get up at 5AM and drain a horse’s abscess without getting a hoof-shaped dent between the eyebrows. But especially now in our Covid-19 inundated world, we need info that you cannot just ‘know’. This is unprecedented stuff! For all I know, the virus feeds on the compounds in garlic, and I’m seconds away from a sweet n’ savory death due to all my ‘fight it off’ infused honey!

The issue is that no amount of good ol’ fashioned common sense is going to keep you from knowing not to feed your baby with contaminated Gerber’s that just got recalled because some sick douche-iot purposefully sneezed in the mashed peas. When I say ‘We need the information’, that WE means ALL of us.

Let’s hope for the best for this bill, and get everyone wired, hired, and fired up.

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Tech News

Mental health app tackles COVID-19

(TECH NEWS) GG life is an app backed by a psychology researcher to help people deal with a crisis. The COVID-19 outbreak seems like the perfect time to try it.

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GG Life

Mental health apps are a dime a dozen. GG Life is an app that purports to “use the power of inner-dialogue to heal, improve and progress.” Gur Ilany, creative director, designer and entrepreneur, posted on Product Hunt, “We’re excited to launch a product we’ve been working on for some time. My friend Dr. Guy Doron and I created over the last 2 years a mental wellness tool that helps people overcome their mental challenges.” GG Life is designed to help people cope and respond to crisis.

How it works

The app has different “journeys” which are the equivalent of levels. I started with the “Coping” journey. The first section introduces the topic. You are given an affirmation, one at a time. You pull (swipe) the positive statements toward the bottom of your phone and push the negative statements away from you toward the top of the phone. Each section only takes a few minutes. There are a few sections under each journey that assess your current state. The coping journey also has two “waves” sessions, which are a directed meditation exercise.

Pros

Dr. Doron is a clinical psychology researcher, who brings his extensive experience in OCD, anxiety and depression to GG Life. His background includes international studies and prestigious research grants. One of the things that makes GGAPPS unique is that they support their app with research on its efficacy. This research is being conducted in the US, UK Spain, Italy and Israel. You can actually read the academic papers that have been published about the app and its impact on people’s everyday life. The app is easy to use. It only takes a few minutes each day.

Cons

I did find the app to be a bit tone-deaf to people with chronic illnesses. In the Coping section, these statements came up – “I’m more likely to than others to get an illness.” Or “I’m more vulnerable than others to develop health issues.” You were supposed to reject them. I felt as if an immuno-compromised person might feel triggered.

The app is free to use, but if you want more journeys, it can be on the expensive side. The premium version costs $7.99/ month with a yearly subscription available for $59.99. Although it’s much cheaper than a counselor, it’s still an investment.

Does it work?

I’ve only been using GG Life for about three days, but I can see a difference in my mental dialogue. I challenge the negative thoughts more than I did before. I don’t know if that’s enough to recommend the app, but it’s certainly worth a download to try and manage obsessive thoughts about this crisis.

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