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Google Messages adds features to catch up to iMessage

(TECH NEWS) Google Messages just added a bunch of features (including a web version) to make the chat service feel a lot more like iMessage. Better late than never!

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From the way people talk about iMessage, you’d think Apple has the market cornered on instant messaging–and, if you have an Android, you’re pretty much out of luck. With some new additions to Google Chat in the last week, this may no longer be the case.

According to CNET, Google added a slew of features to the RCS Messaging–typically referred to as Google Chat–app, all of which should now be available directly within your Android’s Messages app (technological limitations for older devices notwithstanding). Among these features are reactions to messages and the ability to text from your computer.

CNET notes that you’ll have to use the Google Messages app–not your phone’s built-in chat app if it’s different–in order to access these features, though they also point out that Samsung is in the process of adding the RCS Messaging suite to their proprietary messaging app as well.

You do have to jump through a couple of hoops to ensure that you’re able to use these features in Google Messages, starting with making sure you’ve updated your phone to the latest operating system version. That’s just good life advice anyway, so double-check your phone’s settings for updates before you proceed.

Obviously, you’ll also need Google Messages installed on your phone as well. The app is free to download from the Google Play Store, and it should be compatible with most devices.

Once your phone is updated and Google Messages is installed, you can set Messages as your default texting app from within settings. This process will differ slightly depending on the Android model you have, but the easiest way to do this is by opening Google Messages after installing it, and then following the on-screen prompts to set it as your default texting app.

If you’ve ignored these prompts in the past and you don’t want to redownload the app, you can search your Android’s settings for “chat” or “text” to narrow down the possibilities for where the default texting app setting is hiding.

There is one last step you’ll need to accomplish before you can actually use Google Messages’ chat features, and that’s enabling the features themselves. Google Messages will usually prompt you to upgrade to these features once you start a conversation (this typically takes the form of a message asking if you want to see when your friends are typing), but you can also navigate to Google Message settings, elect to “turn Chat on”, and follow the ensuing prompts.

From here, you’re free to use Messages, much like you would iMessage; you can react to messages by long-pressing them, check and respond to messages from Google Messages on your computer, organize and view message history, and so on. If you’re someone who feels like you missed out on the iMessage craze–or you’ve recently switched from an iPhone to an Android–Google Messages should feel right at home on your phone.

Jack Lloyd has a BA in Creative Writing from Forest Grove's Pacific University; he spends his writing days using his degree to pursue semicolons, freelance writing and editing, oxford commas, and enough coffee to kill a bear. His infatuation with rain is matched only by his dry sense of humor.

Tech News

This Zoom alternative offers a branded video meeting experience

(TECH NEWS) AirConnect is a conferencing portal that allows for company customization and automated onboarding so you can focus on other priorities.

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video portal airconnect

The concepts of company culture and branding are now more important than they’ve ever been. When we were first hearing these terms, they felt like buzzwords and ways to attract new talent and business without any actual execution.

Now that we have an understanding of what they are and how to use them, they are so much more practical and necessary – from big businesses to a one-person Etsy shop.

It’s been a little different in the last few months trying to figure out how to make company culture exude in the virtual world. For places that are hiring, it is also tricky to show how they differ from the rest over a video conference call.

The creators of AirConnect have taken this into account and have unleashed the virtual conference concept with an element of customization. As they say, “nothing beats a personal touch”.

Through use of this video conferencing tool, you can meet virtually with customers and clients in a brand video meeting portal. Customization options include headers, logo placement, and colors.

Additionally, the tool allows for customers to access their data via a customer portal, which allows for some automation when onboarding clients, assisting customers, or meeting with partners. AirConnect urges users to “say goodbye to Zoom links”.

“Let’s face it, nobody likes the where’s-the-link, what’s-the-password, can-you-hear-me-yet: and that includes your customers. Say hello to a single place where they can meet with you, as well as seeing all their account information, resources and anything else you like. Ah, that’s better, isn’t it?” explains the website.

The fully featured customer portal allows users to go beyond the simple zone of a place to talk. The ability to connect to sheets is where customers can access the aforementioned data.

The video call feature in the branded portal offers as many video touchpoints as the user would like; whether it’s used for on-boarding or standard consultations. The fact that customers can access their own data anytime allows users to put their time towards the high-value touchpoints.

On-boarding processes can also be automated by capturing customers’ information and documents in a single portal, making activation simple.

This certainly differentiates from Zoom or Skype as it has the customization option. What do you think – is it useful or flashy for the sake of flash?

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Tech News

“Mine” helps you find your digital footprint and DELETE it

(TECH NEWS) Most people value their online security, but don’t know to manage their data without abandoning the apps and websites that they love. Mine is trying to change that.

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I’m pretty concerned with keeping my personal data safe these days: I recently got a VPN and I try to use a privacy browser for everything I do on the internet. But it’s impossible to completely avoid sharing my personal information, especially if I want to watch, buy, say, or do anything at all online.

So when I first heard about Mine, a new machine-learning tool which claims to be “the future of data ownership”, it really piqued my interest. 

Using your email history, Mine identifies companies that are most likely to be storing your information based on the headers of the messages in your inbox. Its AI then independently locates the privacy policies for these companies to determine what kinds of information they’re storing, rather than looking through the actual contents of your emails.

Mine seems very mindful of the fact that they must be trustworthy in order to be successful. It’s free right now while they’re still new; Mine only got started in January. But they have plans to introduce a subscription service in the future.

To quote their FAQ: “Tech companies that are not interested in your money are interested in your data, your online behavior, or other personal assets they can monetize. In other words, if an app is free, they’re probably getting their money from somewhere else 🙂 Our goal is the opposite – we want to make data ownership accessible for all without monetizing our users’ data.”

Of course, when I saw the smiley face, I figured I’d give it a shot. Hey, if they help me get my information out of the hands of a less smiley entity, everything evens out, right?

After sifting through my emails, Mine spat out a list of the places that were allegedly storing my information. I was pretty shocked to see around 100 different companies pop up. Some of them were there for obvious reasons. Google, for example, was self-explanatory… but there were also names that I could swear I’ve never heard of.

I ended up submitting over 50 data deletion requests. The tool made it really easy to see who had my information, and streamlined the process of sending requests to these companies. With two taps, it was bombs away.

My inbox was suddenly buried in automated messages, mostly about how “support” would get back to me “as soon as possible.” I spent the next few days virtually waist deep in what was, for all intents and purposes, spam mail.

The select few that promptly, and properly, addressed my request produced mixed results: only three companies immediately confirmed that they had erased the data they were storing about me. The rest were going to make me do a bit more legwork, with each having their own rabbit holes for me to jump through before they would delete a dang thing. I won’t lie, this frustrated me, but the reasons for these extra steps are not necessarily sinister.

When I spoke to Gal Ringel, co-founder and CEO of Mine, he shared that often, companies do this because they need to be provided with more information than an email address in order to fully complete the request. He says that Mine will soon be incorporating “enriched” data erasure requests that should cut back on the need to inconvenience users with these outside processes.

In the meantime, he and his team have been working with businesses to develop policies that facilitate the process of data erasure. The majority of businesses, he says, consider it a good investment in building trust with the public. It’s also a prudent move to prevent identity theft, should others gain access to their records.

So, what’s my verdict on Mine? It really simplified the process of asking companies to delete my personal information. It is an important step on a long journey towards redefining the relationships that we have with our data, since the majority of people simply don’t have an accessible way to exercise control over it.

Mine is still in development, and I really look forward to seeing what it becomes in the future. (Hopefully, something that involves fewer emails!)

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Tech News

Wake up and enjoy a virtual “Cappuccino” with family and friends

(TECH NEWS) A new app, Cappuccino, is a “daily personal audio show featuring your friends”, and it sounds delightful, refreshing, and easy to use.

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friends talking

A lot has shifted for us since earlier in 2020 that sometimes feels like we have lived multiple years within a few months. We’ve had to learn and adjust to a new way of working and living; current times have had us rely heavily on technology and we cannot see friends in person or attend live events.

Zoom, for example, saw an increase in users from 10 million to over 200 million, seemingly overnight, this past spring. MS Teams was also quickly utilized or accelerated in many workplaces for virtual meetings and presentations, going from 31 million to 75 million daily active users in a month. Microsoft commented that this was like everyone learning about 2 years’ worth of technology in less than a quarter of that time.

Our heads might be spinning, but as humans, we adapt; there are many people looking to make the best out of these tough times and focus on what really matters in life. We also may be grieving the old routines and we all know that things will not “go back to normal” as we move forward in 2020. With the endless uncertainty (especially with new school years starting), it’s definitely a time of high curiosity as to how COVID-19 will change our habits and practices in the long run – What will school and work look like, and will there be more flexibility after this? When can we hang out in-person with our loved ones again?

The one thing that cannot be ignored during all the uncertainty is that we still need human connection; we need to feel a sense of belonging and to share experiences. Some of us may be feeling this need a lot more if we haven’t been able to visit family nor invite friends over for a fun and relaxing weekend dinner to escape our normal daily routines.

While there’s no replacement to in-person hangouts, a new app, Cappuccino, offers a fun and unique way to keep in touch with loved ones.

Cappuccino is a “daily personal audio show featuring your friends”; it’s a new way to connect with people, unlike other social media platforms that may require more effort. You can create a group and listening to daily podcasts, featuring the voices of your friends. You can listen in while drinking your cup of joe, get quick updates, and hopefully a few laughs to start your day. Because they are audio, users don’t have to worry about being “video ready”, creating the perfectly angled selfie, or taking the time to type anything out (no fat thumbs or pointer fingers on the wee little keyboard).

While being able to download and create groups is currently only available on iOS, you can join a group on Android.  The directions seem really simple and sound very appealing via ProductHunt:

  • RECORD A BEAN: Tap the microphone and start recording. Talk about your day, tell a joke or share a thought and send it to your close friends and family.
  • LISTEN TO YOUR CAPPUCCINO: (mix of your friends’ beans) every morning at 8 am.
  • SMILE.

Here’s a stellar review:

“I’m fortunate to have been using this product since day 1 and found it to be such a breakthrough for keeping in touch with my closest friends (all from outside the tech world!), especially as we all live in different cities around the world. It quickly becomes part of your daily routine (and low key therapeutic) to take 2 mins out of your day to reflect on what you’ve been up to/how you’re feeling/any challenges you’re facing/or just to summarize the news in your life, and frictionlessly record those thoughts to share with your friends. The following morning, it became such a joy to play my cappuccino as I’m getting ready for the day ahead, and have my morning filled with the voices and stories of my closest friends.”

This might be a great way to start the day and a chance for some of us to finally be one of those morning DJs. Somehow, this also sounds more appealing than going down a rabbit hole on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

App name: Cappuccino – closer to friends

App Store Link

If this sounds interesting to you, and you’ve been looking for non-typical ways to connect, you may also like Marco Polo, which allows you to video “chat” with friends without have to be available at the same time (like you would with FaceTime). Instead, you record your video message and your friend can watch/respond when they have time. This has been a great way to stay connected with friends when we cannot get together in person. It has also been nice because while a text is quick, sometimes it’s hard to relay context and emotion when you’re trying to be short and sweet.

These are just a few examples of good ways that technology is keeping us connected and lifting our spirits in tough times.

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